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Everyone in Enotita knew to avoid the Morta Est, the Dead East, and everyone could point it out on a world map or globe. The borders of Enotita, Bulgaria, and Turkey are arranged such that Enotita's furthest east region is a small bubble, 50 kilometers at it's widest point. Before it earned its name in the 1950's, it was a fairly nice place, making up roughly half of the region of Evros. Now though, it's completely walled off from Bulgaria and Turkey, and even Enotita has taken steps to prevent movement between Morta Est and Enotita proper. There's only one way into or out of Morta Est, due to the walls and defenses erected around it.


The reason for this, according to the history books, was that at some point in 1956, a young woman got her hands on a powerful relic that had appeared in the area, and quickly turned the entire region into a blasted wasteland of darkness and undeath, killing or turning everyone living there. Most claim she's a vampire now, though whether that's related to the relic is a mystery. So now only the undead and desperate criminals live in Morta Est, ruled over by empress Canticum Tenebris.

Only the promise of a great deal of money could drag Kiran to this netherworld of a region. Getting past the border was a challenge: She couldn't depend on her magic because the entire border, half a kilometer in width, was magnetized, and blocking a gorgon's petrifying gaze was as easy as wearing sunglasses, which meant both of her advantages were nullified in this case. Fortunately, you don't grow up in crime without making some good criminal connections.

The guard stationed at the checkpoint eyed the I.D. that Kiran had given her critically. Even with the shades she'd donned as a precaution, the gorgon could tell she was skeptical. "I wasn't informed of any survey of Morta Est scheduled today." She said.

"Really? Well someone must have dropped the ball." Kiran replied, trying to keep her voice professional. "You know how bureaucracy is, someone makes a mistake and the whole thing collapses."

The guard chuckled at that. "True enough. You don't mind if I take a look in your van, do you?"

"Not at all."

The façade, Kiran hoped, was foolproof. She'd loaded up the back of her RV with the sort of equipment one would expect to see on a survey expedition: barometer, wind speed gauge, metal detector, etc. It probably would have been cheaper to try and bribe the guard, but she was assured this deception would be far less risky. Shooting the guard was also an option, but Kiran didn't like killing people she wasn't paid to. The higher her body count, the more likely it is for law enforcement to track her down. Why take the chance?
The job's payout, if it works out, will be well worth the money spent anyway.

The guard returned to the small station after about thirty seconds of looking through the van. "Alright, you're good to go." She said, handing back the forged I.D. and pressing the button to lower the barricade and deactivated the magnets lining the road, so they wouldn't interfere with the van. "Good luck, professor."


And with that, she had gained access to the Dead East. It was like driving into a completely different world - the 2PM sunlight faded to late night levels, necessitating the use of the van's headlights: the grass and trees suddenly turned dry and dead about halfway through the border zone; and the temperature dropped precipitously, which immediately set her thermoregulator to heating.

Once she was certain the guard couldn't see her van anymore, Kiran pulled over to the side of the road and pulled out her phone to look at the messages with the client.

Hello, Kiran. I have a job for you, if you're interested.

yeah, what do you need?

I'd like to discuss the matter in person, if you don't mind.
You'll need to get into Morta Est.

morta est? wtf?

I'm sure it's an unusual request, but I will make it worth your while, you can count on that. Even if you decide not to take the job, I'll cover whatever costs were necessary for you to get here.

how much will the job pay

More than you've ever made on a job before.

alright fine

Wonderful! You can find me in Kyprinos, I'll send you the directions in a bit. You sadly won't be able to depend on a GPS once you cross the border.


ill be there in a couple days

The promised directions had come in about an hour later, detailing the path Kiran would have to take from the checkpoint she'd just passed to reach Kyprinos. It was a small town before the mass turning, but reports had indicated it now served as the capitol of Morta Est, and was probably much bigger now than it was in 1956.

This whole thing is weird, Kiran thought to herself as she put the phone away and started driving again, through darkened countryside. She was no stranger to random numbers calling or texting her, most of her clients could find it on the underworld grapevine or the deep web. She was also used to being asked to discuss the details of a job in person rather than over the phone. But she'd never been asked to cross a closed border before. And if this potential client is who she thinks it is, then why the hell would she need an assassin when she's got a small, immortal army?

But despite all that, the money would be good… There were few things that the gorgon wouldn't do for money.

So it was that, after a few hours of driving, occasionally stopping to check the directions, and fighting off a few roving packs of ghouls and a couple gargoyles, Kiran finally reached Kyprinos. The countryside was unnerving, but the city was downright creepy. It wasn't much brighter here, the violet light from the streetlamps only adding to the oppressively dark atmosphere. The buildings blended into the darkness, and she could only tell they were there from the purple light visible through the windows. She felt like the undead denizens - ghosts, vampires, revenants, gargoyles - were all watching her van as it coasted through the streets, that they knew full well she was outsider.

Hopefully none of them were hungry…

Another half or so later saw Kiran reach her destination: a castle, erected in the middle of the city. It stood out from the buildings around it due to its size and color. "She must really like purple." Kiran muttered to herself as she parked the van and walked to the large doors. A pale-skinned man was standing outside, watching as the gorgon approached. "She's expecting you." he said once she got close, and pulled open the door with one hand. "Follow me, please."

Mercifully, the inside was slightly better lit than the outside, though the violet color of the light still made it a bit difficult to see. The vampire butler didn't seem bothered, no doubt used to it by now, and moved briskly, forcing Kiran to match his pace to keep up.

"So, the client… It's the empress, isn't it?" She asked. "Canticum Tenebris."

"That is correct. She will answer any questions you have herself."

"Uh huh."

Just as she thought. The dark Empress of the blasted wastes of Morta Est wanted her help. Somehow she doubted this job would be as simple as finding someone and putting a bullet in their skull.

The rest of the short trip through the dimly lit castle passed in silence, until the pair reached a pair of doors similar to the exterior doors. The butler silently grabbed a ring handle and pulled the door open, then gestured for Kiran enter. The door shut behind her, and she found herself in the castle's throne room, facing the empress.

She must have been about 25 or so when she was changed. She was seated on a throne fitting of a dark empress, decorated with skulls and bones, an armed gargoyle on each side, and her outfit was equal parts dark, regal, and provocative: A dress that one would expect royalty to wear, form fit and clinging to her body despite the lack of curves to show off, mostly purple with some black and dark blue trim, completely sleeveless so her upper chest and arms were exposed, like a tube top. This, combined with her pale skin and piercing red eyes, very much made her seem like a typical example of the 'sexy vampire' trope.

What really drew Kiran's attention, though, was the cane. Canticum held it in one hand, casually, as if it was a normal cane. But Kiran could feel a great deal of magical power humming underneath its wooden exterior, as well as a twisting sense of wrongness. Of darkness. That, she had no doubt, was the relic that had created Morta Est and gave Canticum her power.

Though Kiran tried not to show it, she couldn't help but feel uncomfortable under Canticum's gaze. It was like she was staring right through her sunglasses and into the gorgon's soul. She was used to dealing with gang bosses and ruthless CEOs, but this bitch was on a completely different level.

"My citizens all kneel when they see me, Misra." Canticum said coldly, one eyebrow raised at the gorgon. Kiran's first instinct was to fire back with 'I'm not one of your citizens', but the eldritch energy of that cane stilled her tongue. So instead she began to kneel the best she could, considering her lack of legs, but stopped at the sound of laughter.

"Oh come now, I'm only joking. You're not a legal citizen of Morta Est, you don't need to kneel or bow or any of that."

Kiran grumbled as she straightened up and met Canticum's gaze through her sunglasses. "So why am I here, then?"

Canticum snapped her fingers, and one of the gargoyles sprang to life. It produced a manilla folder and glided over to Kiran to hand it to her. As Canticum began speaking, she opened it and looked through the papers within.

"There's a certain artifact I want, in possession of the United States of America. The Orb of Janus."

Canticum's voice when she said the relic's name was relishing and eager, as if she were excited to have it in her hands.

"I want you to go to the facility that the Orb is stored in, extract it, and bring it back to me here. Preferably without being seen."

Kiran had never heard of this Orb before, but that was hardly surprising. There were thousands of relics all over the world. Most were officially owned by governments, but some, like the cane in Canticum's grip, were outside of their control. According to the papers, the Orb had actually belonged to Enotita before World War II, when they'd sent the Orb and other relics to Norway for safekeeping, after it was apparent the Nazis were planning on invading. Then Norway, faced with the possibility of being invaded as well, sent their relics and Enotita's to the U.S. Most were returned after the end of the war, but not the Orb, which remained in U.S custody. Apparently Canticum had managed to track it a facility in California.

No information on what exactly the orb does, however. A few paragraphs had been blacked out. Well, whatever, Kiran was never really concerned with these details anyway: only what's expected of her and the reward for pulling it off were any interest to the mercenary.

"Alright. Any reason you can't send one of your vampires or liches to do this?"

"Plausible deniability. If you fuck up and get caught, I don't want this being traced back to me."

"Uh huh. And the reward?"

Canticum snapped her fingers again, and both gargoyles began moving. They pulled a chest from behind the throne and opened it up, revealing it to be full of gold coins and jewels. Kiran felt her heart almost stop at the sight of the valuable minerals.

"Okay. I accept."


Two weeks later, after planning the assault, acquiring the necessary resources, and taking a flight from Gorgonia to Bakersfield, California Kiran found herself outside the infamous Warehouse 13 in the Great Basin Desert, where the Orb of Janus was stored by the U.S government along with several other relics. Getting to this point, even with the weird traffic laws she had to wrestle with on the way, was easy; now came the hard part.
"Hey, I'm here on official business." Kiran said to the guard in the station, meeting his eyes with a smile. "Oh don't worry, I can let myself in." She leaned out through the car window, pushing the newly petrified guard to the floor, and stretched to hit the button to raise the barricade. After a moment of thought, she reached down to grab the statue's wallet and keyring before slithering back into the rented car. Never know when a little extra access will help.

She'd actually spent a good deal of the previous two weeks stressing over this job, coming up with plan after plan to make the theft work, until she realized the obvious. She'd gone so long not being able to depend on her gaze that she'd forgotten that few people outside of Enotita would be used to dealing with gorgons, and thus likely didn't have a habit of wearing sunglasses, making them vulnerable to petrification. Coming in during the evening only made it less likely to come up against a visored guard.

Even so, she kept her guard up, ready to conjure up a gun and chronos energy at a moment's notice. No magnetic fields around, stupid Americans were probably too cocky to think to block magic as a security measure.

The main building, beyond the parking lot, had only one entrance, protected by a pair of armed guards. Kiran tried to keep her body language casual as she approached them, even as they glared at her with suspicion. Fortunately they didn't aim the rifles in their hands before the guns were trapped in stony fingers.

"Heh, this is great." Kiran said to herself with a smile, picking their wallets and removing the useful stuff - cash, credit cards, Warehouse ID cards - and tossing the rest. Gotta move fast, now, it was only a matter of time before someone noticed the stoned guards and raised the alarm.

The face of her watch glowed bright blue and the hands spun wildly as she swiped a card, gaining access to the building. Chronos flowed out of the watch and surrounded her in its familiar temporal grasp as she slithered through the halls, past armed guards, businessmen and government men in suits, scientists in lab coats, nabbing keycards from each of them, all standing as still as if they'd met her gaze. She was once again amazed at the lack of magnetism preventing her from speeding through the facility. But the presence of scientists indicated that magnets weren't really an option here - pretty hard to study the Aura in an area it's been pushed out of, after all.

But the reason for the lack of magical security didn't really matter now, only that its absence was making her job much easier than she had expected. Before long, she was before the vault. According to the blueprints, this was in the heart of Warehouse 13, and it was where every relic was stored. She quickly looked through the keycards she'd swiped, found the one that seemed to be of the highest rank, and swiped it through the magic lock. The vault door began opening painfully slow, forcing Kiran to banish the temporal field and return to normal time.

The magic in the vault was almost overwhelming. Dozens of relics, all hailing from different dimensions, humming with alien power behind their glass cases, carefully labeled. Fireproof Cloak, Hunter's Edge, Eris' Candle - Orb of Janus!

Another swipe of the keycard opened the case's lock, and Kiran reached in and carefully picked up the Orb. It seemed to be made of brown glass, but wasn't transparent at all; she couldn't see anything through it. Her scales vibrated where they touched the orb, and staring into it, she could almost see something…


A shout from the vault door drew her attention, and she saw a scientist already hitting an emergency button. Alarms began blaring, and Kiran felt a cold numbness as magnets activated and pushed the Aura out of the building, depriving her and everyone else in the vicinity of their magic.
Time to go.

Orb clutched in both arms, Kiran shoved past the scientist, knocking him to the floor, and made a mad dash for the exit. Hopefully she could get there before the guards rallied.

Turning a corner, she saw that hope was in vain. Four guards, each with gunpowder guns unaffected by the magnetic field that would stop any runestone-powered gun from working aimed directly at her. Even worse, they all had sunglasses on. Someone must have seen the petrified guards and put two and two together.


"Drop the relic and put your hands on your head!"

Kiran hesitated.


Kiran complied. The Orb of Janus hit the floor, she put her hands on her head, and one of the guards approached, producing a pair of cuffs. He stopped, though, at something that drew the attention of Kiran and the other three guards.

The Orb was sparking, orange electricity shooting out from its surface. Kiran gasped in pain as one bolt struck her tail, just before there was a flash of bright orange light. Kiran was blinded for several seconds by the flash, but even so she could immediately feel a change in her surroundings. No magnetism, no artificially cooled air, a breeze indicated she was outdoors. Slowly, her vision cleared and confirmed what her other senses were telling her: she was no longer inside Warehouse 13. In fact, she couldn't even see Warehouse 13 anywhere, though she was definitely still in the Great Basin Desert.

And more importantly, the Orb was still at her tail.


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