The Dryad Ch. 03bymadam_noe©
The birds knew what to do, and that had always been the secret of Dryad. Mice, rats, cats, pigeons, all the innocuous animals everyone else took for granted were smart and hungry for adventure like humans. They were only too happy to help her, and this time it was a team of six mice who opened a window on the second floor.
Pete was once again using his dove-talents across town setting off not one but four false alarms at specific times. Rave could get down to the basement without setting off alarms, but the second she swiped the key and entered the codes the alarm would go up, and if Gryphon wasn't busy he'd be on her before she left.
The clock on the bank edifice hit eleven thirty seven and she slipped in. Rave held her breath as she flew behind a pigeon named Fred who led her to the stairwell and down. In the dark she could barely see anything more then red exit lights, but Fred seemed to know the way, and led her to a small room with dim red lights.
"This is it," he said. "Don't stand, there are sensors all over the ground. You'll have to float at least six inches off of it."
"Okie dokie, can do."
"And you have three tries before it eats the keycard, that's what Harry says."
"The security dog. Good luck, Dryad, I'll see you around." He flew away then to take up his position as lookout. The handy thing about animal accomplices was that they never had to work out a signal; his cry of "Look out!" would sound like a loud "coo" to human ears.
"You have to love technology," she said aloud. The new system was automated, just slide in the card and enter the pin, and an automated system brought the box to her. It had been designed to make the system safer, more efficient, and it worked both ways. If it was the old system she'd be there all night trying the key in lock after lock.
James McBride, like most people, had too many pins to keep track of, so he favored birthdays. On all his bank cards she knew the pins were his parents' birth years. Rave took a deep breath, floated over, slid the card in, and pressed those numbers in.
A red light came on and ERROR flickered cross the screen. Okay, he never used his own, so she tried his uncle's birthday combination. ERROR.
She had one chance left, the alarm was already going, and the police were en route. What would he use? Her mind raced and raced, and then the thought came to her.
Sure it was a mistake she punched in her own birthday.
Gears began to turn loudly, and for a moment she wasn't sure if the card was being destroyed or the box was being retrieved. After agonizing moments the slot on the wall opened and the box popped out.
She took it, floated to the stairs, and set it on the banister. Rave took a deep breath and opened it, not knowing what to expect. Bonds? Certificates? Jewels?
It was a map. An enchanted map her aunt had drawn in sap that only she or Annette could read. A map her father had no prayer of reading.
She wasn't free of him.
Raven wasn't aware she was howling until hands roughly pinned her to a chest, one clamping over her mouth.
"Not what you expected, hunh?" Gryphon said in her ear.
Her mind raced. How had he known? Why hadn't Fred warned her? Gryphon had to have been in the bank already. She went cold at that.
"Doesn't matter. We'd better go, my dear, the police are coming." He took the map from her and then they flew up the stairs, scared the heck out of Fred, and went out the open window into the chilly night.
He still had her muted and trapped as they flew, and that night her heart beat rapidly not from the flight but from the fear. If Gryphon didn't turn her in, her father would destroy her life. It was all she could do not to cry.
He flew her back to the building, keeping her turned so she couldn't see the name on it, and didn't touch the ground until they were inside the little apartment. He let her go and she stumbled free as he locked the door.
"I have to hand it to you, you're stranger than the real Dryad. She always went after things she could fence, but you? You want a blank piece of paper in the McBride family safety deposit box."
"For a superhero you don't ask the right questions." She folded her arms and tried, really tried, to sound scary but she was just too tired and frightened.
"Oh?" He stalked closer until they were a foot from each other. "Then what should I be asking?"
"Why does the richest family in town keep a blank piece of paper in their safety deposit box?"
He smiled. "I already know why."
"Because I asked them to."
That shocked her. "You? That belonged to Dryad, why would you have it?"
"It was on her the night Master Bloodless killed her. I grabbed it."
Rage made her livid and for a long moment she couldn't speak. At last her voice came to her, and it was a shout. "You mean you stole it!" She hauled back and punched his jaw as hard as she could.
Gryphon hadn't been expecting, and rage had made her strong, so he actually took two steps back. Rave for her part doubled over, clutching her fist and cursing. It had felt like punching an iron statue and her hand ached.
"You're hurt," he said. "Good." Her eyes snapped up in surprise. "That will teach you to sucker punch someone who's trying to help you."
"Help me? You could have saved my a- Dryad that night, and instead you stole this from her."
"I didn't reach her in time, but I did reach Master Bloodless. I knew you were out there, somewhere, watching, poor kid. I took it, thinking it had to mean something, but when I saw it was blank I kept it for you, not knowing who you were."
"You're a bastard!" She spat out as he charged her. She swung again but he was ready, and gabbed her arm, turning her around and wrenching it behind her back until it was painful.
"I couldn't get him that night but I got him, eventually. I killed Master Bloodless for you. Not to save the damn city, not for the real Dryad, but for you."
The emotion she heard in his voice was real and her heart tore in half. She loved James, not Gryphon, but none of it mattered. As long as the wild goose chase continued, she would never be free to make a choice.
He turned her suddenly and wiped the tears away. Before she could say anything he was kissing her, and Raven was at a loss as to what to do. He made the choice for her and she gave herself up to the easy choice, to the need she felt, and kissed him back.
He picked her up like she weighed nothing and brought her to the bed. Before he had been rough and jarring, this time he moved slowly like James had. As the other man's name flashed though her mind she felt guilt but squashed it.
James McBride had no idea Raven Keppler was even a woman, and this man, this nameless man, had been waiting for her for a long time.
She speared her good fingers through his blonde hair and nipped at his lips. After that he slid his tongue inside as his hands peeled off her suit and she waited for the rush, the tumble headfirst into ecstasy, but he was determined to make her work for it.
When she was out of her suit he showed her with his hands on hers just how to undo his. For every hesitant touch she gave him he returned, his fingertips on her ribs like hers on his, the pad of his thumb across her nipple after she did the same.
Frustrated she let her hand trail down and grasped his cock, hot and heavy. It was so large and warm it almost burned her hand, and she lost herself to the smooth texture as he thrust against her palm.
And then his thick fingers were inside her, curling forward to rub the spot that made her bones flow to liquid. He knelt between her legs and when her mind drifted and her strokes slowed, so did his.
Wordless, Raven picked up again, frustrated knowing this was going nowhere but the torture was delicious. She closed her eyes and felt his breath on her. "Open them, see me."
His eyes were so green, so catlike that she lost herself to them.
The pleasure of him was in the knowledge that he was forbidden, the mastery of his touch. She spread her legs and thrust her hips against him, arching her back.
At long last Gryphon cursed and pulled away. She smiled with victory as she heard the packet torn open, but then he was there. Roughly he grabbed her hip and dragged her against him, poising at her entrance.
"Say you want me."
"What?" she managed to ask through the fog of desire.
"Me. Say you want me."
"I want- oh, god!"
He slammed all the way in and for a moment there was pain as he hit her cervix, but then he pulled out and sank in more smoothly. All the while e kept those jungle cat eyes on her, both of them hidden behind their masks.
She couldn't do it any more, couldn't hold that intimate gaze, and bent into the crook of his neck as his hips worked smoothly. He felt wonderful, like pure leashed strength, and every cell was on fire.
At long last he slipped a hand between them, and immediately pulled back the hood above her clit and pressed down. She came with a startled cry, a wordless scream of pleasure that rang in her ears as the pleasure reverberated up and down her body.
She collapsed with a sigh, her heart hammering, but Gryphon kissed her until her eyes opened again. "We're not done yet."
And he slammed back in.
She felt incredible, like heaven. Raven smelled like cinnamon and the woods, a thing of nature like the creature she was named for. Both names, James loved her as Dryad and as Raven Keppler.
Her body was soft beneath his, but there was an iron core to her, her muscles honed and well used. All he could taste was Raven, she was all he could feel. She gripped him snugly, a perfect fit, and her sweet hands clawed at his back, sharpening the pleasure.
He could lose himself in her, just fall into her and surrender to what he felt in his heart. He could, but it would be a dream, a fantasy.
She tipped her head back, moaning as he hit some spot. He had no idea just how he'd done it so James repeated the move with his hips and found he could feel her respond. She moaned and squeezed his thighs tighter with her own legs.
She was close, he could tell, and the sounds she made were so sweet that he let himself fall over. He'd meant to draw it out, to delay reality, to make her come as many times as he could but it was too much.
She screamed out and he let himself go with a roar, throwing his head back and slamming into her so roughly the bed shook. He felt incredible and with the pulsing of her body his responded, and they fed on each other for long moments until the bliss swept through them both, leaving languor in it wake.
This was the moment when he knew he should ask her what was on the paper, when he should tell her he knew it was Raven beneath that dammed mask, but James knew in his heart there was no trust to take if none was given.
He rolled off her and fished around for a towel beneath the bed, bringing up to clean them up. She laid there, naked but for her mask like the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen, and she was still sad.
He sat up and slowly raised his hands. "Dryad, I need to tell you something."
She came up on her elbows, the pose seductive, and despite the recent strain he'd put on his body he reacted. He raised his leg to hide it rather than surprise her, and unlaced his mask.
Her light blue eyes went wide with shock as he slipped off the mask and knew she wouldn't recognize this face. "This is me."
She shook her head. "Why? In our world our secret identities are the greatest weapon we have against each other."
"I don't want to fight you. I want to help you."
"Help me? How?"
"Do you know why I'm called Gryphon?"
"It's an animal, they call the griffin the king of the beasts, the king of the air."
He shook his head. "It's a being of two creatures in one body."
She sat up now and swung her legs over the side of the bed peering close at him. "What are you telling me? In addition to the flight and the super strength you're a shape shifter?"
He nodded. "And this is also me."
He let the change happen, a ruffling of skin what was almost pleasant, and when he looked at her he knew he was clearly his normal self.
"You're James McBride," she said, horrified.
Without warning she punched him, even stronger than before. His brain screamed out as for the first time in his life, the great Gryphon was knocked unconscious.
She came to her right mind flying naked over Lake Michigan. At least she'd grabbed her suit along with the map when she'd fled and now she remembered to put it on. But when she was zipped up she didn't feel safe.
How could she have had no idea?
Then again, how could she ever have had an idea? Gryphon was three inches taller, fifty pounds heavier, a natural blonde with green eyes. James McBride was all sleek muscles, his hair naturally black, his eyes the bright Irish blue of his father's people.
They had a different cadence to their voices, a different pitch. It was almost like...two creatures in the same body.
She felt like screaming, and she wasn't even sure why. Hell, she thought for a mad moment, that was at least one dilemma solved. It didn't change anything. The second this nightmare was over the costume went away and Dryad would never fly again. And though two men- one man, she corrected, wanted Dryad and neither plain old Raven, they would both have to deal.
She still had to make her father happy, and a map he couldn't read wasn't going to do the trick. She floated there, buffeted about by the wind, and tried to figure out what to do. If she went to her father there would be threats and intimidation, or she could follow the little map to where it led.
Something crashed into her painfully from the side and the shock made her lose her concentration, and Raven went falling. She recovered but her entire side ached. Her first thought was that Gryphon had followed her but it wasn't his golden costume she saw, it was something that chilled her.
He was thin, very thin, and he couldn't fly himself. It was the suit that let him do, state of the art, working off magnets or something equally baffling. Her aunt had never studied him beyond what she thought she needed to know to evade him.
Raven could fly, but not fast enough, and he floated a hundred feet away, watching her, waiting. Master Bloodless was there though it was impossible, he'd been dead eight years, but here she was, Dryad, dead ten years but still going strong.
He started towards her and Raven started to fly away, but he was faster. This time when he came she swung around and punched his glass helmet. To her shock, it hurt, but she cracked the glass and knocked him back.
It was almost unheard of but not impossible for her to grow a new power at the ripe old age of twenty seven, but it seems she had. She hauled back when he came again and punched him with everything she had, but he was too fast, and ducked. The follow through had her spinning and he used her confusion to rip the map out of her hands.
"Nice try, little girl. Thank you!"
With that he flew away, disregarding her as if she was an insect. From the voice she knew this was, in fact, the same Master Bloodless that had killed her aunt ten years ago.
And he was her father.
Raven went home and fed her pets by routine. That alone took half an hour, and then everyone wanted to know what happened. There was commiseration and congratulations that she hadn't been caught, which, for a supervillain, was a good day after all.
She surfed the networks and checked the newspapers websites but no one carried the story of who Dryad had been, and who she was now. When that was over she dragged herself into the shower and stood under the spray staring, feeling numb.
She had never really hated her father before, after all, he had left her with what he thought was a good parent. But ten years ago he had killed his own sister, the woman who had raised her, and left her to fend for herself.
She didn't know where he'd been, didn't know how he'd escaped Gryphon's wrath, and she didn't care. All that mattered was that he was alive, he was free, and there as something he wanted bad enough to resurface, bad enough to blackmail his own daughter.
She wasn't fast enough to catch him, and even if she had super strength so did he, and he was stronger than she. In all his career there had only been one man who was strong enough to beat Master Bloodless, and she was going to need him.
She could do this. She could turn Master Bloodless over to Gryphon, and when she knew he was either dead or in jail she would kill off Dryad. And someday she'd find a way to make plain old James McBride see there was more to plain old Raven Keppler.
She found him in the apartment. He was at the desk watching the monitors, and she realized they were hooked up to street cameras in the city below. He had a switchboard of lights she knew were probably hooked up to bank alarms and museums. Gryphon was hard at work.
"Come in," he said before she could knock. "Super sense. Hearing," he said as if she had asked a question aloud.
"I'm sorry about yesterday. I didn't realize my own strength, literally."
He picked up a clipboard and tossed it to her. "I updated the database already."
There was a picture of her at the top, breaking into the house. She had never really seen herself before, and he had managed to capture her like she was an ethereal creature, the suit skimming her curves in the dim light, making her loom powerful and sexy.
Beneath it was a good estimate of age, height, and weight. Her powers were listed as flight, animal communication, and now super strength.
"You missed one."
"One what?" he asked and finally turned from the monitor. He was maskless but the face that looked her was an intimate stranger.
She touched her mask. "It's how this stays on. I'm called the Dryad because I can talk to trees. They listen to me. The mask is held on by live saplings. The mask will stay on until they die or I tell them to let go."
He took the clipboard back from her, pulled the blue pen down and made a note. James turned his back on her then and typed something on a keyboard.
"Thanks, that helps. Won't try and fight you in any orchards anytime soon."
"Master Bloodless is alive."
Something started on the printer on the file cabinet by the monitors. "And I suppose if you chose to start robbing nurseries there'd be nothing I could do."
"Did you hear me?"
"Master Bloodless is dead." He pulled the paper from the printer and passed it to her.
The picture showed the silver suit and black bubble helmet. "Master Bloodless, real name unknown. Super strength, super senses. Uses flight suit to achieve speeds of up to one hundred miles an hour with minute maneuverability. Highly intelligent. Operated nine years as super hero with no known rescues, only foiling Dryad, jewel thief. After death of Dryad Master Bloodless spent one year as super villain committing the same style robberies. Killed by Gryphon in battle." She looked at him. "So? How do you know he's dead?"
"I cracked open that damn helmet and he fell almost a thousand feet into Lake Michigan. Unless one of his super powers is breathing underwater and immortality, he's dead."
"I'm telling you he's alive. He's alive and I know where he's going, but I can't beat him."
He seemed tired, disappointed in her but she wasn't sure how. Okay, so punching him wasn't the best thing to do, but after all she was a supervillain, he a superhero. Wasn't that what they were supposed to do?
"You're right. If he was alive you couldn't beat him, but you don't have to worry. He is dead."
"Damn it, Gry- James, whatever the hell I should call you! He is alive, he has come back, and he's after something big."
He shut the computer off and stood, stretching with a bored expression. "Nine years ago he was raving on about how Dryad had stolen something from him, something he wanted very badly. It distracted him enough that when we fought I disabled his suit, punched him out, and let him fall to his death."