“In what can only be described as a modern-day miracle, St. Earnest Women’s Hospital has been visited by what people have been calling the Flame Blessing. Two women from an organization called the Order of the Flame started healing multiple people. Over a dozen women have been cured of terminal diseases.
“We have verified with multiple doctors, and they have confirmed the girls are in peak condition. Many patients had cancer, and one was even in a year-long coma.
“We have no record of this Order of the Flame. Their leader is called the Flame Mystic. We were only able to obtain one picture of her from a distance.”
A fuzzy picture of David in disguise appeared on the TV.
“Oh, they managed to get one,” David said between mouthfuls of cereal. Rachel, Debby, Nancy, and Juliet were eating breakfast with him. David was still recuperating from the experience the previous day. It was sort of a whiplash going from being in the center of attention back to the mundane.
The news report then moved on to interviews with anybody who saw the event. David smiled as recognized many of the people.
Nancy nodded, taking a sip of coffee. “There was bound to be one that slipped through. It’s alright; it’ll work in our favor.”
“How so?” Rachel asked.
Juliet answered, “We want to leave hints here and there without revealing who we are. We want the Flame Mystic to be larger than life, a symbol more than a person. People will often fill in the blanks with things they don’t understand. How’s the public response?”
“Mixed,” Nancy said. She had been up most of the night online looking at articles, sometimes steering conversations in certain ways. “Many people are calling it a hoax, while others are calling it an act of God. We made national news.”
David winced. “Sorry, things sort of got out of hand.”
“I’ll say,” Debby grumbled. “You were only supposed to do one, maybe two to make sure it worked. We need a larger security team if we’re doing that again.”
David deflated. “I felt like I was making a difference. I couldn’t refuse when they looked at me with such hope.”
Nancy put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It’s fine. You did wonderful things for those girls.”
Juliet nodded. “And we set the groundwork for our plans. The Flame Mystic will need to lay low for a bit. Same with Debby; people might recognize you were the one with her. No military infiltration for you anymore. You will need to train a security force for the next time David goes out.”
Debby glanced at David. “We’ll need more people for that. Transformed men we can trust.”
David winced but nodded. After the hospital visit, he was starting to change his views on using his curse.
“I think our best course of action is for prisoners on death row,” Juliet said. “We’ll need a contact in the prison system. I’ll ask Cassidy to start working on it. Nancy, do you have a list of everyone transformed at the hospital?”
Nancy looked at her list. “Yes, Seventeen girls. We will make contact with them. Samantha made a simple website for the Order of the Flame. We’ll make a private forum for them.”
“Make contact with one or two of those doctors as well,” Juliet added. “We might be able to use them to transform some people in private. Search for anyone that won’t be missed.”
Eliza and Alex rushed into the kitchen and grabbed slices of toast. “I am going to be late on my first day,” Eliza said. She had impeccable makeup on, her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, and a nice ironed business suit on. She looked very professional.
“You still have two hours before your work starts,” Nancy said looking at her notes. “It doesn’t take that long to get there.”
Eliza gave her a condescending look. “Please, Nancy. Don’t you know anything? It’s not about the work. It’s about networking. I need to greet my coworkers and suck up to my bosses. Alex, do we have everything?”
Alex held up a briefcase. “Yes.”
“Perfect, we are off. Love you, David.” Eliza gave him a peck on the forehead, smiled victoriously at the other girls, and then bolted out the door with Alex close behind.
Nancy sighed. “She’s such a handful.”
“Well, let’s hope she does her job well,” Juliet said. “Nancy, is Marcus still scheduled for today?”
“Yes,” Nancy replied. “He confirmed last night. He’ll be here this afternoon.”
“Can you tell me about him?” David asked.
“Marcus Evans was a lawyer by trade. He was part of the largest law firm in the state and only took on high-profile cases that paid him well.”
Florence shuffled in; she had a major bedhead and a yawn plastered on her face. She was not a morning person; David made a mental note to add that to the list. “Are you talking about Evans? That prick.”
“Do all of you rich people know each other?” Rachel asked.
Florence started making her morning protein shake. “It’s more like we worked in the same circles.”
“We’re recruiting the best of the older generation,” Juliet said. “When you get to the top of your field, you get drawn to others in similar circumstances. Plus, they were all part of Julius’s contacts; there’s bound to be overlap.”
“Has there been any issue with recruiting so many people?” David asked. “I mean, there’s bound to be some questions with so many people dying in a short amount of time.” He hadn’t been attending all of the funerals as that would draw unwanted attention, but he had to assume people who knew them would find it suspicious.
“We were old men,” Florence answered. “And old men die. Frederick might have been wealthy, but he didn’t have many friends or family he could trust. Plus, he was incredibly unhealthy. I’m sure his kids from his failed marriages were waiting with bated breath for him to die.”
“Both Fredrick and Paul didn’t hold large funerals,” Juliet added. “The biggest concern is that we’ve made multiple new identities and that they transferred large amounts of money to their new persona. I trust the lawyers we’ve been using to hold their tongue, but Marcus will be the last wealthy person we do for a little while. The other people we told about the youth potion are probably suspicious, but we have enough dirt on them to keep them quiet. They don’t know enough to make a difference. Oh, before I forget, I heard Leah made contact with your sister, David.”
“I heard about that,” David said with a smile. “Karlee sent me an email she made a new friend. Plus, that detective checked up on her.”
Juliet nodded. “Leah said as much as well. She snuck a listening device into the bag of the guy friend she’s been with, Jason. He called the detective soon after the meeting and told him about Tessa.”
David winced. “That’s not good, is it?”
Juliet shrugged. “Tessa doesn’t know much. Susan will keep an eye on her. The only worrying thing is that the detective is connecting too many dots. If he gets too close, you may need to step in.”
“I . . . hope it doesn’t come to that,” David said.
Marcus Evans drove through the front gates of the Ross Estate. That Juliet was one lucky girl. And ambitious. She didn’t just enjoy the wealth she inherited but used it to build up Julius’s empire. He’d been following closely what she had been doing since Julius’s funeral. He also attended Fredrick’s and Paul’s funerals but couldn’t find out more information. They were at Julius’s funeral and now they were gone. Either they had truly become younger again, or Juliet took them out.
Marcus adjusted the hidden camera in the top pocket of his suit before stepping out of the car. A little bit of blackmail goes a long way; you never know what you might find.
A woman greeted him at the door. Nancy. Marcus did not attempt to hide his inquisitive gaze. He had seen her become younger during Julius’s funeral. If it were a trick, it was a mighty fine one.
Nancy paid it no mind. “Greetings, Mr. Evans. I trust your trip was uneventful.”
“Yes, thank you, Nancy. You made setting up everything for my new life quite easy.” Of course, Marcus didn’t trust them one bit and made his preparations in case the youth potion did work.
Nancy led him inside where a pretty security guard checked Marcus for weapons. She didn’t find the camera.
They led him further inside. Two more people waited for him. Juliet and a boy holding a cup of wine. He was the same boy that handed Nancy the wine during the party.
Out of all the people present, the boy was the most out of place. Marcus could read people fairly well. Nancy was prompt and precise. The security guard was vigilant. Juliet was poised. The boy was timid but trying to put on a facade of confidence. The girls, including Juliet, took glances at him to watch his reaction. Marcus’s gut feeling was telling him the boy was the most important one of them.
So, Marcus addressed the boy instead of the obvious Juliet. “Thank you for having me. I regret I don’t know your name.”
The boy’s eyes widened. He looked to Juliet for guidance. The security guard visibly tensed. Ah, a young scion or a person they were grooming to take a leadership role.
Juliet sighed. “You were always the perceptive one. Go ahead, David. Take the lead on this one.”
David winced but nodded in resolution. He stepped forward and looked Marcus in the eyes. “My name is David, and as you guessed it, I am the one in charge here. But, you are here for this, not me.” He held up the wine.
Marcus nodded. “The fountain of youth.” He licked his lips in desire. It took all of his self-control to not lunge for the cup immediately.
David smiled. “I guess you could call it that. But, not exactly. It does so much more. See, it will change your personality as well. It will make you into what you most desire. Nancy is much more efficient. Debby is protective to a fault. Juliet is ambitious without being arrogant.”
Marcus’s eyes widened at the revelation, though it shouldn’t have surprised him that each of them had taken the wine. “Why are you telling me this? I hope you don’t expect me to join your little group after this.”
David smiled. “We’ll offer, but it’ll be your choice. No, I tell you this so you can prepare. We believe it’s part of your subconscious, but you might be able to influence the outcome if you’re aware of it. So, Marcus Evans, who do you want to be?”
Marcus hesitated for the first time. “Is there a place I can sit down?”
“Come this way,” Nancy said.
Marcus was led to a private office where he could sit and ponder. What type of person did he want to be? This was a much more thorough transformation than he thought it would be. Would his personality be overwritten? If that were the case, would he still be himself?
Marcus had lived a long time and seen the worst sides of people. He admitted he did not have the moral high ground. He’d been tainted by his line of work. Working with horrible people meant he had to be horrible. It wore down his soul. He imagined his younger self. A naive lawyer who only set out to help those in need and gain wealth in the process. Pure before the realities of life set in.
A spark of optimism lit up inside of him, one he hadn’t felt in a long time. Instead of fearing the personality change, he embraced it. He could be better. He could shed the smarmy nature he had begun to hate so much in his twilight years. He could start over.
Marcus closed his eyes and imagined the type of person he wanted to become.
“Do you think I revealed too much?” David asked.
Juliet shrugged. “Perhaps, but you gave me the same details. More. I can’t fault you for being honest. And you’re right, I feel like Julius’s meditation on the type of person he wanted to be affected the outcome of who I am today. It might be a good idea moving forward to duplicate the explanation. If this goes well, of course.”
The door to the office opened. Marcus emerged after spending an hour alone. He motioned for Debby to come forward. He deposited a broken video recording device into her hands.
He smiled at David. “If I want to be better in my next life, I should be better in this one if by just a bit.” He stretched and his bones creaked loudly. “I believe I’m ready to get rid of this old body. This better work or I will have gone through all that soul-searching for nothing. What’s next?”
David’s impression of Marcus was completely different than when he first walked in. At first, he was calculating and careful with his words. Polite to a fault with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. Now, he felt more like a fun grandpa who still has a bit of edge to him.
David smiled and offered a bit more honesty. “The wine was to throw people off. All you have to do is shake my hand.” He stepped forward and offered his hand.
Marcus stared at it dubiously. He shrugged and took it. He visibly shuddered. “That was something,” he muttered. “That’s it? How long does it take?”
“Five minutes,” David said. “You’ll already be able to see the differences.” He motioned at a nearby mirror they had installed for this very purpose. No matter how many times he saw the transformation, he was always amazed by how it worked.
When Marcus walked in, he had wrinkled skin and age spots all over his body. His thinning hair had been pure white with a hunch to his posture. Now, he stood straight and his hair had turned black. Tears were forming in the corners of his eyes by the time his age decreased to about thirty. “It’s working, it’s actually working.”
Marcus frowned in confusion when his hair grew passed his shoulders and his skin darkened to more of a caramel color. When his face became feminine, David expected anger, but he only laughed. The pitch of the laughter changed from a deep masculine chuckle to a higher soprano giggle.
“Of course,” Marcus laughed. “I knew there was a catch.” When he saw the guilty look on David’s face, he waved it off. “No worries my young friend. I understand. A woman though? This shall be interesting.” He glanced at Juliet and laughed again. “Juliet, Julius, I presume? Of course. You’re looking much better since the last time I saw you.”
Juliet nodded. “You were always perceptive.”
Marcus’s eyes glazed over. “I can feel my new personality setting in. I feel so . . . free! I’m no longer bound by Marcus’s mistakes. Oh, what’s this? My clothes change as well? How’d you make that happen?”
Marcus’s old suit had changed to yellow. The pant legs molded together and flared out into a skirt; the coat melted away revealing a yellow sleeveless sundress. She giggled in delight as she spun around. “This dress is wonderful! I love it so much!”
A squeak of surprise erupted from her mouth, and she covered it in embarrassment. Her budding breasts rippled, then burst out. She rubbed them hesitantly, then more firmly. David had to look away, his face bright red.
When he looked at her again, the transformation was complete. A young woman in a low-cut dress stood fiddling with her new pair of glasses. Her hair had been done up into a braid that hung over her shoulder. When she noticed David looking at her, her smile lit up the whole room. She rushed over and hugged him with all her might.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she said as she spun him around.
“You’re welcome,” David said when he was able to breathe again. “Can I ask your name?”
The girl stepped back and placed a finger on her chin. “My name? Hmm. Mar . . . ci. Marci, yes, that sounds nice.”
David smiled at her. “Nice to meet you, Marci. Let me know if you need anything.”
“There might be something,” Marci replied, her fingers twitching in desire. “Do you mind? I saw it on the way in.”
A few moments later, David, Juliet, Debby, and Nancy watched Marci kneel in the flower garden out front. The lawn and flower beds did look nice, but since Juliet dismissed all of the workers, the garden was on a downward trend. Marci’s hands and face immediately became filthy as she dug out the weeds, but a smile plastered on her face.
She beamed at David. “I’ve always wanted a garden of my own. Do you mind if I tend to the one here?”
“By all means,” David said. “I take it you want to stay?” Marci firmly nodded her head. David looked at Nancy. “Can you see she gets all that she needs?”
Nancy made a note. “Yes, of course. It’s been on my list to hire someone to take care of the yard, but we’ve been more concerned about safety. Having one of the girls take care of it will be a blessing. I’ll pass the word along to see if anyone else would like to help since this is far too large of a yard for one person to maintain. We’ll probably still need to hire someone. Marci, can you take the lead on handling maintenance?”
“With pleasure,” Marci smiled. She looked across the yard. “I can see it now.”
“Be careful who you hire,” Juliet said. “Some of those people we told about the youth potion still have eyes on us. We have to make sure and keep David safe.”
Marci sobered up and nodded. “Of course.”
Debby spoke up. “I’ll help screen them.”
Juliet considered. “Only from a distance. It’s still too risky for you to be recognized as the Flame Mystic bodyguard. You might not be recognized now, but we want you to be just as recognizable as David.”
“Wait, you’re the Flame Mystic from yesterday?” Marci asked.
David nodded. “We’ll have to fill you in on what I can do and introduce you to the other girls.”
Juliet spoke up. “Looks like you’ve found your place, Marci. I hope you’ll be willing to help us as a lawyer as well.”
Marcu glanced at Juliet and then at David. She sighed. “Honestly, I don’t have much desire for that line of work anymore. I can help here and there when need requires, but . . .”
David nodded at the unfinished sentence. He probably could have ordered her to do so, but he didn’t want to force the girls to do anything they didn’t want to do. “You seem to have found a place that makes you happy. That’s more than I could hope for.”
Juliet sighed. “Of course, you find contentment now of all times. I wished you would have taken a more laid-back approach in your previous life.”
Marci looked at Juliet in confusion and then giggled. “Ah, were Julius, huh? That brings back memories. The time I beat you in court always brings a smile to my face. I hope we’ll get along now.”
“We can only hope,” Juliet replied, flushing a little bit. “Anyway, David, I have something I want to show you.”
“Is it the mall?” Marci asked.
Juliet glared at her, but Marci only grinned back. David had to hold back a laugh. Not many people could get under Juliet’s skin so fast.
“Yes,” Juliet said between gritted teeth. “We need to go for a bit of a car ride. You stay here, Marci. Nancy, please help her get adjusted and make sure Marcus didn’t leave any surprises.”
“Sorry for ruining the surprise!” Marci called after them.
David refrained from asking Juliet about the mall on the way over. He could tell she wanted to surprise him, so he waited patiently. Of course, like always, Debby was with him whenever he went out. It only took twenty minutes to get there.
The mall was abandoned. All of the shops had fled for greener pastures. David hadn’t grown up in this city, but he could tell this was a popular place a few years before. Now, it was littered with trash and graffiti. It was in a rougher part of town. Their footsteps echoed through the silence of the empty building.
“Um, what is this place?” David asked.
“You are now the proud owner of this mall,” Juliet said proudly.
“Right,” David said. “Why?” With his limited amount of experience with money, he had no idea how much a place like this would cost.
“I’ve been eying this place for a while,” Juliet explained, a little disheartened at David’s lackluster response. “I pulled the trigger on it this morning after the events of yesterday. We need a headquarters for the Order of the Flame. This place will be our embassy of sorts.”
“For the new country we’re creating?” David asked, remembering their conversations.
“Exactly. We’re still a long way away from that though, and we need a place to keep everyone. My place will be fine for a little more time, but it will start feeling cramped before too long.” Juliet pointed up to the second floor. “Those empty stores can be apartments for girls who have been transformed. The first floor is where we will interact with the public.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” David said. “I have so many questions. First, where did the money come from?”
Juliet gave him a flat stare. “You transformed some of the most wealthy and influential people in the city. It’s less about how much money we have and more about how to put that money to good use without people getting suspicious. A lot of that money is locked overseas, but that’s beside the point.”
“Okay,” David said. “How much are you planning on me to transform? You can fit at least a hundred people just upstairs.”
“One hundred and fifty-five, if you want to be precise,” Juliet said calmly. “You won’t be transforming them overnight. We’ll have to build up to it. It’s better to be prepared.”
“We do some extra help,” Debby piped in. “Plus, this will take some time to convert over.”
David sighed. “Fine, last question. Public? I thought we wanted to remain hidden.”
“We want you to remain hidden,” Juliet said. “We want the Order of the Flame to be liked. We’ll do a lot of charity work to create a good public image; we’ll probably begin as a women’s help group. With the occasional visit from the Flame Mystic, support will grow explosively.”
“I understand,” David said. He felt a headache coming on; Juliet was the most proactive one in the group. “Please, tell me before doing something like this.”
Juliet’s excitement diminished again. “I’m sorry. I wanted to surprise you.”
“I’m not angry; I’m not used to being able to impulse buy an entire mall,” David said. “It is your money after all. I do like the idea. Especially charity work. I just don’t want to move too fast.”
“As Debby mentioned, this will take a long time to clean up,” Juliet said. She gave him an evil grin. “We’ll be buying up the entire area for cheap. It’ll be prime real estate once we get things moving. We’ll make back our money tenfold in less than five years.”
David chuckled. “Ah, there’s the true motive. Alright, let’s get things moving then.”
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Next chapter public release: May 5 (View early on Patreon)
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