New to Quest Five?
The stories are best enjoyed when read in order beginning with May 1, 2009.

Welcome To Quest Five
Allison Beaumont is having trouble finding a job after college until one day the wealthy and powerful Joseph Candle offers her a job at his rather unusual corporation, where mistakes can lead to bare bottomed spankings. Adopting the alias of Virginia West, she joins four highly skilled colleagues, racing around the globe in search of mysterious treasures, but wherever she goes, trouble is sure to follow.
Note: Some stories contain scenes of a sexual nature, corporal punishment, non-consensual corporal punishment, and strong language which some reader's may find offensive. If you feel this material might be inappropriate for you please move on to another blog by clicking the next blog link at the top of the page.

November 10, 2009

Casting Shadows: Wounded

The spray of warm water beading into heavy droplets of water on my skin and running down the length of my body was exactly what I needed. I closed my eyes, allowing the shower to envelop me and rinse away the suds of too heavily perfumed soap. Steam rose up from the cold tile at my feet, creating a fog on the glass door of the enclosure and wafting out into the greater space beyond. I tried to forget about everything and enjoy the moment, but the slight twinge of pain emanating from my wounded backside kept me firmly grounded in reality.

Sighing, I shut the water off and left the shower behind. The customary white towel felt like sandpaper scratching the water off my skin. Deciding I was dry enough, I wiped a small circle of steam away from the mirror before throwing the soaked rag onto the floor at the far end of the room. Giving into a morbid curiosity, I turned around and stared over my shoulder into the mirror for a view of the remaining effects from Dr. Michaels' paddling.

A red tint had settled onto my skin from the shower's warmth making my buttocks look a touch worse than they probably were. Two round bruises decorated the center of each cheek with the one on the right being slightly larger and deeper. Squinting, it seemed I could make out the imprint of the paddle's holes like a light texturing on my tender flesh. My fingers explored the region only to discover a slight bubbling of the flesh particularly sensitive to pressure. It was no wonder the burn had seemed to be increasing even after the initial spanking was finished; I literally had my butt blistered.

Opening the closet I picked out a black suit and quickly dressed for the day. Kyra had already left to meet the others for breakfast and a glance at the bedside clock pushed me to hurry on my way out. The last thing I wanted was to give Jack any more reasons to be unhappy with me. The words he said in his office on the plane still stung and not because they were mean, had that been the case I would have more easily shrugged them off. He had only put the truth into a perspective I did not like, but as much as I want to deny the validity of his perspective, I cannot.

The hotel's breakfast lounge was a small room on the ground floor with a half dozen round tables neatly positioned on either side of a red runner leading to a rectangular table at the room's head. The round tables were all neatly covered with solid red or white, floor length cloths and five farm style chairs encircled each one. A white cloth covered the rectangular table and a selection of cereals, bread and fruit were readily available next to pitchers of milk, orange juice, ice water, and hot coffee. The two ends of the table held stacks of plates, cups, and flatware along with a pile of neatly folded linen napkins.

My companions were seated on the right side next to a yellow accordion divider which probably opened the room into a larger area for more seating when needed or perhaps attached to a conference room, allowing corporate meetings to enjoy a small selection of snacks on demand. A glance around the room revealed it to be unoccupied beyond our small group.

Jack made a show of raising his left hand and turning his wrist so his watch was obviously pointed toward his eyes. He tapped the face of it with his right index finger while looking between me and his watch as I walked over to the table. I did my best to look sheepish and ashamed of being a few seconds or more late for our breakfast meeting. My hand rested on the back of the empty chair, but I stopped short of pulling it out and sitting down.

"Nice of you to join us," Jack said.

I bit at my lower lip for a moment wondering what, if anything, I could say to avoid winding up over Jack's knee or worse, touching my toes. Silently, I scolded myself for allowing myself to arrive late even though I had wasted very little time in getting ready. Kyra had entered the shower first and taken her sweet time leaving me to rush, but that excuse was never going to fly with Jack and even uttering it would come off as the self-centered bitch he already sees me as.

"Sit down," Jack said, nodding toward the empty chair.

Relieved, I pulled the chair out from the table. The seat's pillow cushion had appeared deceptively soft, but after the initial contact, bringing forth an involuntary, "Ouch." I was able to endure the minor discomfort without substantial strain. Everyone stared at me for a moment, I guess they were wondering if I was about to start crying again.

"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting," I said, staring at the table directly in front of me.

"Coffee V?" Tom asked.

He pushed off from the table and stood up, casually heading toward the serving table. Jack frowned at him, but said nothing despite his obvious disapproval. I hesitated a moment looking between the men and wondering if I was caught in the middle of something larger. There was definitely something between them, but whether it was me or Jack passing him up in favor of Dr. Michaels or something else entirely, I could not tell.

"Yes, thank you," I said, deciding to not alienate the only friend I seemed to have on the team.

"Now that we are all here," Jack said, pausing briefly to look at me. "I want to go over what we know, what we think we know, and what we need to find out."

Tom set a cup of black coffee down in front of me along with a cheese danish on small plate. I smiled at him and mouthed a thank you to which her merely nodded. With my stomach churning in the uncertainty I felt all around me, I was far from feeling hungry, but the coffee smelled to good to resist and a little caffeine was probably just what I needed to get my head into the matters at hand. I took a quick sip, testing the temperature before committing to a satisfying drink from the cup.

Dr. Michaels said, "We've determined the Norse map and the Fu Xi map are representations of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as it is better known. The Norse map appears to be a copy of the Fu Xi map although the technology used to create the original far exceeds the copy. This is unusual in that the Fu Xi map should have been crafted between 2 and 5 thousand years before the Norse map. Neither of the maps conform to what we thought we knew about cartography in history which leaves us with the possibility the maps are fakes, perhaps meant to throw us off the track of something else."

"Which should concern us because while we've tracked Olivia Stratford here, we've been unable to get anything on Alex Kemp's location," Tom said.

"So she's a diversion," Kyra said.

"Possibly, but she remains our best hope of finding Kemp," Jack said. "Even if she is here as a decoy, it is highly likely she has rendezvous plans with him."

"Our purposes may be best served by keeping our distance and tracking her," Dr. Michaels said.

"Ordinarily I would agree, but Stratford and Kemp have both demonstrated an ability to disappear from all our tracking devices when they want to," Tom said. "We need to move in and take her into custody. It might take a little time, but I'll get her to tell us what she knows."

"I might have another option," Kyra said. "I've been thinking about how they've been disrupting satellites and video surveillance. It almost certainly comes down to broadcasting white noise on a multitude of frequencies simultaneously. If that's the case I can rig a standard GPS tag with a transmitter on a shielded frequency and we should be able to track her anywhere she goes."

"Have you been able to duplicate the disruption they caused following your theory?" Jack asked.

"Not yet, but I'm close," Kyra said. "I just need to find the right modulation to duplicate the effect but it could take months of trials to get there."

"Then you can't know for certain the shielded tag would work," Jack said.

"The only way it wouldn't work is if their method of disruption is based on a completely different principle," Kyra said.

"Until you can duplicate the effect we can't assume your theory is correct," Jack said.

"Then our best course remains to take her into custody," Dr. Michaels said.

"My contacts tell me she's preparing for an expedition into the Atacama desert," Tom said. "I recommend we grab her before she gets there to avoid a protracted struggle."

"Do you have a location in mind?" Jack asked.

"We can set up an ambush in a few locations. I'd like to get a first hand view before finalizing and we seem to have a day or two still before she heads out," Tom said.

"Alright, you want Kyra to assist in modeling the locations?" Jack asked.

"No, but I'll take V with me," Tom said. "If that's alright."

"Fine," Jack said. "Anything else?"

"What is she doing in the meantime?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" Jack asked.

"Tom said she was prepping for the expedition but that hardly seems like it would fully occupy two days of her time. So, what else is she doing?" I said.

"I don't have anything else. She's headed into the desert and if the gear she's assembling is any indication she plans on being there for awhile," Tom said.

"Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on her in the meantime," Jack said.

"Is there any historical connection between the desert and Easter Island?" I asked.

"What difference does it make if the maps were fakes?" Kyra asked.

"None," I said. "If they're the real thing though, it could make a lot of difference."

"We've already covered this," Jack said. "The maps are clearly fakes meant to waste our time while Kemp goes after something else."

"But what if they're not?" I asked.

"Virginia, we've been through this and I'm not going to warn you again," Jack said. "Unless you've got some new evidence to present, the inauthenticity of the maps is a closed matter."

"If it puts your mind at ease, there are no known connections between the Atacama Desert and Easter Island," Dr. Michaels said.

"I just don't think she'd be here without a reason," I said.

"Distracting us isn't good enough?" Tom asked.

"Maybe, but then what are we being distracted from?" I said.

"Now that is a question I would like an answer to," Jack said.

"The Fu Xi vault was almost certainly genuine," Dr. Michaels said. "Assuming they found something of real value inside of it before V got there, it is possible they may be looking for a similar vault which is rumored to exist for Nüwa, his wife or sister, possibly both."

"A companion artifact?" Jack asked.

"Possibly. It is difficult to say without knowing what was found," Dr. Michaels said. "There are a number of legends which might come into play."

Jack said, "That sounds like a reasonable theory. I want you and Kyra to narrow down possible locations for this Nüwa's vault and search for any signs of Kemp in the areas. Tom and Virginia will scout locations for grabbing Stratford and I'll keep an eye on Stratford's movements and contacts for the day. Any questions?"

Jack was staring at me when he asked the last and I shook my head to the negative. It was a lie, but I had no doubt I was expected to keep my mouth shut for the time being. I did not agree with their assessment of the situation, but Jack had more or less made it clear he was done entertaining my hunches. Somehow my poor judgment in other areas had made him disregard all the thing I had been right about in the past. It was frustrating and angering.

An hour later Tom and I were on the road heading north. Tom had marked off the locations he wanted to explore on a paper map folded neatly into a rectangle and I held it loosely resting in my lap. We rode in silence at first, but it was a comfortable silence, leaving me feeling relaxed for the first time in more than a day. If it were not for the bumps in the road reawakening the tender tingling in my backside, I might have even taken a short nap.

"Are things always like this?" I asked, breaking the silence.

"Like what? Running all over the place, chasing down mysteries and never knowing exactly what were in the midst of? Or you mean the strict rules on conduct and all?" Tom said.

"They both seem like good questions to me," I said.

"Joe likes things to run smooth so discipline is always on the strict side," Tom said. "The longer you're with the company the easier it gets."

"People don't just up and quit?" I asked.

"I won't say no one does, but most just take their licks," Tom said. "Working for Quondam has its perks and a little embarrassment and pain are a small price to pay to keep them when you think about it."

"I'm not so sure I agree, especially with the little part," I said.

"That's because you went and did the unthinkable. Two serious infractions in such a short period of time is not exactly common place. You shouldn't expect the punishment to be either," Tom said.

"And here I thought you were sympathetic," I said.

Tom glanced over at me and shook his head.

"I'm very sympathetic and if you want to talk, I'm all ears, but you know as well as I," Tom said, "You only got what you deserved."

"Thanks. At least you aren't mad at me," I said. "I think everyone else is ready to throw me from the nearest rooftop and I really don't get it seeing as I'm the one who got busted over something stupid."

"Yeah I figured you didn't get it," Tom said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.

"You getting in trouble reflects badly on Jack and on the entire team for that matter," Tom said. "People look up to Q5 and that's the way we like it, but you getting it so public like that and for something like thumbing your nose at basic policy puts a dent in our image. It will take time to recover for you and for us. I'm not suggesting it isn't going to be worse for you, cause no doubt it is, but what you did effects us all."

"I think the team will survive," I said, turning away from Tom and staring out my window.

"So will you," Tom said.

Silence returned between us as I watched the dotted lines pass by on the pavement. Tom's point was true enough, but it was hard for me to figure why, given my own circumstances, I should really care. So their reputations took a minor hit. My backside took more than a minor one and the memory of stripping naked and being punished in the building's lobby was something I would probably carry with me for the rest of my life.

"Some of our adventures are less adventurous than others, but in general I think we've always been playing catch up. I don't think Joe ever lets us in on the whole story and there are many times when he's acted suspiciously like when he didn't want to me follow up on the theft of those compasses you found," Tom said, changing the subject.

"You do know it's all connected, right?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" He said, glancing over at me for a moment with furrowed eyebrows.

"The things he sends this team after," I said. "They aren't just random artifacts of value."

"You know that for a fact or are you just speculating?" Tom asked.

"A little of both," I said.

"So what's the common thread?" He asked.

"I'm still trying to figure that out," I said.

"You think the maps are genuine, don't you?" Tom said.

"Kemp wanted that crystal," I said. "He was willing to kill me and sacrifice any number of his own people to get it. If it was a fake for our benefit, it just doesn't seem like they'd want to keep it out of our hands so badly. Sending Olivia in to get the crystal was a big risk too, they could not possibly know they would succeed and if they hadn't we might have had our hands on a key operative of our competitors, whomever they actually are."

"So how do you explain the gap between the technology used to make the maps and the technological capabilities of the eras they are from?" Tom asked.

"I have a couple theories on that, but you'd probably laugh me out of the car if I told you," I said.

"Jack might, but I have my own theories and I'm with you on the map from the crystal at least which means I think the other one is possibly real as well," Tom said.

"Alright, well first thought is that the people who created these things had access to technology equal to or superior than our own," I said, bracing for laughter.

"So aliens then?" Tom asked, straight faced.

"I wasn't meaning to infer that, but I guess that's one possibility," I said. "I was actually thinking about the legends of advanced civilizations now lost, like Atlantis."

"Seems far fetched to me, but I'm not laughing," Tom said with a sideways smile.

"Thanks, I think," I said.

"So what's your other theory?" Tom asked.

"Time travel," I said.

Tom raised an eyebrow at me.

"A person travels through time to leave these things for us?" Tom said. "To what end?"

"They're clues pointing us toward something, but yeah, I don't know what," I said.

"I can't say I'm on board with your theories, but as promised, I'm not laughing," Tom said, glancing at me with a friendly smile on his face.

"You said you had your own theories?" I said.

"Yep. I think these things are from a different but similar dimension and they've passed through some sort of rift," Tom said.

I shivered suddenly feeling cold as Tom's words made me think of Mr. Candle's daughter and her ghostly condition. Did Tom know something about her or at least what might have happened to her? The pride I had felt in figuring out Mr. Candle's secret turned to embarrassment for thinking I was the only capable of putting the pieces together. I must have taken too long to respond because Tom took his eyes off the road long enough to assess my thoughts from the look on my face.

"You know something," He said.

"I should hope so," I replied.

"Don't play coy," Tom said. "You just put two and two together and I want to know what."

"What do you know about Mr. Candle's family?" I asked.

"He doesn't have one," Tom said. "At least not anymore."

"Something happen to them?" I said.

"It's all rumors, but you know he used to be an adventurer himself, right?" He said.

"That's what I heard," I said.

"Well some say he was down here in South America exploring some old Mayan myths and she was kidnapped in the middle of the night, never to be seen or heard from again," Tom said. "And others say, she ran off on him because he was too obsessed in his work."

"His daughter?" I asked.

"Daughter? No, his fiancé," Tom said. "I don't think they had any kids."

I sat there open mouthed as I reprocessed everything I thought I knew about the girl I had seen. Tom glanced over at me, his eyes sending waves of curiosity toward me. Mr. Candle had never confirmed my suspicions directly but he had not corrected me either. I had simply assumed I was right because he had never said I was wrong.

"What makes you think he had a daughter?" Tom asked.

"Something I saw, but I guess I got it wrong," I said.

"It happens to the best of us," Tom said. "Are you going to tell me what you figured out?"

"Maybe nothing at all. I probably should keep it to myself until I know I'm not wrong again," I said.

"Wait," Tom said, a look of realization passing over his own face, "You think we're competing against her. That's why Joe won't pursue her aggressively. He still loves her even though she's been trying to sabotage him for years."

It was a theory that made a surprising amount of sense if one did not know about the disappearing girl. I was tempted to tell him what I knew and see how he reacted, but before I could, Tom's phone rang out on the dashboard. I looked at the face and saw Jack's name for a second before Tom pushed the button to answer and put the call on speaker.

"You better not be asking for an update Jack, cause we're barely halfway to the first location," Tom said.

"Stratford is gone," Jack said.

"What are talking about?" Tom said.

"She's gone. Supplies, people, everything. By the looks of it I would guess she pulled out of here while we were at breakfast," Jack said.

"Any idea where she is headed?" Tom asked.

It was Jack's statement about when she left that was rattling around in my head. We had discussed our plans and what were going to do to capture her. I recalled the fight with her in the Q5 office and how she had tried to pull me out the window with her and then there was the survival camp where she had stayed behind to try to get to me when her friends had failed to hold me at the camp. What if she had not been trying to kill me at all but indeed, capture me?

"It was a trick," I said.

Jack said, "About time you figured that much out. I was trying to impress that—"

"Shut up Jack," Tom said. "V, what are you talking about?"

"She's coming after us. Me," I said. "We've got to turn around."

It was too late. A black SUV slammed into my side of the car and I looked out the window just in time to see a smug, smiling Olivia glaring down at me. The window glass shattered on the second impact and the car jump up in the air, riding only on the driver's side tires for a moment. Tom hit the breaks just in time to avoid a third collision and he turned the wheel hard spinning us around and then accelerating full tilt into oncoming traffic.

"Tom!" Jack yelled, from the phone's speaker. "What the hell's going on?"

"Stratford is here. No chance we're getting away without some help," Tom said. "You better patch Kyra in and get your ass on the road Jack."


  1. Ash,

    Excellent story its good to see Tom and Virginia getting along but can even see Tom is telling her exactly how it is.This is definitely becoming very interesting

  2. Ashley. great chapter, the action never stops.
    Warm hugs,

  3. The multiple theories Tom and V went over are really interesting. I like how things are still very much up in the air. This latest twist was also a surprise. It's difficult to guess why Olivia would need to capture V.

  4. Ashley, I've read your story from the start now in the past few days. I'm enjoying it very much. I find your female protagonist very appealing.

    She well illustrates that you don't need to be a doormat to be eminently spankable. And she's so playful too. I particularly like the scene where she flirts with the guy at the ticket booth after he wonders out loud who the adult is. I'm wondering how much like Allison you are. And I don't expect an answer, of course.

    Your writing reveals an impressive scope of knowledge, about such a wide range of subjects, from archeology to cars to emotional intelligence.

    When I read your action scenes, I find myself wondering if you've read Matthew's "Dark Arts for the Good Guys" series on his "Straight Forward in a Crooked World" blog.

    If not, you'd probably enjoy them. He does for real a lot of what you have your characters doing -- operating in hostile environments, for instance. And his series is about sharing the knowledge and strategies he's learned with others.

    There's also an interesting chapter about mercenary operations, based on conversations with a real life expert in the field, in "The Secret History of the American Empire" by John Perkins, an author who's perhaps better known for his "Confessions of an Economic Hitman".

  5. Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for all the great comments. It still makes my day to see how the stories are received and hopefully enjoyed.

    Al, It's definitely an interesting relationship between Tom and V, but don't expect them to be jumping all over each other. lol

    Paul, Always nice to hear your thoughts and yes, the action is far from over and in fact, things will be heating up for a little bit.

    Ace, Sometimes I think you must be reading my private notes, lol, so it's always nice when I manage to throw a surprise or two in for you.

    Karl, Welcome to the story. I love hearing from new readers and thank you for such a detailed comment. And for all those people asking the same question about me and Allison; Allison is a fictional character, but like any author will tell you, every character I create has a little of me in them and Allison/Virginia is no different.

    Also, thanks for the reading recommendations, I'll definitely check those out the next time I'm doing research.

    Hugs to all,
    Ashley J

  6. A real fade-to-black cliffhanger ending.

    Why do I feel that there's a bondage scene on the horizon?

  7. My last comment actually refers to the next (today's) episode.