You have received a copy of perhaps the world's first shareware story.

I have put a lot of work into this, and plan on putting some more. Feedback is welcome. I feel it looks better on paper, but that's probably just me. Anyway, send me anything that you feel appropriate, whether it be a postcard, a six of your favorite beverage, a story of your own, money, or a thought provoking letter (preferably with suggestions for improvement and corrections). Feel free to send this story to whomever you feel would be interested. I freely give permission for anyone to do anything with this file as long as it remains completely intact, along with this preface, and no profit is gained. This permission will remain valid until 5/19/94, at which time I will hopefully send out the rewrite. Christopher Jorgensen c/o The Great Grendel-Khan 2929 West St. Apt. #1 Ames, Ia. 50010 please email argent@iastate.edu upon receipt. The Dying Ritual

They spread fire under him, and while fanning the flames they tightened the wheel further. The wheel was completely smeared with blood, and the heap of coals was being quenched by the drippings of gore, and pieces of flesh were falling off the axles of the machine. Although the ligaments joining his bones were already severed, the courageous youth, worthy of Abraham, did not groan, but as though transformed by fire into immortality he nobly endured the rackings. The Fourth Book of The Maccabees 9:19-20

Welcome To the World of Pain

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Psalm 23:4-6

The Dying Ritual Part 1 Welcome to the World of Pain

Of Death and Dying The Devil Silhouette The Beginning of the End Willie Peat Thief Killing Time Lisa Confessions The Night Love The Banquet A Little Death Leaving the Curse Behind Eternally Undead To Kill a Thief Lessons Learned A Second Crime Oh, but to Die! An End of Sorts

Of Death and Dying A hot August day, 1962, a seventeen year old young man sold his soul for immortality and a two-headed American silver dollar. I looked at the intercom button, considered pressing it, but decided instead to fidget with the silver dollar in my hand, a worn 1945, about the only thing I treated as a luck charm. "What the hell?" I muttered to no one. There was no click as I pressed the button. There was a buzz, then entirely too much silence before an annoying nasal female voice spoke. "Yes." "Any appointments?" "Two sir." Silence. I hate her. I really do. "Yes?" "Yes what sir?" One, two, three... "Who the fuck are they?" "Oh, why didn't you ask?" ...four, five... "I just did." "Your daughter will be here in about an hour, and the Devil would like to talk to you at your earliest convenience." "The Devil can wait, send Crime in when she arrives." I flipped the silver coin, caught it, slapped it down on the back of my hand--Heads--and reached out to turn off the intercom. "Oh, and sir, you have a client waiting in the outer office." I set the silver coin on my desk top. "Why didn't--" "Didn't ask." ...six... I got Markham from Crime. Markham was unsuccessful at her

chosen profession, but Crime felt sorry for her, and talked me into taking her. "He didn't have an appointment?" "No." "Been checked?" "Of course. What are you paying me for?" "Well?" "Well what sir?" "Is he carrying?" "Yes, .45, left shoulder holster." "Send him in." "Are you sure?" "Yes, I'm sure. And quit fucking talking through your nose." I shut off the intercom. It didn't worry me too much having someone come in my office with a gun. Why should it? My clothes all have a special bullet resistant weave running through them. Even my underwear. It's the layering of the weave that makes it effective. It was only a short wait before my door opened. A nervous young man walked in. He was sweating, and his hand shook as he wiped his forehead. I could smell his fear. "Sit down," I said, motioning to the chair centered on the floor, in front of my desk. I stood up as he sat down, and held out my hand. I've got manners. As I shook his hand I didn't request that he give me his gun. Bad etiquette to ask for someone's gun. I know I wouldn't give mine up for anything. Besides, a known threat is usually harmless. His hand was hot and wet. Mine dry. "My name's on the door. What's yours?" Actually, there were two names on the door, Bartok and Bobscobell, neither which were mine, but he didn't need to know this. "Thomas, or ah Tom, if you like." I reseated myself, picked up my luck charm, and flipped it. Heads. "What can I do for you Thomas?" "I'd a...." I waited. He didn't finish. "Why don't you have a cigarette? You look nervous." "Don't smoke. I'd--like someone...." I hate people who don't finish sentences. Guessing games suck. What was bothering him? Assassinations are commonplace, I wondered if it was because I looked 17. There's only one thing to make a guy as nervous as he was, and that happens to be the opposite sex. I knew he wasn't here for that, so I decided to play with him. "A girl? Sorry, that's not my department." It was my daughter's, but I somehow failed to mention this. He laughed. Well, not exactly laughed, more like a dry chuckle. "No, not sex. I'd like someone killed." Finally, a complete sentence--two even. We were getting somewhere. Killing, now that was my department. But why did he seem frightened? "Who?" "Caine Adamsen." "What can you give me on him?" "Nothing." "Description?" "No." "Place of birth or where he lives now?" "No." I let out a sigh. Just then there was a knock at the door. My daughter stepped in. The room got darker, but then my daughter has a

way of doing that to rooms. It's almost as if she's made of night. "Hello love." It was then that I saw the size of her eyes. I asked her what was wrong. "Nothing. I'll wait in the outer office. Didn't realize you had a client," she said over her shoulder. She closed the door. My daughter is not one to easily lose composure. When she is disturbed, then there is reason. I didn't know what to think of this. I didn't even look at Thomas for a bit, so I didn't get his reaction to Crime. I did have the feeling that they knew each other though. But back to the business at hand. "You want someone killed, and all you can give me is a name? I can't just order an assassination on a name. What happens if the wrong guy's taxed? Have anything else?" "Yes. I mean no. I have a picture too." He handed me a white envelope. I flipped the coin. Heads again. "Why do you want him done in?" I don't usually ask this, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to touch this one. He started to turn gray, like he was about to be sick or commit suicide or something. "I ah...." Incomplete sentences again. Guessing game time. "Can't say?" "No" "Fine. You know this is going to cost." "Yes. Here's what I can afford to pay." He handed me a piece of paper. I looked at it. The number written there was about four times what I was going to ask, and I was going to ask a lot. "How much do you think--" He interrupted me. Good thing too, or I might have actually told him that I was willing to take less, and God forbid that I be honest. "That is what I can pay. It's all yours when it's done." I handed him a Guild form and a pen. "Fill this out. Pay special attention to blocks 12 and 23. Make sure you spell all names correctly. He finished and looked up. "And sign here." He did. Thomas Smith. Smith was one of my best customers. He ranked right up there with Jones and that Doe fellow. I didn't care who he was, but Guild standards had to be met, this form was one of them. I guess it has to do with taxes and all, but anyone in my profession would be stupid not to pay taxes. Let me explain a few things. The government, or as it is more often called, the Guild, requires licensing for any activity that would otherwise be illegal, such as prostitution, drug selling, or well, assassination is always a good example. Anyone who operates certain activities outside of the Guild, or without paying the full amount of taxes, is considered to be rogue, and the Guild has its own ways of dealing with this type of individual. It has been a long time since I've heard of a rogue assassin, since the beginning days of the Guild in fact. The only assassin I know of who would be good enough to operate without the Guild is Silhouette, and as far as I know even he pays taxes. It's a little more common for other professions to have rogues, but even this is rare. If an individual pays taxes, he is a Guild asset. He is then immune from any Guild assassin or assassin brokerage like mine. He is considered to be 'Protected.' The only people who don't pay taxes, but are still Protected, are politicians and Council members. No one would be stupid enough to kill a politician, and Council members are next to ghosts. They hide well.

Any person who does not pay taxes is a Guild debit. It is to the benefit of the Guild if these people are removed. It is upon these that I make my money. Your average citizens do not pay taxes, making them fair game. The funding of the Guild is carried out completely by licensing of certain activities and taxes. But I forget myself. I looked again to Thomas. "Payment to be received on completion," I said. "Have a nice day." Smith left my office rubbing his finger. Most assassins, or assassin brokers like myself, demand payment up front. I don't. I don't like front money. No, only payment for a job well done. I'm not worried about a client skipping town either. My little pen isn't just a pen. It records DNA, blood-type and fingerprints. I just feed this information into the Guild computer, and anytime the person in question uses a credit card or phone or tries to leave the city I'll find out. There's no way out of this city without my finding out in time to stop it. Intercom button. No buzz. Button again. Buzz. Silence, then a nasal, "Yes?" Markham can turn the intercom on in her office and it doesn't buzz in mine. That way I need not be disturbed while I'm with a client. There was only one drawback to this. If I had to press it more than once it meant that Markham was eavesdropping. She did this a lot. "Send in Crime." "She's gone sir. Said she'd be back." "Very well." Intercom off. The Devil "You may appear." Nothing happened. Ah right, the coin. I picked it up and repeated myself. "I am here," the Devil said. "What is it You want?" "Immortality." "Oh really? I thought You already had that." "I want yours back." "Cancel a contract? Ha! Never. You will have my soul, to do with as you please, for eternity, on the day I die, but until that time I have immortality for as long as I so choose." The Devil licked His lips. His tongue was silver. I wondered if He made it that way as some kind of joke. Nah, didn't really strike me as the comedian type. I was curious as to why the Devil wanted me to give up immortality. I mean eventually I would get sick of life and consign myself to Hell. I knew this and He knew this, so what was His hurry? "What's Your hurry?" I asked. The Devil disappeared. There was a bang as displaced air crashed in upon itself, signaling His departure. A little piece of paper was laying on the ground. I picked it up, and read it. "The contract reads that you only retain Immortality as long as you have the coin." --Satan-How rude. He didn't even answer my question.

Silhouette After I ran the name Caine Adamsen though the Guild computer, and found out that he was taxable, I picked up the phone, and dialed the number of the best assassin I know of (712-239-4295, in case you're interested). A large stylized 'S' appeared on my video screen. It had the head of a snake and a dagger for a tail. Poison dripped off the snake's fangs and the blade. Showy pretentious bastard. I waited. The snake's head rotated to face the screen and slowly enlarged until it filled it. Its tongue slid out and flicked at the dripping poison. A voice spoke. "Speak. I am receiving," it said. There are certain things one has to put up with when dealing with the best, and Silhouette was the best. I didn't have to like it, but I did have to live with it. I've never seen Silhouette, nor do I know his real name. I'd like to keep it this way. "Assignment." "Who?" "Caine Adamsen." "Fine. Standard fee. Send all subject information across the line." "You already have it." "Just a name?" "And a picture." "Double fee plus expenses, or forget it." "Fine." I was happy. I'd still be making an insanely large profit. Even after assassin fees and Guild taxes. I took the envelope, opened it, and set the picture down on my office's flatbed scanner. I sent the picture. I then burned it. Assassinations, as I have explained, are not illegal, but then nothing is stopping revenge by a grieving family member (except Guild policies on rogue assassins, but these don't do you much good if you're dead). I have never liked to keep anything associated with my profession around the office. Even the forms I use can be read in more than one way. They say 'Order Form' at the top. You figure it out. A dagger stabbed down in front of the snake's head for a moment, then the screen went black. He would contact me for payment, when done. I hit the intercom once again. It buzzed. I waited. There was the usual silence, and more silence. ...eight, nine, fine then, ten! Now I'm pissed. "Hello? Ms. Markham. Yoo hoo, anyone out there?" sweetness and light, that's me. No secretary. This bothered me. I was spooked. She'd never leave without telling me--never. Adrenaline was pumping. I started to sweat. Bad sign. I opened my desk drawer, and drew out a .38. Not much, but it was all I had in the office. I preferred it to most larger things anyway. The door started to open. I put four holes in it. I heard a body drop on the third shot, but I fired again anyway. What can I say? I was nervous. I vaulted the desk, rolled across the floor, leaned against the wall, and cautiously opened the door. My secretary was laying in a large pool of her blood. She was a shitty whore, that's why Crime fired her, and she was an even shittier secretary, but she hadn't deserved to die. No, I didn't shoot her. Her throat was cut, nice clean incision too. Whoever had tried to open my office door would have had to step right over her.

The Beginning of the End My daughter was laying about five feet away. She looked unconscious. I glanced at the monitors on Ms. Markham's desk. We were the only ones in any of the offices. I put my gun away, stood up, and walked over to Crime. I took her wrist, and checked her pulse. I didn't get one. No, she wasn't dead. She was still warm and breathing. I'm just not a nurse. I reached out to slap her awake, but she opened her eyes just then. A knife suddenly appeared in her hand. There was already blood on it. She thrust the knife for my throat. I caught her hand, drew my .38 once again, and politely planted it between my Crime's eyes. "Drop it or I'll shoot you," I said. "You already did, you prick!" she spat. I love great family relationships. Crime wears the same protective weave that I do. If I had shot her then this was the only reason for her still being alive. She wasn't even bleeding. "Drop it Crime, now!" She did. I picked it up. Six inches of blade, wet with blood. I kept my gun aimed at her head. "You kill Markham?" "She was eavesdropping. I had to." That was why I had had to hit the intercom button twice. "So, she does--did that all the time. I only had a client." "Who?" she said as she got up, (I had decided to let her. She wouldn't actually try to kill me) and with a little difficulty, sat in Markham's chair. "You know that's confidential." "Who?" I figured I owed it to her. After all, it did appear as if I had just shot her. Even if she had deserved it. "Thomas Smith." "Wrong, that was an alias. Before you say, 'I know, all my customers use them,' let me ask this: Who did he want killed?" "That's--" I started, but she interrupted. "Confidential? Bullshit. Look at that." She pointed to a folder on my dead secretary's desk. I opened it. "Caine Adamsen," I read. I lowered my gun. The folder was thick. "That's why I killed Markham." "Where did you get this?" "I keep them on all my customers." I didn't know this. I was curious. "Why?" "Efficiency. It makes it easier to cater to my clients tastes. I can make sure what the client wants is available when he wants it. I can also keep tabs on clients who cause me problems" I gathered he was such a client. "What was his preference?" She scowled, and answered, "Biologically Enhanced." A 'Biologically Enhanced' is a creature that is created just for pleasure. It can have anything though, from an extra breast, to a vagina in the middle of its face, or if you're female (or homosexual) you could get a BE with two pounds of swinging meat. You'd be surprised how many people actually made use of the Biologically Enhanced's services. I knew that Crime didn't like dealing in these, but the profit margin was too high not to.

"Don't worry about Caine. He's dead. Silhouette," I said. The blood drained from Crime's face. I'd never before seen her so pale. I thought for a moment that she was going to pass out again. She said, "You didn't." "What's wrong?" "Father, Thomas Smith is Caine Adamsen." I sat down in one of the waiting chairs, opened the folder, and looked at the picture there. "Oh shit." I hadn't looked at the one in my office, before I burned it. I hadn't really wanted to see it, but now I wished I still had it. Caine had one of those faces that as soon as you were done looking at it it seemed to fade from memory. I closed my eyes and tried to remember him. I couldn't, but when I looked at the picture I knew that she was right. "Father, have you ever hired Silhouette before?" "Yes." "Then I don't need to tell you about him. What are you going to do? He always finishes a job. I hired him once--a long time ago--and I have no doubt that he will complete the job that I sent him on. As soon as the individual I want dead quits paying taxes, or goes rouge Silhouette will kill him. I'm willing to wait though. You can't afford to." "Who did you hire him to--" "Sorry, I can't tell even you that." I was distracted. I didn't know what all this meant. I didn't press Crime on her dealings with Silhouette. I wished I had. Time for another explanation. Silhouette: an unseen assassin who, as far as I know, hasn't failed yet. Once contracted he disappears until the job is done, and there is no way that he can be contacted after he accepts a job. After he's hired he goes underground for several days to several weeks before the killing, and stays there for several days to several weeks before collecting. He is unstoppable once put on the trail of anyone, no cancellation of the contract by cowardly clients who've changed they're mind, no bribing to let live by the intended target. Silhouette had built the reputation of the perfect assassin. The problem? If Silhouette killed Caine I'd have to pay Silhouette, but if Caine was dead, and if Caine was Thomas Smith then there would be no way I could collect. Either Silhouette failed, and I wouldn't have to pay him, small chance, or I paid him for a job well done out of my own funds. I didn't like this idea at all. For one thing I didn't know if I could. I did some quick figuring. Using all reserve finances I had I couldn't meet Silhouette's fee, but I could probably raise it in time. Crime left me to my thoughts. I wished she hadn't, because the conclusion I came to required that I visit her shop. It was time to visit Crime on a professional level. It could wait till later though. Willie Peat I picked up Caine's folder, and started reading again. It was interesting, though it was mostly on his sexual preferences. There was very little actual useful information. I read for about an hour, sifting through for anything worth anything, and was just about to set the folder down, when the door burst open. I stood up, and found myself facing a large caliber handgun. "I'll kill you!" a small time assassin by the name of Willie Peat screamed. Willie Peat was a minor character in the story of life. He couldn't even pay taxes. I wished I could have just ignored him, but he

wouldn't let me. I made a mental note to get Ms. Markham replaced. If I had had a secretary this wouldn't have happened. I also made a mental note to make sure her body was removed. A corpse in the appointment room generally isn't good for business. It's strange what goes through your mind when you're under stress. "I'll kill you!" he yelled again, and as bad as his hand was shaking, I was afraid he would, whether he meant to or not. I started to sweat a little--ah hell--I started to sweat a lot. Sure, I was immortal, but I had no desire to spend the rest of eternity contemplating how it felt to have my brain dripping off a wall. "What do you want Willie?" "I need an assignment. I need money. I need--" "Scream?" "Yeah." "You're an addict Willie. You need help. You've done good work for me before. Clean yourself up, then come talk to me about assignments." He started to cry, big wet tears, and great wracking sobs that looked like they were going to tear him apart. Snot ran from his nose too. It almost made my heart break. "Don't patron--don't patron--no fucking speeches!" "Get out," I said. My voice was calm. I think it was anyway. Wasn't shaking like Willie's at least. "I--I'll...." I figured he was going to shoot me sooner or later. If I was to have a chance at all I'd have to force his hand. "Do it then! Fucking shoot!" I threw up my arm to protect my face. He shot. The round smashed into my wrist. The weave of my cuff stopped it, but I'm afraid my wrist bone was shattered. Not only that, but my hand flew back, powered by that little piece of lead, and slammed into my face. I fell back into my chair. It toppled. My head struck the wall behind me, then the floor in quick succession. Ah, such abuse for my poor cranium. Can't say the lights flickered, then dimmed to blackness; no, they just fucking went out. Thief When I woke two hours later, Willie Peat was gone, my wallet too, and all the standing operating cash in the office. He even took my silver dollar. I was mortal again, and I could already feel myself beginning to age. I looked at my left wrist. The bones were fused together. This was probably due to accelerated aging. I couldn't do anything with my hand except grip. This was definitely a shitty day. There was only one way I could think of to find Willie, and that was by using my best, but usually reluctant, informant. I had to go talk to Thief. I called a cleaning agency to have Markham removed, and left. I went to the sleaziest nightclub in the whole city. It didn't take long to find Thief. I knew he'd be here. He came to this place almost every night to conduct his parasitic activities.. This was why he was one of my better informants. He was always easy to find, and his information was usually accurate. I wanted Willie Peat. I decided to do this the easy way. I offered

Thief money. I didn't have any, so I was glad when he told me to fuck off. Thief was a young black shit who tried to make his living in this city by knowing everything that goes on in the city. He made enough to live by, but not enough to buy Protection. He looked like a little monkey: big ears, big lips, and he was always hunched over. I don't think he could have stood up straight if he'd wanted to. I grabbed him by the ear, with my bad hand, and pulled a little bit. I was saving my right hand in case I had to draw my gun. He had an earring, and I'm sure it caused him more than a small amount of pain. How was I sure? He yelled, quite loudly too. Music kept playing, smoke stayed in the air, and people still danced. No one cared. Okay, the hard way then. "My--my...." "Shut up! I want to know where Willie Peat is. Tell me." I pulled harder. He swore. "I like earrings, Thief. Got quite a few already. Some still have the lobe on it. Tell me, now." "Fuck you!" "That's not nice." I had made up all that shit about collecting earrings, but I guess there was always a time to start. It ripped right through the lobe rather nicely, thank you very much. He screamed again. I expected him to. I pulled out my gun, and put it in his mouth. Six bullets, and I wasn't planning on using any to kill him with. I didn't want Thief dead. Dead men can't talk. No, I wasn't going to kill him, but he didn't have to know this. "Hhhk ag." "One chance, fuck it up, and you'll be dripping off this bar." I took the gun out of his mouth. He told me where Willie was. I believed him. I also shot him. No, not in the head, the foot. I might want to talk to him again sometime, but right now I didn't want to have to worry about him following me with petty thoughts of revenge. Oh, and by the way, gun smoke mingles pretty well in a bar. As far as I could tell no one missed a dance step. Killing Time It was dark out and I was tired. I wasn't at all in the mood to be subtle. I got right to it. "Spent it." "Fuck the money, Peat! Where's my coin?" I had him by the throat with my left hand. This hand was so fucked up that I could only squeeze with it, and I guess I must have been doing this. "Gak! Crrrk," he answered. I let up pressure. "Say again?" "Spent it. Subway fair." I put my .38 under his chin. I seldom killed in cold blood, and when I did I never enjoyed it, but this time I found myself smiling as I pulled the trigger over and over again. Six shots and his face was completely gone. I laughed at the brain staring me in the face, and let go of his throat. He crumpled to the ground. Willie Peat was dead. My best informant probably wasn't thinking too highly of me right now. I wasn't in a good mood, and I couldn't comprehend someone, somewhere, in this city of 9 million, having my soul in his hands. I couldn't comprehend him flipping it. Heads, and

heads over and over again. I couldn't comprehend this, so I searched Willie. I found my coin. I dropped to my knees in relief. I was no longer mortal. I wasn't aging anymore, but now I was pissed. "Appear!" Thunder clapped. Smoke filled the room, then collapsed in on itself, forming a short pillar. The Devil was sitting on this. "I choose to answer this summons." "Don't try that shit again!" "What Stryke?" "The coin is mine. I paid for it. We have an agreement. I want you to quit fucking with me." "If you care to read the contract you'll find that I 'may not interfere with your life in any direct way.' I have yet to take a direct action against you." "Fuck you have! What about Willie Peat?" "His decision, not mine." "Fuck--" "No Stryke, fuck you. If you have nothing better, I'd ask you not to bother Me. I leave you this to think about--what can you do to Me if I do decide to cancel your contract?" I opened my mouth to say something. Nothing came out. I closed my mouth. The Devil disappeared in a blinding flash of painful light. I looked at Willie Peat's corpse. What could I do if the Devil canceled? Even if He returned my soul to me, I had no doubt that He'd still be getting it anyway. Hadn't I already renounced God? But if the Devil could renege, why hadn't He? Why wait? These were questions that I doubted Willie had the answers for, but I had to find out. As if I didn't already have enough to deal with concerning Silhouette. I didn't want this worry. I searched the apartment for my money, didn't find it, then left. It was time to see Crime. I couldn't put it off any longer. More than just my life was at stake. Lisa The Sex Shop was busy. It always was at night and even most days. My daughter's Shop did good business. She had carved out her place in society with money I had lent her She had seen a need to pay me back, even though I had not. I sat across her desk studying her, as she did the same to me. It was a game we seemed to be playing more often lately. Crime never told me why she changed her name, but it seemed to fit, and I never questioned it. Being immortal had let me be more accepting. It did not seem abnormal to me that Crime now ran the second most successful brothel. Little has ever been able to shock me. This was a quality that Crime seemed to share. She wasn't surprised that I had aged over two years, since she had seen me last. Either that, or she hid it well. I didn't want to talk about it, so I said nothing. "I need a girl." "Didn't you always say that you'd 'never pay for a roll in the hay'?" "No, I said I've never 'paid to get laid,' but that's not what I've come for. I need a bodyguard, someone I can trust." "You can't trust anyone, not even yourself. You know that." "Right. Give me someone." Crime picked up a book, and started going through it, page by page.

"No. No. No. Ah, maybe. What about...." She drew back a protective plastic covering, and slid a photo across the desk. I didn't look at it. "I don't want a maybe. Give me someone else. Markham was a maybe, remember?" "Right." Several more pages, and a lot of 'nos' later, I got an excited 'perfect,' which I guess is better than a 'yes.' "Name?" "Lisa Crane. She used to be a tax collector. Good too. She quit when the Guild quit paying commissions. Said straight wages just didn't cut it. She's a good girl. Does business. Never tries to cheat me. Not sure if she'll want to go with you though. Says she likes prostitution, the money and freedom and such." I picked up the picture. Nice. "What can you give me for her?" Crime asked. "I know you don't have funds right now." I wondered how she knew this. If this was already common street information I could be in trouble. I took this as a warning. I did have an option left though. One I knew Crime wouldn't expect. "Love." "Funny. He's Protected." "Not anymore. Guild computer says he didn't pay taxes this month. It seems he feels that he's powerful enough to hold his own against any competitors. He's gone rogue." She smiled. "Done?" I asked. "Done." "Call for her." My daughter picked up the phone on her desk, and spoke into it. Shortly after there was a knock at the door. "Enter." A woman came into the room. She looked about thirty. She had long blond hair that was pulled back. She was wearing a white full length dress. There was a lacy black silk band about her neck. On it, at the center of her throat, was an ivory Cameo broach. She looked like she had just stepped from a Victorian romance novel. I could see why she did business. "Sit down." She did. "I have a trick waiting in my room." "I sent Libby to cover." "He won't like that. He's one of my regulars." "I told Libby to tell him that it was on the house." "Lisa, this is my fa--" she broke off. "He's a friend. He'd like to hire you as a bodyguard." She turned to me. "Is a woman bodyguard a fantasy of yours? I don't think I'd be very good at it. I'm used to, 'O' please, my lord, don't abuse me so, I don't know if mine heart can take it'." "Not fantasy, reality," I said. She turned to Crime. "Is this kid serious?" If only she knew how old I really was. "Completely," my daughter and I said in unison. Lisa didn't laugh, I had to give her that much. "And why not?" Crime asked. "You're qualified. Hell, you took money from the most dangerous people there are: thieves, killers, pimps, Scream dealers, and you're still alive. "If money is what you want, I can only offer you the promise of

money. Either, when this settles down, I can, and will, make you a very rich person, or we'll both be dead, in which case you won't need money. Until then, I'm broke" "You want me to go with him?" "It's your decision." "My place or yours?" she asked me. "Yours." Confessions There was little furniture in her apartment. In the living room was an oil painting, a telephone, a stereo, and on the floor in front of a fireplace was a thick round black plush rug. Lisa walked into the kitchen and disappeared. I could see only cupboards and counters from where I was standing, but there must've been a refrigerator, because when she came back into view she had two long stemmed glasses and a bottle of wine in an ice bucket. She handed me a glass and sat on the floor in front of the stereo. I sat beside her. She opened the wine, filled my glass, then her's. She reached out and turned the stereo on. The music that came out sounded like--well it was what Edgar Allen Poe would've written had he been a composer. It was hideous. I don't know if she picked it because she thought it was romantic or what. It wasn't. Lisa drank some wine. I followed her example. A nice dry white. "I'm immortal," I said. "I'm Crime's father." Crime was the only person besides myself that knew this, but I figured that it was a good way to start a conversation. It was. I told my story. Every Friday, during the summer after my Junior year of high school, I went to the same place, (a romantic little spot overlooking the city lights) in the same car, (a flame red ' 57 Chevy) and did the same thing (sex, lots of it) with a different girl. One Friday, I was sitting and sweating with a very beautiful piece of female flesh named Lori. Lori had this thing about her blouse, she wouldn't take it off. This didn't bother me all that much, since I was drunk, and she was naked from the waist down and straddling me. It was love, or as close as one can get in the back seat of a car. I looked past Lori (everything that would've normally distracted me was covered up). Sitting, with His legs crossed, on the hood of my car was the Devil, and He had Lori's skirt in his hands. How do I know it was the Devil? Well, for starters He had small pointy horns and a barbed tail, eyes of flame, and a silver tongue. "Black, how nice," He said holding up the skirt. It burst into flames. Glowing ash floated on the air. Yep, it was the Devil alright. "Get thee behind me Satan," I said. I know it was corny, but it seemed like the thing to say at the time. Lori slapped me, and to my dismay stopped doing what she was doing. I guess, "Get thee behind me Satan," wasn't the most romantic thing I could've said. "Where's my skirt?" "Gone. Fire and smoke. Nothing but ash now." I was more than a little drunk. Lori quickly dressed, in what clothes she had left, while she yelled about how it was me who was the one smoking. This amounted to putting her underwear back on. She got out of the car and started walking home, wearing only panties and a blouse. I didn't care. I let her

go. There's an endless supply of girls. "Oh you poor sinner." "Fuck off." "My My My. I came here with only the best of intentions and this is what I get? Such hostility. Nevertheless, I do not mind. In fact I would have probably reacted in the same way if someone burned My date's skirt." I was talking to the Devil Himself, and I was completely naked with a wet erection, so forgive me if I couldn't think of anything original to say. I repeated my earlier swear oath. "Very good, but let Me ask you something. Does not having the Devil along on a date seem rather--how shall I say this--strange?" "I've been drinking. Lori didn't see ya, so you're not for real." What an innocent I was. "Fine, I'm not real. How would you like to sell your soul to a nonexistent Devil then?" Once again, I told him what to do. He held up a piece of paper, and started to read. Standard contract, my soul would be placed in a coin, I'd live forever, or until I felt like buying my own little piece of Hell for a dollar. "Think about it kid--life everlasting." "I know better than that. You'll have me get in a fire, or fall off of a building, or hit by a train, or something where I wouldn't want to go on." "No, fire would--never mind. It's all in the contract. I can't make any direct actions against you, and if something does happen to make your life unlivable, then you need only hold the coin, and summon Me. I will answer, and return you to your original condition. It's all in the contract. Come, sign." My life up to this point hadn't meant anything really. I mean where was I headed? Everything was starting to become predictable, like masturbation. There was nothing unforeseeable in my future. Even if the Devil was offering me a deal that favored Him (and I was sure that He was) I still wanted it. Nothing could be worse than continuing this way, trying to hide from being aware. I signed. I woke in the morning, still in my car, with a bad taste in my mouth, something in my hand, and I guess I must have had a wet dream, because there was dried semen on my stomach and my legs. I opened my hand. 1945, the year I was born. "I'm immortal too." I laughed. I guess it wasn't the most polite thing to do. When I finally regained control of myself I looked at Lisa and started laughing again. "I don't believe you." "I believed you." "Yeah, if I thought you would've, I probably wouldn't have told you." "I'm not exactly immortal. I'm undead. I'm a vampire." "I still don't believe you." "You don't have to believe me, but you laugh again and I'll kill you." "You can't. I'm immortal." We both laughed, then she kissed me. Somehow, when we kissed, I couldn't imagine her being some dead (or undead if you prefer) creature out of my childhood nightmares. She was too warm--too soft. It seemed impossible. She started to undo the buttons of my shirt. I returned the favor. We continued to undress each other until we were both completely naked. I looked at her. She was beautiful. Her body was perfect.

My erection was becoming painful. I wanted her bad, but I was afraid to take her. I knew I wouldn't last. I couldn't last. I felt like I was some teenage nerd, about to score the best looking cheerleader in school, while her parents were out of town for the weekend. "I can't." "Yes you can." She put her hands on my shoulders, and forced me to my knees, and I do mean forced. She was strong. Far stronger than I. She pushed me back. This time I did not resist. We made love until sunrise. She bit me twice. It was the perfect romance scene, but only if you didn't stop to think about it. I didn't stop to think about it. She took me to her bedroom. In it was a large stone coffin, in which, together, we slept. The Night The next night we woke. Lisa went into the bathroom, "to get ready," she had said. I didn't ask what she was getting ready for. I was hungry, and decided that I needed to eat. I went to the kitchen. I opened the fridge, but nothing looked good. In fact nothing even looked edible. I guess when you're a vampire, like Lisa, you don't have much need for food. I decided to try something anyway. I took a bottle of the same white wine we had shared the night before, poured some into a glass, and drank it. I dropped both the bottle and the glass, and threw up in the sink. I then fell to my knees. I was dizzy, couldn't stand. I was now having dry-heaves. The convulsions were ripping my insides out. I felt like I was dying. For all I knew I was, except that I was supposed to be immortal. I didn't know what was going on. I called out for Lisa. I must have called out rather loudly, because she came quickly. She took one look at me, and a look of infinite horror came over her face. "What have I done?" she yelled. Poisoned me maybe? But I rejected this idea. The wine had been sealed, and poisons are too unreliable, unless delivered with a blade to the heart. That's usually a for sure thing. "Lisa." "What have I done?" "Lisa, talk to me. What's happening?" I was shaking. Sweat was starting to bead on my skin. She kneeled beside me and cradled my head in her arms. She stroked my hair. She was crying. "Not happening, happened. You're a vampire now. It shouldn't have happened, you were still alive. I never meant for this. You can never know how sorry I am." She held me for a long time, and no matter what I said, trying to comfort her, she kept crying, small whimpering little sobs. Finally, I regained control of myself, and when I could take no more of this I disentangled myself from Lisa. She let me go. When the tortuous pain in my insides had subsided enough, I stood up, and being careful of all the broken glass, I washed my face in the sink. "Lisa, let's go." She was still sitting and holding her legs, rocking back and forth like a sad cold child. I took her hands, and repeated myself. She looked up at me, but it was as if she couldn't see me. "Lisa."

Still nothing. "Lisa!" I yelled this time, then slapped her. I hit her a lot harder than I expected, but it worked. She looked at me again. This time there was understanding in her eyes. "Oh Michael, I'm so sorry." "It's okay. You can't hurt me. I'm immortal. I'm fine." "I thought you were. I believed you. Otherwise I wouldn't have drawn life from you twice. I never draw more than once. From all my customers I only feed from each no more than once a month. People are addicted to death. They keep coming back. You were not immortal Michael, but now you are undead." I spent another hour trying to convince her that I was fine, and that nothing was wrong with me. She wouldn't believe me, but then I wasn't sure myself. Had the Devil canceled? If so it didn't matter. I was now undead. I could feel it. I thirsted for blood, not wine. Lisa must have only pretended to drink the wine, or she knew something that I didn't. The night was passing quickly. I wanted to do something before she was forced to sleep again. "Let's go," I said. "Where?" "I don't know. You had something in mind before, didn't you?" A serious look came across her face. "I don't want to go there anymore. Maybe tomorrow. I have something I must show you now," she said. She led me, outside, by the hand, to her car. It was a small black sporty thing. Hope that helps. I have never really given a shit about cars. I knew as much about them as I did guns, which was nothing, but I knew enough to know that it was expensive. "Where are we going?" "You'll see. Get in." I did. She did. She started the car, and started driving. We drove for quite a ways. I think I even fell asleep for a while. It was at least an hour before she pulled the car over. She got out. I did too. She started walking toward a small cottage. I followed. "Where are we going?" I asked again. "Here." "Why?" "You'll see." She reached out and knocked. The door sounded like wood. It looked like wood. It was probably wood. An old lady answered the probably wooden door. Her face was wrinkled. She looked like she'd been in a fire as a child. I was tired. I yawned. No one said anything. I stood there. Lisa stood there. The old lady stood there. Time did not stand. It was marching to the same old beat it always did, but only the old lady was getting any older. I shuddered. I too could look like this. I did not want this to happen. The old lady started to shut the door. I started to turn away. "Wait," Lisa said. I didn't know if she was talking to me or the old lady. We both stopped. "Leave me in peace. It's been years since you came here. I'm going to die soon. I just want to die in peace." "You wouldn't have had to die, sister. I made the offer sixty five years ago. You should have taken it. You could have lived forever like me." "You're not alive." I was the observer in this conversation. I observed. "It's not like I chose this."

"No, but you chose not to do anything about it." "What was I supposed to do?" Lisa was about to cry. I could tell. I was right. Twin tears made their way down her lovely cold face. "I've told you before." "God? Ha! He wouldn't help me." "Go to the house of God. Repent." "I can't." "You can." "I've tried. I burned. I couldn't even touch the door. I'd die if I went inside. I can't." "You're not living now. You are dead, but the gift of heaven is not yet denied. Repent at the altar of God and you may yet be saved. Though your flesh may die your soul can survive." The probably wooden door slammed shut. "Let's go Michael." I didn't say anything until we were back in the car. "What was that all about?" "She was my sister--my twin sister. That is what I would look like today if I wasn't immortal. If I wasn't undead." She started crying, such misery. I couldn't understand. People would kill to be immortal. I had sold my soul. At first I didn't have anything to say, so I didn't say anything, but then I started laughing. She slammed down the gas pedal. "It's not funny, damn it!" "No wait. You don't understand. "There was this guy, and he was walking down a road. He came across this mirror. 'I'm God,' he said to the mirror. "'No, I'm God,' the mirror answered. "So the man broke the mirror and God died. "Get it?" "No. Should I have?" I almost went into hysterics again, but she was still crying, and the car was flying at almost a hundred, so I didn't. "No, guess not. It's just that I've been alive for seventy five years now, for fifty eight of them I've been immortal, and I never expected to meet someone even remotely like me." She kissed me, and about killed us by running the car off the road. Daylight was still a ways away. I was hungry--starved, and I had someone I still wanted to see. Love Love, as far as I was concerned, ran a far classier place than Crime. I mean where would you rather go for sex, the One Stop Sex Shop or The Love Boutique? That, and Love didn't deal in BEs. In the end it didn't matter though. I wasn't there to get laid. Lisa and I walked past several girls on our way to Love. None propositioned me. I was almost hurt. We stopped before the mountain of black flesh. Love was the biggest person I'd ever seen. He looked more like a bulldog than a person. His whole body rippled with muscle. The man standing next to him, his bodyguard, wasn't small either. Love wasn't stupid. He had to know that I was there to kill him. The only things I had going for me was the speed at which I could draw a gun--fast, and the fact that nobody would have the audacity to do what I was about to try. His bodyguard had a double barreled shotgun in his hands, and he looked like he knew how to use it. If I had said I wasn't scared I would

have been lying. My testicles were in my throat. "Why did you come here, Strick?" "It's Stryke, like in to strike a match. Got it?" "Whatever Stir-ick. You here on business?" "Yes." "Yours or mine?" My mouth was dry, but I managed to speak. "Mine," I said. Now he knew for sure. I hoped he was sweating as much as I. I couldn't understand why he hadn't already had me shot. Speaking of which, the bodyguard slowly brought the shotgun up and aimed it at my head. He smiled. He had a big old gold tooth, and the rest of his teeth were nicotine stained to almost the same color. It wasn't a pleasant smile. "Then I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave, unless you'd like to reconsider and sample some of what I have to offer?" I motioned to Lisa and said, "No thanks, I brought my own." "I see you have. Take her with you when you go." Lisa just stood there like the good little vampire that she was. "Wait. You don't think I'd just walk in here and shoot you?" This was exactly what I had planned, but I wasn't going to tell him that. I may be careless, but I'm not--well, maybe I was stupid. Here I was standing in Love's brothel about to kill him, in front of a bodyguard, who was aiming a big gun at me, not exactly smart. "I have something for you." When I said earlier that I was quick with a gun, I wasn't exaggerating. I'm fast--damn fast. The only thing is that I only hit about half of what I shoot at. This is why I have always tried to make sure the range was such that I couldn't miss. I raised my left hand, palm open. Goldtooth thrust the shotgun into my face. Only about a foot of air separated me from two barrels of death. I raised my right hand, slowly, so as not to give Goldtooth a reason to do some interior decorating with my gray matter. I couldn't believe I was about to try this. I could only hope that they couldn't believe it either. When my hand was only inches from my jacket, Love said, "That's far enough." "Think so?" I hoped so. I took a deep breath, and grabbed a hold of the shotgun barrel with my left hand, forcing it away from my face. I drew my gun with my right. There was an explosion, and a lot of pain from my hand, but I was still alive. Goldtooth's jaw dropped open in surprise. I fired, and hit him right in his precious tooth. He crumpled to the ground at Love's feet. My wrist pumped a few quick jets of blood, but immediately slowed to almost nothing. My left hand had been through a lot lately. Love just sat there. "You're not natural. Am I to die then?" I didn't answer. I just smiled, and dropped the gun. My left hand had already stopped bleeding. Vampirism has its advantages. It was quiet. I looked around. Everyone was staring at me. They must have been the whole time. I ignored them, and stepped up to Love. I reached out and grabbed him by the hair. I then pulled his head back, and sunk my teeth into his throat. Love was strong, but there was no way he could resist, even though he did try. He was only mortal after all. Blood flowed into my mouth. My senses started to swim. Was it like this every time I wondered? I felt myself drop to my knees, taking Love with me. It was bliss. I caressed Love's cheek with the stump of my ruined hand as I sucked like a babe. I didn't want it to end, but as big as Love was eventually it did. With my one hand, I broke his neck. When the blood stopped flowing I let my head fall back, and I

laughed. I felt like God. I was glutted. I hadn't thought I could drink that much. Lisa picked up my gun, held out her other hand. I grasped her smooth fingers. We left. The Banquet Last night I was worried about my hand. Sure it had healed into a scar covered stump in no time, but this wasn't what I wanted. I guess I should have been grateful that I was still alive. I mentioned robotics to Lisa, she just laughed, and told me that my hand would take care of itself. I didn't believe her. Before sunrise, we again bedded down, in her coffin, together. I was worried for a bit, that some one would come upon us as we slept. Lisa told me to lift the coffin lid. It was large, and stone, and it was heavy. I had no doubt that a mortal would have an impossible time getting at whoever was within. When we woke, Lisa said that she had someplace that she wanted to take me, and that I was to dress up for it. (Oh, by the way, my hand had completely grown back. I don't know how it happened exactly.) I hadn't been home in days, so I told her that I didn't have any dress clothes. She told me to look in the closet. There was one suit in there. It was the only thing in the closet. It was charcoal gray, with black trimming, and I knew it would fit fine. I was amazed. I gave up on how she had done it, when after the tenth time, she still refused to answer me. Lisa knocked. Little dents appeared in the door (or maybe I imagined them). A large fat man answered. He looked powerful, like he could beat the shit out of anyone. He was dressed like an old fashioned butler. I took it that he was both bouncer and receptionist. "Lisa, it's been such a long time. Will you be staying for the banquet?" he asked in a hollow voice. "Yes." "Really? What a surprise. I've never known you to before." Lisa just looked at him. She didn't answer. "Who is this?" he asked. "A friend." "You had better watch him carefully then. No telling what can happen at the Banquet." "I can take care of myself," I said. "Really?" "Really." I drew my .38, and I pointed it at him. He was a hell of a lot faster than I expected. For as big as he was, I only expected him to be able to move in slow-motion, but he reached out with his right hand and grabbed my gun. At least this was what I assumed he did. I didn't actually see him move. I tried to fire, but the damn gun wouldn't work. He was squeezing so hard that the chamber holding the rounds couldn't rotate, nor could the hammer move back. I heard, and felt, my trigger finger break. I fell to my knees. I looked at Lisa. She had taken out a cigarette, lit it, and was now calmly smoking it. "So little man, you can take care of yourself huh? Never threaten me. It isn't wise," he said. I looked up into his huge face. He looked damn sure of himself. He was so fucking smug. With all my vampiric might, I punched him in the testicles, with my newly rejuvenated hand. He let go of me, and

dropped like a groaning rock. "You my friend, are a fuck," I said. I put my gun away, got up, and kicked him in the head for good measure. I looked at my hand. Two fingers were bent back at almost 90 degree angles. With a crack, and a yell, I straightened them. I could tell that the bones were already starting to knit. "If you're done playing with Morris, we have a dinner to attend." We left Morris, withering in agony on the floor, and walked hand in hand down the hall. There were no lights, but I found I could see fine. We stopped in front of a set of large metal bound double doors. These doors looked like they were torn from some medieval castle. They were black, and probably could have withstood an attack by an army. "Thanks for your help back there." "You said you could handle it. I figured it was better to let you learn on someone gentle like Morris, than let you make a fool of yourself later," she said as she open the doors. "Welcome to the Banquet." The sight that my eyes beheld confounded me. In all my considerably long life I had never seen anything such as its like. There were multilevel balconies, upon which people of much variety, were doing such strange things: ballroom dancing, drinking, having sex in hidden little corners, and occasionally someone would fall from one of these into a drunken heap of flesh and bone. Unlike the hall, there were lights everywhere here, but no one cast a shadow. I laughed. "Lisa, explain this." "This, Michael, is the Banquet." A small white man came up to me. He wasn't an albino. He was such a uniform color that albinism was instantly ruled out. His eyes were white, and when he smiled I saw that even his tongue and gums were the color of milk. I wondered how he got this way. He was dressed in pale to complete his appearance. "Hello, my smiling friend," he said as he bowed to me. "Michael, this is Nemesis," said Lisa, and by the way she said it, I could tell that she did not like this individual at all. "So, who's nemesis are you?" "Death's Michael, I am the nemesis of--myself." Lisa stepped between us, turned her back to him, took my hand, and led me away. I had little choice. I followed. She took me to another room. It had the appearance of a bar. There were tables in this room, with more unusual creatures (even though I was now a vampire, I still had trouble calling vampires people) sitting about them. "Why did you pull me away from him?" "He is a vampire's vampire. He only feeds off his own kind. He seldom leaves here. He's only tolerated because he's too powerful to stop. He gets what he wants." "What's he want?" "Only he knows. I just don't want him to take an interest in you." "It seems to me that there are enough vampires to destroy him." "It's been tried. He killed so many, that it will never be tried again." She was still holding my hand. The music was soft. We danced. I buried my mouth into the base of her throat. She was soft. I parted her skin, and as we danced, I drank. I didn't want to stop. It felt too good, but this was a cup that I had no right to drain. I stopped. "I love you," she said. Did I love her? Yes. It felt so natural. Here we were, two eternal undead in love. "I love you too." I kissed her. I wanted her.

"Let's leave," I said. "We haven't eaten yet, and if we don't dine here, we'll have to stop on the way home." She walked to the bar, said something to the bartender, and received two glasses from him. She then walked back to me, and handed me one of them. It was filled with a dark red liquid, and I knew that it was blood. I could tell by the smell. I didn't drink. I didn't know what to do. What, you can't see my dilemma? Picture this, you're at a party, with some undead woman, to whom you just professed your love, so you don't want to embarrass yourself in front of her, and you are given something you have never experienced before. What do you do? I mean, was this fine sipping blood, or was it like beer, where you just toss off a glass, wipe your mouth on your sleeve, belch, and reach for another? Lisa must have sensed my confusion, because she laughed and told me that it was blood. "I know that," I said. "How do you drink it?" "Slowly. It's expensive. It's the blood of year old white doves." I hadn't seen her pay anything for it. I was going to ask her about this, when she said, "Come, we dine." She led me again, to a set of 'army withstanding' double doors. Hanging upon these doors were a pair of the deadest looking vampires I had ever seen. Each had a stake driven through its still heart. It was by these stakes that they were held in place. "This Michael, is the worst torture for a vampire." "Yeah, death sucks." "No, not death. These two are far from dead, but not as far as they probably hope to be. They are only immobilized. If the stakes were pulled, then they would resume life as the vampires that they are." I didn't know what crime these two had committed to deserve such a fate, but I also couldn't bring myself to feel for them. It didn't seem to me like there could be any life in them. They were more like the kind of a story told to scare a child. Was Lisa trying to warn me against some unknown danger that I could not understand? We opened these doors, and passed through to yet another room. This was the true banquet hall. There was a long wooden table that dominated the room, and it was a large room. It reminded me of a church, for some reason, with its pews pulled out, and with the table taking their place. We were not the first to arrive, there were already others sitting at the table. In fact there were very few seats left, just at one end. Everyone was talking. There were too many voices to pick out just any one individual's speech. I didn't care what any of them were saying. We joined them. The table was large enough to seat hundreds, and was doing so, but we ended up only about thirteen feet from Nemesis. This shows how well he was liked. No one wanted to be near him. He was seated at its head, and was leaning back in his chair with his feet on the table. If anyone minded, no one said so. We sat. Someone who looked like, but was not, Morris came up to us. He had towels folded over his arm. He offered each of us one, Lisa first, then me. We both accepted. "And do you know what you will be having this evening?" the man who looked like, but was not, Morris asked. Before Lisa could answer, I asked, "What do you suggest?" "I, myself, sir, find that an Oriental is often pleasing." "Nah, with Chinese food you're hungry again in an hour. What else ya got?" "Michael, allow me to order." "Sure, fine."

"We'll take the House Special." "Will you be sharing that?" "Yes." "Very well. Thank you very much." He bowed and left. Lisa and I made small talk for about an hour. The night was still young, so I wasn't too worried about the time. Lisa told me that the man who looked like, but wasn't Morris, was Morris's brother, and named Borris. I'm serious. I didn't name them, so don't blame me. I didn't much care for this place, neither did Lisa. I could tell. I think that she only brought me there because it was something she thought I might enjoy. Either that, or she just wanted to show me off (male ego there). Caligula introduced himself. I found him rather interesting. He told me that the thing with the Senate was all contrived, and that he had been innocent, that history had given him, as he says, "A bum rap." I allowed as to how I was sorry. He excused himself, and left. Lisa handed me something. "This is for you," she said. I took it. "What's this?" "A ring." "Oh, is that what they call little loops of metal?" I looked at it closely. The ring was a gold dragon of the oriental type. It had four legs, was thin, and had no wings. The workmanship was superb. It was worth much. I put it on. At first I thought it was too small as I felt its claws dig into my skin, but this feeling eased and went away. It was snug, but comfortable. "There's a bond between us now. We have matching rings. They're called lover's rings. They're supposed to allow you to share your mate's thoughts when you are forced to separate. I got them from my sister as a wedding present." "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were married." "I was. We were happy together until one night a vampire attacked us. She knocked me to the ground, fed from my husband, then broke his neck. She called herself Night, and she decided to make me into--you know the rest." I didn't, but if she didn't want to talk about it, well, that was her right. Borris came back up to us then. He had a small child in his arms. This he handed to Lisa. She took him. He was sleeping. "The House Special," said Borris. "Will you be requiring any other service this evening?" "No," said Lisa. Borris left. If he was displeased with what I had done to his brother, he didn't show it. In fact, he didn't show much of anything. "You're not going to drink from him." "Of course I am, Michael. Why wouldn't I?" "He's just a child." "Yes, a pure child, raised exclusively for this reason. He hasn't a functional brain. He's like a BE." She then leaned in, and drank. I didn't stop her, but for some reason, I wanted to. I was disturbed by this little showing. "Now you." I turned away. I wanted nothing to do with this. I was hungry, but it just didn't seem right. I mean killing someone straight out, and using them, to satisfy the thirst was one thing, but raising people to be bled like cows was something else completely. Just then Nemesis stood up. "Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce one of the newest

members of our little race. He stylizes himself as a killer, even though he knows so little about killing, but he is a vampire, even if only reluctantly, so I'd like everyone to give a big round of applause for Michael." He motioned to me in some imitation of a grand gesture. Some clapped feebly, as if they weren't sure of what was expected of them. "I said, clap! Clap damn it. Everyone clap! Clap! Clap! Clap!" he yelled. Everyone rushed to obey this time. Even Lisa. "Enough!" I said, as I stood up. "Michael--" "Shut up, Lisa." I looked at Nemesis. He looked at me. I don't know where everyone else looked, but they made no sound as we stared at each other. "Are you going to be interesting?" he asked. I ignored his question, and asked one of my own, "Why does everyone fear you? You strike me as being petty. A vampire who kills only vampires. Ha! When was the last time you went among mortals? When was the last time you even pretended to be alive?" I heard many gasps. I guess no one ever questioned Nemesis like this. He laughed and walked around to the side of the table. He put his hands on the shoulders of the vampire that was sitting there. The vampire just sat there. She did not resist. Nemesis brought his hands up and started to run them through her hair. "Why am I so feared you ask?" He gently kissed her flowing mane of red hair. "Because I can do this." He then pulled the woman's head from her shoulders. She looked like a broken child's doll. I wanted to get up and see if I could fix her, but I couldn't just wave a magic wand and have anything I wanted. She was dead--obviously dead. Her body lay broken and lost. Nemesis threw me the head. I caught it. "You're sick." He smiled as I dropped the head. "Are you the cure? I don't think so. Why don't you shoot me?" I probably would have shot him, if I'd thought it would've done any good, but I'd learned my lesson from Morris. He started walking toward me. I reached in my pocket and palmed my silver dollar. I wanted to see if it would offer me any comfort in the face of certain death. It offered little. "Will no one stand up to him?" I asked. I heard Lisa whimper a little. I knew she wanted to step between Nemesis and I, but she thought it would be a waste. She thought I was going to die. She was probably right. "Yes, beg for help. Ask everyone to die, so that you may live. Who are you, the Antichrist? I have decided that I want you." "Fuck off." By now he was directly in front of me. I tried to back away, but he was impossibly quick. I still didn't have this vampire shit down. I underestimated him. He had my face in his hands, and was squeezing tightly. "Oh Michael...." I heard Lisa say. "Yes, 'oh Michael'." Nemesis imitated. "Time to die." He was applying pressure. I could hear my skull starting to crack. I didn't like this idea at all. There was little I could do about it. I didn't think that it would do much, but I punched him in the stomach with the hand holding the two headed coin. Nemesis flew back. The only thing was, he still had a hold of my head. My neck popped loudly several times, but did not break. Nemesis let go. I fell to the ground. It seemed like half my life was spent falling to the ground. "How? Who are you?"

Nemesis was confused. I didn't say anything. I couldn't say anything. I was dizzy. I couldn't think. Had the coin done something to him? If so what, and how could I use it against him? I didn't think that I'd have the time to find out. Already he had recovered and was again coming at me. This time I concentrated on his movements, as best as I could. When I thought that he was going to reach for me I moved. It almost worked. At least this time I saw his hand, as it flew out and grabbed me by the throat. With one hand, he lifted me up. I was glad I was taller than him or I would have found myself dangling off the floor. "I asked you a question, worm. How did you do that? No one has hurt me before. Ever!" I kicked him as hard as I could. It did nothing. So it wasn't just me. It was the coin. Only the hand holding the coin could cause him any damage. I swung my fist at him, but with his free hand he caught my wrist. He squeezed. Why is it always my hands? I think someone, somewhere, was playing some cosmic joke on me. I could see God saying, "Have we broken Michael Stryke's hands lately, oh let's see since--yesterday? No? Well have it done, and be quick about it." Well, whether there was some reason in the big picture of things or not, Nemesis broke my hand. I was amazed that I didn't scream, but I did drop my coin. The only thing that could save me dropped to the floor. I watched as it fell, and noted where it finally came to rest. Nemesis threw me. I flew to the back of the banquet hall, and crashed into the double doors there. They exploded outwards, and flew off their hinges. They were completely destroyed. I looked up to the pitiful vampires that were impaled upon the doors. One was completely crushed, and I wonder if this meant that its suffering was over. The other was still stuck with wood into wood. I turned my gaze away from it, and I stood up. I was fine, except my hand. I think that this goes to show the strength of a vampire rather well. I hadn't even a cut on me. My clothes were totaled though. I was amazed at the strength that it would take to damage me. Morris had done it, but how much force had it taken? Was it like a diamond scratching a diamond? I pulled out my .38, and looked at it. The front (or if you're one of those gun enthusiasts, the barrel) was bent down. Not a lot, but enough to make the gun worthless. I threw it away. I pulled on my hand. Bone ground against bone. I waited for a short while, to give my wrist time to set. I had a feeling I was going to need it. Maybe five minutes passed. Five minutes. Lisa was still in there. How much did I love her? I wasn't sure if I wanted to do this, but I casually and calmly, (yeah, right, I was shitting my pants) walked back inside. Nemesis was yelling at everyone. Several vampires lay dead at his feet. From their postures I could see that none had resisted. Lisa was sitting in a daze, but otherwise looked fine. Nemesis was still screaming. His voice was insanely clamorous. Some of the weaker vampires were holding their hands over their ears. Occasionally glassware would shatter. My ears hurt also, but I ignored them. Two could play at this game. "Nemesis, I challenge you!" I screamed. I know that I too was loud, because some of those close to me also brought their hands to their heads. Nemesis was all fury. He stopped screaming, and decided to glare at me instead. "You dare! I will kill you. I will slowly rend you limb from limb. I will tear out your tongue. I will castrate you. I will--" "Come do it then, you fuck!"

I had to be careful, if what I was planning had any chance of working. I waited until he started to rush me, I then crouched a little, and at the last possible second I launched myself into the air. He passed below me, in a blur, and by the time he figured out that he had missed, I was again on the ground. I ran to where I knew the coin to be, picked it up, and quickly turned around. Nemesis had only now stopped, and turned toward me. "Foolish fool, you cannot beat me. I am Death himself. I cannot be beaten. I've been around since the beginning of time, and I will be here when time ends! I have never lived, and I will die twice before I cease to exist. It is utter folly to think you can kill me." "'That is not dead, which can eternal lie, and in strange aeons even Death may die.' H. P. Lovecraft, mother-fucker. Now come on." Let me set something straight. I wasn't at all confident of my ability to cause him any harm, even though I knew my coin improved my chances by a hell of a lot. I knew he wasn't just going to let Lisa and I go, so I really couldn't see any other option but challenging him. I didn't have anything to loose. That, and I was pissed. "You know you will die if you oppose me. Set down the coin, and I may yet let you live. Who knows, I may even let your whore live." "Cunning? I thought that was below you. I thought you'd relish a fight with someone who has a chance of winning, but maybe you don't like fighting. Maybe you only like killing your fellow vampires, because they are weak, and can be treated like 'House Specials'." Nemesis scowled at me. I had turned his pathetic world upsidedown. He wanted me dead. I knew this. "I am done with words. Now it is time for you to die." He rushed me. I didn't move. I watched. I had tried this before, without success, but this time I was hoping it would work. I struck at him, even before I thought I would be able to hit him. This was almost as bad as being blind, but it worked. My fist collided with his head. When I had thrown my fist, I hadn't thought of how hard or fast I should've thrown it. I just did it. There were no human limitations holding my hand back. I felt my skin split and tear. Two of my knuckles disintegrated. I shuddered at the thought of what the blow, and my coin, did to his skull. He went sprawling. I would probably never get another chance to do anything against him again. He would be ready for me next time. I didn't even pause. I jumped right on top of him, and started pummeling his face as hard as I could. I knew my right hand was probably the only one doing any damage, but I hit him with both of them anyway. He must have been knocked unconscious by my first hit, because he never struggled even once. I stopped hitting him when my hands were so torn up that I thought I would drop the coin. I couldn't have that. Nemesis wasn't moving, but I knew that he wasn't dead. His wounds were already healing. In seconds he would again be fine. I couldn't have this either. I bit into his neck vein and started sucking. So much blood gushed into me that I thought I wouldn't be able to drink it all. This wasn't ordinary blood though. This blood had been distilled through the centuries until there was nothing left of it that my vampiric shell didn't crave. I took it all, and screamed when no more came forth. I pocketed my coin, and then with a casual twist I tore what was left of his head from his shoulders. No blood poured from his neck. I had drank it all. "No magic wands, fuck! No magic wands." I gouged my fingers into his eyes and tore his skull in half. His brain fell to the floor. Only then did I look around me. Everyone was on their knees. They were looking at me like I was

some sort of god, and in a way I suppose I was, but I didn't want any of this. "Come Lisa, we're going." A Little Death "It was terrible. He was making our kind touch your coin. They exploded into red mist and disappeared as soon as they did. I thought he was going to make me touch it. He killed all those who refused. I was so scared." I was surprised that she wasn't crying like a Saturday night suicide. She was so good at it. I wasn't in a mood to deal with a sniveling vampire right now. I had almost died. "It's alright, Lisa. He can't hurt you now. He's dead," I said this only because I wanted to reassure her so she'd shut up. "Is he? Oh Michael, he was right. He can't be beat. Look at your hands." I did. They were healed, but snow white. I wished that I could see myself in a mirror, but it's common knowledge that a vampire can't cast a reflection. Hell, I didn't even have a shadow. I felt foolish as I stuck out my tongue, and went cross-eyed, to see if too was white. It was. "What's this mean, Lisa?" She didn't answer me. She put her arms around me. I held her tightly. We kissed. We had less than half an hour of night left, but still she started undressing me. I didn't resist. I didn't know why she was doing this, but I did not question her. She undressed, then pulled me to the rug in front of the fireplace. Still I did not resist. I didn't know if she was the one who wanted comfort, or if she was trying to comfort me. We had sex, but there was no romance in it. We didn't have time to be gentle. Our love was expressed through just straight fucking. "Lisa, the sun." "I know." She kissed my neck. I felt her bite me. She'd drank from me before, also I'd done this to her, but for some reason, this time, I didn't want her to do it. If I allowed it, would she be able to stop? Or would Nemesis's blood call for her to take me? And also, I didn't yet understand why I was white. I didn't want her to share this fate. I pushed her away. I still didn't know how strong I was. I used only a little effort, she flew into the wall. Several cracks appeared there, but Lisa was fine. She came at me, fingers extended into claws. I thought of my coin, but not only would it kill her, it was also still in my pants, and I was naked. Why was she doing this? Had she gotten me undressed just so I wouldn't have the defense of my coin? Did she think that Nemesis's blood offered some power that she coveted? So many questions. No time for answers. I could already feel the sun. She was on top of me. I fell back, into the fire. Lisa was clawing at my face, as the flames burned my hair. I couldn't think. What could I do? I didn't want to hurt her, but something had to be done. A voice spoke in my head, "Kill her!" it said. "Kill her!" I slammed my fist into her chin, hitting her away. She again flew back, but this time she crumpled into an unmoving heap. I got up off the floor, and went to Lisa. We had only minutes before we would be hit by the full force of the sun. I didn't want either of us to die. I rolled her onto her back. "Kill her!" I was now starting to understand what was happening. I didn't have time to think on it though. The room was beginning to become

light. Lisa was beginning to stir. I had only one option. Why do I never have choices? If I was right, we might both yet live. If I was wrong we were dead for sure. I thought of what Lisa had said about the vampires that were nailed to the banquet doors, and thrust my hand between Lisa's naked breasts, and into her chest. She came fully awake at that. She grabbed my hand, but there was no stopping me. I was the strongest vampire to ever exist. Nemesis had given me the power to be king--god--of vampires. As strong as Lisa was, she didn't have a chance of holding my hand back. I tore her heart from her chest. Great splashes of blood followed. The sight of the blood made the thirst come upon me, but I was strong enough to ignore it. "Michael, I only wanted to take your place so that you could have lived. Now we both die. When you sleep, you will become Nemesis." She closed her eyes, and died. I shed no tear. I picked her up, and carried her to the bedroom, where I placed her, and her heart, into her coffin. The stone lid that I had found so heavy before was not heavy anymore. The casket that I had hated so much, looked so inviting, but if Lisa was right, and I expected she was, if I bedded down I would not wake as myself. Nemesis would have my body. I shut the lid. It closed with a bang that seemed to signal something. I didn't know what, but it seemed like it should have meant something. I wondered what the neighbors thought of all the noise when Lisa and I had fought. Were there people outside the apartment, ears to the wall, trying to hear what was going on inside? I hoped not. I grabbed my silver dollar, left the apartment, and went to face the sun. Leaving the Curse Behind Lisa's blood covered me from my neck to my crotch. I was still naked, pure unclean white, and Nemesis was in me. I could feel him. There was this almost irresistible urge, dominating my mind, trying to convince me to go back into the apartment and hide from the day. If I wasn't holding the coin, I no doubt would have been unable to resist him, and I would not have been waiting to greet the sun. Lisa had said that vampires exploded when they made contact with my coin. If it was so powerful, why hadn't it kept Lisa from making a vampire out of me? Probably because I had allowed it. I hadn't fought when she had bit me the first time. I had welcomed it. I knew one thing though, and that was that I couldn't allow Nemesis to take my body, and have control of the coin. He was next to unstoppable before, if he had my silver dollar he would be impossible for anything to destroy. His power combined with the coin would probably be enough to wrest control from even the Devil Himself. "Prepare to perish," I said. The sun was just peaking over the horizon. I was burning. Little motes of light flickered on my body. My skin split. Several cracks went clear to the bone. I was white through and through, my muscle tissue was white, even the blood that poured from me looked like milk. I concentrated on the coin. It was my only chance. Nemesis screamed in my mind. I thought my head was going to split open. I fell to the ground. My plan had been to have the sun burn him from me, as the coin kept me alive. I had bargained my soul for immortality, had I not? I had been promised life eternal, but I knew now that I was wrong, and I was going to die. Even the coin could not prevent this horrid death.

"Satan! Appear!" "I choose to answer this summons." The Devil was standing over me. I was laying on my back, melting into a milky puddle. Well, maybe it wasn't that bad, but I felt like some sponge being wrung out by an ancient god's hand. "Help me." "My My My. Have not we gotten ourselves into a little trouble? What will you give Me to help you out? The coin? There are others that desire it. I have not made a direct action against you. This is not my work, so you cannot blame Me." He was nodding His head back and forth, like He was my mother or something. "I'm just asking you to return me to the way I was before I ever became a vampire." I didn't feel like bartering with Him. I was hurting. He was obligated to return me to my original condition, if He was still bound by the contract. I guess this was were I got to find out whether or not He could renege. "Why should I?" He asked slowly. I could tell He liked this, and was dragging it out as long as He could. "It's in the contract." I said through clenched teeth. "Section something or another subparagraph this or that, states that if at anytime I find my physical appearance unacceptable I can have it returned to the form I had when I originally made the bargain for immortality. So either turn me bac--" The only time I had heard this was when Satan had read me the contract, and then I had been drunk. I never looked at my copy. If the Devil had told me that this wasn't in my contract, I probably would have believed Him, and given Him the coin. I didn't have to though. "Very well, very well, but you can only do so once." He motioned with his hand. The pain was gone, so was He, and I was myself again, as I was on the night I had fucked Lori, as I was the night I had bartered for immortality. Was I still immortal? I passed out. Eternally Undead There was something I hadn't thought of before. The coffin lid was too heavy for me to lift. I no longer had any vampire powers. Give me a break, okay? I can't be expected to think of everything. I waited until night. I then spent several hours trying to open the lid. I couldn't, so before the night wore away, I decided to go get some one who could. I went to the Banquet. I made quite a splash as a mortal. Everyone still wanted to treat me like a god, so I took a little advantage of it, and had them pay tribute. I got so much cash that I could afford to pay Silhouette's fee a thousand times over. It was time to retire, with Lisa, and live happily ever after--forever. I returned to the apartment with Caligula. He lifted the top of the casket without any effort. "Good enough?" "Yes." I looked at Lisa, she was all gray, and was covered with a fine film of dust. She was dried out. Her face was wrinkled. Her heart was in her hand. It looked like a healthy organ though. I thought of the two vampires that had been staked to the doors at the banquette, and how Lisa had said that they were merely being punished. I hoped that she would be able to be brought back. I loved her. "Wow, man, what you do to her? She's totaled."

I ignored him. He had served his purpose. I gently picked up Lisa's heart (broken doors and broken vampires) and placed it again within her chest. It started beating almost right away. Her body started to fill back out. The lines disappeared from her face. Her eyes opened, and the hole in her chest closed. "Michael?" "Yes love, it's me." "You beat Nemesis." I didn't know if this was a question, or a statement, so I said nothing, as she closed her eyes again. I thought that she was going to die even after my best efforts. "Do something, Caligula." "What, man." "Feed her some of you blood." "What? No way dude. No can do. Like to help--" I held up my coin. He leaned into the coffin. Lisa drank, and drank, and Caligula had to push her away, before she killed him. "I'm leaving now. I thought you a cool dude, but I can see now that you should have been a senator." He left Lisa and me to ourselves. We didn't mind much. We made love in the bathroom, under the shower. This time we had time to be as gentle as we wanted. We were gentle several times. Nothing like a close call to death to make one's passions flare. To Kill a Thief Now that I had money to pay Silhouette I didn't care if he killed Caine or not, but I did want to wrap up all of my loose business ends. I was going to retire. I didn't want to have to make my living by being a leech. I also didn't want to kill anymore myself. Well, at least not for money anyway. By the way. When we had finished our love making earlier, she had me open the closet. In it was another suit for me, and a dress for her. There was even a .38 caliber in the jacket pocket. I think I disappointed her when I acted like I had expected this. I took Lisa out with me. I would have been a fool not too. She was my bodyguard after all. Thief was not smart. I found him in the exact same place. The nightclub. This is not what I call intelligent. He should have made it harder for me, but like I said before, Thief was always easy to find. He had a bandage over his ear, and his foot in a cast. I guess I was about the last person that he wanted to see. I think he opened his mouth to say this, but I interrupted him. "Look at me, Thief. I'm tired, and I'd just as soon kill you as fuck with you. So, just tell me what I want to know, and you get to live." "You look like someone beat the shit out of you, man." "Thanks, you look good too. Now, what do you know about Silhouette and a man named Caine?" I wanted to find out if Silhouette had made the hit yet, or if he was still underground. "Nothing I believe, but I'll tell you anyhow. I heard you hired the big S to make a hit on some guy. No shit? Well, S didn't go underground. Seems he had an irresistible shot, almost right away, so he went to take it, but someone stopped him. The mombo bitch who told me this story said that it was the Devil. Can you believe that mombo voodoo shit?" He paused to see if I was going to answer the question. I didn't

feel like it so I waited till he continued. "Did you know that S uses blades--sword, and knives, and that shit?" I did, but I still didn't feel like chatting. After Thief realized this he started talking again. "I heard that S had his knife or sword or whatever held right to this guy's throat, when up comes this guy, the Devil, if you listen to Ms. Mombo Bitch, and says, 'No, do not kill this one. He is son of Adam." S just walked away. That's why I don't believe it, S has never broken a contract. Never." I thought about his story for awhile. I couldn't figure out what it meant for me. Did Silhouette really renege? or had he even tried yet? If street talk said he'd broken a contract then his perfect reputation was shot, and he wouldn't be happy with this. For all I knew, though, this story was just that, a story. "What do you think, Lisa?" "How did this lady see this, and how reliable is she?" "She's this Caine fellows landlady. Says she keeps an eye on him, because 'he's got the mark about him'. Says she saw it through the keyhole. As for reliability, she talks a lot of shit. I already told you I didn't believe it. The Devil? Come on! You know what I think?" "No, Thief, what do you think?" "I think you fucked up, man. I think you tried double-crossing the S man, and things didn't go the way you planned. He'll get you, man. You're as good as dead. That's what I think." I couldn't have talk like this on the streets. "No, Thief, you're as good as dead." I shot him. No, not in the foot, in the head. After he fell to the ground I emptied the gun into his skull, and I'd had the best of intentions too. What can I say? I was pissed. Lessons Learned Lisa and I had our first real fight after we left Thief. I didn't want to go back to her apartment. I was tired, but I couldn't bring myself to sleep in her casket. It was one thing, when I thought that she was just being kinky, but now that I knew that she was a vampire, and I no longer was, I just couldn't bring myself to come anywhere near her coffin. Okay, I can see it now. You're saying, "but she bit you. You had to know that she was a vampire," right? Well in answer to that, I can only say that her bite didn't hurt. I can't describe how it felt though. I guess you'll just have to be bit by a vampire sometime if you're really curious. I didn't want anything to do with death. I told her this. She called me a hypocrite. I hate being called a hypocrite. I'll admit to anything; racism, sexism any 'ism' you want, but I am not a hypocrite. I confess to religious prejudice, or prejudice against fat people, but I will not confess to hypocrisy. I am only myself at the time that I am myself. I cannot be expected to hold a belief permanently. So what if I dealt in death. I didn't have to like it, and I no longer had to do it. In the end the sun settled the argument. She laid down to rest. I went for a walk. I couldn't get myself to forget about her though. She was my one hope in life. Lisa was the first person to enter my life that I could look to having a future with. Crime's mother was nice, and sometimes I loved her a lot, but then I'd also catch myself looking at her in disgust, because I knew that she was dying cell by cell, atom by atom. How could I truly love someone who didn't even have the potential to live as long as I?

I didn't have this problem with Lisa though. We could live, in happiness, forever, and would too, if only we could work out our differences. I already knew what was going to bother me. I don't think I could handle her devouring any 'House Specials', and there was no way I could ever bring myself to sleep with her--in her coffin I mean. I loved her. I knew I did, but I was human. She wasn't. If only I could've brought myself to have her make me a vampire again, but my life was confusing enough. I didn't need vampirism added to it. Besides, I no longer desired to have to kill to maintain my life. I was sick of death. I looked up. I had been walking for quite a ways. I didn't even really recognize the neighborhood I was in. I could probably find my way back though. Two leather jacketed punks were coming at me. I wasn't worried. I'd paid my taxes lately. When I told them I was 'Protected', they'd have to leave. One pulled out two knives. He set these to spinning around his hands rather impressively. It was almost a shame but.... "I'm Protected." One looked at the other, and smiled. The other ignored him, and didn't smile. He just kept working his knives. Okay, then, Smiley and Grim. "You can't touch me. I'm not taxable." "We don't care. Guild gone, man. Hand your money over," said Grim. I didn't want to talk nonsense with these. I had some thinking I wanted to do, and they were disturbing me. "Listen, I'm not used to killing children, for childish reasons. Either leave, or prepare to die like adults." "Tough guy, talk tough," said Smiley. "Shut up," said Grim. I thought that they were still planning on mugging me, but just lacked the courage. This meant that they were just idiots. Even if they succeeded, they wouldn't be able to live long. The Guild would hold an investigation, find them, and slowly kill them publicly, as an example, to others who would be so stupid. I knew that these punks were fair game. There was no way that they could afford to pay taxes if they were resorting to just petty mugging. If I was going to have to kill them, then I wanted to get it over, and be done with it. I pulled out my gun. "Step up to die then," I said softly. I was wishing that they'd just leave. I really didn't want to have to kill them. Grim threw one of his knives. I dodged, or tried to. It hit me high on my left shoulder. I ignored it, and shot Grim between the eyes. He dropped his other knife, and died. Smiley ran. I centered my sights on him. I didn't shoot. I let him go. Don't call me "Soft," I probably wouldn't have hit him anyway, and I got a good feeling from letting him live. I pulled the knife from my body, and let it drop to the ground. I wasn't going to report this. Smiley would be stupid to try something like this again, and Grim wasn't going to be doing anything again, except rotting in Hell. I went back to Lisa's apartment, went into the bathroom, took off my shirt, cleaned my shoulder, bandaged it, put my shirt back on, went to the living room, turned on the stereo, laid down, and passed out. Night came. Lisa woke me. "I'm sorry," she said. "So am I. I love you." "Michael."

She must have just wanted to say my name, because she didn't wait for me to answer. She put her mouth on mine, and forcefully kissed me. I returned the kiss. Lisa put her hands on my shoulders. I bit her lip as I said, "Fuck!" "What's the matter?" "My shoulder, I hurt it today." She removed my shirt, and my amateur bandage, and looked at the puncture wound there. "How?" she asked. "Some punks." She put two of her fingers into her mouth, and bit. She then cupped her hands. Blood began to flow from the cuts, and fill her hand. She rubbed her blood into my wound. I watched as it closed. "Neat," I said. "Thanks." Lisa licked her fingers clean. Her cuts had also closed. "Oh, you haven't earned it yet." I grabbed her, helped her from her clothes, and by the time the night was over, I was sure that I had paid her back. In the morning I slept on the floor outside her coffin in which she rested. I was going to have to get a bed, because when I woke the next night, I was stiff. Lisa was still asleep, so I went to the shower, and did what one does in a shower. When Lisa woke, she joined me there. I was glad we had made up. "What shall we do tonight?" "Let's go dancing." I didn't usually like dancing, but I said, "Fine." She pulled the closet trick, we dressed, and left. The nightclub we went to was rather nice. At least no one was naked, or dead. Well, at least no one I could see. Lisa and I danced. It was nice. I held her to my body tightly. I could feel her breasts through our clothes. She was moving her hips against mine. I was getting aroused. We had made love only a few hours before, and she was completely nude then, but now, when she was dressed, I wanted her even more. The people around us disappeared. Only Lisa and I existed, and I was starting to have doubts about myself. I felt Lisa stiffen, as someone brushed up against me, and I wondered if my wallet was still there, but I didn't really care. I didn't even check. I kept dancing. Lisa kissed my neck, I thought she was going to bite me again. It was then that I realized she hadn't had blood since Caligula fed her from himself. I looked at her carefully. There were little lines about her eyes. Easy to miss, but I was sure that they hadn't been there before. I was worried. What was she doing? She couldn't deny her nature, anymore than I could mine. I didn't know what to say. "Lisa." She kissed my ear. "Lisa." I stopped dancing. She must have known my thoughts. Maybe it was something to do with the rings. She turned away. I put my hand on her shoulder, and forced her to look at me. "Why, Lisa?" "For you, Michael. I don't want you to hate me. I couldn't live if you did. I love you." "I couldn't hate you for being what you are. It's not your fault. If you want to find fault, then yell to God, but I'll tell you what good that will do you--nothing." Just then Lisa touched my face. I think she was going to say something, but instead she pushed me. I tumbled to the ground. My neck felt as though it had been broken. It wasn't though. I could still

move my hands and feet. Why had she pushed me? I hadn't really seen it, but she had good reason. A dagger, and it had been heading right for my head. Lisa was now holding it. She had plucked it right out of the air. She was now searching the crowd. She didn't find what she was looking for. I got up. I had forgotten how fast and strong vampires were. I thought back to a moment before, when I had 'forced' her to look at me. Forced hell, if she hadn't let me, then there would have been nothing I could have done about it. She handed me the dagger. There was a stylized 'S' on the pommel. No wonder she hadn't seen anyone in the crowed. So, Silhouette wanted me now, and it appeared that he had gone rogue, and didn't care that I was Protected. Either that or the Guild had collapsed like those thug kids had said. Well, if Silhouette did come after me, I always had Lisa to protect me. We left. Lisa fed on the way home. I'll spare you the disgusting details, but trust me when I say they were disgusting. I again slept at the foot of her casket. At first it was not a pleasant sleep, I kept thinking of Silhouette, and trying to figure out what it all meant, but eventually I fell into a dreamless slumber. When I woke, there were still two hours of sunlight left. I left Lisa a note, and left myself. I went to see Crime. A Second Crime Her receptionist showed me in. Crime must have gotten used to my physical age changing, because now I was back to my seventeen year old looking self, and she didn't even flinch. I wondered what she thought of having a father who was immortal. Her mother had died in childbirth, so I was the only family that she had. I would outlive her. She didn't seem to care though, but then again she was only fourteen. She probably didn't yet feel mortal. "Hello, father. Can I help you?" "No, just stopped over to chat." "Okay, then let's start with--you look awful." I suppose I probably did. I had been through quite a lot lately. "Yeah, well you look good." She did too. She always looked good. I had heard that a lot of her customers had propositioned her, instead of her girls, but she always turned them down. I don't really know why. Maybe she actually had some morals, as highly impossible as that was. "I killed Love." "I heard. I also heard that it was under unusual circumstances." "Yeah, I haven't been out in the daylight much lately, but hey, don't believe everything you hear." "I know, you can't trust anyone these days." "Anything new?" "Atlantis-Prime was destroyed, but I bet you already new that." I hadn't, but I didn't tell her that. This must have been what the punks were talking about. I thought on this for a second. Atlantis-Prime was a city of politicians. It was said that even the Council made their home there. It was off the coast of California somewhere. It was almost impossible to become a citizen there. You had to have an income that was measured by the tons. I wondered how it was destroyed. It was supposed to be impregnable. It was even completely underwater. Confused? Okay, compare the Guild to a European feudal system. The Council, which I believe only has six members, would then be the

top royalty. The Guild, of which I am a member, would have been the minor nobles. The rest of the world would then be made up of commoners, or peasants. If Atlantis-Prime was gone, and if the Council did live there, and they were gone too, then people in my profession would soon start to feel chaos falling down about there heads. What would happen if there were no longer any Guild regulations? Was this why I had been attacked, and Silhouette felt safe taking me with a signed blade? Was the Guild falling apart--going to shit? "What of the Council?" "It's rumored that there are now two seats open." Her eyes lit up as she said this, but I dismissed this. There was no way Crime could aspire to the Council. "At least it wasn't completely--" I felt a little tug at my finger just then. I looked down. It was the dragon ring. I had almost forgotten it. It was hot. It also seemed tighter than it usually was. "Father, what's wrong?" Crime asked. I must have looked confused. "Michael!" It was Lisa's voice. I jumped up. "Did you hear that?" "What?" !He's opening it Michael THE SUN! The ring constricted around my finger. I yelled as it drew tight enough to amputate the digit. There was a crunch of bone, and blood flowed freely. I looked at my hand. I was indeed missing my ring finger. I forgot it. I ran from the office. I wished I hadn't left her. I had to get to Lisa. I had to, even though I could feel that it was too late. Oh, but to Die! I kicked open the door, and ran to the bedroom. The casket was open. I don't know what I would have done if it hadn't been. It wasn't as if I could have opened it. I was no vampire, and the lid alone weighed at least half a ton. Lisa was in the coffin. She lay dead. Blood matted her beautiful blond hair. There was a look of blind terror on her face. Her killer must have taken his time. The condition of the body proved that. There was a hole where her heart should have been. Her head and both hands were cut from her body. The bastard had stolen her heart. How had he opened the coffin? It was impossible. Why hadn't I just waited just two more hours for Lisa to rise? Why? "No!" I screamed. No one heard me. There was a little note clasped tightly in one of her amputated hands. I grabbed it. I didn't want to open it. If I did it would be an ending of sorts. I still didn't want to admit that Lisa could be anything but alive. A poem I once read came to mind. "I know there's some cosmic deity up there fucking with me. He's no god of light. Every time things are going right He turns the tables and cuts the cables, and lets this poor puppet fall," I whispered, because this was what I felt like. The note was tied with a little piece of black ribbon. I had to some time or another. Hesitantly, I opened it.

"You're next." --S-Fuck. Just fuck. I couldn't bring myself to stay in the apartment. I left Lisa where she was. What could I have done for her? She was dead, and there was absolutely nothing I could do. Nothing. An End of Sorts I knew where I was, but I felt lost. I was wandering the streets. As I had been doing most of the day. The only time I wasn't walking in a daze was when I had again stopped off at Crime's. Why had he done it? Lisa hadn't done anything, but love me. She didn't deserve death. Why does bad haunt those who deserve it least? I wanted Silhouette. I wanted him dead, even though I knew I wouldn't be the one to kill him. I wasn't good enough to do that, but I'd welcome the chance if it came my way. This was how I found myself walking the night. I wasn't hiding. If Silhouette had decided that he wanted me, then I wanted to make myself easy to find. The sector of the city I was in was run down. It used to house welfare recipients, bums, and the parasites that always seemed to feed off these; drugstores, liqueur stores, and lottery stands, but since the Guild took over, it housed no one. If you're not productive, well, then you don't deserve to live. If you don't deserve to live--you die. Simple fact. Most people today are productive, very productive. Why did I think Silhouette would be able to find me here? Well, I thought that if I was to go someplace where it might look like I had the advantage, oh let's say the Banquet, then Silhouette would just wait until I left. I wanted him to feel like he could just take me. If he wanted me half as bad as I wanted him, then he had probably been following me all day. If Thief was still alive I would have let myself be seen by him. Then the word would have gotten around quickly. As it was I had only stopped off to say good-bye to Crime, and ask her to "hold onto the money" I had gotten from the Banquet. I bought a bottle of alcohol earlier. I had no intention of drinking it though. I had only bought it as a diversion, like I was going to go hide somewhere, and drink my sorrows away. I had this in hand as it started to rain. I went into an old building to take shelter. I found a light switch. I threw it for a kick. I didn't think that there would be any power. Lights flooded the hallway. I left the hall, entered a dark room, and let the door close behind me. It was dark. I couldn't find anything to change this with either, but that was okay, the lighting fit my mood fine. I felt like someone was watching me. Paranoia? Maybe, but if anything, it was wishful thinking. I wanted Silhouette. As they say, be careful what you wish for you just might.... "Stryke." The voice came from nowhere. I couldn't place the direction of the speaker, but I could tell that he was far enough away for me to answer safely. "What do you want with me?" "You set me up," said the same incorporeal voice. It sounded familiar. I was hoping. I wanted him. "Silhouette?"

Out of the darkness came footsteps. They were running. I flinched, dropped the liqueur bottle, spun as it crashed to the floor, and drew my .38. The footsteps were getting louder, but I couldn't tell where they were coming from. I felt the blow to the back of my head at the same time I heard the voice whisper, "Yes, Silhouette." I fired into stars. Silhouette laughed. "I can kill you anytime I want. Your gun means nothing." Staying low, I backed up until I hit a wall. I began to move along it. I reached back and touched my head. There was a lump and two parallel gashes. I was still seeing stars, though they were clearing. I was trying to be as quiet as possible, but I must have been making some noise, enough to let Silhouette know where I was anyway. I heard a 'think' next to my right ear. I stopped and felt there. I touched a dagger. My hand came away sticky wet. The wetness made my fingers numb, but that was all. I could only assume that it was a poisoned blade. I had no cuts on my hand, so I considered myself lucky. I didn't want any devil's brew entering into my system. "I didn't set you up. I don't know what you're talking about." "Caine was unkillable. I've never failed before. Now it is time for you to die." I thought about telling him that I too could not die, but I decided on a different course of action instead. I fired at Silhouette's voice, even if I couldn't pinpoint it in the darkness. I was sure I missed, but still I hoped. I started moving again. I knew Silhouette thought he could kill me at any time, and he was probably right, but I wasn't going to just sit and wait for him to do so. In my search in the dark I came across a roll bar door. I pushed it open. Bright light flooded my eyes. I could hardly see. I shielded my eyes and slid through the door. It slammed shut behind me. I ran till I came across another door. This one was on the opposite side of the hall than the door I'd just exited. I opened it. I entered it. I closed it. It was the entrance to the service-way where I now found myself standing. This was lit by an emergency light, that had probably been on for years. The landing I was on was wooden and littered with cleaning materials. There was a staircase going up and a staircase going down. I grabbed a broom handle, and barred the door. I knew that this wouldn't stop a determined old lady, let alone Silhouette, but it made me feel a little safer. Next, I grabbed one of three five gallon buckets of solvent. It was difficult to handle with my missing finger. I screwed off the cap, poured it all over the landing, and climbed the stairs, dousing them as I went. I hoped that if Silhouette found this service-way that he would think I went down instead of up. I hoped that the flames would make him unable to follow me, even if he did decide that I went up. I hoped that there was a way out that I could take, that would lose Silhouette. I hoped a lot, and knowing Silhouette (which I didn't), and my luck (which I seemed to have none of), I was in trouble. From the next landing I lit the stairs. They went up faster than I expected--a lot faster. Smoke, heat, and a terrible solvent smell quickly took over the air. I started up the steps. I tried the first door I came across. It was locked. I tried the second door I came across. It was locked. I was about to try the third door, when I heard twin explosions from three stories down. I looked down. A sheet of flame was coming at me. I tried running faster. I almost made it another story before the flames engulfed me. I had to close my eyes. I couldn't see. I couldn't

breathe. I could only feel my hair and my clothes burning. I kept climbing. If I was going to die I didn't want it to be because of my own stupidity. I don't know how long this continued. I just remember running for as long as I could. I then crawled through my own personal Hell for eternity. I knocked into something at the same time that I had decided that I could go no farther. I groped, and found a roll bar. I slammed it open, and collapsed on cold wet hard stone. I took great gasping breaths of air. I started to stand. I passed out. When I came to the stone was warm. I stood up. I was on the roof. There was smoke coming out of the door I'd passed out through earlier. There was a skylight on the roof. The skylight was glowing. It was still raining. It was coming down warm and wet. Rain has a way of doing that. I heard an explosion. I looked over my shoulder. The skylight had blown out, and glass was falling. Flames were shooting high into the air. Heat was rising. I gripped my pistol, trying for some sense of security. It didn't work. It just made me realize that my hands were sweating. No surprise there. I ran to the edge of the roof, and looked down. That was a mistake. There was too much damn smoke. I couldn't see the ground. It was too dark. The only light came from the flames themselves. I knew how high I was, entirely too high, but I just wished I could have seen something besides flame and gray smoke. "Stryke!" I turned and fired. I missed. He had his sword in one hand and a dagger in the other. I still had three rounds. I didn't feel like I had any advantage. I kept my .38 pointed at his head. There was another explosion. It wasn't from my gun. Neither of us looked away. To have done so would have meant death. I didn't know how he made it up here, and at the time I didn't care. The heat was becoming uncomfortable. Even the stone I was standing on was hot. "We're both going to die," I said. "Yes, but you first." A clock somewhere in the city struck midnight. Everything always happens at midnight. I shot again. My hand was shaking bad. He fell straight back, not because he wanted to, but because he had slipped on the slick stone surface. I knew I hadn't hit him though. I saw the round ricochet off the wide ledge surrounding the roof. I quickly re-aimed and fired. This time I had the satisfaction of hearing a round impact with soft flesh. I shot him yet again with my last round. Silhouette went into convulsions, then became still. I couldn't believe it. It felt anticlimactic. It was. The end of Silhouette. I couldn't bring myself to become too excited though. It was too hard to believe, and too hard to breathe, my eyes hurt, tears flowed freely, I knew I was about to be burned beyond any hope of recognition, so forgive me if I didn't immediately celebrate. I turned, and threw my gun away. It wouldn't do me anymore good. I was sick of looking at it anyway. I didn't want to see another gun for a long time. As I stood over Silhouette's dead body, wiping the rain from my eyes, I thought, "An eye for an eye, the score was even. He was the best. He killed my love." I killed him, but were we even? Not even close. I hurt, and I was about to be consumed by flames. I took a staggering step, then another. Then I heard a moan. I looked back in shock. Silhouette was standing. I looked around for a weapon. Nothing offered itself. He still had his sword and dagg. I wished I had a gun. Silhouette's shirt was sticking wetly to his side, and he limped badly when he tried to take a step forward, but he was still alive. Fuck.

Shit. I should have stomped his head, crushed his damn skull. I should've at least made sure he was dead. Silhouette was going to die though. If the bullets didn't kill him the fire would. This was little comfort. Silhouette reversed his grip on the dagger, brought it back even with his cheek, smiled a silver tongued smile, and let it fly. I felt it take me in my right eye. I fell back. Two things stick out in my mind about these last few moments. For a second, I actually considered praying, and I wished I had paid more attention in Sunday school. I also wondered, as the flames rose, how my immortality would deal with this. The answer to the question was completely different than I expected. I thought, to my utter horror, that I would live through this. I thought I would be blind in one eye because of the dagger, and blind in the other because of flame. I thought I would be horribly disfigured; a living tortured mass of scar tissue. I didn't expect to be transported to right outside of a church. I was no longer wet. It was still night. The rain had stopped, but I was naked. I thought maybe the flames had burned my clothes away, but none of the hair was gone from my body. In fact, even the hair that had been singed in the stairway fire had been restored and was again intact. Another strange thing--I had no wounds. My eye was fine. There were no gashes on the back of my head. Even my finger had regenerated. This transportation and healing must have had something to do with the coin that I still had. It was clutched in my left hand. I still was unaware of all its powers. I knew that my soul supposedly resided within it, but I was starting to doubt this. I don't know why, but I just felt that my soul was mine (at least until I died) and within me. The coin had powers over undead, it made me immortal, but this was all I really knew about it. The healing and transportation needed more study. This was interesting but inconsequential The church, this was what I was thinking of right before the end there. It was what I had been thinking of since Lisa died. I found myself actually wanting to repent. I wanted this to all be over. Without Lisa, I would no longer be living life because I enjoyed life, I would only be living because I feared Hell--feared Hell a lot. I didn't think it would work. Lisa had said she was unable to enter. Why should I be any different? Not only had I once killed as a vampire, I had also sold my soul. No, I didn't think it would work, but I had made up my mind to try. I was going to place the coin in the offering plate. I paced back and forth in front of the church. I felt nothing spectacular, nothing to inspire awe. It felt safe. I stopped, flipped the coin for what I hoped to be the last time--Heads--and reached out and touched the door. There was a white flash. I could actually hear my flesh burn. I won't describe the pain. I won't, because I can't. Pain is impossible to remember. You can remember that something did hurt, but you can't remember how it felt. I looked at my left hand. The palm was the color of gray ash, but here was no way that I could enter a closed door. I reached out with the same hand and grasped the handle. There was the same bright flash. I ignored it, and pulled open the door. Pure light poured forth. I closed my eyes. I realized, to my anguish, that I was still holding the door. I let go and stepped forward. I felt like I was walking through deep water. There was resistance to my every move. I opened my eyes. The light was coming from the altar, the stained glass windows, and every cross. I never before noticed how many crosses

there were in a church. I started down the aisle. It was getting harder to move. The light was getting brighter, if that was possible. I shut my eyes to slits. I was halfway to the altar when I found I was unable to go any farther. It was like I was pushing against clay. There was a little give, but not enough for any real forward movement. My whole body burned. It was like when I went into sunlight as a vampire. I looked down at my skin. Little wisps of fire were dancing on my whole body. There was much pain. I looked behind me. The exit was so close. The altar so far away. There was no turning back now. I dropped to just my knees, and started moving forward again. This worked for a while, then I found myself on my hands and knees, then I was completely prone, pushing with my feet and pulling with the hand not holding the coin. My muscles screamed. I couldn't lift my head. I mention this because I saw movement out of the corner of my right eye. It was coming closer. I ignored it. I kept crawling. I made it another three whole inches before I saw shoes. They were black. They were shiny. They were connected to black legs that went up higher than I could look. I again tried to lift my head. I tried, but there was too much weight. I only raised it a few inches. My head slammed into the floor. I saw stars. Stars and shiny black shoes. The loudest sound I ever heard came crashing in, crushing my eardrums. I was amazed I didn't pass out. For once I really wished to die. That was the whole point of this, wasn't it? Save my soul and die. The same sound came again. It wasn't so bad this time though. I could hardly hear it. I didn't have working eardrums. I could only feel it as small sharp waves of indescribable pain. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It rolled me on my back. I looked up. It was a priest. His face was kind. He was bald. I realized, as he spoke again, that the unbearable noise was his voice. Wave after wave crashed upon me with every word. He stopped talking when he figured out that his speaking was hurting me. I wondered how I looked. I was naked. I was crawling up an aisle in a church. I wanted to laugh. I tried. I couldn't. I held out my left hand. In it I had the coin. I tried to hand the two-headed silver American dollar to the priest, but I couldn't lift my arm. Even when I wanted to get rid of the damn coin, I couldn't. I wanted to cry. I tried. I could. I did. I closed my eyes, and dropped the coin six inches to the floor. I heard no noise as it hit. I laid there like this for only a short while before the priest tapped me on the shoulder. I opened my eyes and looked at him. He was holding my coin and gesturing for me to take it. I sat up. I was amazed that I could. I stood up. I looked again at the priest. He was holding out the coin. He must have thought that I was a bum. He didn't want to take my last dollar. The light was gone. The priest's lips were moving, but no sound came forth. I walked to the altar rail, kneeled before it, and prayed. I told God of all the sins that I knew I had committed. I asked forgiveness for these. I also asked him to have mercy on me for all the sins I had forgotten. I felt forgiven. This may seem simple. I don't know what else to say, other than it was. No profound revelation, no manifesting of some holy being, only a simple lifting of my spirit. I got up, and walked to the holy water font. My every move hurt. I was hunched over. I could not stand up straight. The holy water was by the exit. I went to dip my hand in the water when I saw what it looked like; my hand that is. It was gnarled and covered with large brown spots.

I held it up. It was livid. The skin light. I looked at my other hand. It was the price? Age. I was old. I found that this fact did not disturb When I finally died I would be saved. the cross, and exited, into the night,

was loose and wrinkled. The hair was too was wrinkled and old. So this me. I was happy I was old. I dipped my hand, made the sign of a deaf old man.

Crime And Punishment

I look into the mirror in fear of what I'll see, my twin in hate, staring back at me. I touch his cold fingertips, and kiss his polished lips. He mimics my every move, mocking my very existence. I laugh at him in his glass prison, and make him silently reflect my cynical mirth. I close my eyes, and pretend I don't exist, forcing him to do the same. It's a little game we play, and I hope we both do play. I know he wishes to be free-free to become me, but I wonder if I was in there, and he was out here, would I even care? Opening my eyes, this evil reflection of me is all I can see. I hang my head down and cry, 'cause my twin and I are nothing but a pathetic lie. for Amy

The Dying Ritual Part 2 Crime And Punishment

Revelations Death and Damnation

Family For the Love of Satan The Church Emperor Caligula Once Again, the Church Cord and Discord Body Sweat The Little Boy's Kiss Spirit Death of an Emperor Closing of Options The Council All That Could Be Desired

Revelations Somewhere, a man took without permission, and he couldn't understand why the woman cried, small warm tears. He hadn't hurt her had he? He wouldn't have even torn her clothes if she hadn't tried to resist. He would remember, forever, the ripping sound as threads snapped, and flesh was exposed. The sound hadn't been loud at all, but it would never escape his memory. Threads pull, tear, and become useless, and only the rape had nothing to do with anything. I picked up my father's pale finger, and the dragon ring next to it, and in a burning rage sat down at my desk. Why was it that I always seemed to come so close, yet never succeed? When my father's secretary had quit, I talked him into taking one of my whores as a replacement. I had hoped that she would have been able to get it for me, but the bitch had tried to blackmail me instead. Me! I killed her, right outside my father's office. When Markham was dead I knew that I had to come up with a different plan. I hired Willie Peat. He actually got the damn thing, but before I was able to receive it, my father stepped into the scene, and blew his face off. I even hired Silhouette and manipulated Satan, but still I did not have the coin. I picked up the phone. "Send in Libby." I found myself playing with the finger as I waited. I peeled back the skin at the base. I could see the bone, white like marble. Blood was coagulated and thick at the torn edges. It was hard to believe that this was my father's. The ring was interesting too. I put it on. It clenched tightly once, strange, then relaxed till it was a comfortable fit. It looked nice. There was a knock at the door. I opened a desk drawer and placed the finger within. "Enter." A plump older woman walked into my office. Some considered her voluptuous. I thought she was fat and disgusting, but she was reliable, and she did business, so I tolerated her. She was never going to be anything in life though. I was so much more than her. Here I was, almost fourteen, and I already owned and ran my own brothel. I didn't consider myself a Madam. I hate that title. No, I was a pimp. Thanks to my father killing my main rival, I now ran the largest House in the city. I had over three

hundred girls, forty-some men or boys, and at least fifty Biologically Enhanceds. The only person who had ever had a bigger House than mine was Love, and he was the one my father had killed. "Libby, I may be leaving soon, for a few days, on business. I want you to take over if I do. Just keep things running." "Yes, Lyla." I calmly stood up, walked over to her, and slapped her across the face. A large red welt appeared. "Never call me that name. You know better than that. Next time you will be laying on the floor. Now get out of my office." She left, her fat ass sliding side to side as she did so. I couldn't figure out why my father had left so fast. He asked me if I could hear something, then stood up, and looked at his finger in terror, and it just fell from his hand. Blood ran, so did my father. He left my office in a dreadful hurry. Every time I thought of my father I thought of the way he's always treated me. To him I'm special. I remind him of my mother, or at least he's fond of telling me so. Sometimes he treats me with so much love that I hate him for it. Everything I've ever got, I paid for in one way or another. My father probably felt like he had done a lot for me in his life, but he had never given me anything. I had earned it all. He'd lent me the money to start the Shop. I paid him back, in full, with interest in less than a year. He killed Love for me. This was about the best thing he had ever done for me, but I paid him for this also. I gave him one of my girls. A peculiar girl by the name of Lisa. Lisa. Now I had hoped that I would find some way to exploit her, and maybe I still would, but if Silhouette had accomplished what we had planned, then she was dead by now. Sure, my father gave me life, but it wasn't like he was the only one involved. There was also my mother, who paid that debt for me, with her life. She died giving birth to me. I can remember my father's face when I first told him that I wanted to get into prostitution. He always underestimated me. I could see his shock. He'd thought that I'd wanted to become a whore. I cannot even imagine that. Me a prostitute? Never! I've always earned what I've gotten, but I wouldn't ever lie on my back for a living. I reopened the drawer containing the finger, drew it out, and also a little charm I had bought from some voodoo lady. She had guaranteed that it was able to summon the Devil, and that He could not refuse. It was called simply the Talisman. The voodoo lady had instructed me on its use, and I had already tried it. I touched it in the way that I was supposed to, and said that which was to be said, and looked up. It was simple. I had only to caress it, and offer it the promise of blood. He would come. "Give Me My due." I was again surprised when I summoned Him. He was dressed completely in black. He was strangely attractive. I threw Him my father's wilted finger. He caught it, and clenched it tightly. He closed His eyes. A look of pleasure came about His face. He opened His hand. Ashes fluttered to the floor like snow. "Acceptable?" I asked. "Yes. This one has thwarted Me too many times. It was sweet just to have this little taste. What can I do for you?" "Kill him, kill my father." "It will be done." He faded until I wasn't sure if He was there any longer. I blinked. When I opened my eyes I was sure that He was gone. I kicked my feet up on my desk, closed my eyes, and tried to relax. I fell into a dream troubled sleep. I stood before a jury, and I was trying to convince them why I should be allowed to continue my existence. I gave them one reason after another, but they kept asking, "But why?" I

tried to tell them that I deserved to live. Their verdict came back, and it was a unanimous decision. I was guilty of being, therefore I should die. This didn't really make sense to me, but it did scare me. Just the thought of someone having any control over my life made me shudder. I sat up suddenly, disturbing the balance of the chair in which I sat, causing it to fall back into the wall behind me. I did not crash to the floor. As it was I only made a little noise. Not even enough to alarm any of my guards. No one came to investigate, which was just as well. I checked the time. It was several hours since I had fallen asleep. I didn't feel like it was though. To me it was as if I had only blinked. Were there other nightmares that had came to haunt me, ones the remained forgotten and hidden? I really needed sleep, but there was so much I yet had to do if I was to attain my goal. I still had to figure out a way to-My father came into my office. I hadn't expected to see him again, except at his funeral, where I would spit on his dead self. One of my secretaries came in right after him. "I told him--" "It's all right, Angel, he's my father." She looked doubtfully at him, then left. "Crime." I could tell he was bothered greatly by something. If I was right, this told me that Lisa was dead. I couldn't let him know I knew this though. I kept my face a blank mask. If he found out that I had anything to do with her death.... "Yes." "I have something for you. I'd a--like you to hold onto it for awhile." He set a black box on my desk, but kept one hand on it, like he wasn't sure if he trusted me with it. I had seen him carrying it as he came in, but didn't think to say anything about it. I was more interested in what had disturbed him. Was Lisa dead? I looked at the hand holding the box. It was missing the ring finger. How had his finger fallen off? I was there when it happened, but I still didn't know how. "What is it?" "Gold." He opened the lid. Inside there was gold as he said. It shone like only gold can shine. I had no doubt that it was real. There was a lot there. More than I had ever seen. "I have to go." I was speechless, so I said nothing as he left. I don't know why, but I had expected Satan's retribution to be instant. I expected my father to already be dead. I knew that Satan would be able to do it. My father led an amazing life, but even immortals can die. It was his time. I wanted the coin. I had to possess the coin if I was to attain a seat on the Council. Even with all the gold sitting on my desk, and I was sure that it was more than ten years income for my Shop, I would still lack enough money to make even a minor bid. Seats were only open to the six richest individuals in the world, and if I did happen to raise the money, then I wouldn't want to give up my seat for something as mundane as dying. I wanted to be on the Council, and I wanted to be there forever. I picked up the Talisman, and fingered it. It felt like an old habit to do this, although I had only done so twice before. I found myself thinking of Him. I didn't know what to expect when I first summoned Him. I thought that He would be disgusting. Brimstone smell, leathery wings, barbed tail, horns, the whole bit. He did have horns, but they were small, and actually looked stylish. They fit His look well. If He had a

tail, well I couldn't see it, but then I hadn't really been looking. Also, He had no wings, and there wasn't a discernible scent. I was left to my thoughts. I alternated between thinking of my father's soon-to-hopefully-be death, and the powerful being that was Satan. It's amazing how much time one can spend doing absolutely nothing. I was unaware of how much had passed until Libby knocked at my door and took me from my imagining. I could hardly believe that I had spent hours daydreaming of Satan, since my father had visited me for the second time. Libby knocked again. How did I know it was her? I don't really know, but for some reason, I can tell people's knocks apart. It's a gift. "Enter." "We're having a problem with one of the customers." "Who?" "Caine." I stood up. Caine was a fool. I'd had troubles with him before. I had threatened him with his life if he ever returned to the Shop. Why was he back? I had thought that Silhouette was supposed to have killed him. Silhouette had been hired by my father after all. It didn't seem possible that the street rumors could have been true. It was unbelievable the Silhouette could have failed. Today must just be the day for meeting people that I thought should be deceased. I hated Caine. He was like all the others that came here. I despised my clientele. Despised the bald business man who came in on Tuesdays, demanded anal sex from one of my girls, then cried about how his wife didn't love him, and it wasn't his fault if he beat his kids. Despised the fathers who took their sorry virgin sons out for a good time. I could never tell who got more excited, the sons, who received the physical rewards of their father's wealth, or the fathers who sadistically enjoyed the end of their offspring's innocence. Despised the old ladies who's husbands either no longer were alive, or capable of passion, or desirable anymore--the old ladies that only wanted to be held, and were willing to pay for this privilege. Despised the teenage boys that pooled their money, then drew lots to find out who the 'lucky' one was going to be. Despised the violent drunks. Despised the husbands who paid to have their wives watch as they fucked another woman or man. Despised the regulars. Despised all my customers, for what they were, and what they stood for. "How did he get in?" "Angel let him in." "Damn. She should have known." I started pacing. I didn't want to take the time to deal with this personally. I had better things to do. Fuck! I let a knife drop into the hand not holding the Talisman. "Lyla!" I guess I must have startled her with the knife, but still that was no excuse. No one called me that! Crime was my name. It was all I would allow anyone to call me by. My father had named me Lyla, and even he called me Crime. I was Crime. I looked at the clock on my wall. It was midnight. I knew I probably shouldn't do it, but no sense wasting her blood. I slit her throat, and summoned the Devil once more. "Give Me My due." I pushed Libby into Him. He caught her, spun, as if in some complicated dance step, and dropped her skeleton to the floor. He looked at me. There was anger in His eyes.

"Foolish daughter, you have killed My Shell. You have summoned Me, and may have caused Me to fail. Silhouette must prevail. I must go back!" The Devil looked exhausted, like He'd been through Hell. I wondered what I had done. "What have I--" "Release Me, before it's too late!" "Go," I said. He went, and I went to see about Caine. Death and Damnation I had the knife in my hand. The blade was still sticky with Libby's blood. How many have I killed with knives such as these? How many more will I kill? Caine looked towards me. There was a dead male BE at his feet. I was pissed about that. BEs not only brought good profits, they were also expensive, and hard to get. This represented a great loss of investment. Caine was naked, and covered with gore from the BE. He didn't seem to mind the fact that he was going to die. He knew I was going to kill him. He had to. I stepped towards him. "You can't kill me. I am Caine, son of Adam. He who kills Caine will have vengeance upon him sevenfold! I have the mark." There was indeed a glowing sigill between his eyes. So be it. I cut him from groin to throat. His intestines fell from his body. He staggered forward. I stepped out of his way. He joined his intestines on the floor. Caine's mark flashed brightly once, then flew from him to burn itself on my forehead. My head flew back from the force, but it did not hurt, and I did not fall. I stood with warm bloody knife in hand. I stood with glowing mark upon my brow. I stood with two corpses in front of me. I was standing like this when Angel walked into the room. This wasn't anything that she should have to see. "Leave." "Crime." "Leave." "But your--" "Leave!" She left. Angel was a year younger than me. She was the true innocent, if such a thing could exist. I liked her. She hadn't yet entered into the profession. I wanted to keep it that way. I had a weak spot when it came to her. I'd never yelled at her before. I was bothered that I had. I didn't want to be yelling at her. Oh well, I guess it wasn't as if this day was going as I wanted it to anyway. I found Caine's clothes in a heap in the corner. On impulse I decided to search them. Nothing. I cleaned my knife on his shirt. On the way to my office, I told someone to take care of the Caine mess. I don't remember who it was, but I knew I could be confident that it was done. I had that much control in my House. I made a command, and it was obeyed. There could be no other possibility. Disobedience and death are the same. Family I sat at my desk. It was morning. I'd been up all night thinking.

Had I caused the Devil to fail? Was He still able to kill my father? I didn't want to summon Him again to find out. My thoughts also wandered to Caine. What did the mark mean? It was a mark of damnation. Kind of a joke if you ask me. It wasn't as if I already hadn't committed enough sins to be damned to Hell. Did this just make it official? How long had Caine been on this earth? How long had he wanted to die? He struck me as being a coward. He and I did have something in common though. We both wanted family members dead. My phone rang. It was my private line. Few people knew the number. I picked it up. "Yes?" "Crime?" a loud voice spoke. "Father?" I was amazed. Hadn't the Devil killed him yet? "Crime, I want to say that I'm sorry." He was almost yelling. "For what, father?" "For everything. I just wish things could have been different between us. I want things the way they were, so long ago. I want Lyla." "Don't call me that." "It's your name. I gave it to you." "You gave me nothing! Crime, father. My name's Crime." "Lyla." "Where are you? I want to see you." "Home. I'd like that." I hung up. Caine had one thing right. If you want something done, then you have to do it yourself. You can't trust anyone to do your work for you. I arrived at the house. I hated the memories associated with this place. I was just glad that there were few of them. We'd moved from the country to the city while I was still young. My father said the farm reminded him of mother. I never knew her. It reminded me of boredom and imprisonment. He'd always refused to sell it. I didn't stop to knock. I walked in. I found what was left of my father in one of the back bedrooms. He was obviously no longer immortal. He was old. It was amazing that he was still able to draw breath. He was so weak. "Father, wake up." He opened his eyes. A smile came to his face. "I have something I want to tell you." I sighed. I hadn't come here for confessions, and this was what he sounded like he wanted. "What?" "I love you." I laughed. Love? Ha! "Crime, I really do." Confession he wants, confession he'll get. "I never loved you. You have no idea. I hate you. I've hated you for such a long time now that it is only a dull emptiness of emotion. Willie, Markham, Lisa, Silhouette, they were all because of me. I did it." "Lyla--" "Don't call me that. I talked you into taking Markham, just so she would be able to steal me your coin. She double-crossed me. I killed her, not because she knew about Caine--you were fucked there--what did I care? I killed her because the bitch wanted to take money from me. I hired Willie to steal the coin. I'd promised him that I'd get him as much Scream as he wanted, if he only got me the coin. I--" "Lyla--" "Shut up, father. I'm not finished. I've done so much more that I

want you to know about. When you came to me for a bodyguard, I was going to give you a whore that I knew I could control, but no, you had to have someone else. I gave you Lisa." "Lisa?" "Yes, Lisa. I hired Silhouette to kill you. He said he wanted to anyway, and that he was willing to go rogue, just to get you, but we weren't stupid about it. Silhouette destroyed Atlantis-Prime first. We knew by the time the political upset of Council members and politicians dying was settled that you would already be dead, and a seat would be opened on the Council for me to take. Then that little bitch, Lisa, had to step in and save you. I hadn't thought she would be able to. She was weak. She let her customers beat her. Did she like it rough? Silhouette found out that she was a vampire. He knew then that there was no way he would be able to get at you as long as she was alive, so he did what had to be done. He killed her." "Don't tell me these things." "Oh there's more. I even summoned the Devil Himself. I wanted the coin, but you wouldn't give it up. I had to make sure that you were killed. I hate you. You've always had so much, but I've never had anything. You would have died last night if I hadn't been impatient." "Oh child," he was crying. Wet tears ran down his wrinkled face. "What have I done? How did I raise you to such hate? Not the Devil. Please, tell me not the Devil." "Yes father, the Devil. He's Silhouette, you know that don't you? You've always dealt with the Devil father. You just didn't know how often." "You lie. The Devil could take no direct actions against me." "You know I speak the truth. The Devil needed Silhouette. If the Devil became Silhouette completely, and was no longer Satan, then He could do whatever He wanted to you, and it would no longer be direct, it would be indirect. All's fair in damnation. I don't even know if Silhouette's a real person, or if he's a construction like a BE. I do not lie, father. You can feel it. You know I'm telling the truth." "The smile. It was silver." I didn't know what he spoke of. I didn't care either. He was a confused old man, and he deserved to die. Caine knew the truth. "Where's the coin, father?" "I'm old. I'm going to die soon." "I know. Where's the coin?" "A priest. I gave it to a priest. I don't remember where. The coin is lost. Forget it. Forget the Devil. Repent." God, what a hypocrite. I added one body more to the corpse count of my knife. It was sweet. I searched the house. I didn't find any coin, but I did find my father's journal. I pocketed the small black book, and left the house of hated memories. For the Love of Satan I read the book from cover to cover. There was so much I hadn't known. I almost found myself wishing that I had gotten to know my father a little bit better, but then I remembered how much of an asshole he was. I was glad that we only had a business relationship. I don't think I could have handled anything else. I found two things in his journal that were of interest. The location of the object of my desire was one. He'd copied the address of the church where he had gone with the coin. The whole story was there.

I only hoped the priest still had it when I got there. He also spoke of vampires. When I hired Silhouette to kill my father he had told me that Lisa was one, but I didn't really believe him. I thought it an excuse to raise his price. I couldn't fear the unknown, and I did want to go to this Banquet that my father wrote of. I wanted to meet this Caligula that talked like a drugged surfer. I would have to go. I resolved to get the coin, and go to the Banquet, but first I had something else I had to do. I picked up the Talisman, and examined it. It was small, gray and wrinkled. It reminded me of a hairless rabbit's foot. "Come to me. Appear." There was a wait, before Satan appeared. It wasn't long, but I hadn't expected any. Was it losing its power to summon Him? "Give Me My due." I had forgotten. I started to sweat. I picked up the phone. The Devil laughed, and snapped His fingers. The phone turned into a snake. I dropped it. "Let me--" "Oh, were you not warned, that you must have My due ready when you called Me forth?" He asked, as the snake slithered away. "Yes, but--" "Oh, sweet child, what I will now take you will not be able to refuse." In fear I turned from Him. Was He going to drag me off to Hell? Was my soul now forfeit? I thought I was already damned. What would He ask for? My life? My soul? I didn't fear death, but I would have liked to have made the Council before I died. I feared the Devil. I didn't want to spend any time in Hell. "Sweetness, Daughter of the Damned." I tried to turn around, but I couldn't. I felt a hand touch my shoulder. It was gentle. It slowly slid down my back. I shivered. Lips touched my neck. They burned, and I could hear the searing of flesh. I winced, but did not cry out. His other hand reached around my body and grasped the front of my blouse. Buttons flew. My breasts were exposed. I was proud of my body. Everything was tight--firm. I did nothing to hide myself. I would not act like a shamed whore. "You will be Mine," He said. He pushed me onto my bed. I had my suspicions--I wasn't stupid-but I still wasn't sure I knew what He wanted from me. I was finally able to bring myself to move. I turned, so that I was on my back, facing Him. He was no longer dressed all in black. He was naked. He was almost pretty. Strange thought, but it was true. He stood there in His magnificence, with an erection. I wanted Him. This was what I had been saving myself my whole life for. I wanted Him from the first time I'd summoned Him. There was a craving inside me. I wanted Him to satisfy me. "Take me." "You have no idea what it will be like." He was right. He ravaged me--mind, body, and soul. I wrapped my legs about Him as He thrust within me. This went on forever. Time does not exist when it comes to something like this. I arched my back as He came into me. I had given Him my virginity, and I had bled for it, His blood sacrifice. "I love you," I said, and it was true. "Yes--yes you do." He left me alone in the night with blood and sweat stained sheets. The Church

I'd almost expected to be denied entrance. I was the bearer of the mark of Caine, and I also had been the lover of Satan. I had another mark to prove this. My father had written that Lisa had been unable to enter, and my father himself had found if difficult. Had Lisa just not tried hard enough? For me the door opened easily. The church was obviously Catholic in design. There were crucifixes and confessionals. Gold gilded almost everything. I shuddered to think how much money had gone into the creation of the church. It seemed like a waste. I walked down the aisle. I ran my hand along the pew ends as I walked. If there was the presence of God anywhere here, well, I couldn't feel it. "Hello, is anyone around?" My voice came echoing back. It made the most delightful noise. I laughed. This also came reverberating back. I so seldom found anything pleasant anymore. I didn't know why the acoustics amused me. I called out again, more to hear my voice than for any real want of an answer. "God, are you here? I'd like to talk to you. You have some explaining to do." As I said this I paused after every word just to hear the way the sound resounded. God chose not to answer. I sat down in one of the pews. I wasn't in any big hurry. I decided that I would wait for the priest. He had to show up soon. Wealth, such as that which was displayed, seldom's left unguarded. I contemplated lifting a golden chalice or two from the altar, but decided that I didn't really want to get caught. It could get awkward, and I'd probably end up introducing someone to death. While I was in a church this fact did not bother me at all, but I didn't feel like committing a rogue assassination, and anyone that I ran into in here would most likely have paid guild taxes. Religion was only for the rich--the poor could never afford to believe. I don't see how a person can believe in God and heaven, and still live. If these existed wouldn't this person want to get there fast, and do something like Caine did? If the believer was one of those who considered suicide a sin, an assassin could be hired, and the person doing the hiring would have time to repent before death came calling. I guess God grants patience. I was getting tired of waiting. I was just about ready to leave when a priest came out of a door, next to the altar, that I hadn't noticed before. I didn't think that he saw me. He knelt before the crucifix, made the sign of the cross, and bowed his head in prayer. I hoped he was the one that I wanted. "He won't answer, you know." I'd startled him. He stood, turned towards me, took a step back, and almost tripped over the altar rail. It was almost comical. I didn't even grin. "Why do you say such a thing?" he asked. "Because it is true." I had no doubt that God had existed. If the Devil was for real then God probably wasn't a total myth. I just felt that God had lost the right to be considered supreme in 1945, the year man took his own fate in hand by detonating the first nuclear bomb. Man became man's god in the year my father was born. The priest looked at me with pity, and I almost killed him for it. He had no right. I was someone to be feared and respected, not someone to be looked down upon. I put away the knife I'd unconsciously drawn. Maybe I'd kill him later, ignoring the assassination rules, but I wanted something from him first.

"A naked man came in here, and probably collapsed right about there." I gestured. "He gave you something. I want it." "The coin?" "Yes." "Why should I give it to you?" "If you don't you'll meet your God." He must have been able to detect that I was serious. He walked through the door he'd entered from earlier. I followed. I found myself in a small book-lined office. There was a small writing desk in its center. The priest circled this until he was behind it. He then opened a drawer. He drew out a small velvet box. The coin. In seconds it would be mine. I would be immortal. Soon I would have everything I had ever desired. The priest opened the box and took out--a gun. It was very small. It looked like a lady's gun. Damn! Always so close. I should have known that it wouldn't be easy. Things were going too good for him to just hand me the coin. I hoped for his sake that he knew how to use the gun. If he didn't he was dead. I'd come too far to be stopped now. "You will leave this church, and never come back. If you do, you will die." "Very forgiving, Father." I considered summoning the Devil, but I wasn't sure if the Talisman would work in a church. That, and I felt that I was relying on Satan too often. "Leave," he said. "I haven't had to use this in over twenty years, don't make me kill a child." I sat down in an office chair. He didn't shoot. I was glad of that. Dying just wasn't something that I wanted to do. Not now--not ever. "Look, I can give you anything you want. Just give me the coin. It was my father's. It would mean much to me." This was the truth, even if it was a little twisted. "I have everything I need. God provides. There is nothing you could offer me. I do not plan on letting the coin go. I watched as a man crawled through Hell to offer me the coin, and when I took it he aged fifty years as I watched. It was a miracle. I was meant to have the coin, and I will keep it. Now, leave or I will shoot you." "What kind of priest are you?" "Practical." I left. I couldn't see anything else to do. I would return later. Later--there was always later. Now it was time to go to the Banquet. Emperor Caligula The door slowly opened. It would be simple to say I was scared. I could even describe my physiological reactions. I mean, there was adrenaline screaming in my brain, I was breathing fast, I could hear my heartbeat. It would be simple, but it would also not be quite right to say "scared". I was, but I was also excited. I felt like I did when, for the first time, I took a life. I wondered if it was the right address. It was dim inside. "Yes, do come in." The man fit my father's description of Morris. He was huge. I felt fragile next to him, but I walked right past, ignoring him, affirming my superiority over a mere servant. I didn't look at him. "Take me to the Banquet," I said haughtily. "Oh, but of course. I am sorry for my lack of manners. I forget myself. May I escort you, my Lady?"

He was obviously humoring me. His voice dripped with sarcasm. He offered me his arm. Still not looking at him, I took it. I came to a little past his waist. I was a tenth of his size. He led me down the hall. It became darker as we went until we were walking through black. We stopped. I became even more afraid. I couldn't see. Was he going to kill me? I was beginning to panic. I wondered how often mortals came here. Was I the first? Would I be able to leave, once I entered? "Why have we stopped?" "The Banquet, my Lady." A door open, and Morris bowed. Light flooded my eyes. It took me a moment to be able to see. When I could, I saw a man in a powdered wig dancing. He was dressed as a French aristocrat. His face was painted all white, except for two bright red dots on his cheeks. He looked like a large puppet. He danced up to me, smiled, and laughed. "I know where you want to go," he said, as he held out his hand. "Where?" "Caligula sits upon throne, holding scepter of Nemesis bone. It is he that you seek, to him that you would speak." I took his hand. He lightly brushed my knuckles with his lips. He then looked down, like he had just been caught doing something wrong. I smiled. He smiled. He started to skip. I walked. We came to another set of doors. A child opened these so that we might pass through. We did. The room held a giant table. On it was a king-type throne. Upon this was Caligula, and he was indeed holding a scepter in his right hand. There were stairs allowing one to climb onto the tabletop, three feet off the floor. We made use of them. We walked until we were before Caligula. We bowed. "What have you here, Clarion? Something to amuse me perhaps?" I assumed my escort was named Clarion. He was silent. Caligula's speech was not as my father had described. I wondered at this. "Caligula--" "My Lord, Caligula, if you will. After all, I am Emperor." "I'm sorry, my Lord, I didn't know." "Very well, just don't allow it to happen again. I'll be unable to overlook it a second time." He wasn't very subtle with his threats. I hoped he would feel some debt to my father that I could exploit. I was glad that I had made it this far. I had thought that maybe Morris would have killed me, even before I was able to talk with Caligula. I wasn't about to blow it on some point of honor. If he wanted to be a Lord, then Lord he was. This was probably why he no longer talked like a surfer. I wished I had the reputed powers of protection that the coin was supposed to offer. I would have felt much safer had I possessed the coin. "My Lord, Caligula, I have come here to ask a favor of you in my father's name." "And who might your father be?" "My Lord, his name was Michael Stryke. I believe you knew him." I could feel tension in the air. "Such a greedy one. We already paid him tribute. Tell him if he wants anything else he must come here to petition for it himself." "My Lord, he cannot. He is dead." Caligula looked at me, and I could tell that he didn't believe me. My father had been a god to these. "How?" "By my hand. I slew my father." "Clarion, kill her."

I hadn't expected this. I thought that they would give me whatever I asked for out of respect and fear for my father. I thought I could frighten them into submission. I mean, if I could kill my father then it would only be logical that I could kill any one of these. I didn't think that they were going to see it that way. I looked at Clarion. He stepped back, so that I was between him and Caligula. "Caligula, I have the mark," I said with fear shaking my voice. I was referring to the mark of Caine. I had forgotten about Satan's kiss. "Little mortal, so bold, comes to take vampire gold, but now will die, and when life has fled, will stilly lie." I looked back at Caligula. He was my only hope, but I wasn't going to beg him. My life wasn't worth that much. I had taken a risk, and lost. Clarion circled around me twice, stopped before me, and put his hands up to my face, like an artist trying to imagine how a scene would look framed as a picture. "I'll take your head whole, place it upon a pole, and your pretty little face will decorate this dark place." Caligula changed positions upon his throne, and yawned. No help there. He didn't care that I had the mark of Caine. Apparently it was true that vampires were already damned. Clarion leaned in and kissed my cheek. I stared straight forward, and let him. It wasn't as if I could've stopped him. He became still. I heard many gasps. I looked at Clarion, the subject of everyone's surprise. He was still and gray. He was stone. Brightness was coming from my neck. I knew that the mark of Satan's kiss was glowing. I didn't think that it had any special powers. I had expected to die when Caligula had ordered Clarion to kill me. Caligula still looked bored. "Caligula," I said. "My Lord--" "No, just Caligula. Enough of these games." "Games? You want to see games? Your Emperor demands entertainment. Entertain me!" I watched as a young looking-female vampire jumped upon the table, walked to Caligula, and bowed before him. Music started to play. It was an obnoxious tune. I couldn't see any musicians, nor any speaker system. She started to dance. Her movements became faster and more complicated as she went until she danced a dance that no mortal could have ever hoped to imitate. It was beautiful. "Stop!" Caligula roared. She did too, but in mid-movement. She was unbalanced and fell to the tabletop. She looked up at Caligula, through long black hair that had fallen about her face. "What is your name? I'm so very bad with names, but then I've only had a thousand years or so to learn it." "Rose, my Lord." "Are you a flower then?" "If my Lord wishes?" "Shall I pluck you then?" "If my Lord wishes?" She brushed her hair out of her eyes, and licked her lips. Caligula stood, stretched out his arms, and said, "I want you to do a different dance for me, something slow, sensual, seductive, and just for my pleasure. Can you do that?" "I can but try, my Lord." Everyone in the hall became silent as the music slowed until it was just a soothing drone. Rose stood, and smoothed the wrinkles from her dress. She then ran her tongue over her lips and stated to move to

the music. She swayed from side to side like a snake in a charmer's basket. It was almost hypnotic. Rose reached up and unfastened the clasp at her throat. She continued to tremble to the music in slow movements. She undid several buttons, exposing her breasts. They were milk white, and perfectly formed. The nipples were tinted a slight pink. She looked at Caligula. He was still standing with his arms held wide, scepter in one hand. He smiled as Rose finished stripping her clothes from her body. "How sublime. Come here my pet." Rose walked to him, completely naked. I ached for her. I found myself wanting to take her, and be held by her. I wanted to touch her in ways that I knew would bring her pleasure. She was beautiful. She was perfection. I could see why she had been made into an undead. Something as beautiful as she should be forever. Beauty was meant to be eternal. Caligula embraced her, clasping her luscious body to his tightly. I wondered if he had an erection or if he was even capable. I detested having to be made a witness of this spectacle, but I found myself drawn to this morbidly exotic scene. What would happen next? Caligula drew his cloak from his shoulder, and let it flutter to the floor. It was the only thing he had been wearing, and he was capable. He then set the Nemesis staff on the seat of the throne. "Lay down," he commanded. She obeyed. "I shall make you my Queen. Would you like that?" Rose was silent. Caligula again embraced her, but this time it was much more--how shall I say it?--personal. Rose winced as he entered her. Caligula thrust into her hard. I had no doubt, that had she been mortal, she would have been ruptured and perished from his actions. The music was soft, so I heard, "My Lord," as Rose gasped. Caligula ignored her, and continued to complete his lust upon her with a rage. Caligula pulled her head back, exposing her throat. He bit into her neck, and drank as he came into her. He took without permission. Caligula stood got to his feet, picked up his scepter, and stood over her. "Rise, Rose." Weakly Rose did as she was bidden. Blood was on her neck and the inside of her legs. It stuck out against her white skin like thick red ink on ancient vellum. I felt for her, but it was not my place to interfere. "What have we here? Blood? She bleeds. Everyone, she bleeds!' Caligula reached out and placed his hands between her legs. His fingers came away colored crimson. "A virgin vampire? What a novel idea. Luscious, do you still wish to be my Queen?" Rose laced her fingers behind her back, and looked down. This caused her breasts to stick out in a most alluring manner. She was the perfect vision of shame. "If it is my Lord's desire, then I wish to be Queen." Caligula cocked his head to one side as if in considering whether or not she was worthy of him. He then smiled. A shiver ran up my back. I hated his smile. "You are nothing like Drusilla. I think I shall wait for her." Caligula struck Rose with the scepter. A dent appeared in the side of her head. The scepter moaned in pleasure as she crumpled to the table. A pool of blood welled forth, and formed a circle about her pretty head. "The Queen is dead!" Caligula shouted. I could no longer remain silent, "You bastard," I had not realized I'd spoken until Caligula turned to face me with fire in his eyes. He looked as though he was going to bound from the

table and tear my heart from my chest. "Do you wish to be my Queen?" I was shocked. Did he mean for me to join Rose in death? I felt if I showed weakness, if I was submissive, then he would kill me as he had her. So I said, "Yes, I wish to be your Queen. Come take me." Caligula looked confused for a second, but then again smiled, and hopped from the table. He approached me, naked. "Shall you strip for me, or shall I tear your clothes from you?" I held out my left hand. It was only shaking a little. He took it. I then leaned in, kissed him, and let a knife drop into my other hand. If he had seen it, then there was no way I could make it hit. Vampires were just too damn fast. Our tongues touched, and I could taste a hint of Rose's blood. My throat filled with bile, and I knew that I had to do this. The knife entered at the base of his chin. The point exited through the top of his skull. Blood flowed into my mouth. I flinched back, and spit out the warm salty liquid. "Thwat wasn'th nice," he said as he threw me to the ground. "Whath isth it thath you wanth?" I tried not to become distracted by the blood that was running down his throat and chin and onto his bare chest. It was disconcerting that he still had my knife sunk into his skull. He didn't seem to mind. He acted as if it were not there, and continued to talk, even though it was barely possible to understand him. "Money," I said in as sure of a voice as I could. "How muchth?" I told him. He looked amused. He laughed, but he gave it to me. I didn't ask why. I had gambled, and it paid off. More gold than I could carry. A thousand times what my father had taken. I had to call for an armored car to transport it. Every coin had Caligula's face minted on it. I only hoped that it would be enough to make my bid. Once Again, the Church I wasn't about to let some priest get the better of me. Once I had the silver coin I'd probably kill him. He'd threatened my life. For that alone he'd earned my hate. I was undetected as I slipped into the dark church, and unless God chose to turn tattletale, I planned to stay that way. As silently as I could I made my way to the office. It was empty. I tried opening the desk drawers. All were locked. I took out a knife. It was a long one, almost a foot of blade alone. I didn't have time to be subtle. I just inserted the knife into the crack at the top of one of the drawers, and pulled, forcing the lock with a crack. It popped open with little effort, and little noise. Inside were many papers. There wasn't anything I was interested in though. I broke into a second drawer. I found the velvet box the priest had taken the gun from. The gun was inside it again. I took it out and set the pistol on the desk top. I had three drawers left to try. I was starting to wonder if I'd ever find the coin this way. The third drawer opened harder than the first two. I made a lot of noise getting it, but there was little that I could do about it. This drawer held ledgers, writing utensils, and some minor gold coins, but no silver ones. I was about to try the fourth drawer when the door opened. I guess someone heard me after all. It was pretty dark in the room. I hadn't turned on any lights, and I was dressed all in black, so hopefully I wouldn't be spotted right away. I did have the knife. Even though this one wasn't made for throwing I still felt safer for having it.

The priest walked in, reached out, turned on a light, and looked at me in shock. He then noticed the gun. I rather liked his facial expression then. "Hello," I said, with a honeyed voice. I smiled. I knew that I had the upper hand. What could he do to me? He only had a candle snuffer in his hand. A poor weapon if you ask me. He obviously thought to confront a common burglar, not me. He just stood there dumbly. What could he say? "Why don't you save us both some time and tell me where what I want is at? If you do, I might let you live. I doubt it, but anything's possible." "It's in the bottom left hand drawer." Now that was more like it. Cooperation, that was what I wanted. I gauged the distance between he and I, and decided that it was safe to pry open the drawer he'd spoken of. I looked down, slid the knife in, looked back at the priest, and while keeping my eyes on him, popped the lock. He didn't even try to move. Sitting alone was an American silver dollar. I'd seen it in my dreams a thousand times. I was sure that if I turned it over that I would find that it was two-headed. I picked it up. I was right. It was the coin. There could be no mistaking it. I could just feel that it was the one. It felt so right. "God meant for me to have that. Take it at your own peril." "Oh I will," I said. I did. I placed it in one of my pockets. I set my knife next to the gun. The gun I picked up, and pointed at the priest. Poetic justice. "I'd like to know your name before I kill you." The color drained from his face. I took pleasure in making him feel powerless. Let God save him. "Mercy." I'd fired guns before. It wasn't hard. Just point and pull. Death made easy. I just didn't like them. "Mercy is a name that will look good carved in marble." "No, have--" I fired. The gun exploded in my hand. My hand went numb, which was good. I don't think I wanted to feel the pain of all the blood that was welling forth. I dropped what was left of the gun. Piece of shit! My hand was cut open rather badly. I knew there had to be a reason I never used guns. Mercy (if that was his name) stepped forward and struck me in the head with the goddamn candle snuffer. The bell shaped end cracked into my temple. I fell out of the chair. My vision tunneled and the priest was on top of me. He'd dropped his makeshift weapon in favor of his bare hands. He was hitting me with these. I fought back as well as I could. Which wasn't very well. A shelf got knocked over during our struggle. Large heavy hard-bound books fell about us. We were both struck by several. I caught one in the face. My nose collapsed, and started bleeding. I wondered if it had been broken. Mercy reached back, and grabbed my knife from the desk. He raised it above his head, but instead of killing me, he hesitated to gloat. That was a mistake on his part. He just reminded me that I was far from helpless. I palmed two knives of my own. One I got from a cross body draw. The other, I'm not exactly sure where it came from. One moment I held nothing, the next I was holding death in my hand. I did not hesitate, not even for an instant. I inserted one in his chest, below the sternum. It slid up at an angle that I was sure took him in the heart. The other knife passed though his throat. I felt it crunch into his spine. I was showered in blood. He looked at me in disbelief. I don't think he thought anyone

could move that fast. He still had the knife in his hands. I thought maybe he would still be able to make a strike. He wasn't. His life faded, and he fell forward onto me. Mercy wasn't that large of a man, but I was exhausted, and lacked the strength to push him off. I passed out. It is not advisable to wake covered in thick half-dried sticky wet blood with a dead priest on top of you. It is not a pleasant experience. I crawled out from under him when I came to. It wasn't easy, but I couldn't stand to be that close to someone who was dead. I stood. I assessed the damage that was done to me. My hand was swollen and an ugly purple color, but I could almost make a fist with no undue pain. I had several gashes that would probably need stitches, but no bones felt broken. That brought to mind my nose. I didn't know for sure, but it seemed to only be puffy and tender. I had several lumps about my head, and my teeth wouldn't line up right when I clenched them together. I was sure that I wasn't a pretty sight. I'd live though. I took off my shirt. It was heavy with clotted blood. I left the office. I found a baptismal font at the front of the church. I splashed water from it onto my face. I got as cleaned up as I could, as fast as I could. I didn't want to have to explain Mercy's corpse. I grabbed an acolyte's robe, and put it on to cover my nakedness. I left. Cord and Discord I woke, stiff and sore. The House physician had fixed my hand as best as she could. Her work was superb, but my cuts itched terribly and my stitches burned. At least I was clean. This did little to lighten my mood though. I felt frustrated. I didn't know my next step. I had enough gold. I had the coin. Now, all I had yet to acquire would be a seat on the Council. I didn't know how to do this. When I had hired Silhouette to clear a seat on the Council, he destroyed Atlantis-Prime on a hunch. The only way we knew we had been right was the political upset that followed. Silhouette took advantage of this time to make an assassination attempt on my father. It mattered little now that he had failed. The Council recovered, and Guild policies once again came into effect. The Council remained elusive though. There was no way that I could just walk up to some unknown building, enter, and say, "Which way to the Council chamber?" It just wasn't going to happen. I needed a way to contact someone connected to the Council. I needed to make my bid, and I needed to prove that I was worthy to hold a Council position. I just didn't know how to go about this. I couldn't figure out a way to get what I wanted. I didn't know what to do, so I decided to rest, and fell into much needed sleep, but almost immediately I was startled out of this by the phone. I reached out to answer it. In the dark I knocked it from its stand. It hit the floor, and made a last attempt to ring, then, except for the voice on the other end, fell silent. I picked up the phone. "Hello," I, and the voice, said at the same time. Have you ever walked down a hallway, and come upon someone who was walking in the opposite direction? You blocked each other's way for a moment. You moved to get out of his way, at the same time as he moved to do the same for you, and you found yourself facing him once again. I hate when this happens to me. Oftentimes I leave the individual laying on the ground. Dead people are easier to walk over than fence around. I didn't want to verbally collide with whomever was calling. I remained silent --as did he. I hung up. Whoever it was didn't call back.

I got up from the bed, and looked into the mirror. I wasn't shocked by what I saw there. My appearance was bad, but it wasn't any worse than I expected. My nose was bruised. My eyes were blackened. Little cuts decorated my whole face, and I looked as though I was wearing a mask of sorts. I held my hand up in front of my face. It was swollen The House physician had given me 18 stitches. They were tight and pulled at the skin uncomfortably, but I could still clasp items, even though it hurt to do so. The cuts itched terribly. I knew that this meant the healing had already started. I dropped my hand, and looked again to the mirror. I was in a lot of pain, and it showed. The damn priest had hit me several times. I could still feel almost every blow. I felt so alive. I smiled. It was the very obvious smile of a meat eater. I found it convenient that my apartment occupied a room of the shop. It often made things easy. I went to my office and sat in my chair. I pulled out profit and loss sheets, but they didn't really interest me. I didn't need to know how much I had down to the last once of gold. I knew I was making a lot of money, and that was good enough for me. Then I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I didn't flinch. I just looked up. I hadn't noticed the door opening, so I was surprised that someone had been able to enter my office undetected. I tried to keep my amazement off my face. I mostly succeeded. "And who might you be?" I asked. "I might be God, but last time I checked I was only a minor messenger of His." I smiled a very cynical smile. I was not amused. I hate surprises. "Answer my question. Who are you?" "My name is Cord, and I am from God." He placed his hands on my desk-top, and fanned his fingers out until his palms were flat against the smooth wooden surface. "What is it that you want?" "To offer you salvation." "What makes you think that I deserve that? I don't even want it." I reached for the phone, but noticed that it had yet to be replaced. No illusion that snake. Very well, I didn't know how he'd gotten in here, and when I found out someone was going to pay dearly, but I wasn't going to take this shit. I opened my mouth to yell, but before I could-"I wouldn't do that." Fine then, I'll deal with this one myself. I drew two daggers from my thigh sheathes. One for each hand--his that is. I slammed both blades though the skin and fragile bones of his hands. There was no resistance as the steel sank into the wood about half the length of the blades. Cord just pulled his hands back. The knives slid from him as if he were a ghost. No blood, no tearing of flesh. He rubbed his hands together. They were unmarked. I stood, reached out, and with two hands tugged one of the knives free. Some of my stitches tore as I did so. This only made me more angry. I then threw the knife at Cord's head. It passed through him and became embedded into the door behind him. "Are you done? Would you like to try again?" "What is it that you want?" "You will bear Satan's son. You will be the mother of the Antichrist." "Bullshit! I'm not even pregnant." "Oh, but you are. It's too late for the child. His path is foreordained. I want you. Give yourself to the Spirit, come away from Satan, and you could yet be saved. Satan would be nice too--there has always been a place reserved in the kingdom for Him--but I doubt if that will happen though. I think even God is starting to give up hope."

This man was amusing. He looked so frail. I had no doubt that if he was a natural creature that I could kill him with my bare hands, and he thought he was going to conquer Satan. "You can't kill Him." "Kill? Who said anything about killing? I want to redeem Him. Even though I think it is too late." Now I laughed. He'd obviously never met Satan before. I wanted Cord gone. I didn't want to deal with him anymore. I did not like to hear what he was saying. "Guards!" I was proud of the fact that the door opened almost immediate. I'd have to remember this when it came to delivering out punishment for allowing Cord in here in the first place. My security officer almost filled the door. He was huge. "Crime," he said. "Rowan, remove this man from my presence." "Excuse me?" "Take him away, and be quick about it." "But Crime, you're alone." Cord sat down in an office chair. "He can't see me." If this was true, then I still had a way to deal with this problem. I put my hand in my pocket. "Satan, I command thee, appear!" A look of horror came about Cord's face. He mouthed the word no. Sorry, but yes. "Give Me My due." I pointed past Satan at Cord. Satan turned, and started forward. He walked right through Cord and the chair he was sitting in. Satan raised His hand, held it out to my guard. "Come. It is easier if you do not struggle." My guard couldn't resist. He started to take His hand. This wasn't possible. I couldn't just let this happen. "No, Satan, not that one!" Satan clasped hands with my security officer. Their fingers interlaced. The guard sank to his knees. Rowan! A look of peace came across his eyes. The guard smiled, and softly whispered, "Lord." Satan let go, and my guard fell to the floor dead. "What is it that you want?" What is it that you want? These were the words that I'd spoken to Cord only moments ago. These were the words that Satan was now speaking to me. Everybody always wanted something. I wanted my guard to still be alive. He had been one of my own. He was mine damn it! Satan had had no right. I wanted revenge. I wanted Cord dead. "Kill Cord." "Cord? Where? That one has been a thorn in my side for some time. Where is he?" "Sitting right there." I pointed. "Can't you see him?" "No, He cannot. I told you I was a messenger from God. That man's death was totally unnecessary." "You can't see him?" The Devil looked at me with an expression that I didn't expect to see from Him. It was pity or annoyance, I couldn't tell which. I just knew that I didn't like it at all. I wasn't crazy. I didn't deserve this. "Crime--" "No, listen to me. There's a man sitting right there. He says he's from God. Look at me. I am not lying!" "Indeed you are not. Interesting. Ask him what he wants." I looked at Cord. I repeated the Devil's query. Cord just shrugged

his shoulders. "I'm not talking to Him. The death of the guard causes me pain. I feel responsible. If I had left, then you wouldn't have had to summon Him. I could have told you that He wouldn't be able to see me. He can't touch me. I'm immune from Him." I turned to Satan. "He came here to tell me that I was pregnant. He says you can't hurt him." "I didn't say that." Cord said exactly at the same time as Satan said, "We will see about that." Satan snapped His fingers. A mirror image of Cord appeared. The new arrival was standing to the left of Cord. He grabbed Cord by the throat, and pushed. Cord's chair tipped. The two beings started wrestling. I quickly lost track of which was which. They were that identical. They were worse than twins. One quickly gained advantage over the other, and pinned the weaker one to the floor. They looked like they were going to break, they were so thin and fragile in appearance. I looked at my hand, where the stitches had come loose. It had bled, but now seemed fine. I would have to remember to have the House physician again look at it. "It's been a long time, brother," said the one on top. "Release me, Discord." I was confused. I still wasn't sure which was Cord. I figured that it was the loser of the little fight. I also gathered that the winner was named Discord. As to whether or not he was literally Cord's brother, I didn't know. They looked too identical to have been real flesh and blood. Every wrinkle, even every hair was exactly the same. Perhaps they had been crafted by the same genetic engineer. The one I assumed was Discord looked up at Satan. He still held Cord's arms against the floor. "My Lord, I have bested him. I may give him one command that he may not refuse. What is Your desire?" "Tell him not to manifest before Crime again." I watched as Discord commanded Cord to do as Satan had said. Cord blinked from existence. I could no longer see him. Discord stood up and dusted himself off. Satan again snapped His fingers. We were alone then, or at least I couldn't see anyone else. Cord and Discord were gone. "Did You send him to Hell?" "No, that one would not serve Me nearly so well if I confined him to My domain." "Satan, am I carrying Your child?" The Devil looked at me, tilted His head to the side, and said, "Yes." I went to Him. I fell into His embrace. He kissed my forehead, where the mark of Caine still glowed. I felt so small. I felt completely encompassed by His arms. I was glad He was holding me. I did not want to be alone. Body Sweat I didn't know what else to do. I started spending each night in a different bar, not drinking, looking. Sometimes, I went alone, other times I brought along a set of escorts. Rich nightclub one night, sleazy lower sector bar the next. Take for example the bar called, 'Body Sweat'. This place measured how good the night was by how many people died during the course of the evening. Alcohol flowed, and I did not feel safe. This is a feeling that I trust whenever it decides to visit me.

My guards did not partake of any food or drink. Neither did I. I wanted every advantage if a fight came my way. People swirled in an unnatural, complicated dance. I didn't think that half of them even realized that they danced. It could almost be called life. Music overwhelmed the air, so that communication was almost impossible. I saw little reason to talk. A young girl about my age, broke away from the dancing throng, and stepped towards me. Her eyes were large with drugs. I doubted if she knew that I existed. She brought her face up to mine. Less than an inch separated us, and I thought that she was going to kiss me. Both of the guards that were protecting me drew very large automatic pistols, and aimed them at the girl, but I motioned for them to hold off. The girl had long straight blonde hair that fell about her shoulders like an exotic waterfall of light. She wore only an abundance of white silk scarves that hid nothing. Her hair and the drug sparkle in her eyes made her seem very otherworldly. She glowed. "Gossamer," I thought. "Love me," she said softly, but I was able to hear her over the music. Voice, fine ring of crystal. My eyesight was becoming filled with her. She seemed to be the only person in the whole bar. I wanted her to kiss me, take me to the dance and love me. She took one of her silk scarves and threw it about my neck. I had the eerie feeling of a spider web being drawn across my flesh. With this scarf she pulled me into her. The girl touched my breasts, ran her hands down my sides, and behind my back. She pulled me tightly into her. I allowed this. I was confused. My head was spinning. I was glad I was being held, or I would have fallen to the floor in a swoon. "Beautiful One," she whispered, none but I heard her. Water flowing over smooth stones. My knees were becoming weak. I wanted only to continue these personal gyrations with this girl of light. I forgot my knives. I forgot my guards. I was blissfully helpless, like a drunk innocent schoolgirl who finds herself in the arms of another for the first time. She started to draw the silk line tight. It pressed into my throat most cruelly. Dark splotches began to obscure my vision. Strangulation, and I couldn't bring myself to feel that this was out of the ordinary in any way, even though this was a sure trip to death for anyone else. The coin would most likely keep me alive, but I had no desire to test it. "Brrap! Brrap!" screamed two flaming weapons, one on each side of me. Large gruesome holes were ripped into the dazzling blond beauty. Her white silk ran crimson. She coughed. Blood poured from her lips. She looked at me, and it was as if she was seeing me for the first time. She let go of the cord around my neck. A single tear ran from one of her eyes, the only mourning that she would most likely receive. She fell before me, as if she was begging me for life. I was gasping air, great sweet lung fulls. The girl was still staring at me. She had large sad eyes, like a doe that had just been taken by the hunters arrow. I touched the side of her face. Her chin was wet with the end of her life. I had been so close to dying. I pushed her back, she fell dead to the floor, and all sparkle, both natural and not, faded from her eyes. I walked past her dull corpse. My guards stayed close to me. They still had their guns out and ready, and I could almost imagine that the barrels were still issuing little wisps of ominous gray smoke. I took the scarf that was still about my neck, and tied it into a bow there. I went to the bar. No one else confronted me or my guards before I arrived there.

The man behind the counter wore a gray cloth turban and a matching gray robe. He had a wiry beard that went to his waist, and blended in with his outfit. He was levitating in a full lotus position. It was as though he was a mystic mountain guru. This man floated from customer to customer, serving them drinks. He spoke with each for a moment. No one seemed to be impatient to be served. He and most of the people sitting around the bar seemed to be out of time and place. Most seemed as if they had just came from some oriental opium den. "Excuse me!" I yelled against the loud music. My voice cracked, and my throat hurt with wet pain. It was as if I had swallowed a needle. If anyone noticed me, they didn't show it. The guru bartender continued to talk and serve drinks, ignoring me. I was standing there contemplating my next move, when the guard to my right was downed by a huge club wielding man. My other guard brought his pistol around, but before he could bring it to bear, the huge man struck it with his heavy club. The gun went spinning from my guard's grasp. The huge man hit my guard alongside the head, and he too collapsed beside his associate. "You killed her. I can't make her move," the huge man said. I barely heard him though he had yelled. The music was entirely too loud. He brought the club back behind his head, then brought it down in a vicious quick swing. I ducked under the rod, stepped behind the man, drawing two sharp knives as I did so, and buried both into him, one in each of his kidneys. This should have dropped him. The trauma of ruptured organs should have sent him into helpless shock. This did not happen. The man figured out the source of his pain, and again attacked me. He must have been on drugs. Scream perhaps. He didn't even act as if he'd been stuck already. He swung his club once again, and again I moved away, but not fast enough. It smashed into my shoulder. I slammed back into the bar. My wind was knocked out of me, and I found my whole arm had become numb. I couldn't move it. With my arm like this it would be awkward for me to draw any more than five more of my blades. I drew another one though. This I threw. It was a hasty shot, and took the man in the upper thigh. I took out yet one more, this one became buried to the hilt in his stomach. He came at me again. I backed away from him. I now only had to keep away from him until he lost enough blood to slow him down. If only he would figure out that he was already dead. As I said, I backed away, but I had forgotten my prone guards. I stumbled over one, but did not fall. I staggered. My opponent saw this as an opportunity to do me in. His rod arced towards my head. He miscalculated and missed, but not by far enough to make me happy. He should have been slower than he was. The drugs he was on must have had something to do with his speed. I recovered my balance, and sent another knife flashing his way. He laughingly hit this with his club. It went flying into the dancers. I heard no death cry, but then again I didn't care if it killed an unintended victim anyway. I had another worry. "I'm going to crush you, then I will rape your dead body!" This I heard all too clearly. I would not let this happen. I stood my ground, and waited as he advanced. I wanted to let him attack again. I planned to go with what worked, ducking under his intended blow, and sticking him with the knife that I had just now let drop into my hand. I had to stab with this one, for it was not balanced for throwing. I wanted to go for a spine shot this time. If I could only make my blade bite through his bone, and sever his spinal cord, well, then it would be over. He came at me as expected, in exactly the way I expected. I

ducked, went to slip behind him, but then my world unexpectedly exploded into large stars. I looked up from the bar floor were I found myself. Had he actually hit me? He stood over me with his club. He now held it two-handed, and I could tell that he meant to brain me with it. I knew I couldn't get to my Talisman in time. I prepared to put my faith and hope into the coin that had been my father's, but then the most wondrous and welcome thing happened. "Brrap! Brrap! Brrap!" The drugged man's head just seemed to explode. I was grateful, but it was not a sight that I would be disappointed if I never saw again. I didn't think that I would pass out, but I didn't trust myself to stand. I looked to my savior. It was the guard that had been struck first. He had shot my would be killer. I smiled at my guard. He got up from where he had fallen. A trickle of thick dark liquid ran from his temple. He went to my other guard, bent, and touched his neck. "Dead, Crime." My world overran red. My blood burned. This would not have happened had I been more fully aware. I hadn't expected an attack, but this was no excuse. No excuse at all. I still had the knife that I had drawn. I stood. I was not steady on my feet, but I did not fall. I walked as best as I could to the counsel that poured forth the music. I was sick of this noise. I reversed my grip on the blade, and smashed it, hilt first, into the counsel. Nothing happened, so I struck it yet again, and again. Sparks flew, and it became deadly silent. I looked to the dancers to gauge their reaction. They had stopped all movement, but none seemed as if they really cared. They just stood there. I then crossed the bar in anger. I had lost another one of my people, and I had almost lost my own life. Someone else would die to feed my rage. Someone would have to pay for all that I had lost. I dropped the knife that I had smashed the control counsel with. It was not what I wanted. I came at the gray guru, no weapon drawn, although I knew I could get at one in less than seconds, even with my arm the way that it was. "You!" I yelled, and it sounded rather foolish as the whole bar was deadly quiet. I didn't care. The guru looked up at me, and said, "If you progress on your bitter path of malice you will acquire all that you ever wanted, but it will not be sufficient to content your avaricious greed." This one would do, I brought my hand within my shirt, and pulled out a small finely crafted knife. It was almost more of a dart, and it cut through the air rather well. It slid into the mountain mystic's solar plexus. His turban came undone as he fell from the air into a heap of gray rags. I still wanted to cause more death for what had been done to me, but I chose to leave alive, with my guard, instead. There was always another night, another bar. The Little Boy's Kiss I didn't know why, but for some reason I believed the guru. Maybe because he had told me what I had wanted to hear, maybe because I had killed him, but I decided to follow his advice and continue searching nightclubs. Another night, another bar, and this place was nice. The clientele were all dressed as if they were ready to go to a funeral--somber, dark, gray and black, but nice. I wore a floor length dress made of a dead black cloth, cut down from the shoulders to the small of my back. I had to sacrifice a few of my normal places for keeping weapons, but I still had

enough to insure that I survived any chance encounter (I hoped). I had decided not to take any of my guards, but I did have one of my employees with me, a cute boy (he was four years older than I) by the name of Tony. Tony was no innocent. He had a customer file that was very impressive, and I even heard that he sometimes did work away from the Shop on his free time. I could tell that Tony felt a little lost in the crowd that we were now in. The rich and the royal. Ha! The lost and the lonely would be more correct. These were the people that kept me in business. The same people that Tony fucked for a living. Tony held my arm securely, as if he needed the reassurance that he was allowed here. I wanted to tell him to act like an adult, but I figured coming from someone younger, his feelings would be hurt, so I let him hang on me as if we were lovers. This place reminded me of the Banquet. Half the people seemed more dead than alive. There were no tables in this nightclub, no music played, but alcohol was served in abundance. I told Tony that he could drink, but when he found out that I wasn't planning on doing so, he refused. A strange very drunk woman stumbled by us, but she wasn't in any condition to take notice of anyone. Tony smiled at her. She ignored him. A man dressed differently than everyone else--obviously a servant-came up to us and offered a plate of appetizers. Again Tony and I refused. "Crime, what are we doing here, if they don't dance, and we're not going to drink? What else is there here?" "I'm looking." "For what?" "The same thing as everyone else really. I just want a few answers to life. That's all." "Oh," he said with a confused look about him. I could tell that I had done nothing to answer his question. I decided that we were going to have to leave soon. Tony was uncomfortable here, and I didn't want to have to spend the night reassuring him. I liked him, but that didn't mean I wanted to hold his hand and pamper to him. "Come on." I headed to a group standing in the corner, with Tony in tow. All conversation stopped as my escort and I joined the group of well dressed men. I recognized one as being a customer at the Shop, but I didn't acknowledge him in any way. If he wanted it known, that he visited whores, then it was up to him to make that fact known, not me. This was a rule of protocol in most brothels. Tony made no indication of knowing him either, but this could have been because he didn't. I didn't like this silence. It unnerved me. It was as if they were treating me as if I were inferior. I got the feeling that as soon as I left, the conversation would take off right where I had interrupted it, as if I had never been there. I didn't even think that I would be mentioned if I left. I looked at one of the men (there were four). He was dressed in a crimson colored suit. He wasn't at all an attractive man. His hair was slicked straight back, but for some reason this didn't look intentional. There were no comb marks in it. His hair looked more like it grew that way, and was never washed. It glistened with oil, and I imagined that I could smell the shining locks. This wasn't all that pleasant of an idea. I tried to suppress my repulsion. "My name's Crime, and I was--" "Fuck off, you whore," the man in crimson said. With great control on my part, I let this insult pass. The man that was a customer of my Shop's walked away. Wise of him. Tony started to

fidget. He was shifting his weight from foot to foot. He wasn't used to dealing with people such as these. I hoped this wouldn't become a problem. I don't like having too much to deal with at one time. "Actually, I'm a pimp, not a whore. Any problems with that?" "Yes." "Then if I were you, I would keep them to myself." He sneered at me, and brought his hand up by his cheek. At first I thought he was going to make a weapon appear, but then he snapped his fingers, and a man a few paces away stepped closer to him. I recognized the type as a bodyguard. I was surprised that I hadn't noticed him before. I sized up his abilities as best as I could. I didn't notice if he had anything other than his hands to defend his employer. If this was true, then I could take him easily. Even without any of my knives I still would have a good chance. "Be very careful in what you do or say to me, unless you and your bodyguard want to die," I said. The man smiled, but his chaperon seemed to take me seriously. Either he was a professional, or he knew me somehow. I nodded my head towards him out of respect. He did the same to me. "Do you two know each other?" the crimson dressed man asked his bodyguard in a shaky voice. The guard never took his eyes off of me--definitely professional. "No, but I know who she is. I'm not up to taking her." "Are you saying that you can't beat this little bitch?" the man asked incredulously. "Yes, I guess that is what I am saying. Sorry." "You're fired!" This wasn't the best move that could have been made. If the guard was as competent as I expected, then he would have fought me to the death to insure that his employer escaped, as it was the guard just nodded and walked away. I handed one of my business cards to Tony. "Go give this to him. Tell him that if he accepts a position on my staff that he will receive a 10% raise over whatever he's getting now." I didn't know what the guard was being paid, and actually I didn't even care if he came to work for me. I had plenty of good help. I only wanted to get rid of Tony for a bit without hurting his feelings. Tony went after him. One less thing to worry about. "What is your name?" I asked. The man sneered again. He was actually pretty good at it. He probably practiced in front of a mirror. It was too perfect. I stepped up, and kneed him in the testicles. He fell to the floor in a withering ball of pain. I felt no sympathy for him. In fact I ignored him, and looked instead to his friends. "What is his name?" One looked at the ground, and pretended not to have heard. The other, who looked like an old fashioned gentleman, just said, "He's called Squeak." "Thank you." "Crime. It is Crime, right?" "Yes." "Do you know where you are at?" "'The Little Boy's Kiss'." "Correct and true, but--um--how shall I say this? This nightclub is a men's club. See that woman over there?" He pointed to the drunk woman that I had observed earlier. "She's not a she." This explained why I had thought her strange when I had first seen her. I felt stupid for not having figured this out sooner.

"My--" I started to say, but that was all that came out. I tried again, but with no luck. Inspiration failed me. I didn't know what my reaction should be. I have never been homophobic. Certain services at the Shop cater expressly to homosexuals. I felt awkward only because I hadn't realized the nature of the establishment, not out of any false sense of moral wrong. "If there's something that I can help you with, just tell me. Otherwise I would ask that you leave, before you experience any other altercations. That is not a threat. I am only asking a favor." I didn't think that I was going to get what I wanted from these people. Homosexuals generally lack a drive for power, most just want to be left alone, and those few that do have such a desire, are driven down by a society that refuses to accept them. And how was I to bring up the question of the Council now? There was no real way for me to come right out and ask anything about the Council. I had planned on bringing it up in casual conversation, but suddenly I wanted to be out of here--out of the place that I was not welcome in. Squeak was still laying on the floor. I thought of apologizing to him, but decided against it. Instead I turned my back on the three men, and walked to and through the exit. Tony was talking to the man I had sent him after. They were standing under a street light about a half grid away. I went up to them. "Find what you were looking for?" asked Tony. If I had thought that he was trying to be a smart-ass I would have killed him, but as it was I could tell that he was asking out of genuine curiosity. I wasn't about to hold that against him. "No." "That's too bad." I fixed my attention now on the guard. "So, did you decide to join my staff?" "Yeah, I think I could handle working for you." "Name?" "Stern." "Fine, you start tomorrow." I said this just fine. I didn't sound at all bothered by what had happened earlier. My veins still ran with adrenaline. My whole body tingled like I'd been in the same position for hours, and was only now able to move, or like I'd taken some cheap drug. It wasn't an unenjoyable experience, but I can't say that I really liked it either. It's funny, I can kill someone without any strong emotions, except maybe anger, (and that usually comes after) but if I come close to killing a person but don't, I feel nervous and sick. It doesn't really make sense, but that's how it has been for as long as I can remember. I opened my mouth to say good-bye to Stern, but then someone dropped out of nowhere, and I do mean nowhere. We were standing under a goddamn street light, where could someone come from? Nonetheless, there he was. Or she rather, because I could tell that it was a girl right away. She was dressed in a tight fitting black costume. She had her face covered, and there was something in her hand. I noticed all this in an instant. Even as I made a knife appear in my hand I knew it would be too late. The setup was too perfect. I only had time to think of whether or not Stern was in on it before the bitch shot me in the throat. I guess that told me what she had in her hand. I never even heard the gunshot. I was knocked down onto my back. I looked to Stern, from where I fell. He had a hold of Tony's shirt, and was hitting him. Tony's face was torn and bloody, and I watched as he went limp in Stern's grasp. Stern let him slide to the cold pavement. Why was it taking so long? I couldn't move. Only my eyes. I could see the warm blood--my blood--running from me in an ever

widening circle. I felt no pain. I didn't know why. I had always thought that being shot would hurt bad. I waited for the light to fade from my eyes. I waited to lose consciousness. I waited to die, but it did not happen. Then it came to me. The coin. It was working. I hadn't wanted to rely on its power, but I started to feel excited that is was actually working. I was living. My blood quit running, probably due to the fact that I had no more left to pour forth onto the unfeeling cement. The girl--my assassin--stepped up to me, leveled her gun at my head, and fired again. The round entered my cheek, a little in front of my ear. It exited the same place on the other side of my head. My head bounced from the pavement, and bone fragments sprayed everywhere. I was detached from everything that was happening to me, as if I was watching these occurrences in a second rate movie. I kept expecting to pass out, but I didn't. I still felt no pain, and was glad for it. I closed my eyes. I felt one of them, either Stern or the girl, lift me up. I was taken to my car. I know this, because once I was inside I risked opening my eyes to slits, and had enough time to think that I was staining my seat. Stern turned on the car radio, and said something to me. I heard neither of them. Stern thought that I was already dead. He didn't know that I was still aware. I wondered what he was doing. I knew why this had been done to me. I was a rogue. I had dared to kill those that were Protected by the Council. I had dared even to kill Council members themselves, even if only indirectly. I wanted to laugh. It was so stupid. I had thought that I was different, that I could do as I wanted. Stern got out of the car, but he didn't leave. I could still sense him doing something around the car. Was he alone now? Did my killer stay for this part? What was this part? The sun came up, and it became daylight out. It was so quick and bright that I was entirely blinded momentarily. I had lost all track of time. I had thought that it was still early. It was then that I realized what was happening. My car was engulfed in flames. It was meant to be my funeral pyre. Smoke rolled in, and filled the inside of the car, but it wasn't too thick to see through. I watched as the dress that I wore so seldom, and would never wear again, melted and ran in burning streams down my body. I watched as my skin blistered and peeled away from the pink flesh underneath. I watched as this blackened and split into large cracks that went to the bone. The car exploded. I thought again of the seat. No doubt about it. It was ruined now. My eyes swelled, and exploded from my skull. I could see no more. Darkness came. I hadn't felt anything for some time, nor could I hear. My senses were no more. It became impossible for me to make cynical observations on what was happening. I wished I had stayed at home. It is true--if you're in the mood for a cliche--sometimes it doesn't pay to get out of bed. Bed, soft bed, place where I had made love with Satan. Bed, soft bed, place where I crawled to heal from my fight with Mercy. Bed, soft bed-I don't know how much time passed as I burned. It probably stopped as soon as I thought of a place where I'd rather be. I opened my eyes--yes I had them--and found myself where I had wanted to be. Bed, soft bed. I touched my face. It felt so good. I looked at my hand. I still had my dragon ring, and even the scar from where Mercy's pistol had exploded was gone. Relief flooded me. I relaxed. I held the coin. It and the ring were all that had come with me. I was naked. My black, cut down the back, dress was gone. I pulled the covers up to my neck and settled down. There's only so much a person's mind can handle before it has to shut down. I'd surpassed this point a long time ago. I passed out.

Spirit Another night, another bar. It just works that way. I had found out from one of my employees that Tony hadn't came back to work. He'd been gone for a week now, with no sign of him. I didn't even know if he was still alive. I tried to forget this, but his face danced at the back of my mind. When I let my guard down, he came forward, and let me know that he wasn't pleased with the way that our date went. I was trying to lose myself in conversation, so I wouldn't have to think of Tony. I looked at the man that was helping me do this, and concentrated on his questions. "Is it so easy then? The killing I mean?" "Easy?" I took out a knife, and held it out, handle first, to him. He took it. He weighed it in his hand as if he was considering whether or not it was valuable. "It is never easy," I told him. He gave back my knife. I put it away. I don't know why I found myself talking to this man. It wasn't alcohol. I hadn't had enough for that, only a few sips. I was far from drunk, and I refused to get that way. I didn't drink to get drunk, but bars sometimes helped me think. Maybe this was why I was here answering every question that this stranger asked. "How old were you when you first killed?" "Are you writing a book?" He laughed. "Someday maybe." "It was only two years ago, so I was eleven." This man was strange. I'd been talking to him for almost an hour now, and I still hadn't seen his eyes. He had a black with white trim hat pulled down hiding them. He was dressed well. He looked as if he was about twenty, maybe a little older, but not much. "Why?" "Why what?" "Why did you kill? What made you take the life of another?" "I run a brothel. There was a customer, he got violent with one of my girls. I'd just started then, so maybe I overreacted, but I'm very protective of that which is mine. The girl hadn't been hurt very badly. If I was to have it to do over again I don't think I'd kill him. It's not like killing's illegal, but dead clients are just bad for business. "I learned early on that there was always someone wanting to take everything I owned away. I never gave in on anything. I laid out my claims, and paid my taxes. I was talented enough in violence to insure that I remained unbothered by those that sought my success. "I'm willing to give my life to keep that which is mine. "My father had trained himself with a gun until he could draw it in a blur. He used to delight me as a child with the way he could handle a gun. He could make it appear in his hand, and disappear back where it came from in the blink of an eye. As I watched in envy, as he did his tricks, I knew that one day I wanted to be as good. "I'd tried with guns, but I never could find one that was comfortable. All were clumsy, nor did I like the noise when they were fired. I was never fast, and I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn't become fast, so I took up knives. "Almost from the beginning, knives seemed to be extensions of my hands. I was good with these." I let one fall into my hand. "They became reflex for me. I could have one out and in a person before he knew that he'd been stuck."

"How many do you carry?" "I don't know. Every time I think that I'm carrying all that I can I find a new place for a new knife. Around thirteen though. I consider myself to be like a knife--quick, sharp, silent and deadly." I gave him one of my business cards. He read it and grinned. ************************************** * * * * * Cum in for a * * great pop at * * The One Stop Sex Shop * * * * * ************************************** "Stop in sometime," I said. "I just might." I felt no urge to ask him any questions of my own. I was curious about him, but I was content to wait and see if he offered anything on himself. So far he hadn't. I didn't even know his name. He didn't seem afraid of me. Maybe he hadn't believed me when I had told him I was a person who killed to get what I wanted. He was relaxed in my presence. I liked him. He took my drink from me, and tossed back what was left of the shot. I didn't mind. "I was tired of watching you pretend to drink." "I don't." "Why?" "Is it always 'why' with you?" "No, sometimes it's 'who' or 'how'." I very seldom met someone who impressed me. Usually it was someone who was strong. I'm always attracted to power, but every so often a person comes along, and for no reason I find myself interested. This man was one to interest me. "I don't drink because I always want to be in control. If you can't think, you can't make decisions. Besides, I'm pregnant." "Really? You don't--" "Show it? It's been less than two months. I might not show for awhile yet." "Time for a 'who' question--who's the father?" "I can't say." "You don't know?" "Oh, I know, I just can't say. Leave it at that, okay?" "Fine." He motioned to the bartender, who in turn brought him another drink. He didn't pay for it, and the bartender didn't seem concerned with this. The bartender went back to work. "What is your name?" "I was wondering when you would ask." "Well?" "It's--" Right then gunfire broke out. A glass that was sitting on the bar, between us, exploded. I dropped to the floor, pulling my new found friend along with me. Another burst of gunfire sounded. The area where we had been sitting seconds before became riddled with bullets. I didn't know if I was the intended target or not. I didn't want to find out the hard way. I looked at my hand. It held a knife. It was situations like this that made me feel inadequate. Even if I'd had a gun it wouldn't have helped. I still didn't know where the gunman was. I hated feeling

helpless. I was not helpless. "Is there a way out of here?" I asked when the bullets stopped flying. I hoped he knew of one, because I didn't. We crawled on the floor along the bar. Apparently the assassin didn't have a shot, because the only noise came from the jukebox. Other than that it was silent. Every person in the place was on the floor. No one was making a sound. We came to a wall. My escort opened a door that I'd seen before but had not taken any notice of. It had the look of a door that led to a supply room, but when it was opened it led into a back office. There was a glowing light on a small desk. The gunman fired again. I hate machine-guns. I really do. Everything around us was being tore up. We darted into the office. As far as I knew this room was a countdown room for the bar. I slammed the door shut. Holes immediately appeared in it. Wood splinters came showering down about us. The gunfire ceased. I knew we were most likely safe now. If I'd bungled an assassination like that, I wouldn't stay around. Guns are too common, and there are always people who'd like to see you dead for interrupting their drinks with a machine-gun. "So, what did you say your name was?" I asked, making a sad attempt at humor. I wanted to calm down. I could feel adrenaline just coursing through my body. I felt like I could run for days, and still be able to fight. I stood up, and took a deep breath. It was then that I saw the blood. I rushed to his side. His eyes were closed and his breathing was shallow. He was laying in a small pool of blood. I tore his shirt open. He had two wounds. A little one in his side, and a larger one to the left of his navel. The bullet must have gone completely through. I tore more of his shirt apart into rags. I then wadded them up, and pressed them against his wounds. I held the rags there, and looked around to see if he'd been hit anywhere else. He hadn't. He'd lost his hat somewhere. I could now see his face completely. He would have been handsome had not he been so ashen in color. He was not bleeding fast, but it was continuous, and didn't show any sign of stopping. I secured the rags, got up, went to the desk, and hit the phone monitor button. The face of a bored operator appeared. "A man's been shot. I need help." "So what do you want me to do about it?" "Listen, you bitch, connect me with someone who can help, or I'll come there and kill you." I didn't know where 'there' was, so there wasn't much of anything I could do if she chose not to help. The screen went black. I thought for a despairing moment that she'd hung-up, but then a bald man with wire glasses showed on the monitor. "Are you a doctor?" "Yes, how can I help you?" "A friend's been shot. I don't know what to do. I need help." "Where are you?" I told him. "Yes, I could be there in just minutes. Can you pay me?" "Anything you ask." "I can ask a lot. More than your friend's probably worth." I didn't want to stand here and haggle with this doctor while a man died less than five feet away. "How much." He named a huge amount, more than he thought I could pay. I could see it in his eyes. "Done," I said.

He broke contact. I wasn't sure if he'd even come. I went back to my fallen comrade, and did the only thing I could. I held the shirt rags tighter to the bullet openings, trying to stop the bleeding. Five minutes or so passed, and the door opened. I spun, and almost let a dagger fly, but I noticed that it was the doctor. I motioned to the covered holes in the flesh of my friend. "Those are his only wounds," I said. "Get out of my way." I did. The doctor pulled several things out of a bag he'd brought in with him. He went to work. I quickly saw that I couldn't help, so I left the office. The bar was empty. Even the bartender had left. I thought about leaving too. That way I wouldn't have to pay anything, but I found I couldn't just walk away, not knowing whether or not the first person I'd met in a long time, that I liked, lived or died. I wondered why the doctor had let me out of his sight. Maybe he had some sense of trust. After all, he hadn't made me prove that I could pay him. I went behind the bar, and poured myself a shot of straight alcohol. I then downed it. I doubted if this one drink would harm the child I carried, and I knew that it would do wonders for my nerves. I sat down on a stool behind the bar and waited. It was only twenty minutes exactly (I was watching a clock) before the doctor came out. He looked happy, so I doubted that he had bad news. "He wants to talk to you." I followed the doctor back into the office. The man with whom I'd confided so much was laying in the same place as before, but now he was awake. He looked at me like I was a gift from above. "Crime?" "Yes?" "My name's Spirit." I shook my head. I knew that he was worth saving. "Your friend's lucky. If he'd lost anymore blood I wouldn't have been able to save him--not here anyway. He'll need to rest for several days. Now, pay me." I pulled a business card from out of my pocket. He looked at it. "Go to the address on the back of the card tomorrow, and I'll make sure you get your money." "Now wait a minute. We had a deal." I made a knife appear in my hand. I pointed it at his right eye. I wasn't going to kill him. He'd done me a favor, and I don't repay favors with death. "And I still intend to keep our bargain. My name is Crime, and I always pay my debts." "How much did you say you'd pay him?" Spirit asked. The doctor named the figure I'd promised him. "In the desk, in the top right hand drawer, you'll find a black pouch. There should be twice that amount in it. Crime, give it to him. My life's worth it." I did as he told me. The doctor opened the pouch, looked inside, but did not count its contents, and left. I again made a monitor call. "Hello Crime." "Hello Angel. I need a car sent to 'The Slick Whistle,' and also send two men with it." "Sure. Anything else?" "No, that will be all. Just do that right away." Angel didn't ask why I needed a car. I'd driven my motorcycle here, so it probably seemed like a strange request, but I've always demanded unquestioning loyalty from my people. I usually get it too, and when I

don't heads roll. I ended the monitor transmission. "How did you know that there was money in there?" I asked Spirit. "I own this place." That explained why he hadn't paid for his drink earlier, but I still wondered about something. The bar looked successful, but not like it could afford to leave around the kind of money that the doctor had taken. "How did you have that much standing cash? That was almost what I make in a whole year." "I have other sources of income. I'm tired." Spirit closed his eyes. His breathing slowed and became regular. I knew that he was asleep. I sat down at the desk. I was curious, so I went through a few of the drawers. None were locked. None contained anything of interest. I went and checked to see if the car had arrived yet. It had. I hadn't told anyone to come in and get me, so I don't know why I had expected them to. Maybe because I had almost been hit with a hell of a lot of bullets. They should have been able to detect that the bar had been fired upon. There was no one inside. This is not usual for a nightclub. They should have investigated. I'd have to punish them later. I waved at the car. Two men got out. Both were the large type that I used as bodyguards, not the good-looking wimpy ones that I sometimes went out in public with. It amazed me that Angel had known what to send. All three of us went into 'The Slick Whistle,' and I watched as they carried Spirit to the car. I'd told them that they would die if they hurt him. They knew I wasn't bluffing. Spirit didn't even wake up. "To the Shop?" asked one. "Yes." I was in the back seat with Spirit. The two guards took the front. It was an uneventful ride. Spirit slept in my bed for over a day. When he woke I was there. I had watched over him as he had slept. He asked me if I could get him something to eat. I called for food, and when it came I fed it to him myself. I suppose he could have done it himself, but I enjoyed doing it. "How can I repay you?" I sighed. There was only one thing that I wanted now, and that was-"Get me an audience with the Council." "I can do that." I decided to humor him. He was obviously delirious, or trying to be funny. "How?" "I'm on it." "You can't be serious." "Seldom. It keeps me sane." I didn't get mad at Spirit, I was too tired. I had not slept since I had brought him back to the Shop. I laid down beside him. My eyes were watering, I wanted rest so bad. I did not believe Spirit. It could not have been true. Things were never that easy. Never. Mercy had proved that at gun point. Spirit put his arm around me. I thought of objecting, but sleep came to claim me, and I welcomed its coming. I was in a chamber so vast that I could not see the walls or the ceiling. I could only feel that I was enclosed. I was holding a white candle. I was lighting other white candles with it. I already had hundreds lit, but I still had hundreds of thousands left. I knew that before I was finished many would be completely consumed by flame. I was dreaming. I had no control over my actions. One candle

after another. It was getting brighter. The flames were also making it become hot. I wanted to stop, but I started one wick after another burning. The light was now brilliant in the chamber. I must have lit thousands by now. I could still not see the confines of the chamber. Most candles were now melting before I could get to them. The wax formed pools. These ran together until the stone floor was covered and slick. I could hardly maintain my footing. Still I continued to light candles. Their stands were now in flames. Fire was everywhere. It was rising about me. I could see my clothes in flame. I myself was a walking inferno. Wax was flowing about my knees. I felt as if I was a wick in a large wet taper. There was no pain. In fact I felt exhilarated. The fire was purging me. I felt as if I was being purified. I could take this for eternity. If this was Hell, then I wanted more than ever to be His queen. I felt lips touching me then, banishing the river of melted wax. I felt that I was still dreaming. I kissed back. It was a gentle, very personal caress. I rose to the hazy awake, but not really awake period of slumber. I responded more and more to the kiss. It filled my whole world until there was nothing else that mattered. I opened my eyes then and looked at Spirit. He was the one kissing my lips. I almost drew a knife. I slapped him instead, and jumped from the bed. "Get out of here," I said, my voice ice, deadly. "But Crime...." I just stared at him. My eyes were drawn to slits. I felt dangerous, like I was going to snap at any second. I had liked this one. Shame he had disappointed me. He was lucky I hadn't made him bleed. Spirit rose up, and got fully dressed. He limped over to the endtable, (his wound must have still been bothering him) and scrawled something on a piece of paper. He did not show it to me. I wouldn't have looked at it anyway. Spirit shrugged his shoulders, and winced as he did so. This did not seem to be a calculated move to get sympathy, nor did it work. "Crime, I'm sorry. Really I am. I just couldn't resist." "I'd really rather not have to kill you," I said. He left. I tried to go back to bed then, but his warmth was still in the covers, and I found my self thinking of him. Give yourself to the Spirit. Was it so bad that he had kissed me? I mean what had it hurt? If only he had asked. I have always hated when people take from me without permission. What's mine is mine. If only I had met Spirit before Satan, then maybe there could have been something between us, but as it was I had no right. No right at all. I got up and went to my office. I had neglected the business for a long time now. I wanted to lose myself in the books. Everything seemed to be working against me though. My staff was too efficient. They had kept everything up to date, from profit and loss sheets, to the hiring of new employees. I had nothing to take my thoughts away. Just when I was becoming frustrated, at the fact that nothing ever happened the way that I would have it happen, there was a knock at my door. This wasn't the knock of any of my employees. This was not usual, and I did not like it. I was still shaken up by the last time someone I didn't know had came into my office. The event with Cord still made me question myself. I hate unexpected visitors. Death of an Emperor I yelled, "Enter," and in walked Caligula proudly holding his toy

bone scepter. This did nothing to make me happy, and I was already in a mood to crush skulls. "What do you want?" "What else would one such as I come to a place such as this for? I want sex. Nice hot raw juicy sex. What say you?" "I say, 'Get fucked'." "That's the plan. That's the plan." He walked over, picked up my black book, and started flipping pages. He started out turning them slowly, but quickly gave up on that, and flew through the book. He looked up in disgust. "None were worthy." "Fine, leave then." He smiled. I really hate when he does that. Something bad had always happened in the past, and I was sure that it didn't mean anything good now. "How about you? Come on, I'll make it great or my money back. I'll make your head spin. I'll make you--" "Sorry, I'm pregnant." His smile disappeared. I wasn't too far along in my pregnancy to be prevented from having sex, but Caligula didn't need to know this. Males are so ignorant of the opposite sex. "Really? How did that happen?" "Very fun--" Just then the door opened, and Angel walked in. She had a habit of entering unannounced, and at the wrong time. I looked at Caligula again. His face was lit up, and I could just see his mind at work. I knew what he wanted. There was no way. "No." "Yes." "Angel, leave." Caligula crossed the room to her. She stood there in awe of him. Why didn't she leave? I didn't want her to be exposed to one such as Caligula. I didn't know how well I could protect her. I was afraid that it would be not very. Caligula reached out and touched her cheek. He pulled his hand away quickly. "What is this, some kind of joke? She burns." Was she secure against him? Did her faith and innocence offer some kind of protection? I wanted her safe. "Angel, leave." She turned, like she was going to, but Caligula grabbed her. Fire surrounded the hand he was holding her with. He screamed, and let go. Angel was fine. Even her clothing was unharmed. Caligula giggled. "Well, if I can't have her, then no one will." In horror I watched as he smashed Angel with the scepter as he had Rose, but this time it sank into her face at least six inches instead of causing just a small dent. Blood flowed down its length. Caligula held Angel up with the Nemesis bone. I heard a groan. Caligula tried to pull the staff free, but it was lodged within her head. Angel was turning gray. Her hair was falling out. I vowed to kill Caligula. Someone like him should never have been allowed to exist. It was past time for him to die. The staff was glowing. "What is happening?" Caligula cried. The bone lengthened, and seemed to splinter, with loud bangs and cracks like fireworks, into other white bones until it became a complete skeleton. Angel's head swelled and burst. Gray matter and flesh chunks fell to the floor. Caligula pulled his hand away from the whole bloody mess, and backed away in disgust.

"What is happening?" he repeated. I was afraid we were about to find out. The skeleton filled out and began to take on the shape of a person. It pulled Angel to it and absorbed her body. She slid into it as if she was made out of a liquid. Every scrap of Angel became a part of this being. There was no trace of her left. It was as if she had never existed. Caligula would pay. The creature stood and looked at Caligula and me. Caligula fell to his knees and bowed his head. I just stood there. "Master, I am your faithful servant." "And why do you not also bow in abject terror before the might of that which is Nemesis?" the creature of white asked me. "Because I am not afraid." I pulled out the coin. If this was truly Nemesis, then he would fear it, if it had indeed been the cause of his demise. I hoped I was right. "How?" Nemesis asked. I chose not to answer. "Kill this one." I pointed at Caligula. "Do it or I will kill you. He deserves death. Do as I say." Nemesis's hand flew out and grabbed Caligula by the throat. Nemesis lifted him from the ground, and held him in the air. Caligula's feet were at least three feet from the floor. He was kicking, and I could tell he wanted to scream, but Nemesis's tight fisted grasp prevented him from doing so. With the hand, not holding Caligula, Nemesis thrust into his victim's body and pulled his heart from him. I had read that Lisa had once been killed this way by my father, and she had been able to come back. It had only put her in a helpless state until her heart was restored to her body. Blood gushed from the hole where Caligula's heart had been. I wonder what caused it to do so. There was nothing pumping it. Nemesis held Caligula in an embrace of death, and drank as much of the blood as he could, but a lot of it just seemed to wash over him. He didn't seem to mind, but I bet Caligula wasn't too happy about it. Why was I always forced to face death? I know I played the game, and I did understand its rules, but it did not seem fair that Angel had to die. Every time I turned someone died, and not always by my own hand. I had killed Markham. I had killed my father. I had killed Libby. I had killed Caine. I had killed the priest--the guru. The list went on and on, and I didn't even know how far. I had slain far too many people to remember them all. Some I hadn't known. If I was to count all the death's I had been responsible for the list would probably go on forever, spiraling through eternity--Love, Willie, Rowan, Lisa, that Gossamer bitch, all because of me. Caligula was dead, and I was glad. I intended to make sure he stayed that way. "Give me his heart." Nemesis let the body of the creature, that had been emperor twice, fall to the wooden floor of my office. He held the heart up. It was still beating, as if it did not intend to give up on life. He gave it to me with a flourish and a bow. I took it from him. I set it on my desk. I still held the coin. I was not going to set it down for anything. I put my hand in my pocket, made contact with the Talisman, and did what I had to do to summon Satan. "Give Me My due." I set the Talisman on the desk, next to the heart. The crimson muscle I picked up, and gave to the Devil. Satan looked at it in curiosity, but accepted it as a proper blood sacrifice. It disappeared. "Crime, is there something you desire, or did you only call Me here to offer Me gifts?" Nemesis wasn't sure of what was going on. He looked like a cornered rabbit--no, a rat. He was staring at the Devil with a look of

awe on his face. Nemesis went to his knees before Satan, as Caligula had done before him. Satan did not even look at him. "I want only to give you gifts. Take this one also." Now Satan took notice of the being that was cowering at His feet. He seemed to consider what I had spoken. I had expected him to do as I said. He had always in the past. Was the Talisman not as powerful as I had thought? It did not seem to be compelling Him to take Nemesis. Why? Even if the Talisman was not functioning, I felt that He owed me. I was going to mother His son. "Crime, this is one of My servants. He is on this world for a reason, but your sacrifice demands that I take him, I must obey if you desire it, but without this one your world would be overran with the likes of Caligula. I ask you to spare him." I thought of the vampires. I thought of Clarion. I thought of Morris, Rose, and the child that had opened the door to the Banquet for me. I owed them nothing. Then I thought of Rowan, and I had a flash of hatred for Satan. I wanted to hurt Him for taking my guard, but this feeling only lasted for a moment. Nothing could even come close to paying the debt of Rowan's life, so why even try? No, I would do as Satan asked, but only because of who He was. "Let him live, but command him to the Banquet. Command him to live there for the rest of eternity." Satan snapped his fingers, and Nemesis disappeared. I gestured at Caligula's body. This too He caused to be no more. "It is done Crime. Our child will soon be born, but it is early yet. Come, let us prove our passion." We had violent sex on the desk in my office. I forgot about Angel. I forgot about Rowan. I forgot about death. I forgot everything that mattered. It was great. Closing of Options When I finally was able to bring myself to read the note that Spirit had written, I almost tore it up, but I couldn't bring myself to do that. What was written there had to be a lie. It said: If you wish to speak with the Council, then come to The Slick Whistle tomorrow night. --Spirit-Even if it was a lie, I couldn't ignore the note. I had to act on it as if it were the truth. I didn't know how I would get a chance any other way. I'd been thinking of the Council for a long time. I wanted it. I just did not know how to get what I wanted. I'd tried the bars, threatening where I had to, bribing where I thought that would work better. Nothing had worked. If Spirit had told the truth, then this was something that I could not pass up. I had to go. There was no other option left. I figured with the impossibly vast resources of the Council, that there would be no way that I could hide the fact that it was I who had arranged to have a third of them killed. I knew they could, and would find out, so I knew what my first words to the Council would be. I just wondered if I would be able to bring myself to say them. I interviewed all my new employees. I did this more to take up time than for any real desire to meet those that worked for me. All seemed pleasant enough, and the girl I was talking with now really stuck out. She called herself Desire, and the name seemed to fit. I pulled her sheet, and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw there. She had been doing business. More than was required in fact, and she had given over

the proper cut each time. "Are you in any trouble?" I asked. This girl seemed to be too perfect. She could have found a rich drug lord, or assassin, and been set for life. She had the body that made men want it. I was interested in why she had decided to become a mere whore. "Why do you ask?" "Because it's my business. I run everything here at the Shop. I hate surprises. I don't want someone showing up unexpectedly for any reason. Now answer my question." "I'm not in any trouble." "Debts?" "No." "Hiding from anyone?" "No." I was satisfied. If she had lied to me in any way, then I would find out. I felt that she had been honest with me though, so I wasn't expecting anything. I was about to let her go, but then I thought of something else. "There's one question I never ask any of my workers, and that is why they enter into prostitution. That's none of my business. This next question isn't either, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Why do you work so much? You don't have to answer." "I like it." I hadn't thought of this. I guess you might as well get paid for doing that which you would probably be doing anyway. Fine. I had a feeling that she would work out. I told her that I was done with her, and she went back to work. How did I know she went back to work? I have cameras in all of my employee's working rooms. It has nothing to do with kinky perversion. Safety was my only consideration when I installed them. I have a guard watching a similar monitor for all rooms at all times. I've seldom had problems. I shut down the monitor. The Council When I arrived at the Slick Whistle I was escorted into the countdown room where the doctor had operated on Spirit. The individual who led me there searched me and took away every knife that he could find. He unknowingly left me with two. When he was satisfied that I was harmless he pushed a button, and a bookshelf opened into a door. I thought that this was kind of childish. Secret doors just don't amuse me. I walked through. The servant did not come with. The door shut behind me. I was standing in darkness. I had no idea how large of a room I was in, but then lights flooded the room. After my eyes adjusted I saw that there were four individuals sitting upon at a table on a dais. Three were dressed in black robes, one white. I had to look up at them. I knew that it was designed this way. I didn't care, games have never bothered me. I play them well. "I destroyed Atlantis-Prime! This killed two of your members. I did this to create an opening on the Council. I want to fill one of those seats." These were the words that I had feared I wouldn't be able to bring myself to say, but they came easily, and I said them before anyone else could comment. I wanted to get certain things established as soon as I could. One of the black robed men jumped to his feet. His face was still hidden. I knew that he was going to be my opposition. Very well. "You dare! By what right--" I interrupted. Best to start this off right.

"No, I dared. It is done. There is nothing you can do about it. Accept it. Forget it. As to my right--it was by my right of being able to do so. Now, take that silly hood away from your face, so I can see you." "Ha! You impudent little bitch shit-eater! You fucking cock sucking whoremonger. You cum guzzling gutter guppy, syphilis spitting cunt. Suck my left nut, right nut buttfuck! You sleazy slime ridden slug. You daughter of a thousand--" I really wanted to see how far he could have gone, but I interrupted yet again. "When you're done with your childish ranting, maybe you'll see that I have something to offer, beside my goodwill." "You will die!" He jumped from the platform. I wasn't expecting a direct attack, but I took quick aim, and threw a dagger where I thought his eye should be. He landed in a dead heap, and his hood fell away from his face. I had been right. Six inches of blade buried into his little brain. He was old. I was shocked at this. I wondered how he had made it this far, being so stupid. I looked up at the three remaining Council members. It was hard to believe that I had caused the death of half their number already. Some prices have to be paid. I only had one knife left. I thought about retrieving my other one from the corpse, but decided upon taste instead. It's the little things that make life great. I hoped I wouldn't have to use my last knife. "What do you have to offer?" one in black asked. I thought of this. I had all the wealth that the vampires had given me, and I could easily get more from them. I held the coin, there would be no way any of the undead could resist me. Gold, a flowing river giving to me anything that I could want, enough for the Council, but this wasn't the answer. I realized this now. If it only had to do with gold, then the Council would be worthless. The Council was power, and could have whatever gold it desired. My small contribution would mean nothing. I had to give something else. "No deals until you show your faces." The one in white, he pulled back his hood. He hadn't lied. It was Spirit. "I offer my skills, and my goodwill." "No money?" "Money? What need do you have for money? Gold is petty. Everybody has to pay taxes one way or another. This gives the Council more money than I could ever raise. How could I ever hope to even come close to enough gold to buy a seat on this Council? They have never been for sale really, have they? That has always been just a rumor, to make people think that someday they could actually hope to rise this far." "This is not the first time that the Council has had to consider whether or not to accept a new member. We have been forced to accept individuals in the past. The Council must live on. What would happen if it fell completely?" I didn't know if he was playing with me, or if he was even actually considering me as a replacement for one of those that I had been responsible for the death of. This had always been my greatest ambition, but even as I was living it I realized that it would not meet my expectations. Nothing ever did. I remained silent. Spirit looked at me as if he was studying my every detail. "Would you offer yourself as my consort to gain your desire?" "No." Spirit turned to the two living black robed council members. "Vote."

"I say no," said one. "Abstain," said the other. "I say yes, it looks like a tie." "But I haven't voted," I said. Spirit nodded his head, and that was that. I was now a Council member All That Could Be Desired Threads pulling, all twisted and tangled, weaving their way through existence. Can the flaws of a garment be traced to one single thread? Lost, drawn taut, a tight little line running on and on unseen, but which can never escape. There is no such thing as coincidence. I stood there, and tried to think profound thought, but only came up with obscurity. It was not my fault though. All my life I'd set goals for myself--impossible goals which I took great satisfaction in accomplishing. My Shop. The death of Love, and my father. I now had so much. The coin and immortality, more money than I could ever want, the Council, and I was to be a mother. I could not think of anything else that I wanted. What more was there? I had everything. Everything, but happiness, and I wasn't sure if I even wanted that. I didn't even know what would make me happy. True love? I've always laughed at that idea. I have yet to meet a man with whom I could share love. Satan? I scoff at that idea. I loved him, but He could never love me. It was enough for Him that I would bear His child. Spirit? He had nothing more to offer me. He had already given me the Council. What else did he have? There was no one for me. Why did everything always work out so neat? My whole life had a fairy-tale quality to it. I only wanted to know if this princess would live happily ever after. It seemed such an impossibility. I was cynical. I knew that. It was a quality I had inherited from my father. If there was nothing in the world that would make me feel complete, then I hoped that I truly carried the Antichrist. I could live forever, (and now I probably would) but things would always be the same. I had all the powers of the Council now, but even they were too small to effect anything. This money hungry, death seeking society that had spawned me should perish. I could then rise up, being a survivor of the holocaust. I wanted it to end, and I wanted to be a part of its destruction. Even if it meant only being the mother of the Antichrist. It was time for change, and I wanted to come out on top. Queen of all that is left of this world. An impossible goal. Threads fray, rip, and fall into rags. Somewhere someone was laughing at the trite obscurity of it all.

The Glory of Satan

You consider me the young apprentice Caught between the Scylla and Charibdis, Hypnotized by you if I should linger Staring at the ring around your finger I have only come here seeking knowledge Things they wouldn't teach me of in college I can see the destiny you sold Turned into a shining band of gold

I'll be wrapped around your finger Mephistopheles is not your name But I know what you're up to just the same I will listen hard to your tuition And you will see it come to its fruition I'll be wrapped around your finger Devil and the deep blue sea behind me Vanish in the air you'll never find me I will turn your face to alabaster Then you will find your servant is your master. And you'll be wrapped around my finger......... c 1983 Magnetic Publishing Ltd., represented by Reggatta Music. used without permission of Virgin Music, Inc.

The Dying Ritual Part 3 The Glory of Satan

To Him a Child is Born Hell Rancor To Hell With Everyone Why, oh Why? The Rage of Satan Like Father Like Son The Antichrist Confrontation Surprises Defile Punishment Due The Afterlife The Rebuilding Doubts

To Him a Child is Born "Give Me My due." "You'll get Your due!" she said, through a dagger held tightly clenched between teeth. She wanted to scream in agony, but she did not want to give Me the pleasure of seeing her acknowledge discomfort. Sweat shone on her forehead. She pushed the covers from her. It was time. She bit down on the dagger handle even harder. I could imagine her teeth making little depressions. I squeezed her hand. Her pain came in waves, each worse than the last. Tears were running down her cheeks.

"Fuck You!" she spat. Then another contraction overtook her, wracking her whole body in uncontrollable spasms. She leaned over and threw up. Some splashed in My direction. Not that I would allow such a human thing as vomit touch Me. Any that would have I just made disappear into nothing. Crime's vision started to become unfocused. She looked as though she was going to pass out, but she fought to hold on. She stared at the light, trying to bring it into focus. I wondered if she was going into shock. She pushed with all her strength. She still did not scream. Wetness splashed out onto her legs. It was brutal. It was gross and base. It was My son. It was-"Behold the Antichrist," I proclaimed. I pulled My child from Crime's body. It was a grizzly affair. I held her baby in My hands. It--I could see that it was a boy, very well then-he was small. I do not know what I had expected. I looked at Crime. I allowed softness to show in My eyes. Crime meant more to Me than I had ever meant to allow. Crime took the blade out of her mouth. The umbilical cord was still connected between them. She had fed this baby with hate. She cut the cord, and blackness came. She fainted. Birth, among them, mortals make much of this event. It inspired almost as much awe as death. They were still worshipping the birth of one man more than two thousand years after its occurrence. I set our child on the bed next to her. I caused Crime to become clean and dressed in a soft black robe. I picked up the baby, (he was still bloody and covered in mucus) and sat with him not far from her in an overstuffed chair. I cleaned the baby, causing the gore that covered it to just disappear. Our child in My hands was beautiful. "What shall we name him?" I looked up at that. I had not realized that she had woke. "He shall be called Despair, for he shall bring despair to this world." "Wrong." "You have no say in the matter." "Wrong." I cradled the child, so that he was being held by only one of My arms. With My free hand I touched the baby behind his ear. There was a hiss. My child screamed. "What are You doing?" Crime yelled. "That which is expected." I could smell flesh burning. Crime tried to rise, but lacked the strength to do so. She held out her arms. I gave the baby to her. Desperation colored her features. The number 666 was burned behind his right ear. The number of the beast, branded upon My child. He had cried out, but no tears marred his faced. "He shall be named Rancor. For in hate he was brought into this world, and hate it he will." "A fitting name. And the world shall hate and fear him. Care for him. I must go." She began to feed him of the warm milk of her breast. I left her with Rancor. Hell Hell: the absence of God. The Abyss. A place of eternal damnation and punishment for many. For Me it was like a mirror, reflecting My every desire or thought. This was a hell of My own. Crime's face floated before Me. Her eyes were blackened. I did not

know if this portrayed the past, present, or if it was just an image conjured by My own mind to torture Me. I waved My hand and banished the Crime image. I then shifted until I was safely within My castle. Defile was like My whole domain, it was impossible to enclose with mere words. There was no way to describe Defile. Language was never meant to do so. I sat upon My throne, and looked at those assembled before Me. To My left a minor demon was bowing toward Me. It had been there for a century or two. I could not remember exactly, nor did I even really care. To My right hundreds of naked women danced, upon a large platform, with bare knives in each hand. Occasionally they cut each other, but just as often they opened their own flesh. They danced upon a lake of their own blood. As I watched one wearied of the dance and fell. She sank into the crimson liquid and was absorbed by it. Another woman's middle swelled, and through blood she gave birth to replace the fallen one, but she did not pause in her movements to do so. The baby fell into the thick blood, where she floated until she aged to where she too was old enough to join the dance. This happened quickly. She then reached into the liquid under her feet, and drew forth two knives. I stared at her until I lost her among the throng. When had I created this? And did it still please Me? I tore My eyes from it and looked straight ahead. A minor devil with big ears stood there. He held two scrolls. He must have just shifted in, as he had not been there moments before. "Yes?" "My Lord--" "You did not bow before Me," I said. I did not like this one, and his name eluded Me at the moment. He corrected his mistake. I was irritated. In a gesture calculated to bestow great insult I turned to the demon at My right, placing it before the devil. "You there, what is it that You want? How is it that you find yourself in My court?" "My Lord Satan, I am at Your service. I am too low a creature to ask for that which I aspire to." "How long have you been standing there?" "Six thousand seven hundred years, two hundred seventy three days, fourteen ho--" "Enough. You have earned My ear. Name your favor." The demon did not look nervous. I was a little surprised at this. As far as I knew this was the first time I had ever granted an audience to a demon. I could sense that it had only the greatest of respect for Me, but there was no fear. Even the scroll bearer was afraid of Me and he was a devil. I considered annihilating the demon. "I wish to be more. Make me a devil. Let me stand at Your left hand." "Why not My right?" "That honor is reserved for another. I could never be that great." "I grant your request. Take your new form." The demon seemed to melt and grow at the same time. It rapidly shuffled through several form changes until it settled into a shape that was that of a woman. She was dressed in slick black leather. A soft red cloth half cloak hung about her shoulders. She carried a long thin sword. She had the appearance of a Nordic Valkyrie. I nodded My approval of her. "I have only granted this because you dared to ask. What is it that you shall be called?" "Silenthia." "You will be My herald. Go now, and proclaim the birth of My son before all of Hell. His name is Rancor. Make sure all know of him."

"Thank You my Lord." My new herald went to the base of the blood bath. She jumped forty feet and joined in. She had never sheathed her sword. She laid about her with much abandon, and heads and limbs were cut away from their host's. The dancers did not seem to notice the addition to their ranks. As Silenthia slew, the level of the blood rose until it started flowing from the pedestal like a fountain. Silenthia became slick and crimson with blood. She was completely covered. She did not stop killing until there were only forty dancers left. She then sheathed her sword and pointed at the women that were left, and with her new powers as a devil, caused them to rise from the pedestal. Silenthia directed them through the air to the courtyard. She then shifted, and joined them there. "You will be my servants. Come, we have a duty to perform." She shifted from the hall. Every naked knife wielding blood covered woman followed. She would make a good herald. "My Lord, you're going to just let her go? She destroyed Your scu-" "You dare to question Me?" I let fire dance within My eyes. Lightning crackled about My body. I rose up from My throne. "Please," the devil said as it cowered to the floor. "What you came here for had better be important or you will find yourself as a minor demon--or less! Now speak!" He held up one of his scrolls. "My Lord, I have here a petition from one of Your past consorts. She wishes and asks for Your presence." "Denied. I have no desire for any past concubine. It is My decree that if any show themselves within My Defile they shall forfeit their existence on sight. Is this understood?" The devil nodded. "I also have an outstanding contract. A certain Michael Stryke is now dead, and we do not have his soul." I thought of Silhouette. When I first had possessed him he had been a young man. He was already a gifted assassin, but it was I who made him great. I gave him everything he had wanted. In return I occasionally used him for My own aims. But every game has its own rules and its own price to pay for breaking them. When I had made the contract with Stryke I had agreed never to directly interfere with his life. I always kept My word. This was why I had to use Silhouette. When Crime had called Me away from My host--My shell--Stryke shot Silhouette. I was not able to be there to prevent it. My shell died, but I came back and broke the rules, I animated Silhouette though he was already dead. I made a direct action against Stryke. I did something I had never done before. I broke a contract. Me! I had let My hate get the best of Me, and according to the contract I had to release My hold on Stryke's soul. I no longer had a claim to it. So many seek Me to give them what they feel will fulfill their lives, not knowing that it is not I who has that ability. I lay no claims to salvation. It is not for Me to give. I can grant anything that the human heart can comprehend: money, health, success, immortality, but most often love. I can almost understand why a human mortal would be willing to trade his soul for money. After all mortals have always viewed money as the solution to all the world's problems. Health is an easy one. There are few mothers that would not give themselves to Me for even a chance of a miracle cure to save a dying child. Success? All men want to be seen as better than their equals. Why die if one does not have to? This is the obvious appeal behind

immortality. This, and also one would never have to give up payment if the mortal lives forever. They never do. Eventually all sicken of life. There is only so much that can be done. So many have sold their souls for love. This is the most foolish reason of them all. Love received this way is empty. Without the knowledge that love is earned and given freely, it is worthless. So many, and I ask so little. Only a soul to do with as I please. I make the pacts with all who properly petition Me even though I know that the ceremonies themselves damn the petitioner. I am always fair, and give for what I take. Oftentimes it is I that seeks to purchase a mortal's soul. The rituals are mostly forgotten, and seldom invoked. I come. I suggest. I give. I buy, and other than collecting this should be the end, but too often it is not. All men face death. This is a fact of mortality, but few men face death with the knowledge that Hell awaits. This is more than some can bear, and when they tire of life they seek to renege before they die. None have ever been successful. A mortal can genuflect until his knees bleed, but My contract will still bind. I always collect, taking great pleasure when I do. None have ever been successful--until Stryke! When I used Silhouette as a cipher I was forced to abide by rules of My own devising. I had no choice but to be the assassin. I could only work within the margins imposed by confining Myself to mortal flesh. Crime had hired Silhouette to kill her father long before I had ever decided to make use of Silhouette to do the same. I learned this when I possessed Silhouette. Stryke's death was something that I wished. I gave aid to this end whenever possible, even though I knew it was futile. I had to pursue Stryke's death. Crime had requested it with an Item. Then Stryke contracted Silhouette to slay Caine. Silhouette accepted. I had given Silhouette the freewill to do as he wanted when I was not within him. A messenger of God spoke to him, preventing the completion of the contract. Silhouette failed to do as he was hired to, and sought retribution for his failure. This should have been the end of it. Crime wanted it. Silhouette wanted it. I wanted it. An envenomed blade should have danced its way into Stryke's heart. I should have then been able to appear and convince Stryke with all My princely charm that living was not an option that he wanted to pursue. I should have been able to collect. This is how it should have happened. Stryke's luck was enough to fill one with fury. So many time he should have died. Willie Peat. Goldtooth. Silhouette twice. It should not have gone so far. No one other than Caine had ever survived an encounter with Silhouette before. He had lived through the first attack only by the skill of his bodyguard. When it looked as though Silhouette would fail a second time, even though he had a portion of My power to draw upon, I could not bear it. The idea of being frustrated of ending his life, as Crime requested, and attaining his soul as was My allotment, was too much for Me. I broke the rules by animating Silhouette after he had died, violating our contract. I had to let him go. The coin acted as it was designed to do. As flames rose about My shell and Stryke, the coin sent one into the arms of salvation, the other was consumed. Stryke! I lost him. I hate losing. "Give Me the contract." He did. It filled My mouth with rancid bile to do so, but I caused it to become ash. This fell into a pile at the devil's taloned feet. "Why did--" "Questioning Me again? Fool, I will cause you to slowly die." I waved My fingers. The devil I cast into the blood on the pedestal. I then caused an impregnable shield to become erected, in the shape of a dome, about him. With another movement of My hand flames burst out on the surface of the blood. The devil's mouth opened in a scream, but

no sound penetrated the shield. He was a true devil, though only a minor one, so the flames would only cause him pain, but if he thought he was hurting now then he had no idea what true pain was. I would cause the temperature to slowly rise for thousands of years until his resistance could no longer take it, and he would be consumed. His death would take aeons. Since no other business presented itself I shifted back to Earth. Rancor She proudly held out Rancor for My approval. I took My son from Crime. He weighed little. I had what I came for. I saw no reason to stay. "We are going now." "Where?" Crime's composure was crumbling. She was on the verge of panic. I did not want to cause her pain. I did not love her, yet I was far from indifferent to her needs and feelings. "Crime, you did not think I would let you keep him? He cannot be raised as a mortal. Rancor is to be much more than that." "You're not taking my child!" "I already have." A knife flew at My head as I shifted directly to Defile. Silenthia was waiting for Me. Her minions were arrayed behind her in ten ranks of four. They were now cleaned and dressed in black leather, their knives sheathed at their waists. "How long have you been standing there?" "Two years my Lord." "Has all of Hell been told of the coming of My son, Rancor?" "Yes, My Lord." "Take Rancor. Protect him, raise him in good health, and educate him. Bring him to Me when he is old enough to understand his legacy." "Yes, My Lord." Silenthia gently accepted My child, and cradled him in her arms. I knew that she would care for him. Rancor would be safe. Silenthia left court with Rancor and her troops. I felt a pulling then. This one I could not refuse. Damn her! I knew that she would not have just let Me take Rancor. I tried to resist, but it was futile. She held the one true Item. The only one which I had no power against. I felt the familiar twist, and I was facing her. She was sitting at a couch, and she looked furious. She held the Talisman and also a knife. "Give Me My due." "Fuck Your due! Give me my son! I want my child. Where's my baby?" She was hysterical. It was My choice to demand a sacrifice now or not, without one, she could not hold Me here against My will. I chose to stay. "Crime, you cannot understand. Rancor has a destiny to fulfill. He is safe. He is being trained to do that which he must do." Crime was crying. Tears ran down her face. I had seen this only one time before, and that was during the birth of Rancor. I had not thought that anything could get to her. I did not think that she would have ever broken down and cried. She was so strong. She was most special to Me among mortals. She dropped the weapon that she had been holding. I felt a stirring within Me at the sight of her pain, and I did not understand it. I wanted to take her into My arms. I wanted to kiss and comfort her. Time in Hell flows differently than on Earth. Eternity takes more

than forever. A soul can be tortured for a century in Hell while only a year passes on Earth. Even now Rancor had probably aged a year or more. I thought of telling this to Crime, but she would never understand why I would choose to bring My son to such a place. I had waited for the Antichrist to come. I had mated with demons. I had mated with devils, but there had never before been any issue. Not until Crime had I been able to sire a son. I had not thought My seed could take hold in weak mortal flesh. Crime was not the first mortal that I had mated, but she was the only one to ever become gravid and bear Me a child. I sat on the couch next to Crime. She let Me take her hands. I squeezed them to reassure her. I sensed a relaxation in her. Had she accepted the fact, even if she could not forgive Me for it? "Take me to him," she said. "You would not want to go there." "Do not tell me what I want." I kissed her, and let the shift take effect. To Hell With Everyone "Where are we?" "This is the throne room of My domain--of Hell." I watched as Crime looked around. She was fascinated by the vastness of the court. From My throne the doors that allowed entrance to the courtyard appeared as small dots, (no one ever used the doors, except for damned souls that could not shift) and the ceiling was so high overhead that it looked as though it were a stone sky. Only the wall directly behind us gave away the fact that we were even in a room at all. "What do you think?" "Did You build this?" "A long time ago, maybe. I do not remember." "Aren't You all powerful? All remembering?" "No." "Who is he?" She pointed at the devil that I was punishing for its arrogance. He was withering and screaming silently in agony. He was swaying in time with the blood fire. He looked as though he were dancing, which was good. That was what I had intended the pedestal for--to hold dancers. "Only a fool that has earned My displeasure." Crime said nothing, but I could tell that she was disturbed. This bothered Me. I thought of why I had put him there. It was more because I had been angered with the way I had handled Stryke, than any real slight against My honor, but still he had questioned My decisions. This was not permissible. I would not allow it. His fate had been earned. "Let him go." "Maybe in a thousand years or so. He has a lesson to learn." "Let him go now." "No, Crime. You do not know what you ask. Do you wish to see Rancor now?" "Very much." I reached out and felt for Silenthia. I let her image dance in My mind. I thought of her essence. /Yes, Lord/ /I command your presence/ /Yes, Lord/ "He will not be as you expect. He will be older. He will--" Just then Silenthia appeared. She only brought two dancers with

her. At her right stood Rancor. He was still a child, and only came to My waist, but he was no longer a baby to suckle at his mother's breast. He was dressed in full silver battle armor, and carried a sword sheathed on his back. He was holding a shield, and a helmet was cradled in the crook of his arm. The helmet was crafted in the image of its owner, and held the appearance of Rancor's face in every detail, except that like the armor it too was silver. His whole outfit shone like a mirror. Rancor had no Hellish features. No horns, wings, tails, extra appendages, nothing to set him apart from any mortal, but he looked too perfectly human to be human. He had no flaws. Like his armor he shone. "Crime, this is Rancor." "Hello Father. Hello mother," he said. Crime looked at him, and doubt crossed her shadowy features, but with the bond that connected mother and child she recognized him. She fell to the floor unconscious. I looked at Rancor. He looked at Me. There was an uncanny intelligence shining in his eyes. I could detect that he was sizing Me up, calculating My power. "It will be long before you can even hope to contest Me, so do not even think it." "Do You not think we should help Mother?" "Of course." Rancor bent down, placed his palm upon Crime's eyes, and when he pulled his hands away, her eyes opened. She looked up at him, and he smiled at her. "Mother." "Rancor?" "Yes, it is me. It's not so bad as you think. I actually like it here, and it is necessary. Silenthia says I have to cause the end of the world soon. If I was raised on Earth my power would not be great enough in time. I need to be older." "I can't accept that. Listen to yourself." "You do not need to. It is not your destiny." "How long have I been gone?" I asked Silenthia. "Six years, seven months, three--" "That's close enough." Silenthia fell silent. I dismissed her. She and her dancers left, but Rancor stayed. Crime got up. I grabbed a goblet of wine from the air. It had not been there before, but My will was absolute in this domain. I sipped from it. It was light and sweet, but it did not taste weak and flowery. Sometimes I loved wine. "Rancor, see that devil there?" "Yes Father." "He insulted Me. He questioned My authority, and he just plain irritated Me. Do you think his punishment is fitting? Your mother would have Me let him go." I paused. Rancor said nothing. He was considering every word that I had said. "Well?" "No." "No, what?" "His punishment is not fitting. He should have perished utterly. You show him mercy by allowing him life at all." I stepped forward and struck Rancor. "Do not make the same mistake as he. Never question My decisions." Rancor put on his helmet and drew his sword. He pointed this at Me. "You cannot win."

"Are You certain?" he asked, and for a moment I was not. His sword was still facing Me. I did not know his power. Perhaps he could slay Me, but this was very doubtful. I was unafraid. In Hell I was King, and nothing could hope to defeat Me here. I was next to invincible, and not even flesh of My blood could cause Me any real harm. Rancor defiantly walked to the immense pedestal where the devil was imprisoned. Rancor swung his sliver blade at the base of the great structure. It connected with much force, and with a resounding crack, the huge stone sculpture shattered. My son was buried under tons of fallen rock and boiling blood. I could not see him. "Rancor!" Crime screamed, and with this one word she accepted Rancor for what he truly was. She ran to the mess, but before she got there Rancor had already climbed out from under the heavy slick stones. His armor was unscratched, undented and still completely clean. He was holding his sword in one hand and with the other he was dragging the minor devil by the back of his neck like a cat. Rancor cast the devil to the ground before Crime. "A present for you, mother." "Thank you, Rancor. Let him go." Rancor addressed the devil. "You who are called Tzz't, are hereby banished from Defile castle and all lands surrounding it for six hundred and sixty six miles. Go now, never return." The devil faded from view. I thought of following it, and destroying it, as Rancor had said I should have done, but I decided that it was not worth it. What damage could one devil cause? "Shall we dine?" "That would be nice, Father," Rancor said as he sheathed his sword and again took off his helmet. I felt I should chastise him for freeing the devil, but I found that I was actually proud of his actions. He had defied Me, true, but he had done so with cause. Instead of teaching My son a lesson, I caused a food laden table to come into existence. We ate together, in Hell, one happy family. I felt the pulling. This was a call that I could resist if I wanted to, but this servant often was very helpful to My work. I touched Crime, shifted her back to her brothel by herself, bade My farewells to Rancor, and I let the call take effect. Light shimmered for a moment. Images overlapped and with a twist I was torn from Hell. Reality snapped back in a flash. A shrunken old lady stood before Me. Her name was Witch, and I had used her often in the past, and I was sure that she would have her uses in the future. Age was My hold over her. Whenever close to death she became very receptive to My desire. Her soul was Mine. She had forfeited it the fist time she had called Me from Hell. "Give Me My due." She threw something to Me. I caught it from out of the air, and consumed its very essence. "A toad? Is that supposed to be an insult?" "No, my Lord." "What is it that you wish?" I asked. She was deathly afraid of Me. I always manifested Myself before her in My fiercest aspect. It was what she expected, and far be it from Me to disappoint her. I flapped My wings a few times, and brought My tail over My shoulder. I reached up and scratched it as though it were a pet snake with a will of its own. Fog swirled about My feet, so she could not see My cloven hooves, but she knew that they were there. "What is it that you wish? Do not make Me ask again." "I gave it to her like You asked."

"Commanded. Remember who the servant is." "You owe me." "Yes--yes I do." I snapped My fingers. I had not needed to. It was purely theatrical. Time slowed until it no longer existed for the mortal before Me. I stepped from the protective circle she had drawn on the floor, (completely ineffectual, but it made her feel safer) and touched her wrinkled face. Like clay I manipulated her flesh this way and that. I erased lines and took away years. I burned her clothes from her. This would cause her pain, but no real harm. I laid My hands upon her aged body. Everywhere I touched became young--firm. Skin tightened. Muscle became hard, and like the artist I was I could not but improve upon the original. I made her better every time I rewarded her. I stepped back within the circle and scrutinized My work. She was perfect. She was Witch, and she had given Crime the Talisman on My instruction. I had owed her, but this fulfilled My debt. I shifted Myself from mortal view, and allowed time to resume. Witch screamed, and collapsed to the floor. She looked at herself and started crying. Her tears were a mix of joy, shame, and relief that she was still alive. Her nakedness was beautiful. I had done well, and I could not help but to marvel at My work, but now I had another place to be. I let Myself fall through time and space until I found Myself back in Hell. Why, oh Why? ?Rancor? "Yes Silenthia?" /No Rancor, with your mind Think of me Concentrate Project your thoughts Project them to me/ Rancor closed his eyes. At first there was a relaxed look on his face. I could see that he was trying hard to do as Silenthia wanted, but he was quickly becoming frustrated, and it showed. "I can't," he said through clenched teeth. "Fine, we'll go on. Give me your dagger." Silenthia took Rancor's dagger, held it out before her, and let it go. It did not fall. She held it in place with the powers that were her creation-right. Even a minor demon could do this trick. There were probably even some damned souls that had mastered levitation. "It is easy. Here, now you try." Rancor reached out and plucked the dagger from the air. He had an aura of confidence about him. He was sure he could do this. I could see by his very manner, by the way he held his shoulders, by the way his head was back, chin up, that he felt he could do this. Rancor thrust the knife straight out, held it there for a moment, and opened his hand. The knife clattered to the floor. I knew all of Hell was laughing at the sound as it hit. The simplest of tricks--and he could not perform them! He had already failed at shifting. There was no way he would get to Earth, unless I took him there. I was not even going to try and teach him to change his shape. Silenthia probably had a better chance of learning than he did. I was disappointed. I knew he was not completely mortal. I could see it in his eyes. He had power. He had revived Crime after she had fainted. He had lived even after tons of rock had fallen on him. His impervious armor was of Hellish creation and design, but that was not enough to explain that feat of survival. There was just no way he could be mortal. The mind of a six year old was incapable of comprehending Hell, let alone thriving

there. Rancor was My son. This by itself made him special. I just did not know what to do. His power seemed to be only reflexive. He needed to have full control of his faculties before he could even hope to conquer Earth and challenge the hordes of heaven. "Take him from Me." "Yes, My Lord." Silenthia placed her hand upon Rancor's shoulder, and shifted with him, from the hall. When I was alone I looked at the dagger that still lay on the stone floor of Defile. If only he had been able to hold it in the air. Was I wrong? Was Rancor not the Antichrist? Would another come after him? With My will I caused the dagger of shame to no longer be. The Rage of Satan I was in full fury. I took the form of Dragon, and flew straight up at a phenomenal speed. All seven of My eyes watered as the wind roared by, and I could not hear anything but blood rushing in My veins. The ceiling of Defile quickly tried to block My path of flight, but I did not recognize it as existing, so therefor it did not. I passed through it as though it was a projection of some cracked mind. I was pushing against all limits. I gained altitude, and in seconds all Hell was only a small speck in a sea of madness, but this was not high enough, or far enough away from the failures of My son. I could not abide by failure! I shifted. I wanted nothing to do with My domain. I found Myself in a familiar setting. One that often comforted Me when I needed such comfort. Earth. I was circling the planet. I thought about going there, and slaying many mortals, or convincing one to sell Me its soul just for amusement. I decided against it. I did not feel like recreating the myth of the dragon. I turned from the planet. I decided to go to the place of My real discontent. Heaven itself. I would fly there and throw God from his petty throne, then I would slay every angel that thought to stand against Me. I caused distance to twist until the speed at which I had been traveling was nothing. Stars exploded or collapsed in on themselves as I passed through them. My rage knew no bounds. I was going to defeat God. Defeat him and cast him from paradise as he had done to Me. I would make him live in Hell. I would do all of this, but not before he bowed to My greatness. The demons and devils of Hell were ignorant. They thought that I needed them to challenge heaven. They were wrong. I had thought that I needed only the Antichrist by My side, but if he was not going to ever have enough power to slay God, then I would have to fight him Myself. I knew that I had power. I came upon a legion of angels. They tried to stop Me from continuing on My course of action. I hardly paused to kill them all. I breathed one impossibly large column of flame that engulfed them all. They fell from the skies like wonderfully burning wounded birds. So shall all that stand against Me in My outrage. I was Satan. Nothing could stop Me. I soared past the fallen angels, and resumed My flight to heaven. The Kingdom--white, pure, gilded and glowing in gold, shade and pure water to quench the thirst of a dying man, peaceful, paradise--came into sight. I pushed Myself even harder, but before I could gain heaven I crashed into an invisible shield. My monstrous head cracked back at a sharp angle, and My neck

broke with a crunch. My massive body crashed forward. Blood splashed from Me everywhere. I became little more than a thought of excruciating pain. I had never before suffered such damage. I changed My shape to the form that I held most often, but I made sure that I had wings--large leathery ones. I would have to heal the Dragon later. If it could be done. /Come out and face Me/ A little speck of light broke away from heaven and came at Me. It passed through the shield unharmed. This dot of brilliance was not God. I did not expect God to come. "Satan, he will not fight You." I knew that I could not break God's shield anymore than he could break Mine. Out of spite I incinerated God's bright little messenger, and banked away from the place that I was no longer welcome in. If God would not fight Me, then God was not worth fighting. I would take his domain from him some day. I would regain all the glory that was Mine. I would do this! I had to help Rancor become the Antichrist. Like Father Like Son Shifting. Shape changing. Manipulating elements. Levitation. Possession. Rancor still failed at them all. He was fourteen years old now. He had aged while I had gone to challenge heaven. He had been under Silenthia's instruction all of those years, and other than unnatural intelligence he had only two skills that set him apart from mortal children his age, and they were his combative skills and his ability to dominate other's with his will. I did not blame Silenthia. She had tried, but she was inhibited by the fact that he was My son. She was afraid that if she hurt him I would destroy her, or change her back to the minor demon that she had been. I had been patient. I had said nothing when I had recovered from my rage, but now was the time for a more radical teaching. I watched, as in failure, Rancor once again tried to shift. His image did not even waver. I was sick of this. Much time had passed since I had made an attack at heaven. I had done little in this time, other than heal the Dragon, and watch my son commit failure after failure. I watched as his image still remained the same, and I had was sick of it. Enough. "Enough!" Both Silenthia and Rancor turned to Me in astonishment. I had been silently observing Rancor's exercises everyday for two years. This was the first time I had ever spoken during his training. "My Lord Sa--" "Shut up Silenthia." "Fa--" "You too Rancor. Listen to Me. If you could only unlock one power the others would surface. It is like there is a dam holding you back. Once it is broken all may flow through." "What of my will?" "That comes from within. You need to learn to project that which is within you. I am going to take over your teaching." I turned to Silenthia. I was not displeased with the job she had done, it was not her fault, but still she had failed. There was always a price for failure. "Silenthia, you have failed Me, but I am merciful. I truly am, so I will allow you to name your own punishment. What will it be?" "Fa--" "Shut up Rancor," Silenthia said. Rancor fell silent. "If I have

failed my Lord, then I only deserve death." She was right, but this sentence left a bad taste. I did not want her to die. True, she was a devil, and death only meant becoming a demon of the lowest stature, but it would be millions of years before she again attained the position of devil, even minor. If Rancor was the Antichrist then that meant if I commanded her to die she would have to face Armageddon as a demon. No, this would not do. "That fate is too good for you. I command that you shall be punished, but not by My hand. You will be disciplined by Rancor. You will be his to do with as he pleases." "Yes, Lord." "I won't," Rancor said in horror. Over the years he had grown quite fond of his mentor. It was possible that he even loved her. It would be next to impossible for him to harm her in any way. "Oh, you will find a suiting torment or she will indeed die. You are dismissed for now Silenthia. I will call you when you are needed again." "Yes my Lord." Rancor held out his hand for Silenthia to take, so that when she shifted, she might take him along. Silenthia shifted without him. Wise of her. "Come My son. We must begin your lessons." "No." He glared at Me. I felt a shock run through Me, and I almost yelled out in pain. I had never been challenged before, and Rancor had taken Me by surprise. Anguish ripped through Me. I felt an overwhelming urge to bow before Rancor. I would not submit. I fought back. I sent a wave of pure power to him that would have ravaged a minor devil. Rancor did not even respond. He looked at Me with contempt, and redoubled his efforts. Sweat broke out all over My body, and I felt Myself losing control of My shape. I unfurled wings I had not had only seconds before. My feet turned to hooves. I would not submit! I would not. I had made the mistake of holding back. He would not win. I would not let him. I blasted him with all I had. Lightning and fire engulfed him. He screamed, but otherwise did not react. He could only fight Me on one level, but I had so much more. I shifted behind Rancor, and struck him with My fist. He went sprawling. He quickly recovered, and looked up at Me from the stone courtyard. With a wave of his hand the ground I was standing on cracked under Me. I lost My balance, but instead of falling, I took to the air. This was a mistake. I had again underestimated My son. Not only had he affected the floor, but also the ceiling. One single fraction of a stone block the size of a small house smashed Me from My flight into the courtyard. I caused the block to disintegrate and be no more. I glanced at Myself. My clothes were hanging about Me in shreds, but I was unmarked. I shape-changed back to My favored form. "Rancor, cease this vain folly or I will surely slay you." /I do not think so Father/ He drew his sword, so I caused one to appear in My hand. I had never been defeated with a blade. I knew I had him out-matched. I only planned to humiliate him. I stepped up to disarm him. After a few blows and parries I realized that he was a far better opponent than I had expected, but he was still no match for Me. He left a stupid opening. I caught his wrist where there was a break behind his gauntlet. His flesh was opened. Now, I had only to wear him down. Blood loss would weaken him. It was as I thought this, that I felt the point of his weapon take Me in the side of the neck. My throat was laid open. It took all My concentration to keep My blood from spurting like twin jets. Rancor had left his wrist exposed in order to lead Me, and I

had fallen for it. Now I was paying the price. I had to stop and heal Myself. Rancor took advantage of this by sending My blade spinning from My grasp. He dropped the point of his bright silver sword to My heart level. "Surrender or die." "Sorry, it is never that easy." I sent his blade away. Rancor looked at his empty gauntlet, then in hate, at Me. He charged Me. I changed My form to that of the Dragon, and let Rancor crash into Me with all his puny might. The chamber within which I stood was barely large enough to hold Me. "Fight me, damn it!" I picked him up between taloned claws. I brought him before one of My eyes, and squeezed until I felt his armor start to give. I could see him struggling not to yell out. He thought he was to die. He wanted to die as a man, not by being killed by a beast. I shifted. I was now flying above an endless ocean of glowing lava. I still had Rancor held tightly, but not for long. I dropped him. He hit with a splash and sank. His silver armor dragged him under. The armor and his heritage would keep him alive, but if he did not consciously unlock his powers he would spend an eternity of suffering. I waited, flying lazy circles of worry over the area where I had let him fall. Days passed, and still he did not surface. What if I had been wrong? I was concerned. I did not know doubt very often. I had been sure that I was right. I would not have done it otherwise. He was My son. I did not want him dead. Relief flooded Me as I found I was correct in My faith. Rancor's head broke the surface of the molten liquid. He was still wearing his helmet and plate armor. It was still silver, but now it shone with an intensity that was almost painful to the eye. My son flew from the lava, and like a small brilliant star hovered before Me. "Come Father, we must return. I have Silenthia to punish." Rancor too took the shape of a dragon, although it was silver and not as large as Mine. His scales were mirrored as his armor. We flew, the Antichrist and I, together to Defile, My beloved castle. The Antichrist Rancor summoned a thousand daggers. These he not only kept in the air, but he set them to spinning like the blades of a fan. ?Rancor? /Yes Father/ The blades kept their place. /Create a demon for Me/ ?Can I do that? /I do not know Before now I have been the only One to do so/ A dismal colored statue of a gargoyle appeared between us. Not very imaginative, but his creative skills were not the ones being tested. The gargoyle turned red then blue then green. It started to quickly shift through all colors. It started to move. He had done it--or so I thought, but then it just disappeared. ?What do You think? /Nice try/ ?Try? /I've created a demon that can only be seen when I choose for it to be seen Behold/ The gargoyle again appeared. I wanted to test its power. I caused all of the floating daggers to fly into it. A thousand blades thrust and bit into the newly created creature. It just shifted to its right, leaving the

cutlery behind. The demon had made itself whole as it had shifted. The demon was unharmed. I challenged it. It locked gazes with Me for a second, but then looked down, submitting, and I did not like it. /Rancor you have done a dangerous thing/ Rancor did not respond. Something had blocked My message. I did not think that this was possible. The demon looked back at Me with a smug expression on its ugly face, and then, as I watched, it started to change. Its form melted and flowed until it was as the creature desired. It became the mirror image of Rancor, but without his bright armor. It should not have been able to do this! This was no demon. It was a full fledged devil, and no minor one at that. What had Rancor done? ?Father why do You look at me like that? two 'voices' hit Me at the same time. Rancor charged the creature he had made from nothing. They clashed, and began to struggle, but then the newly created devil disappeared. Rancor--in armor stood--looking unstable. He seemed to have no balance. He staggered. /Father he's in me/ I slid My vision, and for a moment I thought I saw something, but then it was gone. It was as if Rancor was possessed--with himself. Without the devil's name there was little that I could do without hurting My son. Rancor fell, but then rose again. /I have beaten him Father Give me back my sword/ I pulled his sword back from where I had sent it. Rancor grasped its hilt, and with the shining sword struck through My neck. This was not a deathblow for Me. I willed Myself to remain whole, and thought of what I had to do. "Devil, do not make Me annihilate you," I said. "I will not give him up." I stepped towards the devil that held My son's body. He ran Me through with Rancor's sword. I felt it exit between My shoulder blades. I was becoming tired of being stabbed with that damn weapon. I ignored it and grasped Rancor's visor. I then shifted. I tried to leave the devil behind. /Nice try/ it said mocking Me. We were on a barren plane, just another infinite reflection of My mind, and the devil was still with us. Fine then, I would go where this devil could not go without an invitation. I heard a yell of frustration as I shifted to Earth. I had no time to be precise as to where I appeared. I found Myself holding an unconscious Rancor, and we were seven feet or so from the floor of Crime's bedroom. She was there with another that I did not recognize. They were sitting at a table playing a card game. Neither had noticed Rancor or I yet. People so seldom looked for the unexpected. I levitated to the floor. "Hello Crime." Both were startled. The man did nothing, but Crime came at Me, knives flashing, until she realized that it was I. "Satan! What has happened? I didn't summon You." "Did you think that I could only come at your bidding? I come or go as I please," I said as I slid Rancor's evil blade from My chest. "Rancor needs help." I probably could have caused him to regain consciousness in an instant, but this might have shocked his system. I did not want to cause him any more injury than which he had already suffered. "Place him on my bed."

I was impressed in that the mortal male said nothing as I laid My child on the bed as Crime had indicated. I shifted his armor from him, to beside the bed, so that he was able to rest comfortably. "What's going on?" Crime asked, concern and confusion coloring her voice. "Do you not think that you should make introductions first?" "If You insist. Satan, this is Spirit. Spirit, this is Satan, Lord of Hell, and God of this World. On the bed lays our child." I presented My hand to the mortal sitting at the table, he took it, grasped it tightly, and shook it. He had courage to do that. Either that or he did not believe I was who I was. "Nice to meet You. You look like shit." I let go of our grasp, and went to the mirror. It was as he had said, I looked very bad. My head was still severed from My body, and I had a hole in My chest large enough to view My spine. "Forgive Me, Rancor and I have been through a lot." "Would You care to explain?" Spirit asked from across the room. "No." Crime went to Rancor. She touched his throat. "As far as I can tell, he's only sleeping, but I'll call the house physician, just in case." Crime picked up the phone, she must have had it replaced, and spoke into it. As she held her conversation, I decide to speak with Spirit. I walked to the table, and joined him there. "What is the nature of your friendship with Crime?" "Friends and friendly business. And You?" "Parent of the one laying there and lovers. Does this surprise you?" "Yes," he said, and by all appearances he spoke the truth. "Is Rancor really her son?" "Yes, as I said, and Mine also." "But--" "But he is too old? Older than her in fact. He was raised in Hell. Time differs there." Apparently I had given him enough to think about. He asked Me no more questions. I took the time this offered to heal and clean Myself. I even changed My clothes. I now wore a sky-blue robe. This I had drawn at the waist with a white cord. I looked rather like a monk of sorts. Crime hung up the phone. "She'll be here presently. You look nice; much better than before." "Thank you," I said. The doctor entered without knocking, and if she was surprised that I was here, well she did not show it. She examined My son. Crime watched as she did so. I picked up the cards, shuffled them, and dealt five to Spirit and five to Myself. I looked at My hand. I had all four aces and a deuce. "Do you wish to trade any cards?" "No, I'll stay. What are the stakes?" "Your soul of course, against anything you wish." "I don't think so." "What do you suggest?" "Crime?" "She is not Mine to give." "For nothing then." "Fine." He laid down his hand. He had a royal flush. I smirked. This was not possible. He had cheated. I had all of the aces. I threw My cards, face up, onto the table. "Five of a kind." Between his cards and Mine there were six cards of the same

number value sitting on the table. "Thank you for a fine game." "No, thank You." This mortal was unique. If he would have accused Me of dishonesty I would have killed him. I found it entertaining that he was brave enough to try and cheat Me. It was refreshing to not be feared by everyone I met. Quivering mortals will always have their place, but the ones that have truly amused Me, throughout time, are the ones that feel I do not exist, or that if I do, then I am as a human. I am nothing like human. I stood and walked to Crime and our child. It was strange seeing them together. They appeared to be about the same age. I knew this bothered Crime. She had not been able to raise Rancor as her own child. She had been hurt by this, but she said nothing. She understood, or at least accepted it as best as she could. "How is he?" "Fine," the doctor said. "I can wake him if you like." The doctor did not react to Me. She treated Me as if I were just another mortal. I wondered if I should be insulted by this. I was not. "No," Crime said. "Let him sleep." "Yes, let him sleep." The physician left. Crime hugged Me. I returned her embrace, and kissed her. "Do You love me?" she asked. "I cannot." I was unable to. I loved only Myself. I was the center of My universe. There was no room for anyone else. I could not have it any other way, even if I had desired it. I had not wanted to tell her this, but I would not lie, and say that I loved her when I was incapable. Crime turned her back to Me and walked to Spirit. He was staring at the cards. He was probably still adjusting to all he had learned. He looked up at Crime. I closed My eyes, and possessed him. He did not resist, not that it would have done him any good. He could not have beaten Me, and he knew it. "I love you," I made him say. "Don't say that." I pulled out of him, and opened My eyes. He was free of Me and My influence. He could do as he chose now. "It's true. I do." "Don't say that--just don't." I felt a lesser Item trying to summon Me. I knew I was no longer wanted here, so I chose to answer it. I found Myself again standing within a harmless protective circle. "Give Me My due." A bird was thrown in My direction. It tried to fly away. I sucked its life energies from it, and it flew for yet another ten feet, even though it was little more than a skeleton. The bird then crashed into a wall where it shattered. "My Lord, I am afraid." "With good cause. You have summoned the Lord of Hell. I hope you have a reason for doing so." "Dreams, my Lord. I have been contacted by a devil. He begged me to release him. He has promised me much if I do." It was possible for a devil to be summoned to the Earth without My permission, but only if a mortal knew its true name. Contact through dreams--a devil could tell a mortal its name this way, but it would have to be a receptive mortal, and one who possessed the power to summon. "Did this devil tell you its name?" "Yes, Lord it's--"

"No, do not speak it. I can read it in your mind. Thank you, you have done well. How shall I reward you?" "I do not know, Lord. I am already young and beautiful, what more can I ask?" "What were you promised by the other?" "Immortality, Lord." "That is not his to grant, but you shall have it. From now on you shall live forever. Make no deals with the other, or you will burn in Hell for My pleasure, I promise you this. I shifted back to those I had just left. Rancor was again dressed in full battle armor, except that his helm rested on the table where Crime and Spirit sat. Spirit was holding Crime's hand. He was caressing the snake ring that she wore. This was what I had hoped for. Crime deserved more than I could ever give her. She wanted love, (even if she would not admit that to herself) and she should have it. "Come Rancor, we must go." "But Father, we were--" "I do not care. We have a creation to destroy." "Yes Father." Rancor placed his silver helmet upon his head. It was uncanny how exactly the face on it matched his. There was in Rancor no doubt in his abilities as he shifted us to Defile. Confrontation ?Silenthia? "Yes my Lord." Silenthia now stood before Rancor. She had shifted in as soon as I had called upon her. She had chosen to bring all forty of her blood demons. They stood behind her in disciplined ranks. "What has passed?" "Much Lord. Three years have gone by since You have last been at Defile. We have been under siege, but no attack has been forthcoming. We are threatened by the Arch-devil--" "Wait, Arch-devil?" "Yes, Lord, that is what he calls himself." "Continue." "Yes, Lord. The Arch-devil, Bettacrasnakka is never seen. Some even say that he does not exist. Many feel that Tzz't made him up as a threat." "Oh he is real alright." I thought on this. There had not been a war in Hell for thousands of years, and never before had I been the target of attack. Always before it had been devil against devil, never Me. No devil would be so stupid. I had the power to send. If I did so to any demon or devil they would in effect cease to exist. This would be worse than death. The only way an attack against Me had any chance of working was if I was forced to exhaust enough of My energy that I no longer had the ability to send. I thought of what this would take. I felt safe. There were not enough demons or devils in Hell to do this. Even I did not know the limits of My powers. Maybe, if I was forced to fight every devil one at a time.... "Have you amassed an army for Me?" "I've tried Lord, but all in Hell are with Tzz't and Bettacrasnakka. The devils fear You, Lord. They think You will lead them to destruction now that Rancor is at Your right, they feel You will challenge Your eternal rival. They do not want Armageddon."

"It is well that they fear Me. How long till they attack?" As Silenthia and I spoke, Rancor had stood by silently, but suddenly he drew his shinning weapon. I moved back. I did not want to risk that blade again. "Father, he tries to enter Me, but I resist." /Good You are ready this time Do not give in Tell him if he wants us that we are ready/ "He's stopped. I did make contact though. He says, 'I'm coming.' I believe him. He's waited for our return." I set up a shield around Defile that would prevent any from shifting in without permission, although it would not prevent direct physical entry. I then walked to behind My throne. There was a door that only I knew about, and through it was a tower that only I knew. I opened it, and passed through. Silenthia and Rancor followed. Stairs spiraled up and up forever. "Would it not be easier to shift to the top?" "Try." He did, and a look of hopelessness came across his countenance. He thought that he had failed yet again. Past experiences were too fresh for Rancor to face and deal with. He needed a victory to savor. He tried to shift again. "I can't." "I know." "Why?" "I do not know, but even I cannot." We continued to climb. The forty dancing demons had stayed behind. I would not have let them come anyway. I was not even sure if I wanted to reveal the secrets of this tower to Silenthia. I could always erase it from her memory later. "My Lord, how many stairs must we climb?" "Ten. A hundred. A million. It is never the same. It is best not to think about it." We climbed the rest of the way in silence. It took a short eternity to get there. I hoped that it was worth it. I walked to a tower window. There were three. This was not a coincidence. Rancor and Silenthia looked out the other two. Defile castle was built into a mountain that occurred unnaturally in the middle of a large flat stone plane. Spread out on this plane surrounding Defile far unto the horizon was Bettacrasnakka's army. The plain was black with all the gathered hosts of Hell. I concentrated. I caused heavy storm clouds to roll in, and completely block the sky. If today was to be a day of death, then I wanted the weather to fit the mood. I opened the clouds to rain. Rain was not enough though. I caused great winds to blow, and large pillars of lightning to strike. I could not see the damage I was doing, but I could sense that many had already been destroyed by these simple actions. I could do far more than this. I raised one hand and, with a rushing rolling wave of bitter blackness I terribly tore the land asunder. I could feel it within My being as wide cruel crevasse split My Hell. My domain shook itself apart. I was not able to detect how many casualties this unmaking had caused the horde of idiots to incur. I did not care. "It is your turn Rancor." I did not take My gaze from the window. I stared at the creatures that thought to kill Me, their Lord. The rain I had brought changed. It still fell, but now the drops were black rock, not water. These would tear into the army like bullets from a machine-gun, but Rancor did not stop there. He lit the stones to burning. At first only fire and rock fell, but soon it changed to lava. See what Bettacrasnakka thought of that. "Can I try?" asked Silenthia.

"If you like." A hundred flaming swords suddenly hovered in the dark sky. I was not sure if it was Silenthia's doing or Rancor's. The swords headed into the hosts. I did not know how much damage they would do, but it did not really matter. The storm was doing its work well. I could feel this. Silenthia staggered back from the window. She put a leather gloved hand to her forehead. She then fell back, but Rancor caught her before she was able to hit the tower's rock tile. He laid her gently down. "My guard, they fight for their lives. Defile has been breached," Silenthia gasped. "Come Rancor," I commanded, and I left no choice in My voice. Rancor and I had just started upon the stairs, when we came to the door to My throne room. We ran through into confusion. Minor demons fought side by side with greater devils. Some were flying through the air, others were swimming in the stone floor as if it were as much water. They were fighting the dancing blood demons of Silenthia's. It was a massacre. Only two of her demon guard still stood. Rancor and I both put a shield about the two survivors, and for now they were safe. They had accounted for many demons and even a few devils. By putting up the protection over the two blood dancers, we had gotten the attention of the hordes of the damned. A demon rushed Me. With utter contempt I sent it. I searched for the next threat. It came as a surprise. My eyes locked with a minor devil. She challenged Me. I had not expected such a creature to be so daring. I showed no mercy. I crushed her with all My power. I held back nothing. I tore her apart. She had not a chance against the might of Satan, but while I was dealing with her, a greater demon came at Rancor and I from behind. This demon placed a dagger in My spine, and hacked into My side with a curved sword. I turned to it. I sent it also. A random arrow slid through My left eye into My brain. A sensation to be avoided if at all possible. I reached up and plucked it from My head. My eye went with the arrow. I would have to repair the socket later. I was making too many mistakes. All of this could have been avoided if only I had erected a personal shield. I did so now. I saw a dagger bounce off it. Yes, it was in effect. ?Rancor can you feel him? /No Father He is not here/ I knew that the storm still raged outside. That was the nature of the tower. It sustained magics. The storm would rain terror and death until someone willed it to cease from within. Another devil stepped in front of Me and challenged. This one would not be so easy to defeat. He took almost all My concentration. I was able to only sustain the shield around Defile, and the one around the dancing demons. Mine dropped. Once again I was open to physical attacks. The devil before Me made a powerful thrust with its will. If that was all that it could hit Me with, then he would be no match for Me. I resisted its first wave of power, but did not fight back. "You are nothing," I told it. "Leave. You are hereby banished from Defile and the--" "Save the speech, Old Man. Your time has come. If I cannot beat You, then my death will pave the way for the new order!" I sighed, and let him try to kill Me once again. When he did so, I started to draw his energies into Me. I sucked. He had forgotten that which ruled his very existence, that in Hell power was Mine to give or take, and take I did. Blue lights flew between us from him. These I drew into myself. There was a scream, and the 'greater devil' ran towards the doors that opened to Defile. He was barely worthy to be called a demon now. He had so little power left, that I doubted if even a damned soul would fear him.

I turned to Rancor. He was engaged in hand to hand combat with an eight armed devil, that hovered a few feet from the floor. The devil had a sword in each hand. Rancor had only his shield and sword, but seemed to be doing fine. He blocked every blow that the devil made. I would have watched him fight, but I was attacked then. I had not brought My shield back up, so when the ax hit Me, it split My cheekbone, and became lodged there. There were thirty identical greater demons, and they mobbed Me. I was buried under them. All carried an ax, which they used with great abandon effectively. Axes rose and fell. My skin split and tore under their blows, and divots of flesh flew from Me. I quickly became a bloody mass. I caused a sword to appear in My hand. With this I swept half from Me, but My grip was too slick with My own blood to maintain a hold on the weapon. I dropped it. I was once again covered in demons. This was ridicules. I shifted a little to My right, and with a wave of My will I sent every last demon that had just attacked Me. Two different demons faced Me now. I thought of raising My shield, but I was not going to pretend to fear these. They thought they were to be the instruments of My downfall. They were only minor demons though, so their stupidity could almost be understood. One demon held a large hammer. The other seemed to think that only a dagger would be sufficient. I was amused. I reached up and tore lose the ax that was buried in My face. It came free with a sucking crunch. Now I was ready to fight again. These two demons deserved to die together. I erected yet another shield, but this time around them, not Me. I then willed it to slowly start shrinking. Soon they would be crushed into each other. They would die a very humiliating death. There were still hundreds in the courtyard. This was taking entirely too long. I had to think of something. ?Rancor? /One moment/ there was a pause, then, /Yes/ ?Are we losing? /No/ ?But are we winning? /No/ ?What should we do? Rancor said nothing, but he placed an image within My mind. Yes! It just might work. He had done it before, but on a much smaller scale. I dropped the protective shield from about Silenthia's blood demons. I then shifted with them to Earth. Surprises "Hello Crime. Hello Spirit." "Satan. Who are these two?" Crime no longer seemed surprised to see Me. I was not very presentable either. I was drenched in blood, and a lot of Me was showing that was never meant to be seen. "Two demons of Silenthia's" She did not answer. It probably was not important to her. "Man, You really need to find a different way to travel," Spirit said to Me. "Why is that?" "However You do it now just rips the Hell out of You." I tried not to smile. I tried not to laugh. I probably would have had to try and not go into hysterics, and fail at this too, but Rancor

materialized just then. "Father." ?Did it work? /I dropped Defile on them as planned All within were slain as it collapsed Only one tower still stands The storm still rages We must go back/ "I have to heal Myself." I caused My wounds to close one by one. There were many. My flesh flowed like water. The damage to My body was more extensive than I had thought. It took Me some time to close all cuts and knit all shattered bones, longer than it had taken to heal the Dragon. /Father we have to go Silenthia is still there/ "Good-bye Crime. Good-bye Spirit." "Mother." I wondered what she thought of our popping in like that. I had not been in that good of shape when I had arrived, and there had been two demons with Me. When Rancor showed up, he looked pretty bad also. His armor was scratched, and actually had a few dents. I also wondered how her and Spirit's relationship was progressing. Rancor and I shifted. Defile Defile Castle was indeed ruins. It was as Rancor had said, only one tower still stood, but he was wrong about the storm. It was gone. I looked at the carnage around Defile. Millions of damned souls, demons, and devils lay dead and rotting. The souls were the saddest part of this war. Not even one had made it to the castle. They were needlessly slaughtered. They would spend the rest of eternity decaying into nothing, and they would be aware of themselves and what was happening to them. This would happen, unless I had mercy on them and granted them life in death once again, but I am the one true evil. I am not a merciful Devil. I would only do this for amusement. Rancor and I shifted again, with Silenthia's guards, to the tower base. Rancor and I started climbing the stairs. We ran up them taking two or three at a time. Ten minutes or a year passed before we entered the room at the top of the tower. Silenthia's red half cloak was neatly folded on the floor. On the cloak was an envelope. Rancor picked this up, opened it, and read its contents. It held a piece of paper and a lock of hair. Rancor handed Me the paper. I have her. --TZZ'T "We will get her back," I said. Rancor went to one of the two windows. /I'm going to kill them I'm going to kill them both/ He drew his sword. It started to glow with a light the likes of which I had seen only once before. The light climbed Rancor's blade until it engulfed his armor. It then grew in brilliance until it was as if he had just climbed from the lava ocean. Rancor pointed his sword out the window. A beam burst from the blade and lit the sky. It only lasted seconds, but it seemed to go on forever. An effect of the tower perhaps, or maybe My imagination. "I want them to know I come." Rancor picked up Silenthia's cloak. This he draped over his shield.

Although I could feel his heat, from where I stood, the cloak did not burn. I was disturbed with how well it covered his shield. It fit, and it looked as though it was meant to stay there. Rancor then did something I had never thought to do. He stepped up to the window and jumped. It immediately disappeared as he passed through. I ran to the window that was meant for Me, and looked out just in time to see him strike the ground. He had to have fallen at least a mile. I could just barely see him from the tower window. Either he had lived, or he had died. This was an obvious and almost stupid observation, but not for one who was thinking of doing the same. I decided to follow. I even went to do so, but there was a shield blocking My way. Rancor did not want Me following. Damn him! I tried taking down the block, but as long as he was maintaining it this would be impossible. He had to still be alive to keep the shield up. I would not wait! I took the only way left to Me--the stairs. I ran as fast as I could down them. I even fell a few times. I tried to shift, but it did not work. I had not expected it to. The stairs seemed to work against Me. There was nothing I could do but continue. I ran, but the door was nowhere in sight. I again tried shifting. It was as successful as the first time. When the door did finally come I was drenched in sweat, and I was afraid to touch the wood, lest it be an illusion. Touch it I did though. I pushed it open with all My strength. The door flew open, and was almost torn from its hinges as it slammed into the wall behind it with a crash. I circled the tower until I came to the place where Rancor had hit. It was not hard to find. There was a large melted depression, like a meteor crater, where Rancor had landed. Silenthia's blood demons stood there. Boot marks led away from the depression. Rancor's steel-shod boots must have melted the stone with their heat. This would be an easy trail to follow, as long as the Antichrist's rage held out until I caught up with him. If he no longer left footprints, then he would be harder to find. As I walked, I thought of shifting. Rancor seemed to be going in one direction. I wondered why he had not shifted. Footstep by footstep, he was taking the distance, savoring the anticipation of the dying to come. He had to be. I looked at the boot melted stone, and decided to try. Things turned inside out, became a photo negative, and I was maybe half a mile farther along Rancor's tail. The marred stone still bore clear marks for Me to follow. If only I knew how far behind him I was. Damn that tower! I again shifted. A mile this time, but I only let Myself materialize long enough to make sure that I was going in the right direction. I kept repeating this process, increasing the distance between each jump until I found Myself in the midst of a bright battle. I looked down. There were no longer any marks upon the smooth surface of the plain. I squinted My eyes against the blinding light. I almost missed seeing a three-headed demon as it ran past Me. He looked as though he had once had five heads, but now two of his necks were spraying thick sticky black blood high into the air. I let the demon go. Was Rancor here? Devil clashed with devil. The sky was fouled with fighting creatures. Many fell to the ground. Why were they fighting? Already there were many dead, but there were no damned souls to be seen. They had all died during the siege on Defile. Every last tortured soul dead. There would always be more. Man has never disappointed Me. /Rancor/ ?Father? I got a feeling for where he was, and headed in that direction. It was the direction of the light that lit this demon and devil war. I was not stopped. Not one creature ever interfered with My way. They were

too busy killing each other to even consider Me. I would have seen Rancor earlier if I had thought that he too would have chosen the air to battle in. He was hovering about twelve feet above where every other land creature fought. All the beasts of the air were allowing Rancor much space. None of those that surrounded him were very close, but every so often Rancor would slay one of these, with an explosion of power, and it would fall to the ground, were it would be ripped apart by its brothers. He had his sword and shield in hand, and he shone like a blazing star. Occasionally an arrow, spear, or colored blast of energy went his direction, but they always missed, fell short, or were absorbed. ?Rancor? /Father He's here I can feel him but I haven't found him yet/ ?Silenthia? /If she's here she's not answering/ I looked around. I could not see Tzz't or Bettacrasnakka. I grabbed a minor demon as it tried to run past. It had the shape of a salamander that walked upright. I changed My shape until I was immense. I then lifted the demon high off the ground. "Do you know Me?" "Yes, Lord!" "Please be smart, tell Me what I want to know. You may yet live. Why are they fighting?" "So many were slain when we attacked Defile that some thought that we would have a better chance at Armageddon. Arguments started. Some tried to dissent, and fighting broke out. It's been going on for years. Then the Shining One came. Please let me live." "Where are Tzz't and Bettacrasnakka?" The demon pointed. I crushed its head like a pulpy fruit. I had made him no promises. Gurgling sounds bubbled from his throat. I dropped him. His body made a dull thud as it hit. I started to where the demon had indicated. I found Tzz't, but Bettacrasnakka was no where to be seen. Not surprising, considering his abilities. I glared at Tzz't. I knew he saw Me, but he seemed unafraid. I was still a giant. I saw no reason to change. Tzz't was going to be Mine. Rancor was right when he had said that I should have killed him quickly. Well, now was the time to correct that. I held up My hand and sent a continuous blast of power at Tzz't. He was shielded. I had thought he would be. I raised My other hand and caused another beam to strike his shield. I sustained both. His shield would slowly wear down. It took will and concentration to keep one up, and he was only a demon. He might be able to protect himself for a thousand years, but when his protection finally failed, I would be there. I did not plan on waiting that long however. /Rancor I have found Tzz't He is shielded/ Rancor chose to come to Me, rather than answering. He dropped from the air and set foot on the ground. His boots immediately began to sink into the stone, as though it were soft clay. Rancor stepped forward. He left behind glowing prints as he walked to Tzz't. I still kept a constant barrage on Tzz't's shield with all My power. I could not feel him weakening, but I was patient. Rancor walked between My two beams. He drew his sword back, and with all his strength he struck the field. It shattered like a stressed egg. Tzz't's eyes widened, more in surprise than in pain, as the blade took him in the heart, and My power hit him full force. Between Rancor and I, we left no trace of Tzz't. It was as if he had never existed. /He's here/ Bettacrasnakka appeared then with Silenthia. I had the feeling that he had been there all the time though. I had not sensed the minor disturbances that signal something shifting. Bettacrasnakka held

Silenthia by her hair with his left hand. With his right he was pressing a dagger into the soft flesh of her throat. Bettacrasnakka still wore Rancor's body and face. "Both of you shift out now, or she dies permanently! This blade can do it!" I altered My perceptions. A jolt of recognition went through Me. He spoke the truth! The knife he held had been created expressly for the use that he threatened to put it to now. There could have been only one way that he could have gotten it. It was not of Hell. It was of Earth. Witch! The bitch! He must have promised her that he would kill Me! She had better hope that he did. /Rancor he is right We must shift/ I reached down, and placed My large hand on Rancor's shoulder. The metal armor seared My flesh, but I did not pull back. I had to take him with Me if we were to defeat Bettacrasnakka. Spinning. Falling. A sensation of speed and--snap! Rancor and I came into existence right behind Bettacrasnakka. If he was shielded, then this would not work at all, and Silenthia would die a horrible death. I only hoped that he would leave himself open. I grabbed Bettacrasnakka's wrist, the one holding the devil slaying knife. He turned in shock. He had not protected himself. Rancor seized the opportunity to cut Bettacrasnakka's arm from his shoulder. He stepped back in horror. Rancor swung his blade into his creation. The sword sliced into Bettacrasnakka. It cut through flesh and bone. Bettacrasnakka was almost cleaved in two. Rancor's sword became lodged within the devil's body. Rancor let go of it. "I made you. I am your god," Rancor said. Bettacrasnakka was confused. He had a sword running through him. He was missing an arm, and he knew that he was about to die. I felt him trying to phase out, but Rancor kept him in place with his will. I pulled Bettacrasnakka's knife from the hand that he no longer controlled, and I threw the blade to Rancor. He caught it and buried it in Bettacrasnakka's heart. Bettacrasnakka fell to his knees, then back, dead. Rancor took no time to savor his victory but pulled the dagger and his sword from the corpse. These he wiped clean on Bettacrasnakka's robe. He then sheathed the sword in its customary place. The dagger he replaced his own with. He dropped his usual powerless mundane blade. "Remember son, daggers cut both ways." /Yes Father/ Rancor pulled Silenthia's cloak from his shield. I did not know how the cloth had survived the blast heat that Rancor had emanated, nor did I care. Rancor's rage had subsided. His armor no longer burned, and he no longer melted stone by merely touching it. Silenthia had stood by obediently. I was well pleased with her. She had always done that which was expected of her. She and My son embraced. I took the form of the Dragon. I gently picked the kissing couple up, and placed them on the flat shelf-like ridge behind My eyes. In slow lazy circles I rose to the sky. The fighting still had not stopped. There had been many surprises in Hell lately. I did not like surprises. "/Cease your quarreling, or I shall slay you all! So say I, Lord of all Hell!/" I both projected this and yelled it with Dragon scream. Half of the combatants fell to their knees in fear or respect. I did not stay to see if the rest obeyed. I knew that they would. Instead, I turned, and flew to Defile. Punishment Due

I sat, on My Throne, in My favored shape, and stared out at the ruins of Defile. It would take much to restore it to its former shape. I did not know if it would be worth while. Or if I even would. If the end was truly coming, did it even matter? I thought of heaven. This was not the first time that I had done so since the Casting out. I often thought of regaining My position of honor. But now I was thinking of all that heaven meant. Heaven: Peace. Comfort and God. Rapture and bliss. All the answers to all the questions, both known and unknown. Love. Light. The blessing of God. Everything that I had given up. Everything that I could not escape. I summoned a flawless crystal, and stared within it. Images swirled and collided. I picked the one that I wanted and brought it into focus. I willed sound to project from the crystal. "Much time has passed since you were to be punished." "Rancor--" "You will address me as master. Is this understood?" "Yes, master." "Take off your clothes. All of them." "Yes, master." I watched through the crystal as she did so. He must have been giving her silent commands also, because without being told to Silenthia turned, and placed her hands behind her head. She interlaced her fingers. Rancor came up behind her with two lengths of black cloth. He blindfolded her with one and bound her wrists, at the back of her neck, with the other. "Now, get on your knees." Silenthia obeyed. Rancor too dropped to his knees. He then kissed her shoulder, and I heard her gasp as he, with his hand, reached around and opened her like a flower. He ran his other hand over her breasts. These her softly caressed. A fitting punishment. Yes, a most fitting punishment indeed. There are some things that a Father should not watch his son do. I shattered the orb. The Afterlife Almost immediately after I shattered the crystal orb I detected the fact that My son had deceived Me, or at least he thought he had. He went to Earth, but no one leaves Hell without My permission. Occasionally something slips in undetected, but never does anything or anyone leave unnoticed. This way no soul can escape My wrath. There can be no hope in My domain. I let My son depart. It would be interesting to see what he had planned. I could always stop him later if I so chose. Seconds after Rancor found himself on the planet of his conception and birth a certain soul unwillingly entered Hell. So, this was his plan? Revenge. I enacted a pulling, so that this soul would come to me. She was as I had made her. Painfully beautiful. I was unmoved. "Witch, you failed Me, but I am most merciful," I lied. It is an occasional failing of Mine. "Name your own punishment. I would advise you to be creative. Eternity is a long time to spend experiencing one sensation." "My Lord," she wailed. Usually when a soul comes to Hell that is all that happens to it. Hell is an evil enough torture, what with all the sadistic devils, demons, and powerful damned souls, and the infinite reflections of My mind, but

every now and then there is a certain soul that I want dearly, and when it arrives I cause it to appear before Me to be personally administered to. This one would be exquisite. I could still remember being denied Stryke's soul. I would make up for that with this one. I had granted her immortality, and if she had kept faith with Me then I would have no choice but to return her to life. She had not done so though. Once she had given the knife, meant for My destruction, to Bettacrasnakka, she had forfeited any claim to life eternal. I had her now, and I would enjoy Myself. "What is it to be, Witch?" "My Lord," sobbing mumble this time. This would indeed be satisfying. "Allow Me to help you. I will give you three choices, and allow you to chose between them. I will even go so far as to make one so light as to hardly be considered painful. What do you think of that? No, do not answer. I do not want to hear another 'My Lord.' I am so tiring of that. "One, I will age you a million years, so that you are little more than dried bone and ash, and everywhere you go there will be an everpresent mirror to reflect your aged countenance back at you. You would be forced to see yourself as your soul really is. "Two, I will cut your pretty head from your shoulders, skin your body, and wear you as a living aware cloak. "Three, you will be able to keep your beauty, but you will be made to pleasure any devil that finds My favor. "Now chose, before I lose My infinite patience." A hopeless breath of air escaped Witch's throat. Tears were pouring from her eyes. She tore open the front of her dress. Yes, I had done well. "The third--give me three. I'll fuck any devil that You command. I'll do anything, but let me stay as I am. Please. I've given up too much to have my looks taken from me. They're all I have left. Please." I stood then, and took on a different shape. Skin was torn by sprouting horn. My size increased. Muscle pushed tightly against flesh. Thick gray hair appeared on My body. Talons grew from My hands and feet. My jaw became elongated, and My teeth changed. Now it was more like I had the maw of a huge canine. I thought of giving Myself a pair of wings, but decided that after a certain point anything that I did would cease to have an effect on Witch. Best to keep it simple. "You have chosen well." I growled from deep within My throat. "Seldom is it that any devil finds My favor, but know that you will be ill used. I had hoped that you would select to be afflicted with this particular agony. I did not want to see a masterpiece of flesh such as you go to waste." When I was finished speaking I set forth a immense blast of flame. This surrounded Witch in a conflagration that incinerated her clothes from her. She screamed in anguish. Witch remained physically whole. It was not My will that she be harmed by this fire. She tried to escape Me. She ran from Me, but to no avail. I continued to torment her with an unbearable blaze that seared her soul. Witch tripped on some of the fallen ruble of Defile, and fell to the stone ground in a tortured pitiful heap. I ceased breathing flame, but I was far from being done with her. She lay as though she had no strength to rise from where she had fallen. Her bare skin shone with wetness. There was no blemish about her. She was perfect in every way. She was how I would have created all of her kind had I been the One to do so. I stepped toward her, and picked her up in one clawed hand. My fingers wrapped around her slender waist. It was not hard for Me to cause her pain. I squeezed until I felt her ribs crack and puncture her lungs. Blood flowed from her mouth. I brought her to My face and with

My long rasping tongue I licked at the warm liquid of her soul. It had a delightful taste, not unlike that of the wine I so enjoyed. I dropped her. She fell to the stones for the second time. One of her legs twisted under her and became positioned in an unnatural angle. It was obviously broken. Witch tried to yell out, but found that she could not draw the breath to do so. "Is it painful? Would you beg for Me to stop? You betrayed Me! Me Who treated you so well. I gave you everything that you asked of Me. Yet you chose to give Mine enemy a device intended to destroy Me. This is intolerable. I was actually threatened in My own domain. You have not yet began to suffer. There is so much more waiting for you. "Perhaps I will eat your eyes, so that you will be blind to that which causes you pain. You would then feel the hurt, but not know what caused it. Come to Me! Do as I command." Witch crawled to Me, dragging her broken leg behind her like a lame animal. I cupped her fragile chin--it was wet with her sorrow and regret-- in My hand, and lifted her to her feet. I glared at her. She wanted to cower from Me, but this was not possible. I gripped her head in My jaws, and bit through the hard bones of her skull with a crunch. Soft brain tissue gushed into My mouth. I took another bite, then spit out all that had found its way into My mouth. Bone chips, blood, and gray matter hit the floor with a juicy sound. Witch became limp, but I did not let go of her. Witch was now as all the souls that had thought to storm Defile. She was helpless, unable to move or even whimper. I started to laugh. "So, My precious one, would you say something? Would you beg My forgiveness? How does it feel to be aware, but to be unable to express your existence? Do you feel remorse? So many questions, and you are unable to answer. It is such a tragedy that you cannot speak. I so much want to know why you chose to aid Bettacrasnakka." While still holding her chin I placed one of My talons to the base of her throat. I pushed. It parted her skin. I slid My talon down to her navel, opening her. Blood and intestines splashed forward about her feet. "You are trying My creative powers. I am running out of things to do to you. What do you suggest? What? I cannot hear you. Too bad you cannot talk." I looked Witch in the eyes. There was still the horrid light of intelligence there. She knew what was happening to her. She could feel every delight that I chose to visit upon her. "You were such a painful beauty. Men would have fought wars for you. Did you ever grace them with your gifts? No, I can see that you were much too much arrogant for such trysts. Do not worry, I have made My promise. You will slowly heal and shine as you did when you came here. I will then amuse Myself once again. " I motioned to the floor, and a thin pillar of stone rose up out of it. I placed Witch's wrists against the cold surface of the stone. Her hands became encased in the rock. Let her hang until I invented some other amusements. For now I was bored with her. The Rebuilding I left Witch hanging from her stone bindings, and left Defile. I wanted to walk through My Domain to see if Hell was worth rebuilding. I had not yet decided if I wanted to restore all the damned souls to the semblance of life that they had come to know here. Things had changed, and they were not yet done doing so. I set forth upon the plane of desolation and destruction. There

was nothing but small craters for miles around Defile. I think I traveled for days before I found even one soul. I picked him up by his neck. The soul had a hole where his heart would have been, and I could see right through his chest. Had something eaten his heart, or had one of My or Rancor's creations done this? He could have just as easily been killed by a flaming stone. This soul knew that it was being held. It knew that all hope was gone, and this was how it would remain until Armageddon. I caused a spring of clear water to come into existence. The waters of it bubbled forth and flowed out onto the plain, and I let it do so until it became a circle large enough to throw the soul into. This I did, but not to destroy it. This was not what I intended. The waters continued to bubble as if they had never been disturbed. I reached within the spring, and withdrew the soul. It was whole, and no longer unmoving. It looked at Me with fear. I still held the shape that I had when I played with Witch. The soul did not struggle. It was as if it knew that it was powerless before My might. There was absolutely nothing it could have done to cause Me harm. I was immune from anything as pitiful as this. I concentrated for a moment and drew what I wanted into My mind. "You are Caine, are you not, son of Adam, most cursed of all God's creations? Is this not you?" "Yes, My Lord." "Do you have anything you wish to say to Me?" "Yes, My Lord. "Then do so." "This is Hell. I know that. I'd long given up on heaven. It was denied to me long ago. I grew to no longer even want it. I had even started to give up hope of finding myself here. I did not think that it was possible for me to die, and I wanted so badly to do so. God had proclaimed that no one would be able to kill me without being damned worse than I, and no punishment could be worse than mine. I could not be accepted by anyone. I could not know a woman, in any way, other than the mad couplings that drove me further into insanity. I could not prosper. I was forced to wander without knowing where I was going or where I had come from." His voice began to take on a monotonous tone, as if he had prepared this speech thousands of years before and had practiced it over and over again. I was not interested in anything he had to say, but I listened anyway on the chance that a soul that had been damned by God would have something original on his mind. He fell to the ground and groveled before Me. I was unimpressed with his shame. It was nothing. What was his suffering compared to Mine? He had never known anything but torture, while I had lived within the Kingdom of God. What of Me? I felt no pity for Caine. I even considered amusing Myself with him as I had Witch, but decided against it, for it would serve no purpose. Caine was sobbing into the cold stone ground, searching for what comfort he could find. "I offer you a deal. It is far better than you deserve. I do this only because I am weary, and there is much to be done if I am to restore My domain." Caine was in such an agitated state that I could read his thoughts without trying to. It was as if he was projecting them to Me. I started to laugh. Caine was more original than I had expected. Here he was in Hell for eternity, and he was wondering if he had any choice in any deal that I proposed. He was also wondering what he could get out of Me. Caine cringed from My mirth. This, too, I found humor in. "Caine, poor pitiful Caine, with every deal there is a choice, I would have it no other way. I offer you a promise that you will go unmolested as long as you perform a job for Me. You must do it well, or

you will face My displeasure. It is My desire that Hell once again regain its glory. I wish for it to be a place of refuge for those that find the light just a little too bright. To this end you will gather up slain souls and bring them here, to the fountain, where you will bring water into their mouths, so that they too will know some semblance of life again. You will then charge them with the same mission, but as where you are to insure that all souls are brought here, any you bring that are brought are required to do the same to only one other. Is this understood?" "How shall I cause the souls to listen to me? Why will they obey?" "Tell any who question that if they do not bring another to this well, then its effects will wear off, and they will again find themselves painfully aware of their state as they slowly decay into nothing. They will listen." "You said I had a choice?" I cruelly reached into his mind, and drew forth that which Caine feared most. I was not careful as I did so. I violated his thoughts, and showed him a vision of himself searching, and never knowing what he was searching for. He would be lost, and never encounter another soul. The vision even tortured him with the possibility that he would be overlooked after the final conflict. He would then be doomed to never have any hope of release. The loss of hope would be too much for him to bear. He would go insane, and there would be no release in insanity. This I showed him. He screamed. "Do you understand?" I asked. "I'll do anything. Please, I'll do anything. I don't want to be alone. I only want someone to love me. Is this too much to ask for? Everything I've ever done I've done for love. I raised my hand up, and struck my brother for the love of God. I--" "Never speak of God again. You have given up any claim to his grace. You are Mine now. Do not forget it. You are forevermore My slave and servant. Do not seek to displease Me. Now go, do as I command. It is My will." I sat on My throne and looked out at the ruin that had once been Defile. I felt nothing, and I was bothered by this. Everything demolished, except the tower of magic, and My stone throne. The tower had protected this from devastation. It was all that had survived. I was unmoved. The rubble meant nothing to Me. Had I ever been proud of Defile? Did it once inspire Me with awe? I could not remember. I was contemplating if Defile was worth rebuilding. Did I want to exert the effort, or was it time for a change? I felt a shimmer in the fabric of reality that defined Hell. This was strange and had never happened before. I reached out with my will and softly pushed against this anomaly. I explored it, probing and testing, trying to decide how it had come into existence. I did not like this. I decided to destroy it. I sent a crushing wave at it. It held. It should not have. What was it? My will was absolute in this domain. It should have collapsed to nothingness. I became the Dragon, and took flight to the unnatural sphere surrounding Hell. It appeared as a pink cast swirling wall. I exhaled a blazing conflagration with the intent of burning through it. A hole started to appear, so I intensified My efforts. I sent another wave of pure will at this shield wall. The hole enlarged a little. /I cannot allow that Father/ ?Rancor what is it that you are doing? /What must be done Fate Father/ The hole I had created crashed. My son sought to confine Me. The idea of anyone defying Me, without suffering instant retribution, was so alien to Me that I was

uncertain how to react. Defiance to Satan always met the same fate. Death. This was one of the primal laws that governed My domain. At first I stormed against his shield, but it was useless. I was effectively imprisoned in My own domain. I was far from powerless though. I could not allow this. I did not mind when Rancor fled Hell, but when he erected his shield, keeping Me held here, it became intolerable. I still had minions to do my bidding. I clenched My mind like a fist, thrust out, and searched for what I needed. I pushed against the shield as hard as I could. I needed little.. A minuscule puncture, as if though a needle were tearing the membrane of an egg, was all. This appeared. I was able to slip some nominal part of my power through this hole. I opened my mind, and presently I had contact. When one thinks of a succubus--if one does--an exquisitely built female is imagined. In all aspects she is perfection, but usually when depicted in stories or pictures something gives away the creatures demonic nature. Nothing could be further from the truth. The depraved individual that would sexually interact with a succubus that had horns, wings, fangs, and such, would already be Mine for the taking. I would need no succubi. The purpose for the succubi is to lure men into damning themselves by giving up everything for tender ministrations that only demons are capable of. A wretched thing of ugliness cannot serve this purpose. My most successful succubi look like young poor innocent lost street rabble. They are inevitably "picked up" by some would be savior of humanity. At first the succubus expresses a need for comfort, and when such is given the candy-mouthed delight shows gratitude the good Samaritan could only refuse with regret. Refusals seldom happen, but even they serve My need. Guilt is great for sin. A man who finds himself in the embrace of a succubus is doomed. At first he feels that he has finally found all that he was looking for in his life. He becomes truly happy. After a certain point there is nothing he will not do for his loving succubus. At this time it only takes a slight suggestion or two to cause him to become Mine. A "You would get the same pleasure from your daughter. Try it," or "Your wife is trying to come between us. Kill her," is all it usually takes, and works rather well. Once a man has completely given himself over to Me the succubus kills him, then goes hunting for new prey. A sin in thought works as well as the deed. One only has to decide to commit evil in order to be Mine. The act of damnation is usually allowed to be completed though. I enjoy it more when the fall is complete. It is detestable when a soul in My domain feels that it is there by some God-awful mistake--some damn trick. I want every soul in Hell to know that it gave itself over to Me willingly. The despair is absolute this way, with no hope of hope. It was such a creature that I now called upon. Thoughts of refusal did not enter her mind. She was incapable of anything but complete obedience to Me. ?Absinthe? /Yes, My Lord/ /Allow Me to see through your eyes/ Instantly a dark room came into view. Absinthe was in the process of seduction, as was her lot. The mortal was not the typical mortal that fell for the promises of bliss that Absinthe offered. He was young, and looked too pure for Absinthe to get a corrupting hold. ?My Lord? /Finish I will wait/ She responded with silence, then stepped forward and kissed the male mortal. He returned the kiss, and his body responded predictably.

He stiffened against the succubus. She noticed this with a professional detached expectancy. She had done this a million times, and she would do it a million more. It was always the same. Both she and the mortal were fully clothed. Absinthe rubbed her crotch against him. Her touch, and the heat of friction caused him to draw in a sudden gasp of air. "Here, put this on," Absinthe said, as she gave the mortal a condom. "Do I have to?" She stepped away from him, and undid the front of her tight pants. "Only if you want this," she said, as she fingered herself. Her fingers came away wet. She reached out, and touched the mortal's lips, dampening them. It was a hint of what would come. "I'll--I'll do it--wear it I mean." He ripped open the plastic package, undid his pants, then put the condom to the end of his penis. His breathing increased as he rolled the rubber condom down over his erection. I wondered what Absinthe was doing. It was not possible for her to become pregnant by a mortal, nor could she become infected by any venereal disease. The condom was unnecessary. I saw a strange look on the man's face then, and I realized that it was embarrassment. He thought that this act of contraception was foolish. To add the final touch of utter humiliation Absinthe lightly touched his mind, and with a whisper caused him to prematurely ejaculate. He looked on in horror while in spasms semen filled the condom, and blood began to drain from his engorged penis. No pleasure. No paradise. Absinthe pushed him back until he lay on the floor of the blackened room of his damnation. She straddled him "Don't worry. I'm sure we can make it hard again." She caressed the muscles under his thin hairless chest. Her fingers kneaded his flesh. She pinched one of his nipples mercilessly with her long razor fingernails.. The man winced as Absinthe's nails drew blood. I grew impatient. I could wait no longer. She would have to let this one go free. I had need of her. /Absinthe, you are done here This one will have to be saved for another day I require your services/ /Yes My Lord/ I could detect a reluctance in her, even though I knew she would not hesitate to serve Me in any capacity that I commanded. Of this reluctance I was curious. ?Absinthe what is it that you would do? /Master my work here is done Only one thing remains/ /Do it/ The mortal's eyes were closed, so he did not see as Absinthe caused her hand to become insubstantial and enter his chest. She surrounded his heart, and once again made her hand real as she delivered him to death with an irresistible grip. He did not scream, or even look surprised. He only closed his eyes and died. ?You have slain him before he was fully ready have you not? /He was completely Yours Master/ ?I know but what memory will haunt him for eternity? /That he couldn't hold himself back long enough to claim me He was Yours before I ever came into his pathetic life I only made his misery complete/ /You have done well, but now I have another use for you/ I explained what I had planned for her. She nodded once in acknowledgment of my commands. I hoped that she would be able to succeed, even though I doubted that she would. Rancor was too strong. She could not hope to distract him long enough for Me to come through his shield physically, but she could try. Nor was she My only hope. I

had other minions I let My concentration fuzz into a haze of white noise. I was not yet through. After a brief moment of searching I found the other that I wanted. /Discord, I have use of you/ I explained My needs. /I will try/ I broke contact, and started to reach out for yet another minion. The more I could send after my son the greater the chance of his concentration slipping, and Me getting through. I expanded My awareness, searching, but something grabbed My thoughts then, and was forcing them back at Me. /Rancor/ /The game is set Father I only play as planned I must do my part You must do Yours but it would be better if You did not try to stop me/ A twist, and I collapsed exhausted. I knew that I would be unable to again reach any of My servants. Doubts I had set things in motion. Hell would begin to restore itself. I thought of rebuilding Defile, but decided I had more enjoyable pursuits with which to occupy Myself. Witch was still held firmly in place. I stood in front of her, and tried to see if I could detect any healing. There was none. This would not do. I made an arcane gesture with My hands, and instantly all her wounds were closed. She raised her head, and looked Me in the eyes. Her face held no fear. "I have come to take away your memory I believe. Do not worry, it will not hurt. You will still have your beauty. You will have no past, nor future. You will only live in the few seconds that are the present. Each pain I present to you will be a new torture, even if I visit upon you a thousand times." "Please!" "Please what? Would you have Me show mercy? I am in the mood for a change. Tell Me, what delight shall I visit on you instead?" "Please!" "I grow weary of your whining. I feel like screams. Scream for Me. Scream!" She filled her lungs, and let out a yell that seemed to be genuine anguish, but her heart was not in it. I decided to help her overcome her inhibitions. I caused a clay vase to come into existence above her fair head. The container was filled with a bubbling liquid. This ate through the vase until a dripping hole appeared in it. An acid like liquid dribbled forth onto Witch's face and chest. It seemed as if her flesh was turned into melting wax. I had promised Witch her beauty, so I would have to return her to the inspiration of poets. I had thought that the liquid would bring Witch's discomfort to an increased level of pain. She did continue to scream, but it was the same. Torture only works to a certain extent. A victim becomes conditioned to it. I could do as I said and remove her memory, making each torture as the first, but this was an empty threat. It was something that I would not do. I would become too quickly bored. I enjoy creativity. Just then the air besides Witch shimmered for a short moment, and a young man stepped forward. He looked at Me. I was wearing My most favored form. I did not look threatening, though I extruded power. "Where am I?"

"Hell," I said simply with a yawn. "Oh." "Oh? This does not impress you? "Not really." I realized then that I still had a pulling for every new soul. I decided that I would quickly become weary of this if I left it functioning. I am not a welcoming greeter. It is so much more effective for a soul to wander in Hell for a few centuries before meeting Me. With a negligent thought I made it so that all other new arrivals would appear randomly throughout My infinite domain. I did not want any more unannounced visitors. "And why, pray tell, are you not impressed?" I said with the inflection of an English gentleman. It was a habit I sometimes fell into. "I've lived in Hell my whole life. I've never had anything. I'm ready for this. What can Satan do to me? He can't take anything from me. I have nothing." He did not understand the nature of this place, nor did he recognize who I truly was. I knew him though. He was the mortal that Absinthe had slain. "Mortal, turn around and look upon one small punishment for sin." He did as I commanded. He looked to Witch who was still trying to scream, but her throat was ripped open and exposed. No sound came forth. The mortal that Absinthe had sent Me started to laugh. Tears ran down his face, his chin quivered, and the tears dripped to the floor. He looked as if he were trying to compose himself to speak, but was failing miserably. "What is it that amuses you so?" "I can take that," he said in all seriousness, not as a man trying to convince himself that it was true. Witch looked pretty horrid by now. Her face was gone, her breasts were dissolved to barely discernible lumps, and one of her arms had become completely disconnected and hung from the stone in which it was encased. The vat still dripped. That was its nature. It would be forever overflowing until I willed it to cease. It had by now stopped its deterioration. The liquid corrosive now flowed onto Witch's back. Soon she would be nothing other than two hanging arms and a living liquid puddle. The mortal turned back to Me. "How are you punished?" he asked, his voice lacking any of the proper respect. "I do not think you understand. I am He Who Punishes. I am not punished, unless My very existence qualifies." "Oh, You're Him." "Forever unimpressed?" "Pretty much." I changed aspects. My nostrils flared, My fingers elongated, grew venom tipped claws, and I became of a colossal size. Needle sharp horns sprouted from My skull. My eyes became of flame. I growled. The mortal took a step back in dread, but then an image of a woman came into his mind. I recognized her instantly. It was not Absinthe as I had expected. This was not the memory to haunt him. Crime. I saw everything he knew about her, and the whole story of his involvement with her. I felt his failure as his mistress burned to ash in the fuel fed fire of a flaming car. Then realization hit Me. Crime being engulfed in a blazing inferno of burning gas. I immediately tried to shift, but of course this did not succeed. I was trapped. I cursed My son then. I cast out My mind thinking of her. Driven. Dark. Deadly. Dead? I banished this last thought, and tried again. I had to make contact! Compact. Confident.

Soft. Sharp. Smart. Open your mind to Me Crime. Open! I focused on Hell. No, she was not here. Either she was in heaven, and if she was I would again storm it to get her back (I had already lost too much) or she yet lived. I had to know. Passionate. Quick. Silent. ?Yes? ?Crime how are you? /I'm fine/ I let the images of her burning pass through the link. I could feel her confusion and her anger. This was pain that she wanted to forget. ?Did You have anything to do with that? /Of course not/ For a moment I thought her anger was aimed at Me, but then I realized that she was the object. She was mad at herself for allowing such an attack to succeed. ?I meant was it You who saved me? /No/ /Then it was the coin/ This was something I had not known. Crime now possessed the coin. With it she had a chance to defeat Rancor. She could not die. Rancor would be loathe to cause his mother harm, but I was not sure how far he would go to meet fate. /Satan--/ /No Crime I need what time there is left with this link I cannot explain but Rancor intends to destroy all of creation This must not happen You have to find him and stop him Do this Crime Do this for Me/ I severed the link. It had exhausted Me to hold it open. I reverted to my usual form, and I staggered forward. I might have actually fallen, but then I saw the mortal that I now knew to be named Tony Bennet. I would not show weakness in front of this mortal. "Tony Bennet, you say you can endure anything I give you. This may be true, but know this, that by failing Crime, you have failed Me! I renounce you and any claim I have on you. You are not welcome in the lands of Hell. Now go from Me, and abide where you will." His eyes widened as he realized that I knew who he was, but then a smug look came about him when he thought it could not matter. Tony flashed and was no more. I knew that he was too tainted for God to accept. He would forever be alone. He had thought that I had lessened his punishment, but without Hell he could never purge himself. He would become as a ghost, but one that could be observed by none. I thought then again of Crime. I did not know if she would be able to do as I wished, or even if she would want to. From the beginning I felt in Crime a need to strike back--to kill--to destroy. Would she be loyal to Me, or would she be as all others, and betray Me? Betrayal. Stryke. Bettacrasnakka leading the devils in rebellion. My son. Enough! How many more can fail Me? Silenthia had remained with Me during the rebellion, but with a word from Rancor she would have tried to slay Me. Crime I no longer had a claim on. I had given her up to Spirit. Who was left? Discord and Nemesis? Discord had served Me in the past, but I knew his future. It was painfully obvious for any that cared to look. Nemesis, he was meant for a certain task from the beginning of time. He would serve Me, but only when it was in his favor. Was there no one that would be Mine? I expanded My awareness until I was pushing against the shield with My mind, testing the shield's power. I could not break it. I knew this. I had already tried and failed. I had manufactured the very Talisman that now held Me prisoner. I knew the Talisman well, and what it was capable of. I could only hope that one on My minions would

succeed. I pushed with all My will, feeling for any weakness, even though I knew there would be none. I was not ready to give up. I monitored the shield instead, waiting for Rancor to drop his guard. Other than an occasional fluctuation there had been nothing since I had first attacked it. I maintained My watch as long as I could, but My strength became overdrawn, and I wavered in weakness. Establishing contact with Crime had cost Me much more than I had thought it would. Not caring who saw, I staggered to My knees. I could not stand. I closed My eyes and lay flat on the ruined stone floor of Defile. The stone was cold and uncaring. Everything was so very cold. I slept. I woke sometime later and tried to remember why there were two arms hanging from stone in front of Me. I remembered. Witch! The acid cask still dripped its corrosive contents onto what was left of Witch, nothing more than her arms, a few ribs, and a mostly deteriorated skull. "Come Witch, say something to amuse your Lord," I said, even though an answer was not possible. I pointed My finger at the vat of bubbling liquid, and spoke a word to focus My will. The vat violently exploded, showering a fine deadly mist into the air. My skin became wet with the liquid, and even My flesh began to flow. I neutralized the liquid with a quick thought, then returned Myself to my most favored shape. I considered returning Witch to her past glory, but decided instead to let her recover on her own. I was not sure if My energy was yet fully recovered. She would heal. It would probably take a few million years, but she would again be the beauty that men would kill to posses for even an hour. I had promised Witch I would not take her exquisite beauty. I always kept My promises, even though not all do Me the same service. I entered the base of the tower that was all that remained of Defile, My once proud castle. I looked up the endless winding steps, and let out a weary sigh. I did not relish the idea of making an assent upon these stairs. I had little other choice. There is only one way to start anything, and that is to begin. I took my first step, then another. I dropped My head to look upon the stones on which My feet moved. I climbed yet one more stair. I had to force Myself to remain calm. I hated this. I wanted to break into a run, and conquer the tower in a few short moments. If I gave into this urge I feared that the tower might seek to thwart and humble Me by insuring that My climb took longer than I could afford. I kept a slow continuous pace, My head lowered almost as if I were a petitioner come to ask forgiveness for some heinous sin. I composed My mind and prepared Myself to spend years climbing this tower if need be. I suppressed all anxieties. I became the calm that I had sought. There could be no way for the tower to break My will. I would climb, and continue to do so until I reached My goal The door. Plain, wooden, nothing to make it stand out. Bound by iron, and held by nails. When I came upon it I knew it was real. I could see rough grain , and with a slight shift of perception I could even make out all that made up the door. Every plank, splinter, fiber, and atom. I pushed open the portal and stepped through. There was, as I knew there would be, only one window. This I went to. I saw My domain broken and dead. I had expected this. My land had suffered through a war of terrible magnitude. What I did not expect was to see movement. I enlarged the view the window presented. This was yet another effect of the tower's power. I brought the movement into focus until I could see exactly what it was. Each soul held a burning candle in one hand and the other was

cupped holding a shining liquid that appeared to be oil or water. I sensed no malevolence from these souls, only a gratitude for the restoration I had granted. I turned away from the window, and what it showed. I did not need if for what I intended. I cast out My awareness. I did not plan for Rancor to leave Hell. I had thought that he would be bound to Me through loyalty to his Sire or through Silenthia. I did not want to keep him from acting as was foreordained. I only wanted to play a part in his destiny and I wanted to determine when the time was right to do so. I submerged My consciousness with the shield. It was no simple thing to attune One's mind so that it encompassed all of infinity, but with the tower's help I was able to do so. The tower would aid Me by allowing me to do this for as long as it took for any of My minions to distract Rancor. I had been thwarted too often. I would have My part in this! I would be through instantly if Crime, Absinthe, or Discord, were able to succeed.

Behold the Antichrist

THE WAY TO SALVATION "Spare the goats and spoil the lambs!" Screamed the Farm Man, "It's raining fireballs and boulders and radioactive debris" "Run for your lives and kill your wives," Cried the Preacher, "It's the end of the Christian Era" "You'll never make it; no need to fake it," Giggled the Anti-Christ, "Just put on an Otis Redding record and start the Dance" "Open up the windows and let the fresh air out!" Said the television to the shackled children, "This is the Way to Salvation" c 1991 Misc. Missal Music, BMI. All Rights Reserved. Used without permission.

The Dying Ritual Part 4 Behold the Antichrist

Sublime Punishment Sweet Revenge Toad Legion False Prophets The Succubus Dear Mother

Damnation Night To be Forgotten The Bride Loki Mercy The End of It All

Sublime Punishment We finished satiating our lusts. Silenthia had remained blindfolded and bound throughout. I asked her to stand, and it was so. I asked her to raise her hands above her head. This too became as I wanted. The room that we inhabited was in a cavern deep below Defile. I had prepared this room for this occasion. I had placed a chain through a fastening in the roof. On one end of the chain was an iron hook, on the other was a winch system whereby the chain could be raised or lowered. I'd known what I wanted to do here from the time that I rescued Silenthia from Bettacrasnakka. I placed the hook so that it held her wrist fastenings, and I caused the winch to tightly pull her arms above her pretty head. This made her breasts stick forth in a manner that was pleasing to me. She was actually held a little off the floor. I searched her mind, but I detected no pain. I did not want to hurt her. Silenthia's skin still glistened with sweat from our lovemaking. She moved her head from side to side slowly, like she was trying to memorize her surroundings, but she could not see. The black cloth about her eyes prevented this. I admired her as I put on my armor piece by piece. She had chosen her shape well. I pulled on my right gauntlet. I wanted to take her again, but I had destiny to confront, and I felt I had better be about it soon. I drew tight a shoulder clasp. The world would shudder. I slid the last buckle into place, and was dressed in my full plate armor. I could have just shifted it onto my body, but I received satisfaction from doing it the way I had. I looked at the visor of my helmet. It was crafted to look exactly like me. My image reflected onto the visor, and I had the feeling that I held my own severed head. This filled me with foreboding as I thought it might be some kind of sign. I brushed this feeling aside. I already had enough black prophesies to fulfill. I put my helmet upon my shoulders. "You will remain suspended there for a day. You may then free yourself. Do not make contact, or accept contact, with anyone, most of all my Father. Do you understand?" "Yes, master." "Then consider yourself punished." This would hopefully give me an hour or so on the Earth, before my Father found out that I was gone, if He didn't already know that I was leaving. I had much I wanted to accomplish before I had to confront Him. I had to keep my Father from being able to leave Hell without my bidding. I had a plan. I only wondered if I would be able to implement it before He sought to stop me. I had something that I had to do before I could deal with destiny. There was a crime that could not go unpunished. Witch would pay, and pay dearly. The sensations that were never the same surrounded me, tried to crush me, and found that this was impossible. They pulled me apart instead, and put me back together in the place of my destination.

I had shifted to Earth. Sweet Revenge I came into existence as part of the night from nowhere, stepped forward, and said, "I've come for you." She stepped back in dread panic. I could see her thoughts. She believed me to be my Father, so I took His appearance, but in illusion only. "My Lord, I beg of You, be merciful. Forgive me," she said, confirming her guilt. I decided to remain silent. I hadn't come here to say anything to her. She had almost cost me one I cared for. I drew the knife that had been meant for my Father, threatened Silenthia, and killed Bettacrasnakka. Witch cowered from me. I decided to slay her quickly. She had no heart, so let her have no heart I decided. By a slight exercise of will I caused the muscle that pumped her unnaturally prolonged life to be no more. She collapsed. Let my Father take her damned soul. She tried to draw breath, but was unable. Her eyes seemed to beg me, "Allow me life," they cried as tears slid from them. She was a sight to implore pity, but I felt none. Witch held out her hand. I only watched as her life ended. No look of peace came about her face. Her corpse held, tightly clenched, in her hand an Item. I pried it from her dead grasp. I knew all that this was meant to be used for. The Item held the shape of a pentagram on a fine chain of some tarnished metal or another. It was made to summon, but that was not what I intended for it. I concentrated on the Item, channeling power through it. I enacted a powerful block that Satan could not break through. It would work to hold him prisoner in His own Hell. As long as I didn't become too distracted I would be able to keep it in effect. I didn't want my Father interrupting my destiny. I put the Item around my neck. Instantly He attacked! The shield held, but he hit it again seconds later. I felt it becoming rent. I summoned more of my will and pushed back at my Father. I detected a small tear in the shield. It wasn't large enough for Him to get through, but this too I could not allow. I spoke to Satan, through this hole, trying to make Him understand why I was doing this. I did not think He understood. I closed the hole He had created. With a thrust of defiance I made it whole again. The corpse at my feet was still dead. I hadn't expected it to be otherwise. Witch had been afraid of aging. She hadn't wanted her beauty marred. Now she was dead. There was no reason for her to have made any deal with Bettacrasnakka. She had been granted eternal youth and a perfect body. I did not feel sorry for her. I hoped that she was raped by every demon of Hell. She deserved so much. I didn't think that I would ever understand her motives behind providing such a dagger to my worst enemy. "So, you killed her, Rancor?" I hadn't expected anyone to call out my name. I had thought Witch and I were alone. I turned toward the voice, but there was no one there. I knew I hadn't imagined it. The voice was too clear--too distinct-for it to not have been real. "I guess it could be expected. I told her that someone would if she did as she had planned, but she wouldn't listen." "Who's there? Answer me." "Oh, sorry. I forget sometimes." A man blinked into my perceptions then. It appeared that he could

see me, though he was not visible unless he allowed it. I didn't really know what to think about this, but I knew that I didn't like it. I looked at the individual that had spoken. He was an older male, looking about 50, weak, and dead gray. I could tell that he was no mortal though. He had too much vitality to be mortal. It was in his eyes. They were an intense blue that seemed to not reflect the light. I reached into his mind, and a sharp sensation exploded in my own. I reeled back distraught and distracted. My illusion fell, and I no longer held my Father's form. I could feel the barrier around Hell start to crumble. I quickly reinforced this with all the energy I could channel, putting me at this being's mercy. "My name is Discord, and my thoughts are my own." "You're a servant of my Father's," I said trying to stall for enough time to restore the shield. By saying this I revealed that I knew who he was, but I also revealed who I was. Discord was the servant of only one Being, that being my Father. Silenthia had made it a point to teach me everything that I might need to fulfill my destiny. I could recognize any servant of Satan's. I knew who Discord was, but I knew very little about him. "Servant? Yes, sometimes. Your Father--my Master--demands that you lower your shield from around His domain." "I hadn't expected Him to react so quickly." He had attacked as soon as he realized that revenge was not my only motive. "The shield will come down in due time, but as to now, tell me how were you able to pass through? I had thought that it was not possible." I could not have others coming. "I was already here. I am a servant, but I do not serve in Hell. I do not feel that I would like it there. Now, I must ask you again, lower the barrier, or I will insure that you do." I couldn't do as he asked. I didn't know if my Father would allow me to confront God. If Satan had really wanted to challenge God, then wouldn't He have already? He always spoke of when He would "rise up again," and take what was rightfully His, but this seemed to have become only a ritual to Him, a monotonous daily litany to chant. Satan had to feed His hate. What purpose would His existence have if He did not? My Father probably no longer even desired revenge against God. The barrier would have to be maintained. "I will kill you before I allow Satan freedom." "Rancor, if you know me, then you know that cannot happen, but I can see that you only know of me. Then, I will tell you this. When my brother Cord and I were angels above, and the Devil was cast from the presence of God, I chose to go with Satanel, as He was called at that time. My brother was distraught by this and begged God to allow him to try and redeem me. God granted his wish." He occasionally made dramatic little gestures with his hands. It was almost as if he had something to say with them also. "'But what if he is to die before I am able to convince him to repent?' my brother asked God. God spoke to my brother, saying, 'Discord will outlive Cord, so that Cord shall have all his days to reclaim his lost brother,' but I did not yet know this. My brother devoted his whole existence to bringing me back into the fold. To taunt Cord I told him that all he had to do was defeat me in a physical contest, and I would ask forgiveness. So now, whenever we meet we fight. The winner of these matches can then give the loser one command which he has to obey. Cord will command me to repent if he ever wins. I have never lost. "It hurts my brother to have to raise a hand against me. He never fights to his ability. The first time we fought, I won, and I almost commanded him to perish, but then I read all his hopes for me in his mind, and I came to understand that I could not be destroyed as long as he lived. This is why you cannot hope to defeat me."

I said simply, "I do not play by the rules of God. Come, I will try to be quick about this. No sense making your death long." I opened my hand and hit him with a blast of blazing whiteness. I wasn't able to strike him with as much power as I wanted. I still had the barrier to maintain. The beam struck Discord, and enveloped him in burning brightness. I was unable to see him for moments, but then my eyes adjusted, and he again came into view. He was unharmed, and laughing. He held up his hand, made little movements with it, and disappeared. At first I thought that he had left, but then I felt a blow to the back of my head. I staggered forward, but I did not fall, nor was I hurt in any way. I spun, and with all my strength I delivered a vicious blow to where I thought his head should be. My gauntleted hand passed through empty air, and I again felt another blow to the back of my head. These hits were doing little but irritating me. I flailed about me with steel covered fists, connecting with nothing. I was struck several times though, and I did not like it. I let forth several streams of swear oaths, and power that flew about the room like little balls of fire. One of these struck Discord, who then came back into view. I concentrated my efforts and hit him with the largest blast that I could manage. Discord was propelled into, and through the wall, of Witch's home. I did not wait to see if that had finished him. I followed through the torn wall where he had passed through. Discord was laying on the street. I was in a full rage, so I did not stop to consider whether or not he was still alive. I did not care. I drew my sword from my back, and stepped forward, placing the point of my weapon at his throat, about to slice it open, when I felt another assault on the barrier surrounding Hell. I had used some of the power that I had been channeling to it in order to fight Discord, so the shield was weakened. I tried to reinforce it, was unable to fully restore it. The barrier would still hold, but only as long as I did not again use any of my major powers. Satan was no longer one of my immediate problems. I again threatened the throat of Discord with my bright blade. The skin parted, and blood ran forth onto the ground. He was at my mercy here on Earth. All could die here if damaged beyond the ability to heal, even my Father, and it was my hope that the same would prove true for God. I wanted his blood to pour forth onto the ground of his precious creation, but if need be I would pursue God to the far reaches of heaven. I drew the blade back, to get a full swing, so that when I hacked at Discord's head I would be able to sever it from his shoulders in one fierce blow. "Stop!" someone called out, and I was amazed, more so because I actually obeyed. The man who yelled was exactly like Discord in every way, down to the clothing. I had to look again to the ground to reassure myself that Discord still lay there. He did. "You must be Cord." "Yes, and I cannot allow you to kill my brother." I didn't say anything to him. I turned, and with silver sword I parted his head from flail-looking shoulders as I had planned on doing to Discord. His head rolled from him, and his body dropped lifeless. I laughed. Discord had thought himself safe. He was a fool. God was not going to protect him. Instead God had sent Cord to his slaughter, satisfying his promise. "You style yourself the deity of all deities? Ha! I only have utter scorn for you. You are nothing. You are more petty than my Father! At least He wanted something at one time. While you--you do nothing, but sit, hidden away from all that needs you. Well, I say hide, foolish God! Hide while you can, for Rancor is coming to knock you from your lofty

throne. I will cast you out, and into a Hell of your own. You will be alone, unable to create anything to amuse you," I said to the sky. There was no reply. A bubbling sound came from Discord then. He was not yet dead. The wound that he had received was not very serious. He would recover, given time. I did not plan on letting this happen. I pierced his unfeeling beating heart with the point of my sword. Discord became still. I was done here, so I left. Toad A clear gooey syrup of sugar and saliva oozed out of the fat corner of Toad's dirty simpleton grin. He lay naked on a colossal bed that strained to contain his huge sore covered bulk. The bed was polluted by Toad's own excrement. He lay in thick sewage. It would be hard to believe that this was one of the most powerful men in existence if one did not look at the state of the world in which he lived. Two bikini-clad serving girls constantly brought forth foods which he shoveled into his gapping maw. One girl was dressed in a dark blue ribbon, the other wore scarlet. Their only job seemed to be bringing the waste of a man on the bed food. He dined only on children's candy and gourmet desserts with no preference between. "How can I help you? It's Rancor isn't it? Would you like something to eat? Do you have a last name?" he mumbled around his mouthful of sweet food. I watched him as I thought of how to answer. How did he know my name? It didn't matter, but it made me more interested in him. He patted one of his bikini wenches, leaving a mark of frosting on her breast, and he let out a burbling belch. If he thought I would be disgusted or offended by this he was wrong. I had destroyed my Father's dancing demon sculpture, and been buried under tons of rock and blood. I had hacked off the faces of devils. I'd looked upon the infinite horrors of Hell. Toad would be unable to impress me with his baseness. "My name is Rancor, and no I do not have a last name. I'm the Antichrist. I tell you this only because I know you will not believe. If I thought you would believe then I would have lied. I do not like to lie." The fat man scratched his hairy bellybutton, and a few lice ran across the vast flesh of his tremendous gut. He caught one between his index finger and his thumb. This he brought up to his waiting mouth for ingestion. The remaining lice again found refuge and safety in his bellybutton where they would remain until he scratched yet again. "Well, so you're the Antichrist. I couldn't give a shit, specially since I just took one. What you want from me?" "National coverage. I want unlimited time on holovision. I want my face on every stat-paper and 'zine on this pathetic world. I want my voice to be heard by every citizen. This is the only way my message can get to all." "You don't ask much. How 'bout a cherry cheese tart instead?" he said as he held one out, clenched in a grubby hand. "No." "Don't mind if I do." He jammed it in his mouth, tried to force it down his throat, but only about half made it past his lips. The rest covered chin or fell onto his expansive chest. "Toad--" "Look kid, you're asking something I wouldn't even give the Council. There's no way that this is going to happen. End of discussion."

"Nobody'll believe me anyway, and I'll give you anything you desire." "What could such as one as I want? I have almost enough food, and I have beautiful girls to bring it to me. They bring me more than I can eat, and I can eat a whole lot. I have guards. I have more money and power than I like. No, don't offer me anything. I have all I could ever want." I moved my hand in a short circular motion, and time forgot that it existed. The universe stopped with a shudder. I reached forward and grabbed Toad's filthy face. I squeezed his greasy jowls. My eyes flamed as I looked into his soul, as Silenthia had taught me, and I was pleasantly pleased by what I saw there. Toad was right. There was nothing his minute soul could desire. He had everything he wanted. Toad's soul was lost in all his mammoth flesh. It hid in a dark corner of his mountainous body. There was a lot of room left over in Toad for more than just his soul, and he was not alone. Another was using him as a host. Toad was possessed! This was what surprised and pleased me. I reversed my hand gesture and time resumed its course as if it had never been halted. "You will help me. You have no other choice. I will take you from this if you do not." "You can't. I have guards!" "Shut up Toad. I speak to another now." "There ain't--" "Shut up!" I glared at Toad, and pulled at the demon within. I knew I could tear him from this body with nothing more than my will. The body arched its back, and he screamed as contractions overtook him. There was a sloshing noise as the flesh came away from the sewage in which it rested. A clawed hand tore though Toad's chest. It was colored an electric blue, and it meant that the demon didn't care at all about the host which it rested within. A sickly yellow liquid ran off it like warm gelatin. This would kill Toad. I interlaced my fingers with the hand, and bent it backwards. There was a struggle, and it tried to resist. The clawed hand pushed against me. I forced it back into the house of flesh it inhabited. My hand was inside of Toad, and I could feel the rush of the ocean of blood that flowed through his veins. I could feel the beat of his overworked heart. I pulled back my arm, and when I no longer had contact, his skin closed unharmed. Illusion. /Master/ "I must have your cooperation." /It is yours/ "Good. When can I go on?" Toad shuddered, and tried to rise from the bed. His muscles were too far gone with atrophy to support his bulk though, so he collapsed back into the shit and urine in which he lay. Toad could barely move. "He's never tried to get up before," the girl in the scarlet bikini said. "Never," agreed the other. /Master I've done my work here too well to help you/ /Make the orders Make it happen! /I can't Toad is only a figurehead He has no real power He only believes he does/ I jammed my fist against Toad's belly. A large wave of soiled gelatinous fat rolled out from my fist's area of impact. Skin tore open, allowing me entry. I grabbed the demon and ripped him from his home. He came forth curled into a fetal position clutching Toad's heart. "Mine!" it cried.

Both the dessert servers screamed and one feinted to the floor. The other ran away. I let her go. She was of no concern to me. "You will possess someone with the power to insure that my vision will come to pass." "Master, it takes time!" Time I did not have. I could hold my Father only so long. I still had a lot to accomplish before the end of it all. I found myself staring in rapt attention at Toad's corpse as it sank into the raw sewage and food in which it rested. Toad was consumed by his own filth and became as one with it. Thoughts entered my mind as I watched this occur, and I wasn't sure if they would work. "Do your powers extend to changing your form?" I asked, even though I already knew the answer. This was only a demon, and few devils ever had this ability, other than when they took their first form. "Then I hereby grant you devil status and all the powers that come with this. Chose your shape well and I may let you continue to exist. Fail me and face this." I held up Witch's dagger. I could not tell this demon what its new shape should be. I could not take away the privilege of choice. I wasn't even sure if I had the power and ability to grant this status. The demon cocked its head to the side and its horns sank into flesh. The hue of its skin changed until it became a healthy looking flesh tone. The demon unfurled its legs until they reached the floor. I released my grasp on it, giving it freedom to do as it chose. The demon grew until it became my size. I heard the facial bones of its skull crack and snap until they settled into what the demon wanted. Its flesh flowed around these reformed bones until I was looking at a mirror image of myself. A shiver ran through me as I thought of Bettacrasnakka, but I knew this one had not the power to rise against me. I had made sure of that. I do not make a mistake more than once. "I shall be called Hate. Are you pleased?" he spoke with my voice. "Yes Hate, I am most pleased. Now waste no time. Clothe yourself, and put forth my message to all. Speak as though you are me. Tell of 'your' coming. All shall know that the Antichrist has risen. Be my herald to the world. Let all know that the end is at hand." I placed my hands on his naked shoulders. I still held the deadly dagger in one hand; he the dead heart. I locked eyes with this new devil, and challenged it. He offered no resistance as I fell through layers of his mind. I was not trying to hurt this one, but I had many more instructions for it. It had to know exactly what I wanted it to say and do. I filled Hate with visions of war and the destruction of the world. /Dominate the will of any that would seek to oppose you/ /Yes master/ I became the world, and exploded into white light and sound. I collapsed in on myself and became a supernova that quickly blazed, expending its energies to nothing. I opened my eyes, and for a moment I thought I had shifted to the wrong place. Legion As I came into existence a mortal immediately attacked me. He had a handgun and was already firing his third shot by the time I had even started to recover from the effects of the shift. My armor protected me, and I drew my sword. The man was young, merely a boy with bright red hair. He wore a bold silver badge bearing the letters ICP. He was short work for my sword.

The boy lay dead before me, and my intended target sat in a black wrought-iron chair staring into nothingness. He was hooked to tubes which fed him what he needed to survive. Machines did his breathing, prolonging his existence. He tried to open his eyes, but was unable to do so. "Loki, is that you?" he wheezed, and I assumed that he was calling for the dead boy. It was easy to comprehend how so much power rested in the hands of this decaying man. It all came down to decadence. Power eats at the soul until no soul is left. All power corrupts. One only had to look at the remains of Toad to understand this. "What would happen if you were to die?" I asked the man. His name was Legion, and it was in his name that wars were won and lost. It was even said that he was the god of war. "There would be a struggle for power, and wars the likes of which have never been seen before would break out. Man would be blotted from the Earth in this conflagration. I want this. I've wanted it for such a long time, but they won't let me die!" Yes, this was the one. He seemed too fragile as he sat upon his dark throne. The continuance of mankind rested on frail shoulders. He wasn't strong enough to carry such a burden. His life was too tenuous of a balance upon which to rest man's fate. "I do not believe you. You could die at any time." "Loki, is that you? Answer me please. I'm so alone. I have only my little wars to entertain me, and they won't let me create a large one to really amuse myself. Loki?" "Yes, it is I." "Kill me! I can't die. I've tried so hard for such a long time." "Who won't let you die? Who won't allow the wars?" "The Council." Then I understood. I was wrong. His life was the perfect balance. He couldn't die. The Council had made sure of this. He was too weak to kill himself, and the elixirs that ran in his blood and the machines would keep him preserved forever. Long after the Council had fallen to dust. I grabbed him by the throat and choked him. I crushed his windpipe, but still I squeezed. I wanted to feel his life pass from his frail body. I could see a mother screaming as her child ran burning with napalm. Legion only tried harder to look at me, but his eyes would become nothing more than slits. He moved his small head from side to side in pain, but he wasn't any closer to death. I pulled the needles from his arms and legs while clawing at his throat. Die! Armies clashing on a plain of death, and nuclear fire lit the sky. I smashed a heavy gauntlet between his breasts. His sternum broke with a dull thunk, not at all like the reverberating crack of bone as I had expected. His heart stopped. Finally his eyes were able to open, and he looked upon me as I truly was. A man gives his life to stop the desecration of a corpse of a man he didn't even know. Blood burbled forth from Legion's dying lips. Blood. A bright cup filled with it skitters across a wooden floor. A wave of blackness came across this last vision of the future and I knew it would end with this. End with this! I inhaled and blew forth a liquid fire that ate at the Legion's flesh. I was careful to leave his face unmarked. I wanted any who saw him to recognize him. I wanted no doubts as to his identity. I wanted it known that he was dead. The wars would start. Legion went into convulsions. His scorched body flailed about on the iron chair in which he sat. He kicked his feet and swung his arms about him. It was a long time before he became still, and I did not know if his life had truly fled. I touched his throat and felt for a soul within. It was gone.

False Prophets "I am the Antichrist," claimed the lunatic in a raving voice. "It is written, 'Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.' I do these things. It is I. It is I, he proclaimed to the sky! I who hold such knowledge, but I shan't tell you. I know the truth. Maybe I'll mutter it with my last breath, but only in a whisper, so that none can hear. I take it to my death." He wore gray sackcloth, and had a snarled gray beard, that did little more than hide his age. He would occasionally wave a thick oak staff about him to accentuate what he said. I didn't know whether to be angered or amused by the audacity of his antics. A small crowd, of a dozen or so, was gathered about him. Some laughed, some jeered, and a serious looking boy took notes, preserving for posterity everything that the man said. "The world will end tomorrow. It's true I tell you. Tomorrow the world will end. I tell you it's true," he yelled as though he were revealing a profound revelation. A man called out from the crowd at this. "That's what you said yesterday!" he said, and many laughed at this. "To know doubt is to know death!" the lunatic screamed. He stepped towards the man, and struck him with the oak staff. With a crack the man, who had dared to speak out against the self proclaimed Antichrist, went sprawling to the ground. He did not rise. None sought to help him, and only the note-taking boy took any real interest in the fallen man. "It came to me in a vision. The world will end. It is also written, 'So now many Antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour.' This I say to you has come to pass. I am he that was foretold. I hath come!" I decided that I had allowed this charade to go on long enough. The world would end, and perhaps even tomorrow, but not due to anything that this one had to say. I stepped to the front of the crowd, and stared at the man until our eyes met. He did not turn away, but returned my glare. "See me for what I truly am, and know me for what I am to do," I said to him. He opened his mouth to speak, but I reached into his mind, and released many deep insanities there. Spittle began to run off his lips, and he went into convulsions. His staff fell from his grasp, and clattered to the ground. The serious boy picked this up as the man took to his knees in horror before me. He did not scream or speak. His mind was shattered. Some few of the crowd remained to see if he had any more holy mutterings to exclaim, the rest left, speaking of religion and gullibility, and how they could never be taken in by one such as the raving man. I too turned to leave, but I felt a hand on my arm imploring my attention. It was the boy with the note pad and false prophet's staff. There was still a severe look about him. "You're him," he said. "And who might that be?" I asked as I walked away from what remained of the crowd. "You're the man from the commercials. I have them all memorized. I've recorded them for the future. That's what I do. I'm a future historian. I write about things that are happening now, like news stuff. Anyway, you are him aren't you? The man from the commercial, I

mean?" He said all this as he struggled to keep up with me. My strides were long, and soon left everyone but the boy behind. We were alone on the street. "He is me, but I am not him. I am as that man claimed to be." I gestured to the direction of the slobbering prophet as I said this. The boy frowned, looked long at his notebook as if he were trying to decide if my cryptic sayings were worth recording. He gave in, stopped, repositioned the mad prophet's staff, and wrote down all I had said. He probably feared he would have insulted me if he hadn't. He ran to catch up with me, for I had not stopped. "Show me these commercials," I said. "My mom wouldn't like for me to bring home anybody." "I will make it so that she does not even know I exist." The boy looked doubtful at this. He'd seen enough crazies for one day. I did what I knew would appease his disbelief. I caused myself to no longer reside in the same reality as him. To the limited perception of his eyes I no longer existed. "Wow! Where did you go?" "I am here," I said, though I did not allow myself to be seen. With a minute portion of my will I levitated the boy into the air. He became convinced at this, and yelled for me to let him down. I did as he asked, and allowed myself to once again come into view. The boy stared at me in wonder. "How old are you?" I asked. "Fourteen." "So young to record the events of the world. Take me to your home. I wish to see what you have spoken of." The boy nodded his head once, and started back the direction we had come. We came upon the gibbering prophet. His insanities had caused him to pull his beard from his face and I could see the bone of his jaw. Gobbets of pink flesh decorated the ground. The false Antichrist's hands were marred with blood. These he held before his eyes, as if they would reveal hidden secrets to him. The man who had been struck still lay where he had fallen. His soul had fled. He had been slain by the blow of the oak staff. We shortly came upon a small white house. It looked as though it could not have been more than one or two rooms. We entered the front door. The interior was no different than the outside had led me to believe it would be. It was tight, there seemed to be no room for anyone to live. Seated before a standard size holovision set was a middle-aged woman who was starting to become fat. She smoked a harsh filter-less cigarette and did not look up at our entering. A man with a gun stalked another man who had no such advantage. Both were in a jungle environment, and the holovision seemed to lend reality to their struggle. It was as if one could touch the players of this other place. "Ah--listen--is she a...." I reached into her mind. There was little there. Her whole existence was that which played itself out on the holovision. The boy need not have feared her noticing me. To her I did not exist, but I caused a slumber to come about her for the sake of the boy. "Cool," he said as his mother began to snore softly. "I got a tape. Here, I'll play it for you. Hey, you want to get that cigarette, before she burns herself." He inserted a cylindrical object into the base of the holovision. I exerted my will, and the cigarette became no more. A sky-blue light wavered, and I beheld the image if Hate on the holovision, and found it hard to believe that it was not I. The demon that I had taken from Toad and made into a devil was doing my work well. I was sowing dissention

among mortals. This would work to further my ends. I wanted man to question his existence. "Ignorance is bliss. This has long been known," spoke the Hate image. "But evil is bliss also, and I say to you, if you can't be ignorant be evil. Revel in sin. Delight in your damnation. Do whatever makes you feel alive. Do whatever makes you feel. This is my advice to you-forget all you have known, for ignorance is the one true evil. Become as the base beast rutting in the back field. "Contemplate the naked flesh of a beautiful woman. Take her into your arms if she is willing. If not, take her in any way you can. Make her accept your thrusts. 'Rape?' you cry in with righteous indignation, 'never!' Yes, I say rape, steal, kill! Lie if you must, but come to reality, and never forget your damnation." I reached out to touch Hate's face, but it was only a simulation, and my hand passed through it like a specter. The boy laughed at this as the Hate image flickered, and was gone, only to be replaced by another. This was a newscast, and I found interest in this also. It was of an Army General being interviewed by an unseen reporter to create the illusion that he was speaking directly to any viewers. This worked, and I actually wanted to ask the General questions of my own, but I could not. I had no choice but to listen. "Rage is the fire that fuels my life," he said. "I'm told that many feel that this is going to be the war to end all wars. Well, that's been said before, and war's my business, and I think I'll be working for a long time." The General continued to speak, but I ceased to listen. He would say no more that I needed to hear. The tape ran out with this. So it already began. Killing Legion had worked as I had expected. "Who are you? You're not just an actor are you?" "No, I am not an actor at all. I am a player. I've come to fight a battle, and win a prize. I am the true Antichrist." The boy looked puzzled for a moment. "But when I looked for good, evil came; and when I waited for light, darkness came." "Why do you say that?" I asked. "It just came to mind." I no longer had a need to be in this place, yet I found the boy's company enjoyable. His very presence lifted my heart. I felt that I should reward him somehow, and yet I did not know what one such as he would want. I thought of reaching into his mind to find out his desires, but I feared I would be disappointed by what I found there. I looked to his mother. She lay dreaming of the false realities that sprang into existence from the holovision. Her mind I already knew. I reached into her. I discovered that she held no secrets as I again sifted through her simple layers. She did not love her son. She held no affections for anything real. I decided that she would serve a better purpose than wasting flesh. I touched her face in almost a lover's caress. Her skin turned yellow where my finger's made contact. I looked at the boy who stared at me in wonder. His mother continued to change color until she was of a uniform gold. And that was what she had become; solid gold. Used wisely she would provide the boy with a lifetime of comfort. I was unsure as to why I did this. If everything worked as I would have it this boy would be dead in days. Then why this vain gesture? It was not in recognition that I could fail. I would not. I could allow myself no such doubts. The boy did not seem to react to his mother's death. He did not cry, nor did he seem in any way surprised by this apparent miracle. He did not speak and the silence became awkward. I decided to break it. "You can hack at her as you need the gold." "I did not love her," he said, his expression still unreadable.

I almost gave into the urge to dance within his soul, but I withheld. I wanted to see if I had been right, to change his mother as I had, without using Hell born heritage to find out. He smiled then, and spoke, "You are the Antichrist. This is a sign. I shall follow you, and chronicle the End Of All Days." This was not what I had wanted. "No. You cannot. I must do this alone. I will go places where you cannot hope to follow. I will do things that would drive you raving. I must fulfill my role. You must go your way." He bowed his head in submission and seemed to accept this. I had seen all that I had came to see. I was done here, as much as I desired to prolong the visit with this boy. Time and space fell in on themselves, cracked, and I opened my eyes to the street outside of my mother's brothel. The Succubus As soon as I saw her I knew what and who she was. Succubus and Absinthe. Her mind was open to me. I knew what she wanted. Also I could see how she planned to do it. I could expect little else from a succubus. They have never been known for creativity. I decided to allow her to play her game. I wanted to take care of her now, so as to insure that I would have no interference from her later. She was chomping on a large wad of soft pink bubble gum. Her hair was platinum that flowed about her shoulders like so much light and her eyes were deepest blue. I noticed as she blew a bubble that her lips were the same shade of candy-pink as the gum. The bubble broke with a snap, and she gave me a lopsided grin that was calculated to set me longing. "What is it that they call you child?" "My name's Theresa, and I'm not a child. I'm more than enough woman for the likes of you." "I doubt it. I have tasted paradise," and I knew it was my destiny to feast of it. I would claim heaven, and present it to Silenthia as a gift to my bride, but I said nothing of this. She took out a small crystal bottle. It was tinged with blue. I recognized what it was at once. I wasn't interested. Drugs probably wouldn't affect me anyway. I watched as she opened the bottle. It popped as if it were cheap champagne. She filled a dropper full of the blue liquid. With much care she let a drop fall into each of her eyes. They immediately turned sky-blue, and her pupils grew until her irises were but thin rings. "This will make you feel good, then I'll make you feel great," she said. "I don't think so. I'm not into Scream or demons." She came up to me and placed her arms about my neck in an intimate embrace. The illusion of clothes disappeared with her touch. I was again dressed in full armor. Silver shone. "Rancor, let's quit playing this game. I won't do as He commanded. I'll do anything that you want. Anything." Either she was lying, or she really intended to refuse my Father's bidding. I would refuse her, but not for any sense of morality. I had none. I just refused to partake of anything less than perfection. "Kiss me Absinthe." I slit her throat as she went to do as I said. I opened her with the dagger of Bettacrasnakka's. She fell to her knees as blood reddened the front of her white blouse, causing it to cling to her breasts. I knew that she was trying to figure out why she couldn't heal herself, even as she

realized that she was going to die. I resheathed the dagger, after having wiped it off, and walked past Absinthe. "Only I can betray my Father and still hope to live," I said. She was still alive and I didn't care to wait around until she died. I knew she would. This knowledge was enough for me. I had a task to be about. I erased Absinthe from my mind. Dear Mother I passed a woman as I walked. I thought she might be yet another of Satan's minions, but she just stared at me, and I realized why. I was outfitted in my armor. I ignored her and kept on walking. I waited until I was out of her sight and anyone else that could have seen me. I then caused my armor to change. I now appeared to be dressed in a white suit. My shirt was open at the collar and I wore no tie. My armor was still on me, but now it was hidden by illusion. This illusion took little of my energy. It would not endanger the shield. I could handle minor magics like this, but I could no longer rely on using my will alone. I came to the door of my mother's Shop. I thought of knocking, but decided instead to pass through it. I stepped forward and into the waiting room. A receptionist glanced up from a paper that she had been looking at. I chose not to allow her to notice me. I opened her mind, and caused her to forget that someone such as I could exist. I then enveloped myself in a minimal part of my power, so that no one would be able to see me at all. I went to the room where I knew my mother would be. I didn't acknowledge her door as being real. Therefore it was not. I passed through this door also and I was not surprised with what I saw there. I looked down at the two sleeping mortals before me. They held each other as they slept. One was my mother, the other was a man named Spirit. My mother held the coin--in a tightly clenched fist--that could grant life eternal. Spirit had no such benefit. Crime could outlive him by several lifetimes. They were a tragedy waiting for the future. I concentrated on my mother for a moment, willing her to a deeper slumber. She turned over in her sleep, but otherwise gave no notice of me being in the room. I wanted her to sleep. It was not she that I had come here for, but on a whim I decided to take the dragon from my mother. I understood it better than she. As soon as my thoughts were of the dragon it raised its head and looked into my eyes. I held out a mailed fist, and then slowly I opened my hand. The dragon glanced quickly at Crime. "You were never meant for her. Come, I will care for you now. You will share in the glory of my victory. Come." Crime stirred slightly, as the dragon unwrapped itself from her finger, but she did not wake. The dragon crawled onto my fingertips and climbed my right hand till it was right behind the middle knuckle. It then wrapped itself tightly about the gauntlet. The dragon blinked its molten ruby eyes and lowered its head. It was at rest. I felt a warmth emanating from the ring and a cold image of a timeless beauty invaded my mind. With the face came a name--Lisa-and a longing. The ring wanted its mate. The image of this Lisa screamed and a rush of blood was remembered by the ring. The blood ran over the dragon and it did not understand the pain of the one who wore it. It was incapable of intentionally causing harm to anything. The dragon did not know that it was responsible for its own bath of blood. The dragon was never meant for this. It was to have lived out a tender existence of love, but the memory of blood and pain would never fade. The dragon would carry this taint till the end of days.

As I took the ring from my mother I touched the hand that she held the coin in. Again images flashed through my mind. An explosion, the likes of which had never been experienced on Earth before. A naked seventeen year old young man believing his soul was locked in the coin. Fire. Flickering dark visions of the cross. Blood. The church. Death of a guilt ridden priest. A loving female caress on cold metal. Protecting its new owner. I broke contact. I had found out what I had wanted to know. I had the knowledge of where the church that I wanted was at. Now there was only one thing left for me here. "Spirit." No response. "Spirit!" He sat up in his bed and looked around. It was impossible for him to detect me, and I chose not to reveal myself to him. "Who's there? Speak up or I'll call the guards!" Spirit hissed in a soft but threatening manner. "No guards will be needed. It is I, Rancor." "I can't see you." "I do not want you to. Listen, I don't have time to explain everything, but I wanted to give you a warning. Are you paying attention?" "Of course." "Good. In the end what I have to say won't matter, but I wanted to let you know what I planned. The world is to end soon--tomorrow--and I am to be the cause of it. I will seek out something sacred to God, and I will cause it to become defiled by one of his own. God will have no other choice but to confront me then. If for some reason I am wrong, and this doesn't work, well then, there will be other ways, but the world will be ending. "Take my mother, leave this place, go somewhere to live out the rest of the days allotted to you in pleasure. Leave, but do not tell her why." "Why do you do this thing?" "Because it must be done, and if I am not the one to do it then another will come. It will happen. I only play my part. Now, no more questions. Say nothing, only do as I have said." I waved my hand at Crime, and took away that which had bound her to slumber. She did not wake. Damnation The sad fact of mankind has always been that they can never recognize what they have. Even when it is gone they never miss it. The soul for so many means so little. Some have sold their souls for wealth, some for love, and some even for a song. It would be laughable were it not so pathetic. Then there are those sad few that fully realize exactly how damned they are. I studied one such as this. I knew a little of his story. Silenthia had taught me of him and the Banquet. "Nemesis, can you remember to before the first rebellion, and how you became what you are?" "Yes. I was torn...." He fell silent and stared into nothing. It was as if he was remembering how it had been. His lips started to move, but he said nothing. I was about to say something, but he snapped out of his reverie before I had to. "I was a cupbearer to God himself. I was once beautiful. I had

much prestige. Everything was pure. I was happy then, but things changed. They always do that. I didn't want anything to change, but no one asked me. Nothing ever stays the same. "Satan rose up, and was cast from paradise for doing so. For a short while it looked as if everything was going to become as right again, but they didn't. Many angels joined Satan in exile. Brother from brother and lover from lover. "I knew I no longer belonged in heaven. It no longer held the same beauty. It was tainted to me. I chose to join Satan in Hell. I took the cup of God with me. I offered my services as cupbearer to Satan, but He said it would be long before He 'again had the taste for wine.' "Hell was hideous. It was a place designed by a madman for a madman. It reflected Satan's soul. I could not bear to look upon it. I could only be thankful that I did not have to face such a waste of my own. "I beseeched God, on my knees, to take me back, but nothing happened. He didn't even answer! I had fled heaven, had rejected it, and now I did the same to Hell. I went to the place that was God's prideful creation; the place that was the bane of Satan. Earth. "There was much good here, but there was also evil. I did not truly understand evil then. It was long before I even began to comprehend it at all. "I met a woman. I fell in love. She was a mortal like no other. I watched her often as she bathed in a warm spring, and my breath would catch in my throat at the sight of her form. I never tired of her embrace. "We seldom felt the need for words. We said so much without them. We went on many late night walks. It was during one of these walks that she was torn from my side. I hadn't seen what had done it. It was as if a piece of the night had just plucked her away. I chased the creature that I could not see, even though I knew that I would be too late. "I came upon a moonlit clearing. I recognized it as a place where we had once made love, but this was no longer a place of gentleness. In the center of the clearing lay my love. "She was dead! "There were no marks upon her body. I cradled her cold body to mine. I cried. Tears dripped off my chin onto her face. I begged God to restore her to me. God offered no help. "I turned to darker forces. I made a pact with the Devil! While he had no use of me as cupbearer, He found another way to make use of me. If only I had known what He intended. "He touched the woman that was my life. Her eyes fluttered open, and her breasts rose with breath. She reached up and touched the wetness on her face. My tears. She whispered my name. I was not called Nemesis at that time. "We embraced. I looked to thank Satan, but he was gone. "I stood, and helped my love to stand also. I kissed her. She responded, but it was not the same. There was no surrendering of her whole being. It was as if she was trying to hide something. This seemed impossible, so I unwisely ignored it. "She led me from the clearing then. We came upon a black cave that I knew and had used before. We slept within, but when day came, and I tried to wake her--she was dead again! She was stiff, cold, and I thought Satan had deceived me. I should have realized that true life was not within His power. "I spent the morning digging her a grave. I lovingly placed her inside. I buried her within the Earth. I was numb--dead inside as I piled rocks high upon her grave. When I was done I laid upon the stones and cried. 'Betrayer! Liar! Deceiver!' I called out to Satan from the place where my love now rested.

"It was only afternoon, but I went back into the cave. I was swallowed by darkness. I was exhausted from my grief and my exertions. I wept myself to sleep. "I woke in the night to my love. She stood over me. I felt such joy at the sight of her, even though she was covered in grime, and her clothes were only ribbons that hung about her I did not question the miracle of her again living. "We went together to the river. I removed what remained of her clothes, and we made love in its flowing waters. I knew there was something different about her, but I convinced myself that this was not true. "She bit me. She fed her life from mine and I thought little of it. I couldn't. My whole being was denial. We went then again to the cave and slept. "I woke during the day. My love was again as if in death. I did not want to be near my love's dead form. I tried to leave the cave, but the sun prevented me from doing so. I could not bear to look upon it. Me, who once held the cup of God and let his light shine on me. "It was then that I began to understand. I was to forever be cast into darkness. My soul would never again know anything but black. I could have bore this sentence if only I was not alone, but that evening my love left me. "I tried committing suicide, but this did not work. My wrists healed too fast. A fever came upon me then, and I hungered. This had never happened to me before. I had never required sustenance in the past. My insides tore at me, but I could not eat. I was cold and I thought God was going to answer my prayers and take me back into heaven. "Time passed with me alone in the cave. My condition worsened until I became a mockery of what I once was. I became a horrid creature. I lay in a tortured, huddled ball. I seldom moved. I no longer knew who I was. "I don't know how long I stayed like this, a year maybe. I would unknowingly grasp rocks and crush them to pebbles. My fingers became bent, my fingernails tore back, and the skin of my hands ripped. "It was only by chance that I did not spend eternity hiding from everything. A horrid thing found me in a fevered sleep that rivaled my death sleep of day. I was almost completely defenseless. I did not even know that I was being attacked. "I don't know why, but I clawed through the blackness that filled my mind until I regained some semblance of life. My throat was ripped open and part of my face was missing. I had only one eye. "With this I saw what evil thing had done this. It was a young girl, maybe seven years old. I struggled against her. She was strong, but I overpowered her. She asked me, in a voice thick with a lisp, if I too was a vampire. I did not know that word. I was a wretched being then, and desperate with thirst. She tried to flee, this poor pitiful urchin, this lice ridden rabble, but I did not let her. I drank from her. It was an intimate joining, the like I had known with only one other being. I drank until all life passed from her to me. I killed this evil thing. "My fever was gone and I found myself healing. I left the cave that I had made my home. I went secretly among men. All feared vampires. They were new to the world and it was still unknown how to combat them. The vampires grew in number. It was even said that they were ruled by a queen of unsurpassed beauty. It looked as if God's creation would be overrun with Satan's evil. "I began to destroy every vampire that I came across, even though it filled me with great guilt. I fed of these. This was what Satan had intended for me. By design I was a control for this evil. I once again had a purpose for my existence. I became the nemesis of my love.

"She's still out there, making more of our kind, but I find them, or they come here, and when I hunger...I feed." This fallen angel of white looked down then. I waited, but he offered no more. I didn't want to open his pain, but I had questions that had to be answered. "Where is the cup?" "I took it to Hell with me, but when Satan refused me I hid it on Earth. It is in the cave where I came to know what I am now. I could take you there if I was allowed to leave." I concentrated on his mind and the knowledge of the cup's location became known to me. I wanted the cup. It would help me in my endeavors. "You do not need to show me. Why do you only kill vampires? Why not defy Satan and join your love?" "You do not understand? Even when I went among men, I never let them know what I was. I could never kill a living thing. I would rather live in Hell than do such an evil thing as that." I wanted to ask Nemesis if he had ever found his love again, but I did not feel I had the right. It didn't matter. I was filled with pity for this creature, and though I knew it futile, I resolved to reunite Nemesis with his love. I wanted them to have a chance at reconciliation before the end of it all. Besides I wasn't at all sure that everything would be destroyed. Some few might survive. I had taken knowledge of the cup from his mind. I took an image of his love too. I surrounded myself with this, and with a terrible explosion of sensations I shifted to her. Night My body became atoms, then nothing. Nothingness found itself to be more and came to an awareness. I raised my head and in disorientation, looked about myself. I shook off the effects of the shift and stared. She was beautiful. Long black tresses hung to a slender waist. Pale skin shone against a gown that matched her hair. She was once Nemesis's, but now she was owned by none, though I, as I beheld her, realized I desired to possess her. "I am called Rancor, the Antichrist." "I am Night, although once I was known as Beauty. I've been alive for such an awfully long time now. I can't really remember much of my childhood. Mother talked to snakes." She had a dreamy expression about her face; almost as if she inhabited some other place. A place of solace. She did not seem at all surprised at my visitation. She began to spin like a child does on a breezy summer afternoon to become dizzy. She seemed to enjoy the sensations. Her face lit up, and her gown billowed about her. Suddenly she stopped and, as dark material settled into place, gestured with her elegant ivory arm. She brought it up over her head then down in front of her face. Night held out her hand, beckoning for me to take it. I did so. She fell into my embrace and I could feel her frailness, like a bird, little more than a child. So tiny in my arms. She looked up into my eyes. "Rancor, are you really the Antichrist?" "I hope so, or many lives will be to waste for nothing." I examined the room in which we stood. It was one of many in a ruined castle, not at all like Defile. Large dead gray stones made up the walls. Crumbling mortar filled the cracks between these. A damp wind brought the scent of decay to Night and myself. Night stood on her tiptoes, and stretched up to place a kiss upon my chin, but I bowed my head to receive it on my lips. She was gentle,

and her lips were moist and cool, reminding me of ripe sweet fruit, though there was no taste. With a blush and a laugh she broke away from me then, and began again to dance as a child. I waited for her to grow light-headed and fall reeling to the floor, but she did not. I admired her movements. Night--once the love of Nemesis--lost innocent to unknown evil. Night, perpetuator of vampires. Undead herself. Why did I feel the need to come to her? What power did she hold over me? I found myself becoming mesmerized by her movements as she spun faster and faster. She became as a blur and I could not recognize her for anything even resembling human. Night. "Night." She did not answer, but remained lost in her dance. "Night." I moved towards her with the intent of stopping her, but she slowed, and slid once again into my arms. "Love me," whisper, soft caress of voice. "I love another. I cannot," I said. Her lips curled into a pout at this and again she reminded me of a child. She looked as though she were to cry. One solitary tear made its way down her angelic face, leaving a shining trace of wetness. She crossed her arms then and turned from me. I did not let her go. "My emotions are another's, but if you find me suitable for other endeavors, it would be my pleasure to graciously perform them." I could not see her reaction to this, but she became relaxed in my hold. I caused my armor, shield, and weapons to shift from me. I then dropped all illusions. I wore no clothes. I released Night from my grasp. Now I would see what she intended. Would she flee? Night turned to face me. "You assume much, my lord," she said with an imperious voice of frost. I chose not to reply. Instead I cupped her chin in my right hand and tilted her head back. I leaned forward and kissed her brutally. I parted her lips, forcing her to accept my tongue. I then grasped the front of her garment and tore it open. Cloth screamed and buttons flew as her breast became exposed to my view. They were the same creamy ivory color as the rest of her skin. I threw her to the ground. She looked up at me, eyes not wide with fear, but excitement. I crossed to her and grasped her black tresses. She did not resist as I forced her against the stone floor of the ruins. I put my mouth to one of her snowy nipples and bit until she winced. In pain or pleasure I could not tell, nor did I care. I lifted her gown and violently entered her. I thrust as she clawed the flesh of my body. I imagined rivulets of blood running along my muscles. I could feel the wetness. Night was tight around me. Her body knew the ways of intimate union. She began to scream and cry out to God. I ignored her calls, and God chose not to answer. Heat began to rise between us. Night arched her back and I could feel her spasm around me. It was then that I found release in our passion. "My lord," so softly spoken, that for a moment I thought it imagined. "My lord," she said again, "what is it that you would have me do?" I thought to Nemesis. I had intended Night to be his once again, even if only for a short while. Did I still want this? Night meant little to me. Only a passing amusement, but I was sure that I could find pleasure in her again. There was an alluring appeal to her. "Petty men paint pretty pictures justifying actions done for greed. A man will deny guilt with his last breath, even when he himself knows he has done wrong. Not I. I freely admit that all I do I do out of greed. I

want what is to come, and I will do anything to that end. I was taught forgotten prophecy. I was taught to look into the heart of man to see what is there. I was taught love. But I would sacrifice that love without regret if it could assist me in fulfilling my fate. I am not some petty mortal to fear sin, while committing it. I revel in sin." I gave myself to the urge to speak. To confide in another seemed to settle my mind. I had not thought to do this. I had meant Night for another. Now, I knew not what I intended. I put my lips to her throat and kissed her there. It would be so easy to give it all up, and lose myself in her. There was nothing coercing me. I could live, grow old, and maybe die. I could allow myself to be taken along by the flow of life. I could take her again and again, giving into temptation. I thought of this. It would be so easy. Another would come to take my place and I would be free--free to pursue many distractions such as Night. But I would not. I knew this, and there was little purpose in imagining otherwise. I removed myself from Night's hold, stood, and shifted my armor onto my body. I knew what had to be done. I decided to be about it. "I would 'have you do' nothing. I came here to take you to Nemesis. Instead I find myself just taking you. That was not what I had planned." Tears began to flow forth from eyes so sad at the mention of Nemesis. She would received no pity from me. I could not feel much for one such as she. Her beauty was exquisite, and she was built for carnal delights, but I knew her story. She had given up the only individual that could have redeemed her. She had forsaken Nemesis. "Wars will be fought. Disease will ravage the land. Men will know famine, and they will panic and kill for morsels that fall from the mouths of dogs, and I will be the cause of it all. I will unmake the world to receive God's attentions," I said for no reason at all. She continued to cry. I remained unmoved. "What did you expect from me? You did not think that I would come here and save you from yourself. Night, you are a damned creature. You will do according to your nature. You will refuse none that come to you. You will take them, receive them as you have me and, when your pitiful lust is satiated, you will procreate more of your kind for Nemesis to consume." Tears flowed along her face, gathered at her chin and fell to her exposed breast. She drew a shuddering breath and drew her legs tight to her chest. She rearranged her ruined black gown about her to hide her nakedness. There was no more for me to say--no more for me to do. To be Forgotten Blackness became white, then black again. Sound rose to an unbearable silence and I again found myself coming out of a shift. The cave was little changed from the way Nemesis remembered it. I brought up my illusions, and prepared to enter. ?Rancor? ?Silenthia how is it that you can penetrate my shield? /There is a bond between us Rancor Do not deny it/ I thought then of Night, but dismissed her from my mind as not being worth consideration. I had only dallied with her out of attraction. She meant nothing, but Silenthia was right. There was a bond between us. Could I forsake it? /I must strike at the heavens/ /I know Remember it was I who trained you in your destiny I do

not seek to stop you Let me through/ The idea of having Silenthia with me as I challenged God appealed to me. This was not something I wanted to do alone, but I knew this was the way it had to be. I could not let her through without doing the same for my Father. In the end, I knew, it would come down to a clash of wills I could not see myself as losing. No, Silenthia. I would have you with me if it were mine to decide, but this is a task for one. A task that my Father had chosen not to take up. Now it was for me to do. Alone. /No/ /Rancor/ /No I will not have it You will obey me in this Do not seek to come through I will surely slay you if you try Know you this soon I will rule in heaven I will send for you then We will be together in paradise/ Would these words come true? They had to. I had no other choice than to make my bid. I perceived Armageddon as my duty to fate. It would not be hard to start. Once started there would be an end whether I became the victor or not. I entered the cave. I hardly believed that the cup would be there. It was, but it was not unguarded. A muscled angel stood with a flaming sword in hand. He had a hopeless but determined attitude about his whole being. His wings beat nervously, more of a fidget than anything else. He knew what the outcome would be if we clashed. So did I. I had no desire to end his existence. Too many of his kind would needlessly die soon. I could see the cup of God. It sat upon a stone altar and there was little to make it stand out. It was only a standard silver chalice with an anachronistic cross emblazoned on the side. The cross hadn't even been invented at the time of the goblet's fashioning. This cup was not the mythical holy Grail. That came into existence much later than this drinking goblet of God's. "You know me and what I come for. Stand aside, so I may begin to complete that which I was born to do." "Dark One, I cannot." "Dear angel, I am not dark. I am not evil. I have come here to do my part in this cosmic game." "Then let me do mine." So be it. I drew my silver sword, and unslung my shield. The illusion I had cast about me shimmered and disappeared. I was fully armored, including my helmet. I lifted my visor, and saluted my opponent. He replied in kind. "Angel, tell me your name before you die, so that your glory will be sung forever in the new order." "If there is to be a new order, then I wish only to be forgotten." I lowered my visor. We crossed blades. His was lighter and would be a lot quicker than mine, but where I had a shield, he had none. The angel made the first strike, but it seemed to be more of a halfhearted feint, than any real attack. I blocked, and followed through with a lunge of my own. My shining sword connected with his face and passed through the back of his head. He fell back and off my blade. His wings beat spasmodically a few times and his limbs twitched a little, but then he became still as the cold stone he lay upon. The angel's face was completely unrecognizable now. No blood came from him, but he was obviously deceased. It seemed an unnecessary shame, but it was what he had wanted. He had played his part and now none would ever know who he had been. He would be forgotten. My blade was unsoiled. This one's blood had been too pure to mar it. I sheathed it, and picked up that which I had come for. It burned,

even through my gauntlet. It would have caused the death of any foolish impure mortal that chose to touch it. I could not be harmed though. Only a confrontation with God or my Father would be able to hurt me in any real way, and I was starting to doubt that my Father held enough power to challenge me any longer. I felt a pushing against the barrier I had erected. My Father wanted through, and He wanted through badly. I felt the Hell barrier move, but not enough to be any real threat. As long as I maintained, the shield would be impossible for Him to break down. His power was far from being as absolute as He thought it was. I left the cave, where I had slain a foe worthy of me. The Bride "Did you think I would just let you go? You treated me like a whore. I deserve more, Rancor. You do not understand me. You see me as one who is damned. You are so wrong. I flew on the winds of night to come here. I knew this was your destination. You could have had no other reason for having sought my Nemesis." I barely recognized her. I raised my visor to better see. Night had taken the time to change her clothes. She now wore a full-length wedding dress with a veil of mist obscuring her face. The dress seemed to almost be more than white, and shone against the dark. An entity of blackness hovered about her. It made quick furtive movements. I was unable to see it clearly. It was as if the night gathered this creature into its embrace, hiding it from view. "You broke my heart," she whispered, and I had to strain to hear, "with your accusations, and your mentioning of Nemesis. I loved him much--before the meaning of the word was even known." "Night." "No! You will listen. I know you. I know what you are about. You will listen. Do you know why I make vampires? I do not need to you know. At first it wasn't like that. I hunted, and I killed." The creature continued to flutter around her. Night ignored it. "I embrace death every sunrise. I know life only in night." She paused, and I wasn't sure if she was going to continue. Her breath disturbed her gossamer veil--her wedding shroud. The creature reached out and touched this, and for the first time I could see clearly its hand. It was completely black and even the long nails were colored to match. These were filed to narrow deadly points. "I still love him. But don't you see, I can't go to him. He would forbid me to create more of our kind. He would feed from the few vampires that now exist until there were no more. Then what would he do? He would hunger, and live a tortured existence of pain. He loves mortals. They are nothing to me. I make undead, and drive them from me. "Mortals are so predictable, once you take away their mortality. They always want to know why. 'Why am I like this?' 'What does it mean?' They go in search of answers, and eventually they find Nemesis. I create them for him. I do it because he cannot." Light dimly glowed from the cup in my hand and I could still feel its purity through my gauntlet. I clenched it tightly in my grasp. "What do you want from me?" I asked. "Understanding." "Why? What can it matter? You say you know me. You say you know what I am about. See this?" I held up the goblet. "With this I plan to challenge God, but I will destroy all of creation if need be. He will face me. What good is understanding?"

Night's companion still held her veil. I tried shifting my perceptions, but it remained hidden from sight. What was this? "He used to think that cup you hold would be our redemption. Poor Nemesis, he prayed that some day God would come seeking his cupbearer once again. Rancor, I cannot allow you to take the cup. I've come here to stop you. I wanted your understanding before I brought about your death." I laughed. "What can you mean by this?" Only silence greeted this question. She raised her hand and pointed to me. "Kill him," she said "and I shall again be your reward." The creature rushed forward, and its claws were at my throat. I fell backward. The night manifested itself, and it could find nothing of substance to combat. I tried to use my arms to protect myself, but raking claws still found their mark. Blood flowed from my eyes and raked flesh. I could in no way fight back. There was nothing there to fight. I desperately tried again to change my perceptions. Again it was of no use. I drew my sword, with thoughts of dropping the goblet, so that I could use my shield also. I decided against this. I was not yet ready to part with it. I swung my bright blade. It did not strike anything. The blade met no resistance as it passed through where the creature had to be. I still felt its savage claws. They seemed to easily find their way through the defense of my Hellish armor. Black claws sought the flesh of my throat--and found it. Blood soaked the cloth padding that I wore under metal plates. I rose to one knee. The world began to swim. I swung my sword again with no better success. "Night!" I could not lose like this. "Night!" I screamed again. I was struck, and I again fell. This would not do. I needed to part from this place. I tried shifting, but my mind was not composed well enough to do so. I probably could have, had I not needed to insure energy was channeled to the shield imprisoning my Father. Vision failed me as razor talons slid into gel orbs. I could see nothing, except for a slight glowing from the goblet. I almost laughed at the absurdity of it. I twisted around and rose to my feet. Again and again blindly I flailed about me with my blade. I closed what remained of my eyes. I willed them healed, and it was so. I looked about me with restored vision. Night stood silently by watching as her servant continued to slay me. I fended off its attacks as best as I could, but it seemed futile. If only the angel had fought so well. It might even still be alive. Air rushed around me and the ground quickly fell away. We rose to the night's sky, this beast and I. We were kept aloft by its powers, for it was by no bidding of mine that we sailed through the air. Hands enclosed my throat, and I quickly became unable to breath as ebon fingers crushed my windpipe. I was dropped then, and the ground was unkind as I crashed into it. I did not want to rise. I lay on my back, and I only wanted to fall through blackness as I had fallen through the night, until I could find a place of peace, but this was not my destiny. I closed my eyes and turned my blood to healing fires. I screamed and my flesh flowed like melted wax, and wounds closed. The creature desired the reward Night promised. It persisted in attacking me. Before I could again stand, the damn beast was at my throat, seeking to part my skin. I could feel its hands seeking weakness in my armor. I brought my arm up to ward against its blows, and my hand unexpectedly struck the being a blow. There was a fierce light then, and I did not see what passed. A scream cut through the night

from Night, and the black entity was dead. He lay unmarked. He had been slain only by the power of God's cup. My blow had nothing to do with it. The creature was one of beauty, and must have been an angel before the Fall. He was hairless, winged, and perfectly formed. There was no part of him that was not black. Even the wings. They were leathery though, and not at all like the dead unknown angel's. Soft sobs came to my attention then. Night. "I should kill you! You bitch." I slid my sword into its scabbard and placed the cup within a pouch. This I affixed to a leather strap at my waist. I stepped towards Night. She did not cower as I expected, but seemed to accept her failure. She now thought to die. I had not yet decided her future. I was not unmoved by her loveliness. I reached forward, and took hold of the white wedding veil. I exposed her face. So like a porcelain doll. So beautiful. I touched her face with a heavy gauntlet of cold mirror steel. She looked as though she were about to cry, but she did not. Her mouth quivered. I touched this. I ran a steel encased finger over her lips. I then put this hand to the back of her hair. I slid it under hair and veil, and grasped the base of her small skull. I could crush it so simply. "You bitch," I repeated, but this time I lacked venom. Gently, I kissed her pert mouth. Her kiss was as I remembered. Little time had passed, less than hours, since I had taken her. I directed her head with my hand, forcing her to kiss hard. She could not pull away, nor did she try. I wondered if she thought she had found redemption. She stiffened in my arms then. I released my hold of her. Her eyes were wide. I could see fear clearly written there. "The sun comes. I need bed down if I am to survive, and you have killed that which bore me here. I cannot make it back to my home." She looked past me at the cave that was now the tomb for the dead angel. I took her into my arms then, and held her tight. Only the first hint of false dawn colored the horizon. There was still time before she need seek sanctuary. She tilted her head back, and looked me in the eyes. "Is this it then? Are you so cruel as to kill me this way?" "If I so choose." I replaced the veil of her dress. I would not kill her. I decided this, and it would serve no purpose to torture her with that which she feared most. I saw no reason to make her feel the indifferent caress of the sun. "You can go," I said. She ran into the cave. I followed Night into dark confines. I had not intended to enter again. It seemed almost a violation. She stood over my fallen foe. "Is this to be my bedmate?" I did not answer. She touched the edge of the angel's facial wound. I stepped forward to stop her from profaning the angel, but she seemed genuinely concerned with its death. She lay beside it, and closed her eyes. I could not tell if she yet slept, but she did not breathe, and she was as in death. I went to the entrance, and watched the sunrise. I'd never seen one before. I was struck with the magnificence of it. I'd read of them in Hell. I could see how it inspired poets. It lit low hanging clouds to fire. The horizon burned with a multitude of reds and orange. I had new respect for any being that would create such a thing, if indeed he had created it. It seemed too perfect to have come about by design. I heard bird song, and my fate weighed heavily upon me. I returned to Night. She still lay as I had left her. I took her into my arms, and walked towards the sun. I composed my thoughts and shifted. Needles stabbed into my flesh and became daggers. I screamed a

backwards scream not meant to be heard, and I saw a bright star flashing before me. I became one with Night in a way more intimate than orgasm. I plummeted through myself to the dwelling place of Nemesis. It was as I expected it to be. Barren of any individuals. Leftover scraps of food and sour jugs of coagulated blood lay strewn about. Nemesis's throne stood empty. I carried Night from room to room. She did not stir in my arms. I felt as though I were playing the part of a tragic hero in some forgotten play. I imagined I carried a dead lover torn from life and myself, and in a way I was, though I felt no noble emotions for Night. Where was Nemesis, or any of the vampires for that matter? I had assumed that they bedded down here. Perhaps I was wrong. Nemesis was confined to the Banquet by dictate of Satan, but I did not know if he obeyed. I had to find him soon, or return Night to cave or castle. I would not just leave her. I entered into the only room that I had not yet searched. There were many tables in this room with a bar along one wall. Broken glass covered the floor. It crunched under my steel-shod boots as I walked. The urge to call out came upon me, and I had to resist from doing so. There would have been none to answer. Nothing out of the ordinary was to be seen in this room. I left, and went again to the throne. I thought of my Father's throne in Defile. It hid a staircase that led to the only remaining tower of Defile. Was Nemesis to be as predictable? No. There was nothing behind the throne but a white wall. Nothing under it either. "Where is he Night? Where?" I spoke to myself, for no other answered, or was able to answer. The vampire's caution could be understood. Their resting place had to be hidden well, so wandering mortals would not accidentally happen upon them as they slept. Where? Then I felt foolish. The vampires were hid from mortal view, but I was no mortal. I was something more than human. Walls no longer existed, and the ceiling hovered above me, held in place by no seen force. In the same manner the floor also disappeared from sight, though I still walked upon it. It was by my will that these things happened. Below me, in neat rows, stood caskets in contrast to the chaotic mess that filled the undead's Banquet hall. Only one was white, and larger than the others. I slid through the now insubstantial floor, and floated to the white casket. This one was decorated with a cross. Engraved on the cross was an artistic image of a cup overflowing with blood or wine. I kissed Night's dark brow, and placed her softly on top of a nearby coffin. I then opened the one that I hoped to house Nemesis. I was right. He lay within. Nemesis slumbered peacefully, if his expression could be taken as an indication of his mind state. Nemesis's coffin was unique in that it was wider than the others. I picked up Night, from where I had laid her, and placed her within this white cross-marked coffin. It was as if it had been built for the purpose of housing two. I positioned Night so that she embraced the being who loved her. Night and Nemesis. They looked as though they were meant for each other. My skin tingled with an unfamiliar sensation, and I realized that I was being moved by this love scene. These gentle emotions disturbed me. I wanted to give into them, and claim my own bride. It would almost worth giving up everything for. I could reclaim Silenthia from Hell. I wanted this, but I had resolved to confront my Father's age old enemy. Why did I have to be the pawn of Fate? "I give you this, your bride. Love her well for what she is. You haven't much time."

The dead air grew stifling. I needed to leave. I'd wasted enough time with Night. I still did not understand what had caused me to go to her. Surely, it had not been Nemesis's narrative. I had not needed to visit her. I could have gone straight for the cup, and had I, there would not have been a battle with Night's guardian creature. I suspected that the being I had fought was the same one that had originally slain Night. If this was true then Night was no creation of my Father's as Nemesis believed. Night would have still been the same. The black entity had most likely made her the undead, not my Father. I would have to ask him if I lived through what was to come. I placed my hand on the pouch that held the goblet, and I looked at the undead couple once last time, then shut the coffin lid. It crashed closed with a bang. I shifted. Something was wrong! It was taking entirely to long, and there were no spectacular shift effects. I couldn't see for a moment, and there was a wetness on my face. "I am Loki, and you are here for me to kill," came a voice, then insanity reigned. Loki Loki. Loki. Loki. loki. loki is a man? a gog ha! a god! Loki is a woman. Am i loki? loki. loki loki loki !=? loki. How i've hated you. kill kiss kinky karma "I kill well also. You killed The-One-Who-Could-Not-Die. I too did so once. I was punished for it more than you can imagine. Balder, poor beautiful god of charisma. You killed Legion. So alike. They still almost saved him. Even without a soul he would have been worth much to them. The Council was distraught at his loss. They didn't know who slew him. I had to take that knowledge from the mind of the dead boy. That's why I was hired." He little monkeys hold the key paced about me in a wide roundness. He was Loki, but who was me? i could not move, Nietzsche, please tell me what you think of Hell and the drug was keeping me from being able to think. My body felt warm and the air was thick. i were submerged in the womb waiting for the breath of death. Who? Am i am i Rancor! I am the Antichrist! i I would burn it from me if only I could think. Loki seemed to be far from finished with his diatribe. Would he speak long enough for me to recover? He stopped pacing. "Does it seem a little excessive to you? I mean, hiring a god as an assassin? What do you think of mortals? I like them. They amuse me, and I find it pleasurable to dally with the better looking females. Would it belittle me, in your eyes, if I told you that I even occasionally partake of male flesh? Not as often though. I just don't get the same satisfaction. I actually liked Legion. Wasn't a very good lover though, all those tubes and everything, so no real loss. Oh my, here I am carrying on like this, and you just wanting more. Oh no, don't protest. I insist." More of his damn liquided pasheled, and i became a furry baby. Would i ever be born? i tried moving, but my arm was entirely too long to lift, and there weren't anything that i wanted too bad, and i wished he was dead, but i couldn't sort my brains. Did i have two? Seemed so. loki/loli/loki/loki/loki/loki/ hey loki! "Satanel," I managed, and I didn't know why I added the heavenly honorific He was no longer entitled to. "He won't answer. You see, I can't have him saving you. That would completely undermine my killing you. This isn't really happening yet, you see, or maybe it's already happened. I forget, and things get so

confusing these days. This is a moment out of time. As soon as I've killed you time will resume. It'll be a shame really." Long Lion gong winded bastard. I could feel my blood, coursing crimsonly through my veins. I becAme one with it. I melted into a radiant pool of nothing. There were no thoughts as time realized that it should be doing something. Loki held it back. There was more to me that there should have been. I was blood. Pure red blood, but there was this other. Where do the children play? On the head of a pin Poison. Burning white flash and it slowly slipped from me for an eternity, but there was so much. "I said, we can't have that! I did say that didn't I?" He pasheled splashed! splashed! He slpsplasjed splashed me again. This time that was not MINe Gtt! Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? all he did. He poured it into my mouth, and I drank. I has a mouth. I found this to be rather odd. Wasn't i blood? groooooovy groovy blood. kiss me i've got trh the truth on my moughth like sands. did i mention the rabbits Aw fuch the bunnies fuck the bunnies This sucked, and i wanted much to.... I swallowed, because I could, and it seemed like the thing to do. was there really a plastic Jesus? did he crack when they nailed him up/ should a been made a sturdier stuff I drew breath. I drew breath, and I knew who I was. There was much I wanted to do. There was little that I could do. Would I never learn? I could have taken Nemesis's cup with ease, had I not visited Night. I could have used it without interference, had I not reunited Night to Nemesis. Why did i delay destiny? No more. "I spent thousands of years under the spray of this venom, I'd think you could take it for a little while. Don't be such a baby. Convulsions aren't at all becoming for one of your station. The cup's always full you know? So don't despair there will be enough." Loki wore tight leather pants, black and laced up the side. This was all he wore. The ever-full cup was upended, and Loki poured the contents onto my armor in a steady stream. It slid through cracks to find my skin. Cloth tore, and a woman screamed in rape Ma heart became my brain, and missed a beat. Nannies, and feather dusters He stroked my face with a long fingered hand. i didn't mean it. i didn't mean it! i'll be goox, really i will. "We're so alike, you and I." How does one kill a god? "Once, just for kicks mind you, I poured this venom on a mortal. I then had perverted and sick sex with her until she died. Or was it afterward that we had sex? I forget. I'll have to ask her sometime. Have you had enough yet? Should I stop?" i don't want to die! i want i want i want i want i want i want Oh fuck! Please please Please please Please Loki stopped the torturing liquid. He held it ready though. Crimson kings and slaves, they're the same really Thus i die! in a flash of pitiful poetics. So unfairly. Music came for me from somewhere. Where, i know not, but it carried me away, though i went nowhere. Then there was silence. "A little sin's always good," I said as my eyes rolled to the back of my skull. "Sin's always good?" "I little sin," I said. "You mean 'a' little sin, not 'I.' I like that. You don't mind if I use that do you? I'm sure it'll be a hit. Poor Rancor, the mighty Antichrist has fallen. And a little sin's always good." He set he cup down, I'm bigger than the world ya know and sat next to it. There wasn't any ground really, just soft purple nothingness. Virginal sacrifice of a radioactive prostitute "Oh fuck it. This isn't fun anymore. They're not paying me enough either. You can go."

jusp lipe thap, just lipe thap. just like thap! just like that? i still could not think. Who was the being? Was her really a god? I tried to rise, but that was completely out of the question. I laid there. I could do that. I even did it well. "I don't suppose you would consider.... Nah, I'm probably not your type. Besides, all that armor would be a pain." loki...loki... i cried like a baby. i wasn't sure AND nO supper! why. i was still wet from the venow--venom. Loki left leaving loathed cup of snake spittle behind. If only I could follow, I would slice slash rend rip beat bash cut kill him. the serious boy chipped at the golden statue I moved. Not far, but I found I no longer lay directly in a wet pool of poison. Again, I tried to become one with my blood. Hot liquid running through my veins. zzzzLifeblood. i closed my eyes. My muscles contracted, and I could no longer breathe. I was blood, then not. fast cars and breaking glass I grasped my will for a fleeting moment, and magnificent illusions exploded away from me. They were no different from what I had been seeing. Flowers and decapitated priests and puppy dogs. My focus slipped away then, and they were all gone. This wasn't working. I would just have to wait out the effects of the drug-venom. I sat up, tried to stand, fell. This was no good, no good at all. I rose to my knees. Such a wavering accomplishment. I remained like this for I'm not sure how long. Visions continued to fly past my eyes. Sometimes, I paid them attention, sometimes not. When I again felt confident in my abilities I tried to take to my feet. I collapsed in a heap of silver armor. /Silenthia/ No answer, but then I hadn't expected one. Oh Silenthia, did I even tell you I love you? I can't seem to remember. I love you. I will win. You'll see. I'll do this thing, and send for you when I've won. We can be together forever. We can.... Everything will be perfect. We'll remake anything that isn't. Silenthia, my love, !I love you! /Rancor Is that you? You sound funny/ ?Did you betray me Silenthia? ?Why do you say such things? I needed her. I had to lose myself in thoughts of her. I needed someone to set me back to reality. Everything began to spin, and I turned my head to the side and vomited. Horridly caustic stuff that. Oh help. If I ever saw that effete dilettante.... ?Rancor are you still there? I could not compose my thoughts to answer. It was enough that I knew that we were linked. I could feel her flesh. Were we making love? Why this blindfold? These chains? I can't see! !Silenthia! /Let me come to you Let me through/ /No/ So the shield still held. It was as Loki had said. This was a moment out of time. Then how was I linked to Silenthia? Was it only my imagination? I had no answers. I could only hope time would resume from when Loki had captured me. I would come into existence at the church. If only I could shift. I stood. I was shaky and feared I would fall yet again, but I did not. I turned, and looked at the cup that Loki had poured the venom from. It was a simple clay cup of mean workmanship. I hated it. What if he came back? What if he again used that damn poison against me? These thoughts, and many more like them, came unbidden to me. I tried to calm myself, but I couldn't. Why? Oh this was becoming frustrating. /I want you I took another She was nothing compared to you Silenthia? I love I hate I was made for this/ This was greeted with only silence.

I did not trust myself. I checked for my sword, my shield. I insured that I still was in possession of my helmet. Lastly I felt for the cup that had once been God's. It remained in the pouch at my waist. I looked at my armor. It was unstained from the liquid. There were no traces of it left. I still felt its effects though. /Silenthia/ Still no answer. I felt well enough to again try banishing the remaining venom drug from my system. "Rage is the fire that fuels my life." Who had said this? I summoned memories of molten lava where I had truly been born. My soul had been tempered there. No part of me was human. I imagined my rage at the capture of my love. Fires washed over me in unpleasant waves. I opened my mouth, for what I wasn't sure, but I did not scream. I took the cup of God from the pouch, and I had a small child in my hand, I made a tight fist, crushing life from it. Blood flowed from between my fingers, and I realized I was that child. Music rose in funeral dirge wail, and I came out of the shift. I was at the house of God. The one from Crime's dream-vision. Mercy I came into existence in front of the altar. A priest was kneeling before me. He did not notice that I was even there, so deeply lost in his prayers was he. I did not want to disturb him any more than I had to in order to satisfy my aims. I changed my image to that of one that he would trust. "Father, rise. You are found to be pleasing in my sight." The priest looked up at me. There was shocked disbelief in his eyes. How easy to believe when faced by the belief. Man shuns his own soul, only because there is a spot of dark in it, not understanding that this darkness makes the light possible. Does the evil man see himself as evil, or does he see himself as the martyr, dying for another's sins? "Jesus?" gasped the priest when he could finally bring himself to speak. "It is I," I said, and it was not a lie. I did not claim to be his god, only myself. "Why are you here?" "I've come to test you, and to ask a service of you." "Yes. Yes, anything." "What is your name?" "I--I have once been called Mercy, but I can't seem to remember my real name. Strange, I knew it only moments ago." I thought of the visions that I had received from my mother's coin. I brought up the image of the priest that had died in the vision. It was the same as the one before me. I shifted my perceptions a little then, and I could see through Mercy. This would not have been possible had this been a living mortal, but this was not. He was dead. "Mercy, you are a ghost." "I remember now. She wanted the coin, but I wouldn't let her have it. I even threatened to kill her, and I tried. I hit her and I hit her and I hit her. The coin was mine you see." Mercy looked dejected. As if he no longer had any hope, but then he realized that what he thought to be his savior was standing before him. His eyes lit with a light that was like that of the living. "The coin, it was meant for me, wasn't it?" he asked. He didn't seem to be bothered by the fact that he was no longer living. It disturbed him more to have lost the coin. "It has been meant for many. It is meant for the one who holds it

now. You were not wrong in desiring it. It could have been used for much good. Now, forget about the coin. Forget about being dead. There is something that I must have you do." "Anything, Lord." I brought out the cup. I had been holding it the whole time, but I had not let Mercy see it. I had shielded it from view. The goblet glowed with a golden light. I could still feel a stinging sensation through my gauntlet. I turned my back on Mercy. I had wanted a live priest, but I was sure that this one would do. I set the chalice upon the altar. It blazed. The cross upon it seemed to be made of liquid. It was as if the cup had finally come home. It looked as if it belonged where it now rested. I was now almost afraid to touch it. I doubted if it could kill me, but I didn't relish the idea of the anguish that it would now undoubtedly cause me if I made contact. "Come, Mercy, your Lord requires a favor." Mercy reverently approached the altar. He made the sign of the cross. "What should I do?" "Bare your wrist." He did as I commanded. I took out Witch's dagger, and drew it across the skin of his wrist. The dagger was made to kill devils, but I knew that it would not seriously harm Mercy. I wasn't sure if he would bleed, being a ghost, but I felt that this was what I was supposed to do. If Mercy wasn't the one then there would have been another here, not him. Fate. I had little worry. Blood flowed freely. I put away the dagger, and grasped his forearm, and brought it to the cup. Red blood splashed onto the altar. It was then, as I prepared to fill the chalice that had once touched God's lips, that the unexpected happened. A voice called out from the back of the church at the same time as my Father once again made an assault of the barrier that was held in place by the Item and my will. I almost lost control for long enough to let my Father through, but I regained it in time to stop Him. The voice. I turned to look at where it had come from. There stood Crime and Spirit. "Stop Rancor!" I had chosen only to have Mercy see me as the form of the son of God. All other's would see me as I appeared dressed in my white suit (a layering of illusion) but I would still be wearing my armor, no matter my appearance. I addressed Spirit. "You shouldn't have brought her here." "I didn't. She said that she had a dream, and that she had to come here. I couldn't stop her. I tried to do as you said, but I couldn't convince her to listen to me. I tried, but she wouldn't listen." "I'm sure she wouldn't." I glanced back at Mercy, and was alarmed by what I saw. He was starting to fade. The blood was no longer flowing as fast as it was before. I didn't have time to deal with Crime. I again started to guide Mercy's arm to the cup of God. It still glowed with the same intensified light from when I had first placed it on the altar. "Rancor, please. I can't let you do this. I'm happy now. I finally found something for myself. Love. And I wasn't even looking. I want this life. I do not want to begin again. You have no right to take it away." Blood ran from the fingers of the priest, but still none had fallen into the chalice. I directed Mercy's hand till it was right above the golden goblet. Several large crimson drops hung from the end of his fingers, and a little pool had formed in the palm of his hand. This was it. This was to be the defilement that would bring God to me. A dagger rang off the side of my helmet. This caused my illusions

to drop. I now was appeared as I really was. Fully dressed in silver battle armor. I was protected, but when the blade hit I flinched and released Mercy. He pulled back his blooded wrist. No! Another dagger hit me, but this one found its way between my helmet and the gap where my body armor started off. Pain shot through my whole body as I pulled it from out of my neck. I dropped it. When compared to what I had been through before, during the war in Hell, this was nothing, but it was enough to distract me from my destiny. "Look mother," I said, as I held up the gauntlet bearing the dragon ring. "This is the ring you stole from your father. You could never understand its purpose. It was intended as a gift of love, but now it has fed on blood and been christened by fire. The dragon has been perverted mother. It is a thing of hate now. It's living a nightmare, and it hungers." "The ring means nothing to me. I put it on only as a whim. Take it Rancor, feed its hunger as you will. I only ask you to quit this foolishness." Foolishness? I thought of this. Was I indeed being the fool? I did not think so. I could try to convince myself all I wanted that I could refuse my part in this cosmic game, but it wouldn't do any good. I was born to be a game-piece. I could play willingly, or I could play reluctantly, but I would play. To pretend anything else would be the foolishness. "No mother, you are wrong. I only come to fulfill all the prophesies both known and untold. If not I, it will be another, so why not me?" I held my palm up. A wide beam of light shot forth and struck the person that was my mother. It hit her in a blinding brightness. Her eyes were the first part of her to be hurt. They just seemed to melt in their sockets. Her clothes were next. They burst into flame, bubbling into her skin. Crime's skin blistered, and her flesh cracked deeply, but still I did not lessen the energy I was expending. She fell to the church floor. Black blood oozed from her wounds. I closed my hand, extinguishing the light. By degrees I became aware of Spirit screaming as if it were he who was the one dying. By degrees I became aware of what I had done. I hadn't meant it! It wasn't my fault, and I could have saved her, but I had to use Mercy before he disappeared completely. I was torn by indecision, but there was no choice really. I had to do what I had lived my whole life to do. No one should have tried to stop me. Spirit dropped to his knees and cradled my mother in his arms. She was dying, and there was nothing he could do about it. He looked up at me with hatred in his eyes. I couldn't really see what it mattered. If I succeeded in defiling the chalice of light then death would be coming to all anyway. What did it matter if Crime went seconds earlier? I reached again for Mercy, but he backed away from me. There was again disbelief in his eyes. I didn't care what he believed. It was enough for me that he had once been a servant of God's. I grabbed him. He struggled. I struck him. His eyes closed, and he fell into my embrace. I once again started to bring his hand to the damn chalice. It wasn't supposed to be this hard. "Appear!" screamed Spirit. "No!" I spun around, holding the still body of the ghost priest. Spirit and Crime were together holding the Talisman clenched between their hands. My concentration broke as a new wave hit the already stressed barrier holding my Father back. It tore right through my shield as if it did not exist. The Talisman was more powerful than mine, and even if they had been equal, the shield would have still fallen with the help of my Father's attack.

Crime drew her last breath, looked at me, and closed her eyes. I felt nothing at her passing. Fire and smoke, and there He stood. He had chosen his large winged shape. He did not look pleased. "Father, have you came to join in my moment of glory?" "No, I've come to stop folly. You cannot win. Come with Me back to Hell. There will always be another day to fight God." "Ha! Father, don't you see, that's just it. There will always be 'another day.' Left to Yourself You would never face him. How many times have You tried? Once in a sad pathetic moment of childish rage. That was it! I plan on defeating him Father, and taking back that which has been lost. "I learned my lessons well. I discovered my rage while I was buried in lava. I've fed that rage. You fed it. Crime fed it. Now no one wants to acknowledge their creation. Don't be a hypocrite Father. I couldn't stand that. "Either join me or stand and watch, but do not try to stop me or You will face my wrath, and I have no doubt as to the outcome of such an encounter. I am so much more than You!" "Such a pretty speech, Rancor, but you have forgotten that I knew the meaning of true evil before the world was even created. I've faced God before, and I know you cannot win! I will stop you." The End of It All Mercy faded away then. It was as if he had never existed. I glanced at the altar, and even the blood stains that had been there were gone. Something sacred of God's to be defiled by something that was of God. I drew my silver battle blade. This would not be the first time I had fought my Father, but I would make sure that it was the last. If He defeated me then I did not wish to live. "Come to Your death then, Father." My Father, Satan, the Devil, Lord of all Hell, God of This World, The Deceiver, Father of Lies, The Fallen One, Dark Angel, the Serpent. He was all of these, yet He was nothing. He was unwilling to fight for what He felt was His. This was why I had to win. I would not hesitate. This Being, Who stylized Himself as a creature of darkness, held out a fisted hand. In it a heavy weighted hammer came into existence. The hammer was like a pick-ax on one side, blunt on the other. It was a mean weapon. I still felt nothing but purpose. I left my shield slung about my shoulders. I wanted to be able to move my sword with that little bit of extra speed that I would have had to sacrifice had I decided to use it, and I had something planned for the hand that usually carried the shield. I could always block with my blade. The sword that I wielded could be broken by none. I held my weapon in one hand, leaving the other free, and I waited. The Devil, my Father, came at me with a deafening roar. All the stained-glass in the church exploded and blew outward. Still my Father came, hammer behind his head, ready to smash me. I did not move. He swung it towards my head. Even though He had created it the hammer was still a mundane weapon with no powers. I could detect that from the moment He had held it in His grasp. I didn't bother to move. I knew my armor could withstand any blow that the weapon could make, even though it was wielded by the Lord Satan Himself. It collided with my helmet, my head rocked back, and for a second I thought I had been wrong. The noise was intense, and I wondered if my ears were bleeding. I could feel a warm wetness running

down the sides of my cheeks. My eardrums must have shattered. Still I waited. I knew what I had to do in order to win this fight, and I was going to do it. Satan raised the hammer once again, in preparation to strike what he perceived as a confused opponent, but I was far from confused. When His weapon was again behind His head I drew the dagger of Bettacrasnakka, and buried it in my Father's stomach. He dropped the hammer. It hit the floor, but did not stop there. It passed right through the wood, leaving a hole, that was only slightly larger than the hammer. My Father fell flat to the floor. I sheathed my sword, stepped behind Him, and grabbed a fistful of His hair. I pulled his head back from where it rested until it almost touched his back. I stared Him in the eyes. There was still light there, but it was fading quickly. "This is the end, Father. You never understood. You had Your petty hates. Your petty loves, even if You would never admit them. You have always been petty, Father. You never knew the meaning of true evil. There is no such thing. There is only existence and purpose. You have to find a purpose, and once you have done so, you have to follow it, even if it's destined to fail you. What other choice is there?" I pulled His head back even farther until I had His chest and stomach off the floor. I then reached around and drew the dagger from Him. It slid from His flesh with a hot splash of blood. I brought the wet blade up to His throat, and slit it with no emotion. Something sacred of God's to be defiled by something that was of God. I cut into His neck with a sawing motion. It was not hard to decapitate Him. The last strands of flesh and bone parted under the blade quite easily. I dropped the knife, for it had served its purpose. I carried His severed head, neck up, to the altar. No ghost illusion of blood. No one to stop me. I could feel the moment of victory. The world was to end, and God would be mine to defeat! I now stood before the silver cup. Soon its light would be no more. I held my Father's dead head over the chalice. I tilted the head, letting crimson liquid pour forth from it. The blood ran into the chalice. The cup filled, and overflowed. The light about the golden cup of God flickered, then was completely quenched. I dropped Satan's head. It hit the ground, and rolled back until it sat upon its bloody severed neck. It was facing me. It was as if even in death my Father didn't want to miss what was going to come next. I reached out, picked up the goblet, and drank it down. Thunder clapped, and the ground shook, as I did also, but I barely heard anything. My ears had been damaged by my Father's blow. I tossed the goblet away when I was through with it. I heard it rattle off to some unseen corner. I wiped my mouth on the back of a gauntleted fist, and turned around. I wanted to laugh, so I did. It was as I was laughing that I again noticed Spirit. He was still holding my dead mother, as if he could not accept her death. "She's dead, you know?" He didn't answer, but more softly heard terrible thunder did. I had little hearing. The concussion wave of displaced air almost caused me to stumble and fall. Lightning flashed though a window where once had been stained-glass until my Father had shattered it with a yell. The lightning struck me. My armor carried the shock to all parts of my body. My muscles uncontrollably contracted. I screamed. Then it was over. "You'll have to do better than that if you hope to defeat me!" I yelled to the heavens, and for all I know, I was the only one besides Spirit who heard. I threw my arms over my head, and clenched both hands into fists, as if I was preparing to fight. I was ready. Nothing could hurt me. I would be victorious. "Come, taste my might!" I wanted to yell, but as I

started to do so another bolt of God's wrath manifested itself, and blasted into me. My armor seemed to gather it in and focus it. I was thrown onto my back. I tried to rise, but pure electricity continued to assault me. It would not stop. I could do nothing but feebly push against the floor and feel my flesh begin to burn. Little wisps of moisture escaped my shining suit of metal. My heart stopped, and blood started to drip from the fingers of my gauntlets. I did not know where it was coming from. Flames rose about me. As quickly as it began, the lightning quit, and I realized I had not breathed since it had first hit me. I forced my will inward, and caused my heart to resume its beating. I then drew in a deep breath, and willed the fire to cease. I stood, and pulled off the metal and leather gauntlets I wore. My skin was blackened and torn. Large cracks ran up both of my forearms. These cracks oozed thick blood. I could see raw muscle and fat tissue where my skin had separated. I looked again to the sky through the open window, and awaited the next bolt of deadly energy. It did not come. Instead the ground began to shake. Large sections of the roof collapsed down upon me. I threw one metal clad arm up to shield myself from the shower of debris. The ground stopped, but still dust and small fragments of dry plaster formed a cloud about me. I had to close my eyes against this. When I again was able to open them I faced Spirit. He was bloodied, grime covered, and one arm hung uselessly at his side. A section of the roof must have struck him. He took another step towards me. In his good hand he held the blade with which I had so recently killed my Father. So little mortal, you seek justice? "A little too poetic don't you think?" My armor would protect me against the knife, unless he got lucky. I would not risk my destiny on the luck of a mortal. Spirit would have to be slain, and quickly. I did not know when God would again attack. "Drop it, and I will give Crime back to you," I lied. Life was not yet mine to grant, only take away. "No." Spirit lunged with the wicked blade, but his broken arm caused his attack to be clumsy, and I had only to step back to avoid the thrust. I returned his attack. I decided to destroy him as I had destroyed my mother. The same deadly force struck him, but instead of harming him he only glowed with a gentle blue light. The light seemed to emanate from his useless arm's fist. Was he protected from me by God? He again made a thrust, and I was so surprised by the fact that I had been unable to kill him that the blade connected with my armor. It scratched along the surface of my breastplate, cutting a long gouge. The blade did not touch my flesh. Spirit brought the sinister knife back for a stab. I could see the hate in his eyes, and I knew it would not go away until the knife rested in my black heart. I saw it coming at me as he brought it down, towards my chest. I saw my death, and the cruel ending to my destiny. It could have ended here, but fate was not done meddling in my life. I caught Spirit's wrist in one of my blood slickened hands. I clenched his wrist tightly, and cracked it backwards breaking it. A jagged bone peeked through Spirit's skin, and the knife hit the floor between our feet. I kicked it away. It slid across the floor spinning until it fell into the hole that was created by Satan's hammer. The knife was no longer a threat to me. I lifted Spirit into the air by his throat. I felt myself losing control of myself. My emotions raged, and my body started to form into that of a dragon. Large ridges formed above my eyes, and talons sprang from my fingers. I grew, and my armor became the scales that covered my bulk. I stopped the transition before I became too huge for the church. Spirit seemed unimpressed by my changes.

I inhaled deeply, and spewed forth great bellows of flame that completely engulfed the mortal I held. Flesh hardened, became dry, dark, and burst into flame. His charred skin peeled back from his muscle and bone. Juices sizzled on the exposed meat. I did not stop the fire until it had completely consumed Spirit, and there was nothing left of him except a small amount of ash sprinkled about the floor. "Rancor!" I turned to the voice, wondering what new surprise it heralded. I was growing weary of this. I wanted it to be over. I wanted to claim Silenthia, and sit upon the throne that was rightfully mine. The voice that had called out was Spirit's, and he was whole, with no injuries, once again. He stood over the corpse of my mother, and at first I thought that he was like Mercy--a ghost, but then he held up his hand. In it he held the silver two headed American dollar that had bought a soul. "So we both have a trophy from Crime," I said, as I held forth the hand that was decorated by the dragon ring. "She gave this to me as a symbol of her love for me before she died. She told me of its powers, but I did not believe," he said of the coin. "You poor fool. She gave up immortality for your love. She did not want to see you grow old and die while she remained in the body of a child. You wept over her death, but you didn't know what you lost." My voice was low, almost a growl, for I had many of the characteristics of a dragon. It was also faint in my damaged ears. Spirit ran at me. I saw no reason to be frightened of him. I stood my ground, and awaited him to discover that I was invincible. His fist flew towards my breastplate. It struck the same place that Bettacrasnakka's dagger had marred. The coin had no power over me. I remained unharmed in any way. "That affects only the unnatural, and I'm far from that." I drew my bright blade, and struck off Spirit's arm at the elbow. He only looked at me in horror and defeat. I turned from him as irrelevant, and looked to heaven once again. There had been no sign of my enemy for some time. I began to wonder if he had given up, and ran to some unknown place to hide. If not I would force his hand. I would make it so he would have to destroy me, or face devastation of all he held precious. "Must I come to you? I do not think so. I will seek out and destroy all that is sacred to you. I will make this world as Hell. No goodness shall exist here. Only evil shall thrive. I will cause the Earth to burn, the oceans to rise and consume the land, and I will blot out the sun. I will kill every innocent, destroy all that is beauty, this I promise you." I raised my hand, the universe started to shudder, and I began to undo the Lord God's beloved creation. I smiled at an ashen Spirit as the world slowly fell into chaos about us.

Christopher Jorgensen

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