Arthurian

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Degenerate Gambler

"He was a degenerate gambler. That is, a man who gambled simply to gamble and must lose. As a hero who goes to war must die. Show me a gambler and I'll show you a loser, show me a hero and I'll show you a corpse." – Mario Puzo


WELCOME TO LAS VEGAS, the garish sign proclaimed in neon letters. Alexander Julius Penn looked over at Luis Lanza in the passenger seat of his Chevy Malibu. If somebody a few months ago had told him that he would patch things with Luis here, and, that, as their first order of business, they would opt for a weekend in Las Vegas.

Moses followed behind them in his GMC Sonoma with Abigail Vennard in the passenger seat. After ending up the recipient of a botched love spell, Alex Penn could hardly believe she had accepted the invitation to join them in their trip to Las Vegas.

Apparently, the emerald that had contained Mordred's soul gem had fetched a decent cash value. Enough to get them on the road. Moses intended to ply his magick to score even more money. Moses had perfected an aging glamour. A quality fake ID rounded out the deception. As far as anyone knew, Moses had every right to gamble.

Moses would also serve as their chaperone, their all-purpose loophole to those age restrictions. Perhaps, in some roundabout way of winning back Alex's trust after that love spell debacle, Moses had dreamed up this mythical weekend in Las Vegas.

After a week and change of interviews and failure to find a job (or even a new place to live), Moses had considered alternatives to wage slavery. "I think with the right precautions, we can get by without having to punch anybody's clock," Moses had told him. Skeptical at first, Moses laid down the groundwork for this vacation.

Alex had visited Hadrian in the hospital every day. He had visited one last time to explain why they planned on booking it to another state while he lingered between life and death. "We need the money," Alex had explained. "Moses can get it."

Alex remembered sighing. "At least, he thinks he can." Alex had smirked. "I don't really know." Of course, when Alex got down to brass tacks, they needed this trip because they needed this trip. Non-stop trials and tribulations would drive the most hardcore modern-day knight insane. A lot of good they would serve as the defenders of the world without a shred of sanity between them. Alex stared up at the boulevard.

Las Vegas looked different during the day, like a hung-over drunkard fleeing daylight. "Hey, look," Luis said, pointing at the hotel like a child pointing at a ferris wheel at the carnival. "Last time I was here, they hadn't even started building that."

Alex followed Luis' finger. "Valentine Hotel," Luis narrated. Alex had recalled the news a few years back. Some Fortune 500 guy had declared his intention to build his own casino resort in Las Vegas, a Xanadu open to the public at a reasonable price.

"We should go there. I hear they got Alaskan king crabs in their buffet." Alex rolled his eyes and smiled. Luis Lanza had regained his legendary appetite. A shiver went down his spine. In keeping with his strict never-get-caught-with-your-pants-down policy, Alex had loaded down both their vehicles with enough weaponry to lay siege to a medieval kingdom. As such, Alex wanted to stick to those no-name casinos. Anything that attracted tourists would also attract security. And, with Moses already primed to break a number of laws, Alex had no interest in watching his twin brother blanked his way through security guards. Luis seemed to read his mind.

"They wouldn't check the trunks," Luis reassured. Even post-9/11, a group of teenagers chaperoned by one adult would raise age-related suspicions, not fears of domestic terrorism. Luis smirked. "They might check our IDs but, as long as Moses has our backs, I think we can deal with a little roughing up here and there, right?"

Alex sighed again. His life had so many sighs these days. No easy choices had remained in the life and times of resurrected legends. Alex admired Moses' bravado. Moses had arrived in Las Vegas for the express purpose of ripping off the casinos. By knowingly accompanying him on this mission, Alex and all his friends had accepted their role of accomplices to an otherworldly con artist. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Alex turned into the parking lot of the Valentine Hotel. Luis shouted a victory cheer as Alex put the tiny white car in park. Minutes later, a tan truck filled the next parking space. For obvious reasons, the four would have to pass on the valet parking.


Hadrian Galileo Wallace awoke in a dark forest, his predicament reminiscent of a poem from his youth. Haddy looked around, desperate to know how he had came to this desperate place. Haddy could find nothing to suggest where he had come from. Despite his efforts, he could not even find his own footprints in the dirt leading here.

Hadrian looked down at his sneakers. He saw footprints that they belonged to a barefoot traveler. Infused with an overwhelming curiosity and a desire to leave the woods, Haddy tracked the footprints across miles of virgin forest. At the end of his odd journey along Indian trials, the footprints abruptly stopped at the mouth of a cavern.

Hadrian denied the silent challenge of the cave to enter it. He hoped to leave darkness behind. Not to enter into it. Blessed with sharp hearing and enormous ears to match, Haddy heard the sound of someone (or something) approaching from the dark woods. Hadrian looked back at the cave and then at the woods.

Haddy chose the cave. Haddy noticed the sickly green glow some of the rocks in the cavern gave off. The strange minerals lit the cave system and gave Hadrian the confidence he needed to press onward. The route of the cave sloped downward. Haddy took a moment to remember his mountaineering, one of the gifts his grandpa left him before he passed. Haddy found his footing and continued his descent into the caverns.

At last, Hadrian found a light at the end of the tunnel. Hadrian stepped into it. The light engulfed him. When the light receded, Haddy found himself in the middle of an ornate corridor of some ancient mansion. Hadrian heard the noise of festivities.

It was coming from the dining room. Haddy walked in to find a round table. At the head of said table, sat a short swarthy gentleman dressed in a green robe. He was in the middle of hungrily devouring a leg of lamb with teeth as sharp as steak knives.

Opposite the green robed man sat a jeweled chair that glowed with an angelic halo. "Please, sit," the green man said before bites. "Your feet have earned this rest." Hadrian, weary of the green stranger, could, nonetheless, feel his feet throbbing with the aches of his descent. Haddy sat down. "Welcome, Galahad, I'm Master Viridius."

Hadrian Wallace smirked. "You have more names than that." Haddy looked over the creature seated across from him. "Muslims call you Al-Khidr." Haddy smiled. "Of course, neither Al-Khidr nor Viridius is your true name because, in their native tongues, they just describe what you look like." The man smiled. "Green Man."

The Green Man gave Hadrian a golf clap. "Bravo, clever lad." The Green Man picked clean the bones of his lamb. "Indeed, you should never reveal your true name to a stranger lest he work curses against you." The Green Man's human eyes turned into green marbles of light. "You need not know my true name for I come on behalf of the one the demons call Older-Than-Old, He who lit the first light in the Outer Dark."

Hadrian smirked. "You mean God?" The Green Man nodded. "Wow, I gotta say, you don't look like an angel." Hadrian shook his head. "You look like an ass." Hadrian didn't give any thought to whether he might have offended this cosmic entity. Haddy knew better to trust the word of monsters without proof. "Catch you later, Green Boy."

The doors leading out of the dining room swung shut before Hadrian could lift himself out of his seat. "I appreciate mirth and its power to grant strength in times of hardship but I will not give you a leave to depart until you get what you've come for."

That got Hadrian's attention. Hadrian return to a full seated position. "Good." The Green Man drank from a humble chalice. "For your information, you were right about me. I am no angel of the Lord. Think of me as a messenger for the messengers."

Hadrian Wallace asked the obvious question. The Green Man's eyes returned to normal or, at the very least, Hadrian's idea of normal. "Once upon a time, there were two warring families. The god Krishna offered them boons. To one family, he gave a vast army. To the another family, a word of advice. I'm that word of advice."


Abigail didn't need to lie. Moses had packed up the gang and left San Uriel, California early this morning. A nonstop five hour drive as if everybody's life had depended on them reaching Las Vegas before noon. As a result, none of them had eaten since last night, For Abby, it had been a light dinner. To it bluntly, Abby had worked up one hell of an appetite. That did not explain her encounter with the carpet.

The predictable true love theme sparked something inside of Abigail. As she walked by waitresses dressed as cherubs and all the shades of red and pink strewn about, a host of memories struggled to break free from whatever cage had trapped them. Then, just after her friends had gotten in line for the buffet, the levees broke.

Abigail could feel hands touching her naked body and she could feel herself responding to their touch. Abby opened her eyes and saw Alex on top of her, also naked, entering her. Abby found herself in front of the cashier, her clothes intact and Alex at a respectable distance. Moses complained about the price of four buffets and forked over the cash anyways. Moses mumbled something about not expecting a tip.

Knowing Moses, he'd probably leave one anyways. As the four gathered in a booth seat, Abby took the seat farthest from Alex, leaving Moses and Luis as the two unfortunates crammed in the middle. What she had experienced didn't feel like her typical wet dream. It felt like Abigail had actually gone there, into his room at the Wallaces', ready to round the bases with the energy of two love-crazed teenagers.

Abby stared at Alex as if some monster had hollowed him and stolen his skin. Abby had enjoyed it very much but it didn't change the fact that he had violated her in the worst way. Alex Penn, an archetype of nobility, had crossed the line. Abigail didn't know if she could trust Alex anymore or if he might do it again in the future.


Hadrian Galileo Wallace felt his stomach heave as the Green Man snapped his fingers. "I apologize." The Green Man looked at the twilight realm that he had called into existence. "I have forgotten the fragile nature of the human mind." The Green Man bowed. "The weight of centuries can have that effect on memories." The Green Man sighed. "Come, Galahad." The elder god extended a hand and a path appeared.

A tremor nearly knocked off Hadrian off his feet. Al-Khidr barely noticed it. Hadrian looked down at his feet and realized that his guide no longer bothered with an ordinary mode of transportation. Instead of walking, Viridius floated inches off the ground, his robe dragging along in the dirt. Another tremor shook the twilight realm.

"Welcome to Magonia before the arrival of the fallen." Al-Khidr looked up into the sky. "Right now, the last battle in a war between cosmic ideations rages, the two armies exchanging blows capable of turning entire continents into clouds of ashes."

Viridius smiled. "Scholars call this 'The First Angelic War' but God has yet to reduce his servants to such a vulgar form. Right now, the war belongs to entities of pure energy. God has not deemed it necessary to stem their power supply until now."

A web of lightning bolts crisscrossed the clouds above. "Reduced in power, the rebel angels realized that they never stood a chance. It is ironically this reduction in power that led the Grigori to fornicate with their human charges and sire Nephilim."

An enormous ring of stars materialized in the sky and descended as shooting stars. "Before the war, God had forbidden violence between the angels. Ever merciful, God showed mercy to those who refused to fight out of principle. Those angel arrived here in Magonia and their children would visit Earth to enchant humans as faeries."

Fire rained down from the heavens. "And, of course, who could forget the fate of the last group of angels? Those who sided with Lucifer the False God against the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the Infinite and Unknowable True God. To this day, the rebel angels who were cast down into the pit call God by the epithet of 'Older-Than-Old', citing the blasphemy among them that God is merely the oldest angel."

As the fire in the heavens left behind only darkened cinders, a giant mass of rotting flesh fell. The silhouette of a creature with many limbs of many sizes and shapes printed itself onto the clouds where it had fallen through. "Against Lucifer, God levied the ultimate punishment. Utter annihilation. Exile to the Outer Dark."

The third tremor knocked Hadrian off his feet. Al-Khidr pointed to the red sea. "Lucifer's corpse descended into the Samudra Sea, the Father of All Rivers." Hadrian looked out past the shore to see an island in the distance. "On that island formed from the flesh of the Adversary grew flowers that, if eaten, would grant true immortality."

A woman of unearthly beauty appeared next to Hadrian and collapsed to her knees as if choking to death. "Danu, the first fairy to arrive in Magonia, devoured the plant, not knowing of the plant's origin. The fairy hungered, an experience alien to a former angel. She treated the rumblings of her stomach as a matter of life and death.

"Fearing that the other fairies would use the plant's properties to try and force open the gates of Heaven (a fool's errand that would only result in further sanctions from God), Danu set fire to the fields of the serpent flowers but kept a few seeds in her private garden should she ever find others worthy of the boon of true immortality."

Ages passed before Hadrian's eyes as Danu's Garden grew in splendor. "Due to the potency of her immortality, her descendants inherited her resistance to the woes of fairy life. They could not be felled by iron, a metal that could destroy lesser fairies."

The shadow of gossamer wings passed over Danu's Garden. The man with the insect wings spotted a tasty-looking flower and ate it. "For eons, she hid the secret of her bloodline's strength until a fairy named Thoth came upon a stray serpent flower.

"Thoth ate it and instantly knew why Danu's Children were so blessed. Thoth threatened to reveal her secret to the other fairies if she didn't allow him to give the flower to his most faithful followers. Unmoved by his blackmail attempt, Danu sought out Greek warrior fairies and paid them in serpent flowers to banish Thoth to Limbo."

Hadrian shook his head in frustration. "What does any of this have to do with me?" Al-Khidr pointed a long crooked finger. In a clearing in the forest sat a beautiful woman, almost the exact likeness of Danu except for her blue skin. "Diana saw in the False God Lucifer a champion of equal rights against God, a bloodthirsty tyrant who turned on his creations the moment they asked for his respect in addition to his love."

Viridius shook his head. "Such naivete." Viridius turned to Hadrian. "Whether you know it or not, Earth has an astral twin named Nibiru. Every few thousand years or so, the twin planets collide. Since Nibiru's a ghost planet, both worlds survive their collision with each other. From this, a baby universe is formed. With the right ritual, the energy from this source can be used to open a gate to any location in the cosmos."

Hadrian Wallace suddenly realized where this story led to. "Diana, dead set in her belief in Lucifer's inherent goodness, opened a portal to the Outer Dark." Hadrian rolled his eyes. Still, Hadrian couldn't blame Diana too much. Women back in the day had yet to uncover the oldest rule in the dating game: Never ever fall for the bad boy.

"Diana bid Lucifer entrance into a goat brought from Earth to Magonia. As an angel's ghost entered the animal, Lucifer transformed himself into a man of dazzling beauty. Diana fell instantly in love and sired twins with the First of the Fallen Sons."

The dance of time darkened the forest. "For centuries of fairy time, Lucifer did not harm a hair on anybody's head until Nibiru returned. Lucifer sought to recreate Diana's spell but this time he'd open a portal to the Seventh Heaven and sit upon the Throne while the Supreme God took to wondering the Earth in the form of Yahweh."

Diana stared in shock as the portal opened, revealing the Throne of Heaven. "In one fell swoop, Lucifer shattered all her romantic notions of her lover. He hadn't fought for equal rights. He merely wanted the Throne for himself. Diana vowed that she would make amends for her blind faith in him, even if it took a million lifetimes."

Diana plunged a Sword of Creation into Lucifer's heart. "The sword Excalibur sent Lucifer back to the Outer Dark but not before he unleashed hellfire upon all the gods, the ones who fed upon his corpse and their descendants. The gods burned. They became incorporeal entities, fleshless spirits, like their infernal cousins, the demons."

Burnt beyond recognition, Diana collapsed to the ground, her body eaten by worms. "Lucifer had tricked his wife into drinking juice made with the apples from a certain tree. Like with Adam and Eve, the drink stripped away her immortality but God had heard her vow to make amends and granted dead Diana a different kind of immortality ..." Hadrian's mouth hung open as he looked upon Diana's current form.


"Winner!' Moses Penn had heard that word many times in his life. It usually referred to somebody else. Not this time, Moses thought with a smile as he rolled the dice again. "Winner!" Like music to his ears, Moses savored the individual cadences of each repetition of that magic word. "Winner!" A large crowd had gathered around.

Because of his glamour, Moses looked like himself in his early thirties on the biggest winning streak of his life. After hours of trial and error, Moses found the best use of his meager bag of magick tricks. He didn't have the chops to control machines. That ruled out slots. He still hadn't figured out his sixth sense beyond seeing ghosts. Therefore, card games and roulette would never evolve past the whims of Lady Luck.

Moses and the dice had merged into a single unified whole. Moses could control every movement the dice made from now on. Without the Staff of Merlin, a tiny feat of psychokinesis left Moses exhausted and weak. He thanked his lucky stars he had loaded up on calories and carbohydrates at the buffet. He would need all the energy.

Moses had drawn a lot of the wrong kind of attention. Adam Erskine, the pit boss, kept giving Moses Penn the stink eye. An aggressively Scottish man, Adam Erskine only lacked a bagpipe and kilt to complete the look. Moses ignored him but he could hardly do the same to the guy who walked up to the craps table. Holy crap.

The bald guy in his late twenties who needed no introduction looked over at Moses. "I'm not cheating." A stupid thing to say but Moses couldn't help himself. If Basil Valentine had bothered to come down here himself, he obviously thought he had rigged the game. A smirk crossed Moses' face for a second. Good luck proving it.

Basil Valentine shook his head. "Nobody said you did." Adam Erskine stood behind them with guards with sunglasses at his behest. "I actually came here to offer your friends an upgrade to the Presidential Suite." Moses could not believe his ears.

"Guys like you build morale." Basil pointed to the crowd. "Everybody thinks we rig the games but, with a little luck, anybody can win." Basil handed him the coupon. "In fact, I want to watch you play." Basil handed Moses the dice. "If you don't mind?"

Moses shook his head. Moses needed to focus. Moses could throw this game but that would be suspicious. Moses decided to win this. Moses decided to go all in. "Snake eyes!" Impossible. Moses had willed the dice to land on seven. "Better luck next time."

Basil laughed it up. "You win some, you lose some." Basil patted Moses on the shoulder. "Enjoy your free upgrade." With that, Basil returned to whatever leisure activities boy billionaires indulged in. Something very bizarre had happened and he didn't even know what it was. Moses needed to lay low and work out this malfunction.


The battle raged on between Alexander Julius Penn and Luis Lanza. Luis, the reigning champion of the button mash, had discovered a few of his character's multi-hit combos. Before long, Alex's life bar tanked. Luis had emerged victorious.

"Yes!" Luis was like Rocky Balboa after one of his iconic jogs. "In your face!" Luis never would have won if he had played the game the way the developers had intended it. He won by the power of cheese. Alex made sure that Luis understood that before he decided not to insert another taken in the fighting game.

"Whatever, man, I won," Luis decided. Alex left the arcade for some fresh air. With Moses the only one able to gamble, the three of them had to make do with the buffets and retro arcades. Other hotels had better arcades but not better gambling halls than the Valentine Hotel. The owner, Basil Valentine, prided himself on that.

As Luis continued solo in the game's tournament mode, Alex turned around. The open palm of someone's hand crash greeted his right cheek. Before Alex stood a Abigail with the look of a scorned woman to rival hellfire as one English poet put it.

Alex didn't react as badly as he thought he would. Indeed, deep down, he must have expected this for some time. "What did you do to me?" Abby didn't even need to clarify and she knew that. Some memories of her time under the love spell, the ones Moses said would never resurface, had done just that. Even a wizard could be wrong.

"I didn't do anything to you." Abby folded her arms across her chest. "But my brother did." At that point, Alex went into agonizing detail about Moses' trespasses and how he had learned the facts of it after they had gotten to know each other in the Biblical sense. Abby wondered aloud why she should believe another word Alex said.

"Because …" Alex knew the answer but didn't want to admit it to her or even himself. "I did deliberately ignore all my chances to get with you." Abby's arms fell to her sides. "I really wanted a fairy tale love story. I did not want you unless I knew in my heart I would have you forever." Abby stared into his eyes. "Pretty warped, huh?"

A group of people gathered in front of them. "I'll say," said the man with the aggressively long beard. "Then again, I've heard worse." The seven guards, just as hulking as him was, took positions around the two of them. Luis waited for the signal. "Mr. Basil Valentine wishes to speak with your party about accusations of cheating."

This would take a delicate touch. Months of fighting the good fight had left them paranoid of authority figures. Whether possessed by the baddies who wanted them dead or suckers for the masquerade that blinded them to the truth, the earthly authorities never once failed to give them trouble they neither needed nor deserved.

"One second please," Alex said as he reached for flask of holy water. That was the signal. One splash and a blister of demon-possessed flesh later, Luis kicked one of the guards in the bells and they all bolted through the break in their defensive line.


Moses Ambrose Penn's cell vibrated. Moses flipped it open. A text from Alex. "Fall back," Moses read aloud as the three other members of their hunting party fled across the casino floor with security guards on their heels. "Oh, Hell," Moses realized.

Alex had insisted on an emergency protocol should something happen during their vacation. Moses hadn't given the issue much thought. Away from the Romeros and the father that could get them all beheaded, Las Vegas, Nevada seemed a safer place than the city they had lived in. Like many others, he had misjudged this city.

As the four met at the car and the truck, Moses took a mental inventory of the weapons they had brought with them. Aside from conventional machetes, axes, guns and a consecrated iron knife, the group also had Excalibur and Tizona in their trunk arsenal, weapons that could take out almost anything. And they had one weapon that had turned the tide even on the rare occasion when their super-sword had failed them.

Moses let the rush of energy lit his eyes with an unearthly glow. Alex smiled as Moses' bad-ass-looking magick eyes. "Let's do this," The group walked in the direction of the Valentine Hotel. The group had made the mistake of not following up on Nisroc after they kicked him to the curb. God only knew how and when that would come back to bite them in the ass. The New Round Table needed to finish this battle in its dawn.

They had the element of surprise. The baddies expected them to turn heel and run. The patrons, used to garish entertainers, ignored their colorful troupe. The cops congregated on the casino floor did not. Alex nodded. Time for his wizard pitch hitter.

The loud barking of the old dogs of the Las Vegas Police Department barely left a dent in Moses' mind as he channeled. Moses let out a kiai as the chi of his body mixed with the power of the Deep and sent black electricity pulsing through the cops. Unconscious but alive, the officers piled onto the floor. Patrons scattered in a panic.

Moses leaned up against a blackjack table. "Oh, crap, that kinda hurt." Moses coughed off specks as blood as Alex unsheathed Excalibur and Luis did the same for Tizona. Abby fired a couple of shots at the guards and the pit boss. As usual, bullets didn't do jack. Fire erupted from the hands of the guards. Alex ran the first guard through with his sword. His sunglasses fell off, revealing eyes lit by a smokeless fire.

"Efreets," Moses realized as one of them pulled out a gun. The efreet put his sunglasses in his vest pocket so Moses could see his eyes. He shoved the barrel of the semiautomatic into Moses' forehead. "Alexander," the pit boss said as the gun-totting efreet growled. The fire in the dead efreet's eyes went out, revealing empty sockets.

"You cannot win this," the demon explained, letting his yellow eyes show. "Not without killing your brother anyways." Moses' eyes flitted back and forth between the efreet about to perform a ballistic trepanation and the old demon who knew too much.


The scalpel ripped into Moses. Morgan smiled as she taunted Abby with the bloodied medical tool. "You're next, sweetheart." Abby didn't know how much more Moses could take. Especially without his powers. Abby bit her lip. Moses shook his head. Abby needed to wait. The efreet tilted his head, mystified by the nature of the gesture. The moment dragged on forever as they wondered what the efreet would do.

The efreet shrugged and continued his silent vigil over the torture session. Sweat pooled in Abby's back. Now, it came down to Abigail and the Wicked Witch of Camelot. Morgan le Fey smiled. "You know what I hate most about you hero types?" Abby shook her head. Morgan slapped her in the face. "No perspective whatsoever."

Morgan pointed the scalpel an inch from Abby's left eye. "An eye for an eye." Morgan laughed as Abby started to cry uncontrollably. "Your king abandoned me and his bastard son/nephew. Too ashamed to face his responsibilities as a father."

The plan occurred in the blink of an eye. Moses wrapped his arms around Morgan's head, the chains pressed against her and gave it a sharp twist, snapping her neck. Morgan's head bent over at an unnatural angle, the efreet ran up to Moses.

Abby reached for the consecrated iron knife taped to her back. Abby threw the blade at the efreet. It nailed him right where the spine meet the skull. Freed from the chains forged by a god, Abby picked the locks with a paper clip and a ton of patience. "Chains of Hephaestus cancel out the supernatural abilities of anything they touch."

Moses shook his head in disappointment. "Stupid bitch." Moses looked over at Abby. "By the way, nice shot." Morgan le Fay twitched. Abby pulled her knife out of the efreet's skull and plunged it into her chest cavity. Again and again and again ...

"Abby!" Moses shouted. "I think she's dead." Moses pulled Abby's blessed iron knife out Morgan's extremely dead body. Her knife gave off an unearthly glow as the bleeding wizard held it in his hands. After a moment of sparkling light, Moses Penn handed it back. "It will work better now." The two needed to find Luis an hour ago.

While the two of them had had a real conversation about their sorry lives, Moses and Abby had planned it as a distraction, knowing that the baddies might have listened in on them. The plan to get free had already formed on the trip upstairs, a silent revelation of how they thought they would get free. While the chains couldn't break, the wall that anchored them couldn't make such a lofty claim.

Moses pulled the god-forged chains out of the drywall and did the same for Abby. Hopefully, Excalibur or Tizona would make short work of these chains. "Crap," Blood had soaked through his shirt. "Dammit." Moses fell over. Abby grabbed Moses. Abby put his arm on her shoulders. Moses needed to get these chains off before he bled out. "Go on without me," Abby shook her head. "I'm finished; there is no point in dragging you down with me." Despite her every instinct, Abigail made a run for it.


The bodyguards with the fiery eyes deposited Alexander Penn into a foam chair facing a steel desk with a gray metal chair. The white-eyed demon lord smiled at Alex. In this moment of contemplation, Alex could think of a thousand reasons what brought about that smile. Perhaps, White Eyes didn't believed that Alex had a means of escape and, without any knowledge of his team's whereabouts, he did not.

Alex would need to get free and find them. "What a spirited future king!" the demon said in mock praise. "You are already imagining the means of you escape, am I right? Never giving any thought to the possibility that your friends might be dead."

The white-eyed demon inhabiting the boy billionaire smirked. "We have never met but you have heard my name talked about in frightened whispers and rightly so. I have conquered kingdoms, toppled civilizations and brought ruin to the high and mighty." The demon lord's wide smile stretched across his face. "I'm the Lord Belial."

Alex laughed. "You don't believe me?" Alex shook his head. "Wise choice." The so-called Lord Belial stood up from his chair. "Demons lie but the good ones know how to use the truth to equally devastating effect. Of course, none of that matters because I'm not a demon." Alex watched in terror as Lord Belial recited the words of exorcism. "For centuries, I have sought to finish what my deceased father started." Lord Belial paced around Alex. "The humbling of the human beasts." Lord Belial gripped Alex's shoulders and whispered in his ear. "You see, the secret to success to humility.

"It is why I chose the name Belial. It means 'worthless.' I chose it to remind me never to overestimate myself." Belial returned to his seat. "You have every reason to hate me because I plan to destroy everything you hold dear." Belial interlaced his fingers. "I have to, Alex. I have no choice. Try to understand. The world I envision cannot coexist with the world as-is. Every painter must start with a blank canvas."

Lord Belial pressed the button on the intercom. "Bring him in please." Belial looked up at Alex. "Since my speech hasn't gotten through to you, I believe I must resort to a visual aide." Alex looked in horror as Luis Lanza waltzed into the room.

His eyes were lit with the same smokeless fire of the bodyguards. "Efreets can only live in the blood of murder victims and, as you have no doubt gathered from the many bloodstains on his clothes, your dear friend here did not die of natural causes."

Belial tossed Alex Excalibur as Luis unsheathed Tizona. "I will leave you two gentlemen to your business while I check in on the progress of your friends." On that note, Lord Belial was in the wind. Luis looked over at Alex and charged towards him.


Deus ex machina. This was a literary device in which an outside force solved a seemingly unsolvable problem in an unlikely way. In Latin, the term meant "god out of the machine" and had its origins in Greek theater. It referred to a giant crane that lowered actors (or statues) playing a god (or gods) onto the stage to set things right.

Considering that the kind of crisis that would require such an enormous hand-out from the gods, Moses almost felt sorry for the poor bastards who nearly met a bad end due to a "seemingly unsolvable problem." Moses had such a problem in progress.

With his blood spilling out of him like oil from the Exxon Valdez, Moses Penn had minutes left on his clock. No magick could save him. Those chains short-circuited out the mojo of anyone they touched, a fact Moses had used to snap a sorceress' neck.

While someone likely understood how he survived, he could not count himself as one of them. Moses awoke in a pool of his own blood, the Staff of Merlin propped up next to him, the divine chains nowhere to be seen. Moses couldn't wait around for an explanation. Moses started up the stairs. Moses had no idea where to find Alex or the others but up seemed like the general direction of this place. So, he decided to go up.

Indeed, Moses had the right idea. As he approached the penthouse suite of the Valentine Hotel, the place even VIP guests never saw the inside of, Moses saw Abby fending off efreets with her consecrated iron knife. Abby had racked up a body count.

Moses raised a hand. The knife flew into his hand. Abby stared transfixed. He hadn't lied about imbuing the knife with magick power; he just didn't tell the whole truth. Moses had bonded with her knife the way he bonded with the dice downstairs.

Moses threw the knife. It flew back into his hand like a boomerang. Any efreet still standing had died on their feet. With a kick to the door, Moses and Abby walked in on Alex and Luis locked in mortal combat. Moses had wondered whether or not the half-fay witch had killed Luis. Indeed, she had done far worse. She had turned Luis.

Surely, the bitch had expected them to finish him off. Moses raised the Staff of Merlin. What choice did they have? Luis had crossed over. "Stop," Alex commanded Moses. "I will handle this." Alex turned to Luis. "I don't know if you can hear me in there but I'm not going to kill." Alex tossed Excalibur aside. "Indeed, if you have to kill me, then I guess you will have to kill me." Alex looked over at Moses and Abby.

"I'm ordering you two to stand down." Moses tossed the consecrated iron knife onto the floor. Luis stared at Alex, confused by his desire not to fight back. "Perhaps, old friend, we both will meet again in another lifetime under happier circumstances."

That moment as Luis Lanza let loose a terrifying battle cry and charged at Alex dragged on for days. Only the night sky revealed by the skylights betrayed the actual stillness of time. Alex didn't flinch. Tizona rose into the space above his head.

Alex didn't even flinch when the sword came down upon him. Astonished by his restraint, Moses didn't reach out for the efreet-killing knife with his mind. Tizona stopped an inch off of Alex's forehead. Luis dropped his sword and dug his fingers into the sides of his head until they bled the red of fire. Then, Luis passed out on the floor.

As the three of them gathered up Luis' unconscious undead body, Moses began to realize that this weekend didn't really have a happy ending built into it. Weekends in Las Vegas always ended badly. Theirs just happened to end after one night. It also involved his torturous near-death, Luis' death-death followed by a fiery resurrection.

There would be enough material for future nightmares to fill the rest of their lives (however many they had left). Lord Belial, the grand architect of their misery, had fought, ran away and lived to fight another day. Moses took comfort in the fact that Morgan le Fay, the sorceress supreme, could not make so lofty a claim as that.


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