Heroes In Evil
"There are heroes in evil as well as in good." – Francois de la Rochefoucauld
Abigail Kathleen Vennard shivered as she savored the chewy sweet taste of roasted hell-hound. Even after a month Down Below, a person shouldn't have gotten used to eating dog meat. Abby sent the infernal cuisine crashing to the floor, plate and all.
I hate this place. Of course, she hated this place. Hell defined the idea of hated places but she didn't hate Hell for the right reasons. In the four weeks Lucifer had kept them prisoner in Castle Beelzebub, no one had tortured, raped or maimed them.
Even though many expressed the desire to do so. Lucifer kept them from indulging their myriad desires for human flesh. His disciples grudgingly obeyed him like children afraid of getting on their father's bad side. Speak of the Devil, Abby thought as the Father of Lies walked into the room, wearing Moses' body.
"You're not using that phrase correctly," Lucifer pointed out. "It only applies to things you say, not the things you think." Lucifer bowed politely. "In any case, I wish to join you for dinner." Lucifer took a seat. Lucifer chewed on a hell-hound drumstick.
"Delicious." Lucifer licked his lips. "You're thinking about asking if you can leave." Lucifer looked up at Moses with his big brown eyes. "You're also thinking about asking me if I could leave this body." A shrug. "You keep these things from me even though you know that I see the neurons bouncing around in your head."
Lucifer smirked. "Your kind call me the Father of Lies but my abilities make the concept of a lie an alien concept to me. The truth always comes out, am I right?"
A pause. "I will answer your questions in the order you thought them." Lucifer sighed. "No and no." Abby folded her arms across her chest. "You must understand, Manisha Patel interfered in my plans." Lucifer pointed to Excalibur, caked in the old blood of a dead rakshasha. "I had intended this to end after an explanation as to my motives. Now, I must lure Alex here by the vulgar device of using his friends as bait."
Lucifer rubbed his sinuses. "So that alone precludes the possibility of your early release and of me setting this poor fellow free." Abby shook her head.
"Bull." Abby got up from her seat. "If we're the bait, what's with the red carpet treatment?" Abby pointed out the door. "You have a bunch of monsters who would pay you their weight in solid gold for a chance to rape and torture to the point of near death and you're holding them back instead of letting them loose."
Lucifer sighed. "Yes, I could turn you into a yodeling potato who exist solely for the sexual gratification of my troops." Lucifer rubbed his goatee. "But I think Alex would view such treatment as grounds for vengeance." Lucifer held up his hand. "I only want to talk." Lucifer smiled a toothy grin. "It's his call whether to listen."
Abby pointed an accusing finger at the Devil. "You're … evil!"
A throaty chortle filled the bedroom/cell. "Of course, I'm evil."
Lucifer wiped away a tear caused by his excessive laughter. "I can't imagine a decent person doing the things I have done." Lucifer drove the Staff of Merlin into the floor. A boom echoed. "Rest assured, I'm a necessary evil. And, when I'm done, I will have done more good than a billion bleeding heart martyrs ever could."
Alex couldn't remember the last time somebody gave him grief about his skin color. It was one of the advantages of living in the suburbs. The people there (white, black, yellow, etc.) endeavored to attain impossible levels of political correctness.
Alex broke the skinhead's arm. Alex would get thrown in the hole for this. Alex "whispered" loud enough for everyone else to hear. "I've messed up bigger guys than you." Alex didn't use the phrase "messed up" but that went without saying. "And I did more than break their freaking arm." Again, he didn't really say "freaking."
The young skinhead, high in adrenaline, tried to bite his face off. Alex broke his jaw. Beaten, the skinhead scurried away like a wounded animal. There was a moment of satisfaction to be had before reality set in once more.
Time to call a guard, Alex realized. Tell him about the scary black man who assaulted him for no reason. Alex rolled his eyes. Another day in the hole. God help him, he actually liked it in there. Another day in the hole was another day of living.
Everyone had expected a suburbanite to end up fresh meat on the inside. Emphasis on had. None of them realized that he had spent a year in a place that made a federal prison look like a Holiday Inn. And none of them knew how close he had came to dying in the last two years of his crazy, messed-up, possibly last life.
The Castleford State Penitentiary, known to its inmates as "The Castle," reminded Alex of the Miskatonic Desert in Purgatory. In particular, it reminded him of this one tribesman who really didn't like him. He couldn't remember his name. Hell, he could barely pronounce the damn thing. Alex called him Blondie, a mockery of a nickname given the fact that he didn't have any hair, blond or otherwise.
Blondie would try every dirty trick in the book to get him booted out of the tribe. When that didn't work, Blondie opted for a more direct approach. The slitting his throat in his sleep this rivalry matured over the course of months.
In here, all that had happened in a matter of days. Alex didn't make it to the end of Week One before Mad Dog tried to gank him. Alex wasn't too proud to admit that Mad Dog had came closer to killing him than he had thought possible.
Woodrow Wilson, the Wells family's defense lawyer, had informed him of the charges against him. The prosecutor had strong circumstantial evidence linking him to four murders, including that of the improbably named James Bond, the off-duty cop that Eligos had ridden around in and then cast off like a snake shedding its skin.
Manisha had finished 007 off so he wouldn't tell anyone what had happened. Then, there came the conspiracy and kidnapping charges for the disappearances of Moses Ambrose Penn, Abigail Kathleen Vennard and Hadrian Galileo Wells. The prosecutor wanted to pin the disappearance of Luis Enrique Lanza on him as well.
Faced with more time than an atomic clock, Alex had even told his lawyer the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Alex narrated the last eighteen months of his life, explaining just how a grief-stricken sister of a Hindu rape monster had managed to frame him for the four murders of the demon possessed.
Woodrow Wilson had simply shrugged it off. He had advised against an insanity plea. He was told that such a defense rarely ever worked and, even if it did, he would end up in a nut-house instead of a jail. Hardly a step up for the criminally insane, especially when facing charges of this magnitude.
An explosion blasted away the far wall of the penitentiary. Hovering over the rumble, Professor Elijah Addams landed right next to him. Elijah held up his index finger. "No questions, no discussions, no thank-yous. Just shut your mouth and move your ass." With that, Alex left the jail to the soundtrack of gunfire.
Aradia felt it. A change in the wind. A half-demon half-fairy goddess like herself kept her host body supercharged to the point of synesthesia. Alicia Alvarado should have witnessed everything that happened around her with crystal clarity.
Aradia shook it off. Aradia had heard stories about this sort of thing. Demons who spent too much time in one host body tended to start hallucinating. Aradia should have killed Alicia months ago and replaced her with a newer model. In a strange way, Aradia had grown attached to this skinny Hispanic woman-child.
If anyone asked Aradia had stayed in San Uriel this time, she would not have had a straight answer for them. Perhaps, she liked the excitement. The tangent universe might be coming to an end soon and Aradia didn't want to fight it anymore. Right now, she just wanted a front row seat to the fireworks at the end of it all.
Aradia had tried to fight the good fight. What did that get her? A steamy pile of nothing. Judging by rumors circulating Down Below, Lucifer had rounded up all but one member of the New Round Table. The one still AWOL? The crying king.
What good could Alex do cut off from his team and the only weapons that stood even a chance of wounding the Devil? Worse yet, the news out of San Uriel reported his arrest and subsequent confinement to the Castleford State Penitentiary.
Even, if he had had a bad-ass plan for taking on the Devil, he had spent a whole month in jail without even a token escape attempt. Alex could be biding his time; it seemed a lot more likely that the bad guys had beaten the fight out of him.
Like something out of a movie, Aradia looked at a bunch of people gathered around the TV sets on display in a small electronics shop. Just like in a movie, all the screens showed the same thing. Alexander Julius Penn fleeing through the blasted hole in the prison's walls with Elijah Addams. Stock photos of the two appeared in the lower left-hand corner, urging people to call if they had seen either one of them.
"Clever boy." Aradia should have known. Crying king or not, Alex never knew when to quit. Aradia felt it again. A blind spot where only vague impressions could escape from. "Come out or die," Aradia said in a word barely above a whisper.
Someone had the bright idea of sneaking up on a demon. Down in Hell with all the internal tesseracts and nightmare-inducing brimstone, it might have worked. Up here, nothing of the human persuasion stood a chance of getting the drop of her.
Alex Penn stepped out of the shadows. He didn't look like the crying king anymore. A dark purpose pulled his muscles and directed their every movement. Alex looked less like a human being and more like a possessing demon, yanking at the puppet strings of a host body. Alex stopped and stared at her.
"Well, well, well," Aradia said with a grin. "Big surprise. You replaced one wizard with another." Aradia made a tsk-tsk noise. "Do you ever plan on fighting your own battles?" Alex didn't even flinch. Words like these should have torn the heart-sick little brat to pieces. Alex seemed bored by all this.
"The silent treatment, huh?" Aradia wouldn't let up. "Surely you must have something to say to me?" Alex snapped his fingers. Aradia laughed and walked off. Aradia ran into an invisible wall. Impossible. Aradia couldn't move her feet.
Even Sandalphon couldn't swing something like this. Old Sandy must have picked up some serious hand-me-down mojo from someone upstairs. "Don't call me Shirley." Alex raised a huge syringe to eye level. "This will hurt … a lot."
Alex could get lost in the eyes of the Little Red Tree Frog statue. Elijah Addams had acquired it in Sydney, Australia. Despite its solid marble construction, the amphibian effigy felt no heavier than a paper mache school project.
When asked about how it could have such contradictory characteristics, Elijah had this to say: "My amphibious little friend there dreams itself into existence. Just like the rest of us. Except that it knows that it's dreaming."
A head shake followed. This Dreamtime/Pleroma business barely made sense and Alex had spent a lot of time around things that didn't make sense. This made even less sense than those things. "I still don't get this whole Dreamtime crap."
Alex threw his hand up in disgust. "If it's all a dream, you, me, this house, everything, then why can't I wish my friends outta Hell?"
Elijah grinned. "Dreams must have rules. If the world we lived in did not have rules, our mutual friend Lucifer could have wished us all out of existence."
Alex wondered aloud about that. Lucifer didn't want to conquer the world. He wanted to destroy everything. Himself included. Alex couldn't understand why Lucifer had signed a suicide pact with the cosmos.
Elijah turned on the TV. The major news networks still carried the Manhattan Incident. This particular report concerned a man who went on a shooting spree in Arizona at a mosque in downtown Tempe. Thirty-year-old construction worker Scott Marks of Scottsdale left a suicide note, blaming Muslims for Manhattan.
"You watch the evening news and you think you witness all the depravities of this world." Elijah shook his head. "Trust me. It gets much worse." Elijah's eyes glazed over. "I've witnessed horrors that would drain the hope out of your soul."
Elijah sighed. "And I'm a lowly angel. As a seraph, Lucifer has seen far worse. Indeed, he hopes that, by killing this world, a better one will rise out of the ashes."
Alex called foul. For all Lucifer knew, an even worse world could rise from the ashes of the old. "Have you ever heard of the Qlippoth?" The name did sound familiar but, beyond that, it didn't ring any bells. "When God created the universe, he formed the cosmic embryo, an incarnation of the four tangent realms fused together as one."
Elijah mumbled words in Old Angelic and made the four-in-one embryo of the proto-cosmos appear. "To protect these unborn children from the Outer Dark, God surrounded them with a golden shell and thus turned the baby universe into an egg."
Elijah zoomed in on the surface of the golden shell. "But something happened that God had not anticipated. Life evolved on the surface of that shell."
Alex snapped his fingers. "The Qlippoth."
Elijah nodded grimly. "A gentle species, the Qlippoth lived without violence or hate. Michael though considered them abominations and led a genocidal campaign against them. The survivors fled into the Outer Dark and turned into Dark Ones."
Elijah clapped his hands. The image dissolved into stardust. "Lucifer never forgave Michael. When Father asked them to bow down to mankind, a race so unlike his beloved Qlippoth, Lucifer refused and lead his brothers in a war against heaven."
Elijah wrote the true name of Janus in the blood of Aradia. The spell called for pure seraphic blood. Hopefully, the blood of a half-seraph would suffice. "Lan bahaw Janus. Ladnan gonaye ya sakwaf shi pardyas li halma." Light enveloped Alex.
One sword still missing. Moses Ambrose Penn could heard the Devil's thoughts inside his head. Lucifer probably wanted Moses to believe that he had forced his way into his private thoughts. Moses knew better. The Father of Lies had let him listen in for the express purpose of bloating his ego. Bravo, Moses. Bravo. A slow clap followed.
Lucifer walked his body down the hall of Castle Beelzebub. Not a lot of people can see through my tricks. Moses laughed. Even his congratulations hid the barbs of a well-laid ambush. You and I have a lot in common.
We're nothing alike! Moses screamed in his own mind.
Well, then, from one stranger to another, I propose a truce. Lucifer looked down the halls. If you side with me, I can make sure everyone dies painless deaths. Lucifer paused. Refuse me and I will let my followers rape and torture them first.
Go to Hell! Moses hoped that, by yelling, he could cause Lucifer a small measure of pain. Lucifer curled Moses' lips into a smirk.
Hell's not so bad when you hold the keys to the kingdom. Lucifer walked onward. Indeed, it's better to rule down here than to serve up there. Lucifer fired a bolt of lightning many times greater than the ones he had created. I could show you magicks have not yet begun to imagine. Moses' body gave off an unearthly glow.
Moses still wondered why Lucifer hadn't released Belial yet. I suppose you should know. Lucifer fired another bolt of lightning at a bust of a demon with a goat's head with six horns. The bust exploded. Belial and I had a falling out.
Lucifer picked up a shard. He wanted to rule this world and I wanted to destroy it. Lucifer crushed it. Two mutably irreconcilable goals. Lucifer allowed the dust in his hands to seethe through his fingers. I would have let you keep Belial but I knew eventually he would find a way to escape. Lucifer shook his head.
Which, according to your memories, he nearly did. A laugh.
I love my son. He's like his father in every way except one. Lucifer blew the dust from his hands. He lacks vision. I had hoped you did not possess such myopia.
Alas, you disappoint me. Moses smirked but only in his mind.
Lucifer controlled every aspect of his physical being.Coming from you, I consider that my greatest honor. Moses smirked, once again in his mind.
Lucifer looked ahead at the door to the balcony. You shouldn't waste your talents championing the cause of Man. Lucifer placed his hand on the door. Your precious humans have tainted the very universe they live in. Lucifer opened the door. They're the real monsters. Lucifer stared out from the balcony across a field.
Moses had seen this sight many times before but it never failed to inspired the deepest dread. Beelzebub, Sammael, Mephistopheles and Asmodeus, the four regents of Hell, had mustered the greatest army Hell had ever seen.
Moses watched in horror as the lesser demons carried out the ritual sacrifices. The Jerusalem portal required the blood of ten thousand slain virgins. From there, spirit phalanxes would possess the human race and wreck havoc on the world.
"As you can see," Lucifer said aloud. "Humanity doesn't stand a chance against me." Lucifer sensed something wrong. Moses could feel it too. Somewhere in the cosmos, someone else had entered the all-seeing eye of the universe.
Lucifer pointed at the nearest demon. "You!" Lucifer roared with the voice of a thousand lions. "Hurry the sacrifices; we haven't a moment to lose."
Alexander Julius Penn chewed on a stick of celery he had brought with him in his backpack. Elijah Addams told him to eat regularly, even when he didn't feel hungry. His exact words: "Especially if you don't feel hungry."
The physics of Pleroma made creatures tougher and harder to kill. Once a person left the Pleroma, all the damage he should have sustained would manifest . Ergo, if he didn't eat regularly, he would exit the Pleroma and die from starvation.
Still, Alex could feel the renewed energy pulsing through his veins. He could hardly believe such power could vanished with such devastating consequences.
Alex took a drink from his canteen. The same rules applied to drinking. Alex had wandered through this familiar desert for what felt like ages. Alex looked up. The canteen slipped out of his hands, precious water dripping into the dry desert cracks.
"Dad?" Alex asked. Alex didn't know why he asked. It would say what he wanted to hear. Alex had expected to meet his first illusion, hours (or days) ago. Elijah told him the Pleroma had a way of mixing his dreams with the real world.
Dad grinned. "Believe it or not, I'm real." A dream would say that. "Duendes performed the spell with a Pleromic idol. In my case, they used a plush koala bear." Alex shook his head in disbelief. Dad would have needed seraphic blood for that.
"The Order of the Solar Temple kept a vial of Belial's blood on file. One of many office supplies I swiped after they terminated my employment." Dad bowed. "What brings you to this vacation destination?" Dad still had his sense of humor.
Alex tried to explain. Alex barely understood it himself. He needed to find the first two dragons, a pair of immortal lovers by the names of Tiamat and Apsu. The two had fled to the Pleroma eons ago after failing to rescue their descendants.
Alex sighed. "There's something I don't understand." Alex looked around. "Elijah Addams said I would see my worst nightmare given form. And yet, I have seen nothing and no one. Just an endless desert that seems to go on and on …"
Dad laughed. "I understand your confusion." Dad looked back and forth across this lifeless landscape. "You expected a never-ending gauntlet of haunted houses."
Alex nodded. "Well, that's just it." Dad sighed. "Not all of our fears make us jump and run away. Some of our fears merely eat away at us, slowly and steadily with the patience of Job." Dad patted Alex on the shoulder. "You fear ending up alone."
Dad sighed again. "So you have seen fit to test the allegiance of your closest allies because, deep down, you don't want anyone to abandon you the way I did." Dad held up his right hand. "It's okay." Dad took a deep long breath. "I had my reasons for leaving but that doesn't make me any less of a bastard for actually doing it."
A tear crept down from Dad's eye. "It's important to know you're not alone." Holding back his own tears, Alex hugged Dad. Dad smiled. Alex smiled back. Neither of them knew where to go; they did what any respectable gunslingers would do in their shoes. They walked off into the sun to face their fates as father and son.
Hadrian Galileo Wells scalped the minotaur. Howls went out from the creature's friends and family. Haddy could hardly believe this abomination would have people to mourn his passing. Haddy placed the horns on his head until the blood of the slain minotaur ran into his eyes, then tossed them aside.
Haddy didn't have to fight these creatures. Lucifer had issued strict orders to leave them alone. Hadrian didn't buy that for one second. These creatures wanted a fight. And Hadrian knew, from personal experience, when someone wanted to fight, no one, not even the Devil himself, could stop them. Haddy howled at the audience.
Haddy could only imagine how many brutal death matches had gone on in this gladiatorial arena behind Castle Beelzebub. The arena was encrusted with the old blood from a thousand different species of monsters, fairies, demons and gods.
Haddy bared his teeth. The tall hooded figure, the thing that passed for a referee in this ultra-violent sport, bowed very slightly. The match had ended. No new challengers today. The monsters stormed the arena. Haddy suppressed the urge to run as monsters surrounded him on all sides. The monsters dragged the dead away.
Hadrian fought it odd how a month of non-stop killing could make him so comfortable around them. Perhaps, he didn't fear them because, in an odd way, he felt a strange yet mutual respect resonating between them. The odd camaraderie of rival combatants. In a disturbing way, the gladiator games brought order to chaos.
When Hadrian had accepted his first challenge, he fought in the mud. The crowd jeered and mocked him as he struggled to unsheathe his sword Fragarach in a timely manner to prevent his own death. He had barely walked away with his life.
"Well done," said the voice out of nowhere. Lucifer stepped out of the shadows of the castle. "Your kills had an art and poetry to them I have not seen in eons."
Lucifer smiled. "With Belial's own sword, no less." Lucifer leaned in and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. "I wish I had a son like you." Lucifer shrugged Moses' shoulders. "In fact …" Lucifer extended a hand. "It's not too late for that." Lucifer held his hand up between them. Haddy stared at the offered hand in front of him. "You can make amends for your sins; all you must do is trust my good intentions."
Hadrian just grinned. "I get it." Haddy gripped the hilt of his sword. "You think because you're the Devil you can get me to abandon my friends and help you destroy the totality of existence." Lucifer shrugged innocently, still offering his hand.
Haddy slapped it away. "You're nothing to me but a snake oil salesman and I'm not buying." Haddy wanted to punctuate his word by cutting his hand but Lucifer moved too fast for such nonsense. "Now go away." The Ol' Devil just smiled.
"I knew this kid. Leon Gardner. Grew up in a bad part of town. He said no to drugs every day of his life … until he turned sixteen." Lucifer patted Haddy on the shoulder. Haddy recoiled from his touch. "Then, he just couldn't say it no more."
Lucifer sighed. "So he started doing drugs, then he started selling them. One week before his twenty-first birthday, Leon got into a big gunfight and accidentally gunned down his ten-year-old neice. Leon ended up down here. Eternally damned."
Lucifer sneered at Hadrian at the shadows. "The morality of this story? You can't say no forever." With that, the Prince of Darkness retreated into the darkness.
Dad handed Tizona to Alex as they made their final approach to the cave at the bottom of two mountains. "I don't plan on killing them," Alex explained as he politely declined to take the sword with him. Dad grimaced at that.
"Well, son, what do you if they plan on killing you?" It was the paradox of war. If he armed himself, Tiamat and Apsu might take offense and attack him for it. If they took offense regardless, then he would need a sword to defend himself. In any case, he stood a better chance of surviving this ordeal if he held onto Tizona.
Dad kept looking at his satchel as they descended the treacherous terrain. He had something inside that bag he didn't want leaving his sight. Even for one minute.
Two dragons emerged. Tiamat and Apsu. No, Alex chided himself. No names. He couldn't think of them as people. If this went south, he might have to kill them.
The golden dragon, a female judging by her size, signaled to the red dragon, her mate, to meet the intruders head-on. "Leave." Alex held out Tizona as the red dragon paced around him. He had a fiery look in his eyes, even for a dragon.
As his mate waited in the cave, the red dragon breathed a wall of fire in his direction. Alex gripped the sword tightly, praying that this would work. The red dragon growled as the fire from his mouth went into the sword and vanished without a trace. Tizona, the Sword of Creation, Fire Element, had absorbed the dragon's fire.
Alex swung the sword as the red dragon dipped his head down to swallow him up. The red dragon roared, deafening Alex, as his sword sliced into his tongue. Alex tried to jump out of the way as the red dragon came down again. Too late.
Alex found himself in the dragon's jaws. "Don't!" Alex screamed at the top of his lungs. Alex placed the sword against the roof of his mouth. "I'm warning you." A look of naked fear came over the golden dragon as she came to her mate's aid. Alex could have pierced his brain but the golden dragon, even dead, could still bite down.
Alex might have only one life left to live and he didn't want it to end this way. Dad produced a crossbow from his satchel. While hardly a Sword of Creation, a couple well-placed arrows tipped with iridium to their hearts could end Alex's only hope of rescuing his dear friends and, by extension, the entire universe and its inhabitants.
"I didn't come here to fight." The dragon who had almost swallowed him up spit him out. "I need your help." Bemusement fell upon their faces. Obviously, they didn't expect someone who had nearly killed one of them to start an apology by asking for a favor. "Time's short. If you can't or won't help me, you might as well kill me now because I wouldn't have anything left to live for." A moment dragged on forever.
Alex had just goaded two dragons into killing him. The Encyclopedia Idiotica could devote an entire chapter to things not to say to giant fire-breathing monsters. Asking them to kill you, even rhetorically, would have ranked first place, no contest.
The golden dragon, the one who had watched without passion or prejudice as the red dragon nearly chewed on his bones, stepped forward. The ground shook with every step. "You're a fool," the golden dragon said. Alex's heart sank to his toes.
Nothing left to do but die horribly. "A noble fool." The golden dragon leaned in close. Alex could feel the furnace-like heat of her breath. "Among dragons, nobility counts for a lot and, in your case, makes up for a lack of manners." Tiamat nodded.
"We will help you anyway we can." Apsu sneered at Alex. Tiamat, in turn, sneered at Apsu. Alex climbed on top of Tiamat and motioned Dad to join them.
"I can't go with you." The words knocked the wind right out of Alex. Before he could ask, Dad pointed up at the mid-day sun. "I'm a vampire now, remember?" Alex did but the full implications of his transformation hadn't caught up with him. "Even this alien sun should have burned me to cinders."Alex understood what he meant.
The rules of Pleroma. Any damage done to the body here would manifest once he left this world. In short, leaving Pleroma would turn him into two hundred pounds of carbonized ashes. Alex hugged Dad. "I guess this means goodbye." Forever.