Allen Chambers' Mindways Chronicles - Book 1 - Reflection

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Death after life

Stoneman stood by the drinks cabinet and poured himself a generous bourbon, then he strolled over and sat down in the leather chair behind his desk, surveying his office. His attention was drawn to the wall of screens that depicted life throughout New York State.

“The pathetic existence of mortal men,” he mused. “I’ll change all that!”

He took a deep draught of the golden, bitter-sweet nectar, as he reflected on the ways in which his life had changed, catapulting him to the very top of the order of existence. His need to play games with politics and humans was no longer necessary; he had power beyond their understanding. He didn’t need material things; he could command and demand at will and he would use the very power of thought to get what he wanted.

“I’ll rest before I commence with the changing of the Universe,” he thought and finished his drink.

He stood up, walked over to the couch and scooped up the black cat, Abaddon in his massive right hand and took him to the bedroom.

It was the night following the execution of the Commissioner and Stoneman lay naked, sleeping in the humid night air, with Abaddon curled at the foot of the bed. He was dreaming of his next move to achieve greater power beyond the mere boundaries of the State of New York and this backwater planet. The Universe was his goal – total domination of all life.

It was within this dream that he was distracted, visited by a petite woman of divine beauty, her naked, pale, milky-white skin partially obscured by black flowing tresses to the waist, which sparkled as if reflecting the clear night sky full of bright stars. Her deep black eyes captured all around and drew the interest of all; nobody could resist her dark beauty – those ruby lips and that unforgiving aura of sensuality that enticed all men. However, she was interested only in the strong and powerful; she admired and desired them above all. Her pert breasts rode on the waves of her tiny frame and neat hips straddled her moist pubic mound, glistening in the moonlight. Stoneman felt himself stir, attracted to this young beautiful temptress, yet somehow he knew this was his sister.

The moment they had last come close was when he had been drawn to the mirror in his office. “Yes, sister, it is you.” His desire for her had increased. He felt his manhood ache to take her as she beckoned him closer. The Devil inside him took control and he thrust out his left arm and grabbed her hair, violently pulling her close to him. His massive right hand clasped her slim white neck and he drew her lips to his and kissed with violent passion. They parted, the tiny woman gasping for breath, but not pulling away. Still holding her neck, he drew her back even closer and lifted her off the floor with one arm. She responded by wrapping her legs around his waist. Slowly she slid down his toned and muscular torso until they joined. Hecate sighed and moaned with lust, calling, “Erebus, my brother, my lover,” and the heavens shook as a consequence of the incestuous meeting of Anti-Gods. It was a union of evil. The Universe knew this and it was marked in the Annals of the Gods.

Their mating was a violent and bloody affair; Erebus defiled Hecate, took her in every way he could, showing no mercy in the sating of his needs. Hecate, though, dutifully succumbed, accepting her position as concubine to the Dark Lord of the Universe. It was destiny. She was his to command and use as he saw fit, “for the time being” she thought secretly. The union was consummated in a tempest of the heavens. A supernova burst forth, blinding all who looked upon it with its brilliance, its portent announcing the dawn of a new dark and troubled era.

Stoneman awoke sweating, drained yet entirely satisfied. A marriage of evil had taken place, necessary for The Darkness to overcome the weak and tired Gods of the Higher Circle.

“A new dawn of time begins and I, Erebus will conquer all and smite the Gods who exiled my Mother and Father. They will be avenged and I will set them free to carry on with their passion to create life that is born of true beauty,” said Stoneman, pausing as he reflected on what he had just said. He continued, “I’m not a mere mortal. I’m truly born of Gods, and I’m a greater God destined to rule all!”

He smiled, knowing he now had the power to achieve his utmost desire. He wasn’t under any illusion; the Gods of the Higher Circle would not make it easy for him. He would have to fight, he would need an army of death in their tens of thousands, but he knew how to create one, one never yet seen, cast from pure evil and, above all, invincible and insatiable in its hatred of the Gods and all they stood for. He drifted back into his deep sleep, still with his feline companion at the foot of the bed. His dream continued…

Hecate came to him again through the mists of his thoughts. She was astride her Ajatar, a small army of Shadow Wraiths following in the shadows behind.

She spoke to him grimly, “My Lord Erebus, there comes to our Universe a new breed of Gods, children of the Higher Circle, hidden away on Earth following the Rift, innocent in the ways of the Gods but they are young and learning fast and I sense immense power within them. Three have been gathered by that old fool, Chronus and his champion, Ares and are making their way through the Mindways still to find one other, and, once found, they will be heading for Arcturus. They must be stopped!” Hecate waited for a reply. There was none. “Erebus, my love”, she continued, “I have brought a small army of Shadow Wraiths, which is at your disposal. They will do all you ask of them. When you need them, just speak these words, ‘Ichra el ne noir hus wraithe mq negra het tempera’. They will come immediately.”

Hecate didn’t wait for an answer; she wheeled the Ajatar around violently. The beast screeched in protest and launched itself, by its massive leathery wings, off into the mists of Stoneman’s mind. The Shadow Wraiths melted into the shadows to wait for their call to arms.

Stoneman’s dream continued. He was aware of a few humans who seemed different. They were unusual in that they gave off a stench of purity.

“Disgusting,” he thought, “they’re the ones who are with Chronus. I cannot allow them to get away; it may cause complications and I need to stop them. But how?” He pondered then his agile intelligence concluded, “Yes, of course! One still to find. A trap with bait. I need to persuade this last prodigy to join me. She’ll be the lure to draw Chronus and the others. The Shadow Wraiths will complete the surprise. When the trap is sprung, I’ll have them all and they’ll join The Darkness or be cast into Tartarus from whence they’ll never return.”

Stoneman grinned. The pretenders would be prevented from hindering his prophesised rise to universal rule and domination of all within and beyond.

“All will love and obey me or they’ll burn in the depths of Hades for eternity!” concluded Stoneman.

He turned over, still in his deep sleep. The dream continued. He captured Athena quite easily. The human lover she had taken was quite pathetic; unable to take a little pain, he squealed and begged for mercy. The love she felt for this hapless being was enough to draw Athena out of hiding.

“Not without causing me a little pain,” thought Stoneman, as he watched the talisman leaving Athena’s hand and flying through the air back to the Mindways. “A temporary setback,” he mused. “I now have my bait for a greater prize!”

The dream continued. The Shadow Wraiths were summoned and secreted throughout the CIB HQ, including the bunker that Stoneman had uncovered with ease, following research into the history of the building. He assumed this would be the most probable route, but wasn’t sure. However, having the Shadow Wraiths positioned throughout the building, he had it covered. He needed to draw them deep within the HQ to ensure the odds for success were in his favour. It was now a waiting game.

He had the bait, the trap was set and he had a little time on his hands. He watched Athena lying on the sofa. She was a very beautiful woman. He had noticed a subtle change; she seemed younger than the first time they had met. He found himself stirring and decided, “Yes, let’s add spice to this gambit for my domination of life.” Using Hecate’s spell, he seduced Athena whilst she was asleep and mated with her, sowing his seed within.

“My child shall be born of Greater Gods. A nice little twist,” he chuckled as he dressed himself, looking down upon the sleeping Athena.

He sat by her side, waiting for the inevitable arrival of her rescuers. She began to stir. They would sense Athena’s presence and be drawn to his office. His soldiers of darkness, the Shadow Wraiths, lay in wait, secreted in the shadows, unseen. The scouts hidden in the bunker alerted him to their arrival.

“Soon, very soon,” he thought. “No! Not yet!” he cursed, as some of the Shadow Wraiths bickered about attacking the intruders. “They need to be drawn deeper into the trap. I’ll tell you when. Now, wait!”

The order seared through the very minds of the Shadow Wraiths, causing them intense pain.

Stoneman hadn’t counted on the Shadow Wraiths’ poor discipline. In fear of further pain, they had failed to inform him of the arrival of Chronus and Ares outside the door to his office. He was momentarily taken by surprise, the light of Sirius and the opportunistic Ares catching him completely off guard. Ares had swiftly taken Athena from under his very eyes and they were gone through the door before he’d had a chance to react. Despite his anger welling up inside, he regained his composure and fought back, overcoming the mighty Chronus and banishing him for eternity into the very deepest realms of Tartarus. Before doing so, he had stolen Chronus’ talisman from around his neck.

“A prize greater than those worthless Gods! I can deal with them later. I’m now free to roam the Universe at will, no longer trapped on this pitiful planet, and my quest will soon bear the real fruits of success!” crowed Stoneman.

Unfortunately for Stoneman, the Shadow Wraiths without direct leadership were useless and failed to contain the fleeing Gods in the bunker, allowing them to make their escape. They bore the full might of his wrath. Stoneman summoned Brightfire(26) from the deepest volcanic labyrinths of Earth and brought it down upon the unsuspecting Shadow Wraiths. They were consumed by this new phenomenon – a natural fire with no heat, but burning with a light so bright that it stripped the very shadows from the Wraiths, causing them extreme and endless pain. The Brightfire then carried their now-transparent bodies high to the heavens and committed them to Boreas(27), God of the Northern Winds, and to eternal suffering in the pulsing lights of the aurora borealis. They were alive yet unable to hide in darkness for protection from the light.

“Hecate!” boomed Stoneman, “I do hope you have soldiers of greater repute than these useless shadows. They’re no more for failing me!”

A few moments later, Stoneman awoke from his deep, dreamful sleep. Sensing Abaddon approaching his penthouse, he sat up and, before Abaddon could announce his arrival, Stoneman opened the doors and called for him to enter quickly.

Slightly taken aback by his master’s ability to know precisely where he was, Abaddon stuttered, “My Lord Erebus, we have your bodies. They await your graceful presence and generous attention, O Great Leader.”

He bowed so low he almost caught his nose on the rug.

Stoneman looked across at his faithful servant and grinned, “I’m pleased you haven’t failed me, Abaddon. I’ll wash then join you downstairs. We have interesting work ahead of us. Now, go and wait for me. I need privacy.”

Abaddon bowed and headed back towards the basement of the CIB HQ. As he passed a window on the way, he paused. The night sky was still dark and crystal clear, full of the stars of the known Universe. He looked to the constellations, Hydra and Aquila deep in the night sky. He smiled. He was pleased to be working with the Master, creating an invincible army to destroy all that was good.

“We’ll soon join you, O Great Mother and Father of Creation, free you from your torment and relight all that once was extinguished by the misguided fools of the Higher Circle!” concluded Abaddon as he continued on his way to the laboratory, gleefully chuckling and rubbing his grubby little paws together as he went.

Stoneman stepped naked into the cold shower, cooling and soothing his hot aching body – hot from the sultry heat of the persistent summer nights, and aching from his recent sexual encounters. He pondered the recent events, rewriting his agenda but allowing caution to infiltrate his reactive emotions. He needed time to mellow and to temper his desire to react without care; he needed to think things through before acting.

“Yes, I’m now supreme; the one to be reckoned with. I’ve dispatched Chronus, the ‘All Powerful’,” he said mockingly, “but I mustn’t throw caution to the cosmic winds. I won’t be hasty; I’ll apply thought and strategy to all that I do. For now I’ll uphold the laws of the Universe, confuse my enemies and play the Celestial game. Behind the scenes, I’ll use those of little consequence, the low life of the Universe to achieve my goals. The others… well, I have time to kill.”

Stoneman finished his shower and towelled himself down, dressing himself in his black suit and applying his faithful red belt. Filled with vanity, he checked the mirror, his muscular frame signifying the strength within, the rugged handsome face, intelligent and unforgiving, framed by flowing, deep black hair. He looked every part a God. Despite the physical bond between Stoneman and his new talisman, which was black with an eternal depth on the golden cord around his thick neck, he had to check it was there. The power of an evil understanding surged between them. He was ready. A pinnacle moment in the history of the Universe was but moments away. He was to create a new species of life – not one born of godly ideals but one that was formed using raw basic evil amassed from existing life. It would be new life made from that which had failed so miserably in the past. The Universe would bow to him.

Stoneman made his way down to the laboratory. His mere passing commanded the unwavering attention of everyone who laid eyes on him. All bowed as he passed and they stayed low until he was out of sight.

He arrived to find Abaddon and Hatcher waiting for him. Abaddon was agitated and nervous; Hatcher was cool and relaxed, leaning against the wall with his usual laid-back, couldn’t-care-less attitude, a half burnt cigar in the corner of his mouth. There were ten female bodies, all alive and strapped naked to the operating trolleys, their bodies emaciated from lifelong drug abuse, primarily that of Buzz. Their eyes were sunken within a grey halo of skin and wide open in fear, searching wildly for signs of hope, but there none. Their tightly tied gags stifled any cries or pleadings for mercy. Their skeletal chests heaved in quick succession with the effort of breathing.

“I take it they’re like-minded?” questioned Stoneman.

“Yes, sir,” replied Hatcher. “The men too; they’re next door, similarly prepared.”

“Good,” said Stoneman, “you’ve done well. Abaddon, fetch me the phials of Buzz from the cooler, the batch with the red band. We’ll make a start; otherwise time will play games with us.”

“Yes, my Lord,” responded Abaddon and he scurried off to do as he was commanded.

He returned moments later with a tray containing twenty phials, each with a red band, as requested. The liquid in each phial appeared to have a subtle sparkle.

“Your phials, my Lord,” said Abaddon.

He looked very pleased with himself as he placed the tray, very carefully, on a trolley beside the first of the wretched women. Hatcher, ever casual, stood, arms folded, watching every move intently, curious about what was unfolding but never mentioning or saying anything out of turn.

Stoneman picked up a syringe with a long thick needle from a large bowl on the trolley and a phial from the tray. His broad thumb snapped off the neck. He deftly placed the syringe needle inside the open phial and drew the golden liquid into the body of the syringe. He raised it to the light and tapped the syringe, collecting the air at the tip, then thought, “Why bother with protocol?” In a swift blur of motion, he drove the needle of the syringe deep into the poor woman’s eye and delivered the massive dose of liquid Buzz and bubbles of air deep into her brain. The woman attempted to scream but the gag muffled the sound and it came out as a muted gurgle. She arched her back despite the restraints, her tiny bony chest heaving for air as the Buzz meshed with her nerves and took effect immediately. The direct introduction of the drug into the brain had had the desired impact.

Smiling at the impact of his actions, Stoneman turned to his two captains and informed them, “I’ve engineered this strain of Buzz to coalesce with the brain and become a permanent necessity for the brain to exist. The brain learns immediately that it cannot survive without it and manufactures it through the pituitary glands on the back of essential hormones. This is the blend from which I’ll create a new species – one to help me secure that which is mine.”

The other female subjects all strained their necks to see what the commotion was about and what was in store for them. They trembled, sobbing in abject fear. The female who had received the first dose had settled calmly, but was rigid and had a fixed stare towards the ceiling. Stoneman smiled. “The beginning,” he thought.

He turned to Abaddon and Hatcher and announced, “I want both of you to administer the remaining doses, exactly as I’ve done. The dose must be delivered through the eye, directly and as deeply into the brain as the needle will allow, using all the contents of the phial, and don’t concern yourself with hygiene, we don’t have time; use the same needle. I don’t feel it’s beyond your capability, do you?”

Neither responded and their silence was taken as compliance, though Abaddon looked a little worried and asked shakily, “What are you to do, Lord Erebus?”

“I,” replied Stoneman, “will be arranging the selection of mates for all of these human subjects, so make sure you prepare them for my return.”

Stoneman turned and left the room, heading for the interrogation suite. Abaddon looked at Hatcher, who grinned at the grotesque little figure and took a long draught from his now-stubby cigar.

“Better get on with it, then,” said Hatcher, who picked up a syringe and a phial and approached the next female. Abaddon, not wishing to let his master down, wasn’t far behind him.

Stoneman entered the mirrored interrogation room and walked over to the dulled mirror into which Athena had so meanly thrown ‘his’ talisman. Standing a foot away from the dulled mirror’s surface, he noticed that the unusual depth in the misty glass gave a surreal three-dimensional reflection. He took the now-throbbing black talisman on the chain around his neck in his left hand and stretched out his right arm towards the mirror. He came across no resistance and his arm sank in up to his elbow.

He savoured the moment, and excitedly proclaimed, “At last I have my right of passage fit for a God!”

He stepped forcefully through the mirror into the Mindways.

Stoneman paused on the other side, sniffing the damp air and sensing the decay and evil that was slowly tainting the once-clean and mighty Mindways. The purple-hued mist wrapped itself around him as he headed off to meet Hecate at her home on planet Obsidian(28), gateway to Hades. He needed beasts from the deepest realms of Hades and beyond, the strongest and fiercest of all to mate with the humans whose primary gift to this marriage of the species was their brain, super-enhanced by Buzz, providing like-minded individuals with a mind-blowing collective capability and a selfish and total disregard for life other than their own. His invincible army of hate was his army, tens of thousands strong, and his assurance to achieve his ultimate objective.

Walking through the Mindways’ mists, Stoneman absorbed the chill, damp, stale air. It suited him. He felt at one with the Mindways. He observed the silhouettes, noticing that they never neared nor drifted further away. “Fascinating,” he thought, “I’ll give myself a chance to study them soon.” Continuing on and picking up pace, Stoneman focussed hard on his meeting with Hecate – a meeting to arrange the collection of his demons. As he strode forward with intent, his acute senses identified that he was not alone. In this place of everywhere yet nowhere, someone was following him. He was conscious that the intruder was, at the most, a couple of hundred yards behind him, cleverly using the depth of the Mindways’ mists to hide their physical presence and the distance to mask any noise they might make. “They clearly don’t realise their quarry is Erebus, God of Darkness. The fool!” thought Stoneman and he continued without concern. He was invincible. Whoever it was couldn’t harm him.

He sensed Hecate was close and spotted a dull, yellowish glow ahead and slightly off to the right. He was drawn to it.

“Sister,” he breathed as he came to the reverse side of a mirror and looked into a splendidly ornate and stately room.

The room was dimly lit by candles fit for a cathedral that were placed randomly around the room and were assisted by the flickering glow of a huge fire. The walls were adorned with paintings and statues of beasts beyond imagination from distant worlds, and animal skins were strewn across the stone floor, all arranged to draw visitors towards the large bed at the head of the room. The bed was draped in red silk with contrasting black pillows. A sheer black muslin canopy provided subtle privacy, cascading from the high-domed ceiling. Graphically gory frescoes of gladiatorial fights with strange beasts covered the entire ceiling and the painting in the huge central dome depicted a long-forgotten battle played out on some distant and obscure world. Such was the lifelike nature of these paintings that Stoneman could almost sense the blood dripping from the scenes.

Atop the bed, lay the naked body of Hecate, curled innocently and neatly in the foetal position, unaware of the visitor’s silent entrance. Stoneman deftly drew back the muslin canopy, revealing the beautiful form on the bed.

He leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Sister, wake please. It’s time you served me in other ways.”

Hecate stirred, stretching and arching her back, pushing her pert little breasts to the heavens, nipples erect from a sensual dream, her left hand buried between her upper thighs.

“Brother Erebus,” responded Hecate, stifling a yawn as she reached towards his groin. “I sense you do not wish to use me for pleasure. Can I not persuade you?”

As Stoneman brushed her hand aside, Hecate let out a deep sigh and sulked like a spoilt child.

“I’m really upset and disappointed now, my Lord.”

Stoneman walked away from her bed to avoid being seduced by her devious ways and spoke commandingly to her, “I have more pressing matters than sating our lust, dear sister. I need you to bring me demons and monsters from the deepest and darkest realms of Hades. Intelligence is not a priority; I need strength and endurance from such beings, for I am to build an army the like of which has never been seen – one which will be eternally feared. Go now for I have little enough time to prepare!”

So engrossed was he in his idealising that he hadn’t realised Hecate had crept up on him from behind.

She then grabbed his near-erect manhood, cooing, “Dear brother, surely a few moments of your precious time will not delay your dreams too much, will they?”

“No!” cursed Stomeman.

He viciously seized her hair, lifted her bodily off the floor and threw her across the room as if she were but a small doll. Hecate landed heavily against the wall, her limp body lying in a heap, completely still.

“Your witching ways have no hold on me, whore sister. Now, go and do my bidding or face my wrath!”

Hecate stirred, a tiny trickle of blue blood running from the corner of her mouth. She wiped it clean with her forearm and stood up gingerly, not wishing to show she was hurt. Her milky white skin glistened as the flickering candlelight in the room was refracted through the beads of perspiration on her body. She looked at her brother, defiance written across her face she walked over to her mirror and began to dress, provocatively, leaving nothing to the imagination and teasing him. She knew she had a hold. “He is too proud to admit it!” she thought, checking in the mirror that he was watching.

“Brother,” she called, fastening the gold clasp of her black velvet cape, “how many will you need?”

“At least twenty to start – ten male, ten female,” replied Stoneman. “I need to be sure that what I’ve worked on for so long will produce fit and healthy warriors. I can’t afford mistakes. Now off with you. You know where to bring them.”

Hecate bowed her acknowledgement and turned towards the mirror. She delicately stroked her black talisman and stepped through the glass. She was gone, on her way to the depths of Hades on an errand for her exalted brother.

Stoneman smiled and said to his reflection in the mirror, “Soon, very soon, I’ll have my army of death. I’ll overwhelm the dominions of the Elder Gods and smite them down, destroying their pathetic worlds of peace and love. Power, power is all that matters and only I have the calling to rule the Universe.”

He looked around Hecate’s room, which was neat and orderly. Shelf upon shelf of books adorned the walls either side of the great bed. He walked over and picked out a large ancient tome on Silesian witchcraft. “Sister,” he mused, “you’re so like me. Knowledge and understanding are the foundations of power. When used wisely, they can open up opportunities and give you the advantage. Unfortunately, dearest sister, your desires divert your potential. The pleasures of the flesh distract. Nevertheless, you are intelligent and devious and will prove incredibly useful as one of my senior commanders. I will, however, keep a close watch on you. As much as we are blood kin, I do believe you’d overthrow me, given an opportunity.”

Stoneman replaced the tome. He turned and looked around, taking in the splendours of Hecate’s bedroom once more, then he briskly headed back through the mirror into the Mindways. Once through, he took a deep draught of the musty stale air.

“Now, let’s see if we can find out who’s showing a keen interest in my whereabouts!” said Stoneman as he headed back to the CIB HQ.

It wasn’t long before he sensed his stalker was back on his trail. Yet again the follower was far enough away not to be seen or heard. “Can I get into this person’s mind? Yes, person, not demon,” thought Stoneman. “A mere human, a mortal – at least that’s what I sense.” However, he was unsure as he couldn’t link with this intruder, whoever it was. “Unusual,” he continued. “Gods can prevent mind intrusion yet my senses tell me this isn’t a God. My heart tells me to be cautious. Not a God, but someone to be wary of. I need to draw this distraction out into the open.”

Stoneman came to an abrupt halt and, with a wave of his arms, drew the purple mists towards him. They thickened and swirled around, creating a dense barrier to mask his next move.

He held his talisman and uttered the words, “Kairos stamato.”

Time stalled. He placed his feet firmly wide apart and brought both arms together, clasping his hands tightly, index fingers pointing downwards to the floor. Then, with eyes closed and his rugged looks fixed with intense concentration, he slowly brought his arms rigidly upwards together in front of him, pausing when they were directly overhead. Parting his arms to left and right, he brought them down, arcing in a circle back to the original position. In front of him, he had created an opening in the Mindways, through which, in the distance, there stood a magnificent garden, whose centrepiece was a high maze constructed of dense ancient yew.

“A trap,” he mused, “a false trail to draw this intruder into a labyrinth of deceit. Complex in design; a living thing that alters the structure of the maze when those who enter try to leave. I applaud myself,” he chuckled. Clasping his talisman, Stoneman spoke, “Kairos ekkinisi,” and released his hold on time. He then manipulated the mists to divert any follower towards the entrance to his garden. He looked back into the Mindways, searching for the secret follower, and found the presence – he, or it, was there waiting. Stoneman turned and entered his garden. A smug sense of satisfaction warmed his soul as he secreted himself at the centre of his labyrinth, sitting within a black dome-covered dais to wait patiently for his prey.

Hecate was angry. “Carrying out errands for my exalted brother! PAH! Who does he think he is?” she spat as she headed towards her beloved Ajatar, Iblis, who was calmly waiting for her on the other side of the mirror from her bedroom.

“Come, my beauty, you never ask much of me, do you? We have the Lord’s bidding to do,” mocked Hecate as she stroked its scaly neck.

She climbed up onto the saddle behind its great head and, gripping the reins, encouraged the great beast to lift off into the purple swirling mists of the Mindways. Its great wings beat against the damp air and, surprisingly, despite its size, the swift and agile Ajatar was soon flying high and fast.

“The quickest way to Hades, Iblis, is through the great mirror of Chaos on our planet Obsidian. Now, soar high and fast; we have little time.”

The Ajatar doubled the beats of its mighty wings and climbed higher and faster into the mists of the Mindways and soon the effort paid off. It wasn’t long before Hecate sensed the black portal in the distance. On approach, a black mirror reflecting black light penetrated the mists, its intensity overcoming the gloom. The mirror increased in size the closer they got until it dwarfed them; they were but an ant to the vastness of the black mirror.

Hecate pulled in the reins as they drew near. The circular deep black mirror was made from Obsidian, a dense black volcanic glass favoured by The Darkness. The mirror glistened and reflected the approaching duo; they were just a speck against the vast and imposing object. The Ajatar alighted on the ground in front of the massive mirror and let out a troubled roar as it noticed another Ajatar intruding on its territory.

Hecate leant forward and whispered in her Ajatar’s ear, “Be calm, my sweet, you do this every time we come here, silly thing. ’Tis but a reflection of you. No need to fear it. Behold the Great Mirror of Chaos. Beyond is the road to hell and deeper.”

With reins still in her hand, Hecate jumped down off the back of the huge beast, hovering lightly as she touched down. She gathered the reins and drew Iblis towards the black mirror. There was no resistance; the beast trusted her implicitly. They entered, being swallowed whole by the glasslike blackness.

Once through, they found themselves on an Obsidian outcrop at the edge of nothing. Behind them, the rear of the Great Mirror of Chaos, in front, a vast expanse of blackness where far below glowed the countless fires of Hades, flickering like red stars in a night sky. Hecate turned and with a single bound mounted the huge Ajatar. She dug her heels into the tender sides of its neck just behind its alert ears, urging it to launch into the darkness. As soon as they were in the air, Hecate pulled sharply left on the reins, which sent them into a deep and relentless dive down into the belly of Hades, a journey where time stood still. Yet, as they glided downwards, the once tiny red dots slowly grew in size and became the size of cosmic suns scattered across the endless blackness below. These suns were portals to underworlds where demons roamed in pain and hatred, either abandoned by Gods of The Darkness when they had tired of them, or exiled by Gods of the Higher Circle who despised their very being. The demon clans constantly warred amongst themselves, their bitterness for their enemies fuelling the fires of Hades and the rumbling thunderous roars of battle reverberating through hell, shaking its very foundations.

Hecate reined in Iblis and adjusted their speed of decent, heading for the brightest ‘sun’ – a massive cauldron, spitting cold fire and brimstone. They entered without fear and found themselves within a shadowy world, dimly lit by black light. Rivers of molten lava flowed through black lands and the acrid stench of sulphur filled the air.

“I am close,” she sensed.

She wheeled Iblis to the right, heading towards a howling mob that was fighting each other over human prisoners from a recent raid on some distant world. These humans were prized food in the underworld and were huddled together by a massive pool of bubbling red lava, guarded by those that had captured them – a large contingent of Tryx demon warriors. They were surrounded by a melee of Acephali headless demons, Shadow Wraiths, Ordog shape-shifters and Ker female death spirits, all fighting each other for a chance to kill the Tryx demons and taste human flesh. Where the relentless skirmishes had resulted in demon casualties, the undead of Hades had stolen the corpses and secreted them in their deep caves to feed their starving kin. The fighting soon escalated into an all-out assault, increasing in viciousness as they became more desperate. The demons, so engrossed in their fruitless battling with each other, failed to notice or hear the massive Ajatar approach; that is, until it alighted between the human captives and the Tryxes, bellowing fire towards them all. The fighting immediately ceased as all the demons scuttled to a safe distance from this despised creature of the Dark Gods.

Hecate watched with a smile on her pretty face and thought to herself, “Simple-minded, stupid creatures! What my foolish brother wants with these pathetic creatures I cannot imagine!” She dismounted by using her ability to hover and did so in the most dramatic manner to ensure she had their undivided attention. She cast a spell that surrounded her with flashes of lightning. It had the desired effect; the demons watched in awe and cowered when their eyes met those of Hecate.

Iblis shifted its massive frame over to the captive humans and casually tore into the poor humans with its huge jaws, lined with razor sharp teeth. It was hungry and began feeding on the terrified, screaming prisoners, demolishing large quantities with each mouthful. The demons could only watch in anger as their plunder was slowly devoured in a rather messy fashion. Hecate watched as the demons muttered amongst themselves, clearly angry that they had lost their prized human flesh to a beast. She looked across at her Iblis then turned her gaze back to the demons. Raising her arms high, she whispered a spell, following which came a bolt of lightning that struck the ground directly in front of her, accompanied by a rending deafening roar. The demons immediately forgot about the Ajatar and their lost meal and turned to face Hecate.

“Unworthy ones,” began Hecate in a condescending tone, “listen well for I will not repeat myself. Your master, Erebus, Lord of Darkness is in need of your services, for which you will be handsomely rewarded. Simply follow his instruction and you will be given all you can eat and pleasures of the flesh. Come now, follow me. Those that don’t will feel the full might of my power!”

The bickering had ended now that there was nothing left to fight over, so the demon clans turned to each other and chattered amongst their own kin for a few moments.

“Well?” questioned Hecate impatiently.

The demons turned back to face her and collectively nodded their approval.

Hecate smiled wryly and whispered to herself, “Stupid, pathetic beings. They will all eventually perish to give Erebus his dark army!”

She lifted herself delicately into the air and floated over to the neck of her Ajatar. She settled down lightly into the saddle, placing her tiny feet into the stirrups, and took tight hold of the reins. Once she had positioned herself regally on Iblis, she raised her left hand towards the pool of molten lava beside them, from which she drew a stream of the superheated liquid rock and formed it into a vast swirling disc in front of her. Then, from out of the blackness above, she summoned a tempest of a magnitude rarely seen, from which cascaded rain that fell upon the disc of molten lava causing it to cool rapidly and form a dense shiny circle of Obsidian – a mirror portal. In the cooling process, a shower of black glass beads rained down around the base of this new portal.

Grasping her black pearl talisman, she opened the portal to the Mindways and barked the order, “All of you, collect one black pearl and enter the portal. You march to meet your new providence!”

Not one of the demon clans, or even individuals, wanted to be first to enter the black mirror. They were suspicious, nervous and unwilling to turn their backs on their enemies, despite their abject fear of the Goddess astride the mighty Ajatar. Hecate roared in disgust at their pathetic fear of the unknown. She grabbed her staff from its sheath and thrust it out, pointing it in the direction of a large Ordog. The look of fear on its grotesque features portrayed the pain it was in from the spell emanating from within the witch’s staff. Hecate raised the staff skyward. The Ordog rose from the ground, its limbs flailing, and managed to grab a fellow Ordog in a desperate grip. They both rose a hundred feet into the air. Hecate hung them there to make sure all below could behold her power then, with a flick of the wrist, she had the staff deliver the killer blow. The demon Ordog broke – its back twisted and snapped like a dry twig and its body shook. The hapless Ordog, who had been picked up by its now-dead kin, fell as it lost its grip on the shaking body. It fell directly into the pool of molten lava, bursting into flame as it touched the surface. Hecate dangled the twisted remains of the dead Ordog above the heads of the demon clans, its blood dripping on those unlucky enough to be directly below. Hecate then tossed it into the pool of lava. Another flare followed as it touched the surface.

“Now,” cursed Hecate loudly in a threatening tone, “shall we go?”

There was no hesitation this time. They all dashed towards the portal, almost tripping over each other in their rush to gather a black talisman and enter. There were about a hundred of them; as bizarre an array of evil as one could muster, lacking in intelligence, yes, but brutal and strong with varying degrees of power blessed to them by the very hell that was Hades in order to protect its domain from harm.

As the demon horde marched off into the Mindways, Hecate noticed that two wriggling cocoons had emerged from the molten lava pool.

“New life from old. It works so well here. Why does my brother think he can do better?”

Hecate wheeled her Iblis and headed off towards the portal, pausing briefly to collect large numbers of the black pearls, scooping them into a large pouch that she tied to the pommel of her saddle. Satisfied that there were no stragglers, Hecate urged Iblis on through the portal into the Mindways, following behind the last of the lumbering demons, the hot breath of Iblis urging them on.

Stoneman sat watching patiently, all his senses attuned to the maze trap, like a spider awaiting its prey’s arrival in a web, poised ready to respond to the slightest vibration. He waited. Nothing. “Surely,” he thought, “surely, by now? I sense someone’s close yet they haven’t shown themselves; they’re very close yet the maze hasn’t sprung the trap. Hmmmm.” He re-focussed his concentration and steeled himself to respond to the slightest of changes within the maze.

“You waste your time, Erebus,” came a voice in his head.

It was a dialect he was currently unfamiliar with, but he understood the words.

The voice continued, “I am Wakan Tanka(29), also known as Great Spirit, creator of my world and people, friend to my brothers, the Elder Gods and I come freely to give you sound council.” There was a deliberate pause then the voice continued, “What you attempt to do will destroy more than that which you wish to control. All life, even those of Gods and demons, are fundamental to Temenos and good and evil will always co-exist. You cannot have one without the other, you cannot join the two; the sacred laws of life and death dictate this. Your mother and father meddled and paid a heavy price. You too will suffer should you choose to interfere with life.”

Stoneman was infuriated by this intrusion into his mind – he had believed his mind impenetrable – but he was more annoyed by his inability to identify who this intruder was, or their whereabouts!

He replied with venom, “I am Erebus. I am the future and all will succumb to me. I will break the Universe and remake it as it should have been made in the beginning. Who are you to lecture me?”

Stoneman was thinking fast, playing for time, searching his vast knowledge for an advantage, increasing the sensitivity of his senses, probing the very air within the maze for a sign that would lead him to this mediocrity of a spirit so he could squeeze the very life out of him and resume his mission.

“That will not bring you to me, for I am already here, with you, yet not with you,” replied Wakan Tanka. He calmly continued, “You are young in the ways of Gods, you are headstrong and destructive, but you are not eternal, only time is. I will not let you destroy all that was created in the hope of delivering The Darkness.”

Stoneman’s senses were prickling. This intruder was close, so close. He swung around, half expecting to find this Great Spirit there, but, no, nothing.

“Where?” thought Stoneman angrily.

“Oh, I am here, Erebus, Lord of Darkness,” replied Wakan Tanka, appearing no more than eight feet in front of Stoneman.

Wakan Tanka was old – even ancient, by godly standards – not very tall and dressed sparsely in North American Sioux leggings with a buffalo hide draped over his narrow shoulders. He was covered in beautifully ornate, handmade jewellery and was crowned with a modest but brightly coloured eagle feather headdress. His rugged, weathered dark skin contrasted against these delicate decorations.

In the time it had taken for Stoneman to absorb all this detail, he had drawn his push knife and decided he was going to end this wretch’s life. In mind-numbing speed, he had crossed the eight feet of ground and lashed out at Wakan Tanka’s neck, smiling as he did so.

“Fool!” laughed Stoneman.

“Yes, fool!” responded Wakan Tanka, who remained steadfast in the same place he had appeared. He continued calmly, “I am here yet not here and you cannot harm me. I may be old, but I am wise and I am also strong.”

At that moment, Wakan Tanka thrust out his right hand that held a short silver blade and nicked Stoneman on his right cheek. Stoneman touched his cheek and felt the warm blue blood oozing from the deep wound. He licked his bloodied finger, the salty taste heightening his senses further. The figure had disappeared, but out of the corner of his right eye he saw Wakan Tanka reappear at the centre of the maze.

Stoneman thought, “Apparition or real?”

“Both,” replied Wakan Tanka in Stoneman’s head. “I come from the beginning, like Chronus, like many more. We Gods have travelled through countless aeons and seen many wondrous things. We are the keepers of time and will protect all life from harm.”

Stoneman had had enough and he took control, blanking his mind from further intrusion from this meddler in his head. “I need to know my enemy,” thought Stoneman, comfortable his mind was now free. “He’s strong, yet I sense not as strong as I. He’s wise of ancient knowledge I don’t possess, but I will gain the upper hand.”

Stoneman spoke, “You seem to know who I am, and of my plans, yet I know little of you. We have time; time stands still here. I have the power to hold time. Come, tell me more about yourself. Will you oblige my curiosity?”

Wakan Tanka stood watching Stoneman closely, knowing he was planning ways to overcome him. He responded, “I need not tell you anything, Erebus, Lord of Darkness, only that my people have suffered at the hands of evil for countless millennia. It is the way of life, but I will protect wherever I am able. Now, I am here for my old friend, Chronus in his time of need.”

“Chronus! I had him beaten, banished forever; I removed his talisman. How?” thought Stoneman. “This I find a worrying development.”

Stoneman continued to probe his adversary’s defences. “You appear to be able to deliver physical blows yet, at the same time, not receive them. Very impressive! I admire this greatly. How is this?”

“Erebus,” replied Wakan Tanka, “you know not of my true capability and it will remain so. All I ask is that you stop this crusade to destroy and leave the Universe to live in freedom and peace. It is not too much I ask of you. You have the right to create your own worlds and keep them yours alone. A simple request, which I hope you will strongly consider!”

Stoneman boiled with rage inside but didn’t let it show on the surface.

“I must give you credit, my friend,” he replied coolly. “I have listened to your council and what you ask of me. Now, go and leave me in peace to consider my options.”

“As you so wish, Dark Lord,” responded Wakan Tanka, who calmly turned and walked off into the maze, his figure disappearing into the very air as he went.

Stoneman no longer felt the presence of Wakan Tanka, even at a distance. He knew he wasn’t anywhere near, and, without warning, let out an almighty bellow of rage.

“GGNNNHhhhaaaarrrrgggghh!”

It shook the very foundations of the Mindways.

“Why didn’t I see this coming? I am the Dark Lord of Time, the most powerful God in creation, I know all there is to know of our history. Why can’t I recall this WAKAN TANKA?”

Stoneman took a deep breath, realising he was almost lost in rage. This was something – a place – he had never been before; he was always cool and calculating. “Yes, Erebus,” said his conscience, “rage only clouds the mind and decisions made in anger become mistakes. Patience, clear thought and deliberation will deliver. Now, the questioning of Wakan Tankan must wait as you will no doubt meet again.”

Stoneman reflected and mellowed. He focussed on his purpose.

“Yes, a more pressing need; the birth of my army must be given priority above all else. After all,” he chuckled, “time stands still for no God!”

Of course, he knew full well it could for him at least! Stoneman went to leave but paused and turned to survey his maze.

“This little paradox could still be useful – attractive to those of a ‘good’ disposition,” he mocked. “I’ll leave it here, open within the Mindways, to be watched over by an Excubitor Sentinel(30), a spirit sentry to the Gods who reports on happenings, in this instance an ancient Hamadryad(31), who will advise me when the trap is sprung.”

Stoneman opened his mind and, probing the ancient trees, awoke the Excubitor Sentinel. Finding it within the tallest yew, he commanded the Hamadryad to watch the maze and report to him immediately if anyone became ensnared. The ancient Hamadryad within caused the yew to bow slowly in acceptance of the command. Confident that the trap was sprung for a second time, Stoneman left the maze and headed back to the CIB headquarters through the Mindways, returning to build his Dark Army of Death.

Hecate arrived at the mirror that led to the interrogation suite. The demons meandered slowly behind, the various clans keeping a distance between them as they were fearful of reprisals. “I had better leave Iblis here to control them whilst I seek out Erebus. Then I can I hand them over,” she thought, slipping out of the saddle and landing softly by his side.

“Stay here, my pet, and guard this portal,” said Hecate to the massive beast who lowered its great head and nuzzled its mistress’ long black tresses in affection, whilst also giving her a playful nudge in the small of her back.

She turned to the rabble behind and shouted, “Hold, you dogs of hell! I will collect you when ready. Iblis, keep them in order. Kill anyone who steps out of line!”

The Ajatar let out a low growl and one could have been forgiven for thinking that the beast smiled in anticipation, before letting out a brief spurt of fire breath that was aimed towards the nervous demons. Iblis’ eyes, black yet full of fire, eagerly searched for the first sign of dissent.

The Witch Goddess stepped through the mirror into the interrogation suite only to find Erebus was not there waiting.

“Typical!” spat Hecate and searched for his mind, calling, “Dear brother, I have returned with your demons, as requested. Where do you wish me to take them?”

The response was immediate and sharp. “Take them to Abaddon; he knows what to do. I’ve been delayed somewhat and will join you later!”

“Nothing like gratitude,” thought Hecate and called Abaddon. “I have my brother’s demons. Where do you want them, Abaddon, you small-minded little toad?”

Abaddon winced on hearing Hecate’s voice in his head. He despised her immensely. “The spoilt little bitch!” he cursed under his breath, but he continued in a sickly tone, “I’m coming, Great Witch Goddess of Hades.”

Abaddon shook with fear at the thought of this wilful child born of Nyx and Thanatus. Her unpredictability rendered her very dangerous and he never trusted her. In the depths of his thoughts, he was highly nervous and shaking so much that he snapped off the needle as he was injecting the last female subject. The woman’s muffled scream ebbed as the high dose of Buzz took effect, leaving her in a mental stupor along with all the other humans. Abaddon looked at Hatcher for support, worry written across his ugly face. Hatcher, indifferent as ever, just shrugged his shoulders and resumed his grisly task; injecting Buzz into poor, wretched humans’ brains. He only had four to go then he would be finished for the night.

Hecate was seated in the chair in the middle of the room as Abaddon entered. She noticed that he swallowed deeply as he looked upon her pretty face. Although petite and very beautiful, he knew when she was angry.

“Your humble servant, Princess. How can I be of service?” squeaked Abaddon.

“Lord Erebus has requested I bring demons. They are behind there,” said Hecate, gesturing to the dulled mirror. “I am too tired to fetch them. You go and bring them in, then take them to wherever he wants them and be quick about it!”

Abaddon bowed respectfully low in acceptance of the command and scuttled off towards the mirror.

Inside, he welled with contempt. Careful not to show his emotion or leave his mind open to intrusion, he thought, “Spoilt little bitch of a Witch God! She’ll suffer one day and I’ll enjoy hearing about it!”

He stopped abruptly as he came across the huge Ajatar lying in front of him. He gulped, almost choking on his own spittle.

“I should have guessed!” he cursed. “Nice Ajatar,” he cooed and, gingerly, he walked around the beast, careful not to give it cause to pay any undue attention to him.

On the other side, he found the demons sitting idly on the floor.

Abaddon puffed up his chest and put on his most authoritative air, shouting, “Stand when you are being addressed by the Dark Lord’s messenger, you mangy curs!”

The demons looked at each other and immediately got up off the floor.

Abaddon continued, “You’ve been summoned here to work for our Master, the Dark Lord Erebus. Do as you are bid and you’ll be looked after. Refuse and you’ll die. Now, follow me.”

The fifty or so demons trudged through the mirror into the interrogation suite. Hecate, still in the chair, watched as they passed. Abaddon came through last and bowed again as he passed her. Ever playful, Hecate smiled suggestively at him, knowing he would be very uncomfortable. Abaddon quickly averted his gaze and hurried through the room and on into the corridor, shrieking orders and directions at the lumbering demons that were unused to buildings and their small corridors. Abaddon ushered them into a large room adjacent to the laboratory where, in the corner, chained to the wall, were a group of emaciated naked humans.

“Your Master will soon call and address you,” said Abaddon.

He pointed to the now-hysterical humans who had seen the demons arrive.

“Over there are a few tasty morsels. Go and help yourselves whilst I seek out Lord Erebus.”

Abaddon left the room and closed the door, through which came screams that echoed throughout the basement, followed by roars and growls as the demons fought to secure their share of the meal, then silence as they settled to feed. Abaddon scuttled off to find his Lord.

Thinking about what had just happened, he chuckled, “What the Master hopes to achieve by mating these pathetic humans with mighty demons is beyond me!”

A voice cut through the air from behind him. “I’ll have an army that possesses intelligence. It will think collectively and obey instruction. Demons have no capacity to think beyond bloodlust and filling their bellies. The human gene, however, has little regard for others. They’re selfish, greedy and desire power. When blended with the physical size and strength of demons, they’ll be invincible. Does that answer your concerns, Abaddon?” said Stoneman summarily.

Abaddon turned sharply to see his master approaching with a smiling Hecate at his side.

Stoneman stopped as he reached Abaddon and, towering over him, he spoke, “We have work to do, Abaddon. Speak to Hatcher; I want more humans – some to breed, many for food – and I want them now.”

Abaddon bowed low and raced off down the corridor to find Hatcher.

“Now, Hecate, my dear little sister, I have a special errand for you,” began Stoneman. “I need you to prepare an assembly point for an army of many tens of thousands here on Earth. I recommend the wastelands of New England; there’s space enough for the numbers I desire and it’s deserted. We’ll need well-stocked feeding stations and Thalian(32) armourers from Iridius(33) to provide weapons. Once this has been set up, I’ll need numerous portals to the Mindways for the army to reach as many Dimensions as we can in one go. My war will be swift and decisive. I’ll destroy all that’s good and wasteful. Evil will triumph and rule once more.”

“Brother, a question, if I may be so bold,” interrupted Hecate. “How do you intend to create an army so large when humans carry young for so long before birth, then they mature over many years? It will take forever, will it not?”

“My dear little Witch sister, you can be so intelligent yet quite naïve at times,” replied Stoneman. “I can fold time. I use dark power and create black holes in universal space. When I first acquired Chronus’ talisman, I knew I’d be able to move in time but soon realised, when using the talisman in conjunction with my powers, I could manipulate time, fold it, speed it up, slow it down, control it completely. You’ll soon see, little sister. Now, go and do as I ask.”

Hecate looked up at her tall handsome brother, lifted his right arm and kissed the back of his hand.

“I obey, Lord Erebus, God of all Gods, and will advise you on completion of my duties,” replied Hecate mockingly before skipping off to rejoin her Ajatar and do as she was bid.

Stoneman looked on as she left. Despite her somewhat wilful ways, he found himself forming a closer bond with his sister. She was the family he’d never had when growing up as a mortal. Now he was working towards the time when he could free his mother and father from their unjust confinement. He would allow them all to walk free as a family in their rightful place, ruling the Universe and all that it holds.

“Now, to work,” he told himself and headed to the laboratory.

Hatcher and Abaddon stood waiting for him, their charges in a drugged stupefaction.

“They have all been dosed correctly?” questioned Stoneman.

“Yes, sir,” replied Hatcher for the both of them.

Stoneman walked past the row of females and noticed the bloodied eye of one.

“What happened here?” said Stoneman menacingly as he lifted the eyelid to see the broken needle protruding from the pupil.

“Abaddon, you have something to report?”

“Er, yes, my Lord,” replied Abaddon sheepishly, “I was under pressure and sort of slipped.”

Stoneman gripped the end of the broken needle and tugged sharply, removing it from the eye. The female was oblivious and just lay there.

Stoneman looked at Abaddon, who ashamedly avoided eye contact, and said sternly, “Be careful next time. We can’t afford mistakes. Now, take these women down to the basement holding cell and I’ll bring ten demons of my choosing to mate with them.”

Hatcher left the room and came back with a number of trusted agents who began unstrapping the women from the trolleys and then took them below to the cells.

Stoneman, having left the laboratory, entered the anteroom to find the room a gory mess with bloodied walls and innards all over the floor. Demon clans were squabbling amongst themselves over the scraps. The demons didn’t notice or care whom had just walked into the room for they were more concerned about gaining the upper hand in their pathetic fight for a few bones. Stoneman looked on in abject disappointment and thought to himself, “These are the best my sister could muster?”

Stoneman noticed an unusually timid Tryx who was sitting against the wall and decided to bring this tragedy of a circus to an end. He raised his hand and, thrusting his power in the direction of this hapless Tryx, lifted it to the ceiling. The Tryx struggled and kicked against invisible tethers as it was suspended above the squabbling demons.

Stoneman roared his disapproval, “All of you will suffer the same fate as this pathetic specimen if you persist with this worthless infighting!”

The hostility ceased abruptly as the demons turned to see Stoneman. They then looked up at the squirming Tryx above them who, in sheer terror, defecated on some of his kin below. Having gained their undivided attention, Stoneman shook the Tryx violently and, using his hands demonstratively, tore the demon into shreds above the now-cowering demon clans. Blood and entrails rained down on those unlucky enough to be directly below. Stoneman released his hold and the remains fell to the now-empty floor. A few stupid Ordogs took the liberty of snatching scraps off the dead Tryx and began feeding. The Tryx clan, taking umbrage, resumed their fighting.

“No!” boomed Stoneman, causing the demons to halt in their tracks and retreat to the sides of the room in fear. “You pathetic examples of the greater world! You’re not giving me any confidence that you can deliver my expectations. If you’re the best Hecate can find, I feel obliged to destroy you and seek out the best myself! You act this way when you know you’ll be given pleasures and feasts beyond your wildest dreams. I’m disheartened with you all. In fact, I’ll dispose of you as with that last specimen!”

Stoneman raised his arms ready to strike the demons down with death.

As the majority cowered, waiting for him to strike, one Tryx stood tall and defiant, calmly raising his hands in a gesture of peace, and implored, “Oh, mighty one, we are humbled by your very presence. I plead for mercy on our kind for this recklessness. They have hungered for human flesh for so long. When it comes in abundance, they are lost to bloodlust and fall into bad ways. They forget who we serve, O Great Dark Lord!”

Stoneman, wary of a mindless ploy, slowly lowered his arms and remained alert, ready to strike.

At the same time, he was intrigued by this unusually bright Tryx and commanded, “Come forth, demon. He who chooses to stand in defiance of his master, proclaim your name and tell me why I should spare any of you!”

The Tryx stepped forward and bowed low, responding clearly, “I am patriarch Hurgh, head of the Warrior Clan Hadean Tryx. We are strong, both male and female. We endure pain. We are loyal to The Darkness and eternally respond to the call for war. We are ready to serve and die for you, oh Great Master Erebus.”

Hurgh bowed low and the Tryx clan erupted, whooping, roaring and beating their thick, scaly chests in approval. The euphoria soon dissipated as Stoneman started to walk towards Hurgh. They all shifted back uneasily and fell prostrate to the floor along with the Ordogs, Shadow Wraiths and Acephali.

Stoneman stopped when he reached Hurgh, who was still bowing low and averting any direct eye contact with his master.

Stoneman reflected on this demon’s brave interruption and commanded, “Stand, Tryx, we’ll talk.”

Hurgh straightened and stood tall. He had a massive muscular, green and scaly frame that was a good two feet taller than the mighty Stoneman. His beastly jaws displayed vicious fangs and he had long arms with clawed hands. He was a powerful demon but he still avoided eye contact with his Lord and Master.

“I admire strength and those who are fearless. You’ve shown these traits despite the knowledge that I can destroy at will. How many are there of your kind?” questioned Stoneman.

“There are thousands deep inside Hades but, here, twenty-eight strong male and female Tryxes, my Lord,” replied Hurgh proudly.

Stoneman reached out and raised Hurgh’s head so he could look into his eyes and responded, “Fine, I like what I see. Bring your clan and follow me.” Stoneman then turned to the remaining demons and warned them, “Stay here and wait. I may have need of you soon. Do not anger me or give me cause to destroy you, for I have no compassion or forgiveness for mistakes. Cross me and I give no quarter.”

Stoneman turned and left the room. The Hadean Tryxes followed, goading the other demons, who retaliated by snarling and growling at them, showing their deep hatred at the Tryxes having been chosen above their species.

Stoneman arrived at the basement holding room with the Tryx clan following close behind him. Hatcher and Abaddon were waiting, their human charges – men and women – sat huddled naked in a corner, oblivious to what was about to unfold.

Stoneman turned to Hurgh and informed him, “These humans are here to mate and be mated with your clan. I’m not worried about violence but none must die. Do I make myself clear? No deaths! You can have pleasure of the flesh and, if you please me, I’ll reward you handsomely. Your clan can take who they please. Now tell this to your kind and begin making my army.”

Hurgh bowed to Stoneman, who left the room. Then he turned to his people and relayed Stoneman’s command. There was a huge roar of approval and the Tryx rushed forward towards the unsuspecting humans who were high on Stoneman’s new strain of Buzz – a dose not great enough to kill but sufficient to fuse the effects to their genes.

The more adventurous male Tryx demons took their female partners freely and violently raped them – primeval lust against mortal women, unceremonious, happening anywhere and in full view of Hatcher and Abaddon. The male Tryxes were sexually larger than their human female partners and caused significant damage. The humans were swapped amongst the alpha demons only to be discarded and then set upon by the less aggressive of the clan.

The male humans had a slightly less torrid time. The female Tryxes weren’t as rough and wanted to enjoy their time with the humans, taking their time and exploring the wonders of their senses. One particularly large Tryx alpha male took offence at the Tryx women meddling with their sworn enemy and lashed out at the nearest couple, sending the unlucky female sprawling across the floor. The Tryx then grabbed the poor man’s arm, ripping it from his body and began beating him around the head with it.

Hurgh was interrupted from his moment of brief pleasure by the uproar and, having detached himself from his partner, stood to witness the bloody scene – the Tryx alpha male beating the life out of the defenceless human who, by then, had died from a crushed skull. In one swift movement, Hurgh leapt across the room and grabbed the hysterical Tryx by the neck, choking the life from it. The Tryx desperately clawed at the suffocating grip around its neck but any effort was in vain as its body jerked in its death throes, the life ebbing rapidly, leaving a limp dead Tryx dangling from Hurgh’s outstretched arm.

“No-one attack human here. You will die. Erebus, our Lord, God and Master decree this. We do as we are commanded. Mate not kill!” growled Hurgh.

Hurgh threw the lifeless body across the room whereupon the beings in the room resumed with the mixed-species orgy. The humans, despite their distinct disadvantage and with Buzz raging through their bodies, appeared to be either enjoying the pleasures of this forbidden fruit or, in the case of the women, indifferent to the abuse they were being subjected to.

Abaddon, sitting by the door, had been tasked along with Hatcher to make sure all was going to plan, but he seemed perversely engrossed in the spectacle and was secretly masturbating under his cape. Hecate, who had come down quietly to witness this spectacle, had secreted herself behind him and had noticed the ogre playing with himself.

She leant forward and whispered mockingly in his ear, “My, my! I didn’t realise you had it in you, Abaddon!”

Abaddon almost fell off his chair but recovered quickly, adjusting himself and covering up his groin. He thought, “Evil witch!” He was as red as he could be for a dark-skinned ogre.

He stammered in his defence, “I apologise for allowing myself to be distracted by the pleasures of the flesh, O Great Princess of Darkness. I will be more careful in the future!”

Hecate grinned and replied menacingly, “I think I will have a word with Erebus. Perhaps you need to become a eunuch; that way things like this will not appeal to you and you can concentrate on the job you are given!”

Abaddon looked at her in horror. “Nnnoo need, O Great Princess,” he stammered, gulping at the very thought. “I… I am sure I can carry out my duties without the need for physical change!”

Hecate laughed and left to inform her brother that the deed was done.

Stoneman returned to the holding room with Hecate at his side. Their very presence and stature radiated power and pure evil. Stoneman surveyed the scene and a slight smile crept across his face, showing he was pleased with the first stage of his plan. He spotted the dead Tryx lying next to the dead human male, whose blood from his head wound had collected in a dark sticky pool on the floor. He looked at Hurgh who bowed low. All the other members of the Tryx clan followed suit and Stoneman nodded his approval.

“Hurgh,” began Stoneman, “I want hundreds more of your kind. I need to build an army tens of thousands strong. You will return to Hades with the Witch Goddess and bring me what I need.”

Hurgh stood tall and replied, “I will do as you command, Dark Lord.”

He bowed, turning to Hecate, waiting for his next order.

“Sister,” began Soneman, but he was interrupted by Hecate.

She quipped, “I know, brother, dear, another errand!”

“Yes,” responded Stoneman, “but, first, have you prepared the holding grounds as I asked?”

“Of course, my Lord, and they are protected from prying eyes by a spell,” replied Hecate, like a child pleased with the success of their efforts.

“Good!” said Stoneman, reaching out and stroking her cheek. “You please me and have done well, little sister. Now, take Hurgh with you and bring me back my hordes from Hades. Assemble them at a Mindways portal and I’ll send word of where to take them.”

Hecate looked up at her tall, ruggedly handsome brother and, raising herself on tiptoes, hugged him around his waist and kissed his bare chest.

“Oh, dear brother, I almost forgot,” said Hecate smugly, “you will almost certainly need these.”

She produced, by way of a spell, a series of caskets.

“Black pearl talismans – thousands – in readiness for your army. The Thalians have set them into unbreakable black Antarite(34) chains for each of your new warriors.”

Stoneman looked at the caskets and then down at Hecate. He lifted her effortlessly and kissed her full on the mouth and embraced her tightly. That brief and unexpected embrace, unknowingly to Hecate, made Stoneman realise his sister was with child. He sensed an unusual power within her womb – a power raw and young and entirely alien to him, but something he needed to monitor closely.

He squeezed her again, whispering in her ear, “I forget sometimes how bright you are, my sister. Thank you.”

As Hecate left with Hurgh in tow, Stoneman went over to the caskets and opened one. Inside were multitudes of heavy black chains with a jet black pearl-like bead held in a claw setting. He took one and placed it in his pocket and then closed the lid. He turned to Hatcher and gestured for him to come over.

“Hatcher,” began Stoneman, “firstly, the caskets. Take them to my penthouse and secure them. No-one, and I mean no-one, is to open the caskets or be able to get to them. Do I make myself clear?” Without waiting for an answer, Stoneman continued to instruct Hatcher. “Once you’ve done this, I need a few other things from you – a large enough place to continue with my work on a grander scale, along with hundreds more humans, male and female. This place needs to be big enough to hold tens of thousands. I want loyal CIB agents who will turn a blind eye to their work and who can be trained in administering Buzz. Finally, I need support here whilst my captains are otherwise engaged.”

“Sir!” replied Hatcher, acknowledging the order. “You’ll have what you need in twenty-four hours. I’ll mobilise the CIB task force, who’ll round up the bodies you need, and I think I know the perfect place. I’ll send Dock and Sallow to manage what you need here; they’re loyal and discreet.”

He bowed his head and left, raising his cell phone to his ear and bellowing orders to someone at the end of the call.

Abaddon stood leaning against a wall, deep in thought. Sheepishly, he still licked his wounds from the embarrassment of being caught by Hecate. “Evil witch, I hate her!” he thought. “One day she’ll be knocked off her perch! Hateful spoilt brat!”

His daydream came to an abrupt end as Stoneman clipped him around the head and cursed, “Abaddon, wake up, you imbecile, we have work to do!”

Stoneman looked around him at the unusual sight of humans and demons mixing together.

“Abaddon, take the Tryx males and find them some human flesh. Go to the Forbidden Zone and let them free. They’ll perhaps relieve me of a minor problem. Tell them anything that moves is theirs, but if they stray from the Forbidden Zone, they will die. Understood?” Without waiting for an answer, Stoneman continued, “When they’ve fed, return them here. Now, go quickly, I have work to do here.”

Abaddon bowed in acknowledgement and quickly rounded up the Tryxes, herding them off through the underground tunnels from the CIB HQ towards the perimeter of the Forbidden Zone.

Stoneman stood and surveyed the remainder. “The male humans could be used again,” he thought, and he entered their minds. He found and sensed the Buzz; each of their minds was a myriad of unrefined thoughts linked with their like-minded fellow beings. The thought activity between them at the moment was incoherent and unstructured due to the size of the administered dose and the recent physical efforts they had undertaken. Stoneman suddenly realised that the humans could pose a threat to the progress of his work. The Buzz allowed like-minded humans to work collaboratively as one, however, on occasions, should they be left to their own devices, they could be troublesome and rebel as one. “I must ensure the humans do not undermine my work,” he thought. “I’ll prevent them from communicating with each other by removing their ability to link by thought.” He focussed and placed a mental block within their minds. As he did so, he noticed an instant change in the humans’ behaviour; it was as if they were lost and on their own. The physical closeness of their kind appeared not to matter. The loss of the mental link clearly had had a massive impact.

He was interrupted by the CIB Agents Dock and Sallow who appeared at the entrance to the holding area.

“Take these men and put them in the cells. I’ll need them later,” commanded Stoneman.

The agents nodded and roughly dragged the lethargic males up off the floor and manhandled them towards the cells.

Stoneman’s attention switched to the females of both species. He sensed the creation of life active within their wombs – the genesis of his army of death. All he needed to do was to bring them to adulthood and ready them for the day of reckoning, when he would unleash his hatred upon the Universe to destroy all that is good and wasteful and bring about a new order of life. He entered their minds and, taking control of their thoughts, herded them to one corner of the room. He stood magnificently tall, legs apart, his arms outstretched and palms facing the centre of the room.

He called upon The Darkness, reciting, “Arath na chole seith rehena.”

The room filled with a blackness so dense that all light was extinguished. As the darkness took hold, Stoneman brought forth into the room black light from Tartarus to illuminate the proceedings and began to form the darkness into a spinning mass. Slowly at first, then faster, it picked up enough speed and it plucked the now-cowering females from the corner of the room, one by one, drawing them into the centre of the spinning vortex.

As soon as the last one had been taken, Stoneman took hold of his talisman and called, “Lord of Chaos, I, Erebus, Lord of Darkness, your master, call upon you and command you to give me control of time, to build my Legions of Death. I give these women to your safe charge to bring new life forth.”

The black light faltered and the room was returned to The Darkness once more. The vortex, still carrying the Tryx and human females, began screeching as it dramatically increased in speed, discharging bolts of red lightning and fire. The black light returned, illuminating Stoneman, who stood firmly at the edge of this maelstrom, his robes swirling wildly in the peripheral eddies as he studied the wonders unfolding in front of him. All of a sudden, the vortex imploded to the size of a basketball and hovered six feet above the floor, spinning very slowly and circling Stoneman. Silence fell upon the scene. Time was standing still; the very air in the room had stopped. The debris from within the room, which had been disturbed as the vortex had increased in speed, was suspended in the air. The slowly spinning monochromatic orb, deep black yet occasionally emitting flickering red bolts of lightning and fire, completed its thirteenth circle and came to rest in front of Stoneman. An eerie silence descended; it was portent of a tumultuous climax. Stoneman, his right hand still clasping his talisman, closed his eyes and stretched out his left arm towards the orb. The bolts of lightning and fire increased in frequency and intensity, reaching Stoneman’s open hand. The foundations of the building began to vibrate, shaking the very fabric as if it were experiencing an earthquake. The orb of blackness, increasing in speed, began to grow larger than before and slowly transformed from a sphere into an expanding vertical disc, reminiscent of a spiral galaxy, and, as it began to slow down, time resumed normality, the vortex filling half the room.

The lightning and fire had petered out as the disc slowed and, in all, only a few minutes had elapsed. The vertical vortex pulsed and The Darkness lifted. From within came shadows walking towards him. The females emerged, significantly older and frailer, exhausted of life and close to death. They fell to the side as they left the vortex, spent of energy and hope. Following behind in an orderly march came the new life born of the two species, beautifully manufactured, at least sixty in number. They came to a halt close to Stoneman. The demons were handsomely grotesque and had an iron-like muscular frame, nigh on eight feet tall, with long sinewy arms and legs from which sprang eagle-like talons. Their tough, scaly skin was like that of the Tryx demons but was lighter in colour. A massive skull, housing a large brain, with fearsome jaws full of razor-sharp teeth, offset by deep-set black eyes, bright and intelligent like a human’s, ensured that each creature emitted a notable aura that suggested an evolutionary power. Their faces were cast with evil and determination. The males were distinguished from the females by being slightly taller and with a spiked ridge along the length of their spine.

Stoneman was pleased with his work and with the vision as it was unfolding, even more so when he noticed some females were already with child. The ultimate achievement!

“A genus that procreates its own!” breathed Stoneman and, with a roar of approval, he called to the demons now standing before him, “I shall name you, my warrior children, Ajak-Tu, Death Angels.”

They all roared in approval, beating their chests with their clawed hands.

Stoneman easily identified the dominant male who was a good foot taller than the rest. He beckoned him over. The male Ajak-Tu waded through his kin, who parted very quickly as he approached them. He stopped and bowed, then knelt in front of Stoneman, and spoke.

“I am Kerra, leader of this race, now known as Ajak-Tu. We will serve you until death, Mighty Erebus, Lord of Darkness.”

Stoneman looked upon this fine specimen and lifted his chin to see the intelligence radiating from the eternally black but bright human-like eyes, the subtle signs of Buzz still evident within the reddish-hued pupils.

He smiled and spoke to Kerra, “You are the first Ajak-Tu of many and will remain leader until the natural order of life rains down upon you. Survival of the strongest; it is the way of life. For now, you are my Captain of this first clan. Keep order in your ranks! I also need new blood. You already have Ajak-Tu with child. I want more; make it so. Until we move you to the holding grounds, you will feed upon those wretched women who gave birth to you. They have no further use in this Universe other than to support the strong.”

Kerra stood and looked Stoneman in the eye, swearing his loyalty then quickly he averted his stare from the Lord of Darkness and said, “I and my clan obey thee, Master.”

Kerra turned and strode over to the huddle of elderly women in the corner of the holding room. He bent down and grabbed his own mother clear of the floor by the neck. The female human looked upon her son and, tears in her eyes, begged for her son to show mercy. Without hesitation and in one swift movement, he crushed her skull with his massive jaws, the sound of splintering bones echoing off the hard surfaces of the holding room.

A roar of approval followed from the rest of the Ajak-Tu, whereupon Kerra barked, “Take your fill, my clan. We are the first Ajak-Tu warrior breed of the Dark Lord.”

They needed no further encouragement. They rushed towards the now-sobbing elderly women huddled in the corner. The carnage that followed turned the room red. There was no quarter shown, nor the slightest hint of emotion at the slaughter of their mothers. The base instinct won through; they had to feed. Human and demon females, having given birth and raised their offspring, were now nothing more than a meal.

The vicious manner in which the Ajak-Tu disposed of and fed on their mothers was an inspiration to Stoneman. He could not have wished for a more fearless and wanton species.

“Ajak-Tu! I’ve created life of real worth. I now need vast numbers to fulfil my dream of an Army of Death, prepared and ready in the fields of New England for the destruction of the Universe.” He looked upon the scene of carnage as the Ajak-Tu feasted on their mothers. “Death after life,” he smiled to himself.

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