The Walkers

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Lucy In The Sky

Being a monster wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Lucia Delgado had been a monster for almost two years. And it was only getting harder. Sometimes, when she stopped to think about what her life cost her, she would entertain the notion of suicide.

Lucy didn't believe in suicide. Lucy read somewhere that Filipinos had the lowest suicide rate of any ethnicity. Mom liked to think it was innate optimism. In truth, Filipinos were stubborn. They'd choose life no matter how crappy or unbearable it got.

In all honesty, Lucy Delgado's life would have probably been halfway decent if she had the good fortune to never lay eyes on the local "witch" from her mother's village. The moment Lucy locked eyes with that enchantress, her destiny changed.

Lucy's phone rang. She answered it. She was her older sister Janice. Apparently, she had ran into trouble getting the package out. Long story short, the delivery would be a little late. Janice sighed. She didn't call just to apologize for this inconvenience.

"Lucy." Lucy knew what Janice was headed with this. "Please tell Mom." Lucy was tempted to hang up. "This is disgusting. How much longer can you live like this? I mean, Hell, what do you have to lose? Mom might know a cure ... or something."

Lucy rolled her eyes. Janice had played the "She Might Have A Cure" card before. Lucy had done her homework. None of the "cures" she had discovered were real. Usually, they were the work of conmen feeding on the ignorance of simple farmers.

"I don't even know what I'd say to her." In older conversations, Lucy would say that with tears running down her cheeks. Twenty-three months of living this nightmare had blunted her sadness. Whether she liked it or not, this was her life now.

Janice wasn't done with her. "You think you're a monster?" Lucy didn't need to answer. "Well, you're not. You have a rare disease. That's all. If this was cancer, you'd have told Mom everything the first nanosecond you started to show symptoms."

Lucy agreed with Janice. Years of med school had taught Lucy that much. When it came to the business of surviving a disease, Lucy always bet on the ones who caught it early on. The ones who were open and honest about their condition.

Lucy shrugged off the temptation to tell Mom. "Janice, do you know what every cancer patient has that I don't?" Janice remained silent. "Sympathy." Lucy sighed. "It's disgusting. You said so yourself. I get nauseous just thinking about it."

Janice switched gears to another common argument. "You have my sympathy." Lucy heard this one a dozen times before. "What you do is disgusting but you're still my sister." Janice sighed. "What makes you think Mom will feel any different?"

Lucy gritted her teeth. "News flash, we were born in this country." Lucy steadied her breath. "Paint that anyway you want but we're Americans. Mom is a Filipina from the boondocks. They still have witch hunts out there and I'm a freaking witch."

Lucy rubbed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and index finger. "Listen, sis. Forget delivery." Lucy stared out the window of her one-bedroom apartment as the sun ended its tour of duty. "I'm going out to eat." Lucy hung up the phone.

Lucy Delgado had been on the verge of starvation when she had told her older sister Janice about her condition. At first, she was horrified by what she was asking her to do but she did it. For better or worse, Filipinos put family above all else.

The neighborhood Lucy had arrived in was a bad one. There used to be this nice French restaurant a couple blocks over but it had burned to the ground the same night a gunman opened fire on its patrons. Again, this was a very bad neighborhood.

It didn't take Lucy long to find what she was looking for. The man was about her age. Hell, minus the accoutrements of his lifestyles, he was a dead ringer for this male nurse named Scott she used to make eyes at. Lucy tried not to get attached to this crackhead.

Crackhead, Lucy thought. She based that assumption on his bloodshot eyes. She had eyes just like those, a product of her condition. Lucy had taken to wearing sunglasses, even at night. This man had no such modesty about his veiny corneas.

A mere second from noting her presence, the man unfolded a butterfly knife in a somewhat intimidating display of eye-hand coordination. If he was a crackhead, he was a higher-functioning one. "No gun? I'm insulted." Lucy took a step towards him.

Lucy unbuttoned the top of her blouse. "Here, I'll give you a free shot." The man divided his gaze between her eyes and her cleavage. "If you can kill me, you can take my credit card and share it with your friends. Buy all drugs as you want. Deal?"

A rush of pain went through her body. She nearly bit the tip of her tongue off. She stood up straight and looked at the knife stuck in her chest. "Close but no heart." Lucy pulled the knife out. The wound sealed shut. In seconds, the wound was gone.

To show how fast she was, she folded and unfolded the butterfly knife in the blink of an eye. "You know, my people invented these. They are called balisongs." Lucy kneeled down as the man tried to crawl away. "I bet you didn't know that."

Lucy held the knife against the man's throat. "You have something I want." Lucy traced a path down the front of his white T-shirt. "And, believe it or not, it's not in your pants." Lucy twisted the knife into his gut, right over where his liver should be.

Ian Rockwell licked the blood from his hands. Parker Evans continued the interrogation but his resolve had waned. Marcos Botero had not crumbled yet. If anything, each blow and cut strengthened him to resist further. He had become invincible.

After a minute of earnest interrogation, Parker Evans arrived outside the door to the backroom, just as frustrated as Ian was. "It is impossible," Parker told himself aloud. "That dandy has stood up to things that would have cracked hardened soldiers."

Indeed, Parker had created a powerful enemy when he killed Orlando Botero, Marcus' brother and fellow vampire. If he had spared him, he might have leveraged his life. Now, Marcos sought his revenge by withholding a precious bit of information.

In the weeks that had followed, Marcos Botero revealed bits and pieces of how he snared a demon. He told him about the spells he used and the old incantations that bewitched him. Yet Marcos was ever careful to conceal the true name of Nergal.

Then, the idea occurred to Ian. Marcos would never knowingly betray his knowledge of that true name. If they could tease from him by some occult fashion, Marcos might be powerless to stop them. "We make a list of names and read them aloud."

Parker keyed in the inherent mechanism of the plan. Vampires had remarkable senses. Even against their own kind, they could zero in on minute changes, much like a polygraph. "We gauge his response and find the name that most excites him."

Parker dragged Ian into the room. The room was soundproof so nothing of their conversation had reached Marcos' ears. They existed simply no medium by which the sound could be transmitted through. Marcos was deaf beyond this room.

Parker shouted out names. "Abbadon, Azazel, Beelzebub, Belial, Cernunnos, Codicius, Dajjal, Dantalion, Eligos, Empusa, Euronome, Focalor, Forneus, Gello, Gremory, Halphas, Hylates, Iblis, Indalo, Kali, Kaveh, Legion, Lucifer." Marcos smiled.

The grin on Marcos' face widened in every second. "That was a sorry attempt." Marcos laughed. "What made you think I would reveal the true name of Nergal under such pathetic pretenses?" Marcos licked his lips. "You have failed, Mr. Evans."

Parker smiled back at him. "If my intent was to get the exact name, you were right." Parker leaned in close. "But it was not." Parker turned to Ian. "Ian had the idea of assaulting you with names and testing your reaction against our god-like senses."

Parker shook his head. "But his technique was to keep shouting names until you responded to one of the names. The assumption being that you would only react negatively to the one and only true name of Nergal. But that would take too long."

Parker Evans continued explaining to the still smug Marcos Botero. "As you know, there are two types of demons. Those that started as angels and those that started as humans elevated to the status of gods. You reacted quite tensely to the latter."

Betraying the degree of shock he felt, Ian realized what he had done. Amidst the names of fallen angels, he snug in passing references to fallen gods. Ian had sensed the changes but assumed that his plan had failed and his reactions were random.

In a self-congratulatory mood, Parker gave himself a round of applause. "A very clever beast, this Nergal, masquerading as a fallen angel to hide his roots as a fallen god." Parker opened the door. "Rest now and consider how you betrayed Orlando."

The detective work of Parker Evans was staggering. Fallen gods were very rare. Their names would be easy to read off in a single sitting. Marcos Botero could not stop the subconscious clenches of his own body. He was an open book to them now.

Noah Walker laid in bed, running a high fever. In a desperate bid to alleviate cabin fever, Noah switched on the television. The news had not changed in weeks. Still talk of the night of that "wild animal" attack at the theater and the motel shooting.

Both had happened on the same night. Just as Noah went Horatio Hornblower of a she-werewolf, a man on the other side of town had gunned down everyone inside the motel he was staying in. He then turned the gun on himself after he called 911.

Disguised as a police officer with a mustache wig combo, Mr. Hilson saw to the sanitization of the theater. No evidence of what really happened remained. The masquerade was a necessary evil against those adversaries who feed on fear and panic.

Noah remembered what it felt like the night a were-hyena had broken into his house. To force millions, if not billions, to live with that same fear night after night was sadism too great for any hunter to visit upon the masses of the blissfully ignorant.

Mom came in with a hot bowl of chicken soup. The fever had been a direct result of his night of heroism. His regeneration of the injuries he had picked up in wolf form had burned him out. Trips to the bathroom might as well have been Everest expeditions.

According to Dad, no Benandanti in recorded history had taken as much damage in wolf form as he did without receiving a killing blow to the heart or head. Indeed, the werewolf had broken all of his legs and cracked opened his ribcage. It hurt a lot.

The werewolf had been messing with him, savoring each blow leading to the last. If Mr. Hilson hadn't intervened with a revolver loaded with silver bullets, Noah might have died in the lobby of that theater. His skull crushed in a werewolf's jaws.

"I need some fresh air," Noah said as Mom entered his bedroom. "Would it be okay if I went outside?" Noah knew the answer before he asked but he wanted to put this regeneration flu thingy behind him. Make it a memory instead of a reality.

"You need rest," Mom corrected as she hung his clothes in the closet. Mom had talked with Grandma Laurie. Because of the events during the Vampire War, she hadn't strayed far this time and had rented an apartment fifteen minutes from their home.

Between Mom and Grandma Laurie, there wasn't much they didn't know about their own subspecies. Noah's inability to make a full recovery without these complications had them worried sick. "Would you like me to make you some more tea, dear?"

Noah stopped short of saying, "Hell, no." Instead, he said, "No, thanks." Whatever healing properties Grandma Laurie claimed that Xhosa purple tea possessed, it tasted like gym socks. Mom drank it each morning to prepare for Riley's birth.

In all the chaos and confusion of the last few months, Noah had forgotten about the upcoming new addition to their family. In a month from now, a baby girl would be born.

She'd bear the name of Riley. It was Gaelic for "courageous." It would take more than courage to survive in this messy chaotic world but courage was as good a start as any.

After putting out his clean clothes and offering him some tea, Mom left Noah alone in his bedroom. Noah stared at the television set as some guy with public relations announced the construction of the Nathaniel Grimm Memorial Plaza.

It was the dark side of the masquerade. Never being able to tell people which of their heroes were the real deal and which ones were monsters disguised as pillars of the community. Senator Grimm was to be idolized by those who barely knew him.

Knock. "Come in." Noah never knew why Alyssa insisted on knocking on his door first. If he wanted the door shut, Noah made it a point to lock the damn thing. Nothing he did with the door locked was anything he wanted anyone to barge it on.

"How are you feeling?" Noah made the so-so gesture with his hand. "Glad to hear it." Alyssa had been secretly chaperoning the date that ended in his ass-kicking. She had suspected something would go wrong and the events bore out her predictions.

Alyssa handed Noah the pair of sacred short swords wrapped in a towel. "They're not cursed. They're not bobby-trapped. They're nothing but garden-variety blades made from consecrated steel." These were the short swords given by Pax Lupone.

Since Pax Lupone AKA Scott Pellegrino turned out to be a traitor, there remained some question if these weapons had been cursed in some fashion. Between Mom, Dad and Grandma Laurie, these two short swords had received a clean bill of health.

"You're not going to die," Alyssa said, replying to Noah's unspoken thoughts. Fighting was what he lived for but disease was the great leveller of battlefields throughout history. No one knew anything about this strange infection eating away at him.

Everyone who listened to his concerns would remind him of the rules. Noah had remained in wolf form during the hour it took to regenerate completely. Because none of the wounds had been fatal, he would survive this test of his healing powers.

Still, Dad had sowed the seeds of doubts in his mind. No Benandanti had ever taken this much damage before. Benandanti had learned the "head and heart" weakness through trial and error. Perhaps, they were wrong. Perhaps, he could die this way.

Regardless of his lingering fears, Noah simply smiled and nodded at Alyssa. If this were his second and final death, there was no reason in the world to make everyone else miserable. Noah had a chance to face death with some measure of dignity.

With that, Alyssa left the room and Noah stared at the toweled blades lying next to his bed. If he ever regained his strength, these swords would be great assets. Many monsters possessed partial or total aversion to consecrated weapons like these.

A ring at the front door. That could mean only thing. A smile emerged on Noah's face. Through the threshold of his bedroom door stood Samantha Hilson, the one thing in this world that he would gladly face the fires of hell for again.

"How are you holding up, champ?" Noah grinned. Sammy blushed. "Some second date, huh?" Noah laughed at that. "Believe me when I say that the third date will be completely monster-proof. We'll rent a movie and make some popcorn."

Judging by their track record, the tape would turn out to be a gateway to another plane of existence. Noah would end up getting his ass handed to him by an army of cosmic horrors that didn't conform to Euclidean geometry. "Trust me. It'll be great."

Noah smirked. "I do trust you." Noah sighed. "I'm just wondering if it's ever going to end." When Noah learned about his Benandanti heritage, who had been the first one out the door with a silver dagger drawn? "I used to think I could end this war in one week."

Noah thought it over. "It's been a long week," Noah quipped. Sammy couldn't help but laugh. Noah didn't blame her. This happened to every hunter. He'd bet every weapon in this house that it did. Learning to hunt monsters was quite the ego trip.

Dad had tried to warn Noah Walker about that. He gave long anecdotes that alluded to the most important virtue behind every great hunter. Patience. If Noah had any to speak of, he might not have had to died once and almost die a second time.

"Still ..." Sammy started, stopping after one word to collect her thoughts. "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself." Sammy's smile widened. "You give lip service to quitting but you never do. In my book, that puts you one up on Spiderman."

Noah grinned. "I love it when you talk geek." Sammy blushed again. She seemed to be a blushing mood. "By the way, thank you for calling your father." Noah allowed his mind a trip down memory lane. "If he hadn't showed up, I'd be dead again."

Sammy's parents were not victims of the nine-to-five grind. Because of the extralegal nature of their income, Mr. and Mrs. Hilson didn't have to pull double shifts at the police station or become a wage slave secretary in an insurance conglomerate.

Noah wasn't ashamed of what his parents did for a living. It was honest work and, when they got caught doing it, they wouldn't have to change their names and start over in another city. He had only Sammy's word that "Hilson" was legit.

Sammy looked away, as if shamed by his praise. "That wasn't me." Before he could ask the obvious question, she answered. "That was my sister. She made the call." Sammy sighed. "I guess we were both being secretly chaperoned on our last date."

Last date. Noah didn't want to admit it but perhaps that was exactly what that date should be. Our last. Sammy must have seen the electrons bouncing around in his brain. "Not like that was our last date. We're going to have dates sans monsters."

Noah couldn't believe his luck. He had been a social recluse who girls would not risk being seen with lest they incurred the penalties to their social status. Now, he had a girl in his life willing to brave monsters and horrible death to keep seeing him.

"Vivian Jacobsky can suck it." Sammy threw a crooked eyebrow his way, her way of reminding him that he said what he was thinking out loud. "Sorry, unrelated thought." Noah held her hand in his hands. "I am lucky to have you in my life."

Sammy laughed. "You're cute when you're not angry at the world." Noah laughed at that. It had been a long time since he had treated the world like one big monster. Something about hunting real monsters had put his paranoia into perspective.

Noah and Sammy kissed. A quick peck on the lips. It wasn't that he was afraid it would make her sick. It wasn't that she was afraid it would be inappropriate. The two had simply reached a point where the intimacy involved outweighed the act itself.

Even for all his newfound optimism, Noah still kept a file cabinet in his head containing all the pessimistic aphorisms that had formed the backbone of his life philosophy for so long. It was a huge collection of files he wanted to drop into a bonfire.

Noah Walker couldn't help but think of the situation like he were cheating on Samantha Hilson. It just wasn't another woman he was spending all his time with. It was his morbid fascination with the darker things of life. A harsh and uncaring mistress.

Just like any man and his mistress, Noah rationalize his dual allegiance. Sammy couldn't give him what he needed. What he needed was a dark little voice that made him feel safe. That dark little voice would warn Noah about all the trials and tribulations yet to come.

Noah had long since believed that the dark voice could protect him from anything. It was his security blanket and catch-all excuse for not joining in the festivities of life. But that dark voice did not prevent his first death or his journey into hellfire.

Then, one day, it occurred to him. That dark little voice needed him more than he needed it. It lived inside of him like a cancer, feeding on his cognitive functions, finding the looming shadow behind everything and everyone he valued in life.

Just like a cancer grown, he couldn't just cut it out. It was wired into him at a fundamental level. He needed to burn it out, a sort of spiritual chemotherapy. Noah hoped that his love for Samantha would be enough to incinerate his pessimistic leanings.

Even if the world was going to Hell in the proverbial handbasket, what good would hand-wringing and second-guessing do in the ultimate scheme of things? If Noah wanted to change the world, fine. Change the world. Don't just wish for it. Do it.

As Sammy left, Noah fished a pocket-sized leather-covered book from under his bed. It was an inspirational quotes book. "There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"

As Noah concentrated onthis quotation, he couldn't suppress the thought that somewhere dark evil was aligning against him and would soon strike when he was at his weakest. He shrugged. "It must be Tuesday," he quipped before deciding on a nap.

Lucy puked into the toilet bowl and flushed. The liver had failed. If she didn't get her delivery tonight, she would die. Dad, twenty years deceased, smiled at her. "It's okay," Dad reassured her. "You gave it your best shot. It's time to go home now."

Hallucinations were typical symptoms of her special brand of starvation. Her growl echoed through her apartment. She didn't choose this disease but she chose not to give up. She wasn't even thirty yet. She hadn't even gotten to live half her life.

Her fist smashed into the bathroom mirror. Zapped of her nocturnal strength, a mountain range of wounds formed on her knuckles. She wetted her hand with peroxide and wrapped a bandage around the wounds. It was time to be human again.

Lucy donned her sunglasses to hide her sleepless eyes. In a routine as old as med school, Lucy flipped on the boob tube, expecting nothing more than a five-day forecast or some rehash of last night's news to fill up the hours of morning television.

Instead, she watched as a camera zoom in on where her sister worked. "Employees at this Planned Parenthood clinic would not comment on this morning's arrest of 29-year-old nurse, Janice Delgado, suspected of smuggling out an aborted fetus."

Lucy had feared this for almost two years now. Feeding on regenerative tissue was disgusting, whether it came from a liver or an unborn fetus. There was no avoiding that but Janice's sacrifices had allowed her to feed without resorting to aborticide.

The village witch, two years deceased, appeared in front of Lucy. "You should have listened to me." The wicked witch smiled. "If you had, your sister would not be in jail right now." The witch shook her head. "It'll break your mother's heart."

Lucy remembered that night two years when she had contracted this disease. She could not get the witch out of her head. Her stare followed her into her dreams. She woke up sweating and went on a moonlight walk through her mother's village.

Mom claimed that the witch was in her eighties even though she looked like a woman in her twenties. Early twenties at that. Lucy didn't believe such stories. Filipinos were a superstitious people but she was an American not given to superstitions.

Therein lied the rush. Not all superstitions were things like not booking a flight on Friday the 13th or not saying "Bloody Mary" into a mirror thirteen times. A superstition was just any belief that had no actual basis in reality. Lucy had a lot of them.

The belief she made her own destiny was a superstition. One chance encounter with a witch and her whole life went to seed. The belief that there was no such thing as monsters was also a silly superstition. Because on that night, Lucy ran into one.

It was the witch, perched over a pregnant woman with a bolo knife, the Filipino answer to a machete, wrapped in her fingers. "Just walk away," the witch said, sensing Lucy's heroic resolve. "You are no match for me." The witch turned away from Lucy.

Convinced that she had scared Lucy away, the witch didn't expected to have her wrestling for control of the bolo knife. The match between a mortal woman and a cannibal witch lasted mere seconds. By sheer chance, Lucy disarmed her of the knife.

When the witch tried to grab it, she walked right into it. Skewered through the heart by her own blade, the witch dropped to her knees. If not for that spray drop of blood that had sprayed into her right eye, she might have walked away scotch-free.

Instead, Lucy Delgado became a monster. Janice Delgado became an accessory to a monster. And Lucy smashed open her cell, knowing full well that Mom would be calling soon in tears wondering what possessed Janice to do such an awful thing.

For too long, Lucy had been "Lucy in the Sky," the dreamer, the idealist. Even as a fetus-killing monster, she had found a way to sate this hunger without killing anything that wasn't already going to die. Now, she had ran out of all options but one.

Lucy needed to face facts. She was a monster. She needed to feed live. As the hours did their terrible dance towards sunset, Lucy arrived in a quiet suburb. One of her patients, Michelle Walker, lived here. Her unborn daughter would be delicious.

Lucy knocked on the door. Michelle answered. "Lucy," she said with a smile. "What are you doing here?" Lucy unfolded the butterfly knife, a trophy from the man she had killed last night. That terrible moment before the stab dragged on into infinity.

There was always a chance of finding a girl who wanted an abortion. Lucy could perform the procedure herself and then eat the unwanted miracle. But then what? Someday, sooner rather than later, Lucy would have to do this the old-fashioned way.

Lucy took a deep breath and plunged the knife in. Michelle stood there in shock. A person who does not remember where she came from will never reach her destination. Her vision crossed as she pulled the knife across her chest, into her heart. "Naalala ko."

Michelle raced to a phone to call a doctor. A boy about sixteen years of age stood at the threshold staring at Lucy as tainted blood soiled her clothes. Lucy growled at him as he stepped forward, scared by the thought of this child inheriting her curse.

As the world became dark and distant, she looked up at the night sky and, like her sister often did, saw the face of her dead father. "You did the right thing," Dad said before turning back into a cloud. Then, after two years, Lucy finally went back to sleep.

The excessive violence of what had transpired in the interrogation room was made worse by the serenity of its architect who had stopped to admire his own handiwork. A tall broad-shouldered black man looked over at Ian Rockwell with eyes of fire.

"I don't even know what to call you." Ian circled the demon as it stood motionless. "Your name isn't Nergal." Ian laughed. "We figured that much out." Ian did his best to stare down the demon. It didn't even flinch in reply. "What are you? Really?"

The demon smiled. "For starters, I am a who. Not a what. As for my name, Nergal will suffice." The demon, keen on his alias of Nergal, took his turn to circle Ian. "True names can be deadly. Ever heard the expression a bullet with your name on it?"

Ian nodded. He had a chance to stall whatever mayhem Nergal planned to unleash. "For demons, it is more than a figure of speech. It is a fact. An enchanted weapon with my true name upon it can kill me." Nergal looked at one of the piles of ashes.

"Marcos Botero, for his cleverness, did not know how to build such a weapon." Nergal smirked. "Of course, even if he did, he would have preferred to make me his slave. To force me out of my rightful throne into a corpse that he could command."

Nergal sighed. "Indeed, even after I broke free, I could not reenter this vessel because Marcos had placed a curse upon it." Nergal smiled at the other pile of ashes. "A curse that your blood sire unwittingly unraveled when he killed Orlando Botero."

Ian shook his head in denial. "You don't believe me?" Nergal chuckled. "Indeed, a liar is most vulnerable when he speaks the truth." Nergal placed a hand on Ian's forehead. He tried to move away but his feet felt as though they melted into the floor.

Ian watched as a living shadow took the length of a claymore through his chest from a white light in the shape of a white-haired white-eyed man. "The Devil tried to kill me using the name of Nergal." The dark one laughed as the wound vanished.

The illuminated wingless angel raised his left hand and a hole opened up beneath their feet and swallowed the shadow up. "Even the Father of Lies could not see through my deception. And, in a rare moment of panic, he exiled me into my cage."

The images vanished as soon as Nergal lifted his hand from his head. "Don't you get it?" Ian shook his head. "Is it possible for me, a lesser demon, to outwit the Devil and escape from a cage of his design without the aid of some higher providence?"

Ian's eyes widened. "Alas, you understand now." Nergal circled around him. "Who I really am and what I intend to do is of no concern of yours." Nergal stopped to pat Ian on the shoulder. "Simply know that I am more than just some lucky devil."

Normally, Ian would have had no way of knowing if Nergal had spoken the truth but he recognized that tone of voice. Like a street preacher who rained brimstone on anyone nearby, Nergal had a fiery righteousness as he spoke of his miraculous luck.

"What do you say?" Nergal extended a hand. "Join me and a higher cause will light your path." Nergal nodded to the piles of ashes. "Or join them. Either way, let the chaos of a meaningless existence be at an end." Ian shook his hand. "Excellent."

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