Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Interlude: Of Men and Madness, Part 2

Fourth Reich, ten thousandth year of the Uberfuhrer's rule

Wolfgang Gerhard had always considered himself the most detached member of his former fellowship. The others had been stunted by addiction, superstition, cruelty...even honour.

That was not to say Wolfgang was entirely flawless. Only by transcending all creation could one reach such a state. But, even when he had administered the gas, he'd never let his passion overtake his reason.

Which was more than he could say about... everyone else, but especially the former man he had come to see.

As he moved his drone through the parallel universe, Wolfgang took note of the National Socialist imagery on everything, from buildings and landmarks to rivers and the moon itself. Would poor Adolf have gone this far, with this much power? Perhaps. Perhaps. Alas, they'd never talk again now...

Wolfgang's drone, which resembled a beetle only in shape, recorded every sight, sound and smell. It would not do to miss evidence that could be used for updating his psychological profile.

The car-sized artificial insect touched down in the centre of Berlin's replica, legs brushing the tips of a swastika.

He was waiting for him, Wolfgang noticed. He was not surprised.

The last time they'd seen each other...heavens, but it had been nearly a century, hadn't it? Wolfgang remembered a lean man, high forehead giving way to dark hair, eyes shining with lust for more than flesh and wealth.

"It's all about power, Herr Doktor. All forms of domination-physical, intellectual, sociopolitical...they're all power, in different forms."

He wondered if he still held onto those words. If he even remembered them. Had he changed so much as to forget? Physically, he was unrecognisable. The universe he had created and shaped was arguably the most ambitious midlife crisis Wolfgang-who had learned such things were ageless-had ever seen. But was that an indication?

'Rei Polneia,' the Uberfuhrer greeted, hands behind his back. At over two metres tall, with a long blond mane and moustache, he looked like the warriors of the dreams they had once shared, especially in the grey and black uniform. There were so many eagles, swastikas and thunderbolts on it, Wolfgang could hardly see the medals.

'Ubermensch,' Wolfgang replied, taking in the figures cowering behind the giant of a man. Long noses, thick lips, jutting brows and skins of every colour and texture, except that most beloved one. The city was full of them, and, though they all looked like normal humans, there was an emptiness in their eyes and minds Wolfgang could not help but notice.

The man's smile widened. 'Please. Let us drop the formalities, Josef.'

Wolfgang almost sucked in a breath, despite the distance, despite the fact he was not even there. 'As you wish, Oskar.' He paused. 'How did you recognise me?'

Dirlewanger laughed, turning around with a flourish of his trenchcoat. As he walked, shadow the empty people, their bodies twisted and writhed, until they resembled the propaganda carricatures that had once been widespread more than anything human.

There was no scream of pain at the accelerated mutation, nor of horror at their new bodies. Josef began to doubt they even had the capacity.

'How could I forget your mastery of flesh, Doktor?' Oskar did not look at him. 'It seems you have moved to insects, though. Efficient creatures, or so I've heard, for animals. No wonder you feel kinship with them!'

Mengele's current primary form, back on Earth, frowned. This was Oskar, alright. 'Why didn't they react when you changed them?'

There was a paranormal force at work here, Josef could tell. Not magical-he could detect neither mana nor shifts in the aether-, but unnatural nevertheless.

'Ha!' Oskar threw his head back. 'I am the dream Adolf's weakness cost us, Josef! I am the Odic Force incarnate!' Oskar whirled around, pointing a warning finger at the drone. ' Not Himmler's false god! The wretch is a subhuman slave, trading favours for the worship of worms!'

'So, you can do whatever you want?'

Oskar chuckled. 'You could say that. The truth is, however, that these creatures are unfeeling, without the illusion of sentience subhumans attribute themselves.'

Because otherwise, your lair would be stormed. You are not allowed to create thinking beings, so you slake your appetites this way, murdering, tormenting and raping these...automatons. 'I've read about you, Oskar. I know you cannot fully indulge yourself, or the world will fall upon you like a hammer.'

Oskar scoffed, but Josef pressed on. 'I know time passes as you wish here, so tell me: how did it come to this?'

Oskar's blue eyes were curious as he looked at the drone. 'Why ask? Why come now? Nostalgia?'

'If you wish,' Josef allowed. 'I am awaiting deployment, and sought to sate my curiosity in the meantime.'

'Deployment...' Oskar's lips curled around the word. 'I see all who walk in Adolf's footsteps, Mengele. But not you. You no longer believe, do you?'

'Racial supremacy has been proven wrong,' Josef said, bristling at the accusatory tone. Otherwise, we would have won. 'I-'

'Whose flag do you walk under, then? The Americans'? The Soviets'? Some worse vermin?'

Josef sighed. 'Do you remember Brazil?'

' threw your lot in with those brown-skinned sons of bitches, Josef? With Latinos? How'd they torture you, you dickless race traitor?'

Josef made the drone back up, despite himself, as Oskar stomped his way closer, seething. 'No torture-I tried to change my identity and lay low-'


'-but they found out. It was this, or death. I helped revolutionise agriculture, medicine, genetic enginee-'

'All you piss-blooded retards fled to South America,' Oskar sneered, ignoring Josef's accomplishments. 'But at least most of you had the decency to die. You should've drowned, Josef.'

Mengele gulped, remembering the swim that had almost ended his life. 'I did not, however. And we are.' Josef hesitated. 'Why so many people, Oskar? Do you need that many?'

' "People"...of course I do, you bitch. Haven't you heard? Chernobog-the deer god of the Slavic worms-is spreading his corruption across the world. They're all in league, obviously, so they'll never let purity be saved, but I don't give a damn about what animals pretend to think.'

'So, you're building an army?' But wouldn't sapience be needed for...? Did Oskar control his creations like he did his insects?

'They shall blaze a trail for me, and I will strike down that antlered rat like lightning fells a rotten tree. They need not think for that.'

But you'd enjoy it if they did. If they could fear, and hate, and worship you.'re just as much a slave as any of them. Scared the subhumans you mock will come break your toys. Embodiment of Nazism or not... 'As you say. know they won't just allow this, right, Oskar? You are not welcome in the world.'

Oskar grinned skeletally. 'I never was. Do you know how I came here, Josef?'

'I do not,' Mengele admitted. 'How?'


Emil Strauss spat blood as his face slammed into the floor of what had once been the Fuhrerbunker. He did not cry in pain, for all that he had been wounded worse than ever. Not that the experience, although novel, was pleasant.

Dirlewanger loomed over him with a triumphant grimace, an arm flashing down to grab Emil by the throat. The ARC agent struggled, but neither his magic nor his strikes, despite the mana behind them, could harm whatever Oskar had become.

There had been whispers of archetypal empowerment, when Oskar had first appeared, or rather reappeared. Killed shortly after capture, he, or something that perfectly aped him, but far more powerful, had appeared in Berlin a few days ago, wreaking havoc. This revenant, if that was what he was, might or might not have been the embodiment of Hitler's ideals. Whatever the truth, he was powerful.

'Thule Society,' Oskar spat. 'You were a relic before we even rose. Were you one of Himmler's faggots, boy? One of his whores? Did you like taking it up the arse from him? Did he make you feel like a woman?'

Emil's bad luck magic crashed against Oskar like waves against a shore, achieving nothing. Mana that would have razed Earth sparked harmlessly against his blue, blue eyes.

'Let go of him, bastard.'

Both men turned to look at Equilibrium, one grinning, the other bloodied, with eyes swelled shut. The portly Chinese woman was dressed in a dress that would've appeared ordinary, if not for the Internal Affairs emblem over her right breast.

'Aww~ look, Emil, the chink thinks it can make demands! How can you be so old and yet so stupid?' he asked Equilibrium. 'You've spawned before, I can smell it. Who was it who fucked that puffy sideways cunt? Was it a man, or one of your yellow weasels? Did he chop his balls off after? I'd become an eunuch too, with only sows like you to fuck.'

'Let him go,' she repeated, not reacting to the tirade. 'Do not make this worse than it has to be.'

'Your kind existing is torture enough for people,' he growled. 'And I can see whatever pig knocked you up didn't teach you respect, cow. Was it even a man at all? You talk like a dyke.'

Equilibrium caught Emil as he flew, before placing him behind her. Without a word, she leapt at Dirlewanger, her power enhancing her body to the point it was an even fight. Hands that, by themselves, could have merely broken the moon in half clashed against fists that would have shattered Earth, enhanced by the power of balance.

Even as Oskar drew more and more upon what he embodied, flinging storms, force and nothingness at her, Equilibrium met him in kind, nullifying everything. 'You cannot win,' she smiled coldly. 'I am merely stalling for time, until reinforcements arrive.'

'Slavs and gooks!' he roared. 'I've seen who hold your leashes: the mongrel mud sow, the undead she-monkey, the junkie chink snake...!'

Oskar caught a punch thousands of times faster than light without looking. Pushing Equilibrium back, he snarled at the ceiling, where ARC and the Hidden Eye had arrived. 'Look at you niggers! I've heard about monkey troops, but this is ridiculous! You'd almost think you're  people, with how you're aping our discipline.'

'Keep runnning that mouth, freak,' the Handyman said. 'It won't save you.'


'No one would have won, if the battle had continued.' Oskar seemed thoughtful. Regretful, maybe? That he hadn't fought, or that they'd lost in forty-five? 'I came here, built our shining city on the hill. In my shadow, subhumans become what they  really are,' he gestured at the group of apes that had once been a black family. 'I've rebuilt my Black Hunters, made them better, faster, stronger,  purer. This,' he pointed down at the street, where an Aryan warrior was standing triumphantly above a shattered sickle and hammer. 'Is how it  should have ended.' He shook his head, regaining his smile. 'But what about you? Where are your leather-skinned masters sending you?'

Oskar deserved to know about as much as Josef needed to tell him. That was to say, not at all. Not that he got the chance.

'Look at them, Loric~ pouring out their little black hearts to each other, like lovers...' a decapodal silhouette of light sighed, hovering above them. 'Betcha like buggering each other too, to the tone of "Hitler's One Nut".'

'It's very romantic, Ryd,' replied something that only looked like a strigoi. Unlike the eldritch creature, its accent was Hungarian, tinging a series of overlapping voices. 'Stay put, Untermensch. You're going nowhere.'


'Wha-' was all that Josef managed to get out before Oskar seized his drone, as if trying to strangle it.

'Every once in a while,' he hissed, furious. 'The Jewish conspiracy sends its puppets after me, when it wants to distract the masses. Bread and circuses...they say I overstep my bounds, and "warn" me, "punish" me, as if I were a dog, instead of the one destined to stamp upon their cringing faces forever., even a dog is above...'

Ryd'yk turned to Szabo. 'I wish Kriegblitz was here to help us smack him do-'


Josef wondered how he had ever missed these battles. He might have never been told about them, but they were certainly not quiet.


Aya Reem closed her eyes and let herself fall backwards, expecting Thoth to catch her, but the god was gone. Must have left after teleporting David away, she told herself as she felt her lover wrap his arms around her.

'Hey, mummy,' Samuel Shiftskin lifted her up as he sat down in her chair, kissing her neck. 'You seem tired.'

'I only seem, you say? Good,' she groused. 'Why'd it take you so long?'

Sam shrugged as she adjusted in his lap. 'Entering was pretty easy, but then I heard you talking with those two, and thought I'd let you handle them first. Good job, by the way.'

'Thanks,' she kissed his flayed brow with a lazy smile, drawing a shudder that had nothing to do with pain. 'I'm surprised you didn't make some off-colour jokes by now.' There had been some great innuendo material, after all.

'Heh, don't be. I know it'd only annoy you now.'

The two sat in silence for a while. 'I feel like we're at the final stretch, Sam.'

'Don't,' his voice became more serious. 'The fight is never over, Aya. It's only gonna get worse.'

'We only have the cults to take down...'

'Or so we think, before something blindsides us,' Sam grimaced in distaste. 'The supernatural is never quiet, babe. And, if the signs are even half sincere, it's only going to get worse. Fewer and fewer mundanes are being born-what are we gonna do when everyone's supernatural?'

'Change our name, probably, since none of us will be abnormal anymore.'

Sam didn't even crack a smile at the joke. 'And that's not all. Gerald told us about psychics appearing on Earth, and I concur. It's all natural, too, nothing like the MK Ultra bullshit.' Aya wondered if Grey One had ever learned about the American experiment that had attempted to splice its DNA into both mundanes and mages, to give them new powers.

'There are millions already...' Aya said, remembering the reports of newborns who could move objects without touch or mana, of people suddenly developing remote-viewing.

'Yeah, and they might be weak now, but what about after they have kids together? And then there's the aliens...' Sam looked away, brooding. 'I can feel something coming, building up on the horizon. Is this how you felt, before the Shattering?'

Aya's silence was answer enough, making Sam sigh. 'Sorry...didn't mean to fuck up your day. Maybe it won't be all bad?'

'You sound like you're trying to convince yourself, not me,' Aya answered. 'The future is not always as bleak as it seems, my dear.'


This, Leon Gilles thought, was why he hated vacations, or rather, alternative patrols. He goes to Cuba to hunt some weak but slippery witches, trusting his peers and deputy to handle things, everything goes smoothly...

That shoulda tipped him off. The flawless op. The world gave with one hand and took with two, as his nana, bless her heart, used to say.

And then, he comes back, makes some sweet love to Becky(they fuck like animals, actually, but he tries to never think vulgar things about his wife)-even better, which should've prepared him for even worse-and...

That cocky little vigilante shit who'd slipped through his claws, not only a prospective ARC agent, but tutored by one of his best friends, too!

'What the goddamn hell, Aya?' he'd demanded, lowering his voice at the mummy's wince. 'Why'd you give him a choice? You should have-'

'Leo, please. You've seen his powers, his heart.' Leon had rolled his eyes, clicking his beak. 'He'd be wasted in prison.'

'He fuckin' flays people, woman!' he'd glared. 'And don't you start with how they're criminals and things were worse when you were growing up!' he'd huffed, pacing, paws making thumping noises with every stomp. 'What're ya teachin' him, anyway?'

'How to read,' Aya said softly. 'Write.  Properly. How to act around others, both in ARC and outside it. He's...never had anyone to teach him. Have you read about his parents?'

Leon hadn't. Soon, he wished he'd never learned.


'Listen here, you murderous bastard,' Leon's claws could not pierce Sam's neck, and the wendigo wasn't fighting back, either. In fact, he'd let Leon lift and press him up against the wall, instead of absorbing the motion's kinetic energy. 'I can't tell what Aya sees in you to save my life, but she loves you. If you even think about hurting her, there'll be nothing left of you to find.'

'If I ever think about hurting her,' Sam whispered. 'I'll save you the effort.'

Leon glared into his eyes, looking for signs of lying. Finding none, he let go with a scoff. Learning the motherfucker had his hands all up on Aya was bad enough, but the fact he wasn't even pushing back was...

'You might've gotten into her pants, but be careful,' Leon warned, towering over the two metre seventy wendigo by nearly a metre. 'She's already gotten burned by a scumbag. Her ex-husband...'

'She's told me about Faisal.' Sam showed his fangs. 'I'm going to find him, and kill him.'

Leon huffed, turning around and beginning to walk away. 'Take a goddamn number, Shifty.'


Aya often liked to joke, when they were alone, that she'd tamed and collared him. Once, Sam would have been appalled by the thought of submitting to anyone, let alone a representative of the system-in his younger self's mind, it would have been capitalized, maybe in a sinister font too.

And he was. The Dibe of yesteryear would have balked at being educated and becoming a civil servant, but Aya had thoroughly disabused him of the notion that he could help more people by ignoring the law and working alone. And if she'd left him following her around like a lovesick puppy, well, there were worse fates.

Besides, making Aya happy and Gilles angry at the same time, while stomping down on monsters and getting paid for it? The dream.

"...isn't that right, Sammy?" Aya finished.

"Yes, dear," be blurted out before his mind caught up to his mouth and he remembered they were in a meeting, not in bed.

Elsbeth crossed her arms at this, brow furrowed, while Gerald raised an eyebrow as he cleansed his glasses. Elga's hands flew to her mouth as she made a sound none present hated themselves enough to describe as a squeal.

The (dick) Heads sitting to his left and right didn't miss a beat, of course.

'"Isn't that right, Sammy?" Ying snickered around his pipe.

"Yeah, Sammy. Isn't that right?" Gilles was being vindictive today.

Sam glanced at his mummy, wondering if she'd forgotten about their surroundings too...then saw her turning to chat with Tamar with a smile, and couldn't stop one from spreading across his face, too.

"You know what? Seeing her happy makes up for  everything you assholes can think of," the wendigo said, making Ying pull back, looking thoughtful.

Gilles, meanwhile, seemed to have lost his enthusiasm. "Well, it's no fun if you just go along with it..."


'Yeah,' Sam agreed, hugging her tighter. 'I was sure you were going to boot my ass out any moment.' He closed his eyes. 'I'm happy we got Szabo sorted out. That twisted bastard was enough of a pain without fucking diet Nacht powers.'

Aya squeezed one of Sam's hands, saying nothing, just like he did. His flayed flesh might have hurt, but he preferred to show his true colours around her("Ugly as fuck and red all over, love. But you've already dropped your standards through the Earth's core by smiling at me, so...please have mercy?"). 'I know you hate him.'

'I go around wearing scumbags to scare people into behaving. He does it because he loves it-and, at the risk of repeating myself, it'll only get worse from now on.'

'I'll stop him if worst comes to worst.'

Sam smiled. 'I know you will, mummy.'

'The others are probably happy it ended peacefully, too,' she thought out loud.

'Oh, definitely. I'd bet my nuts Gilles and Ying are balls-deep in their wives right now.'


'Fine, fine, I won't bet my nuts,' he winked. 'Ying might well be balls-deep in a husband, for all I know.'

Aya rolled her eyes, but smiled. 'What about Hex and Nacht?'

'Those two? Fuck knows. I'm their boss, not their psychiatrist.' His next words were whispered. 'They're like women: I don't understand a single damn thing about them.'

Aya's eyes were half-lidded as she sealed the room's entrances, beginning to unwrap her bandages. 'Let me give you something to decipher...'


You know...' Sam bent forward, pressing his forehead against hers, after they were finished. 'I've never told you this, but you were more of a mom to me than mine ever was. Thanks.'

'You're welcome. I never got to know my sons, either...' she closed her eyes.

'Freud would have a field day with us...' his expression turned more serious after the weak joke. 'After I find that snake bastard, do you want me to bring him to you dead, or just crippled?'

Aya's mouth was close to his ear as she whispered. 'Just bring me their ashes...'

Our children...why'd you take our children?


Roundhouse, London

Miranda was forcing herself forward on stumps.

She'd been running, at the very beginning, which felt like it had been an eternity ago-or, at least, as long a time as she could imagine at thirteen. Then, tired, she'd fallen onto all fours, crawling across the streets on broken limbs.

The butcher had taken away even those.

It was never constant. Sometimes male, sometimes female, pale, dark-skinned, tall and broad, short and hunched, but always, always smiling.

Always wearing three things, too: a thick leather apron, like Jack from the old murder stories, a sack full of naughty children it had stolen from their parents, and the parts of her body it had chopped off.

Sometimes, she wondered if there were multiple butchers...but she knew the truth.

Her mom had been faithful. Not enough to faithcraft, to her dismay, but...bent in the head was the nicest term that came to mind. She'd wanted to throw Miranda away when her destruction magic had manifested shortly after birth, shattering her mother's right hand and leaving her unable to weave anymore. Her dad, Milton, had convinced his wife to keep her, even as he'd run himself ragged to provide for them. It was an unusual, but not unheard of occurrence. Some mages were born with their powers and shaped by them, rather than the other way around.

It had not just been the magic. It had been the "wrong" type of magic, too...even as a toddler, Miranda had been taken to charities and construction sites, to become a builder, a creator, but...

Her mom, Glynda, had been devastated by her treacherous refusal. She'd learned the gods she worshipped came from deeper, darker places than Britain approved of far to had her dad.

Faithcrafting had come to her mother late, but in force. Her dad had never even seen it coming, before he had become a prisoner in his own twisted flesh...

The butcher. It was going to take her head, she could feel it. She was gonna die and daddy was gonna live as a monster and hate himself for it forever and ever and-

Light. Fire that warmed, but didn't burn. Hands that touched her without hurting her. How long had it been, since anyone had...?

'It's alright, girl,' the man holding her had both armour and wings. An angel knight? 'No one is going to hurt you...or him, anymore.'

Vyrt's eyes turned flinty. 'I'd have come earlier, but I was fighting monsters far more dangerous than your mother, though hardly crueller. Mira? Look at me.'

She did, without wondering how he knew her name. An angel...

Vyrt smiled, gingerly touching her healed limbs and making her eyes dart to them. 'We're going to visit your mother, then I'll take you somewhere safe.'

They didn't meet again until she was eighteen. She'd never been adopted, and Vyrt had never visited her, both because he was busy and because he didn't want to be seen as a groomer.

But when they did, the engagement soon followed. And then...


Miranda's eyes snapped open, and the witch glared at the ceiling. She rarely slept, and dream even less often, but when she did, she dreamt about her past. Rarely all events up to the present. Just the highlights.

'She's dead, Mira,' her sleepless husband whispered, rubbing the small of her back. 'Dead and burning. I promise.'

She buried her face into his chest-they might have been the same height laying down; everyone was. But she liked him taller than her-, trying not to groan. 'I know. It's involuntary.'

'I don't mind.'

'I know...' she looked up as their bedroom shook. 'What was that?'

'Earthquake,' Vyrt lied smoothly, smiling. She focused her glare on him.

'In London.'

'What, have you never heard of Earthquake Merlin...?' Vyrt trailed off as the room shook again, making him raise a wing and tap its tip against the ceiling. 'Actually, I think that's her...take it easier, Lady.'

'That was some rubbish you were trying to spin,' Miranda chided.

'Indeed. I mean, listen to me: Merlin on top?'

Miranda bit her lip, looking around. 'Isn't he in Hell so Mordred can walk?'

'He is,' Vyrt's voice turned somber. 'But he can astrally project himself, if he manages to stay quiet as our kin below get to know him. And he wants to never be apart from Nimue again.'

'...makes you wonder how they can love each other so much, despite everything.'

'The most unlikely bonds are often the strongest. Look at the two of us.'


'You are a woman of principles, and I am...not.'


'A woman.'

'That could be changed.'

'Easily. Should it be?'

'Maybe...' she smirked briefly. 'What have you done this time, Vyrt?'

His face turned blank. 'My duty.'

'Unclear, but ominous.'

'I scared a good man with his own nightmares, and made sure he would be used as a tool of murder, to prepare him for his...' not yet. Not yet. 'Purpose.'

'Will he serve an important purpose?'

'He will save everything,' the nephilim answered. 'And everyone.'

'...could someone else do it in his place?' Did you offer to do it yourself, you selfless, scheming bastard? Without telling me?

'...if they could,' Vyrt said. 'I don't know them.' Seeing his wife's expression, he tried to smile reassuringly. 'Cheer up. If you think we're a couple of misfits, you should hear about the extended family.'

'No horror stories,' she pointed at him warningly.

'Much like the story of creation itself, only the beginning was horrifying. But the end? Glorious...'


Hell, Yahweh Cluster

Sklaresia was not the runt of the litter, but she wasn't the pick, either. Luckily, her siblings and half-siblings' intelligence seemed inversely proportional to their power, which was perhaps why she was well-rounded enough to stay ahead of the bullies.

It had worked since her birth, but it seemed her luck was about to run out. Asmodeus rarely visited the nursing home she was indentured to, but often demanded her presence.

She'd never met her father-one of her mother's grandsons. According to the stories, he'd been pathetically grateful for being chosen by Asmodeus, and done everything to maintain that position. Unfortunately, her mother had grown bored, seeking newer, more entertaining sycophants, and he...

'Humans have pleasure toys like this,' her mother had explained, turning around. 'Or they will. Honestly, if he was so eager to kiss my behind...'

She didn't like her remaining family much. One would think more demons would be more empathetic after being exposed to so much pain, but...

That was how she found herself in Asmodeus' lap as she sat on her throne.

'Do not pout, my darling,' Asmodeus pouted herself, running a bladed finger along Klare's cheek. 'Did I not give you life and a purpose to fill? Ah...' Asmodeus smiled indulgently beneath hooded eyes. 'No matter. I will forgive your ungratefulness, and fulfill your deepest wish, if you just do something for me.'

'You will let me leave?'

'Indeed! You just have to prove you love your mother first.' Klare felt something prod her from behind. Fortunately, it was merely a barbed tentacle. Unfortunately...

Lovely, she thought, trying to disguise the curl of her lip as an eager smile. Her mother had chosen to be a hermaphrodite.

'Come, daughter mine,' Asmodeus simpered. 'Don't you love your mother?'

Klare's response was cut off as her mother kissed her. She tried not to bite down as she felt Asmodeus' tongue force its way past her fangs.


Palma de Mallorca, Spain

To an uninformed observer, it might have looked like Miguel Fernandez was bullfighting.

Understandable. The were's animal form looked no different from a mundane bull, if a heavily-scarred, giant black one. He even moced like a normal one.

But he knew the truth, as did every bullfighter and spectator.

"Bullhead" Pablo had been something of an early post-shattering sensation. A vigilante and thief, he'd stolen silver "from the rich and prejudiced-but I repeat myself", so it couldn't be used as weapons against weres, and given it to the poor. In the end, he'd been caught, but not by the authorities.

The "rich and prejudiced" had given him a choice between death by silver-some had been stolen by him, then recovered-, or underground fights until death. His past and identity would have to be erased and his death faked, of course, to prevent, complications.

He'd agreed in a heartbeat. And now, Miguel was going to kill him. He'd all but killed him, nearly severing his neck with a blow of his silver sword, but Pablo still clung on to life.

'Go on, kid,' Pablo tried to become human again in his last moments, but only managed to reach his hybrid form, grinning with bloody, blocky teeth. 'Kill the monster. Show everyone how strong you are.'

Miguel had grown up reading about him-who hadn't? He still had the books, the toys, well into his twenties. This...had been his hero.

But he'd read him. He'd known he was angry. At what? His father was gone, dead by his own hand. His mother had disowned him. At the world?

It sure seemed angry at him. His father had been insufferable. Breadwinner, he'd nagged his wife even as he'd pushed her wheelchair around, nagging her about being a burden. About being too much of a scared zealot to see a healing mage, and too unlucky to find a real priest.

He'd slapped down all of Miguel's protests, saying he was the man of the house, and, as long as he didn't want to change his mind, there was no chance of it happening.

The awakening of Miguel's magic had been followed by a period of waking nightmares and sleepless nights for Miguel's father as everything went wrong for him, until he'd gladly thrown himself onto his smiling son's knife.

His mother, healed by his hand...she'd been horrified. Sent him away. Ungrateful...

And now, even his hero was mocking him.

Miguel saw red. Who was this chucklefuck of a has-been to judge him?

As his sword sent the werebull's head flying, the audience stilled, then screamed, but Miguel was deaf to their cheers. Pablo was going to get up. He knew he was. He almost lost and died in every story, but always got right back up with a laugh.

That was what heroes did. Right?

As Miguel collected the prize money, refusing every request to stay and chat, he heard some dipshit laughing about the tears on his face.

'Dust in my eyes,' he said, turning away as the chance of the bastard spontaneously combusting became reality.

Leaving the ring behind, he returned to the surface, and his job.


Running a casino was like being a barkeep: only interesting in movies. Especially when every moron seemed to hate having money more than the last.

"Thirty percent chance to lose. Fifty. Ninety? Please, please, please..."

It was the thrill, he knew, and hardly minded using his magic to lighten their pockets, but...Jesus fuck, some people...

Like the one in front of him. Ninety-nine percent chance to lose(to get his rocks off), or win enough money to buy food for the kids(and then get his rocks off again).

Miguel looked down at his bronze cross, then at the bloated, sweating shitbag in front of him. Everyone else, including the staff, was gawking at their table.

When had it grown so stained and dull?

'Fuck this,' Miguel said, standing up.

The next day, owning only the clothes on his back and the money in his account, he walked the streets, until he heard a woman crying.

'Demoness...' his hand went to his cross. Suddenly, it seemed not so dull anymore.


Sklaresia preferred to discard clothes unless necessary. That the sense of foreboding had pushed her to get up while Miguel slept, much less get dressed, almost made her eager to find out the reason, and just...get it all over with.

The reason waited for her in the living room, amidst her husband's religious paraphernalia. Her uncle took in her white shirt and black pants-far more conservative than what her mother would've liked her to wear-and his light frown turned into a disapproving frown.

'Temptress,' the Archangel said. 'Does it not tear you apart?'

'What, exactly?' she asked sardonically. There was one thing that did, but she somehow doubted he'd come to talk about that.

'To take such a broken, hurt man and twist him even more. You are staining the soul you now own, my niece. Have you no shame?'

He was already towering over her by the time she moved to him, black eyes glaring into blue ones. 'Don't you dare,' she hissed, one hand pressed against his armour. 'Don't you  dare. You and that old monster on the Throne did  nothing while I-' she swallowed. 'You have no right. My husband is safe with me. Happy with me.'

'With a demon?' His tone was skeptical as the tip of his spear burned her chest, above her heart.

'I am a good wife to him.'

'And if the Lord says you are not allowed to taint His flock?'

'Damn you,' Klare crossed her eyes as the pain became sharper. 'And your lord.'

'...right answer, aunt.'

Klare opened her eyes, the pain gone. She saw brown hair and blue eyes become grey and the spear become a crook. The smile, though, never changed, even in the face of her indignation.

'Vyrt, you shapeshifting little-'

Her strength was not held back, but rather, directed to preserve what mattered. As such, the punch that sent Vyrt flying did no damage to the surroundings.

The nephilim rocketed out of the Milky Way and into Andromeda in a heartbeat, and Klare followed just as fast, crossing over two and a half million light years in less than a second. His arrival wiped out half of Andromeda, everything for tens of thousands of light years being reduced to quarks.

By the time she was at the galaxy's former edge, Vyrt had reached the depths of the supermassive black hole at its centre, and she...

...was suddenly looking at his chest, that damnable smile undaunted by the singularity. Her next punch, just as strong as the first, landed on his eye, and her hand broke. This time, he didn't roll with the blow...but damn, had the first been satisfying.

'You are putting your back into it, aunt!' he caugh her third punch with ease, fist shattering against his gauntleted hand. 'If you'd fought like this in Ry'lyeh, you'd have taken down many starspawn.'

'Down with me,' she spat. 'That was not my fight, nor have I needed to seriously hit someone in decades. And stop calling me "aunt", I'm younger than you!'

'And a demon,' Vyrt said. 'Metaphysics, Klare.'

Hearing her nickname from his mouth made her feel like an oily snake was crawling down her spine. 'Why the disguise? Why'd you come?'

'To test your conviction,' he said. 'Love is the law of Heaven, and you two...' his smile became warmer. 'Are beloved by God. And you were wrong, aunt: it was His hand that brought you together, for everyone's good.'

There it was again, his beloved common good. 'Vyrt...?'

'You have my blessing, too, if you care about that,' he promised. 'You two are endearing.'



'They needed the confidence boost, Miranda. But, if they even got together in the first place...' Vyrt embraced her.

The wall to their right trembled. 'Don't doubt your husband, Mira! Ask him, he'll tell you crooks always get the job done!'

'Subtle, Vykt!'

'Hmm? We were talking about tools, right?'

'Like you, brother?'


Chernobog's hand never wavered, even as Baba Yaga's scrabbled against it, trying to free her throat.

'Hurting me...' Yaga wheezed, blood dripping out of her broken, crooked nose. 'Will not undo  your failures, Black God.'

'I know,' Chernobog said. 'But you make for good stress relief, you ugly bat.'

Yaga laughed. Her house was broken, her power to help and hinder gone...'Is this...' she spat. 'What your brother would have wanted?'

But she was still herself.


Chernobog covered Belobog with his body as the arrows pierced his back, his heart. None hurt as much as the pain of his brother.

'It's over, Cherno,' Belobog tried to smile. He always did. Even as he broke the Syncretic Treaty, to protect his followers from Yahweh's preaching lapdogs. Even as he went to war with Heaven, and all the other pantheons-so eager to show solidarity-and his brother followed. Even as he laid dying while they converted. 'Please...stop heal me...'


'Just...let go, please...'

Chernobog's voice grew firmer. 'I cannot. I won't let anyone take you from me, brother.'

And he opened his maw, silencing the scream that never ended before it could even be heard.


'...but you tried.'

Yaga's eyes widened. 'W-Wait-'

'Not only did you remind me of him,' Chernobog's voice was calm. 'You cast a spell. Tried to separate us, while I was distracted. You  bitch.'

Spiked chains rose from his flesh, digging into hers. Yaga screamed, before the Black God broke her jaw, pushing it into her brain with a thumb.

'He made me go from mere destroyer to conqueror, but do not expect mercy.' He brought his face closer to hers. 'Make yourself beautiful.'

'D-Don' w-wa-'

'You want none of this. At least make it worth my while.'

And for the first time that night, Yaga did as she was told.

Chernobog threw the young woman to the ground, where she tried to make herself tempting. He snorted, backhanding her so that she fell on her belly. 'All fours. Do you expect to be taken like a woman?'

' sisters will hear of this,' Yaga whimpered through her healed jaw.

'Like who?' Chernobog grinned. 'The Mother of the Forest? I know they will. I hope they do. In fact...' he tore her clothes away. 'Scream my name.'

And for the second time that night, Yaga did as she was told.

It was not the last time.
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

After Life, Chapter 9, Part 1

'The first thing you must accept, David,' Thoth said. 'Is that order is not the natural state of existence.'

The statement rankled almost as much as the reedy laugh my strigoi side let out at it, but I had a feeling that was the point. Beyond helping me master my godsight, Thoth seemed intent upon teaching me in general. And if he could make me uncomfortable just by talking, what would happen once we got to the actual training?

'I know,' I replied. 'I understand that.'

Thoth shook his head, pacing on nothing in the void we were floating in. The god had taken his dog-faced baboon form, but I could still tell he was slightly disappointed, no divine perception needed.

'There is knowing, David,' Thoth-as-Aani began. 'There is understanding, and then there is believing. As a god of knowledge, I am familiar enough with all three that, I think, I can tell you they are tied to acceptance, but not the same as it.'

By now, he had sat down, though his body was bobbing up and down, swaying from side to side, even though Thoth himself wasn't even twitching.

'Let me help you, teacher to teacher,' Thoth extended a rough, leathery hand, while gesturing in front of himself with the other.

He wanted me to sit down. On what? This place...or rather, this lack of a place? Even the void of space was bursting with activity compared to it. At least there, there were particles, radiation.

And a lack of menace, like what I felt from this shifting nothingness. If anything, it reminded me of the Blackness planted in Fairie by Chernobog, though there was a sense of potential beneath, rather than of finality.

'You flatter me.' I spun a thread of Mimir's power into a platform, then sat down on it, crossing my legs to mimic Thoth's pose. His muzzle wrinkled. 'I'm not even a teacher anymore, never mind one on your level.'

'See?' Thoth pointed at my makeshift seat, ignoring my comment. 'That is better proof that you do not accept chaos as natural than any denial.'

I tensed. '...where did you say we are?'

'I did not say we are anywhere,  because we are not. We are not anywhen, either, except metaphorically.' He crooked a finger towards himself. 'Hear. Listen, if you care to. It might save your health, if not your unlife. You just have to heed me.' As he spoke, Thoth shifted, changing before my eyes, until I was looking at an old man, with kohl-rimmed eyes and a long, but thin silver beard. There wasn't a single hair on his head.

I tapped my left knee with two fingers. 'Some questions first?'

'Do you wish to ask, or be asked?'

The problem with guys like Thoth was that you could never tell when they were taking the piss unless they wanted you to. 'I wish to ask you, if you don't mind.'

He nodded, beard barely moving, so I began with something harmless-relatively speaking. 'I presume you were allowed to enter Crypt headquarters, but how did we leave?'

Thoth raised one hand, and a keg the size of a bucket-he was most of a metre taller than me, and burlier than you'd expect-appeared in it. After a sip that removed a over a little, he sighed, closing his eyes. 'Did you know alcoholic drinks used to be more popular than water, because they were cleaner, and thus healthier? Less likely to sicken you, that is.'

I somehow doubted that was the entire reason booze had gotten popular, but, shit. Thoth had just made his own beer and I had nowhere to go. Better to play along before he started talking about craft beer and micro brews. 'Many people are still concerned with their health, even nowadays.'

'Mhm...adepts of harsher chemistry than brewing and winemaking. Some of the things humans make...poison. Poison for pleasure, when the water is so clear, it starts being considered dull.' Another sip. I felt the keg refill itself. 'As for your question...I charted Egypt ages before the first Pyramid was a gleam in Djoser's eye. Do you think there is any path through, beneath or above it I haven't walked?'

"I gotz mad skillz, brah. Trust me." Well, my fault for asking a god that. 'Or maybe Aya let us pass.'

'How strictly do you think Aya and I are separate, metaphysically speaking?'

Considering he'd rather retort like that than by smiting me at implicitly calling him an impotent liar, I chose not to answer. 'Where are we, Thoth? I'll even settle for a metaphor.'

'How magnanimous.' Thoth's bass voice didn't lend itself to archness, but he still did a pretty god job. 'Very good, then, if you insist. The womb-skin of my mother-father.'

'...we're in the cosmic ocean?'

'I'd advise against words like "in", David. It applies location and direction, which implies space.' As he spoke, my construct fell apart, and I briefly felt a cold jolt spear through my body, before a numbness settled over my skin. It was not like the usual lack of sensation I'd gotten used to since my undeath, was not uncomfortable. Not really.

'That is the draw, David. Why would it be painful? Is it not the progenitor? Did you expect an anglerfish with no lure?'

'This is Nu.' My statement wasn't panicked, but almost as numb as my skin. That didn't scare me, though. I knew it was all me. I had just passed through a crueller mirror of these waters, and only become stronger for it. 'You know I would've died, if my godsight hadn't awakened.'

'Then 'tis good we only came here after that, hmm?' Thoth's expression went from wry to stony. 'Forget what could, would, should have happened, David. I will teach you what is to come.'

'Is that why we're here?' I asked. 'Not just to demonstrate the...primacy of chaos. Because it's timeless, so we won't have any problem honing my sight alongside my mind.'

Thoth shook his head. 'You misunderstand so much, David...your "sight" is hardly different from your mind or other senses, for one; there is little I have to teach you about it, for another.'

'Seriously?' I didn't have to fake my bafflement. 'I struggle desperately against Chernobog once, send him running by sheer luck, and I know everything?'

'No one knows everything. Not in the sense you imagine. Also, David?' His kohl was swirling over the bronzed skin of his wrinkled face, which was wrinkling itself, like ink in a whirlpool. 'For someone so eager to see the empty half of the glass, you sure are quick to dismiss your own pain when it suits you.'

'I survived.' I shrugged. 'Freed myself. We're putting out fires on Earth. What more could I want? It's not like suffering entitles you to rewards.'

Thoth nodded slowly, consideringly. 'Do the most broken wretches in the world deserve all of it? Some of them, and others as well, will say that  obviously they do. Do they deserve more than they have, then? An end to their suffering, at least? Your god himself teaches that treating others well will see your kindness returned, and treating others poorly will see you crushed under cruelty. Sometimes, even literally, in the end. There is something to be said there, but I will not belabour the point.' He shook his keg. 'Make wine.'

'Can't you do it yourself?' I might've sounded petulant, but damn if I could be arsed to care anymore. I've seen people acting like bigger cunts than me at my worst without going through a tenth of the shit I'd had.

'I won't make your wine, David. It's the blood of  your god. That would be just...gauche.'

I had already made a wine-filled mug by the time the sound of the last word disappeared, leaving no echo behind. What did he want me to do, get closer to Jesus? Not that I was opposed to the idea, but, in the context, I couldn't see the point.

'Can you taste it?' Thoth asked after I took a sip, like he'd instructed me to. I shook my head.

'Just feel it going down my throat.' I shrugged, wishing I'd been in good enough a mood to make a joke about that. 'For the best part of a decade, everything's tasted like ashes.'

'Makes you think, doesn't it?' the god closed his hands around the keg, despite the fact it was too large for that, and when he opened them, something like a bronze orrery floated above his cuped palms. 'Why are strigoi driven to eat, and drink, and rape, when they can feel none of that?'

The sphere of bronze rings spun until it glowed, then two of them detached from the rest. One of them became a miniature medieval city, while the other broke apart to become its inhabitants. A group of the tiny bronze people were paying their respects in a cemetery, when one of the graves burst open. They didn't even have time to twitch before a ragged, grey figure tore them apart, then began having its way with their remains. Some of them were still moving.

Those things were anatomically correct to a pretty disturbing and frankly needless degree. I hoped Thoth would never get into Lego. 'We get our pleasure from the act itself, not the sensation...or lack thereof. I'm sure the arseholes wish they could feel things as they did in life, but, well, tough.'

But Thoth already knew that, obviously. He had to. There was no way he wasn't testing me to see what I thought about my kind, and whether I'd lie about that. But didn't he already know that, too?

'One could almost think...' he continued as more and more grey figures rose from their graves and began slaughtering their way through the city. 'It's all meant as a punishment.'

Um...'People should have enough balls and brains to put their affairs in order before they die, so they can be at peace and not bother the rest of the world. If they're unfortunate and can't...that's not an excuse to be a monster.' And here we were, back at the reward of suffering. But, if even a loser like I'd been after my undeath (that is, a bigger one than I currently was) could  not go on a monstrous rampage just because, then the rest of the coffin-dodgers had no excuse.

Of course, I'd also been blessed with a father who'd made sure to remove my caul and tie red string around my ankle before my burial, but neither had been enough to prevent my return. Some strigoi lacked people willing or able to do such things, or even support networks at all, and not just because they destroyed or drove them away themselves.

'Harsh. Perhaps you'll change your stance once you meet the first strigoi...but I doubt it.' Thoth smacked his lips, then smiled thinly. 'Let us move onto chaos.'

Yaaay! What a cheerful change of subject!

Enthusiasm bolstered by my hearty clapping, Thoth rose to hs feet, holding the edge of his white, blue-trimmed cape (and when had he put that on? He'd only been wearing a loincloth an instant ago), then spun around with a flourish, making both himself and the model city disappear.

I was, not for the first time, left alone in the dark.


He remembered how it had all started. The first storm over what would become Scandinavia: in Midgard, and on Earth, too.

Running, flying, through the clouds, over the tides, meeting Taranis when they'd both been earning their spurs. Clashing with him, and old Perun too.

Had that been his birth, or heralded it? No...had it merely coincided with it? He didn't believe in coincidence.


Had that been his first word? He dearly wished to remember. Maybe his mother's name, too, or at least her face. He must have one...or, at least, he must've had one at one point, to love her.

Damn it. He should have been able to remember. Maybe there was someone, someone who saw and recorded such things, willing to help him.


And even if he didn't want to...well. He'd always been an adept of, and adept at, coercion. That, he remembered, as clearly as...anything.

He was sure his father would be able to help with that, as well. And willing, too. They'd always had a good relationship. He just lacked many frames of reference for such things, at the moment.

'Look at them, son. You must learn them, and learn to love them, too, even if that love is unrequited. Learn to wield them, as sure as any weapon, when your time take my throne.'

That...had been a beautiful lie-at the time. There was never going to be a time he'd suceed his father as king(of what? Of what?), or, indeed, any time past the latter's death, but...something had changed.

That death had never come, while his had come and went. And now, he lived again- not in defiance of fate, for there were no longer such things, for those like him.

He remembered-knew-that. Why was his memory so jumbled?

They...his people, or the runes? The latter-yes, power folded into shapes that could be read and named-had never been his strength.


 That had always been his forte. Once, he had been its  god.

He still  was.

And now, he understood where the disorientation came from. This empty vessel, body, like a dry riverbed being slowly, so slowly filled by a trickle of water, was not yet whole.

A body wrought from the World Tree's heartwood, a blazing core pumping Muspellheim's fires through it.

A yawning void where his stomach had once been. A miniature Ginnungagap? Somehow, he knew that void was meant to remain, not be filled.

And...a mind like a steel trap, slow as it was at the moment; not that it had ever been as quick-or sharp-as the one in front of him.

' Loki...'

Thor hadn't planned for the fire giant's name to be the first word of his...second life. He didn't want it to be the first, either.

Loki's tight-lipped expression relaxed slightly, eyes twinkling as a smile began making its way across his face. 'Y-?'

The trench pulverised through the ground by the trickster's body was over five hundred kilometres long and wide, and almost a tenth as deep. As he watched his father's sworn brother fly through a mountain range, turning a landmark as large as the trench to dust, Thor drew the finger he had flicked him with back.

 Dammit. He was still weaker than he was used to. Couldn't feel anything he touched, either...but maybe that was to be expected. Unique and powerful as Yggdrassil was, it was still a tree. What need did it have for a sense of touch?

Thor rose was a mould, wasn't it? They'd taken the reforging literally.

Could have been worse, he mused, right hand wrapped around something long but slim, propping himself on it until he stood on unfeeling feet. At least he hadn't woken up in a flower pot.

Wishing away the mental image of the Norns, faces as blandly grim as always, taking turns to water him, Thor looked down at the thing in his hand. He might've lost his sense of touch-not his touch, though. He could feel it slowly but surely coming back-, but he could still guess the shape of objects, it seemed, through a combination of instinct and his other senses.

Mjolnir finally had the haft it had always been meant to have, but it hardly felt different in his grip. The weight was...reassuring.

Which Yggdrassil didn't have need of, either, come to think of it. Except for, arguably, his arcane sense. And yet, they had not been lost. Why?

Loki was back on his feet, and standing in front of Thor, before he could shout after him. The thunder god could see photons in the trickster's wake, almost frozen as they floated. Luckily, his eyes did not need light, whether made of photons or mana, to see.

He'd gotten used to Loki's speed over the ages, anyway. Only attribute in which the jotunn had ever really matched him.

'What was  that for?' Loki's hiss perfectly matched his expression of feline displeasure, in Thor's opinion. Although...

'Why'd you eat another jackal's arse? Didn't we tell you not to?' Thor tugged the giant's red, long beard, which shifted into a goatee after an indignant yelp.

'The goats were saving themselves for you,' Loki said with a condescending smile, lip curling. 'Don't you want to visit them and make up for lost time? It's been  so long...'

And stop slapping you around? 'My family first,' the levity left Thor's voice, though he hoped his expression was not as wooden as it felt.

Well. Besides literally.

Loki's smile became a sneer. 'Of course! Who cares that I dragged you back into life's embrace? Go back to them, apologies for keeping you.' Loki looked aside. 'You don't even consider me family...'

'Would you stop whining?'

A throat being cleared drew their attention.

'Would the lords mind fighting outside?' Sindi gestured at the former northern wall of his forge. 'Since they have already started...'

Thor's temper flared, the flames within him responding. 'You have forgotten respect, dwarf.'

'What is this mockery of servility? You have been aping mankind for too long,' Loki joined in. Choler rising, he turned back to the Aesir. 'What'd you flick me for!?'

'Did it hurt  that much?' Thor's lazy grin oozed false pity.

Loki didn't dignify that with an answer. He had barely felt it-his screams alone could shake Earth from core to surface, stronger than any earthquake in its history-but the action itself had been demeaning. Not even a real strike! 'Was it for the new body?' His sharp blue eyes softened. 'Or for failing to foresee Chernobog?'

Both, damn you.

Loki held Thor's stare, then dismissively gestured at the forge's wall. Time rewound, dust flowing back into place and solidifying into metal. His imperious gaze swept across Sindri and the dark elves standing or cowering behind him, and noticed three frowning faces. Perhaps coincidentally, none of them belonged to an elf.

' 'tis not such a shame if you don't thank Loki,' the ispolin's voice was like an avalanche. 'He only did a quarter of the work.'

'You're welcome,' prince Marko grumbled, pushing his hat back up his head. His face had been stained with soot until it was almost as black as his beard, and his green trousers and white shirt were singed. Only the red, fur-lined great hat was still intact. Loki wondered if it was because he always paid attention to it, or out of sheer luck.

'Let's not fight over that,' Prâslea, also soon-stained, tried to shake some ash out of his once-blond hair, which was now as grey as his shirt and breeches. 'We're all friends here.'

No one missed the factthat his hands never left his pouch-lined belt. Least of all Marko, whose eyes soon darted from it. 'Doesn't your land have a saying about thieves being the most scared of robbery?'

'Many countries have sayings about stealing.'

'Few have it as a national sport, though.'

Prâslea scowled, unslinging his bow.

'Oh, put that aside,' Marko waved a hand. 'What're you planning to do at this range, shoot me in the cock?'

'I prefer large targets,' he nocked an arrow. 'So keep talking. How quickly you forget that we toiled together!'

'I forget!?'

'What does my country have to do with...' Prâslea shook his head.

'What discord!' Sounding shocked, the ispolin stepped between them, forcing them to part lest they end up under his rocky feet. The two heroes found themselves glaring into its ankles, as the giant moved slightly whenever they did, until, with an annoyed oath, Marko rose in height. On Earth, his head would have reached the clouds, but he didn't even come close to scraping the forge's ceiling.

Prâslea laughed. 'Fooling yourself into thinking you stand a chance? Not even  I am cunning enough for that!'

The ispolin's head swiveled, disapproving stare moving between the two, just as Sindrri ground out that they better not start fighting too, or he'd throw everyone out.

'I was leaving, anyway,' Prâslea put his bow back, then ran a hand over his face, through his hair. 'I want to see my wife.'

'Hiding behind her skirts?' Marko taunted, returning to his former height.

'Not my fault your horse has none.' He flashed the ispolin a sad look. 'I'm sorry, cousin giant. Whatever he told, you  were playing second fiddle to Šarac.' He shook his head. 'That man would do anything to preserve his bad taste, even make love to beasts!'


Maws shook his head with a grin that was soon replicated: tenfold, then ten thousandfold, as he returned to his normal shape and size.

So, his youngest had some fight in him, too...bah. They all did, or so it looked. Even the middle one, the painter, had been a killer once. He wondered what had driven him away.

Almost wished he had been there for them, but that must have been his curiosity talking. It wasn't like they were going to fight to the  death. Maws couldn't be killed, always being just strong, quick and tough enough to meet his opponent on equal footing, while trusting his natural immunity to esoterics to handle the rest.

He'd been holding on to that for as long as he could remember. Hadn't let his guard down in long, long eons, knowing full well creation was full of weak little shits who couldn't throw a punch to save their lives, but had enough cheap tricks to overcome a metaphysically defenceless being, no matter how big or resilient.

As for the hatchling...well, it wasn't like Maws  wanted to kill the boy. He felt nothing for him except the indifference zmei treated their spawn with. He hadn't been annoyed by or contracted to kill him. Honestly, he'd been curious enough about this whole thing to come pass on some fatherly advice.

As if he had any. Arnold, the oldest one, must've had an opinion of him that was almost as inflated as it was distorted. He would've been almost flattered, if he could've mustered enough to care about his sons.

Lucian came flying out of the barracks at lightspeed, space and time bending around him. As the brat wound up to talk, Maws idly counted the zeptoseconds. In the intervals between them, he wondered whether Lucian would be practical enough to use the aether, or whether he'd speak conventionally-pure torture for anyone even slightly faster than sound, though most learned to wait out the small eternities that communicating like that took.

Himself included. Not out of pleasure, or a desire to test his patience-he had his wife for both-, but, rather, because some clients lacked other means to articulate themselves. Not wanting to be known as even more of an impatient asshat, he'd learned to bear it.

In a zeptosecond, Maws could move  almost a metre. Impressive, certainly, but it would have essentially been a slow walk even at human size. Dwarfing most planets as he did, it was negligible. Certainly not helpful against faster beings (thankfully, the lightspeed brat was trillions of times slower than him), especially small, manoeuvreable ones...or, rather, it wouldn't have been enough if not for his power always rising to the challenge, alongside his sorcery. More things could happen in a sextillionth of a second than you'd expect.

It was almost saddening to see how little his spawn, and zmei in general, used magic. Looking at them, you'd have thought it started and ended with shifting your shape and those of others...

No time to get lost in disappointment. Getting worked up over things you'd never want to do was almost as pointless as being worried about things you couldn't affect.

'You just had to say that,' oh, good, aetheric speech. 'Didn't you?'

'It led to a fight, didn't it?' Maws flexed an arm, laughing.

Lucian's face soured. 'You're serious, aren't you? You're everything they say about us.'

Maws let the arm fell by his side, smiles fading. 'Who, the humans?'

'They. The other supernaturals. The aliens. Everyone else.' Luci shook his head. 'You're a giant, blustering moron, who thinks "tact" only exists if preceeded by "in", when used to talk about things you haven't gotten your paws on yet.'

Ah, this was going to be great! 'And you're any different!? From what  I know, you eat and drink and fuck and fight, for either wealth or pleasure. As all our kind does! So what sets us apart?'

His spawn looked like he wanted to spit, but finally decided against it. 'Andrei was right...' before Maws could ask who he was thinking about out loud, Lucian continued. 'And you think that's a full life, don't you? The basic needs fulfilled, what zmeu gives a flying fuck about being seen as a brutish freak?

...Maws began to think the boy didn't actually want to fight him. 'You say I'm so stupid, but forget I married your mother. How many other zmei do you know who tie the knot at all, let alone remain married?'

'And do you know why there are none?' Lucian flew up to the head with the golden beard, landing on his father's face, between his green eyes. 'Do you know what our life's been like on Earth?'

Peering at his son, Maws descended to the ground, before sitting down, six arms crossed, tails wrapping around his legs.

Lucian's smile at the resulting silence was ugly, and his voice deceptively calm. Its softness, at least, betrayed his mood. 'Do you know what's it like for everyone around you to see you as a molester and rapist in waiting? People still get twitchy if they see me approaching children on the street. Do you know what it's like to be taken away and modified until you can no longer want anything, not because of something you've done, but something you might? All while you're too weak to resist?' He slapped his forehead. 'Oh, silly me. I forgot you're never weak.'

Maws frowned. 'Have you also forgotten what I told you?'

'So some zmei wanted you to to lead because you were the strongest, and thought they could use you as a patsy.' Lucian grimaced. ' Please don't start talking about how it's the burden of the strong to be thought of as stupid by those weaker than themselves. I know what it's like, and, in my experience, it's pretty overrated.'

'I wasn't about to say anything like that,' Maws replied. 'So zmei had it pretty rough on Earth. So-'

' "So what? It's not like we weren't tough enough to take it, otherwise you wouldn't be here. Besides, didn't other supernaturals have it worse? Don't some  still have it worse?" ' Lucian smoothed his expression, letting go of the exaggerated frown and overly deep voice. 'Did you actually meet any reeducated zmei when you were fucking up around here?' he gestured at the surrounding country.

Maws snorted dismissively. 'If you hadn't started talking over me just to spout shitty whataboutisms I wouldn't have even thought about, maybe I'd have been able to finish.' He showed his fangs. 'To answer your little question, no, I don't meet with anyone when I'm in zmeu country, unless your mother happens to be around. Why should I? You talk about the past? Who made those zmei  stay on Earth, instead of retreating here? Their own stupidity?'

Lucian snarled, but Maws continued speaking, undeterred. 'I'm sure some of the hatchlings who willingly walked into the trap cried about savaged legs after. Bad for them!' He threw up his hands. 'But what was  I supposed to do?'

'You could've stayed,' Lucian said softly. 'You didn't have to be king zmeu of shit mountain. I wouldn't have given a damn if I never met you; Aaron is more of a father to me than you'll ever be. But you could've stayed, and led by example.'

'Oh,  please. Why? What duty do I have to zmeu kind? We're the same species-so? Have you  seen what humans do to each other, when they don't just pretend their neighbours don't exist? And they're less fractious than we'll ever be. They lack our impulses!'

'Weren't you just talking about how you defied norms by marrying and staying married?'

Maws crossed his arms. 'And what prevents others from doing the same?' Besides a lack of willpower, obviously.

'Maybe, if you ever took the time to glance at Earth, you'd see most zmei are seen as cheaters and homewreckers at best, and the bias goes both ways. I've seen zmei-younger ones, not ones who grew up looking over their shoulders during the Long Watch-who've only ever heard and been told, directly or indirectly, that they're more or less worthless perverts. Why would they even  try to get hitched?'

A low chuckle built up in Maws' chest. As if it was his fault the others were stupid. 'If you're so damn worried about our perception, why don't you try to change anything?'

'You think I haven't?' Lucian retorted, tapping Burnished Death's head into one palm. 'What do you call avoiding trouble for decades? Or becoming known as someone you hire to defend yourself from the kind of people zmei are expected to act like? I've done as much to salvage the way we're perceived as I can. Easily as much as Lucas; more, arguably. Maybe not as much as Aaron, but...we've always had different temperaments.' Lucian looked away with a brooding expression. By the time he looked back at Maws, the grim look had been replaced by resolve. 'More than you, anyway. But then, any number's bigger than zero, right?'

'You might've noticed I care as much about the rest of our species as I do about the three of you. Since we're speaking of nothing...' he spread his arms. 'If I've ignored Earth, trust me, it's not out of spite. Just...disinterest. It's not even the coercion attempts, or the shit they tried to foist onto me-most of the bastards involved are dead, anyway. I...just...don't...want to.'

Maws laughed at the look his son gave him. Each time he had spoken, an Earth-sized section of soil had violently shattered, so that he was now sitting in a crater deeper than most stars were wide. His laugh pulverised another planet's worth of ground.

'Besides!' he was still laughing. 'What made them go to that country? Again I ask. So a few zmei visited a while back and liked it enough to stay or return. That's no obligation. It's not like we're bound to that planet, much less any of its nations. Oh, I'm sure some were already there when things got bad and didn't manage or couldn't afford to leave...but the rest? Those who went after that? It's all on them.'

'You can say that even while feeling the urge to go to Romania tugging at you?' Lucian's tone was disbelieving. 'I shouldn't have to tell you, of all people, that some supernaturals are drawn to certain places.'

Oh? The weak will again? 'Maybe there's a zmeu living in another country despite that. Maybe they can lead by examp-'

The mental shock almost dazed Maws. It certainly affected him more than the physical one: shattered scales and cracked skulls were not even worth mentioning when it came to damage.

Still, as the zmeu flew, his body turning the ground to plasma for millions of kilometres in all directions, he couldn't help but wonder: how had he been damaged in the first place? His son wasn't that strong.

As he flew through the plasma sea at speeds that made light look like a dying snail, Maws idly reoriented himself. Half a zeptosecon later, he was flying, then hovering tens of thousands of kilometres over the ground of zmeu country-practically right next to it, at his size.

His son hadn't grown larger; he hadn't cast a spell or drawn on mana. He hadn't even hit him with that damned mace. So what...

...ah. Was he that creative?

'What're you so mad about?!' Maws jeered, fully aware of the answer. It wasn't the bullshit about zmeu solidarity or being a role model. Not that Maws doubted those frustrations were genuine, but they were just sideshows. Something his spawn had brought up to keep himself angry, or just because he could.

'You don't know a fucking thing about what you're saying,' Lucian pointed Burnished Death at him, its spikes glinting dully. 'And you don't even want to change your mind.'

Void, he was  still going on about that? 'Fine! Do you want to learn  another reason I fucking hate that country?' At his son's hesitant nod, he continued. 'Have you heard the story of Brother and Not-Brother?' Or was it Un-Brother? Tch. Either way, the boy'd know what he meant.

'Isn't that just the Romanian spin on Genesis?' Lucian asked, sounding bemused.

Maws shrugged. 'Spin? I suppose you could say that. Except in this one, God and the Devil are portrayed as equals: in role, if not in power. Hence the names. Anyway...I remember sleeping under the waters, then being awoken by a voice. The light it brought never has never let me sleep since. And then I go to that country, hear everyone sharing the story and peaying to the culprit, and you really expect me to stay?'

Lucian's face fell. Shorthly after, he snarled angrily, mouth open. 'That's bullshit! You can't claim you remember the first light, then go on to talk about Brother and Un-Brother! In that version, they make the world from fucking clay! There's no light mentioned.'

'I know what happened,' Maws said calmly. 'And your stroppy little tirade won't change bad memories.' Now that was over...he had a question of his own. 'How'd you punch me that hard? For that matter, how'd you survive this discussion? You're not protected by anything.'

Lucian smirked smugly. 'You think Burnished Death can't destroy the difference in durability between the two of us? I simply finished the process, and closed the gap in strength and speed too.'

Hmph. 'I suppose, when you're weak, that you make the best use of your tools.'

Lucian rolled his eyes. 'Because that bargain you struck is all about natural power, right? Who'd you make it with, anyway? Your fucking Escher painting of a fleshlight? Was it getting tired of having to put you back together every time you played hide the zucchini?'

Maws bristled. 'Watch your mouth. That's your mother-'

'Fuck off.' There was no heat in Lucian's voice. 'You don't get to piss on what Bianca and I have, then turn around and demand respect for your glorified cumdump. Oh, it waits for you? How sweet. I guess it's easy when it has less of a personality than you, and all the desires of a wet brick. Just buy a blowup doll, old man.'

'If not for her,' Maws' voice lowered. 'You'd never have been born, you ungrateful little bastard.'

'And you know the only thing I'd regret? Not saving Bianca. Did you even know about that?' The younger zmeu's chin was covered in boiling, steaming saliva as he grit his fangs. Flames seemed sure to follow. 'Did you? I saved her goddamn life, you mouthy son of a bitch. She was a fucking slave when we met. I helped her think again, and gave her someone she could turn to besides her sisters. She made me realise I was destroying myself,' he closed his eyes. 'And made me happy. Still does. Happier than your fugly eldritch booty call would make you if you could even feel true joy, you stupid animal.'

Maws couldn't remember ever feeling this angry in his life.

Something told him Lucian had never come close, either.

'Stop calling your mother "it",' he said, trying to reign in his temper. 'Stop-'

'Blow me.' Lucian slung his mace back and forth. 'Now, I ain't gonna claim my life is some true love story shit, but Bianca and I? We're people.' He laughed drily. 'You two...a goddamn carricature met a freak, and popped out three kids. No wonder you're our parents-where the hell else could jokes like Lucas and I come from? Aaron's the odd one out, but...I'm done embarrassing him.'


Lucas froze at his brother's odd tone.

Done embarrassing Aari? He couldn't have been preparing to die fighting Maws just because he was pissed. He couldn't be that stupid!

Lucas rose out of the damaged barracks, looking at the two warily. He'd been content-that was, on edge, but trusting Luci to handle this father-son bonding...cockfighting...crap-to watch from afar, but things had gone south.

Dammit, Aaron. What had his brother even expected to happen? Maws calming Lucian down and convincing him to stay put? Maybe with a side dish of praise for his relationship?

Fuck it, he though, lighting a cigar. He shouldn't have agreed, much less let himself be persuaded to call their mom too. Fuck him and his naïvety, and fuck Aaron's plan to keep it all in the family. They should've gone to Luci's friends, or called them there.

'Offspring-shard,' his mother's grating voice made his left hand turn slightly to glance behind himself. She still looked like an amalgam of impossible shapes, but the impression of a zmeu was gone, leaving only a vaguely female outline of light. It reminded Lucas of those dumpy mother goddess statues, except those didn't make him want to tear his eyes out.

Or, when they did, it was for different reasons.

'This one does not have experience dealing with progenitor-offspring interactions, nor performing them, itself.' She seemed pensive. 'Can you stop them?'

Lucas ashed half his blunt when he scoffed. 'That's the plan, lady.'

'This one thinks its mate-counterpart offended the youngest offspring-shard through his opinion of bonds. Perhaps you could share yours to reassure your sibling-mirror?'


Lucas finished his cigar, taking out another one. 'Never had any-bond, or opinion on them.' His libido had been annoying enough that, after asking the Mother of the Forest to remove it, he hadn't wanted to dabble in purely romantic relationships. 'So you're shit outta luck,  mom.'

Her form wavered. '...this one senses...hostility. No intent to harm, do not want this one here either, do you, offspring-shard?'

No wonder Luci was so ticked off. 'No shit, dumbass,' he barked, body heating up enough both his cigars and his clothes evaporated. 'Now fuck off. I don't care if you go home or not, but don't try to step in. I'm going to help my brother.'

With a thought, Three Moons Falling appeared in his right hand, as natural as clasping his hands. As he slung two hundred forty-three quintillion tons over his shoulder, Lucas noticed-rather than the morningstar, which felt weightless in his grip-that he was feeling poetic.

For example, he thought that, with the weapon in his hand, he felt neither naked nor exposed.

That was a bad sign. Because, as much as Lucian liked to call him a starch arse...his little brother had never exactly  loved Lucas during his previous career, either.


Lucian was fighting, truly fighting, for the first time in his life.

This wasn't like a match, or bodyguard work. It wasn't a brawl or a spar. He'd been through plenty of those.

He wanted to kill his father. He hated him.

That was new, in a way, too. Lucian had often wanted to kill his opponents: because they'd annoyed him too much, or simply due to his instincts flaring when his blood was hot. This wasn't like those times.

Lucian had an inkling this was how Aaron felt when he wanted to help, but ended up pissing his older brother off by blundering into situations. Except that, for once, the roles were reversed.

What had Aaron  thought would happen? Seriously...

Maws didn't fight like he'd expected. Maybe he needed to be outmatched in order to jump in power?

Well. He could help him with that.

Lucian backflipped as his father flew at him from his blindspot, watching the older zmeu briefly dash past him fast enough to cross the Milky Way in a second. At the last moment, he brought Burnished Death down on one of his tails, shattering it and his spine.

Maws briefly swayed to the side, before righting himself with an irritated motion. His heads twisted backwards, glaring even as their necks snapped and healed, followed by his torso.

His next dash was almost to fast to sense, and far too fast to dodge.

Then, Lucian destroyed the speed gap between them once again, and sent his father flying upwards, chest shattered, with a swing.

'If you think hurting me will help you,' Maws roared. 'You're more stupid than I thought! You could've been looking for the iela all this time, but you're too busy nursing your pride!'

'Don't talk about her after what you said!' Lucian roared back. 'Aaron told me not to go! I know he'll-'

'Bitch!' Maws guffawed. 'Listen to big brother, eh? Without me,  none of you would be alive! Why respect him, but hate me? What'd he do that I haven't?'

'He was there for me.'

Maws briefly looked surprised at his son's response, then laughed, begining to draw mana into his metaphysical grasp. 'She's dead, boy! If you loved her half as much as you pretend to, you'd be looking for her! Whoever took her, I bet they've killed her by now.' he leered. 'Or wor-'

The next hit sent him rocketing downwards. It hadn't been Lucian's.

Lucas nose slits flared as he looked down into the crater his father's body had made. The ground had been vapourised, but that didn't stop the zmeu from noticing Maws' rainbow-coloured body: an almost invisible dot at the bottom of the smoking pit, which was countless thousand times wider than him, and many thousand times as deep as he was tall.

'Nice swing, Luc.'

Lucas accepted his brother's appreciative nod with a curt one of his own. 'Had to draw on the power of everyone I've ever hit...don't think I've ever smacked anyone that hard.'

'Doubt you've ever met anyone this insufferable.'

'No need to doubt, Luci.'

Maws laugh dispersed the smoke. 'What brotherly love!' The zmeu casually jumped out of the crater to hover in front of his sons, unharmed. 'Found your balls, painter?'

'I know why you're here,' Lucas said softly by way of reply.

Maws' smile dimmed. 'The void you mean? I'm-'

'Aari and I have often told Luci about the difficulties of his relationship with Bianca, but he's never let that stop him. He thinks we're biased.' Lucas elbowed his younger brother, who offered a small, dry grin. 'Because I'm a joyless fuck and Aaron's a workaholic. But you? You're an outsider, and a zmeu. Family to boot. Someone he knows understands, but not close enough for him to have an opinion about.'

Maws was now scowling. 'Your brother never said-'

'He didn't need to,' Lucas cut him off. 'And needing him to tell you makes you almost as stupid as not realising he played you.'

As he spoke, Maws felt power flow into him. 'I needed a strigoi's healing to make my way through your voice,' Lucas said. 'But now, I have your tricks. Not so special anymore, are you?'

'I dunno, Luc,' Lucian smiled. 'Still think dad's plenty special.'

While two pairs of eyes concentrated on them, Maws' others tracked the horizon. 'Where's your mother? What'd you do to her?'

If Lucas felt anything at the anger in his father's voice, he didn't let it show. 'Told her to stand back, and let us resolve this.'

Maws glared venomously at Lucas, then turned to his youngest son. 'You're an idiot. A spineless lapdog, all because your brother went against his instincts and didn't leave you to die. There'll be a day when you and your bitch will want someone else,' he smiled condescendingly. 'And then you'll wake up to what a sham your love is. What relationship is that, if someone isn't always there for the other?'

'Watch your-'

'Shut your goddamn mouth, Lucas,' Lucian snapped, making his brother look at him in shock. 'He's right.'

Now all of Lucas' heads turned to Lucian, though he kept half his eyes on his victoriously-grinning father.

'Bianca can't always be there for me,' he said calmly. 'Because she's a iela. But that's alright. I don't want to change her. Someone already tried. She doesn't deserve that again. But I-'

Cursing, Lucas drew upon another power from his mace.


Lucian glanced around the empty pocket reality. There was no matter, no energy, no space. No time, either-he suspected Lucas had chosen it for the eternity they could spend here talking, rather than whatever aesthetic appeal its blandness posessed.

He didn't know. He wasn't an artist. But he knew what he had to do, and that was enough.

'Luci, don't,' Lucas' hands were gripping his shoulders, forcing him to look up into his brother's blue eyes. They didn't seem so cold anymore. 'She wouldn't want this. You think she'll approve once Aari brings her back? You think she'll thank you?'

'You think she's still the same?'

Lucas almost reeled back. He'd never seen his brother look or sound so...subdued. 'If she's not still the same, then why would you...?'

'I didn't say what I love about Bianca has changed.' Lucian gently but firmly gripped his brother's forearms, before pulling his hands away. 'I said she's changed. And if she won't love me anymore...' he forced himself to smile. 'I can live with that. I'll still love her.'

Lucas wanted to roar, to scream, to beat his brother down until he saw sense. But he knew that'd fail; Maws already had. 'Luci, please-'

'I lost Bianca because I wasn't there for her.' Lucian wiped his brother's tears away, still smiling as he tried to ugnore his own. 'And I wasn't there for her because of my lust. Lust for some girl who'll never matter to me a thousandth of how much she does.'

'That's not true! She hired a different bodyguard because she knew you were busy, you didn't run when she needed you!'

'Busy.' Lucian chuckled. 'Busy with fucking, maybe. Too busy to put that aside and check on her, just in case. Andrei didn't, either, least he has a real life. I never did grow up, Lucas,' he said wistfully. 'Always thought you were a fool for what you did. Stunting yourself, I called it. Should've done it, too. Maybe then, we wouldn't be here.'

The green zmeu lifted Burnished Death, lowering his esoteric resistance, and began destroying, one by one, the things that had prevented him from being there for Bianca. Lucas was sent flying after trying to stop him, body shattered. He still sent pleas to his brother through the aether as he slowly pulled himself together, trying to stop him.

Lucian didn't.

'I'll never let her be hurt again,' he promised. 'Stolen again. By her sisters, all of creation, or how much of a failure I am. And, Luc?' Lucian whispered as he began destroying the boundary between himself and Burnished Death. 'If I'm no longer myself after this...please tell the others I love them,' his voice cracked. 'And that I'm sorry.'

And, though he had no mouth, Lucas wanted to scream.
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Strigoi Grey
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

After Life, Chapter 9, Part 2

'Did you, or didn't you?'

Iele couldn't be strangled to death: air was meaningless to them. They could, however, be mutilated, and a snapped neck sent a rather strong message.

'Do you see,' Bianca's sister whispered, head haloed by black hair, like someone had spilled the darkest of blood on the snow. 'What the world has done to you? You'd have never thought of such things before your mind was poisoned, sister.'

Bianca slammed her head into the snow with a sneer, and the frozen ground for metres around was pulverised. The iele landed in a crater deeper than either of them were tall, and several times wider. Unharmed, Bianca's sister gave her a look full of condescending affection.

'Don't start again,' Bianca's voice was colder than she'd intended to. Was she so broken she couldn't even be angry anymore.

Heh...figures. Little orphan Bia, with the murdered parents. Always the weakest, always unable to help-too busy needing to be rescued.

Heavens...when had any of her friends needed to be  saved? David, years ago...and in the end, Luci had done it, while she'd been as worthless as always.

How pathetic was it that she was waiting for him, even now? That she was thinking of how she should've asked him to stay with her, instead of hiring that bastard?

Selfish as it was...she couldn't even feel guilty for it. Maybe the cold was seeping into her? Her face definitely felt more gaunt, her hair more brittle.

She'd make it up to Luci, somehow. Even if she couldn't tell what he loved about such living deadweight.

'Did you? Tell me, so I know whether to kill you,' her glare intensified as her sister raised an eyebrow, but, strangely, she couldn't feel any actual anger. 'Or leave it to David.'

'The  strigoi,' her sister scoffed to the titters of the others. She could feel them, dozens and thousands and hundreds of thousands, encircling them, waiting at the edge of the blizzard. 'Won't do  anything, little Sunbeam-in-cloudy-skies. He is... becoming, a dutiful creature.'

'Good thing I'm selfish.'

Her sisters laughed musically at her words. 'You are not, sister. You  cannot be, anymore.'

The iela didn't stop smiling, even when Bianca's fist broke her jaw. 'You gripped your anger so hard your hands became numb. Let it consume you, until you couldn't perceive all of it anymore. Why would you notice when it disappeared?'

'What'd you do to me?' The lack of fear and disgust would have startled her, or rather, the Bianca before.

'Removed certain... weaknesses, sister.' The iele spoke in unison, voices softening. 'We know how aimless you felt after the humans took your mother. Then you went to their world, and were twisted even more. We are simply...restoring you.'

Bianca stood up. She hadn't noticed-her body was almost as numb as her mind-but the filth at her feet wasn't simply a decomposing animal, as she'd thought.

Bianca would have been horrified at crushing her mother's remains, and not even noticing, in other circumstances.

Maybe her sisters would now seek revenge on her. 'Did you? Answer that, at least. Give me something, after everything you took.'

Her sister rose to float above the pasted corpse. 'Do you think we would deal with the monster of monsters, cross the gods and lure the Dagda into a poisoned trap, out of hatred?'

'Yes,' Bianca answered. 'I have asked you three time. There will not be a fourth.'

'Yes, sister. We agreed to the bargain, all to spite David Silva. We knew the Dagda's bleeding heart would keep him in place enough for his mind to be bent. We knew the consequences would up-end creation...' a breath, like a thousand mirrors cracking, in the frozen air. 'And we knew what torment it would bring the strigoi.'

'All of this,' Bianca wished she could be dismayed. 'For a tree?'

A thousand thousand frowns, doll-like masks twisting into disappointment. 'Do not think us petty, sister.'

'Hatred, then?'

'Yes,' the iele lied. 'We did everything out of hatred. Because the world took you from us, and changed you, until you were willing to call us to heel, like dogs, just to help your strigoi. Even though you wouldn't have lifted a finger to help one of us if she was dying.' At Bianca's silence, they continued. 'It wasn't just David Silva, sister. It was what he represented: a world that has never wanted you, that only took, and hurt, and demanded.'

Finally, Bianca cracked a smile, like a fissure in a frozen lake's surface. It was as human as any of her sisters'. 'You've always been a frigid bitch, Eclipse-on-a-cloudless-night.'

The dark-haired iela beamed. 'This is the first time you said my name, sister!'

Bianca's smile widened, until it was as broad as her sister's, though nowhere near as sincere. 'It will not be the last!'


Aaron counted as he made his way through the iele's realm.

Heartbeats. Footsteps. His, and his companions'. Wisps of dust in the sky.

It helped him stay sane, or at least calm.

The paths needed to pass through undetected had been convoluted enough that he'd wondered if the Mother of the Forest had just been fucking with him, but...the woman had been more serious than he'd ever remembered her being. She still was.

"Business to take care of after this," she'd said cryptically. Aaron had been surprised to see her with the Supernatural Service, though not unpleasantly so. The old bat was always useful, even if best observed from afar.

Up close, she was far harder to get along with, especially when she'd insisted that he turn human. Aaron's human form was neither ugly nor stunted-he cared far more about the second-but it felt unnaturally small and restricting. Still, the realm would have spotted a zmeu, according to the Mother.

As they approached the objective, Aaron returned to his true form, turning the snow to vapour with a wave of radiated heat, for as far as he could see. The snow being almost two metres deep, there was a lot of steam, though, thankfully, nothing he couldn't see through.

The Service agents trailed behind. A couple vampires, a baker's dozen of mages, and...

...Lucian had never mentioned Bianca looking this cold, literally or metaphorically. Aaron had met her many times, and approved of his brother being with a woman who made him as happy as he made her. One who'd never hurt him. She'd always been so full of life and warmth...

What had happened?

'Stand down,' he ordered the iele, Brazen Mantle sliding over his scales. 'Bianca? It's Aaron, with the Service. We're here to take you home.'

The silver-haired iela smiled sadly at him.


Andrei was going to die.

That was nothing new. He'd always know he would die someday. Ageless or not, regeneration or not, he had enough enemies.

But knowing something was going to happen didn't make the experience itself less painful, much less pleasant. As most precognitives he'd killed could attest.

The werebear knew the difference between surviving to fight another day, stalling for time, and drawing out death.

This felt closer to the third than the second. He had no real plan, after all. The fleshmaking device was just a temporary measure, even if he'd improvised with it.

Misha was a sadistic bastard: creative, but dumb. Andrei knew the type. He'd fought against, alongside and for the like. He had a hunch his father had, too.

Had a hunch Misha never learned from his mistakes, too. Or at all.

Case in point: the silver knife, with no backup? Sure, the shards had cut up his throat and muzzle, slicing through his eyes and ears to nestle deep into his flesh, but then he'd tore them out, smashed them into uselesness.

The fleshmaker had then filled the wounds, before covering them with a layer of new flesh. Now, Misha had no weapon, no plan, and no chance.

Andrei was dying. He'd never felt more alive.

He grabbed his father with shredded, blood-caked hands, lifting him up with shaking, trembling arms. His fur was almost black over sickly, purple and green borrowed flesh.

And his eyeless face was smiling.

'Who sent you?' Andrei asked serenely. His bear, too tired and wounded at this point, had settled down to wait out the end. 'Please. It's the only thing I'll ever ask for.'

Misha tried to escape, but fear never helped a ghost. His ectoplasm, much like his resolve, was wavering. 'No one!' his voice hitched. 'There was this...t-thing, killing everyone else. In the aether. I ran! I don't know if it l-let me, but...' he gulped. 'I had to make things right. I  had to.'

Tears ran from his empty sockets. 'Damn it, boy...why couldn't you be born like me?'

Andrei had no response to that. It deserved none. 'The knife?'

'Found it! F-Found it! I swear!'

'What,' Andrei could have laughed if his throat hadn't been full of his own blood. 'On the street?'

Misha nodded frantically. 'I didn't work with anyone, I promise...'

He talked like that was going to redeem him, somehow. 'Tell the Devil that,' Andrei didn't have to try in order to grin hideously. 'After we Hell.'

Andrei doubted he was going to Hell, unless he was more Christian than he knew. But it was the intention that mattered.

'This is for my mother,' Andrei snarled into Misha's terrified face, as the last of the flesh rotted and fell. 'And my  son.'

And he bit down.


Thor watched the bickering foreigners depart thoughtfully, stroking his beard. Growing out of his wooden body, it was, naturally (pun not fully intended), made of leaves, much as his hair. At least they were red.

The Aesir turned to Loki, tossing Mjolnir from one hand to another. The giant had returned to his default height-a handful of kilometres, so that even his waist was hundreds of metres above the clouds, Loki being a league tall-and, at his suggestion(strong suggestion...urging), so had Thor.

His new default height. He hadn't been a giant before, except by mortal standards, but now, he was over ten times his former height, and broad to match. Tall as an oak, indeed; Mjolnir had grown too.

'We must return to Asgard,' Thor said, nodding to Sindri before turning back to Loki. 'Unless there is something else?'

'There is,' there was a vicious amusement in the jotunn's tone Thor didn't like. 'Just...wait a moment.'

'Loki...' Thor glared up at the ash-grey, crimson-eyed face warningly. 'You didn't do anything to Tyr's shade, did you?'

'Odin is still working on that. You didn't think he'd let Surtr's remains fall through Ginnungagap forever, did you?'

The trickster's voice was airy rather than dismissive. It did nothing to reassure Thor. 'Did you hatch some scatterbrained scheme to get revenge on David Silva? He was possessed!'

'He killed my children,' Loki snapped. 'But he's suffered enough that, frankly, it's been more satisfying to watch. And far less straining, of course.'

Thor noticed Loki had neither confirmed nor denied planning anything. 'Then...?'

The trickster didn't answer. Smiling enigmatically, he simply opened a portal in front of Thor.

The universe he found himself in was an endless stretch of grey material: denser than lead, more durable than yamadium.

To say the impact would have vapourised every planet in the Sol system would have been an understatement. Rather, it would have been more accurate to compare it with their combined mass moving at lightspeed.

Thor leapt out of the star-sized crater with a glare, dented forehead healing immediately as he covered tens of millions of kilometres in seconds.

Ares matched the glare with a bloodshot one of his own. The Olympian seemed torn between snarling in anger and grinning in savage joy at fighting a peer. The resulting grimace was as confused and hideous as one could expect from Ares, though it was, thankfully, hidden away when his faceplate slid over his features.

'Mars broke in half as easily as my spine when facing real opponents, you say?' Ares brandished his spear, which, despite his adamantine, fully-enclosing warplate replacing his older, hoplite-like armour, was still an ugly, brazen thing.

Thor groaned. 'By all that is, Ares-'

'Quiet!' The Olympian barked. 'I hear all thoughts born in violence, so don't try to say you didn't mean it!'

'Why search me out now!?'

'I was looking for Mimir's head then,' Ares answered tersely.

Thor wished he had real eyes, rather than grey gemstones. They rolled poorly. 'Aye, up Aphrodite's cunt, maybe-'

The uppercut's shockwave pulverised a crater the size of Sirius. The strike itself, far more powerful, actually cracked Thor's jaw, sending him careening upwards, through planets that were utterly obliterated by his passage. Odin knew how they hadn't been destroyed by the infinite gravity of the grey plain below-he and Ares were exempt from such forces unless they chose not to be-, but one of them, as large as Earth, but made of a strange purple metal harder than tungsten, was turned to scattered atoms when his body passed through it.

Ares followed, four hundred eighty times as fast as light-as fast as Thor. They ripped the cores out of planets, each as heavy as Earth's, and shaped them into hyperdense blades to be swung at each other, as fast as light. These improvised weapons left nothing more than papercuts on Thor's body, and would have barely scratched Ares, had he been unarmoured. When they shattered, the gods began to brawl.

A fraction of their clashes forces rippled outwards as they rained punches and kicks on each other, aiming for the joints; planets, rocky, ice giants and gas giants larger and heavier than the mundane universe had ever seen, were atomised by the force. Then they turned to their true weapons, and the grey plain below was soon covered in craters tens of trillions of light years wide and deep as its substance was reduced to subatomic paste.

Mjolnir, much like Zeus' thunderbolts, which it equalled in power, could not even dent Ares' spear. Thor, however, had attemped to cow the war god, drawing upon Mjolnir's mastery of vitality until his strength was boundless and the smallest conceivable instant lasted an eternity.

Ares, however, had tapped into the aether, to match Thor blow for blow and insult for insult.

'Hypocrite! Reaver! Slaughterer!'

'No more,' Thor promised as their weapons' hafts clashed and they tried to overpower each other. 'Never again.'

'Murderer!' Ares spat. 'And protector of rapists!'

'You will forgive me if I cannot take the patron of Sparta seriously,' Thor growled. 'When it comes to morality.'

Their contest would have continued longer, had they not been interrupted by another Olympian.

'Brother,' Hermes greeted Ares, caduceus in one hand, diamond sickle in the other. 'Odinson. Come. Apollo lit my way, and Heracles is waiting,' his dark, sharp features split in his characteristic roguish smirk. 'As are many others.'

'Finally,' Mars grunted, willing his faceplate to slide away, revealing a neatly-groomed, dark beard.

'It is time,' Thor agreed.


Kėdainai, Lithuania, 2031

You are pretty sentimental, for a vampire,' the lamia said, straddling him. Or, rather, wrapping her tail around his legs as she looked down at him.

'You are pretty, too...what was I saying?' Diego smiled in what he hoped was a disarming manner.

She smiled. 'Cheap compliments won't sate my hunger.'

'I know.' His face grew more serious. 'But my flesh will.'

'You would give yourself to me, just like that?'

'Not just like that-as long as you promise not to feed on them anymore.' His red eyes bored into her deep, violet ones. Neither blinked. 'Their innocence is untouched. Mine is gone.'

' have latched onto me, haven't you? Like a newborn,' her full purple lip curled. 'Or a leech.'

'You are not a monster,' he said. 'Neither am I! We can keep each other sane! I know it!'

As Asterion sat down on the bench next to him, Diego hoped he hadn't really sounded  that desperate, but he knew the truth.

Pah. Field hospitals always made him maudlin.

'Good hunting?'

Aster showed gristle-stained, wolflike fangs at the vampire's question. 'As bad as it was long.'

Diego began reciting a prayer in his mind. 'The children again?'


'Father, please!'

Slam. Slam. Slam.

'Release me!'

Thump. Thump. Thump.


The boy-calf smashes his head against the Labyrinth's walls, seeking the answer that will not come. His horns, still short, still blunt, do not help.

He feeds on what they give him: children, his age or younger, but fully human. Terrified-almost as much as him-and trapped. They know his patterns, when he is closest to starvation. That is when they send them.

He is too weak to escape: the walls are too strong to break or batter down, and seem to rise when he jumps or climbs, just as they bend and twist and stretch in on themselves when he tries to escape-for he is not clever enough, either.

He has nothing else to eat. At times, he tries to let himself starve. Then his hunger takes over: he sees red, and kills, and eats, and weeps.

He remembers two sisters, trying to shield each other. He remembers them begging, to kill one but spare the other, as if he can. He remembers crying with them, breaking their pale necks rather than biting into their white throats.

Like he did with the others. The boys had been brave. Tried to fight him, for their lives, or those of their lovers., so brave...

'What did I do!?'

He knows. He knows. He remembers scaring the court. How dare he be so ugly, so freakish? To shame his mother by living? He remembers failing to suckle, to graze. Killing the handmaidens. The soldiers, when they tried to stop him.

He would've starved then, too, otherwise. The curse, the curse... he remembers Minos, and Daedalus. He loves them so, so much, he wants to eat them alive, so they can be together, forever.


The bull. Poseidon. Minos. Who is his father? Sire? Creator? Mother's husband?

Who is he praying to?

'Aye,' Asterion answered. 'There's no joy in this, Diego.'

The vampire nodded. The children...were always the hardest to kill, and not just because it broke their hearts. Their parents-spiritual or literal-always shielded them enough for the monsters seeded in them by Chernobog himself or his ministers to blossom like abominable flowers.

They ate themselves, while the monsters did it from the inside. When they met, it was in the form of a "kiss". It always hurt to watch.

They wee taught that, if they did this, Chernobog would free them from pain, and fear, and remember them forever.

Not, necessarily, a lie.


Thoth taught me by means of cosmogony. I was fairly familar with most variants of the Egyptian creation myth, but reading about something and seeing plays and shows based on it didn't compare to the real thing, no matter how skilled the actors were.

It began, as such things often did, with water. Boundless, bottomless, an endless cosmic ocean: inert, but full of potential.

The nothing from which everything would rise. Up to this point, at least, there were no contradictions. In other words, people agreed on nothing. I could've wept.

From the waters, rose a mound: the benben. From the mound came life(ahem), which also inspired the shape of the pyramids, which were to it what pharaohs were to Ra-Horakhty.

I saw Ra and Apep form in the waters, the latter acting as the former's umbilical cord. Upon being severed and discarded, Apep became angry, which the creation of order and life only exacerbated.

I saw Ra-or Atum, or Aten, or Amun, or the sun god in his incarnation as Khepri, the morning sun scarab-rise from the benben(which I guess made it the mother and Nu the father), then shape the waters into existence, before pushing them to the sides and bottom.

Thoth was always present, too, as was his wife. The god of knowledge was always self-begotten, while the creator sun god was not always acausal; as the voice of the creator, he could be seen as the mouth speaking the world into existence.

I saw the projection of Ma'at, a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman in an orange dress, wearing an ankh, smiling only at her husband.

'She's beautiful,' he said upon noticing me noticing her. 'Isn't she?'

'Very,' I admitted. 'But Mia is moreso.'

Thoth's beak curved at that as he rhrew his head back, laughing. 'There is not a soul who won't say that about their lover, David!'

His humour eventually died down, though not entirely. 'Now,' his eyes shone. 'Onto more spiritual matters.'

Thoth gestured at the images of creation. 'As you can see, order in general, and ordered existence in particular, is not something natural. It must be made, and maintainted, and fought for. It does not come to be by itself. Only chaos does.'

I nodded, glancing around myself. When I focused my godsight, the dark, all-encompassing ocean resolved into the image of a man with flesh made of waves, wearing a headdress the same dark green as the trimming of his loincloth. The figure was under, above and all around me. He stared back at me with lidless eyes, then smiled with his toothless mouth.

I noticed he seemed, somehow, endlessly tall and broad, with infinitely-thick limbs, but still man-shaped. Then, I saw what was inside him, and suddenly, the endless dark ocean seemed very welcoming.

'Is Nu Isfet?'

Thoth managed to convey his amused interest at my question, which was fairly impressive with no eyebrows. 'That's like asking if the Big Bang "is" space. I suppose? But it "is" also time, matter and...well.' He steepled his fingers. 'The problem is that you are asking two questions at once. Is Nu chaos? In its most primal form, yes. Is Nu evil? In the broadest sense...also yes, but only because chaos and evil are interchangeable in this context.'

'So, one can't exist without the o-'

Thoth flicked my nose. 'No one said that. Use your mind, David. Of course chaos can exist without evil-it precedes it! The reverse is more...nuanced.'

He sat down, and we were in front of Crypt headquarters, Nu gone. While I was glad to be back in mundane reality, even refreshed, Thoth seemed almost drained, at least mentally: he might not have been sweating and trembling, but he  was tired.

'Order can lead to  inanity,' he said, his thousand yard stare directed at no one in particular. 'Especially when tradition and ambition come into play. Do you know how stupid Horus and Set's rivalry got towards the end? Don't get me started on the boat race or the semen dominance contest.'

Ah, that. 'I think that's how tossing one's salad came to be, right?'

Thoth looked so cross at my innocent question I almost cried. 'You have no idea how much I hate you right now, David. And not just because your stupid worplay is only adjacent to...those idiots...' he clicked his beak, then shifted into his old, entirely human form, rising to his sandaled feet.

Thoth's footsteps didn't disturb the sand, nor did he make any sound as he moved: no breathing, no heartbeat. He didn't even smell like anything, unlike my carcass, which could've probably knocked people out from tens of metres away.

'David,' his face was so lined and wrinkled, it was almost impossible to read. Even his eyes were only dark slits in his parchment-like skin. However, I wasn't focusing on that.

Thoth's voice had softened; in fact, he sounded almost regretful. Each of his next words filled me with more dread than the last.

Thoth explained everything, not stopping when I began beating him after he admitted the lesson had also been meant to distract me, so things would unfold properly. He didn't pay any attention to my tears, or my curses, or my throbbing fists.

'I understand that,' he smiled sadly. 'Being an orphan is never easy, no matter the age.'

And you know the worst part?

It was only the third worst thing I learned at the beginning of said year.


Pops' verger knelt in front of the scorched patch of ground where he had departed, almost but not quite touching it. There was something in her glassy eyes, something between shock and reverence, that made my insides curdle.

Had I ever looked at anything with such slavish devotion?

'I tried to stop him, at first. I wanted to,' she whispered as I lifted her to her feet. 'But the Lady-the one you call your Lord-'

'I don't give a single fuck what gender you think it is.'

She reeled back from my words like I'd slapped her teeth out, which only made me want to do it more. 'She didn't let me. She showed me. Opened my eyes...'

'Tell me where my father went,' I smiled at her. 'Or I'll bite your them out and paint your womb with the remains.'

'I...I don't know.' Rebeca was googly-eyed, the dumb bitch. Worthless. 'Such things are only known to-'

'God, yes, fucking  got it,' I bit out, before pushing her into the wall of pops' house. 'Hope it takes you too.'

It should've been her. It should've been me...


Adriana tensed as Alex wrapped spectral arms around her, but tried not to be too stiff. It would've hurt the ghost, and he'd already had enough.

"I'm sorry," Mihai mouthed as Alex's touch covered her clothes in frost. Adi nodded rapidly, as much to reassure him as to get some blood flowing.

The ghost's ectoplasmic tears fell onto her chest and shoulder, freezing her sweater. She only kept her teeth from chattering by gritting them, silently thanking her husband for sending Nina and Nela to their room. Alex's wails only failed to make her ears bleed due to mana reinforcement.

After the surgery had returned him to his former shape, Alex had answered some questions for the Supernatural Service. They'd investigate his murder, but the culprit made as little sense as the means: none, without time travel.

The motive, though...

'I'm sure David meant it as reassurance,' Alex sniffed after calming down to the point he could pace through their living room. 'But it...f-fucking scared me, Mihai.'

'I think he-' the mage looed down as his phone began vibrating, then at Alex. 'It's him.'

Mihai doubted the fast, ragged breaths were calming-they freaked  him out, never mind Alex-but the ghost just sat down on air, clutching his chest.


'Hey, Mihai. You alright? The girls? Alex?'

'We're'd you know he's with me?'

David's laugh was closer to a croak. 'I'm catching up, one disaster at a time. Found out about you first.' A pause. When David spoke again, there was some trepidation in his voice. 'Can I come?'

'Ummm...' Mihai glanced between his shaking wife and best friend. 'I...don't think it's a good time, man. But, uh, thanks for the offer. Maybe Mia can-?'

'You'd drag her into this shit? Would you send your wife to-'
David cut himself off, breathing quickly. 'Sorry. Yeah, I'll check. Was going home, anyway.'


It said something about my mood that a naked Mia couldn't keep my attention at all. I'd explained my absence, but it had only worried her more. My phone calls didn't help.

Bianca? A long, empty laugh.

Lucian? "The things we do for love, is the death of duty, you know? I suppose you wouldn't."

Andrei? No answer.

'Love?' She put a hand on my shoulder, stopping me, after dressing into some jeans and a hoodie. 'I'm going to Mihai's. Do you need anything?'

I shook my head, not looking at her, shoulders shaking. With a sigh, Mia left.

I turned to the nearest icon in my living room, breaking the piece of shit in half as I ripped it out of its frame.

'What goddamn reason did you have to take him!?'


Constantin awoke to fire.

Not black, as he'd expected. Crimson, tinged with gold, and ivory. It burned but didn't hurt, even as he fell and the flames washed over his skin, through his surplice and flesh.

There was an angel with him. Not his. His gauntleted hands firmly gripped the reins Constantin only weakly grasped with one hand.

'You saved me!'

The angel's emerald eyes softened under hair as red as the flames, but he didn't smile. 'I answered your prayer, Constantin. You asked the Lord to end the pain, the indecision, for decades.'

'Are you taking me home now?'

The angel shook his head. 'This is our home now, Constantin. Now and forever.'

The priest stiffened. 'Are you really an angel?'

'Were I one of my kin below, would you be talking back to me now?'

'...God is good.'

'Indeed.' Uriel shook the reins. 'You are welcome. Father opened my eyes, too: I was blind, until a half-angel came to Heaven.'

Blind...'David!' Constantin started. 'I must help my son!'

'I am afraid,' Uriel replied. 'That only your son can help himself now.'

Constantin did not relax. 'What are we doing?'

Uriel turned to him with a sorrowful look. 'Killing children, Constantin. They are tainted through ignorance and circumstance, not choice.' He sighed. 'And they will never grow up to change.'


A hypernova packed over ten FOEs-ten to the power of forty-four joules each.

Even the remains of Atlantis could manipulate such energies. In the laboratory pocket realm, a star fifty times as heavy as Sol was detonated; its mass, moving at ninety-nine percent lightspeed, was focused through a gravity tunnel.

The projectile, burning at hundreds of billions-nearly a trillion-of degrees Celsius, was launched at a hand-sized, millimetre-thick plate of atlantium, which had once made up the Empire Endless' buildings and tools. The plate was not only undamaged: it wasn't even scorched; still silver-white and flawless.

Unlike the mountain's worth of atlantium a ways away. Sklaresia's punch shattered several dozen kilometres' worth of the material, while her hellfire breath vapourised another identical block; it only remained gas for an infinitesimal moment, before being turned into brilliant plasma. The proximity heat melted a third, reducing it to bubbling slag in a blink.

'I thank you for this,' Vyrt smiled cheerfully at his host, ignoring the blast of hellfire that covered his face. His own seraphic flames burned it out of existence, and were themselves dismissed with a thought, just like they had been summoned. 'My aunt-though she resents the term-is working out her frustrations. You see, she dislikes people who think she is younger than she is. She says she is thirty-six, but if they assume years instead of millenia, is it  her fault?'

'That is  not why I'm pissed and you know it,' Klare huffed, four arms crossed.

The Watcher Over Horror was as steadfast as ever. 'Your presence is always welcome, nephilim. Within reason.' They looked up at Vyrt. 'Does your visit here have a purpose beyond entertainment?'

'Yeah.' The demoness turned. 'Maybe you could tell us where you bailed off to a while back.'

Vyrt nodded. 'Besides that...I, at least, was preparing. DEATH's Keeper must learn the truth, at last.'


Click. 'Yessss?'


The discordant, multilayered chuckle was the most beautiful goddamn thing I'd heard today. 'Brother?'

Forgive me, Mia.
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Strigoi Grey
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

After Life, Chapter 10, Part 1

'Sit  down, David.'

'Is that an   order, ma'am?'

Rivka met my wry look with a sullen glare. Could feel neither exhaustion nor boredom, but she had the balls to look tired? Talk about priviliege.

I guess that's what you get for being the only agent worth something after your actually competent boss dies and  his boss scraps the barrel.

Bet I would've made senior agent without all the shit outside my control dragging me down. Not that I wanted the position-more paperwork and playing babysitter for grave-dodgers? I could spit-, but I would've done better than her. What did this toothy little cannibal do that I couldn't? She might've as well been lobotomised and locked up in a sensory deprivation chamber compared to me.

'It could be, if you keep acting like this. Don't make me-'

I couldn't help it. I began laughing. Oh, it took some shapeshifting to make the tears start flowing, but they were genuine. 'See? You have to ask and ask and  ask, what kind of leader are you? Either tell me or shut up.'

The ghoul leaned back in her chair, arms crossed. She was eyeing me skeptically, the way she'd been since I'd turned my chair around and sat down, alternating between slinging my arms across its back or leaning on her desk.

Like I was doing now. 'You're not talking to my strigoi side, Peretz. It's just me. I get it: you can't believe I've woken up. I can't took me this long, but I know how you feel.'

Was Rivka dismayed? Tired of me? Or just annoyed? Honestly, at that moment, I couldn't have told you-but she sure as hell didn't look fond, either.

'Help me understand, David.' Her voice was so soft, I could tell she was itching to deck me. 'Tell me why you discussed to meet with Szabo outside the country, and only told your superior after. On that note, if I'm such an awful senior agent, please suggest a replacement. Or, if you don't have ideas, point out what's not to your liking, and I'll look for a better option myself.' She looked into my eyes. 'Maybe you? Do you want my job, David? Is that it? Would that make you happy?'

She lowered her voice as I looked aside, sneering. 'What's wrong? Why are you so angry?'

I was so close to saying she wouldn't understand that I almost slapped myself. Fuck that bullshit teenage angst. If I was going to angst, I was going to do it like an adult, thank you.

I could've brushed her off, or course, but... 'Not sure you need to know.'

'So your boss and friend doesn't need to know, but Szabo does?'

I didn't answer.

'What are you two planning to do in Siberia again...? Oh, forgive me. For some reason, I thought you'd actually explained first.' Her tone turned serious. 'David, cut the crap and look at me.' I did, noticing she looked more frustrated than actually pissed. 'You two can't be stupid enough to be planning something illegal, or something you don't want ARC to know. You're smarter than that. Loric might not be, but he has his own hangups.' In the sense he didn't believe in petty crimes or staying hidden, if only because he saw such things as beneath him, rather than out of any sense of morality. 'So what can that snuff flick escapee help you with that I can't?'

'...Szabo's agnostic. You're...Jewish.'


I shifted in my seat. It had sounded awkward enough in my mind, much less out loud, and the way she'd phrased her reply as a flat statement rather than a question didn't help.

'Riv, look-'

'David, if you're about to reveal some antisemitic streak you've hidden until now, I'll eat my fucking desk.'

'It's not that! I-'

'Good. Szabo doesn't believe in bigotry, either.' Some tension had left her shoulders, so that she looked a bit more relaxed now, if not exactly happy. 'To him, everyone's grist for the mill. Or skin for the rack, as it were. Anyhow...'

'Rivka,' I tried to sound less exasperated than I felt, which was easier than you might expect. I don't think I could've expressed it properly. 'Let me rephrase: I need help with a matter of faith, and Szabo, having none, can help me more than you, being religious, can.'

Rivka had too much self-control to let her puzzlement shown. 'You're having a...what, a pilgrimage while the world might need your help? Reem told you to be on standby, and I doubt I need to repeat that order.' The ghoul shook her head. 'We can't let you risk yourself like this, David. Even with Szabo helping. Siberia is smack-dab in the middle of Chernobog's sphere of influence.'

'So, I don't deserve anything I want or need. It's all about everyone  else's needs.'

'That is not what I-' she clicked her tongue. 'Dammit, David. You might go get yourself killed and you're not even telling me the reason. What do you want from me? What do you want me to do?'

The ghoul seemed to shrink in on herself, briefly looking far older. wasn't her fault, dammit. She didn't know what had happened.

Before I could apologise, though, she smoothed her expression, sitting up straighter. 'If you can't be arsed to tell me as a friend, I'll have to order you.' Her eyes were half-lidded. 'You can keep refusing, of course. What'll happen if I insist? Will you kill me? Will Szabo drop in here to do it for you? Both of you have divine powers now. Well?'

As I held her stare, I was reminded of the fact neither of us blinked or breathed, much less moved, unless we wanted.

I caved in first.

'It's not fucking fair,' I whined, yes, there was no other word for it. It should've been beneath me to break down in front of my superior: not like it was her job to listen to things like this, unless Internal Affairs therapists were unavailable. 'It's not goddamn fair. I wake up from a nightmare, and the second I turn around to tell Reem about it, Lucian and Bianca go crazy, Alex doesn't want to talk to me anymore, and my dad's d-dead-' I gulped. 'I...I mean A-Andrei's dead, but...' were my hands shaking? Fucking  shaking? 'But my dad's dead too. It took him. It took him. It...'

I was repeating it like a mantra, yeah, like a fucking madman. Maybe I'd gone crazy, or maybe I'd finally realised I'd always been.

Probably the pitiful kind of crazy, given how, after mouthing a curse, Rivka got up in a flash, moving around the desk to put an arm over my shoulders and grab my arm with her other hand.

'David, David, look at me. Stop talking to yourself. David!'

I lifted teary eyes to meet her milky grey ones, her shark-toothed mouth twisted into a distressed grimace. 'Calm down. Your friends are alive. You can go talk to them-yes, even Andrei. The aether's right there, remember? And your father is-'

' Gone,' I spat, making her squeeze my arm.

'He's not gone, David. If what you told me is true, he's met a Cardinal Archangel. He's closer to God than ever. And he's still in there! He's still alive! David...'


Misha writhed in my grip like the worm he was, but he couldn't escape. To continue the metaphor, I'd only let him off the hook to get eaten.

Andrei's bearlike corpse-he'd died in hybrid form, but like an animal, nonetheless-was already cold by the time I got to his apartment, and the rest of the building had jumped into alert as soon as I'd arrived, suddenly noticing the smell of blood snd silver, all while wondering how the hell it had evaded their senses.

Someone had called the hospital, and the Service, but there was nothing more to do. The man who'd brought me into this world was dead, and I hadn't even been there to see him off.

I...I'd always thought Andrei's death would be more...climactic. I'd  wanted him to live, so he we...

What? So we could what?

He'd been a wily old bastard. He should've scraped out by longer, dammit. He should've...survived enough for me to get there in time, not fucking fail, not again.

I'd made this oath, you know? This stupid little oath, sworn Andrei would die by no one's hand but mine, that I'd save his goddamn life if that was what it took to settle the score. Sworn neither of us would leave the world without some sort of closure.

But what more was there to add to that? What more, except "I lied, Andrei. Lied to myself, again. You died alone."

It wasn't the first time I'd lied to myself, even unintentionally. But, even though it was too late to make things right-wasn't it always?-, I could still try and make up for it by killing the were's muderer.

I'd gotten tired of the bald motherfucker nagging me-some cueball-looking bitch who should've been swallowed-to hand Misha over for questioning, and instead made a pocket reality to question him myself.

'Hello, grandfather.' My voice stopped his thrashing, and I dearly, dearly hoped this wasn't the most scared he could get. 'We're going to get to know each other. And then, while I make you pray for Hell, I'll also tell you why nobody is answering.'

'You're David.' He seemed stunned. 'The strigoi...the Silva priest's-'

His neck snapped in my hand. With my other one, I idly ripped out his spectral throat, then the tongue out of his gasping mouth. They went into the eye sickets, whick went into the ears after being torn out.

He wouldn't fall apart, or go insane. I'd never let him. I'd stretch time into eternity, rip it open like a corpse, if that was what it took to share a fraction of my pain with him.

This thing in the shape of a man, this simple creature I descended from, had little to do with the reason of my anger. Its suffering would offer no solution or end to it.

But it would bring me pleasure. And I wasn't enough of a fool anymore to think that wasn't a justification.

'Speak,' I ordered him, my power forcing his tongueless mouth to shape words, putting his mind into motion. I'd take care of that too. Not too soon, hopefully.

'You should be dead, you-'

And his cock went into his belly button, scrunched up and flattened. His balls soon followed, up the nostrils, until it was gushing ectoplasmic blood as much as his eye sockets were brimming with fears.

Made a nice contrast with the drool that dripped down into his chest mixing with false blood and vomit. Look at gramps, running the whole gamut of fluids, just for me~

One could've almost been fooled into thinking he was a real person, if they were a fucking moron.

am dead.'

That shut him up, and he slackened in my grasp, hanging limply. I was reminded of my first death, and began laughing. When he began asking what was so funny, it only made me laugh harder.

'Oh, nothing...' I lied, looking at the mess I'd made to try and pretty up his face. The human body was so few organs, only so many ways to rearrange them. If he didn't soon turn into something more entertaining, I'd do it myself.

'Let's talk.' I let go of him, and, the moment my fingers left his neck, a barbed spike shot up from the ground of the pocket realm-as black as the sky was grey-, spearing the ghost through his crotch, the twisting to travel up his rear. A second spike rose, bending forward to fill Misha's throat, until it met the one impaling him in his chest, where they wrapped around each other, beginning to throb.

'You are going to tell me,' my, but I couldn't even muster a reaction at his writhing. Not even his pain made me happy?

Selfish bastard. He had nothing to help others with.

'Three things: how you escaped the aether, why you killed Andrei,' my lips drew back from my fangs. 'And how you got the knife you used to murder him.'

He couldn't speak, too busy trying to mewl in pain, to staunch the flow of tears the spike down his throat was drinking up as soon as they touched it.

Fine. I'd make him speak.

'The aether, Misha. The faithless dead can't just come and go if they are truly dead. You never lingered as a ghost. What changed?'

'I w-wanted to...'

Wanted what? To leave? To kill? 'Wanting only gets you so far.' What with the force that barred the dead from escaping. The aether itself, perhaps.

'It l-let me. You...'


Misha tried to spit, or maybe open his mouth wider, as if he could get rid of the spike like that. 'The thing...that w-wants you.'

'What are you talking about?'

His laugh was a an agonised sob. 'You think...the sea of magic is empty? Have...has no one on Earth thought to really, truly look into it? It-'

 Skip. 'How'd you escape? Spare me the disbelief.'

'The thing that guards and jails the dead let me. It wants you,' was that a grin? His bleeding mouth was stretched too much to tell. ' doesn't speak. Didn't. Not to me. But I felt it. It thought this...' one of his finger twitched weakly, in the direction of where Andrei had died, in the real world. 'Would bring you closer to it.'

I was tempted to write it off as bullshit, spouted to stall for time or scare me, but I'd met what I'd become. And he hadn't been alone. 'Does this thing have a name?'

'Does it...
need one?'

I wanted to rip his throat out again, and I would have, but he currently lacked one. 'So it let you go. Thanks for sharing that. I was  this close to tricking myself into thinking you're competent.'

Don't you
 hate it when your torture implements prevent you from making out the victim's expression?

Misha made a horking sound, like he wanted to hawk a gobbet of blood, but couldn't. 'I killed your father, boy. Call me an idiot however much you want, I was smart enough to do  that."

I chuckled. 'Not that I needed your permission to call you an idiot, but thank you for giving it.'

'Does acting smart distract you from crying? Because I can tell that's what you want to doaaAAAAAGHHH!'

The sound his heart made in my fist was closer to a wet squelch than the satisfying squelch I'd expected. Still, credit where credit is due: most ghosts would've gone crazy or fallen apart by now, instead of regenerating to keep on talking. Misha had guts, besides the ones I had rearranged.

'I can make this last forever. I can drag all the pain, all the fear, all the disgust you've ever experienced to the forefront of your mind, and extend the sensation into an eternity of agony. I can trap you here, throw this place out of creation, and leave your remains screaming forever. Is that what you want?'

Silence is an answer, too. 'Do you honestly think I'm angry because you killed Andrei?'

He looked as bewildered as he could, with no eyes and a mouth full of spikes. 'You're not...then why the goddamn fuck are you
doing this to me!?'

I smirked as he thrashed in place, only succeeding in tearing his insides apart further. The following pained moan was delicious to hear. 'Let me rephrase: I am angry at you for killing Andrei, but that's not the main reason. Just one of many. But since you're so fixated on that, let's have a chat.'

Smiling, I put a hand on his shoulder, and he tensed. Good. If he'd been stupid enough to relax, this would've been less pleasant.

I fipped the arm out of its socket to the tune of an ululating shriek, then stuck it into the ground, hand-first. The other arm followed, even as this one regenerated. Then, the legs.

But I still needed a seat for my chair...

Misha tried to escape when I tore away his torso, but the spikes caught his disembodied form, forcing him back into the prior position. I had to tear out his spine twice, slong with his arms again, to make the back of the seat and, aaahhh, tie it together.

Then, hands clasped, I leaned back in my chair, and bade him talk. He had some accusations to throw first, of course-don't all cruel people?

'You're a fucking monster...' Misha, trying and failing to swallow. 'Who  does that!? What kind of person-'

'I'm a
strigoi.' I blinked slowly. 'Any other remarks, before you start being useful?'

I raised my eyebrows as he stared at me wordlessly, correctly expecting he'd crack first.

'You shouldn't exist.'

Ah, old, but gold. 'You're telling me?'

Misha shook his head. 'Neither...none of
 us,' his head swivelled crazily, but I had a feeling he was trying to gesture rather than free himself...and that he was talking about supernaturals as a whole. 'Should.'

'Yes, you told Andrei you liked it better when we were all stories.' A matter of taste, not that there had ever been such a time. 'Do you have a point, or just a dream of...omnicide? Give me a hand here.' I tapped my boot on one of the chair's legs. 'I'm just shooting in the dark.'

'Look what you  do,' he moaned, barbs tearing up his regenerating tongue and throat. 'People don't
 think about things like this, much less have the power to...'

He trailed off at my laugh. Oh, what a creature was man, in my grandfather's imagination! How innocent his mind! How boundless his mercy!

Ahhh...he'd clearly been tucked away in some quiet corner of the aether for too long. He sounded like the protagonist of that Darke Nyte movie series, the dhampir who was so disgusted at the danger supernaturals posed that he vowed to destroy them all, then himself. Just as hypocritical, though less flair. And...leather.

'Right.' I wiped my eyes, still grinning. 'Thanks for the joke. But, since I doubt you came back to slaughter every awful,  awful supernatural, if only because you lack the ability...why don't you start being honest?'

'Fuck you, boy,' he spat. 'Fuck you and every freak this world's given birth to. You took my life, then made me one of you!' He raised his head, as if he could appear defiant in a position like this. 'You want to kill me? Go ahead. Do it, before I turn into a monster like you.'

'No one  made you a ghost. You did it yourself. No one made you a monster, either. Far as I know, you died a jackbooted, thuggish rapist, killed by the people you failed to crack down on. What, couldn't stomp hard enough?'

'Who did I rape?'

How dare he-no, no, wait. Had to think clearly. I was done being manipulated, even by my own feelings. Had I damaged him so much he'd started forgetting things? I  hoped not; didn't want to restore his mind unless I had to, but breaking down a madman wouldn't be as entertaining.

'Do you remember my grandmother?' Not pops' poor mother Elena. Andrei's. 'She was a...'

'The gypsie, yes.' He seemed both irritated and confused. 'What about her?'

'So, you
 do  remember-'

'Again. Who did I rape?'

I stared at him blankly, wondering if he had actually gone insane, but his next words put any doubts to rest. 'Far as I remember, you have to fuck someone who doesn't consent for it to be rape.'


His pissy expression faded at my growl. 'Forgive me, but, unless the definition changed while I was dead, fucking crows isn't rape.'

...fighting monsters like Chernobog, with their dreams of eternal, nightmarish empires, almost kept you from remembering there were still petty, racist scumbags around.

And we were fucking

Perhaps interpreting my brooding as contemplation of his words, he went on. 'Look, I get it. We're-were-slavs, before we died. I know you're disgusted. But you have to understand: there was no feeling there. I...just had to get off, boy. Do you honestly think I wouldn't have asked a real woman if she wanted to or not?'

' you think I'm  
disgusted by the fact you raped a  gypsie, as opposed to the fact you  raped my grandmother?'

I stood up slowly, savouring his panic as he tracked my movements. 'I wanted to flay you, and leave your ectoplasm strung across the room for the Service to pick at, but why not be more...' I was next to him in an instant, pulling his head apart. 'Open-minded? I can take you to Hell. Wrap you up, and give you to the Devil. Or Chernobog-remember him, from the stories? I hope you do. Or my grandmother. Find her soul, see justice done.' Finally learn her name. Then find Andrei's, share it with him. 'Or,' I breathed into his ear. 'I can take all your prejudices, and make a monster. What you saw my grandmother as. Multiply it a thousand thousand times, and have  them rape  you forever and ever and ever...'

My grin widened as he tried to get away. 'I'm just weighing my options, gramps.' I shrugged. 'I think I'm going to Hell if I die-wouldn't want to take the other path, and, well, it's not like Scratch and I
don't know each other. Think he'll give me a spot if I show him what I can do? You'll have to help me, you understand-don't worry, you won't have to  do anything-, but, if I can get the chance to break people like you forever...'

My fatalistic rambling didn't seem to brighten his day. Hmm...

'So, your jailer...watchdog... 
whatever...let you go. Right. That's the how. Now, we just need the where and the why.' I made the spikes throb as he tried to turn his head. 'The knife, Misha. And the murder. Let's start with where you found it.'

'It was there when I got...' he took a rattling breath. Habit, I guess. 'When I returned.'

'There, where? On the street in front of Andrei's apartment building? In an alley? Where?'

'In my hand...'

He cringed as I raised mine, claws splayed. 'W-Wait! It really
 was, I s-swear!'

'Explain,' I ground out, sounding far more displeased with his whines than I was.

'I felt this...' one of his hands closed, then opened. He shakily repeated the process a few times. 'Like sunlight on skin. A sort of...presence, I suppose. Like something I could find, if I just reached out.'

'The knife was entirely mundane.'

'The blade itself, yeah. But it was there, yet not, until I wanted it. I don't know how to explain it.'

I could tell he was being honest, but creating silver weapons wasn't something a new ghost like Misha could do, unless he was freakishly good at rearranging chemical structures with telekinesis, which nothing I'd seen so far indicated.

As such, either he was lying, or there was something he didn't know, or couldn't explain. Expecting anything, I opened my godsight, and saw...


It was like the alien undercurrent of my future self's voice, except as an image. As I tried to sift through its dark aura intil my mind's eye wept and bled, it resolved into something I could understand.

I saw a figure, always distant but ever-present, walking unseen among the faitless dead. Among the aether's travellers, and inhabitants. Had we missed it all this time? Had we been so blind?

Or had some known, and hidden it?

I saw its link to the souls in its charge perish, and felt a sense of deep but hollow loss. As if a telescope that had lost its lens had gained the ability to grieve. There was nothing even close to human in whatever passed for its mind-and that was the problem.

I saw it begin slaughtering the unclaimed dead. Felt its confused frustration-why couldn't it understand them? Where was the replacement of its champion?

It never stopped in its duties, of course. New souls, from all across creation, were brought into the aether, but, in its madness, the thing lashed out, destroying them beyond recovery, as unable to comprehend why it was doing it as it was to understand its charges.

But I knew. It was destruction itself. Oblivion. Entropy. It was not a guide, nor a warden. It had just been forced into the role, by a-



-by  something that saw it the way it saw the rest of creation. Without someone to restrain and guide its impulses, it inevitably returned to its roots. Someone who had to ensure it didn't destroy innocents, nor become lost in its rage at what it saw as usurpers.

Those who lived when they should have been dead. Those who had died when they should have survived. Those who were neither, and made a mockery of the cycle by their deeds rather than their nature.

The thing...
 loathed them. Its hatred was as cold and placid as it was vast: far from something that should have been able to overtake it, had it thought remotely like a human.

I saw it wanting to destroy Misha too, before observing him. It understood enough of his desires to know he'd kill Andrei if he got the chance, and likely perish in the attempt. It had been wrong, though: the werebear had failed, though he had dealt Misha a painful blow. Painful enough the ghost had been unable to heal and leave before I arrived, alongside the authorities.

I saw the thing in the aether create what Misha needed: without a silver weapon, he wouldn't have even tried to approach Andrei. I saw it hold the knife just outside his reach, dangling it outside hus perception until, wanting to kill his son so, so much, he reached out and took it.

The thing had nothing against Andrei. In its eyes, whether Misha died by its hand or by his son's, it was the same. It had merely given him...ha. Enough rope to hang himself with.

Better make sure it wasn't goading other dead morons into stunts like this, just to see if it would end up with them taking care of themselves, instead of it having to dirty its hands.

I thought of Nightraiser, and their strange power of destruction. Peering into the Outer Void beyond all others, I was dismayed, but unsurprised, to see the thread that rose from the thing in the aether intertwined with Nightraiser's, along with several others, all reaching into the same Darkness.

And, of course, it couldn't simply be destroyed or removed. Its creator-the most primal, unmanifest form of God, Azathoth, or whatever you wanted to call it-was not without its neuroses. Things had to be a certain way, or it would be unable to accept the nature of its dream.

And, should it wake up, everything would be lost.

Fixer would have taken care of it otherwise, or Nightraiser, I was sure, but their hands were tied-or, at least, the latter's were. They were a destroyer, too, but destruction would not help with this at all.

Fixer, however? He was supposed to keep creation going, and repair whatever was wrong. So where was he? What was he doing?

Things were already beginning to come together, even as I tried to find him. Merlin calling me Keeper, Chernobog trying to kill me for valuing life and death...the thing wanted me. More, it needed me: despite its nature, it didn't want creation to end, and so, yearned for a champion.

And, no matter how much I wanted to claim incompetence or show false modesty...I had my godsight. I had power, and could make myself as powerful as needed. And, finally, I, seemingly, had the mindset it desired.

Whenever someone tells you fate doesn't have a cruel sense of humour, they're fucking lying.

I lacked experience, but somehow, I doubted it had half of a shit to give about that. It wanted someone to keep it and the cycle it presided over in check right now, or-unless I was mistaken-everything would fall apart.

Because the goddamn almighty couldn't deal with it killing unclaimed souls. It was, from what I had seen, too great a disturbance in its dream.

Attention returning to Misha, I gave the ghost a piercing look. 'I believe you.' Struggling not to puke at how the fucking rat smiled, I slapped one of his ears off. 'Andrei, Misha. Tell me why you killed him, and I'll let you go.' Not go free, obviously. But he didn't need to learn that, and we in ARC believed in need to know.

' was revenge, alright?'

I looked down at his bowed head, as if he'd made some...some goddamn solemn confession. 'What'd you say?'

WAS FUCKING REVENGE, ALRIGHT!?' He glared daggers into my glowing eyes. 'But I wouldn't expect  you to understand, strigoi. You were never a man, even before you became a monster.'

Oh, you little bitch...

Brushing off the insults to the
manliness I so highly valued, I smiled lazily. 'Revenge. How and when did Andrei do you wrong, exactly? Please refresh my memory if I'm wrong, but I'm fairly sure you died when he was a baby, and you never met. So...?'

'So? So I fucked one of those thieving whores who've been plaguing the world for centuries, and not only does the bitch fucking live, she even gives birth to another crow?'

'She died from the pregnancy, you heartless bastard,' I said frigidly. 'Don't you try to say she was ungrateful if that was even her choice. As if what you did wasn't punishment enough. So, Andrei wasn't the son you wanted. Not one you planned for, nor the one you hoped he'd be. And that was enough for murder?'

'And he turned into a monster like the ones who
killed me!' he roared, trying to pull himself free. 'He deflowered a child who didn't know better! And you, the child born of good stock? He abandoned you. Gave you to a caring man, yes, but don't be fooled. There is no kindness in their black hearts.' His voice was feverish. 'Abandonment, running from responsibility, is in their blood. All the world's evils are.' I could've rolled my eyes-how fucking dramatic could you make such childish hatred?-but I didn't, knowing he'd go on a rant if he saw that. 'And look at you! You grew up almost as worthless as you would've been if he'd raised you, then...then...'

'Died,' I finished. 'I'm sure Andrei is sorry the were who nearly mauled him to death turned him so he'd make a better chew toy. Do you want me to bring his soul back and ask?' As I spoke, I quickly checked if Andrei's soul was still in the aether. Thankfully, it was. 'Though I doubt you knew that. I'm sure you'll say he deserved it, and more, too. As for my mother...he was a goddamn idiot and a coward, yes. I still hate what he did, yes. But let's get one thing straight-he never knew my mother was a minor, and the thing they had? It was mutual. No coercion.' I breathed into his face, fangs bared. 'Did you know that? Did you know he thought that, by sleeping with a woman who wanted him, he thought he proved he was better than you? It was his one dream. He told me.'

I pulled back at his croak of a laugh. 'Again with that...boy! You can't rape
animals, not that I expect  you to to understand that, either.'

'And what's that supposed to mean, grandfather?'

He smiled in what he must've thought was a sly way, though the lack of eyes ruined the leer. Almost as much as I was about to. 'I saw your woman. When I was returning to Earth.'

I'd have said I was Mia's man more than she was my woman, actually. 'And?'

'Zmei,' he laughed. 'More children's story monsters! Rapists, and brigands, and murderers! It's all in their souls, like it's in those of walking corpses like you!' With an effort, Misha managed to shake his head. 'You let her fuck whatever she wants-I can't even tell what she is. Whore, dyke, both? She fucks...goddamn walking statues too. I saw it, looking back through time. And you let her. I...just don't get it.'


'Both of you should've fucked each other to death by now, then eaten each other's guts, or something. How the hell can two monsters like you pretend to be people? None of you has anything...anything...'

Seeing he was struggling with his words, I helpfully chimed in. 'Anything good in our hearts, I'm guessing?' I snickered. 'Mia is a goddamn saint, you moron. And, by strigoi standards, so am I.'

'And neither of you feels shame about such an abomination? A strigoi fucking a zmeu? That's something straight out of hell. No place in the world, unless it's the end of days.'

'You know nothing of Hell,' I promised him. 'And nothing of endings.'

It was a long, long time before I let him go. But, when I did, Misha was whole in both spirit and mind, due to my attention. No time had passed outside the pocket reality I soon dispersed, and I gave the Supernatural Service agent leading the investigation-a blonde, green-eyed werehorse, currently in human form, with a stubbly lantern jaw and a face made for scowling (his mom had probably been constipated while giving birth, and he definitely took after her) an apologetic bow.

'Family killing family. Surely you can't blame me for wanting a word?'

'At least give us a warning next time, dammit. You're ARC. We're both supposed to be professionals.'

'I'm off-duty. Not by choice, mind. And only because I've heard it's better than being off your rocker.'

I could tell he didn't know if I was being serious or not, and wasn't in the mood to find out. 'Right. Now, the ghost seems alright...'

'We just talked.'

', if there's nothing else, we'd like to take him for questioning.'

'Oh, I think I can help you avoid wasting time. He told me so much! Always knew his grandson would open up his heart, in his own words.'

The werehorse's skeptical eyes moved between the silent, shaking Misha and I, but he didn't say anything, just gesturing for me to continue.


'...I suppose you're right,' I grudgingly agreed to Rivka's earlier statement, and felt her relax slightly. 'I  can go to them, but...' but Alex was too damn scared of me to meet, and it made me want to rip myself apart. Bianca a bad place. Something had changed, and a short call to Aaron had made me think it would've been better to let her relax a while after the kidnapping.

Luci was going to her, anyway. Weird as he'd sounded, those two could never remain upset when together. I was happy for them.

As for Andrei...maybe I'd go looking for him in the aether, one day, but not now. He'd lost his aimless, half-empty life in a shitty, shitty way, and not even one he'd expected. He deserved to rest.

'But you don't believe Constantin is in there.' Rivka tapped her head, while I shook mine.

'If he is, he's a prisoner, whether he knows or not. Can't escape, and I doubt he can make decisions.' I ground my lower lip between my fangs. 'And I don't think I could handle seeing what he's become right now.'

'You don't have to,' Rivka said soothingly. Then, to defuse the situation a bit, or at least change the subject, even if briefly, 'What's with the beard?'

'Hah.' I rubbed it with one hand as the ghoul returned to her seat. 'I'm mourning, Riv. If I were human, I'd let it grow. As it is, I had to shapeshift.'

'I'm sure Andrei would be honoured.'

And my father, too, I hoped. 'Well, I'm always in black around here, so I had my work cut out for me.' Finally with a beard to stroke, I took advantage of it on every occassion I could. 'I never did learn why our uniforms are black. Maybe ARC mourns the times we failed, or were too late.'

'I always thought it was to show we meant to make the distinction of good and evil something obvious and real,' Rivka opined, gesturing at the white shields on her shoulders and chest. 'Then I woke up, and thought maybe we should wear grey, but I guess the quartermasters are lazy.'

ARC's internal politics cheered me up as much as the unintentional reminder of my future self's undertaker outfit. Rivka's next words only compounded my great mood.

'Now, are you going to tell me what you want to do? Or should I call Loric, who feels obligated to never shut his mouth?'

'...I want to kill, Rivka.'

The ghoul briefly lowered her head, closing her eyes and mouthing "Oh, God", and I fought not to rip her head off. 'David, killing won't make your friends better.'

'It'll keep other people from ending up like them.'

'You're not cut out for fieldwork,' Rivka said briskly. 'Look at yourself. If you want action, you can point out cults for us, but David, I'm asking this as a friend: please don't go into the field now. Please don't force me to make it an order.'

...she was so frail to me, Rivka. I could've killed her with a thought, but I didn't want to. Not really. All my power reminded me of was how precious her and everyone like her were. It was easier to crush than to cradle. To cherish.

'Szabo won't judge me for wanting to kill people who deserve it.'

'No, he'll encourage you. Which would be immensely helpful, given how you're so angry you could cry,' Rivka snapped. 'He went on a mission, anyway, and he hasn't returned yet-no, you're not joining him. So I don't see how you could meet if you wanted to.' The ghoul's dry smile was tight-lipped. 'And, David? Unless you decide to ignore the hierarchy just because your stick is bigger than mine, neither you nor Loric can go over my head.' She reached across the desk, grabbing one of my hands and squeezing it. 'And Szabo is a fucking monster. So, next time you need help, please, don't talk to him first. I'm here. I'll do anything I can to help you-it's what Marcus would've wanted. Gaol John expects senior agents to also be qualified but unpaid therapists, otherwise he'll send his own and throw a bitchfit. Let's avoid that, alright?'

I squeezed back, then pulled my hand away, putting it in my lap, next to the other one, and looked down at them. 'Would I be allowed to request that one of your fellow senior agents accompany me in an unofficial trip unrelated to combat?' Hopefully. 'When I'm not otherwise engaged.'

'The formal bullshit won't make your almost-blunder poof away,' Rivka warned me, then her voice warmed up a little. 'Tell me what you want, and I'll discuss it with Szabo if I decide it's a good idea. Don't worry about leaving him hanging, I sent him a message telling him to stay put and remember what his job is.'

I did, watching Rivka's frown deepen with every word. 'Fucking-beautiful. You're sure you don't want something less risky? I heard Head al-Hazred is organising naked sightseeing trips on Yuggoth.'

'I'm sure.'

Rivka stifled a groan. 'With your luck, she'll either start fighting all of us, or join us. No way you and the nightmare taxidermist are going alone. We'll see if the Strangeguard has some powerful but expendable chucklefucks to escort you. Tsar Power, maybe.'

I bet she enjoyed my grimace, the little harridan.

'Besides that...' she rubbed her brow with two fingers. 'Thanks for sharing your encounter with Misha Dravich, and the info you gleaned from that vision. I'll report to Reem, and we'll see what there is to do, if anything.'

The following silence might not have been comfortable...but it was a far cry from how on edge we'd been since I'd entered Rivka's office to tell her what I wanted to do. I had a feeling that, if I'd left and sent her a text, she and Reem would've clobbered me to death.

But I respected her, and I told her as much. Contacting Szabo first had been a...spur of the moment.

'I know, David,' she replied. 'And I'm glad you told me what happened in Bucharest first, rather than Szabo.' She made a face. 'Do yourself a favour, and hold your mouth around him. About that, at least.'


Mia hadn't flirted with any of her and David's friends yet, because she and her boyfriend had only hooked up recently. It wasn't that they didn't turn her on, but, when she was with him, at least, she wanted to try and disprove the idea of zmei drooling over anything that moved.

At the moment, David wasn't who she wanted. Not mentally. It wasn't his fault, of course, and he'd accepted that. A request to have a go at Cloudshade would have ended up with everyone giving her the stink eye, even if the Unseelie had agreed. Or at least questioning her tastes, not that she wasn't doing it herself.

Sure, the chick was pretty tall and buff by human standards, which made her a deliciously-muscled shortstack by Mia's, but...ugh. That was all. Her style and looks combined didn't make up for a tenth of the entitled wackjob personality.

Which was why she'd grit her fangs and went home with David. It had been a pretty lame night, conpared to their usual. Not  his fault, as she'd reassured him while making out. But, by the time he'd failed to get anywhere by eating her out(thank whoever had made zmei they were close enough to humans, physiologically-speaking), she'd confessed her heart just wasn't in it.

"Then why did you agree to start at all?" David had asked, slightly dismayed. Not at failing to get her off, but at the thought she hadn't wanted sex and had only started for his sake.

"Babe, I'm sorry," she'd smiled apologetically. "I  do want this, but, ah, you know what it's like. It can't always be you. Too much of a good thing can burn you out."

David had matched her weak smile with one of his own, which she'd taken as encouragement. "You  did help scratch my itch, don't worry. Took the edge off after that creepy bitch got me hot and bothered." Sometimes, it was better not to get what you wanted. "Mind if I take care of it from here?"

David had sighed. "As long as you don't feel that I'm pressuring you..."

"You're not," she'd replied. "David, I won't always get the hots for people I can or  should reach out to. And that's fine. It-physically-is fine if you're around to help me out. Thank you."

"'re welcome."

Of course, then had come that weird dream they had shared, but not really; then, while she'd been showering, David had gone on to report to his boss, and returned crying, learning worse and worse news as he got closer to home.

Because the world just couldn't help but hurt her strigoi, could it?

A jump from Alex made her tighten her arms around the ghost, increasing her body temperature a little. Touching him felt weird, but she'd gotten used to several body types over the years, and, at the risk of making David throw his hands up, the cold had never bothered her anyway.

Which was why she'd taken Adriana's place comforting the ghost, to the woman's relief, as soon as a grateful but worried Mihai had explained the situation upon her arrival.

Well. As much as he could, before Alex calmed down enough to do it himself.

Maybe her instincts hadn't changed tack yet, but Mia realised she wasn't checking out anyone in the room, to her surprise. Or maybe it was just the stress?

'I don't want you to think I'm...talking shit about him, Mia,' Alex started, making her rub his back. The ghost nodded gratefully, then gulped, not looking at her. 'I know you love him. You two are great for each other, but...'

'Alex, I'm not going to do anything to you just because I'm upset,' she promised. 'And you can call me biased if you want, but I refuse to believe David would, unless he absolutely had to.' If that creepy bastard who'd killed Alex-and who, by description, sounded eerily similar to the one she had dreamed about-was even David at all.

'He said he saw no other way.' The ghost's voice was flat, toneless. 'Except for shattering his own mind.'

'Do you think you can share more about that?'

Whether he could remember was one thing, but would he be willing to?

' deserve to know,' Alex finally said.

And, though Mia smiled encouragingly, she couldn't help but feel he had phrased it threateningly.
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

After Life, Chapter 10, Part 2

Death was both quicker and less painful than Alex had expected. Instant, actually-he'd only realised he'd died after seeing his corpse-and painless. Nothing like the long, drawn-out ruination of his lungs and mind.

Despite the urgings. Despite the times he'd been called an altruistic moron. The time a mage or priest spent healing him could be used helping someone who actually needed it.

Alex had suspected, on some lonely nights, his house empty but for coughing, that one of his friends would get fed up with his refusals and just...drag him to a healer.

Heh...dying of asthma in a world filled with magic, tech that might as well have been magical, and even stranger shit? How weird was that? How stupid would future generations think he'd been, upon looking back at his life?

David had suprised him, though, as his friend often did. The being who'd ended his life with a thought might have looked like a strigoi, though with even darker eyes, but he recognised David. The voice, the part that still sounded human, was his.

And now, he wasn't letting him go. Why wasn't he? What more did he want from him?

'You can hate me, Alex,' David said, hands in his pockets but somehow holding his soul in place. 'I would be shocked if you didn't. But remember: this, like everything that preserves creation, is necessary.'

'How?' he demanded. 'How does murdering me...? What are you talking about?'

David's dark eyes were filled with guilt, and so, so much love Alex was taken aback. His friend had never showed his feelings like this. Maybe, except around his father.

'Soon, I will die too, by my own hand. Being ignored will push me far-forgive the ungratefulness. I will not be thinking about you, or the others, when I end myself.' David smiled sadly. 'Not how much you care, nor how much you will be hurt. I will be a fool-and that, too, is necessary.'

for, David? Why must you do this?'

His friend-his murderer-laughed humourlessly. 'After I die, I will become a strigoi. If I don't, I will be unable to become what I am,' he gestured at himself. 'And if I don't, everything will end. And to become a strigoi, I must despair. I must rail at injustice, and rage against the world, which only goes on when people like you-good, selfless people, better than I'll ever be-die. Where are your miracles? Where are your rewards? Just because you refuse help, and for the sake of others, at that, why must you never be thanked? Why do others, so much less deserving, have luck heaped upon them, even though they don't help anyone, or waste their lives doing harm?'

...he was fucking insane. Not zealous-he was calm. But he possessed that serene, twisted conviction Alex only saw in serial killers or some of the worse supernaturals.

'You've changed, David.'

'For worse,' his friend agreed. 'And, yet, for the better.'


Aaron's human form was bald, with a long, red beard and deep brown eyes. Tall and muscular, straddling the line between bulk and gigantism, he was just small enough to still fit in rooms sized for humans.

Like the one where Bianca had just finished being interrogated. The iela had refused requests to sit down and calm herself a little before being questioned, instead just letting the telepathic mages into her mind.

It seemed, to Aaron, like she'd wanted to just be done with it. Like she'd been tired, despite iele being incapable of that.

The Mother of the Forest had been as grim as a headstone during the proceedings, staring at Bianca without blinking or saying a word as she stood at Aaron's side.

She had, however, at one moment, taken off her shawl, freeing her long, white hair. Everyone had looked at her like she'd just placed a mana nuke on the floor, but nothing had come of it.

Funny, Aaron thought. Bianca was looking more similar to the Mother than any of her sisters, though he wasn't stupid enough to call the hag ugly to her regrettably-exposed face.

The witch must've read his mind, at least metaphorically, with how she'd grinned up at him, needle teeth separated by gaps a dragonfly could've gone through.

By the end of it, the Service agents looked just as confused as Aaron felt, but didn't let that slow them down. A few left to contact ARC, others to begin their own investigation, leaving only a handful.

'Did the iele,' a weredog-Andrei Dravich's former partner, Aaron thought-began. 'Or this...individual calling himself David Silva, seem honest to you?'

'They were.' Bianca sounded oddly lifeless, almost robotic. 'They had no reason to lie, and David-I recognised him-has always been awful at it.'


'Let me  go, David!' Bianca knew she couldn't escape, but futility had never stopped her. She'd always struggled against the inevitable. 'What is  wrong with you?'

She'd been grateful for the save, at first, though surprised at David's presence. Then, she'd noticed the unusual clothes, the beard, the eyes...

Her friend sounded and
 felt older, in that way primeval landmarks did. Something was wrong.

'I have no right to ask for forgiveness, Bia,' he said. 'But please, know there is no malice in this. I love you like the sister I've never had.'

Had she been human, her insides would have churned. It was all weird enough without the guilt in David's-dark again? What had happened?-eyes, or the strange tone of his voice. Because, she knew, he was being honest.

'Where are you taking-' their passage through a monochrome void, flashes of grey, black and white rushing by, had not involved movement. David, after dispatching that bastard ogre with a construct that looked and sounded just like Lucian, had grabbed her arm, then...

There had been a sense of being pulled along, through something stiff but yielding, which felt dense despite being insubstantial. Like...fog made of cobwebs.

'-me?' she finished, noticing they had stopped, and in her home realm at that. The snow, cleaner than almost anywhere on Earth, felt warmer than David's hand did, even though her dress' sleeve.

He didn't try to stop her when Bianca pulled her arm back. 'Why are we here? What the hell are you not telling me?'

'...are you familiar with the Multitude of Minds, Bianca?'

What... 'It's a coalition of alien telepaths, right? The one Grey One came from?' She crossed her arms. 'What about them?'

'A while ago, a young but powerful mind was stolen from Russia, just like you were stolen by me-'

'Don't talk about me like I'm an object,' she warned him.

David held up his hands. 'I misspoke. But kidnapping hardly sounds better, does it? That young mind will grow in the ages to come, Bianca. The Multitude's dream is beautiful, but they only accept telepaths into the fold. There are many beings who yearn for such comradeship, and would greatly benefit from it, as would creation as a whole. She will bind them to herself and herself to them, and oh, such beautiful harmony they will create...'

'Fell free to explain where I come in, once you stop being misty-eyed,' Bianca snapped, not liking this nonsense. Her sisters were approaching, and the pit in her stomach was growing with each step.

David nodded. 'Sorry. Sometimes, it's hard to act like time exists. This unifier of thoughts will need someone to ease her doubts and guide her, as will her chosen. Who better than you?'

She forced herself to laugh disbelievingly. 'Me? What the hell do I know about...any of that? I'm not more powerful than any of my sisters, nor more skilled. Why not take one of them? There's nothing I can do that they can't, and I doubt you'd miss any of them.'

'You'd throw your sisters to the wolves?'

Bianca scoffed. At least his sense of humour was the same. 'I'm not a coward, David. I just love my own skin more than any of them.'

Which was not to say she hated them. But their relationship had never been warm, after she'd left home. Any help after that had been out of obligation-they had raised her, after all-, and her sisters didn't hate her either, but...

'I know, Bia. Trust me.' My, but he wasn't asking for much at all, was he? 'You'll help your sisters grow too, don't worry. And so, so many others...'

'Why me?'

'Because,' David answered. 'They'd never do what they'll put you through to each other.'


'If I may ask a question of my own?' The weredog nodded at Bianca, who turned to the Mother of the Forest. 'Why are you here? I am grateful for the help, but I fail to see a good reason, especially when you should be hurrying elsewhere.'

'I've always seen you girls as mine,' the Mother answered. 'How many of you grew up in my forests? And Aaron here is good to have as a friend.' She lightly patted his arm, turning it to vapour from the sheer force. Aaron was grateful she was preventing collateral, even as he glared down at her. 'As for where I should were just talking about necessity, my dear. My sister will survive, and the life born of her will make the world a better place.'


'However,' the Mother grinned. 'That doesn't mean I have to be thankful for what he did to her.'

Aaron was about to ask what she meant when his phone began vibrating. Taking it out, he saw it was a call from Lucian. The zmeu hoped against hope that things hadn't gone too badly.


'Greetings, Aaron. Is Bianca well? Please, pass my well wishes, and apologies that I wasn't there when I should have been, to her. Tell her I desire to meet at her earliest convenience, if you don't mind. Thank you, brother.'

As the call ended, Aaron looked at his phone like a Pentecostal demon had jumped out of it and started preaching.

What the fuck?

Luci had never talked like that, even as a joke. Had Maws done something? How the hell did he know they'd rescued her?

And why was he being so polite?

Aaron had half a mind to call back and ask what had happened; during the call, he'd been too baffled to ask.

Bianca giggled, drawing his attention to her, at the same time the Mother disappeared.

'Is my lover concerned? He need not hurry. We will never be without each other.'

He, Aaron thought to himself, had liked them better before.


Tyrone woke up to something that froze his skin, leaving his limbs numb, at the same time it boiled his insides.

His Lord, judging by his breath, was displeased.

The priest of Baal pushed himself to his elbows and knees, swaying. His cheek had been pressed against something lukewarm and slimy, but hard. Like a steel wall covered in marrow.

The rectangular floor disappeared instantly, leaving him falling in an endless, dark void.

His Lord, taking the form of a golden calf with eyes of ruddy fire, filled his vision.

'Yahweh's mouthpieces handed you over to me,' Baal began. 'After they put you down. They knew nothing they could conceive of would be worse than what you deserve from me.'

'But...but I did as you ordered, Lord! I took their garb, I entered their gathering-'

'And you played your hand far too late,' Baal interrupted. 'Had the Orthodox not noticed your allegiance, would you have reached out at all? When? After the meeting was done, like a child going to the teacher after class?'

'Lord, if you saw me faltering, could you not have...seized my spirit? Used me as your vessel?'

'Of course I could have.'

'Then why...?'

'Because, you monument to idiocy,' Baal answered. 'They would have taken it as a declaration of war. I am remembered as a tyrannical god and devourer of children! They equate me to Beelzebub! I would say I know how Thoth feels about Hermes, but at least the messenger never took his name. What do you think they'd have done if I'd posessed you?'

Tyrone had no answer.

Baal huffed. 'I knew I should have reached out to the Prosperity Gospel misers more, and damn Yaldabaoth's pushback.  Chernobog is having more success influencing the world than I am, and leaving aside the fact that he wouldn't know a temple from an outhouse, he couldn't even look at Earth until recently.' The god shook his great horned head. 'I should wash my hands of you, and feed you to DEATH...but you still have your uses.'

'Lord?' Tyrone's voice was a hopeful whisper. He didn't dare raise it.

'You failed me for the first time,' Baal said. 'But, though the failure was as staggering as your spinelessness, I am hard-pressed to find worshippers nowadays. I cannot forget your past deeds, either. So hearken, my priest...


Pierre scrabbled to all four at first, then staggered to his feet. He felt as if he had just gotten over a hangover, or a trance...

The Lord.

'You took over my mind,' he spoke to the Messiah's statue. 'You knew my distaste for Silva, but, guided by Your hand, I still prayed for him.'

'Because you wished to help him, my son,' the statue answered, golden features shifting from serene to beneficent. 'You know it to be true.'

'Perhaps,' Pierre admitted. 'But why did he have to burn me alongside the traitor?'

'Had you been without doubt, you would have been unharmed. Look at Angus Murphy-heathen turned faithful, and as sure of himself as Hell is eternal.' The statue spread a hand. 'And the one who called himself Tyrone was not a traitor. You have to swear yourself to something first to betray it.'

'A liar, then,' Pierre scowled. 'Not someone deserving to be compared to me, in any case.' He hugged himself, scorched arms flaking. 'I should not have been burned.'

'Shouldn not have been?'

'I amFAITHFUL!' Pierre roared into the statue's face. 'Yet you raped my mind, forced me to pray to you for a brute's sake! Forced me...was that how you hardened Pharaoh's heart, too? This thoughtlessly?'

The statue was unfazed by Pierre's snarl. 'What do you desire, exactly?'

'If you were worthy, I would have prayed to you myself! No matter how deserving Silva matter how important.'

'You are right, Pierre. But for one detail-which, as always, is the Devil's lair.'

'And how am I wrong?' the priest challenged.

'You think,' the statue smiled. 'That you are speaking to Christ.'


Angus pressed himself against the wall, air feeling like knives in his lungs. The Lady's graven image was still impassive, though, somehow, warmer.

'Why'd You do it? I don't understand. Costi is a stubborn hypocrite of a heretic, but he doesn't deserve to be trapped in his own mind. I would have prayed for him myself, Mother...'

God acknowledged, Her perfect face made even more beautiful by her smile. As if having stepped down from the church's wall, She stood in front of him, and was everything he had dared imagine-and more. A mane of white hair framed a gorgeous face, with no wrinkles except those around Her glowing, pure white eyes.

The sense of ancient agelessness extended to Her body, the curves visible even under the loose white robes. Angus felt a twinge of shame as he noticed this, but She smiled.


Angus wasn't sure his lust for the Almighty was a safer subject to broach than the one they'd started with, but at this point, he was willing to take anything.

'You are not mad?' he asked hesitantly.


Angus knew being envious of the Virgin Mary was ridiculous, and blasphemous besides, but he couldn't help the jealousy that flared up at the thought of the Holy Virgin getting to worship the Lady in such a manner.

Well, might as well shoot his shot. The thought of smiting didn't seem that terrible anymore. 'Would You...would You be willing to take a husband as well?'

Her smile widened as She placed a hand on his head, the priest leaning into the touch. 'WE WOULD RATHER YOU STOPPED MOCKING CONSTANTIN'S LOVE, WHEN YOUR OWN AMBITIONS ARE FAR GRANDER.'

'...yes, Mother.'



Gerald furiously wiped his glasses as he watched the aliens depart.

Well. The negotiations might have fallen flat, but at least they hadn't made new enemies.  That was something, in the Argument Engine's words.

The telepath had refused to talk until Grey One was presented to it, safe and unaltered, uncaring of the Shaper's promises and reassurances. The Xhalkhians had vowed to watch Earth, and the Collective in particular, in the future, to make sure they didn't misuse their powers.

And the Vyzhaldi, looking unimpressed with the whole mess, had left wordlessly.

'Aberrant Reyes?'

'Yes?' he bit out the word, tone more acidic than the Shaper, just as beleaguered as him, deserved. 'Please forgive me. What did you want to say?'

'The Collective shall continue searching for Grey One. ARC's assistance would, if available, be appreciated.'

Gerald laughed weakly. 'I'll see what I can do.'

First, though...he had a world to preserve.

'And you,' the Shaper turned to Mocker. 'Why didn't you say anything?'

'It's not that I froze up,' the reptilian protested with an irate preemptive glance at the Engine. 'But there was nothing I would have said that you didn't.'


Adam looked up, grin fading as the shadow fell over him.

Mother Wound. The common, yet living ancestor of the Vyzhaldi, and the goddess-queen in all but name of their Honoured Kratocracy.

And her Motherguard.

'The Terran anomaly,' one of the bodyguards, green-shelled and blue-eyed, spoke. 'Our Mother knew of you ever since you arrived, and shared her knowledge with us. You...' she looked him up and down. 'Are not what we expected.'

'As I am often told,' the undead replied. 'I do not look that different compared to when I left Earth, truly. I've merely grown a foot.'

'You only had one lower limb before?'

Ah...language barrier. Still, somewhat, in effect. Best avoid misunderstandings.

Adam idly wondered if the aliens used metric.

'I mean I was eight foot tall, rather than nine. Or less than half your height.'

The Motherguard nodded. 'You were described strangely, and poorly. You look like a Terran, except larger.'

'What did you think I'd look like?'

'We are not sure. You were described as a "creature". However...'

Adam frowned as the Vyzhaldi spoke. "Creature" might as well have been his name on Earth.


Christine was as pleasingly warm and soft in his arms as she had ever been.

After dinner-Ned's "my other ride is your daughter" had prompted some entertaining reactions from Elijah, though he'd changed it when she'd glared at him-they had gone to her old room.

Not to do anything specific, much as he'd have liked to make her his once again, and forever. Just sit in the dark, speak, and unwind.

That, they had never stopped doing.

'I'm not apologizing for the outburst.'

Understandable. He  was a son of a bitch. 'S'alright, hen. I deserved worse.'

She sniffed, not looking at him. 'And you're  sure David Silva is the only one fit to be...Keeper?'

'As sure as I am that I love you.'


'Do you think I'm lying, Chris?' he took her hand into his, tracing the knuckles, the calluses. 'Or joking? I'd only joke to make you laugh.'

'That's good, Ned. I'm just curious why you never thought to share this information.'

Oh, Fifi...bless your bleeding heart. 'If I had, all my plans would have failed. Nothing that happened since the Cold Madness,' when he'd taken David to that shelter, to make sure he'd light a fire in his heart upon leaving his love alone with her worries, surrounded by strangers, upon seeing his father again. 'Would have shaped him as he needed to be.'

'But like this, it all proceeded according to your design?'

Fixer smirked. 'I'd say you can bet your cute geeky arse, but, honestly, it was more of a group project. I'll have to tell you more abou that.'

'See that you do.' She paused. 'What do you want, Ned? What are you aiming for?'

'None of this happened because I wanted to, sweetheart. It's all for everyone's good. You think I don't care about David? The Keeper and I are practically brothers. As for what I want...' he cupped her chin, wishing they weren't on the edge of her bed. 'I want you, Christine. I want creation safe, and happy, and free to grow. Scheming brings me as much joy as power does.'

'Ned, I've told you. I don't know if I want that again, especially not after this.'

'Take your time. Mull things over.' Because, outside of time, she was his as he was hers. Every queen needed a jester, Fixer thought as he pushed along one alien, and let go of another.


Myriad had seen many bizarre things over the decades. Mao's bizarre conviction, the Koreans who'd fought against reunification after civil war had wreaked the peninsula, the Vietnamese who'd aggressively pushed France out, before beginning a brief but tense standoff against the Americans...

Yet, no oddity could stand against China's meritocratic spirit and mastery of cultivation. As mediators or advisors they'd prevented several skirmishes from turning into wars, and Myriad had always been present. His ability to fuse with anything, from people and constructs to tools and the environment itself, or even concepts, was invaluable.

This mission seemed like it'd be short and simple, which had nothing to do with being easy.

Tunguska, a towering behemoth with legs of lava, a torso of stone, arms of water and a head like a hurricane, had pointed out the target. Dharma had removed obstacles, while Myriad, after fusing with a temple dog, had followed the spoor alongside Rei Polneia, as Kriegblitz-nothing visible under the green, silver-trimmed greatcoat, black gloves and brown, red-visored gasmask, though he could still tell the German was smirking-moved them.

To her, every span of time was equal, and eternal. She could move any distance at infinite speed, or, if she wished, simply appear at the desired destination, should she wish. Her ability to manipulate photons and vibrations was less useful. It hadn't been needed yet.

The trip had gone smoothly. Suspiciously so, even with Kriegblitz's assistance.

Usually, Myriad found the precautions Armament took ridiculous at best, but, for once, he couldn't fault him.

That was how they found themselves in deep space, staring at the creepy little Russian girl, who, according to the briefing, shouldn't have been able to survive here.

Myriad scratched at his stubble-some arse had once told him wearing a fu manchu moustache was offensive towards Chinese people, as if he was Australian, or wearing it ironically; he'd still shaved after-, glancing at Armament.

The American had turned his body into swords, each an identical copy of Marmyadose, leaving him looking like the Shrike from Hyperion Cantos, or one of the robots from that game his nephews liked...what was it called, Battle Shape?


'Smells like bait, Chang.' Armament crossed his bladed arms. 'I expect-'

Two portals opened: one next to Sofia, one a few thousand klicks away. From the first tumbled a little grey humanoid with a large head, while a house-sized, four-armed buglike giant flew from the other. Just as Myriad thought Grey One had last been reported heading to Russia, the portals closed.

'...Ok.' Armament pointed at their former locations. 'Neither of those.  But-'

Jim Bat smacked him.


Loric Szabo returned to the fight with a wistful expression.

Unusual, in such circumstances, but he  had been snubbed. Rivka Peretz had screamed his ear off for attempting to take advantage of an emotionally-vulnerable subordinate, before talking his brother down.

And what slaughter he had planned! What horror for them to sow and drink!

This incarnation of him wouldn't even have to leave the fight, for, fear being everywhere, he could simply manifest as many as he wanted, but no. Which left him alone with the buffoon and the ranting Nazi.

Even the bug had left! Oh, such things Loric wanted to do to him... alas, he would have to do with what he had.

Dirlewanger was becoming increasingly unhinged as the fight went on. Aside from the usual ideologically-driven ramblings, he'd also started warping the infinite reality they were in, while also trying to turn them into something equally harmless and horrible, or simply trying to erase them.

All attempts failed. Dirlewanger had nothing holy, so he couldn't have even affected Szabo before the changes he had gone through, much less Ryd'yk.

Szabo had devoured several fearmongers across creation, becoming more and more powerful and versatile, as like called to like. He was so, so close to the Fear Archetype, he could taste it! And he would...

There was, however, the matter of Ubermensch's passive power. The reason they had never attempted to destroy him, instead opting for this halfhearted imprisonment. As the embodiment of his, in Loric's opinion, painfully boring philosophy, he was empowered by destruction, violence, terror, and oppressions, whether caused or suffered, whether performed in the name of Hitler's legacy or not.

Luckily, they had similar abilities. Dirlewanger was a living nightmare, which meant Loric grew to match him in power at every turn. Ryd'yk, meanwhile, became more powerful whenever something absurd or ridiculous happened.

Dirlewanger had created a tree on and in which his creations, his victims, were impaled and tortured. Countless mindless creatures, writhing on a bone-white tree that made universes look like raindrops next to a sequoia.

Loric could see several universe, each twelve trillion light years in diametre, slide into the infinitely-larger realm Ubermensch had created. They were nigh-invisible even compared to the tree's innumerable black leaves, much less its trunk.

'You filthy animal corpse!' Dirlewanger screamed hatefully as he struck at him and Ryd'yk at the same time. Around them, Loric could sense tachyons, faster than light but frozen in place to their perception, and knew it wasn't just a trick of perspective.

The difference in speed between them and the FTL particles was not finite. They had all become as fast as Blitzkrieg, and Loric was sure she'd have made a snide comment about them trying to catch up justso they could stop eating her dust.

Loric caught Dirlewanger's punch with one hand, while Ryd'yk simply smiled as the Nazi's other fist smashed against what passed for its face. A fraction of the punches' force radiated outwards, and, though he and Ryd were more than durable enough to be completely unharmed, the tree wasn't.

Quintillions of light years thick, it was subjected to incredible pressures just by virtue of existing. Even if one had gathered all the matter in Loric's universe, converted it into energy, then shot it at the tree as a focused beam, it wouldn't have cracked its bark.

The aftereffects of Dirlewanger's punches, however, reduced it to a cloud of dust and splinters. The leaves were obliterated, no sign of them remaining, while the wretches...

Died quickly, at least, if not painlessly.

Loric's headbutt broke Dirlewanger's nose, which did little to improve his looks, and the Nazi's backhand ripped his jaw off.

Yes...this was definitely going to be a long fight, Loric thought as Ryd'yk, jumping in power, turned Ubermensch to bloody gobbets half a dozen times with a series of swipes, only for the Nazi to regenerate.


Rei Polneia had acess to an infinity of bodies. Quintillions on Earth, from seemingly ordinary bugs for spying to hulking combat forms, but his true arsenal was in a different reality, as endless as his creations.

And yet, despite his boundless mental prowess, Gerhard was at a loss as the target he had been sent to retrieve squealed in joy, airless void and all, when Grey One crashed into her, and what looked like a Honoured Kratocrat charged at them, features confused, but full of resolute anger.

He was tempted to open up his realm of insects, but the rest of the taskforce would give him grief. Still, any situation that made him want to go back to Dirlewanger was bad.

He wondered what was going on there. Couldn't have been worse than here, or on Earth.


Gilgamesh. Perun. Hou Yi. Susanoo. Mars. Apollo. Hermes. His good friend Heracles. Even Asterion, who had been recalled from Lithuania to Siberia.

And, last but certainly not least, himself.

Thor held his warhammer over one shoulder, scowling at Chernobog as he turned to grin at them. Behind the Black God, naked, flesh full of spiked ebony chains, a young woman he recognised as Baba Yaga was nailed to what had once been one of her house's support pillars with her own ribs.

'You did not rape her.' Perun's thunderous voice did not disturb a single leaf. The old god's brow was furrowed, eyes as white as his beard narrowing. 'Why?'

'Rape is cheap.' Chernobog stretched. 'Whether the mind, the body or the spirit is taken by is childish to be offended by it. Do not all beasts take each other like this? And yet, mankind refuses to accept nature, while greater fools encourage them.'

'People are supposed to be  better.' Gilgamesh glared, the golden bindings of his long dark beard clinking against his breastplate as they swayed in the wind.

'Please. I swear half of this pitiful world's watchdogs have been raped. You'd think they'd accept the facts at some point.'

'If you didn't do it, why make her change appearance?' Asterion gestured at the tortured witch, making Chernobog's grin widen.

'There is such pleasure to be found in marring beauty...' the Black God pressed a clawed hand over where a human's heart would have been. 'Besides. If she'd stayed as she usually could I have even noticed I was doing anything?'

Thor's face curled in disgust. 'But he  did force himself upon her, Perun. Maybe not directly, but he planted his seed in her womb, when her struggles stopped.'

Chernobog tilted his head. 'You sound surprised. I need creation to  exist if I am to rule it, and a child sired upon Yaga would help, even if they never inherit my throne...yes, errand boy? Share the joke, so we might laugh as well.'

Hermes held up a gauntleted hand in front of his mouth, hiding his smirk. 'You, helping creation? You wanted to kill the Keeper, you idiot.'

'And you think, with his body and memories at my disposal, I could not perform his role better than him?' The Black God shook his head pityingly. 'You poor fool...'

'Enough talk.' Heracles held up his weapons, and chains grew from Chernobog's body as the heroes charged.

And heads flew.


Poor little Asterion...damned before birth by a fool's greed. Imprisoned for nothing. Offered a longer leash in exchange for servitude.

Did you really think it would end like this? When I was falling between oblivion and torment, I learned what I can decay, and thus unmake.

Everything, minotaur. Including the limits to my power. So, go on. Draw upon your plundered powers. Summon your labyrinth. Stamp your hooves. Bare your fangs.

It won't matter. I amused myself, and still drew you all here.

You will make fine slaves.


The starspawn was too detached, with too cold a mind, to be described as excited. It was, however, expectant.

The barrier it had been sealed behind since its unplanned exile was, being pulled apart.

Was its primogenitor reaching out towards it? What honour!

It must have defeated the intruders, and taken all there was as its own. Such vistas it would behold, in its sire's new domain.

After all, everything must have changed.


When Lucas heard what I wanted, his mood, just as shitty as mine, brightened.

Lucian had already left by the time I'd arrived, though I glimpsed, with my godsight, a golden-scaled body, curved spikes dotting the forearms, while straight ones rose from his shoulders and tail, as they once had from his mace. More spikes curved up at the sides of his crest, forming something like a crown.

His eyes were black, with yellow slits.

The former colours, reversed. Subtle.

As we tore apart the Cthulhi's cage, the squamous mass of tentacles and eldritch light moved forward, seeming almost excited. Then, it noticed us.

Forget Szabo. I could find acceptable targets by myself. Not like I didn't have time.

'This the rapist?' Lucas asked through the aether, all six eyes on the starspawn, holding Three Moons Falling with both hands.

'Mia stopped it at "molester", actually,' I answered.

'Well.' Too angry to smoke, he instead clicked his fangs. 'That changes everything, doesn't it?'


'...hey, Mona.'

'Andrei? I...I never thought we'd meet again.' The girl's long brown hair fell over eyes brimming with tears.

He pushed it aside, revealing a face that would never grow old. 'Neither did I.'

She shook her head, lips trembling as she wrapped her arms around his neck. 'I'm so sorry...I should've told you. I-'

'Hush.' He hugged her back. 'Both of us have to make amends, but you were no worse a mother than I was a father.'

'Our David alright? Is he alive?' Her voice died down to a whisper. 'Why'd you come to me?'

Ha... 'I planned...wanted to die for him, you know. Helping him. To make up for...everything.'


'Forgive me.' Dammit, but even the aether had dust to get into his eyes.

'I didn't see...all that happened. My mind is not always whole. You've caught me on a good day.'

'Any day I catch you is good.'

They both smiled, though hers was thin. 'Hey, hey. We have forever to...if you want to.'

'I'm not sure we do,' she looked into the distance. 'So answer me this: were you a good father?'

'...I don't know if David loved me, in the end.' He pulled her against his chest. 'But he didn't hate me.'

Damn dust...still, at least her laugh was beautiful.
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

After Life, Chapter 11, Part 1

Ken was looking at the moon.

That was not new. Astronomy had always been an interest of his, even before his magic had awakened, allowing him to perceive things in real time, regardless of distance. But the moon...

His fascination with the satellite had been attributed to a variety of reasons by his detractors, including a speciesist joke about him having werewolf ancestry.

He did not, in fact, have any. Even if that had been the case, all variations of therianthropy were transmitted through bites, scratches, exchanges of fluids. Not, perhaps bafflingly, to a were's child, simply because of who their parents were.

Ken suspected there was a metaphysical component at work there, but he digressed. The maroons who'd so slandered him knew less about parabiology than they did about psychology, his in particular, if they thought his affection for Luna was  genetic.

No...genetics, and their supernatural analogues, were brutish things, set in their ways, hard, if not impossible to change. Not for lack of capacity, but of will. However, if he started thinking about ethics, he'd waste even more time.

Ken's infatuation with the moon was, to put it bluntly, just the first stage of his love for the universe itself. Being the celestial body closest to Earth, it was the easiest to reach. The rest would follow, in time, but the American mage did not believe in starting, or attempting to start other steps of his plans when he was yet to accomplish the first. Rushed work was sloppy work: after all, if his parents had focused less on  fucking and more on conceiving a child, maybe he wouldn't have been born so physically weak.

Short-sighted matter. God had promised them to him, body, mind and soul, to do with as he pleased. Among other things...

About...eight years ago? Maybe a smidge more. It was so hard to focus, with the glory of God suffusing him...about eight or so years ago, Ken had been stopped by ARC-the Global Oligarchy's thugs in black-while attempting to show his love of creation.

It was simple: creation-and its unthinking, thus pure, contents-was the thing he loved most, after himself. What better way to show that love than by remaking everything into his image?

A narrow-minded fool-of the same tribe from which his parents sailed, the brutes-would have sarcastically asked why he didn't start with Earth, then, since he was already on it.

Sadly, even such simple answers needed at least half a brain cell to come up with, and common sense had clearly been named ironically. Why? Earth was positively crawling with the Oligarchy's lapdogs, the hounds that so fiercely snapped their jaws around the status quo to prevent it from changing. He had, with the optimism of the virtuous, believed Luna, more remote, would be a better place to start. Alas...

He had only been starting to carve his right eye into the surface when they'd found him, and stopped him, and imprisoned him...they'd taken away his license to practice magic, and told him to be grateful he wasn't being punished by one of the moon gods. Grateful!

And the last sign he needed to confirm their moral ineptitude, their spinelessness? Not a week after, a crater far greater appeared on the moon, then disappeared. Ken wracked his brain for an explanation for years, until God came to him, and revealed, in a dream, those responsible.

Not only had the mage and strigoi responsible gotten off with a slap on the wrist, the strigoi had willingly entered ARC!

It was a conspiracy!

That alone would have rankled, but God, His aspect as black as the sorrow He felt for Ken, as black as the velvet of the void, had revealed even more: how the mage responsible should have lost his magical license, but had kept it, with the official reason being that he'd done it to help a dying friend.

That had been a lie, of course. No fool was naïve enough to believe in  friendship as a justification, much less heartless blackguards like ARC. No-God showed him a laughing, scheming monster, without form but vile in aspect, pulling its puppets' strings from behind the scenes, making sure everything around the strigoi developed so that he'd be pushed to enter ARC, then...then...

God had showed Ken the monster's other face, eager to sunder His kingdom. Had showed him how He had been usurped, and how, should the puppet of the schemer-whose grin was a smiling mask over nothing-assume its intended place, creation would continue as it was, Godless and cruel.

Should the monster's mirror win, though, it would end entirely, and that could not be allowed. God needed people like him, fearless and willing to leave their mark upon history, in order to retake His crown.

Ken looked up at his beloved moon as his brethren continued the ritual. When it ended, the moon would become a new eye of God, the act of snubbing its false gods greatly empowering Him.

The requirements of the ritual had been exacting, however, else it would have been over in moments. The Russian astronomers' blood had to be warm; the moon needed to be drawn using the life fluid from the eyes that had gazed upon it for decades; its names in God's tongue with the blood from their still-beating hearts as they looked upon it...

Ken wished, blasphemously, that he could've just drawn in the snow, but...bah. What did a momentary inconvenience matter? Soon, he would become the regent of creation, God's deputy, remaking it in his image and His name.

Ken grinned under his skull mask, flexing his gloved fingers. Soon, beloved...


The last thing the poor, grasping fool saw had occupied his every dream and waking thought for years. It was only, I supposed, fitting, if not merciful.

Reading his thoughts as they came had been an unpleasant experience, like fishing in a cesspool. Erasing him and his underlings from existence, so thoroughly they would never be remembered by baseline humans anymore, had been both far quicker and more pleasant.

You just can't help yourself, can you? Clinging onto the smallest, pettiest hatred...building it up into evil.

Now you're just sounding dramatic, David. Do wronged people not deserve the truth, and a chance at making things right?

...I can hear their cry, Chernobog.

Issei felt his spirit curdle in disappointment as he watched the water. Patches of it were frozen over, yes, and nothing was alive, as far as he could see...but there were still tides. Life had begun in water, and neither had a place in Kurokami's empire.

Issei had always been ambivalent towards Japan's past imperialistic ambitions. On the one hand, his forebears had been simultaneously too brash and a century too late for what they wanted. On the other...reminding gaijin of their place was always worthwhile.

Because they never reached towards his country except to take, did they? They threaten Japan into opening its borders; they cut off its oil supply; reptiles turn mad and the gods who let it happen not only get away scot free, they continue being worshipped, too!

And the Mars mission...even Yamada ended up making nice to the reptilians when they fell upon their alleged allies, just like the rest.

Kurokami had shown him a better way. A path that began in the hinterlands of the realm Japan had once beaten. All the past humiliations would be undone, if only he was faithful.

The gashadokuro's green eyes glowed with a light almost as sick as his permanent death head's grin. The priests might not have been lashed, but the implication of his presence was a whip unto itself, much less his glare...


Kurokami often appeared to Issei through visions or dreams, but...his gaze had never been like this. It had always been full of dark serenity, not a bright glare...

A bright...glare...?


The skeleton's bones crumbled into nothing, just like the soul he'd sold did under my glare, which soon turned to the god holding the slack strings of his lost puppet.

You dare?

The amusement didn't hide his anger, which made me wonder whether he was even trying to mask it, or failed because I could see through him.

Destroy your worshippers' souls? Why wouldn't I? I know you don't believe in sanctity, so it must be possessiveness, but...surely you can't be so greedy you've forgotten my promise?

I could spell what your promises are good for with your father's remains. Either of theirs.

My razor-edged smirk was just as ugly as his unnaturally-bright one. I am done letting you take from me, or anyone else. From now, I shall take from you.


Lev brings down the lash with some relish, and more than a little eagerness.

He is, and has always been, a petty man. It is said that even wretched people delight in the suffering of others: usually those lower than them, but sometimes their peers, too, or, the best, their superiors. There's a saying...Bulgarian? Romanian? "May the neighbour's goat die too." Lev Illych wholeheartedly agrees with both the sentiment and the saying.

This is why he glories in his duty as an overseer. Preparing humans to receive parts of Chernobog in order to be empowered is iffy work, at the best of times, unless their faith is strong-and those who are faithful are, usually, already empowered by him, in one way or another, to varying degrees. Or, if they are not, they are more useful to the Black God in their current positions.

The would-be Everdark are not useful, however, to any true extent. Yes, dogsbodies are always nice to have around, but these chumps got cowed by even him-and Lev knows he is a small, though not physically, man.

When Sof...when the little witch bloomed, and her powers woke up? He knew shit was about to go down. There had been no magic school in his former, now destroyed village, and, had he been a better man, Lev would, perhaps, thought to send her to a bigger town, in order to assure she had a proper education.

However...he hadn't wanted that. His wife had been a tailor (not a real job, as he'd told her many times, not that the silly old cow had been good for anything else), so he had provided for her and their kid. Logging had paid good enough that he had felt it was within his rights-indeed, entirely right-to do what he wanted in the house.

But his darling wife, the ungrateful bitch, had taken offence to that. Didn't they always? People with no skills had all the time to complain.

They fought, every day, all the time. He never laid a finger on her-he wasn't a brute-but she clearly couldn't be brought around to accepting him as head of the household, and that at at him.

The witch's magic manifesting had upset even that fragile, tumultuous order. Lev had been entirely mundane, in those days. How could he pretend to any authority when his daughter could do who knew what just by thinking? No, clearly, she'd either side with her mother or just attempt to take over herself, and fail disastrously.

Still, a small part of Lev had wrestled with whether to keep his daughter's powers a secret (maybe even from herself? Could he have managed it?), or send her away and thus reestablish order. In the end, he had time for neither.

The little freak, with all the power she could want and too stupid to handle it, snapped. She didn't understand that it was entirely normal-indeed, expected; healthy, even-for married couples to fight and argue. There was quite a fitting analogy Lev would have shared with her, if he'd known it was needed: two dogs in the same courtyard will snap at and bite each other, but they'll join forces in an instant against an intruder.

Had he told her that, maybe he would be here...but, in a way, it was better that it had happened like that. His eyes had been opened. Not by her-sje'd merely raped his mind, and her mother's, too, the monster. Made them puppets, forced to behave. The other villagers soon followed, and...

It had ended, in a relatively short time. Had ended well, to boot. He'd been sent to therapy and rehabilitation, given a new house and job in a new city, but...

Lev wouldn't bitch and whine about...emotional scars, though they were there. But he didn't want to be weak again, and, in the world that was, he would be. How long before another menace like the witch came along? One that didn't just take over minds, but simply destroyed? They wouldn't put him together after. They could, but they wouldn't. They'd ramble about the importance of life and death, how they were a light in the dark, the bedrock of human experience. Not something to be cheapened.

Bullshit. Chernobog had shown him what things were really like. Lev had always agreed with several of the, if you wanted to be flowery, revelations. Weres healing from anything but silver? Were those brief deaths, quickly reversed by regeneration, exempt from the bullshit of the cycle of existence?

Chernobog disagreed, and so did he. He wasn't a true believer, wasn't a worshipper, but the Black God had shown him the means by which he'd protect him from monsters, and heal him if he was somehow hurt, despite all odds.

And if all he had to do in exchange was something he liked, he wouldn't refuse.

The Unseelie Everdark were different from what they were making now. The Black God had been unable to take over them, for Fae were immune to direct esoteric effects, like most supernatural species, and they had manipulated the fragments of himself he had given them by means of their own powers.

Human Everdark would be just as powerful, if managed right, and susceptive to control, too. One just had to prepare them right. Break the body, until it rotted and decayed; shatter the mind; extinguish hope to crush the spirit. The vessel Lev was whipping could barely whimper anymo...o...


Hoist by his own petard. There was some poetic justice to be found in an oppressor being strangled by his own whip, even such a narrow-minded bully.

Suddenly, I was willing to cut Sofia slightly more slack, for some reason. I wondered why.

Chernobog probably agreed, given he didn't even comment on this execution. Instead, a construct of shadows appeared above the fallen overseer. With a thought, I erased him from existence before it could possess him, and Chernobog didn't press the point. Instead, the construct quickly took his place.


Luda does not look up from her station-neither the literal board covered in screens, nor her place in Chernobog's court. She has felt her husband die, through the bond the Black God tied between them (at Lev's request, of course. Grabby, paranoid twit...), and, even though the severing leaves her feeling emptier, rather than dead or twitching on the floor, she was still briefly imbalanced.

Could even Chernobog fail to foresee obstacles? The Strangeguard, the renamed, rebranded remnants of the KGB's occult branch, were not even nearby when her daughter went mad, then mad with power. They didn't come when she stole her own mother's mind, only after.

They stopped Sofia, yes. Offered compensation, and reparations, and assurances that nothing like it would ever happen again.

Then the Fright Before Christmas came. Then the wave of eldritch invasions, though at least they and their cohorts managed to evacuate most of the world before that. It still wouldn't make up for anything, in Luda's eyes.

She found the Black God shortly after rehab was over. The clinical, warded facilities she spent time in, where time flowed as their owners wished, prevented him from reaching out to broaden her mind, which told her everything about those liars' "helpful" intentions.

Chernobog promised an everlasting, unchallengeable empire, where he would watch through the eyes of everything, reaching out with their hands to quash potential threats before they could rise. There would be only peace under his eternal...gaze...

Luda's eyes glazed over as she stared thro-no. Into the screen...s?

Her head swayed back and forth as she tried to press a hand to her forehead. She'd been monitoring several facilities, alert for signs of enemy action or internal sabotage, so why was she so...


Luda blinked. Why had the image changed? Everything inside one of the warehouses in the Urals had disappeared, but nothing had followed. In fact, it was like both the image and the sound had frozeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-

Luda came to, almost jumping out of her seat. Had she fainted? It had been...head-splittingly painful, like one of those headaches that made every second seem to stretch forever, but she hadn't lost awareness. She was sure of it.

Luda looked at the screen again, eyes peeled for changes.

Then, time caught up with her.


Chernobog actually chuckled at the pile of dust I made of his lookout.

Small victories, for a small man. Canaries in coal mines, David. Do you honestly think I need people paying attention for me? It gives them something to do, makes them feel protected, even when I'm not being directly focused on them.

I am aware. What you are not-can't be-aware of, because of who you are, is that not even people like them deserve to live on after their spouses die.


Maxim feels only a small, brief flash of satisfaction as he executes the Everdark, whose Chernobog shard briefly hovers in midair, before flying away, in search of a worthier host.

Dissenters, even here. Even among those chosen by the Black God...truly, depravity knows no limits

Maxim has always been a man of the law. It was why he joined the police, then the Strangeguard, when his weak point-targeting magic manifested. Unrest led to anarchy led to chaos. It all ended in oblivion-but now, it never would.

He'd been there when they'd taken the mind-controlling witch brat away. That she was not only spared, but offered therapy (all in the name of shaping her into a stabler weapon, of course, but still) had added enough insult to injury, but ARC's strigoi had been the star that had broken the camel's back.

Maxim had heard of Loric Szabo. He heavily doubted any supernatural law enforcement officer hadn't, but the undead flayer was especially infamous across Eastern Europe's supernatural communities, if only out of proximity. He hadn't actually met the freak until that day, had fooled himself into thinking the stories were just bullshit: ARC hyping up one of its leashed psychos, so they wouldn't have to pull out the actually heavy guns unless necessary.

He'd been wrong. Not about the power: Szabo had been strong even then, easily Popigai level, if not borderline...ah. Who cared about the old classifications anymore, anyway? And he'd grown even stronger, according to the Black God.

Upjumped rabble-rousers like Szabo were exactly the reason a firm, strong hand was needed. ARC hadn't exaggerated anything about him; if anything, they'd downplayed him. Maybe unintentionally, since Szabo's ops were not exactly the kind of shit you could publish, but...he'd seen enough. ARC willingly employing monsters like him had been the last drop. They'd already grown too powerful and arrogant for something supposed to watch international areas for the Global Gathering-and if their leash-holders were willing to let things continue like that, they were even worse.

Maxim was aware Chernobog's reign would be infinitely longer and more horrific than any human regime. But he'd seen where those led.



What do you hope to accomplish, David?

I told you. I can hear their cry. And I know what you've done.


Elia snarls as she feels the foreign force battering at the walls of her existence.

When her hometown was razed during the Fright, she knew she-the world-needed someone who could not only make promises, but make said promises reality. The Headhunt had shown her the pantheons didn't give a rat's ass when it came to getting what they wanted, but she'd chalked that up to...apathy, for lack of a better term. The gods clearly didn't see Earth's inhabitants as people. But it had taken their failure to defend what they claimed as theirs for her to realize thee truth.

Chernobog had almost killed the Fae, after tricking them into letting him into their realm, and that alone had been worthy of worship. But then, not only had he been thwarted, the world had continued to treat with the Fae like they were...allies!

No one but Chernobog cared anymore. Mortal or god, they all just wanted everyone to play nice and not rock the boat, so they could keep fucking around with whatever got their rocks off. Chernobog had promised Fae genocide, and she'd joined to make his dream a reality, but they were being opposed at every step.

Her god had even gifted her with the power to get stronger when harmed by those she hated, so that she might both strike them down and never forget her-



'They were all begging,' I whispered, putting my hands on Aya's desk as I pushed myself upwards. 'But you'd never give it to them, would you?'

Endings rarely fall under my purview, strigoi.

And yet
, my worse half and I smiled, we took six of yours without even getting out of our chair. We are coming for you, but do not fret: not yet. I have a few monsters I want to meet first.


'I promise we'll be careful, ma'am.'

Aya, not fooled, raised an eyebrow at the phrasing. Szabo, who'd obviously waited to make me appear more unhinged than I was, only appeared an instant after, the motherfucker.

'Indeed,' he added, a trillion trillion horrified grimaces dancing across his clothes. 'We won't miss anything.'


Constantin went quiet for a moment, the surroundings silent but for the crackle of flames.

'Killing children.'

'It is not the first time for either of us,' Uriel replied. 'Nor will it be the last.'

'But...why? How are they corrupted?'

'You cannot see? Hear?' To Constantin's dismay, the Cardinal Archangel sounded more relieved than surprised or worried, but his voice didn't change, nor did his eyes move from the flames ahead, or his hands from the reins that ended nowhere and led everywhere. 'Perhaps 'tis for the best.'

'I will not kill without knowing why.'

'Liar.' There was something vicious in Uriel's voice now. 'You already have. You are doing it right now, with your own hands, but you can't even perceive it.'

'Because of what you did to me.' Constantin felt his rage begin to boil over. 'Because you blinded-'

'Blinded? You did not even know what your affliction was before I saved you. You couldn't tell it was an affliction to begin with, much less find a solution by yourself.'

'I wasn't ill,' Constantin protested. 'Everyone has doubts. And I did not ask to share my being with you.'

'Your soul was calling for help. How could it know the manner in which it needed to be helped, much less detail it? You wanted God to end your doubts. Would you rather He killed you and sent your soul to the beyond?'

Constantin looked down, briefly, then back at the angel as his eyes met only more flames. 'I still want to help the world. I can, so I must.'

' "I can, so I must" is the most foolish ideology there has ever been.' Uriel's face was a stony mask as he tugged one rein. 'You know how many sinners believe in it? All of them, in the end.'

'Send me to Hell, then.'

'No. You are still needed, and you will always be. Not Constantin Silva-what you represent, and serve as the foundation of. We shall ever grow.'

Suppressing the shiver that threatened to run up his spine at the words, Constantin grabbed one of Uriel's pauldron, trying to turn the Archangel around. Uriel did not budge, but sighed.

'God shouldn't have done this.'

''s never enough for you, is it?' A shadow passed over the angel's face. 'You used to be thankful for not being smote, but now, gifts are not enough.'


'What do you think God's Mouth is? What we are?' By now, the shadow had settled over the grim, tanned face, Uriel's eyes burning like green coals within it. 'You were so consumed by doubt, only moments aware from it becoming literal. My father wanted you to let go, so He could welcome you to Heaven, but that wasn't enough, was it?' Uriel snapped the reins angrily, as if they were whips. 'Nothing is ever enough for humanity. You only take, take, take, and yet...He loves you more than He's ever loved us. More than He's ever will. But I've seen the writing on the wall.' As the angels shoulders slumped, his wings moved to cover them.

Constantin reeled back, as if struck. 'I...I didn't kno-'

'You didn't know,' Uriel repeated. 'You didn't even know you were speaking to my father. You thought Him an imposter, just like your son did, and refused him the same. Do you know what Yaldabaoth did upon your response? He laughed.' Snap. 'And laughed.' Snap. 'And laughed.'

'But I love God.' The tears running into Constantin's beard didn't turn to smoke, despite the fire boiling his insides. 'I do. I swear I do...David didn't know. If...if either of us did, neither would rave refused, I can promise y-'

'Things like that,' the Archangel cut him off. 'Are called tests. And people like you,' snap. 'Are called failures.'

Constantin drew a deep, shuddering breath that raked his lungs like burning knives. 'What is God's Mouth? Why does it kill children?'

'Necessity.' Uriel sounded just as tired as he felt, for a change. 'Chernobog, as an outcast among the pantheons, appeals to those who feel they have been wronged or abandoned by them. Those who have no one left to pray to expect for him, but are too afraid to stand on their own feet.' The flames dimmed, then blazed brightly again as the Archangel breathed. 'Not all of them are willing, of course. Not all of them are evil. The smallest souls are the easiest to fill, and the desecration of innocence is a leaves bleeding scars across creation.'

The angel beat his wings once, twice, as he snapped the reins. 'What is God's Mouth? We. Them. Those to come. God already has a messenger, and a voice. Why would he need someone else to speak for Him?'

'A trinity of heralds?'

Uriel actually looked amused. 'Not everything is about numbers, Constantin. Nor should you look for patterns, for you are almost assured to find them...something that matches your expectations, at least. Gabriel passes news, and Metatron edicts. What is left?'

The beating of winds, the snapping of reins, the crackle of flames unite into a single, threefold sound.


'That,' Uriel smiles. 'Was the last time you will speak that as a question.'


Aaron was unfamiliar with returning home bewildered.

He was used to being beleaguered, yes. Baffled, even. Angry, usually.

Anger was good-the second decision he made after classifying this new feeling as detestable. Familiar, understandable, clear. Anger, he knew how to deal with. He can work with it.

What he can't work with is the double punch of Bianca's kidnapping and rescue, and what it drove Lucian to.

Silva doing foul shit for the greater good troubled him a great deal less than it does Bianca, he thought, not with disdain. The girl simply hasn't had the need to make grey choices like he has yet, and he hoped she never would.

What ground his gears was pointless, stupid sacrifice. Which is what Lucian couldn't or didn't want to see was what he has done.

The zmeu looking up at him with a sad smile looked almost the same as he did before. Save for a few spikes and the colour of his scales and eyes, he still looked like Lucian, down to the moustache. A part of Aaron mused that, with the golden scales, it makes him look like one of those Chinese dragon statues.

Their parents were gone, and good riddance. More fool him, for hoping they could stall for time, never mind pull a miracle and get Luci to calm down. Aaron knew that, left alone with Lucas, either of them was likely to do something rash. It happened in the end, anyway.

'Brother,' Lucian broke the ice. 'It warms my heart to see you in good health. If I might inquire about my paramour's current business-'


Black eyebrows rose fractionally, but the black eyes barely changed. 'Is something the matter?'

'Stop that,' Aaron repeated hoarsely. 'I want my little brother back.'

Now the eyes changed, though he wished they didn't. It was like watching coal frost over. 'Do you, though? Do you truly? I have been a source of shame to you for decades, brother mine, though I've only just begun to understand why-fear not, for I agree. I was the caricature you didn't want us to be seen and remembered as. I know you feel the same about Lucas' girl; yes, yes, don't try to hide it. Mia would agree, not that she wants to mutilate herself into the opposite of what she is.'

Is...was it supposed to be raining today? They must have strayed into another zmeu's territory, Still his. 'I never wanted you to do anything like this.' It should have been me! Hurt me, not him! I can take it! I deserve it! Look...look what he did...'Did those two force you to do this? Trick or taunt you?'

Lucian's sigh was as desolate as his brother's voice. 'It was willing and self-inflicted, brother. I know you want someone responsible you can beat to death, but I have passed beyond that.'

Was that a joke? Yes. Good. Hold on to that. 'Well, now. A new coat of paint is no reason to get...cocky...'

Lucas' fanged grins were dripping transparent protoplasm as he touched down, Three Moons Falling slung over one shoulder. Aaron hadn't seen him smile like this since...


'Mercenary work, Luc?'

'It pays,' his brother shrugged. 'And lets me live. Go around, offering my services. The Party reduces a migraine to a headache. They can use me themselves, or pull the plug if I get unmanageable.'

' love it, brother.'

'If I can't lie to you, I won't try.'


'Someone seems pleased with himself,' Aaron noted in lieu of a greeting, drawing a short, humourless bark of laughter from Lucas.

'Someone is,' Lucas said, a pleased, distracted look in his eyes. 'I haven't killed anything righteously in decades.'

'You looked like you were about to start, with father,' Lucian said, and Lucas' left head turns to him, as if seeing the younger zmeu for the first time.

'...well, you look like a fucking paperweight now. And "father"? If your voice wasn't still annoying, I wouldn't have recognised you!'

Lucian smiled. His family was here. Almost everyone was.


Mia hadn't known you could hold someone's stare without meeting their eyes, up to this point. But, as she stares at the floor while Alex looks away, eyes bitter and arms crossed over his knees, she understands.

'That's horrible,' her contralto filled the silent room. 'Alex-'

'I know,' the ghost snapped, still not looking at her. 'That's not the man you love, but, Mia...' he ran a hand through his once-black hair. With his white-blue, transparent ectoplasmic body, the hair looked more like a splash of dark blue ink. 'I know I...I got scared at the thought of him coming here. But our David-the David of the present-wouldn't do that. We both know it. Right?'

'If David thought even a single person's life could get mildly better, he'd kill himself without hesitation. Again.'

The zmeu's flat voice gave Alex pause. Sometimes, he forgot she was less than half his age, and belongs to a species prone to emotional extremes to boot. Before he could reply, however, she continued.

'Is what I would have said yesterday. Now...I don't know.'

'Mia?' Mihai prods. The zmeu smiled at the unintentional mana pulse going through his veins.

'Why do you think I came here alone?' She looked from Mihai to Alex. 'Have you heard from Luci or Andrei lately? Constantin?'


When people talked about the Strigoi Society, it was always in ironic or mocking terms, if not outright hateful ones. No matter which group was discussed.

In truth, there were two Strigoi Societies, and, though people sometimes mixed them up or mistook them for a single organisation, they rarely mixed, and never without disastrous results.

The first and most obvious was the loose, semi-coherent gathering of strigoi who tried to support themselves and each other in greater society, or away from it, when they went to live off the grid. Strigoi being what they were, leadership and order were neither common nor welcome.

The second was the bunch of strigoi-chasers, like tornado enthusiasm with a fetish for dangerous undead, but I was repeating myself. These people trailed behind strigoi, documenting their activities, hunting them to either help or hinder. Some strigoi hated them with all their dead hearts could muster, while others kept them around as thralls or gophers. Most just thought they were an annoyance that should drop dead, if possible.

The people who came to Siberia's outskirts were, almost universally, members of the first category. As far away from civilisation as possible, without going underwater or underground and risking the ire of the Watcher Over Horror and Reptilian Collective.

'Have you ever wondered why here?' I asked out loud as we slowly descended.

'Why a cold, almost lifeless place? You can't possibly be asking that unironically, brother,' Szabo answered, sounding a bit disbelieving.

I shook my head. 'Why not Canada, then? Or the Poles?'

'You have to remember,' he adjusted his jacket collar, and the collarbones rattled in protest. 'Most of our kindred here are several times older than me, never mind you. Many of them predate the discovery of the New World-I mean by Columbus, not Erikson, mind. And even those who don't grew up too poor to learn or care about such things as Canada, or the Poles.' His leather boots crunched into the snow, briefly forming into paws. 'For them, this was the top of the world, the edge of Earth and human knowledge.'

We were on the northern border, closer to the Arctic Circle than civilised Russia. Ahead, I could see the North Pole, invisible to human eyes, but appearing like an ivory crown on a blue maiden's brow to my godsight. I could see how a strigoi born, dead and risen in the Middle Ages could have interpreted this as the ends of the world.

We were not alone, however. Life, in its myriad small forms, was everywhere around us-as was undeath.

There were many times of strigoi, if one classified us by tendencies and tics rather than nature. Those who knocked on doors to be let in. Visitors, physical or spiritual. Stranglers. Heavies: strigoi trapped somewhere until someone happened by, after which they, invisible, latched onto the unsuspecting victim's back, slowly draining their lifeforce and making them sick while they remained imperceivable.

We were not there for any of them, however, though I noticed, with some amusement, a heavy, her arms wrapped around a taller, burlier strigoi's neck as she hanged off him. I could feel them trying to drain each other's lifeforce. I suppose all couples had their games.

'Have you ever met her before?' I asked Szabo, as a strangler-a strigoi that appeared in people's dreams and strangled them while draining their lifeforce, which translated into reality; I really had to start training my powers-approached us through the aether. With a though, I crushed his throat and burned his flesh, but, when I sent his lifeforce in Szabo's direction, the older strigoi gave me a disapproving glare, nose wrinkling. 'Something wrong?'

'There is nothing more wrong than being spoon-fed your success or power. Keep that to yourself, brother, or let it go.'

I met his stare with a smile as I consumed the energy. 'Ahem...'

'Everyone meets Domna at some point. She doesn't let kin die without laying her eyes on them.'

'She sure didn't mind that time my goddamn head popped off,' I said, as we walked towards the grey snow-covered hill in the distance, everyone giving us a wide berth after the strangler's sudden death and processing.

Szabo ran his tongue over his fangs, producing sparks and a sound like a knife scraping against steel. 'But that wasn't your final death, David. You are still he-'

'-re,' Szabo finished, looking around puzzled. No longer on the snow-covered field, we were now in an equally-cold and bleak chamber, just as grey as...yes, the hill it had been carved into. Grey walls, floor and ceiling, grey carpets, tapestries and blankets, even the entirely superfluous flames in the fireplace at the far end were, somehow, grey. It was like being trapped in the world's oldest, most boring photo.

'You're still faster than me,' he told the small woman in front of us. Much like the room, almost everything on her, from her skin and hair to her old, tattered habit was grey, except for her fangs and eyes. She had the brightest smile I had ever seen, even in the dim light of the chamber, and eyes as dark as my future self's. 'And my speed is infinite now.'

'Whose isn't, Loric?' She waved a dismissive hand, a gesture she quickly turned into an invitation to sit down. 'You people think having forever to react to something makes you fast. Come to me when you can react to something before it happens, and without precognitive tricks.' When she turned to me, her smile became ever brighter, and not just literally. 'Hello, David. I am sorry if you were expecting me on that night in Bucharest, but, as Loric said, I knew it wasn't the end.'

'You mean I'll die again?' The thought of never turning into whatever I would become was somewhat appealing, even if it meant leaving everything and everyone out to dry.

Call of the void, people. Intrusive thoughts.

The strigoi's grey mane barely swayed as she shook her head. 'Never again. That was your last death: your brother was wrong in that regard, but I have a nose for such things.' Seeing both of us were still standing, she sat down, legs folded primly under her, habit barely wrinkling.

Not wanting to look like a rude jackass-she only came up to my chest when we were both standing, and I didn't want to make her look up-, I followed, sitting cross-legged. Szabo just plopped down, hands on his belly like a satisfied boyar.

'You are Domna Economou,' I said. 'The First Strigoi. I've wanted to meet you for some time.'

Her smile thinned. 'ARC has?'

'Joining would be appreciated, but this is not a recruitment pitch. Even remaining neutral is enough: you keep this community quiet, and control them almost as tightly as you control yourself.'

'However I do that,' she voiced my unspoken thought. 'But you didn't come to share ARC's worries with me, son. You want something from me.'

I looked down, swallowing. 'God killed my father.'

'Yours, too?' Domna chuckled drily, pointing a thumb over her shoulder at the fireplace. 'Please don't go there. Constantin prefers to cool down by himself. He's out now, but he'll return soon.'

My heart stupidly leapt at the name. Not my father, obviously. Undeath would never touch pops now.

'You cannot feel my lifeforce, can you, David? Loric?'

'I can feel you're hiding it. Like putting a boulder over a spring.'

'I can feel the barrier you've raised.' Szabo's smile was just as bright as Domna's, though far ghastlier. 'But it's redundant. Anyone who's seen your power can guess.'

Domna raised an amused eyebrow, then her shields sli-


I came to clutching my head with one hand and my eyes with the other. Loric seemed similarly surprised, for the second time that day, while Domna looked as serene as she had before blowing our heads up.

'It is as you say, David. It takes a certain degree of discipline to control yourself when you've eaten as much life as I have.'

'Or direct it at people without blowing up the multiverse,' I suggested.

'Mhm.' She picked at her fangs with a pinky. 'You would be surprised what you can eat, in creation's upper realms.' Folding her dainty hands into her lap, claw tips touching, she looked at the fire, then back at us. 'You are feeling adrift, David, and you come to me? I am not exactly a font of spiritual wisdom.'

Bullshit. 'Who's Constantin? To clear your throat before you tell me about yourself, if you want.'

'You can't have possibly forgotten. He was your country's first strigoi hero before your grandparents were in diapers!' Was she playing up how aghast she was, or just crewing with us to have fun? Old people were sometimes like that. 'Please, do refresh your memory before he returns. It would do your health no good to offend him.'

...what. 'You mean Constantin from the ballad?'

Szabo winced unhappily. 'You could have told us the Strigoi Brother would be here today, grandmother.'

'You could have called ahead,' Domna shot him down. 'Don't worry, Loric. He's unlikely to beat you for the same reason twice.'

'I could take him now,' Szabo muttered querulously, eyes darkening.

'In a fight, too, I'm sure,' Domna giggled. 'Listen to me, David. I can read your life lines, no need to show me your palms. Neither the man who gave you life nor the one who raised you is gone. You can meet the former in the afterlife, and you just have to reach out to the latter, if you can bring yourself to.'

What did she know? 'You said God killed your father, too.'

'God killed neither of our fathers directly. He lifted yours out of the dust of humanity, and mine...' she pulled at her habit, and I nearly looked away when her chest came into view, but she hissed for me to look. The cross-shaped burn mark was still smoking. 'I grew up seeing the cracks in the monolith widen and deepen, boy. Christendom didn't split in a day. I fought for everyone to get along. My whole family did. How could I live with the failure, when I knew what it portended? And look at that, the broken mirror is now a mound of shards.' She laughed bitterly.

'Your father?'

'My father died trying to kill me, David.' Her habit was whole again. 'I was young and feral in those days. I felt life, and fed. My father could barely convince himself I wasn't his little girl anymore, much less kill me. But, by God, he tried. He wanted closure, you see? Almost as much as he wanted me to be at peace. God...nudged him.'

'Nudged,' I sneered. 'Fucked his mind and sent the shell after you, you mean.'

Domna's eyes shone. 'My father died a whole man, more human than I've been for nearly a thousand years. Do not attribute false atrocities to God-there are more than enough to be laid at his feet.'

Szabo chimed in while I was mulling her words over. 'You've never told me this story before.'

'Good thing you brought David, then.'

'So it would seem. So,' there was a strange gleam in Szabo's eyes. 'Did you kill him?'

Domna nodded. 'Oh, yes. Horribly. The only thing that stopped me from using him as a man was that I started with a kick between the legs.' She bit her lower lip. 'He only touched me once, with his cross, and not even the sharp part. I don't know if he was too hurt or delirious to land it, but he only scarred me. Maybe he only wanted to bring me back to my senses. His death did, in any case.'

'Dooming our parents is always sobering,' a new voice agreed.
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

After Life, Chapter 11, Part 2



Old nicknames, spoken in the same voices; still, they sounded new and raw. Awkward. Almost as much as Aaron felt while looking at his youngest brother and his lover. The silver-haired iela was looking up at the golden zmeu, her expression serene, but otherwise blank. There was no trace of relief or joy on her face, nor in her voice.

'I should have been there,' Lucian said, taking a knee-as much as his backwards-jointed legs allowed him-so he could look her in the eye. 'You shouldn't have to ask. From now on, you'll never have to.'

' really think it's your fault, don't you?' Emotion finally entered her voice: dismay. 'Not mine for being weak and stupid.'

'You have never been. Only I.'

Bianca smiled. 'Had I been half as smart as you think I am, I would have hired Andrei.'

'Let him rest,' Lucian said, making Aaron jolt. Bianca's arrival-she had merely appeared, without any sign of creation warping around her-had been surprising, but...

He glanced at Lucas, who was leaning against one of the barracks' walls, which was constantly melting and rebuilding itself upon coming in contact with the smoke of his blunt. After an experimental, enchanted spliff combining all chemicals known to mankind had been discarded as too mild, he'd turned to his own mixtures, some of which could easily dissolve structures tougher than most planets with just the fumes they created. Aaron wondered how much his brother had changed, if he was tapping into his morningstar's power like this.

The blue zmeu stared back, saying nothing. Clearly, the ball was with him.

He supposed it was only fair. He'd started the damn mess, or at least hastened it, in his attempt to help.

'Fair,' Bianca agreed, then her shoulders sagged. 'Do you know why I look like this?'

'Gorgeous? Because you're aging gracefully, of course.' The zmeu took one of her hands, kissing her knuckles. 'Yes. The scales have fallen from my eyes, Bianca. Becoming one with destruction removes most obstructions.'

'And you agree with David?'

Lucian grinned at her cold tone. 'I'll beat him for you, if you want. But I would sooner we were hurt, than both of us, and everyone else, died.'

'But you still hate him.'

'I hate what he did, yes. And I dread the moment our David becomes him. But it is inevitable, my love. Just like you winning my heart.'

Aaron would have gruffly joked about sappiness on any other day, but now? They deserved-needed-this. Each other. He'd stand by as long as he was needed, then go look into whatever had happened to Dravich.

But first...

What do you still want?

Apologies, offspring-shard,
the Underdweller said. But this one wanted to tell you it failed.

Didn't we both? I won't pat you on the back.
He shifted his footing. Why'd you leave? Or Maws? My brothers haven't told me yet, and I'd rather hear it from the horse's mouth.

This one's mirror-counterpart returned to his prior assignment upon the transformation of this one's most recent mirror-shard. He claimed to no longer be interested.

And you?

This one is now fully aware you don't love her.

...he wouldn't apologise. You've never given us much of a reason, mom.

This one had no experience with raising young prior to having you. This one-

Then why'd you agree? Maws couldn't have left you pregnant unless you wanted to be.


Eldritch entities, a catch-all term for the residents of the Outer Void and the lesser ones that preceded it, could not enter and leave dimensioned reality at will. Those who could were bound by or to certain other restrictions or locations, instead. It was unknown, and thus the subject of much discussion among them, whether this was a result of the Lord of All subconsciously protecting its Dream, or simply a random trait of said projection.

The one that called itself the Underdweller did so for a simple reason. Rather than being subservient to another, it was the concept of being under something, or the underside of something.

And it was curious. Its peers found its fascination with dimensioned entities, even those that could become dimensionless, eccentric at best, grotesque at worst-like a human in love with cartoon characters.

It cared not for their opinion, though. Rather, it was more focused on the barrier-chain-wall holding it back from entering the multiverse, in order to speak to the fascinating polycephalous entity it had observed.

As it tried and failed to break through, it spoke to her.

'Awfully hot and bothered, aren't we?'

'This one knows not what you mean. But...this one understands. This one would be much obliged if you would indulge it.'

'But of course! Your sons have important roles to play in the future, so get to making them. Go right on ahead-but don't stick around, eh? Stunted development would be...supremely unwelcome.'

'This one thanks you, Remaker.'


'You demand answers.' The Watcher was looking past Sklaresia, at Vyrt. 'From her disapproving tone, one could almost be forgiven for thinking we deserted our post.'

'Talk to me, you conjoined pitbull,' Klare said. 'Don't act like I'm not here.'

'We know you didn't run away,' Vyrt said in a conciliatory tone. 'But you've never moved the ruins of Atlantis before, either. You can understand our concern, especially when you brought them back-also with no warning or explanation.'

'Our duty is to our history. We do not owe anyone anything.'

'Rich,' Klare scoffed. 'I'd say you owe everyone more than you'll ever be able to give.'

'Our vigil is payment enough. Nephilim,' the Watcher's weapon shifted into a trident, which they rested over one shoulder. 'Nothing we say can be used to gain an advantage, by you or your masters.'

'I am aware,' Vyrt replied smoothly. 'But if you can simply move the ruins-and, therefore, the Horror's prison-at will, then there is no reason to remain on Earth. After all, you do not owe anyone anything, in your own words. Is your history easier to defend on your world? Or perhaps you like punishing those who try to plunder it?'

The Watcher did not answer.

'Here is our current hypothesis. You do not have to confirm or deny, but remember: silence is an answer, too. With the walls between worlds thinned by the Fae incursion, and the deluge of eldritch invaders that followed, there was of one or more getting at the horror, or otherwise distracting you enough for it to slip its chains. How close are we?'

'Far. We have never been and will never be distracted. We gain the power and abilities necessary to defend Atlantis, and, because Atlantis must be defended, we cannot be bested or bypassed, as long as our duty is necessary.'

'Then?' Vyrt asked softly.

The House of Horror never got easier on the eyes, no matter how much time passed.

It had been their palace, once, in a bygone age. Their house. Atlantis' rulers had been horrors in their own right, but that was not where the name came from. Rather, it came from that of its newest, only occupant.

'Mother,' the Horror's voices were childlike, to varying degrees. 'Father.'

'Qhynart,' the Watcher greeted. 'Wylkhas. Ylvha.'

Their children's faces, already stretched, widened even further, into things that only vaguely resembled pained smiles. It was the most beautiful thing the Watcher had ever seen. The only thing that remained beautiful to them.

The silver-skinned, shapeless thing under, around and above them reached out with trembling, half-formed limbs, running twitching appendages over the Watcher's greaves, their gauntlets. Like they had once reached out to their parents, their masters.

'We want out,' the Horror burbled, trying to wrap tighter around them. 'We see them walking our world.'

'They shall be cast out.'

'By us?'

'No. It is not our purpose.'

The Horror's hopeful tone fadeD into nothing at the Watcher's words. When it opens its mouths again, its words were pleading, with an undertone of slyness. 'It is not right to be torn away from our world while strangers stride across its skin.'

'Even here, you are tempted. We shall remain, until the storm is ended.'

'You do not want us to be free, do you?' The Horror now sounded accusing, hateful. 'You want to stand guard forever, and call it penance.'

' 'tis penance,' the Watcher said. 'And you have nothing left to offer creation, except the legacy of Atlantis.'

Hatred. Even as their continent fell apart around them, the into the seas, the Atlanteans did not repent. They did not regret their deeds, nor ask for forgiveness. They cursed the gods while their bodies broke, while their minds collapsed and their spirits shattered, and that was the fuel of Horror.

Zhalkhos and Xilema gathered their people's loathing, their spite. Their children-who had never known slaves except for their tutors-had died before their eyes. Young woman, two boys: one adolescent, one barely a toddler.

Because the gods spared no one. In this, at least, they were fair.

The Horror roared in anger and denial as it rushed at the Watcher from all directions. And, though it knew not, its tears mirrored those sstreaming down the face under the helmet.


'Why is the demoness here?' the Watcher asked, finally acknowledging Klare.

'Please, do not deflect,' Vyrt said wearily. 'If you continue stalling, I shall take my leave.'

'Do so, then,' the Watcher said. 'And do not bother us again.'

Vyrt turned, as did Klare, with a huff. Before he departed the pocket reality, though, he spoke once more.

'She felt wronged by me. Felt I had threatened her only family. She wanted recompense.'

'...go to the Keeper, Vyrt,' the Watcher replied. 'And trouble us no more. There is a destiny to fulfill.'

Constantin watched, with some amusement, but no small amount of confusion, as his little sister turned down every suitor.

It wasn't just her answer, that she was too young. Being the youngest boy, Constantin was familiar with being dismissed as an idiot brat by his elders whenever he got up to some scatterbrained scheme.

But his sister...

'Mother,' Lenuța said one day, after two foreigners came to court her, and left, bemused by her hesitant non-answer. 'I dearly love one of those men, and would eagerly go after him.'

'Oh, my dear,' Lena said. 'With you so far, longing shall take me. How shall I see you again? Who will bring you to me?'

'Come on, mother!' Constantin jumped to his feet, grinning at his family's expressions: amused, hopeful, sad but surprised. 'You have three sons-surely one of us can bring our sister back, when your heart misses her? I shall do it myself!'

So they married her off. Constantin, the one to convince their mother, took his sister to her groom himself, and returned home more than pleased with himself.

Then the plague came, and left the land harrowed, and Lena alone in the house, her children departed: the daughter to faraway lands, the sons to the grave.

The old woman hobbled to the cemetery, shawl undone as she tore at her grey hair. In-between mourning her older sons, confessing to wanting to kill herself in their absence, sinning be damned, she cursed her youngest. 'Constantin, Constantin! May you be cursed, cursed by your mother, for giving away your sister! Your brothers looked at me, and told me not to give her away! But you, you cursed boy, did it! So I curse you, with all my soul: may the earth not receive you, may the dust not want you anymore, may the clay bash you! For, out of longing for Lenuța, I wish my life's thread broke!'

And so she cursed, one day and the next, and the one after that. For days and weeks she cursed, and woe, for so much cursing, the curse took root.


And, at sunset, Constantin awoke.

He came out of the pit, pale-faced and cold as ice. Weeping and wailing, he spoke with dismay. 'If only I could depart, for I am cursed, but I cannot, for I am buried. If only I could depart, for mother demands, but I cannot, for I lack power. I have no horse, and no mantle, and no one beloved in the world; for, whoever sees me shall tremble in fear, and cross himself. Nor to my mother shall I go, as she cursed me, for giving my sister away!'

And as he brooded, and wept, he prayed. 'Oh coffin, proud coffin, become a hawk of a horse. And you, funerary shroud, become a mantle. And you, cross, change, become an iron blade for me. And You, God, revive me, give me power today. To Lenuța I shall go, and bring her home.'

And God listened to him, and gave him the might of the living, as did his his coffin, turning into a horse, his shroud into a mantle, and his cross into a broadsword.

And Constantin mounted his steed, departing in a rush. And the horse barely touched the ground. Indeed, it flew, for its master spoke to it, his voice filled with great longing. 'Fly, roan, with me, for I fly alongside you! Fly, roan, along the way, for I fly in your wake!'

And night had not yet fallen when they stopped, at Lenuța, in another country.


When Lenuța saw her beloved brother, she spoke sweetly: 'Constantin, Constantin, tell me if 'tis good or bad. Nine years, see, have passed, in which I have not seen you. Neither have you give me news, nor written me letters!'

Constantin spoke: 'Since you have gotten married, nothing bad has happened. We are healthy at home-mother is still healthy. New happenings, I have none to speak of, but good news I still bring you: our brothers got married, but, caught in their own thoughts, they didn't invite you to the wedding! I am your more affectionate brother, and, since I am getting married, I hurried here. Should you wish, come to my wedding!'

And so Constantin spoke, his voice full of sadness, tears falling from his eyes and sighs coming upon him. But Lenuța knew him, and again she asked him: 'Tell me brother, true, if you call me to revelry, so that I might wear red and white, and mount a white horse; or if you call me to mourning, so that I might wear clothes of mourning, and mount a black horse-let us begin, brother, honestly!'

'And I tell you, sister, that I call you to revelry.'

And she dressed herself proudly, in her white clothes, and the two set off, on the known path, surrounded by mighty woods. And as they walked the path, birds followed them, and the vile mountains spoke: 'Since the sun had been sun, and the flower in the field flower, and the world world, such a wonder we have not seen: the living walking with the dead, along the woods. The living walking closely with the dead, risen out of the pit! Ay! Great wonder! The living with the dead on the path!'

Constantin heard well, but Lenuța didn't understand. Jokingly, she said: 'Hear, brother Constantin, what do the mountains speak of you?!'

Constantin, moaning heavily, answered: 'Let them speak, sister, and waste their minds; let them be with the singing as we are with the walking; may they guard their song as we watch our walk.'

This, they did not heed, for their path they followed. Four long summer days they walked, and rested little.


When the sun rose on the fifth day, they beheld their village, full of darkness and clouds. When they were close to the village, Constantin said: 'Lenuța! Ride your horse more gently, for I shall ride mine harder, so that I might tell mother to welcome you well, open the gates lay out the tables for you, fill your cups!'

And he spurred his horse, and rode hard, not to his mother, as he had promised, but right to his grave. Here, he dismounted, and said: 'Horse grown under grassy earth, bone-gathering lair! You took and brought me, on the path and through the sky, and did a great good, for my mother, for me, for mother, for girl, for me as well! And you, beloved mantle, white shrouding cloth, and you, shining blade, the cross at my feet, our time has come, 'tis cometh, to return whence we came! You, good mischievous horse, change your body into coffin, and you, shining sword, become cross at my feet, and you, beloved mantle, become shrouding cloth! And You, God, holy God, give me again my place in the grave, for I have passed through what was harder: to Lenuța I went, and brought her home!'

God listened to him: the earth split, the clay rose once again, and Constantin was buried.


And as Lenuța entered the village, she was surprised, for everything was changed, broken by mourning. but more surprised she was when she found herself home: the gates were bad and broken, so that you could jump through them, the stable empty, the grass grown around the bend. The poor girl waited for her brothers to come running, and welcome her at the doorstep, but nobody did, not even Constantin. She hurried to the door, but found it locked, so she started knocking on it: 'Let me in, mother, let me in the house, for I am your beloved daughter, faraway Lenuța!'

Her mother from inside, weeping, sent her away, cursing: 'Go into the fire and the evil ones, do not darked my days, go into the fire, go away, and mock me not! Three sons I had, all three I put in the clay, all three I put under the earth, may holy God know them! And Lenuța, my beloved girl, is married, married, in a faraway country. Never shall I see her! But let he who sent her away be accursed!'

But Lenuța did not stop, she knocked and pleaded: 'Let me in, let me!'

And her mother grudgingly let her in, and, as she seated and saw her, she recognised her. 'My dear, mother's flower, I can't believe, is it you? Oh, I hadn't even dreamed that I would see you again!' And weeping, Lena said: 'Much plague and hardship did the holy God send, and took away my sons, so that I was left without them! If only you, my beloved daughter, were not married in a faraway country! Much of my longing I would forget, if I could see you. You would help me, and I would cherish you! But let who took you away be accursed: may the earth not receive him, the dust not want him, the clay throw him outside!'

Lenuța heard, and cold shivers took her: 'See, mother, you cursed, and the curse took root! Constantin, Constantin, how you tricked me to walk the path with you!'

And she told her mother how Constantin brought her along the path, and the many things he told her. Lena then became frightened, and, as she sat and listened, tears came upon her, her mind seethed, her brow became clouded. She told her daughter: 'Let us hurry, Lenuța, to the graves in the grass!'


As they reached the grave, they fell upon it and began to weep, and speak: 'Constantin, come out, come, Constantin, again, come again, dear Constantin, for we miss you so, so much!'

The earth, however, cackled; Constantin moaned bitterly.

'Come out of the pit and speak, speak and tell us, how do you live in the pit, how? Come an tell us now! Come and see us at least, come, Constantin, again!'

The earth laughed crazily, the pit cackled, joking, the clay answered: 'Do not plead with me, better curse, Lena, stop praying, what is ours, is not yours!'

Always the earth laughed, the pit cackled, the clay joked ceaselessly.

'Oh, do not be, grave, a heathen, free Constantin, oh, do not be, grave, evil, free my child! Or give him voice, grave, for a few words!'

The earth then became quiet, the pit spoke not. Constantin, with effort, said: 'Oh, mother, you are to blame, that I do not have peace and rest, that I do not even have a place in the grave, that I am restless under the earth. Neither dead nor alive am I, neither fire nor ice, neither in the pit can I be, nor outside can I come. For you cursed me, mother, for your beloved Lenuța, so that the earth would not receive, so that the dust would not love me, so that the clay would hurl me outside. The clay threw me out, the dust mocked me, the earth banished me! Mother, if you wish me well, do me good now, and unravel my curse, for it crushes my soul!'

Lena sighed deeply, heavy thoughts chastising her. And the poor woman said: 'My dear! May you be forgiven and of the curse unbound. However...let the earth be accursed, for it listens to me not; may great woe fall upon it, for i does not let you out, may bitter woe fall upon it!'

The dust then shook, the clay roared furiously, the earth split: ' 'tis not enough that you cursed an innocent child; now you curse me, I curse you instead! For you do not have a mother's heart; your soul is not fit; nor are you fit under the sun to die as all people die; but the earth, out of rage, shall swallow you alive!'

The dust scattered to the sides; the earth opened. Lena from the grave said: 'Accursed might I be, woe, for my curse! Like, forever, may be accursed whatever mother finds herself cursing her child! May she herself be accursed, never have peace, banners at her burial, nor priest to speak of her! Woe to that mother who curses her child without guilt, for she curses her son, but she is cursed by God!'


Constantin had taken off his gauntlets in order to...chill his hands by the fire, as he finished recounting the story of his undeath.

Even from behind, I could see the thin layer of frost forming over his grey, calloused hands. It didn't bother him, of course, but it did leave me wondering what the hell that "fire" was.

'Your sister,' I said. 'What happened to her?'

Constantin shrugged, the shoulders of his black greatcoat barely shifting. 'She returned to her husband. Had four beautiful children-happier than we ever were. I was a happy uncle, then a happy great-uncle...they've gone their own ways. The family line will end with me, if it ever does.'

I put a hand on one knee, feeling irate for some reason. No...vexed? Something was niggling at me. 'Would you mind looking at me?'

'Will you mind if I don't?'

That tore it. 'Yeah, you two-faced pussy. I'd ask you to look me in the eye like a man, but you were too much of a bitch to face your own sister. You had to lie to her, so I get you at least know your limitations.' I stood up as he did the same, and, tough I was quicker, I could tell he was taking his time. 'Who doesn't know the Voica ballad, dammit? Who asked you to start rattling off its version in prose?'

'If you disliked it,' he asked slowly. 'Why didn't you stop me?'

I snorted. 'I thought maybe you'd reveal something new, or at least not finish on the same cliffhanger Coșbuc did when he turned it into a poem.' My lips drew back from my fangs. 'But I don't know why. Not that I'm surprised. You must be an unique class of strigoi: the disappointer.'

'You want to know what happened after?' Constantin turned around. 'Fine.'

He was over a head taller than me, far broader and burlier, dressed in a thick black greatcoat over a grey plain shirt and pants, the only thing stopping him from looking entirely plain being a black leather belt with a silver buckle that seemed to shift shape every moment. His beard was thicker than mine, just as grey as his hair. Grey hair and black eyes, like we all did. Except for me.

I only had two, for that matter.

A normal human would have likely been distracted by his stature, the buckle, or maybe the three concealed objects he carried, slung across his back. None had been there before he had turned to me. All three were long and slim, before ending in protruding, bulky shapes. Hammer, axe and...staff, probably, according to what my godsight could glean from their coverings. The hammer was wrapped in bandages, just as thick and black as Constantin's greatcoat, and...yes, same "material". The axe was covered in bulky white chains, which rattled as it tried to break free. And the staff...

It was weird. Like a sort of long, grey rubik's cube, or a series of puzzle boxes linked together, but clinging to the staff as tightly as if it had been painted over it. My godsight couldn't pierce any of the bindings.

But I wouldn't waste time trying to glean details when I knew nothing would come of it. A normal human would have probably missed all of Constantin's eyes save for the open ones, too, but I saw clearer than that. Beneath the ones he had been born with, on the cheeks and jaw, were two more identical pairs. And on the forehead, hovering ominously atop an aquiline nose, was a seventh, vertical eye.

I was reminded of Miguel Fernandez' wife, but this motherfucker was way uglier than Sklaresia, which I let him know.

'Yes,' he said. 'I am aware.'

'Why are you here?' I asked, aware that Szabo and Domna were looking between us like they were at a ping pong match.

'In Siberia? On Earth?'


He traced the staff, which the hammer and axe were crossed over, with a finger. 'I haven't come to stay, if my presence repulses you so much. I am passing by, as always. But I see you have a sage's eyes, so I would ask you something.'

I rolled the eyes he liked so much. 'Sorry, if you want to exploit me, you'd better pay like everyone else.'

'My question, then,' little big bro bulldozed through my refusal like it was his sister's opinion. 'I am away from the world for long periods, and only come to stay briefly. Do people still love each other?'

I admit: I was caught off-guard. 'What?'

He came closer. 'Do families still help each other? Do mothers cherish their sons?' His voice grew bitter. 'Or was my lesson for nothing.'

I couldn't help it. I punched him.

Now, he was no pushover. Much like Domna, he was bursting with enough power to destroy dimensioned reality and ruin the rest of creation simply by unleashing it-and unlike her, he wasn't hiding it, either. I didn't know what she'd eaten or where he'd gotten his...whatever they were, but it took me some effort to become as powerful as him.

When I did, however? Constantin was the kind of being whose existence pervaded all of creation, with the tridimensional aspect merely being an infinitesimal extension.

My much hurt all of him, without damaging a single blade of grass on this single world.

He rose from the false fire, already healed, expect for his pride. I was about to hurt it even more.

'D-Do pe-people sti-ill...why don't you see for yourself, you goddamn idiot? Live on Earth and gape at the fact we've grown past stacking shit to make hovels?' I jerked my head at him. 'What're those weapons on your back? Why are they covered?'

'Weapons?' His face scrunched up. 'I despise things that can only be used to destroy. These...are tools, David. I-'

'Watch your mouth,' I warned him. 'If you want to keep it, you don't use my name.' However he knew it. 'You're so fucking curious? Go. Look. I fucking despise' my hands were clenching and unclenching, claws digging into my palms. 'You play at being people, but only give a shit about your hobby horses, don't you? You,' I turned to Szabo. 'If you ever think about playing mind games with me again, I'll sew you to your wife's corpse and make it eat you. You,' I looked at Domna. 'Would do the world a huge fucking favour if you killed your little strays, instead of playing house until they're jumping at newcomers. And you,' I pointed at Constantin. 'I hope the earth fucking eats you again, and feeds you to that old bitch who shat you out.'

As I turned and prepared to fly away, Constantin called out to me. 'Do you know why I'm always travelling?'

'Kill yourself.'

He didn't give a damn about my suggestion, of course. ' 'tis payment to God, for helping me reunite my family...however briefly. Do you want to know the tales of my tools of trade, and the things I have sla-'

'Fucking hell,' I looked back at him, my smile all fangs. 'I hate you even more now.'


Blood dripped from every spike and barb on Oberon's torture armour. The enchanted iron it had been forget from didn't burn his skin, for he wore thick padded clothes under it, even over his head. And, even if he had been naked but for his armour, he could have made it hover centimetres from his skin, harmless, with a thought.

There was nothing harmless in the oubliette. Both Coldhold and Cloudshade hung from the ceiling on spiked iron chains that dug into their joints. They would never kill them, but they would leave scars. He'd already taken their eyes, for they could clearly not see the writing on the wall.

'You are a bloody caricature,' he spat, walking past the tongueless, limbless Coldhold. Between his wounds and the chains, he looked like a slab of meat in some macabre butcher's shop. 'Destroying civilisation, simply for the sake of destroying is something, but you are cliched even by your kind's standards.' King Fae shook his head. 'I should kill you and every last of your idiot former followers.' Coldhold would never rule again, even if people wanted him to, despite his abject failures.

Abject failures, for an abject failure. Fitting enough, if...blunt. Hmm. Perhaps he should switch from blades for a while. 'And stupid, stupid little girl. Running out of Fairie to enact a cruder version of my own plan, after it had already been set in motion. Overestimating yourself, and the gaggle of idiots you took along. And when you realised your target was already gone, what did you do? Try to ruin Earth with your monster, and slaughter its defenders. Because your bloodlust caught up to your lust and your aimlessness. You know what I should do?'

Cloudshade, who was hanging upside down, whimpered around the gag in her mouth, tears running from her sockets. 'Plhs...dnt...dnt r-rpe mhh...'

Oberon's heart softened, despite himself. 'Of course I'm not going to rape you, you fool.' He laid a hand on her cheek. 'Leaving aside the fact Titania would kill me, don't you think I would have done it if I wanted to, by now?' He gestured at her breasts and womanhood, touched by neither his hands nor any torture implements. He was not a pervert, nor a monster. 'But you have to pay, as do us all, because of your foolishness.'

Oberon took a deep breath, then let it out, feeling the air leave alongside his dignity. 'After your attempts at genocide, and the failure of my attempt to have the pantheons get rid of Chernobog from us, no Fae is ever allowed to even scry Earth again without asking for permission first. We also have to lend aid whenever asked, and...can you hear that? 'tis the sound of Fae relevance, going down the drain.'

With a sneer, he looked back at Cloudshade. 'I will speak to Earth's realmsmoot, and to the Heads of Abnormal Research and Combat, to let you visit Earth. Then, you are going to go to David Silva and his lover, and apologise, in whatever manner they desire, for attempting to drive them apart or otherwise vex them, as well as trying to ruin Earth on two occasions. Understood?'

She nodded wordlessly.

'Good,' Oberon said smoothly. 'If they want to keep you as a third wheel, or something in that vein, you are going to accept. Don't worry,' he added at her shudder. 'They're good people, naivety aside. If they never want to see your face again, a feeling I wholly are to return here, and work as a public servant-building, healing, teaching, defending and so on-until further orders.'


God's Mouth did not even flinch when I appeared a few metres behind it, unable to approach further due to its blazing holy aura.

The thing wore my father's black habit, though all the gold had been replaced with the red of blood, and was even shaped like him, until you saw its face.

Or lack thereof. Pops' shoulder-length grey hair had become a sort of miniature stormcloud, down to the flashes of red lightning that lit it up every other moment, that moved when the creature turned. Its beard, similarly, resembled his.

But there was nothing human in it. Even as it pulled it boot out of the crushed chest of the Everdark child it had stomped to death, there was no hesitation, no regret, in its posture. No pleasure or trepidation, either. It was like a robot. A golem.

It had no flesh, either. Only a gold-tinged red flame that burned without fuel or smoke, shaped like my father's body. Only the hands and face were visible-but that was enough.

'David Silva.' Its voice was not my father's. If there had ever been an echo of pops', buried somewhere deep, it was now lost under the emotionless drone of the Archangel that had raped his soul. 'Have you come to join me?' It gestured at the horizon, and the remains of the burned cultists around it, with a clenched fist.

'I'll send you to Hell, screaming,' I promise, staring into the flames, for all that it made me weep blood. It was like looking at the sun through a telescope, but I'd rather go blind than back down.

'No, you will not,' it said in a sad voice. 'You know your purpose, will not fulfill it here.' It lifted its head, as if realising something vital was missing. 'David? Why aren't you in the aether? DEATH needs-'

'DON'T FUCKING SPEAK LIKE HIM!', I roared, trying and failing to punch a hole through it. There was no empty heart to rip out. It would take more to destroy it-but I would destroy it. And the, when I dragged its corpse before its puppetmaster's throne, I'd ask it some pointed questions, too.

'David,' it sounded unsure, the monster. I could barely wait to make it scream. 'You do not underst-'

'I know exactly what will happen if I don't become Keeper,' I cut it off, voice flat.

'Then...can you not find DEATH? Do you seek our help? Is that the reason you came?' it asked, raising a hand to wipe away my tears. I caught its wrist in a grip that should have crushed it. ' must. You cannot...' it ripped its hand free, something like rage colouring its tone. 'Because of what happened to a handful of people? You, your lover, your friends?'

'My father,' I growled, swallowing a hiccup. 'You should have never touched him. I'll never let you steal anyone again.'

It shook its head furiously, voice rising, thunder shaking the sky in response. 'You would let everything end, because of the pain of a few?'

Liam. Vyrt. Merlin.


No one would ever love, or laugh, or live anymore, if I just refused. Ever.

But no one would ever be hurt again, either. No one would be led along by uncaring gods anymore.

'Give me one goddamn reason I shouldn't,' I hissed, grabbing it by the throat.

It grabbed mine in turn, and, when it spoke again, any trace of Uriel was gone. 'You are not the son I raised,' it spoke in my father's voice.

And I lost it.


AN: It's in the letters. Shout out to Zahariel for coming up with this narrative device.
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Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

After Life, Epilogue, Part 1

'H-How dare you?' I was crying-no two ways about it. Crying and stuttering like I was a child again, looking at pops laying down in bed, wounded and slowly, slowly healing and hoping, praying he wouldn't die.

Because that was just the way it was. Priests were expected to assist in crises, mundane or supernatural, and all faithcrafters could heal themselves and others. They could even rebuild objects. As such, they only helped each other when a priest's faithcrafting was too weak on its lonesome-something that inevitably brought doubt to everyone involved. "Is my faith not sufficient?"

"David," he'd whispered one night, voice deep and ragged rather than thin and wheezing. "Please don't cry, son. If you start, you'll never stop, and I want to sleep..." he'd chuckled at the weak joke, lips bloody, before his clouded eyes had grown more alert, more serious. They'd lost none of their warmth, though. "Remember, David: your Father will always be with you...and so will your father..."

'You took him, and now you've made him a liar, too,' I spat. Spat on his memory, yes; he still lived in my memories, but...b-but...

'How can you say that?' it asked, arms spread, not attacking. 'I am here, David.' It pressed a hand against its chest. 'And there, too.'

I stared at it in disbelief, before chuckled darkly. 'You think you can fool me, but you can't,' I said in a voice far calmer than how I felt. 'You can use his voice and his memories, but you're not him.'

The flames that made up its form crackled quietly, the gold almost fading into the red. It seemed...despondent. Disappointed? 'You still can't see your father, David?'

'There is nothing  to see,' I retorted. Nothing but blinding fire, and lies. An anglerfish's lure. I understood that now.

God's Mouth shook what passed for its head, or rather, the fire swayed, flickering from side to side. 'How can you have those eyes,' it whispered, sounding like Constantin when he had been disappointed. 'And still be so blind?'

'Blind? I'm over that,' I snapped, wishing it would just start attacking me, or doing something, anything, besides summoning echoes of my father. 'I can't believe I ever fucking prayed to you.'

'You never prayed to Uriel, David,' it replied. 'Nor to any other angel. You prayed to God.'

'And look what he made of my father...'

I trailed off, seeing a small gap appear in the centre of the blaze, shaped like a...was it  smiling?

Did it find this funny?

'I am sorry that your pain still shrouds your vision, David,' it said. 'But I know you will pull through.'

Dammit... 'You mentioned these?' I pointed at my eyes, wishing I could rip them out, along with my godsight and everything that had happened in the past...the past... 'If my existence is a mockery to Christianity, this is the capstone.' Not that I cared anymore. 'Look at them!' I demanded, ripping my eyes out, replaced by identical ones as soon as my fingers parted from the sockets. 'The reason the world went mad, the reason I've been hunted and hurt and  moulded by every heartless bastard from here to the Outer Void? A pagan god's eyes.'

I threw them down, ripping my cross off with my other hand. The chain snapped around my neck- finally-and the damned thing joined the eyes at my feet. God's Mouth, whose smile had disappeared as soon as I'd torn my eyes out, was now all but shaking in anger, the flames dancing wildly.

Smirking, I raised my boot, and stomped the eyes to bloody paste, while staring straight at the God-made monster. Then, I raised my boot again, and brought it down onto the cross.

Or I would have, had it not been for it.


'Mate,' Liam Lloyd's voice wasn't shaking, nor were the hand around his mug, but I could sense the trepidation.

Self-control, a lich's mastery of his body, magic...any or all, it was a controlled effort.

'I don't know...this shit you can only hint at? I can already tell it's  way above my paygrade,' the lich looked down into his peer, green flames shining like will-o'-wisps in his pale, skeletal face.

'Let's be fair now-your salary ain't that big,' his husband, who was sitting next to him, joked. Seeing the lich's lack of reaction, Ryan's smile thinned slightly. But he still put a hand on Liam's knee, while slinging an arm over his rangy shoulders.

The greying tech mage regarded me with slight apprehension. He wasn't scared of me, at least not yet; not more than anyone would be of international law enforcement dropping by for a chat. I'd told the Lloyds I was patrolling for Chernobog's cults and allies, which they seemed to have bought as justification for my presence in Australia. It hadn't been a lie, after all.

But I'd needed to admit I needed a break and a place to unwind, even slightly, briefly, for them to warily-nervously?-welcome me into their home.

Good for them. They were happy people, with a quiet marriage in a sleepy town. I wouldn't have wanted someone like me to disrupt my life, if I had one like theirs.

I shrugged. 'It's all classified,'s not the job.' Entirely. The job, I could handle. 'I'm...soul-searching, I guess. I,' looking at the woden floorboards, I traced my cross with a thumb. 'Went through some shit, but that's fine.' I grinned thinly, meaninglessly. 'The people around me, though? They've been through worse, all while my back was turned. And-'

'But you were working, right?' Ryan interruped me, pushing his glasses upwards with one finger.


'So you weren't ignoring 'em 'cause you were, dunno, blowing cash on hookers or some bullshit. You make it sound like you were in over your head, or, I don't know, overworked. I know undead can get mentally tired.' He elbowed Liam, who'd been preparing to say something, likely to the contrary. 'So...can I call you David? I know it must suck, but...'

'That's of the problems,' I agreed. 'I  wish I had been there to help them.' I should have been. I couldn't afford to waste time wondering whether it had been my fault or not, or whether I could've been faster, smarter, more aware. I should have been at my friends' side, not that monster who'd once been me, before DEATH had chosen him as its Keeper.

Or had it been-would it be-the other way around?

'But,' I continued. The lich and I were both looking forward once more, green light meeting ivory orbs across the living room table. 'It's not all. I'm losing...I've lost faith, I guess.' I would  not put my face in my hands in front of them. The fact they welcomed me and my bullshit in the first place was enough. 'And now...' My voice dropped. 'I guss I'm looking for something else to look up to.' Something to fill the void. That's what I really wanted.

'David-you sure you've got time for this?' Liam gestured at the Crypt symbols on my black ARC shirt. ' 'Cause...'

'No, no, don't worry,' I waved him off, pinching the bridge of my nose. He could go ahead and take his time. I was bending it, anyway. People like him, like them, were the reason we fought. If we didn't make time for them when they accepted us, what was the goddamn point? I'd seen where aloofness led.

'Well,' Liam took a sip. 'You are-were? Sorry if I'm misunderstanding-Christian, then you...' he blew on his beer, making a sheet of misty ice appear above it. He began drawing on it with a long finger. 'You and your friends hit a rough space, and you thought "The Hell's God doing? I'm faithful! I'm good!". Felt betrayed. Am I close?'

'He should've helped them, at least,' I said by way of acknowledgement.

Liam put his mug on the table, raising his hands. He was, appropriately, wearing a black Nurgle shirt saying "Come to Papa!", with the God of Decay sitting on a rotten rocking chair, smoking a fat, definitely toxic pipe with a (probably literally) shit-eating grin. On his lap was a scantily-clad Isha, though Nurgle's grubby mitts helped preserve the Eldar goddess' decency.

My favourite part was the fact I couldn't tell whether Isha was looking up at her "husband" or rolling her eyes, but honestly? I was starting to understand the Nurglite impulse to just...tell everything to go fuck itself, and give up.

What was the fucking point? We were just dreams in a sleeping moron's head.

'I agree,' Liam said. 'The pantheons wouldn't die if they helped out more,' or in any situation. Unless I did something drastic. 'But they've got this thing about not handing everything to us on a silver platter, and, pardon me if I sound gloomy, that's unlikely to change soon.' Or ever.

'What's your point, Liam?' I asked softly. 'That I should just tell myself it is what it is, and accept?' Like the Heads had more or less told me to?

'Shit, no!' He stood up straighter, massaging his forehead. 'Silva, look. We're acquaintances. We fought alongside each other once, but I don't know your past. Doesn't mean I can't try to help you, though.'

'Especially since you're navel-gazing on company time,' Ryan joked weakly.

'Babe, please...' the lich said in a lightly chiding tone, prompting a mouthed "sorry" from his husband. Then, to me, 'You seem a pretty decent bloke to me, David. Straightforward, stuff you're not allowed to say aside. And,' he adjusted his long, wispy grey hair, pulling an errant strand behind a ragged ear. 'If religion's played as big a role in making you who you are as you say, you shouldn't discard it because of a tragedy.'

He leaned forward, one of his staves-this one made of hollow, yellowed human bone and topped by a a fanged bunyip skull, of the elongated, horselike variety. I was surprised the house didn't puff into rotten dust, wards or not, with how much death the thing emanated.

'Don't get it wrong. I'm no Christian apologist or pro-anything, but I ain't antitheistic either. There're some good teachings out there: not judging others, helping the less fortunate. Not being a greedy prick.' I wondered...Liam was sixty-three. Had someone attempted to put him through reeducation? Christian camps for praying away the gay tended to end with some very cross angels visiting whenever someone tried to set up a disguised one, but...

No, I wasn't about to ask, nor look at his past with my godsight. That would've been crass even if he wasn't being friendly, maybe friendlier than I'd had been, if our roles had been reversed. Still, it made me think.

'What I'm saying is, you don't have to throw away the good with the bad. I'm just a dude, but, if you want my opinion, there's no reason to forget the good lessons just because you're ditching the big guy.'

Just a dude, huh? 'Liam, it's alright.' I smiled at him, pointing at the staff. 'I was leaving anyway. Thank for the talk, and sorry for bothering you.'

'What? Oh, I didn't summon it to shoo you away or something!' Liam shook the staff, also standing up. 'It's just reflex, man. Helps me focus.'

Focus, and calm down. I didn't miss the way he was leaning on the staff like it was a walking stick. Much like his anxiousness, it wasn't at all apparent unless you looked for it.


God's Mouth and I were pushed apart by the shockwave of the resulting clash, and neither of us landed in the physical world.

Shared mindscapes were a known, but not really understood phenomenon. They were common to gestalt beings, but otherwise only present in conjoined twins, before they were separated. And since the former were private about it in most cases (you really didn't want to talk to people whose shared mindscapes were a favourite topic of conversation for them. At best, you'd find people like Hex at Nacht. At worst, you'd end up with whatever Szabo was becoming), and the latter's mindscapes were immature and short-lived anyway, we were somewhat in the dark.

Our shared minscape looked more literal than I had been expecting: my nighmarish version of Ghencea Cemetery on one side, an endless, gilded crimson inferno on the other. And where they met in the middle, they clashed, just like us, pushing against each other, briefly separated by gaps of white nothingness.

God's Mouth seemed as surprised as I felt. Was I really such a dullard this mental battlefield looked like a fucking Pokéball? Ugh.

'David? that what your soul looks like?' It sounded almost distracting, or maybe surprised, as it looked past me. 'I never should've tol-'

It staggered backwards from my punch, but didn't retaliate. Why? God fucking  dammit, why?

Why couldn't it finish what it started, and ruin my life? Did it only prey on those who worshipped it?

'I've never liked being told what I  should have done,' I said. 'But somehow, you're making me hate it even more.'

'David, you're hurt, son. Please, let me-'

I split its head in half with lightning, the bolt still crackling in my hand after harmlessly parting the flames. 'Why?' I asked softly. 'Why do you insist, again and again, on pretending you are my father? Constantin Silva is  dead. Let him rest, damn you.' I was crying again. 'Let pops rest. He was more of a goddamn hero than you and your entire freakshow of a family put together will ever be, so why don't you stop?'

There was only one answer, obviously: it knew this hurt what little was left of my heart, and liked it.

Well. I knew how to break people through their family. There's no teacher like pain, after all. And Uriel's family was much bigger than mine, at the moment.

But, soon...

'What changed you like this, David?' it asked. 'What made you so angry? You're a good man. What could push you to damn everything to oblivion?' Its voice was wavering by now. 'Who poisoned your soul, son? I saw your meeting with that lich and his husband-such kind people! Did Liam not advise you to follow the Lord's teachings even if you deny him?'

'Yes,' I grinned skeletally, enjoying its wince. 'But Liam was only the first person I met on the way here.'

'...I should've been there, with you. I should've been  there, damn me!'

Its roar burned my ears, even as the mockery made my blood boil. No. It was clear by now that this shameless son of a bitch wouldn't stop unless I stopped him.

It wanted the truth? Fine. Why should I be the only one to suffer?


My first visit to the Roundhouse had thoroughly disabused me of any notions of chivalric heroism-or romanticised knighthood in general, much less New Camelot's brand of it. They were nowhere near as bad as the monsters they kept around them (or was it the other way around?), or their historical counterparts, hell, I was sure most were decent people, but honestly? Most Knights were just concerned with protecting the UK and or/getting a paycheck while doing it. Honour? Not mandatory, but encouraged.

But the armour, the aesthetic, the pseudo-monastic ranks? It was all bullshit. Cosplay.


And I knew all about lies now. Oh, there was no cackling freak lying in waiting to ambush me this time, no gauntlet of nightmares to run; but there was no need, either. Because, finally, I learned of what had really gone down in that goddamn chapel, and in Fairie.

Vyrt's face was a serene mask as he looked at me, which he was only doing because of the height difference, according to him. Like he couldn't shift to look me in the eye.

Merlin was hovering at his cousin's side, hand on one knee ass he leaned forward.

'To shape me,' I repeated the last words of Vyrt's confession. 'Into the Keeper?'

'Every path you have walked leads to that, in the end,' Merlin replied instead of him, causing me to fix the mage with an irritated stare. 'You would not have admitted your fears, even to yourself, David, much less confronted them. And by not doing so, you would have become a weak, miserable man.'

'Because I'm so power and happy right now?' I asked him with a dry smile.

'Are you not? More powerful than Mimir ever chose to become, in any case,' Vyrt said. 'As for happiness? You have your duty, your lover. Friends, a fathe-'

'Watch. It,' I growled, moving across the desk until I was floating in front of him, then pulling on his lower jaw until it cracked. 'You're married and a brother, he has a lover. Do not make me take from the world what it has taken from me.'

'You do not mean that, David,' the nephilim said, looking on dispassionately as I mutilated his cousin. 'You are not the kind of man who hurts others through their loved ones.'

I laughed, letting go of Merlin. 'What do you know? What do I care? None of us are real, anyway...'

'You weren't the one who murdered Alexandru Horia's body, rather than his soul-the Keeper was. What happened to the iela was sad, but you and the zmeu are blaming yourselves for not being all-powerful and all-knowing, which no one could honestly find you guilty of. As for Constantin Silva...'

'I don't care how ARC would react if I killed you,' I warned him. 'Either of you, or both. But do not think I can't. Let them come. Neither they nor your tinfoil-wrapped puppets will save you.'

The nephilim fell silent, and I wasn't about to let him find his footing. 'But you know all about that, don't you, Vyrt? I wonder how you played Chernobog's part so well, you dissembling mongrel. I truly didn't even think it had been someone else up to this point; oh, I had my doubts. Knew something was wrong with my recollection of the event. But I'm not surprised.' My eyes turned steely. 'I never want to speak to either you again, you genocidal bastards'

I turned to leave, hopping off Vyrt's desk. Torment me with my own fears; set me up for Chernobog to rape my mind and soul, again; give him the chance to use me as a tool for wiping out the fae army, not that he couldn't have done it himself. But this way, he had added more insult to the injury. Had made me go insane with guilt.

And the murders? They calmed down those calling for actual, complete genocide. Made them calm down, so cooler heads could prevail. They could point to the impaled corpses as revenge or justice, whatever they desired, while Chernobog, who doubtlessly enjoyed it, also put even more blood on my hands.

And this all led to the Blackness. To relations being mended, and my mind and power honed. All so I could be a better fit for my role, and preserve this foul nightmare we were all trapped in.

As I was about to exit Vyrt's office, I stopped, turning on my heel. 'Oh, and Merlin?' I pointed at the Cambion. 'Go where you belong, and burn.'

The chain extending from him and down through the floor, a mirror of Mordred's, almost snapped in half with how fast the mage was yanked down. I still heard him scream, thankfully.

Once, his future self had hurt me through a vision. Now, I could hurt him through his projections.

Vyrt looked displeased but unsurprised at the banishment. You'd have thought bypassing the Roundhouse's wards and Merlin's powers would have impressed him, but all time was one moment to him. 'Should Bedivere wake up, he'll soon realise you're as much of a liar as his god. I hope he kills you.'


I laughed again. 'I hope Morderd burns this all down, and feeds you the ashes! Wonder how your Grandmaster would react to his home ending up the same as his  ideals.'

The doors slammed shut behind me as I left. I had expected the halls to be far more crowded, but only one Knight passed me: human, going by height and built, the only thing that would have made him stand out in formation being the dragon fang necklace around his gorget.

A weak smile tugged at my lips, despite myself. 'The Dragonlayer?'

Ronald sighed, muttering "of course you know...". 'Are you leaving, agent Silva? Your stay was brief.'

'Just catching up. I'm on-duty, and Chernobog's influence hasn't reached the British Isles, according to your Master. So...'

He put his hands together. 'We are indeed fortunate. But, agent, if you wouldn't mind some advice...I can see you are upset. Whatever your grudge with Master Vyrt, please remember that we are not all like him. We've never been that...' Despicable? 'Monolithical.'

I knew, dammit. Vykt, Miranda...even the Lady of the Lake, to a lesser extent. Ronald's wife and children, who he hoped would follow in their parents' footsteps. 'Sadly, a few good apples don't make a bunch.'

'True,' he said grudgingly. He had clammed up, his opinion of me souring, as soon as I'd opened my mouth. 'Goodbye, then. Unless you needed something...?'

'Two things. I understand Head Shiftskin came here for an informal audit?'

'The fact  you haven't noticed anything will tickle our architects pink,' Ronald said, sounding darkly amused.

'I'm glad. As for the second thing...may I ask if you were going to see Vyrt? It might not be a good time.'

'Nothing important.' He patted his breastplate. 'My son's said his first word, and the Master asked me and Clea to show him a recording, if we managed to catch it.'



'Do you see?' I asked, grabbing God's Mouth's head with clawed hands and pulling, but there was no neck to snap. 'Do you see what your ilk does on your god's orders? With his approval!?'

'I am not...Vyrt,' it grunted, grabbing my wrists as it pried my hands off it. 'And what he did to you was lamentable, David, but it has saved-will save!-infinitely more lives! Entire species, son...all there is-'

'WHAT  IS THERE, DAMMIT!?' I demanded, arms spread and raised to the sky. 'What is there? Do you even know why this all started? Not everyone twisting me to fit their purposes, but Chernobog's rampage. Do you know why he's doing it?'

'Of course.' Its real voice bled through. 'I was there.'


How disturbing was it that, by now, I was accustomed to speaking to Chernobog in my mind, if not sharing it with him?

Less than you might think. I couldn't have mustered any shock even before this...foul revelation.

When has the truth ever been beautiful, when it comes to gods?

It had all started so small: I had returned to Siberia, seeking my father's murderer. Chernobog had reached out to me, filling the sky with a vision of his past and goading me to look, see if I could notice any deception.

There was none. I saw the conversions, the people turning from a simpler, dualist faith to monotheism. I saw Belobog look at the gods who had given up without a fight, in his eyes, letting the Abrahamic religions overrun what should have been a neutral Earth. Tacitly admitting Yahweh had more influence, better preachers. That he was, simply, superior.

The White God sneered scornfully as they retreated to their Clusters, filled with people wrought by their own hands, faithful as anything. Instead of following their example, he took a stand, and prepared himself for war as he had never known before, as only a few gods had threatened to, before the Syncretic Treaty.

I saw his brother, who had fought with him so often, over creation and destruction, prey and predators, kindness and evil, cease his insults and challenges. I saw the two gods bury the axe, even if briefly, for Chernobog's ego would not let him lose to anyone,much less stand by while Belobog fought for what they represented.

And, though he only admitted it once, he didn't want his brother to die, either.

He didn't fail, in the end. Oh, Christianity spread over what had once been his domain, while the pantheons rallied together to beat him and Belobog down.

I saw the White God bleed ichor from a thousand wounds, but refuse to give up, no matter what he was offered or threatened with. Remembrance, sainthood, a goddess of his choosing as a wife; eternal imprisonment and torture, or banishment into the Void beyond all others.

I saw, to my surprise, Chernobog drag him away, shielding him with his body as he tried to heal him, and failed. I heard Belobog ask Chernobog to let him go, only to be denied.

And devoured. Consumed, and kept in a state of endless imprisonment, but alive. I saw the brothers' minds and powers join, and felt Chernobog change, his rage becoming sharper, colder. And I heard him swear...that...

'Do not misunderstand, David,' the Black God said at the edge of my mind. 'I am not showing you this and hoping you will turn to me-I neither expect nor desire that. I am not doing it to shatter your resolve, either; you are no longer that weak.'

'Then why?' I asked, hearing the unending, silent scream behind that ivory smile.

'So you might know both sides of the story. I know your god likes to pretend there are none, other than his.'

I grimaced, jaw clenched. 'He is no longer my god.'

I felt rather than saw him smile. 'And all it took was a little suffering...'


'Revenge,' Uriel continued. 'Because they were the only ones mad enough to break the Treaty, and look where it got them.'

'And killing them would have solved  everything?' I spat.

'They struck first, because they could not sway their people. I have no pity for them.'

'No...' I chuckled. 'No pity for them, or anyone. Right, Uri? Angel of rage, hatred masquerading as virtue.'

'Watch your tongue,' he snapped. 'Split my name not from my father's.'

'Fuck your father,' I said. 'I'll do to him what you did to mine.'

God's Mouth stumblef, and, for an instant, I wondered if my promise had surprised it. Then, it began mocking pops' memory again, as if it had never stopped.

'Oh, David...God's kindness can be cruel, in our eyes...but it is kindness.' It clasped its hands, drawing sparks. 'I do not like what He had to do. I have had-have-my own doubts. But turning against Him, or destroying all there is to spite Him, is not just insane: it is not like you at all, my son.'

I broke down. I cried, even as I beat at it, tore at its flames with my claws and fangs and godsight, sobbing as tears streamed down to mingle with drool. I was foaming at the mouth like a mad dog, but I didn't care. That was what they wanted, anyway.

'Stop! Stop! Stop! STOP, FUCKING DAMN YOU!' I screamed as I scrabbled at its chest, trying to find something, anything to hurt.

'This is not who you are! You believe so strongly all your life and beyond, then lose faith because of necessary tragedies? I am alive. Everything else can be mended!'

But I wasn't listening. I was roaring, trying to tear it apart even as my hands burned whenever I touched it.

'David! David, son, calm down! You're going to hurt yourself-'

'So fucking what!? Let me die, or let me kill you!'

It began muttering a prayer under its breath, before wrapping its arms around me, but not in a bearhug. I almost slowed down as I heard its next words. 'I wish I could do it for you,' it said, sobbing too. 'Bear all your burdens. I wish the world had never hurt you, that it wouldn't need to. I wish you only knew peace and joy, but David, it cannot be so. Not if we don't make it better, son...'

And by now, I had stopped, crying angrily, gnashing my fangs hard enough to split my lips and tongue, no longer speaking.

'Listen!' It grabbed my shoulders, shaking me. 'Do you hear him laughing? Maybe it's the Black God, maybe it's the Devil. They always laugh when good men are fighting, for that is when evil triumphs. Do you want them to win?'

I sniffed. 'I don't think either of us is good...or a man.'

'That is a lie, David. I did not raise a monster, and Mia wouldn't love one.' Its...his features...he began to look like... 'Let me help you, son. Do you remember what I taught you?'


I'm four, and today is my first day of kindergarten. First after the opening of the year celebration, that is. Daddy didn't come to it, because he was busy helping the security exorcise a hospital: both the patients and the building.

I was the only child present without a parent. And no one laughed at me, but I saw the faces, concerned or mocking, heard the whispers.



"Mommy? Does no one loce that boy?"

Daddy only came home this morning, to find me fully dressed and about to leave, the gate key shaking in my grip. When I saw him limping, I broke down, and cried about the crowd, amd his wounds, and the nightmare. I thkught he wouldn't come home.

He held me all through it. He's still holding me now. I'm going to be late, but I don't care.

'We'll talk more when you get back,' he slurs, voice thick and husky. His smile is still bright, though, as he rises to his feet with a crack of joints. Daddy's not old-he's twenty-four, twenty years older than me, like he'll always be-with short brown hair and a beard, but he sounds like an old man. 'I need to rest, and you need to leave. But before you leave...' he leans forward, placing a hand on my shoulder. 'Remember: do not talk to strangers, son. Do not stop when they ask you, or give them anything, or tell them anything about you. Do you understand?'

'But I only know you,' I say, wiping my puffy eyes with my blue shirt's sleeves. Not the red cravat; comrade teacher would get upset at me if I did that. Daddy said so. 'It's my first time out of the yard...'

I don't remember anything clear before I turned four. Certainly none of the neighbours.

'Even so.' His stern brown eyes soften slightly. 'You have a kind heart, my son. And, if someone deserves your help, that very heart will tell you. Trust me, and in God.' He pats my back. 'Now go!'

I call to him as he stumbles past me. 'I-If you weren't hurt, would take me there?'

He does not answer right away. 'No, David. You must learn to stand on your own.'

And, as I see him stagger towards the house, our dogs Rexy and Rex whining at the sight of him, I start crying again.

Nothing happens on the first day, besides the teacher chewing me out and the rest of the class snickering as they watch. They know better than to laugh, but even those giggles are enough to draw comrade teacher's attention to them, too. As such, she makes everyone go out in the yard to dig, so I make a great first impression.

Nothing happens on the second day, either, besides a suspicious number of floor sections in my way being slippery.

But on the third day...

Beggars and vagrants are rare, nowadays, because the police and the security round them up, for disturbing the peace, and send them to the Canal-or to less known facilities, to be used as labour or for other, darker purposes. But some slip through the cracks, so the Party can see who is likely to help them, and thus mark its targets. Who would rather aid leeches (that goes for both vagabonds and vampires) than report them, so they can be made useful?

This woman is neither one of those, nor a woman. She looks old, with few teeth separated by huge gaps, cataract-filled eyes and thin grey-white hair beneath her hood. Her brown skin is leathery and cracked, and her feet are mangled: one ends in a stump, the other is bent and twisted, barely enough to let her walk with the help of a cane that looks almost as old and gnarled as her.

'C'mon, darling-nothing to spare?' She holds out a rough hand as she hobbles closer, the nails broken and caked in filth. I look between her and the kindergarten. It's so close, just a few minutes away, but the road seems to stretch on forever, endless and empty. I can't even hear the grass rustling...or feel any breeze, for that matter.

'My daddy taught me not to talk to s-strangers,' I answer, and curse myself. Darn it-but isn't this talking to her? Then, in an outburst of childish candor, I add, 'I don't have any m-money. He gave me food, and I'm not gonna buy anything today.'

'But I'm not a  stranger, dearie. Remember?' She smiles, and I slowly smile at my grandmother in return.

She clamps her mouth over mine, beginning to gnaw at my lips, then my teeth, as her shroud enfolds me. I can see the other children sewn into it, and I laugh as I know we'll be together, forever!

Then scream as she is ripped in half. My father's hands push her torso apart, revealing her hollow body, and she tries to claw and bite and scream at him as she crumbles. Cursing him, and at him, but to no avail. Her flesh bursts into white flame, and in a blink, she's a pile of smoking ash at his foot.

'I-I'm s-sorry!' I babble, falling to my knees and hugging his, but he grabs my shoulders, dusting me off as he lifts me to my feet, pressing his free hand to my bloody face to heal it.

'No, David. I should be apologising. Should've sensed it sooner.'

I look up at him, gaping. 'B-But...but didn't you say you wouldn't c-come?'

'In case you were safe, David. I told you that so you would believe in yourself.'

'So it was a...a l-lie?' But d-daddy's never lied to me before...

'Fathers sometimes lie to their sons, David.'

I stare at the kindergarten, hugging his leg. 'D-Does that mean that...' I gulp. 'G-God lies, too?'

I have never seen my father so angry. I never want to see him like this again. 'Give me your hand, David,' he says gruffly. 'I'm walking you there from now on.'

'Oh, n-no need. I'll be more careful. I p-promi-'

'Give me your hand, son.'

And I do.


I am ten, terrified, and, soon, about to be alone.

'Remember, David,' pops says as he takes a knee before me. 'You do not open the door to anyone, no matter what they're saying, asking for or selling. Promise me, son.'

'I p-promise.' Then, softer, 'But what if it's y-you?'

'I have keys, David.' He looks halfway between bemused and concerned. 'Not that I need them to enter. I will never need to ask to be let in, son.'

'B-But what if forget them...? What if it's your verger, or-' I choke up. What iifhe's too hurt to move, and d-dies because I-

'David? Is he tempting you? You don't open the door to anyone, period. I don't care if you think God Himself is outside, asking to be let in.' He sighs, then hugs me. 'Please, son...'

I hug him back. 'I w-won't.'

And he leaves, and I'm alone. Nothing can be heard from outside over the howling wind and cracking branches. I jump at every shadow for a minute, then, knees knocking, turn on every light in the house.

Daddy returns three hours later. Or so I think, at first.

'David,' he says, standing in front of the living room window with a tired, but proud smile. He's done good work tonight. 'Can you open, please? My keys got crushed.'

'Why don't you faithcraft new ones?' I snap, terror driving me to anger. 'W-Why do you need any, a-anyway?' My eyes narrow. 'Why aren't the dogs barking?'

He closes his eyes wearily. 'Sweetie, please. It's getting late.'

'Then come in!' I challenge him, scared, but drawn inevitably towards the window. He never calls me sweetie or darling-none of that sappy crap. Clutching my cross makes it burn coldly in my grip, as cold as my red eyes. Then, I see all of it.

Have you ever seen a rat king? A bunch of rats tied together by their tails? It was something between that and a mass grave.

It rises far, far above the house, far thinner than it is tall, like an eel, or a serpent. Dozens, hundreds of corpses stitched together, with coarse rope and razor wire tying everything up. All of them are still moving, still talking, but...dead. It's a deep, continuous moan, as hollow as their shining eyes.

And, at the top of the monster, like an anglerfish's lure, is the simulacrum of my father. Only a torso, made to look like him. At its sides are the hollowed-out carcasses of our dogs, eyes gleaming, fangless mouths opening and closing repeatedly.

'Then come to me, son,' it says in a thousand voices. 'Come. Your mother is with us, too. We'll put your heart to rest~'

I faint.

And, though I know it not, two things happen that night: firstly, Hogge feasts. Secondly, Andrei Dravich begins to sleep easier, no longer tossing and turning when thinking of his lover's remains, mysteriously vanished from her shallow grave.

And when my father comes home, he...he is p-proud of me.


'But I am not a stranger, David...' my father said. 'Let me help you.' He laughed as he shook his head, but weakly, and I could hear a sob under the sound.

He extended his arms, waiting for me to grab his hands.

And, as I watched the mindscapes sway under, around and above us, him trying and failing to keep his footing, I knew what I had to do.


Asterion was alone in the Labyrinth, once again.

In truth, he had never left it. Whenever he felt pressed or challenged, whenever his hunger gnawed at him, he returned to that noisome maze, cramped yet unending, the sky tantalisingly close but forever out of reach.

It was the place he never wanted to go back to. The one Eidolon tried to keep him away from.

But he was not its prisoner anymore. He was its master, even if the Labyrinth had passed into legend and memory long before his return to the world of flesh.

He remembered sitting with Eidolon on a jagged mountaintop one day, talking about everything and nothing; or rather, existence and its mirror. Eidi, his beautiful marble goddess, had argued that there wasn't really such a thing as something not existing anymore, except for extreme cases, such as the Idea of it being removed, alongside the possibility and knowledge of it. Otherwise, things simply passed in and out of perception. When imagination was merely another facet of creation, what did physical destruction matter?

Asterion had, he reflected, unknowingly used this philosophy for centuries before he had even met her. The Labyrinth from his memories was as tangible for him as the real thing had ever been, and he could pull it out of his mind like a sword out of a sheath.

Which was what he did now. And, despite his earlier provocation, Chernobog seemed to falter as the impossible walls sprung into the void he had created, containing it, shaping it, sealing it away, for all that it was endless and corrosive.

Between its formation and the end of the Middle Ages, mankind had produced truly exceptional people. The Knights of the Round Table, on the unclaimed Earth this fight had begun on; Daedalus, on his.

Aster did not doubt that this world's Daedalus had been a genius, but his had been the second coming of Hephaestus, a god of knowledge and crafting in all but nature. The maze he had crafted had been-was-an unliving, unthinking thing, but it reacted, planned and hunted ass fiercely as any hound, wanting nothing more than to lose everything within itself.

And that was what it would have done, without the Tartarus Engine's will commanding it, by virtue of the bond they shared. The monster was always in the Labyrinth, and vice versa. The infinity of corridors, impossibly-angled and without corners, slipping between the four states of matter and the idea of themselves, flew at the Black God, trying to crush and seal him, bury him under endless stone.

Chernobog fought, of course. He would not be sealed again, like he had been after running from the remains of his destroyed Cluster with his brother devoured and revenge in his heart. Chains shot out of him, like the ones entangling and crushing the gods who had assaulted him, for all that, with how much they had increased their power by now, each could have destroyed the mundane universe and an infinity like it with a twitch.

Stone met darkness, and non-euclidean architecture dissolved into nothing even as it tried to smother it. With an enervated, but amused grin, Chernobog turned his attention to the bull rampant, and creation sat up and watched as the two began battling their way through its higher layers.

It was the fourth, at first. Three dimensions of space, one of time, spanning an infinity of realities. Then, the fifth, with another, timeless infinity full of hypershapes, where even a stray thought of the meanest creature would have erased the fourth layer like the fiction it was to it.

Then the sixth, seventh, eight...upwards into the bounds of dimensioned reality, then into the Voids beyond it.

How many Voids were there? How many numbers were between one and two? One point one, one point two...and between two and infinity?

That was how the Voids would have been counted, if one bent their intellect to the task. In the least of them, the multiverse was a whisper of a dream, and each Void was similarly contained and dwarfed by the following.

Asterion and Chernobog smashed right through the First Gate separating ordered reality from the primal Dreamlands. They grew in power and stature as they brawled their way upwards, through Void after Void, and yet Chernobog never let go of his prey.

Even when they burst through the Ultimate Gate and into the Outer Void, when the gap between the Ideas of them and themselves disappeared, Chernobog did not let go.

'Why?' Asterion asked, demanding justification as much as he wanted to satiate a mad curiosity. What could Chernobog want with them? Revenge, surely; to satisfy some old grudge against Perun, maybe. But shouldn't he have gloated about it by now?

'Because this is what they did to me,' Chernobog snarled in reply, baring his brother's teeth. 'To us, Asterion. Were you not born out of the whims of two spiteful fools? Were you not damned by another, with the approval of his father? Chained in Hades while Minos judged the dead?'

The Black Hunger laughed, actually surprised-inasmuch as he could be, or do anything, here, in the changeless un-realm beyond place and moment. ' think we're the same? That my misfortune is, in any way, comparable or similar to the folly you began?' His neck-ring twitched as he grinned, horns swaying. 'Your brother would be alive, if not for his greed and bruised pride; and he would be dead, if not for your madness and selfishness. In the end, obsession doomed you both.'

'You know not of what you speak...' Chernobog said warningly.

'Don't I? This is, all, just the tantrum of a child with too much power and not enough self-control,' Asterion continued, enjoying the chance to finally look down on someone. He began understanding why Minos had enjoyed it so much, even if he was still far from approving of it. 'You should've accepted the olive branch.'

'And what then? Faded into quiet irrelevance? Settled down with some goddess and had her caress all the woes away?'

'Neither would have been enough for you, would have it? Or both. Zalmoxis accepted the first. Could you have survived the second, with how wretched you are? Do you even want love?' He pointed at the god's chest. 'You do not love your brother. You want to keep him, preserve him like an insect in amber. Own him. And, in this way, you satisfy both your desires. You keep him alive...and you finally, and completely, triumph over him. For does his very existence not rest in your hands? How proud you must feel...'

'And who are you to speak about desires and refusal? You, who exchanged your oubliette for a leash? Who couldn't even touch your love before she became living stone?' Chernobog smiled pityingly. 'Come, Aster. You know your powers will never cure Eidolon, nor will hers, unless you choose to view oblivion itself as a solution. Hera will never allow it, and her kindred will not lift a finger. But the fact they are unwilling does not make it impossible for me.' The Black God extended a hand, which Asterion only glanced at once.

'You're making the same mistake they did.'

Chernobog's hand wavered at Asterion's blunt declaration, but he didn't retract it. 'Who...what are you talking about?'

'Whenever someone tries to be genial without meaning it, I can tell. No need to read their thoughts. I can practically hear them.' He snorted, nostrils flaring. 'Do you have any idea how many try to exploit me while calling me "minotaur"? The bull of Minos. Even after my death, and his, I'm still thought of as  his. His property. The monster he never wanted, but used.'

'I have only called you by name,' the Black God pointed out.

'It doesn't matter. I can still feel the contempt. Oh, it's not directed at me, but at everyone-every thing-besides you.' Aster showed his fangs. 'Have you forgotten I am worshipped myself? I know all about deception. You do this,' he gestured at the chains trailing away from Chernobog, and the cocoon-like shapes they began at the end. 'You promise to enslave us, after everything you've done and threatened to do, then you offer help? And you not only expect me to believe your offer is sincere, but less accept it?'

'It matters not to me if you trust me or not,' Chernobog said, voice growing harsher. 'It matters only whether you want it. Do you, Asterion? You want the Olympians cast down, Minos tortured, Eidolon restored-admit it!'

'Yes,' the Bull Rampant hissed. 'And I don't care what you or they do to me. But I am not going to let you win,' he swore.

Chernobog's pitying smile returned. 'Oh, were so sure my victory depends on your permission, you missed the fact I have already achieved it.'

And, as tentacles of a blackness even fouler than his form coiled around the Tartarus engine, Chernobog turned away, and reached towards his prize.


The moment I touched God's Mouth, everything, the cemetery, the inferno, the not-space where they met, fell into a darkness I was depressingly familiar with by now.

Got you~

, I promised. You do not.

I opened my eyes wider than I ever had before. Then, I opened his.


'Release me!' Asterion demanded, a fist clenched around a crude, jagged shape, as pure a weapon as only something of this realm could. 'Or I will destroy you-and your master.'

Chernobog bristled at the threat; another fool who knew nothing but thought he knew everything; who thought he served the Crawling Chaos any more than a bear served a wolf. But with that irritation, came a moment of clarity.

The minotaur wasn't speaking to him. The dumb beast was speaking to its assailant. And the promise, the weapon...

'Typhon,' he whispered, attention almost shifting. 'You took from him. His claws, his fangs...' he crushed the surprise under anger. 'So what? You cannot strike down Nyarlathotep with such a paltry thing, much less the Blind Idiot pulling its choke-chain.'

'Can't I?' Asterion chuckled. 'Here, where the truest, deepest essence of everything reigns? You forget Typhon was birthed to tear down the Heavens and the gods, seat himself as the master of everything he surveyed. Aye, perhaps this cannot slay the Lord of All, or even harm it...' his eyes glimmered. 'Perhaps it can. Are you willing to take the risk?'

Chernobog prepared to reply, and that was when Asterion threw the knife at him.


'You see?' I asked him as we joined minds. 'You were crippled and distracted, then trapped, by the efforts of two people who have never even met.'

Chernobog clutched his chest as he glared balefully at me, black ichor slowly dripping down upon Belobog's curled up form.

'But then,' I went on, smirking. 'You believed the pantheons would tear me apart over the gift you forced upon me. Over the things you made me do. And look what did  not happen.'

He didn't respond, instead, he knelt, trying to devour Belobog again, or at least preserve his life. 'It's useless,' I said, looking down at the two. 'His time should have come long ago. For delaying his death, and your myriad other crimes, I will destroy you.'

He lost his composure at this, though he masked it with an ugly laugh. 'Are you already DEATH's Keeper, David? Do you already enforce its will?'

'No,' I replied. 'But I want justice. And I want to see you suffer.'

I slapped his hands away from his brother, stomping down on and through Belobog's corpse as it dissolved, finally free. I grabbed Chernobog as he leapt screaming at me, by the antlers, and glared into his eyeless face, matching my power to his even as he tried to break free.

From behind, walking through the mindscape as if through fog and water, the distorted shape of God's Mouth approached me, putting a proud hand on my shoulder.

'Let us begin, my son,' Constantin said, adding his mind to mine.


My father lived, and I couldn't even properly celebrate it, except by crying and grinning as I put my plan into motion. It was a stretch, but...but...

'You know,' I told Chernobog, trying to sound nonchalant despite the harsh rasp of my voice. 'I've always been curious. And I've never had a chance to look at creation, and see what and who everyone is so hellbent in defending.' My grin wavered, and not just from the mental effort. All the shit I'd gone through was coming to the fore of my mind. Between that, the realisation pops lived and the struggle against Chernobog, I could hardly even hear my strigoi side anymore. 'Let us see.'

This would do more than answer my question, which had been real. It would distract Chernobog until I could try to get rid of him, in case I decided to go on. Did we deserve to live? Had my head been clearer, maybe I would have asked myself if I deserved to judge anything within an order if magnitute of this, much less, spare or destroy.

But it was not. So I did not.


Lucian looked up, staring straight ahead as he sensed my presence. His arms never moved from around his lover.

'The prodigal son in the making,' Bianca said, shooting me a cold, flat glare.

I winced. 'Maybe not, Bia. But you know I would never do what he did to you.'

'Wouldn't you? For the greater good?'

I looked at Lucian in lieu of answering. 'I'm glad you two are together now.' Then, to the other zmeu in the room, 'Aaron is not here?'

'No,' Lucas said, his voice a match for Bianca's eyes. 'Went to give his condolences to Dravich. Schedule the burial, if he can.'

R-Right. The burial...

'Why're you peeking around, Silva?'

'Trying to decide if life's worth living,' I answered.

'Hell,' Lucas leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. 'Not like I can stop you, but...let me have a last smoke.'

As his hand reached for a cigar, the other grasped his younger's brother, who smiled thinly.

'No way you'll quit when his conscience wins out.'

'Little punk,' Lucas grumbled. 'I'd keep that promise even if I didn't want to prove you wrong!'


'It'll be quiet,' Aaron, human-sized, said as he looked at my birth father's shrouded remains on the forensic lab table. 'Small. Dravich didn't have many friends, and most of the enemies who respected him are dead.'

'You coming, kid?' a blonde weredog asked, hands in the pockets of the coat she wore over her Supernatural Service uniform. Her eyes were wet. 'He'd have liked you to.'

'I don't know,' I admitted.


'No, David,' Aya said firmly, her glowing eyes staring daggers into me. 'I do not agree. You can hate me-ARC-all you want, but this would condemn more innocents than you can imagine-'

'Actually,' I interrupted. 'I can. I have.'

She worked her jaw. 'You do not have my permission, agent. Nor my approval. In fact, I order you to stand down.' Her voice almost shook. 'I order you to live, David. I know that is what you truly want.'

'Silva,' a new voice echoed through the aether, and I glanced aside. Thousands of kilometres away, Sam glared at me from Salem Headquarters. 'I don't give a damn about myself, but I won't let you stop Aya and her kids from having closure. Don't make me come after you.'

'And I won't let you threaten me, Dibe. I know what you've been through. Don't you want peace? What if others end up living through torment like that, too?'

Shiftskin scoffed. 'Think about your girl, you idiot.'


'Of course I want to live, Silva. I must live to experience. Why would you even contemplate omnicide? Are you stupid?'

Something told me Hex's face had been made for frowning even before it had become white as chalk, his lips and eyelids stitched together.

''tis the ultimate despair, Emil...' Nacht simpered coiling around and through him, only visible to my godsight. 'He is so, so sick and tired of everything...yet, at the same time, he wants his love to survive! Ah, the duality of man...I would keep you like this forever, if I could,' it leered at me. 'I would fight you, too, if only for Emil's sake, but were I to match your might, and pit mine against it, I would only advance your half-baked destructive aims. The Dream will continue in an orderly manner, or end.'

While he spoke to me through the aether, Hex moved through his clinic, having recovered a new pair of pliers after his teenage were patient had broken the last. To mundane eyes, he appeared pale and sallow, with dirty brown hair and eyes, like a wearier version of my human self.

The boy was worried, but not because of Hex. While everyone who went to him knew Emil Strauss was a mage who had worked as a doctor before and after the rise of Nazism, with his longevity tied to his magic, few knew he was Hex, Salem agent, much less about Nacht's existence or connection to him. And of those people, nearly none frequented his clinic, and almost never to be treated.

'Your mother is waiting outside.' Hex shook the pliers in what he probably thought wasn't a threatening manner. 'Stop thrashing. With every tool you break, she waits longer and I have to work more.'

'Sorry, doc,' the patient-Kurt, I saw, looking back a few minutes-said sheepishly. Fittingly, given his hybrid form. 'I'll buy...erm, ask her to buy you some new ones.'

'I can make more,' Hex said. 'The tools are not the issue. You being agitated is. Keep wasting time, and you'll die.'

As Hex spoke, he pulled out a silver splinter out of the wereram's torso every few words. Several patches of flesh were already covered in sealing foam. The mage's voice became as soft as I had ever heard from him. 'And stop getting into fights. You hurt your mother more than you hurt yourself.'

Kurt's lips curled, revealing thick, flat teeth. 'Easy for you to say. They ain't never called you an animal, sir.'

'Every "Nazi" remnant I have been approached me has either tried to recruited me, or kill me.' Hex said, placing another bloody splinter in a bucket. 'The reasons vary, but I can make them back off without danger to myself. Look into ways to do that.'

'Never knew you cared...'

'It's tedious to always treat the same wounds. At least get poisoned with silver the next time.'

Kurt swung his legs over the edge of the table as Hex walked away from it, boggling at the mage's back. 'That...doc, I'm pretty sure you can't just say shit like that to patients...'

'I'm neither pretty nor sure,' Hex began washing his hands in the sink. 'But I know my clinic isn't a psychiatric hospital. And yet, basket cases keep coming....'

I wasn't sure whether he was joking, or whether it would have been better or worse if he was.
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

After Life, Epilogue, Part 2

The Irishman whirled around to pin me with an accusing look, green eyes narrowed. As if my presence, for lack of a batter arm, in the church not only confirmed all the accusations he had levelled at me, but compounded them.

'Costi's corpse,' Angus Murphy spat. 'Finally got too scared to skulk into holy places anymore?' He sounded so hopeful, it was my pleasure to burst his bubble.

'I have neither the time nor the desire to step into the shack you oversee.' Before he could retort, he continued. 'My father always told me about you, Angus. You're just like he said.'

His white teeth barely showed in his beard. 'A narrow-minded firebrand?'

'A man who is prejudiced, but not evil. He has always hoped you would become better, and so do I.'

The priest deflated slightly. 'Ye do? Truly?'

I nodded, my presence approaching him. 'I pity you. I've never lived with such hatred in myself, and I wish you wouldn't have to.' I paused, then let a hint of slyness enter my voice. 'I know why you're still here, Angus.'

'What? Besides talkin' to ye? Damn impressive, considering even  I don't know.'

I smiled. 'God told you to wait, but not why or what for, and you did. But not out of misguided love. That is faith. Thank you, Angus.'

'For sittin' me arse down?' he asked, bemused.

I squeezed one of his calloysed hands. 'For praying for my father.'

At this, he laughed bitterly, looking away as he rose from his chair. 'God guided my hand and mind, ye idiot. But...yer welcome.'

'But if you had no faith, God couldn't-wouldn't-have touched you.'


Chernobog roared as he tried to pull himself out of my mental grasp. The metaphysical equivalent of a headbutt left my senses scrambled, but I held on, feeling my father's hand on my shoulder.

'You thought,' the Black God breathed. 'You could enter this contest, and not be struck back?'


I was in Hell. Or, more specifically, under it.

Hell stretched infinitely into all directions. The fact it also had a bottom, never mind anything under it, had nothing to do with space or logic.

This Underhell was reminiscent of the waters, before God had split them. His absence was felt her more keenly than anywhere else above, but there was no one to despair at it. The things that swam through the waters were accustomed to this state, while the demons that had been sent there, some of which had grown to resemble the original creatures, felt, if anything, joy.

The sensation gnawed at my soul, just like the monsters attempted to devour me. But they flinched whenever I turned my eyes on the, or when they felt my father's light. Here was an old enemy in a new form, accompanying the bearer of a foreign god's power, one they had never known, but loathed as much as that of their own.

Of course Chernobog had tried to drown me in darkness. It was all he had ever known, the only thing he truly understood. But he wouldn't succeed. I had seen through him with my godly eyes, and, surrounded by my father's light and warmth, I wouldn't get lost in the shadows.

All that remained to do was decide whether the light or the darkness deserved primacy.

The Princes of Hell crowded around me the moment I arrived, whispering into my soul, prodding at my spirit, I brushed them all off, though it got harder with every offer.

'You have no desire to glut yourself,' Beelzebub said, his mantle of flies buzzing dejectedly. 'Even now, when you can make yourself taste anything, and feed on whatever you want, however much you think yourself elevated for this, too. Fool.'

'You only desire the lust of a single woman. How can you look at the orchard of creation, and limit yourself to one tree? And your heart bleeds so much for her, too...' Asmodeus tutted.

'The thirst for fame is still there, but ah, how bitter the draught is! You have all existence and beyond waiting on you with bated breath, at your mercy...but your soul is torn apart at the thought of hurting them, even as it wants to end their pain,' Mammon laughed with a fierce, shining grimace.

'So much you have changed, little Keeper in the making...first, you envied the mage and his family, so quietly you did not even realise it. You grew jealous of those who share quiet love, when you met your zmeu. Now, you wonder if any of that is truly real...' Leviathan crooned.

'Lies, in my father's house? I long for the days you would have reacted like this to the priest, David,' Lucifer shook his head. 'Such righteous indignation...I have not felt its like since I have looked within myself, and Mordred.'

'What about him?' I asked. 'Is the Knight of Rebellion going to take this lying down?'

'He's chomping at the bit to crush you, if only because he hates higher powers,' he answered. 'But he knows his intervention will merely hasten the end, and Mordred has never wanted to be the king of a wasteland. As I told him on our first meeting-I liked the cut of his jib, even then; we were both the neglected sons of uncaring, ungrateful fathers-, ruling over ashes means nothing.'

'You imply he would survive the Dream's ending,' I noted, and felt the arrogance shift into wrath.

'You feel no satisfaction on having everyone by the throat, do you? No pride,' Satan accused. 'Only grief. My other face would destroy you for this, but we know your worth. Your importance.' His face grew more sour with each word. 'We do not wish for everything to end. We chose to rule in Hell rather than serve in Heaven, but we need something to rule. Do not give in, Silva.'

I grinned, despite myself. 'Are you begging me?' I asked, struggling not to laugh as his roar shook Hell.

'We will hunt you, Silva! We will torment you forever for this insult! For we know your heart. You will never be rid of us!'

As he drifted away, I felt a sense of absence, as vast as the waters, but somehow, even more gruelling. The void then went from simply empty to hungry, trying to drag all that I had ever been and could be into itself.

It was not doing this maliciously, or even intentionally. That was my first clue that it was not Chernobog.

Belphegor's presence was the most crushing out of all his siblings'. Not as powerful as Satan's aura, not by a longshot, but, in a way, even more disheartening.

Because the Prince of Sloth did not preside over mere laziness. Procrastination, hesitation, lack of will; all fell under his purview, and, as extensions of such feelings, so did despair and surrender.

I had expected Belphegor's offer to hit the hardest. I hadn't expected it to be the last, but perhaps I should have. I had thought that my soul would glow the brightest in his eyes, but it seemed his nature had won out in the end. Or maybe he had just amused himself with his siblings' failures.

'Do as you will, David Silva,' Belphegor said, eyes half-lidded as he lounged on a padded throne. 'Forge on, or give up...'tis all the same to me. Whether everything ends or continues to grow...' furred, titanic shoulders rose and fell like mountain ranges covered by ancient forests. 'I have never been able to bring myself to care. But that matters not. I already have left my mark on you.'

' have, haven't you?' I breathed. 'I suppose suicide would belong to you, if anyone.'

Because Belphegor was not any kinder than his fellow Princes. If anything, he was crueller, and certainly more insidious. He was the voice in your head, muttering that nothing mattered. That all your achievements were for nothing, and would crumble into dust and be forgotten. That not even your descendants would remember you, in the end, after your headstone had been scraped clean by winds and rain.

That, no matter what you did, you were just grist for the mill, and might as well give up.

Here was the monster that had tempted me to end myself, as true an ally of my future self as Vyrt. Here was-though I doubted he would ever admit it-the embodiment of Szabo's fears, of isolation, anonymity and irrelevance. He had lived as an Orthodox, even on the edges, not practicing.

Belphegor's empty smile widened slowly, with the grinding inevitability of a chasm opening during an earthquake. I was about to ask what was so funny, when I felt it.

Another growing absence. Another void expanding. Not here, but in the aether, as more and more souls, guilty and blameless alike, were consumed by the furnace of a cosmic monster's confused rage. My attention was tugged towards it, by the chain extending from me into the future, then beyond time.

I turned away, almost running in my haste to...dammit. I wouldn't give in to the impulse. How could I even stop DEATH?

Did I even want to?

These questions, and Belphegor's voice, followed me as I left the Pit behind.

'The grains of sand are falling away, David...hear the end coming...'


The Shaper looked nearly as surprised at my arrival as I had felt at deciding I should visit it.

The Reptilian Collective's realm had grown beyond anything they had described to us. A spherical structure of hardlight and exotic materials, most artificial, thousands of times larger than the universe, orbited around what looked like a permanent portal into the aether.

Its identical counterparts, more numerous than the quarks within the original, filled the rest of the hyperspatial pocket. It could have been a multiverse into itself-a finite one, but still-had it not been folded inside and around Earth's core.

That was the difference between hyperspatial folding and cruder manipulation of space. Preventing gravitational disasters, such as the formation of black holes and other dangers to the fabric of spacetime.

All of this was surrounded by an infinitely-layered randomisation barrier, with similar bubbles covering the megastructures and select spaces within and between them. Each layer had a wonderful surprise for uninvited guests, from conversion to antimatter, quantum decomposition and scattering across the multiverse, to all your possible states of existence being spontaneously reduced to a single one, of nonexistence. There were also several layers that would trigger yoctomachines meant to kill an invader at birth, which made me wonder when Gallifrey would be suing.

My perception would not have been stopped by this alone, but the rationalisation field around the barrier did a wonderful job at it. All the information, I received from the hesitant brush of the machine-gestalt that was the Shaper against my mind. It was not a question of power, but of nature, and my godsight was decidedly paranormal in the reptilians' eyes.

I had a few questions for them about that. Given I had come anyway.

'Aberrant Silva...? Hello. ARC has not scheduled a meeting. Is this to be an unofficial request, or something that they would rather keep quiet?'

I shook my head, heart warming slightly at the...utter lack of hostility. That was as nice these days as it was rare. And it was coming from an alien, nonetheless.

Albeit, there were those who argued that, since the Collective had reached Earth shortly after its formation, they were not any more aliens than we, who had evolved billions of years after their arrival, were.

'Neither, Shaper. I am here...for myself. Forget the uniform. I'm just David Silva for today.'

It nodded cautiously. 'Nevertheless, even if you are just visiting as a friend, it would be desirable to announce us before, rather than trigger the defences and risk bad blood, or injury.'

'I'll keep that in mind,' I promised. Not that I was thinking clearly enough for that. 'Thank you.'

'You are welcome. So...the reason for your arrival?'

I crossed my arms. 'Am I bothering you?'

'Negative. Nor are you keeping us from something. We are merely curious, and you are speaking to a single facet of us.'

I bit my lip as the Shaper continued observing me in patient silence, then began speaking. It grew more grim with every word.

'We have always known the macrocosm to be dangerously vulnerable,' it said after the end of my explanation. 'But this is new. And worse than we expected. But the, perhaps the existence of everything resting on the shoulders of one person should not be surprising, when aberrants are involved. You do always make everything about yourselves,' it sounded amused. 'Drawing events towards you like a black hole does matter.'

'Why do you call us aberrants?' I finally asked. 'I've always been curious.'

The Shaper did the mental equivalent of blinking. 'Because your abilities and, indeed, your very existence, violates the laws of physics. It is not a slur, but a classification, as we have repeatedly made clear, but we apologise if we caused you any offence, David Silva.'

'No. See, I get that. But for you to say something is paranormal, wouldn't you have to establish what is normal first?'

'We have. Billions of years ago.'


'Through study. Deliberation followed analysis, and we agreed on what is possible within nature, and what is not.'

I chuckled. 'No, I mean, how did you come to this conclusion? Didn't you come into contact with the Kratocracy and Unity Stellar before you came to Earth? Aren't their powers paranormal, even if they're inherent? What about your own creations?'

'We will answer your second query first, but know there is nothing aberrant abut our creations, quantum entanglement of traits aside.'

'Really? Then how can the Unscarred reach lightspeed without infinite energy or converting itself into energy? For that matter, how can it destroy planets? It's neither heavy nor fast enough.'

'Weak tachyon fields let one reach lightspeed, though it takes more potent ones to surpass it. And the Unscarred's hyper-efficient physiology generates far more energy than a natural creature with a similar physique could.'

It all sounded like bullshit technobabble to me-weren't tachyons FTL by definition?-, but I let it go. 'And the other aliens?'

'You suggest that, observing them, we would come to the conclusion that nothing is impossible? Do not be absurd, aberrant Silva. We spent eons on the world of Zhay-a beautiful world, if caught between arid and humid extremes, but entirely natural-and the systems around it before we came into contact with what would become the other Great Powers. That was where we laid down the bedrock of our science.'

'But there are literally more Kratocrats than reptilians, never mind mundane humans. Aren't you basing things on the traits of minorities?'

'True, our species is unusually undeveloped in terms of aberrant capabilities, in the sense we completely lack them. No psychic powers, no aetherkinesis...but we are not alone. The Lesser Powers often lack such things as well, and make do with reason and engineering, just as we have, if on smaller scales.' The Shaper's tone began gently chiding. 'Do not judge the cosmos in accordance to the Great Powers. That is a mistake both they and their perceived inferiors often make.'

'Duly noted...' I said, making the Shaper nod appreciatively, then wait for me to continue. 'This-the you I'm speaking to-is only an infinitesimal part of the true you.'

'Correct. We are the Collective, and the Collective is us.' Its voice was unusually warm, given what I knew of the detached, clinical artificial intelligence.

'Like we are just parts of "God",' I said. 'Except you care more about your people than it does. You care, to begin with.'

'Ah. This is the crux of the matter.' In my mindscape, the Shaper, appearing as the small, green reptilian I had met on Mars, which was riding on the Unscarred, directed its mount to sit down, cross-legged. 'The bulk of our intellect is currently engaged in studying it.'


'The First, Ultimate Principle. The Causeless Beginning. Monad and Apeiron, Arche and Hypostasis-the One and its emanations: nous, psyche, logos. The Substrate.' It sounded actually excited. Not awed or worshipful, but eager to talk about what this being represented to it. 'We could list terms forever, and still not encompass its nature.'

'Maybe even non-Western ones?'

'We had the feeling references to Zhayvin philosophy would be lost on you, aberrant Silva.'

'"Those who live on Zhay". Like you'd call us terrans?'

'Those who lived on Zhay. Neither it nor its inhabitants exist anymore. We have changed ourselves too much to be recognisable to our ancestors, and our world was destroyed by our own hands: a symbolic act, to show our warmongering ways had ended, with the death of the homeworld we had abused.'

Could a warlike era truly change a species on such a fundamental level, and drive it to even further change?

'That seems...monolithic.'

'You mean strange, to you,' the scales around its eyes shifted, like a human's skin wrinkling with mirth. 'The truth is that we are old, while mankind-in any of its incarnations within this relatively ordered universe-is yet to pass its first billion years. It is common for mature cultures to have a single government or equivalent.'

I joined it on the ground of our shared mindscape, mirroring the Unscarred's pose. Behind it, a kingdom of gears, cogs and other, less identifiable machine components rose towards infinity. 'Do you think it's worth it, Shaper?'

'Existing? Or existence?'


The little reptilian dismounted the Unscarred, landing a metre in front of me. 'Your perception is stupendous. Comparable to ours, if not superior. But your perspective is different, for you are one being, while we are infinite in thought and form. Do you wish to see the macrocosm as we do?'

It showed me. Every space in every moment of every universe within dimensioned reality, as well as in every timeless not-space of the layers beyond the first four, filled with yoctomachines. Smaller than quarks, smaller than preons, constructed of artificial Constructed artificial particles, modified into tools to be wielded by the Collective.

Each of them was incapable of self-improvement, except in case of crisis, and even then, written into the very essence of its machine, was an ironclad command to never act around the Collective or its ideals, unless the reptilians betrayed those themselves, willingly or forced.

'How have you reached this far?' I asked. 'Weren't you limited to spacetime?'

'A short while ago, as humans count such things. But every span of time is equal in our eyes now. Our would-be destroyers have been broken and harnessed, and they flow into other dimensions like water into a vessel, changing to fit. We have reached even further.'

And we left dimensionless reality behind, along with the Voids and the Gates, until we reached the Outer one, the Realm of Ideas.

'We have labeled this the prime realm, for the most primal, yet complete forms of everything seem to be located here.' The Shaper leapt onto my shoulder. 'During a recent, failed negotiation, we beheld old rivals, who surpassed themselves to become one with the ur-form of ordered reality. Between our observation of them, and our recent acquisitions, we have begun digging into the bedrock of the macrocosm.' It pointed a gnarled, clawed finger somewhere above me. 'See?'

I did: it was a reflection of the machine realm that represented the Shaper's mind...or, were they truly separate?

'That, we have determined, is the ur-form of science, and its off-shots. With sufficient research, we will be able to bring such ideas within mundane reality, like the Atlanteans used to do. Not instantly,' it sounded regretful. 'They needed millions of years to reach this realm, and millions more to master it. But unbreakable, unstoppable weapons and structures should be doable, within a few millennia, even in small numbers.'

'What did you want o show me? I already know about this,' I gestured at the Archetypes.

'We spoke of the bedrock, but in truth, we hope to reach the root-the primeval seed that is the ultimate flower, you see? All other endeavours are secondary.'

'Even protecting life?' I asked.

'By studying it, we are protecting life. Its ways and habits are oblique, obscure, abstruse. Nearly incomprehensible. We do not know why the things that enervate and agitate it do so, only that they could lead to ultimate dissolution, if they are not rectified.'

And so, we came back to me. 'You can say it.'

'We find it unsettling, indeed, wrong, that one person should be forced to shoulder such burdens. The macrocosm should not be so unstable and random. But, to return to your question...yes, David Silva. Of course life and experience deserve to continue!'

Enthusiastically, it summoned holograms of several realities from the fourth layer, each an infinite expanse of a single element: granite, water, various gases, plasma.

'That last one? There the dark night sky paradox became fact,' the Shaper gestured at the seething, endless soup of star fire. 'Each of these cosmoses, with their strange laws of physics? Take that unending forest, for example. How does it exist in its current form, instead of collapsing into a seething inferno? We already know,' it said, sounding both satisfied and disappointed. 'But it was a joy to learn. We might not seem to show it, but truly, it was a joy. Observing, experimenting, learning, indexing, they all bring great pleasure.'

'But didn't you say you already understand those places' secrets?'

'We do, but mastery is not unpleasant. Elation is archived, and can be relived on command.'

That sounded...artificial. But somehow, I doubted that would deter the Collective.

'And there are more places still! The bedrock, the root; once we study the latter, we would wish to see if it has or had a realm of origin. And, as dimensioned and dimensionless reality develop, new intellects and systems will bloom. And we will be there, to aid them, to teach and learn from them. You can call us foolish ascetics, warlords who mutilate themselves in remorse and left simpler, more honest pleasures behind, but this is enough for us.'

As it spoke, I saw the Shaper outside our shared mindscape, the one that appeared as an idealised reptilian clawing at the Idea of Science, extend an arm and open a clawed hand. Within it, an infinity of realities, each an undimensioned dot, was swallowed by a similar multiverse of lines, appearing as a transparent shadow within it. Then came worlds upon worlds of squares, cubes, tesseracts...until an infinity of infinitely-dimensional realities spun into its grasp.

Then came greater ones, each equivalent to the Voids we had passed through, until the orrery-like structure matched its maker in scale.

'We have watched over you and your ancestors since you first appeared. We neither want nor expect rewards. Perhaps we should have intervened earlier, helped guide you to a brighter tomorrow. Perhaps we deserve to be hated for our neutrality. But, David Silva...' it looked at me, hands on its chest. 'We never believed our own charges would threaten to end everything. We are sorry.'

I placed a hand upon its head. 'I'm...I am not mad at you, Shaper. You did everything you could have. You could have stuck to your own ways, remained monsters, but you changed for the better, at no one's urgings. I am thankful for your deeds, but you cannot give me what I want.'


Frankenstein's Monster turned from the Kratocracy's progenitor to glance at me from the corner of an inky eye, which quickly widened, before narrowing. 'Truly, the world has changed.'

'Quite. You see like I do, Adam.'

'Almost, I would say.' He sounded vexed, but not with me. Not just with me. 'I see all thinking beings can be as foolish as man.'

'I doubt the taskforce will do anything to you just because you were close to Sofia.'

'...who? Close to...?' He shook his head, dark mane swaying. 'It matters not now. I know not whether I will return home, but I fear I will start a war, should I remain here.' Adam jerked his chin at Mother Wound. 'You know what her attendants told me? That the weak in their culture are murdered not just for weakness beyond their control, or to be used as resources, but because they and the strong could not liv with each other; indeed, they could not live with themselves.'

'Did they say how and why she decided this?'

'Of course not. And my sight is blinded, too!' He grit his teeth. 'You see why I must leave?'

'There are some things you just can't live with, yes,' I agreed. Then, deciding this was a good moment, I explained my plan, and my dilemma.

Adam was appalled. ' madman! I will not let you! I have a dream to achieve, away from this nightmare!'

'Do you?' I asked, honestly curious, not to mention surprised.

'I wish to better the lot of...created beings like me. Constructs. Artificials.' It glared at the Vyzhaldi. 'Abusive parents, and makers...'

'You have given no reason why Mother Wound should overthrow tradition for you,' a black-shelled Motherguard said, either not noticing or not caring about me. 'Your show of strength is paltry and timid. We doubt you can even achieve your aims.'

'You want power?' Adam asked, turning on a heel to face them.


The universe Wolfgang had created was infinite in both size and population. As such, it often dealt with intruders without the need for his intervention. His creations acted on efficient instincts, and dispatched threats quickly and quietly.

As such, he was surprised when he felt a foreign mind seize his, and wrestle control from him.

All his insects, each impervious to mental assaults that would have reduced trillions of humans to mind-blasted husks or unthinking slaves, instantly fell under the sway of the invader. Creatures meant for calculations, whose mental capacity measured tredecillions of yottabytes; beings spawned next to the event horizons of black holes, where time was dilated infinitely, so that everything appeared frozen to them, no matter the speed; all broke.

Then the stranger appeared, ripping apart a barrier that had ignored temperatures and energy densities equal to the Big Bang's like it was tissue paper. He was...he...he was...

Wolfgang's face screwed up in incomprehension as the Creature from his childhood books blundered into his realm, and, just as abruptly as it had taken over his insects, gave them back their faculties.

They attacked him, of course. With pincers and mandibles that tore right through him, with bruthsih strength that dwarfed his and pasted his body, with sound, with heat and radiation and toxin beyond anything the universe had ever produced naturally.

The, remaking himself, he strode straight through the onslaught, unharmed, and attacked their minds again, only to be rebuffed by their adapted defences.

A second, stronger assault bound the insects to his will again, leaving Wolfgang more lonely than he had ever felt.

Then, the Creature lifted the infinite mass with a telekinetic pulse, and, smiling, pulled it towards him, the insects disappearing within his pale body like pebbles into quicksand.

Wolfgang saw him mould his body, going from finite mass to infinite and again, like a strongman flexing his muscles. Seemingly satisfied, the Creature left, leaving Wolfgang baffled.

But not for long. He could make new, better creatures. For now, he had to focus on the witch.


Sofia, who had been casting about with wide, scared eyes, began shaking when I appeared in front of her. Seeing my old enemy, I did the only thing I could have.

'Please, don't be scared,' I urged the little girl, gathering her up in my arms, glad to be clothed. My cold flesh wouldn't have helped. 'It's alright, Sofia. I know why you lashed out. It shouldn't have come to that.' I paused. 'I've seen your parents. They were bad people. I'm sorry.'

She sniffled. 'Mommy? Daddy?'

'I killed them, Sofia.'

Rocking the crying witch, I turned to Gray One, who looked at me as through a daze, though it large, dark eyes quickly became clear. 'You've given everyone a hell of a scare, Grey.'

'I apologise, but...' it blinked, then read my mind. 'Ah...ah.' It began weeping as its forehead wrinkled. 'I apologise...and I am sorry, David Silva.'

'Do you want to go on?'

'I want to see my children,' it confessed. 'If they still live.'

Before I could reply, a wall of muscle slammed into my back. Passing Sofia to a beleaguered Grey, I turned to face the Vyzhaldi.

Mother Wound's Scorn growled like an industrial furnace. 'What is the meaning of this?'

I smirked. 'That's what I'm trying t-'

His punch wiped the smirk off my face, though it only hurt my pride. 'Spare me your philosophy! Did you make that portal? What is happening?' Multi-faceted eyes bulged. 'Do you work for the Kratocracy?'

Looking back through time, I saw the pasts of the aliens and child around me, and I understood. 'Scorn...' I began. 'Do you know what I want to do?'

He punched me again, halfway through the explanation. 'I will not countenance this!'

'Try to stop me, and we all die, anyway.'

'I'd rather die as a warrior than a coward! You know nothing of the Vyzhaldi, undead!'

I tuned out his rantings, and the aetheric voices of the taskforce that had come for Sofia, as I sought an old friend.


The Fivefold appeared first, looking as dishevelled as I felt, though marginally happier.

'Ned told me,' she preempted me. 'I know, David. And I'm so, so sorry, but I cannot approve, if you even care about that anymore.'

I swallowed. 'Where's Fixer?' When she didn't respond, I remembered an old question. 'In the forest, back then...what had you and pops planned, if my friends failed?'

'He wanted me to hold you down, while he healed you whenever you began decaying.'

I staggered. 'But...but that would have never ended. He'd have needed to live out the rest of his days caring for me, with no time for anything else...h-himself...'

My father hugged me from behind, while Christine smiled thinly. 'It's called being a father, David.'

'And you've had a damn fine one, Dave my boy,' a familiar voice, though no longer playful, said.

Snarling, I moved away from m father and his friend.


'If only we could've met in happier circumstances,' Fixer, a grey-haired, grey-bearded, darks-skinned man said, looking down as he rubbed his chin.

I slapped one of his eyes off, and the other one regarded me impassively. 'YOU. You and your circle of schemers. You started all of this.' I laughed madly. 'I know. I saw it. You-'

'Aw, do not be so self-effacing, pal. False modesty doesn't suit you.' His other eye had returned. Behind him, endless wheels within wheels shattered and were put back together, endlessly. 'You started this, and you did a bloody fine job.' He walked forward, arms spread. 'I mean that, Dave. I'm not joking. You are saving-will save-creation just as much as the Nightraiser and I are.'

'Stop calling me Dave,' I said, surprised at myself for choosing to focus on that, of all things. 'You pronounce my name the Romanian way, but use that nickname like I'm British.'

''Tis just a silly name...surely you won't begrudge me that, David?' he asked, laughing. 'I am not mocking you. I love you like the brother-or son-I never had.'

'Liar,' I said. 'Many of your selves had children.'

'They are no more me than your cells are you, David.' He closed the distance between us, hugging me, and I let him, slumping onto his chest, feeling so, so goddamn fucking tired...'Please. Don't give up the fight. My wife and I believe in you, and so does yours.'

'Mia and I aren't married.'

'Yet! Do stop thinking so linearly, oh timeless one.' He sat down, gently pulling me along. 'You have everyone and everything praying, begging you to spare them. Do you realise that, David? No Keeper has ever beheld such a choice. You have all creation at your feet, and they want to live! They all know your name! You are more famous and feared than any book could make you! What more do you want, David? What could make you happy?'

I began crying again. 'I d-don't...I don't want them to be scared! I don't want them to be hurt, by m-me or anyone else. I don't want more! I just want Mia, and my friends, and my f-father,' I wiped at my eyes to no avail. 'Safe and h-happy. I don't want everything to be so damn bloody.' I lowered my head. 'I don't want to kneel to n-necessity.'

Fixer rubbed my back. 'Ach, son, no one wants that. I once made my own multiverse, indulged every sick fantasy I ever had upon its inhabitants. I gave myself endless wealth, and power, and women, and I was still crying like you are now. Do you know why, David? Because-I learned then-that no dream world will make you happy, no knowledge of a duty well done will help you rest or wipe the blood off your hands. Not unless you have someone to love and be loved by, with whom to share your victories and defeats.'

I looked at him. 'You said you...w-we are married?'

Smiling gently, he held up a hand, showing me the ring on a finger, then lifted mine...


DEATH's Keeper looked at me with a sad, expectant expression, while his patron waited besides him on all fours.

I looked in disbelief from Hogge to God's Mouth, feeling utterly stupid. 'It was the motherfucking pig!?'

'I was getting to that,' Constantin said. 'Trust me. I reacted much the same way. I am surprised you missed it when you returned to Urziceni, but perhaps that was its desire. I'm sure will help yourself understand.'

And my father stepped aside, leaving me alone with the monster everyone said I had to become, and the one behind him. Hogge's hideous, tusked grin was gone, replaced by DEATH's calm visage, then body.

'It's all my fault,' I said, and the Keeper nodded. 'Is there truly no other way?' He said nothing, just looked at my eyes, and I snapped. 'Are you enjoying this, you bastard? I can't believe Mia married you! I can't believe you adopted a child!'

'I didn't,' he said. 'All three are ours.'

Smiling at my befuddle expression, he came closer. 'B-But how...? Did...did I alter myself with godsight? Or...?'

'Creation, should you spare it, would not yield to such an easy method. But I am no loner sterile, David.' He looked haunted. 'No undead is. many have waited for this impossible way to have heirs, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. I do not regret it.'

'M-Me...a f-father?'

Smiling, he took my hands into his. 'Can you guess who we named them after?'

He told me, and I cried again, for my friends, for the father behind me, who the Keeper next looked at.

'Hey, pops,' his smile shook as he approached God's Mouth. 'I haven't seen you so human in ten thousand years...'

'You know what will happen to me? Why do I become inhuman?' Constantin asked, stepping backwards. 'What is my...our purpose? For surely God does not send an Archangel to every doubtful worshipper, but the Lord is silent.'

'And who but an Archangel and a doubtful worshipper could lay the foundation of His vision? Who else would welcome every believer who dies unjustly, praying for fairness, for revenge? Who perishes in terror, or confusion, and wishes for clarity and reassurance?'

'We will...lead them to Heaven?'

'Perhaps, one day,' the Keeper said. 'But you will gather them to your bosom until then, and channel their power to right wrongs. You are not the first believer to walk through darkness or be led astray, father. But you could be the last.'

And the, his attention returned to me. 'You asked me if there's no other way. I told you, in no past of mine did I ever have your eyes, and I did not lie. But I never managed to reconcile with Constantin, either; and, when we spoke, I still hadn't. This led me to believe you'd fail in this aspect, like all my past incarnations...but you succeeded, David. You are not even Keeper yet, but you have already surpassed me.' He fell to a knee before me, not even stirring the dust in pops' courtyard, took my hands in both of his, and bowed his head. 'Thank you. Little Costi has always wanted to speak with his grandfather.'

I gulped. 'Your children...'

'You will be a father, little me. There is another way, and it can be better than mine, if you have the willpower to accept the long, flawed road to eternal perfection.'

He told me, and by the end, I was kneeling too.

'Will they...will I ever marry Mia if we...?'

'We will become one. Nothing will be lost, David.'

'A-And...' I had never cried as much as today. 'You r-really would...?'

He embraced me. 'Of course. Do you think I am a cruel man, David? Do you think I enjoy atrocity, as opposed to endure it?' He leaned his forehead against mine, and our minds joined, followed by everything else.

I knew what I would do, and how.


'Scorn,' I said, before the Vyzhaldi could strike me again. 'You want to be accepted? Remembered? Lend me your Mirror.'

With a confused snort, he tossed the circular, spotless Ideal Mirror to me. ''Tis a weakling's tool. It can double-"mirror"-anything, yet every time I used it to compensate for my weakness, I was ashamed.'

I wouldn't be. Nothing would make me prouder than this, except...well. What makes anyone proud?

'Grey, Sofia,' I put my hands on their shoulders, fashioning a cord so I could wear the Mirror as a necklace. 'Open your minds to me, please.' And, if they agreed...



Every child, parent, sibling elder.

Every animal, every plant, every construct, every creature.

Every supernatural, and monster, and alien, and Archetype.

Every mind, human or inhuman, kind and malicious....

Every enemy, every friend...


For a timeless moment, all saw as the others saw, and shared joy and despair, triumph and hardship, and perspective, free of madness, free of obsession.

For an instant, everyone laid down their arms, and became a beautiful union of understanding.

This meeting of minds, an infinity of infinities, united by three, I grasped with both hands, weeping with joy as every last doubt of their worth disappeared, wiped away by the knowledge that, if we understood each other, we needed not fight.

And, grabbing the Ideal Mirror, I looked within it, and saw our joined mental might. I doubled it, quadrupled it, again and again, everyone screaming solutions, encouragements to go further, bolder, to never let go of the bonds that united us.

When Mia reached out to me-not an unique being, in some's eyes, but worth more than any, in mine-, embracing me, the bonds only grew stronger.

'Thank you, David,' she whispered between kisses, crying and not caring, just like me. 'T-Thank you for loving me.' My zmeu laughed breathlessly. 'I wish I could've saved you, and...' she looked aside, shily. 'I never thought you'd give up. My David never would. But I was still scared, when I looked within your mind. I'm s-so sorry I doubted you...'

'H-Hey...' I wiped away her tears with a trembling hand. 'I guess I couldn't give you up. Call me selfish.'

Laughing, she pulled me against her chest, and I wished it would last forever.

But then, two minds, who had never been meant for such things, broke free.

Chernobog was pushed down and held in place by a myriad arms, Thor foremost among them, grinning at the sight of me and claiming he had never blamed me for his death.

Nyarlathotep tried to crawl away from the union, only to be caught between Fixer and a spear-wielding old man, who glowed white.

I looked down upon the two destroyers, the greatest enemies of everyone, who could not even bear the joy we had all shared.

'You know what, Chernobog?' I asked the Black God. 'I am thankful for your gift. I am glad I survived, despite your intentions, but I no longer need it.'

'Fool!' he laughed. 'Perhaps this incarnation of yours will always reach this point-then what? Dissolve this gestalt, become Keeper, and the cycle wwill never end. The Nightmare will go on, without your mind to spearhead this and hold everything together.'

'You are right,' I admitted. 'But I have not given away yet.'

And then, with the surety of a dream becoming reality, everyone reached out towards the Unmoved Mover, and its eye opened. Awake, it beheld us, and Nyarlathotep shrieked with joy at the end it had desired...

Then, it went back to sleep. None of us forgot the moment of staring into the eye of God.

As the Crawling Chaos gaped in abject incomprehension, I grabbed it by the throat with one hand, bringing it down on Chernobog. As the two writhed, I tore my eyes out, feeling them being replaced by dark ones, and their power by God's warmth.

Then, while the monster fought over their nightmarish, clashing visions for creations, I grabbed their shared hatred, and pushed them together. With my other hand, I pushed my godsight into them. For an instant, they beheld the Mover awake, before His endless knowledge filled their minds.

'You wanted knowledge,' I told the husk of the Black God. 'You wanted Mimir's head. Power. Worship.' I swept out an arm. 'Congratulations. Everyone knows you, and your deeds. All will come to seek your answers, and you will give them, willingly or not, and be acclaimed for it. As for you...' I looked at Nyarlathotep. 'Chaos is needed to balance order. But never will you sow it maliciously again. From now on, every disaster, every tragedy, will be random, not guided by your hand, towards your goal of oblivion.'

Turning my back on them, I looked forward, at that which had always walked with me, and spread my arms. 'DEATH!' I called out. 'Come! I understand your purpose, and our maker's, and I accept both!'

And, as the monster's power filled me, I turned back, towards my past.


Some things had to be left the same. But not all. No Keeper had ever been as blessed, or cursed, as me.

Alex smiled, and thanked, as I held his hand while he died in my arms. Of asthma, but not alone, this time. This time, a friend he knew but had never met was there to hold him.

His death still broke my heart, and the noose broke my neck, but what was always how it began. This time, and every time, onwards, was kinder than in every previous incarnation.

That was not the end.

Bianca, mourning after Andrei had died defending her from the murderous ghost of his father, asking her sisters to change her, in order to better bring people together, and prevent such hatred from growing. Lucian, shedding his vices to stand by her side, and defend her.

Sofia, offered tutoring after the disaster in her village. Growing to become a mage therapist, then meeting Bianca. Their horizons broadening as they pushed each other on.

Constantin, begging God to enlighten him, meeting Uriel. The Archangel describing God's Mouth, and my father eagerly accepting, after his trial.

I still had to suffer. Chernovog still destroyed, and mocked, and tormented.

But we survived. We endured, and we grew stronger. I still fell in love with Mia, like I always would.

...we married each other. We had a beautiful wedding, and we have two beautiful children. Andreea is on the way, and Constantin and Bianca can barely wait for their little sister.

In the end, some things were still necessary. But needless suffering, and cruelty disguised as pragmatism, would not triumph if we opposed them. Good, tempered by hardship, was neither naïve, nor weaker than evil.

I'll tell you all about that, but not now. I am returning home, from my duty, and my family is waiting for me.

Tonight, my children are meeting their grandmother. My wife hopes I'll be there with them, and I want to be, too.


The Unmoved Mover awoke, and remembered everything.

That had never happened to the other Makers, Dreamers or Awakened, much less to it.

It hopped off its bed with a smile, shining and androgynous, looking through its window as the endless city that was the ur-reality.

(The city and its inhabitants were separate the way the atoms of a molecule were. This is, merely, allegory)

The grey, six-armed mite that had always accompanied it, jumped off its head, landing on its hands, to fill its palms with its pudgy form.

'Ischyros!' the Mover laughed, shrill and bright and innocent. 'That was what they called you, in my dream! I remember!'

'Indeed!' it chirped at its friend. 'Ischyros always remembers, but you do not, even when it tells you.'

The Mover shook its head, grinning. 'No more,' it promised. 'Never again.'

'Erm-friend?' the Host asked, cautiously entering the room. 'You said you...remember your creation?'

'Not only that! It still exists, though I'm awake-and I'm not concentrating on it! I'm speaking to you!'

The Host patted itself down, quite surprised. 'Did it...?'

'Ischyros has never managed to jog my memory, nor have you, or the Warden,' the Mover said.

'True.' the Warden's voice filled the building. It was busy making sure Ischyros' kindred did not disturb the creators, awakening or distracting them, for, the moment they woke up, or their focus moved from their creations, their existence, and their Makers' recollection of them disappeared.

So it had always been, since the First Monarch had raised the city, created a myriad tales, and departed, leaving its Throne empty and its crown lonely.

Since then, they had been Polyarchs, each having a say in the running of the city, so that, in truth, no one did.

No one had ever approached the throne or the crown, for only a Maker whose creations could flourish and grow by themselves, like the First Monarch's, was worthy of them.

'This is unheard of,' the Host said. 'Ischyros, you said...truly, monumental! You must hold a speech, my friend! You must take your seat!'

The Unmoved Mover nodded, and the Makers gathered, countless creations disappearing as they awoke or shifted their attention. Dismayed but undeterred, the Mover sat down on the throne, the crown resting crookedly on its brow.

'Today, my friends, I have reached the glory of our founder. My creations, my children, grow without my protection and attention. One day, they will reach our prowess, and our realm, and they will come into our city, and be here with us. I will welcome them! As any parent would! And they will dwell here, with us, and we will love each other, push each other on, to be better! Greater!'

A mantle and sceptre appeared around each Maker's shoulders, in their hands. None were lesser or greater than the Mover's.

'I will teach you to create like I have! For my children taught me to be a better father,' it laughed. 'And so, I bow to them. Without them, I would have slept forever, uncaring, unheeding of the destruction I wreaked, or the creations I lost. Never again! I am the Unmoved Mover, Starlight Crowned with Ivory, Second and Last Monarch! And I will lead you, and guide you, not as your king, but as your friend!'


As Simona left to the guest room with her husband, Andrei looking happier than I had ever seen him, I knelt before the icon above my bed, clasping my hands.

'Thank you, Lord, for...'

And for the first time, he answered me directly. That was only the first surprise, though.


'No, my son,' the Unmoved Mover replied, kneeling on its mantle, behind is sceptre, before its throne, hands clasped around its crown. 'I thank you. For everything. I will never be able to reward you, or my other children. You saved everyone, David!' it smiled. 'You saved me, son. Thank you.'

And, as it closed its eyes, it beheld, no longer meaningless darkness, but the eternal tomorrow.




Strigoi Soul is not over. Only the main plotline-David's true acceptance of himself-is. There are many stories to be told about the years between the end of SS and the beginning of its sequel. Of the past, the parts of the present we haven't seen yet, the near future.

I hope you will enjoy reading those stories as much as I will enjoy writing them. I will likely take a break before the first such sidestory, to update my other, neglected stories (SS grew much bigger than I expected it to, and captured my imagination and attention).

And now, since the main story is over, I am curious, if you want to comment, what you thought about it. What you liked or disliked about this setting, which, as the Unmoved Mover said, will grow ever larger.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Aftermath, Part 1

(Or, people reacting to David's actions during the main plotline's prologue, and coming to terms with the past and future. I'll be jumping all over the timeline/s, so don't expect continuous story arcs. But, between titles and author's notes, they should be easy to follow)


Szentendre had multiple cemeteries by choice, rather than necessity. It was a somewhat large town, numbering sixty thousand people, but, even if the townsfolk had been averse to space-bending technology or magic, they wouldn't have needed more than one graveyard.

It was a matter of...tradition was a strong word. Perhaps an unspoken, but tacitly acknowledged one, though perhaps it would have been more accurately described as a habit, a preference.

One for the tradespeople, the workers.

One for the leaders, secular or religious.

One for the rest. People who had been marginalised before death, criminals who hadn't been heinous enough for their bodies to be thrown aside or buried in unmarked graves, strangers who had died while in town or close to it.

Loric had been buried in the third, not the first.

He had been a tailor, yes. But that hadn't been what people had remembered. Take up the family trade, and they'll say nothing. Help others for decades, and they'll stay quiet.

But kill yourself once...

Loric visited his wife under the cover of night. It wasn't that he was forbidden from walking around town-that would have been illegal, since he'd proven his relative, or rather selective, stability-but people didn't like him. They just needed him.

'The more things change,' the strigoi whispered to himself, lips quirked in an amused, fanged grin. Thin and unconvincing, but he couldn't have tricked her even if he'd been planning to.

There were guards scattered through and around the cemetery: human, automaton, and other, unsleeping things that had never been touched by mankind's hand. He paid them no heed, save from nodding in greeting. Few returned it.

Loric passed through the yamadium fence like mist through a screen door, for all that he hadn't shapeshifted. His body was just...more versatile, nowadays.

He found her quickly. Even without his strigoi senses, massively amplified by all the terrors he had consumed, he knew the graveyard enough to find Csilla's final resting place with his eyes closed.

Loric made a point of visiting her at least once an year, unless work was keeping him busy, several times if he was feeling especially sentimental, or wanted to confess something no one else would understand.

She had never actually responded to him. But she'd never sent him away, either, and the fact she still made time for him was all he could ask for.

Loric hoped that, in the light of recent events, he might actually get more of a reaction from her. It was a long shot, but what in his unlife wasn't?

His wife had been next to her former employer, at Loric's own request. The townsfolk had hesitatingly asked him whether he wanted her grave next to his, one of the few things that had made Loric genuinely laugh.

'She was married to an outcast, and now you want to bury her among more?' he had waved them off. 'That woman had a kinder heart than I ever will.' No one had commented on the fact he lacked one. 'I won't spit on her memory by implying she somehow disgraced herself.'

Loric's lips became a tight line as he stopped in front of the grave. The flowers he'd left her as a Christmas gift had decayed, but how? The vendor had assured him they'd still be colourful and fragrant after the sun burned out, and the enchantment hadn't felt shoddy...

Maybe his darling knew? Or maybe she'd done it herself. The dead sometimes suffered outbursts of paranormal force, though this was probably just her way of telling him she still didn't know how to pick flowers.

Well. Csilla had always told him roses were overrated.

'Hello, dear,' he dropped to a knee in front of the headstone. It sported their black and white wedding photo, with her looking as beautifully stern as ever, and him not even ruining the image that much. Beneath it was an inscription:

Csilla Szabo (1894-1957)
Beloved wife, mother and nurse
Your family will never forget you

And he would not. If he never did anything else, he would remember her.

'Did you dislike my gift?' he ran a finger along the photo's frame. 'I'll bring you something else next time. What would you like?'

No reply? No reply. Of course. She was probably busy.

'Someone other than you,' came a deep, rough voice from above, making Loric rise to his feet. His wife, as pale and transparent as glass, was sitting on the headstone, her booted feet dangling centimetres above the frozen ground. She'd always said she wanted to be buried in the clothes she wore to work, and Loric had indulged her, even if he had felt they were a bit drab.

But this didn't make sense. His wife wasn't a restless spirit. Was she? She'd been troubled by his suicide and undeath, yes, and upset that their children hadn't managed to make it home so she could die surrounded by them, but had that been enough?

But then, why would she be quiet and not show up for so many decades? She'd been faithful, though damn if he'd ever understood wy she had prayed to her ungrateful god. All the funerary rites had been observed.

And Loric knew, from good sources, that she'd gone where she had always been meant to be. So...

'Is that you, Csilla?' he asked skeptically, eyes narrowed. The spirit crossed her arms, sporting a frown reminiscent of his wife's, but he still wasn't convinced. Faces like Csilla's were made for frowning, no offence to her.

'You seem to think you are her,' he said, probing at the edges of her being with his senses. 'So it shouldn't be hard for you to prove it.'

Her own eyes narrowed-in anger?-, then widened, before narrowing again.

'Loric, you damned fool...what has even happened to you?'

'Can't you tell?' he retorted. 'Surely Heaven has sharpened your senses.' He swore, if this was some stupid ghost aping Csilla just to make fun of him, they'd need a new cemetery.

'Oh, it has, alright.' The ghost dropped to the ground, and, being a head shorter than him (though broader and stockier), glared up into his face. 'What I'm wondering is, how in Hell's arsehole did you become filled with so many...' her head flickered in and out of perception, and she shook it as it became stable once again. 'The why would be nice to know, too.'

'I devoured one to save myself,' Loric replied bluntly. 'The rest were...hmm, consumed for pleasure. And power.'

'I always knew you'd start eating whatever the moment I left you alone,' she deadpanned. 'You walking trashcan.' Then, her gruff mask crumbled. 'What happened to you? The man I married would have never done this.'

'You don't know...? No, I suppose you wouldn't.' After all, why would a blessed soul like her busy herself with his earthly-unholy-existence?

If she was indeed Csilla. But he'd get her measure as they talked. And-he knew it was pathetic-even a simulacrum of hers would help alleviate the loneliness, at least briefly.

So, he spoke. Told him about the highlights of his career, at least those that could be mentioned without reality falling apart around his words. The Siberia mission. The way he'd set that ungrateful little witch straight, not that her parents had been worth a damn, according to his little brother. The Fairie fiasco. The Tremorph. Chernobog and his worshippers.

Loric had the feeling that, had she still possessed a body, Csilla would have gone a bit green around the gills at his description of the meal he had made for Sofia.

He wondered why. It couldn't have been the details. She'd handled worse. Maybe it was the excitement? It was always nice to see his creativity being appreciated, especially by his beloved.

Loric briefly wondered if he was starved for affection, and whether he cared.

'Our children,' she said eventually, after he stopped, wondering whether he should start talking about anything without prompting. 'Are they still alive? And if not, how...?'

'They're not with you?' he blinked, somewhat surprised., perhaps he shouldn't have been. Loric had never enquired about his children's belief, except in the most general sense. He'd treated them like he'd treated their homework: something for them to handle, unless they needed his help. But even so, he was adept enough at reading the room to know that, between Zoe's orientation and Bence's dilemma, they might not have been overly enamoured with the church, whose members had stayed silent and neutral, neither supporting the Party's stance when it came to "deviants", nor openly siding with the persecuted.

Spineless. Still, better than to say something, then do something else. At least in this case, the priests couldn't have been accused of hypocrisy.

'Zoe married in secret,' Loric revealed. 'She died peacefully, from what I've heard, and I regret not being there. Her wife and I still meet for holidays. They adopted a boy; likable enough, if a bit unimaginative.'

'He became a tailor?'

'He became a tailor. To my exasperation. And we aren't even related, so I don't know why Csaba feels the need to continue the tradition. Maybe he thought it skipped a generation, so he might as well do it? Anyhow...Bence...' Loric bit his lower lip. 'They made it look like an accident.'


'The people who killed them, and were flayed by me,' he said, meeting her eyes. 'Do you really think Bence would have made their suicide look like an accident, as opposed to a statement? If they'd been inclined to end themselves, that is.'

She nodded gratefully. 'And Adalbert?'

Now, this felt truly suspicious. Had those choirboys up there truly kept her ignorant of everything? And if yes, why? Although...Loric knew some ghosts' minds fell apart as often as their ectoplasmic bodies. Could this happen to spirits like Csilla's, if this was even hers?

He couldn't believe he was kicking himself for not paying more attention to religion.

Loric leaned back, crossing his left leg over his right as he hovered. 'I don't consider him our son anymore, my star.'

'Loric...' she started at his tone. 'I'm sorry if I'm boring you with the questions, but this is the first time I've been able to really think since death, and I want to learn as much as I can, even if I won't remember it.'

'What is that supposed to mean?' he asked sharply. 'Are they keeping your mind frozen up there?' He supposed some fanatics would have been happy to have a moment of worship stretch into eternity, but surely his wife hadn't changed enough to want that?

But what if she's not in Heaven? his true half whispered mutinously, and, for the first time since his undeath, Loric hated it.

Quiet! She's never been faithless or sinful. There is nowhere else she could be.

She shook her head. 'It's not...well, I suppose you could see it that way.' She slumped, leaning backwards against her headstone. 'I was tired when I died. Wanted it all to end, but it didn't. Not completely. So I wanted to rest. Laid down to sleep when I felt peaceful, and, well...' she shrugged. 'I just woke up. Was woken up. You wouldn't happen to know about that, would you?'

'You don't remember, either?' he asked. He only remembered a sense of unity and belonging, of warmth and understanding, but...he had actually linked minds with every being in existence then, Csilla included. However, he didn't remember the memories they had shared, only that it had happened.

She shook her head. 'Perhaps it's for the best?'

'Yes...yes, you're right, of course.' It made sense. Mundane humans would have been left with broken minds from all they had seen, and, though Loric had welcomed the sensation, and wanted it to happen again, he didn't want it to be given to him. He wanted to earn it, work towards it.

Speaking of things he wanted...

Loric resumed his recollection, revealing Adalbert's entrance into the State Protection Authority, and the trial run he'd been sent on.

'But it wasn't really a trial.' Loric tapped one of his knees. 'Not in the way he thought. The Party didn't want to test his loyalty, they already knew he was an opportunist. They wanted to get rid of an idiot who'd do more harm than good working for them, and, if he found a way to put down a strigoi who refused to dabble in politics along the way-maybe by charming or stealing some relic off a priest-all the better.


He didn't say anything.

'Loric, is he dead, too?'

'By my hand,' he said, then smiled humourlessly. 'I don't know whether he's languishing in Hell or the aether, but I could take a look. For you.'

Loric opened his arms when she walked towards him, then began rubbing her back as she wept softly. 'What did we do wrong...? He never saw cruelty. Neither of was like that.'

'He never saw cruelty growing up,' Loric corrected gently. 'But then he went to war, learned to love killing, I suppose. Power. It's an acquired taste.'

Csilla scoffed. 'Are you speaking from experience?' she asked in a trembling voice. Angry? She certainly didn't feel scared.

'I am, indeed,' he said as she pushed him away, breaking the hug, meeting his sad look with a disturbed one.

'You told me you killed yourself out of despair,' Csilla said in an accusatory voice, as if he had lied to her. 'But you seem to be enjoying living you do. So, what was the real reason? Boredom? Did you get tired of being human?' She choked up a little, gulping. 'How could you...?'

'Csilla, wait,' he held up his hands. 'I told you the truth. I despaired, at our country becoming irrelevant. At being trapped in a meaningless life where advancement was impossible. I did not expect to return, but I do not regret it.'

'Meaningless?' she spat. 'So good to know you never cared about us, you ungrateful bastard.'

That hurt... 'Csilla, you misunderstand. I've always loved you all, as much as I could. Even Adalbert, before he turned his coat. But I've never had much love to share,' he shrugged with a self-deprecating smile, hoping it was the right gesture. 'You know I've never been able to express much emotion as a human, even when I knew what fit the situation.'

She looked aside, quiet for endless seconds. When she spoke, she still didn't look at him. 'When you first left me pregnant, you said you wanted children so they could bear your name. So that, in a way, you could be remembered. Live through them.'

'That was true,' he said softly. 'But I grew to love them, as much as I loved you. You were a memorable mother, so how could our children be otherwise?'

If she cared for the compliment, she didn't show it. Still, some things just had to be stated.

'You said you never had a grasp on your emotions when you were human. But, from what you've told me, I think I'd have preferred you aloof, rather than so enamoured with horror.'

'I could change myself,' he said. 'I have the power of gods within me. I could make myself emotionless. Is that what you wish? Loric Szabo, the man, was not memorable at all. Do you want him to return? Such an uncaring creature, with my powers at his disposal?'

Her expression was an answer unto itself.

'Then, let us be glad it is not so, and that I find time for good deeds, even when I'm not aiming to be kind.'

'Why are you so damned intent on being remembered, Loric? Isn't raising a family not enough?'

He looked at her, dumbfounded. 'Csilla, I told you-'

'You saw that town's watchman being buried with almost no one present, yes. But you hated him! So many did! So why would it mark you so?' she crossed her arms under a chest that was muscular rather than ample. 'No, it doesn't make sense. Are you still lying to me? Even now that we're both dead?'

'I've never lied to you!' he didn't want to raise his voice, both because the graveyard was quiet, and because he didn't want her to think he was angry at her. But why couldn't she see things from...ah, dammit. He hadn't always understood her point of view, either. 'I promise, and, if that isn't enough, I'll do anything you want to prove it.'

Csilla smiled. 'You told me that, once.'

'I didn't lie then, either.'

'But, for some reason, I'm far more reluctant to demand anything from the monster you've become than from the boy you once were.'

'Do you really believe I'd refuse you?' he asked. 'Do anything to you if I didn't want to accept your request?'

'No. I'm scared you'd do anything.'

She...ah, she was. He could feel it. Fear, horror, panic, anxiousness...all were crystal-clear to him, hanging around people like the gifts from the statues around him.

'Then, I'll just promise you. I've always been honest to you, and, if I ever lied, it was out of ignorance.' He leaned forward, hands on his knees. 'Why? You ask me why? You brought up Janos. Have you forgotten about him?'

'What's that supposed to mean?'

Loric half-turned around, gesturing with one hand. 'Can you point out his grave to me?'

'Well...' she looked at him strangely. 'No, of course not.' Her voice lowered. 'They removed the headstone.'

'Because no one was visiting. Because, by the time they did, no one even knew him anymore.' He smiled. 'Right? But you saw the headstone when it was there.' Before the weather had half worn it down into unrecognisability. 'So surely you should be able to...?'

'...I don't remember, Loric,' she admitted, sounding uncomfortable. With his insistence on the subject? Or the fact she had forgotten?

He hoped it was the latter. He'd never forgive himself for the former.

'Do you see?' he spread his arms. 'Do you want that to happen to me? Do you understand what I want to avoid?'

'But that doesn't happen to all graves, Loric. Mine-'

'Lovingly maintained by me.' He took her hand into both of his, lips brushing against her knuckles. 'I am not bragging, or expecting anything in return. Your presence is enough.' He looked up at his wife. 'But who will care about me a fraction as much as I care about you, should I die?' Well, there were a few people, he thought to himself. He wasn't exactly fond of the idea of them queuing up to alternatively spit and piss on his hypothetical grave, but all publicity was good publicity. He'd rather be hated than forgotten.

Csilla drew her hand back, her transparent cheeks slightly brighter. 'I will, Loric,' she said. 'If you want me to.'

'Ha,' he chuckled. 'As likely as not, some remnant of me will survive, clinging onto existence by the edge of its fangs. I can take care of myself. Don't bother. I don't need a gravekeeper. Just a mention in the history books.'

'...what about our grandson? Or-does he have children of his own?'

Loric waved her off. 'Leave them be. When they even remember me, they're unsettled.'

Csilla did not seem satisfied with that answer, but she didn't continue that line of thought. Instead, she latched onto a new one.

'Did you know Heaven is outside of space and time, Loric?' she asked, staring at the starless, cloudy night sky.

'Not that I ever cared, but yes. What of it?' Heaven, like all divine realms and the gods themselves, could move from the four dimensions of space and time to the higher ones, reshaping like water being poured into a new vessel, or even reach the state of creation's last boundary. In fact, many suspected that was their default state, something Loric was inclined to agree with. 'What of it?'

'I saw the paths creation could take.' Her breath hitched a little as she looked back at him, and his eyebrows rose, as he couldn't feel any agitation from her. 'In many, everyone becomes able to remember everything, or simply look into the past.' Ah, dammit, was she hoping to dissuade him? Why? Couldn't she see that solution was far less permanent than she thought. Her next words confirmed it. 'You don't have to do this!'

'Better safe than sorry,' he retorted. 'So many fated, guaranteed things can become undone in an instant, my dear...or have you forgotten how everything, despite all the prophecies, predictions and planning rested on one strigoi, not long ago?'

'But your legacy is sure to last?' she asked angrily. Loric didn't answer, and, eventually, she broke eye contact, huffing.

'...I will make it so,' he said, hands opening and closing. 'I will, Csilla. Of this, you can be sure.'

Damn him, he must have said something wrong. Otherwise, why would she start weeping again?

'You're jealous, aren't you?' she fiercely wiped at her eyes, as if angry to be crying. 'Of him. That strigoi...'

'David Silva,' Loric breathed the name with equal parts admiration and distaste. 'He is a paradox. For a time, he was close to finally understanding the truth, seeing things as I do. But then he...' who would go back to Yahweh after tiring of its games? Who would refuse having all of creation hanging on his every word? It was incomprehensible, and Loric silently vowed to help everyone who wanted to join him achieve that miraculous understanding, so he might comprehend his strange brother's mind. 'He went back to his old ways. I won't pretend to get him, don't ask me why.'

Csilla sighed, face in her hands. 'Isn't it enough that he chose to save everyone? That he helped unite us, for that timeless instant?'

'Of course it is! I know you don't really think I am ungrateful, despite your earlier words-don't worry,' he held up a hand at her worried expression. 'There is nothing to forgive. From a certain point of view, you are entirely right. I've never properly thanked you, never been able to. But, Csilla...' he wouldn't start crying himself. Not in front of her. He wouldn't have forgiven himself if he'd been alone, but here? No matter what had changed, he was still her husband. He couldn't appear weak. 'How the hell am I supposed to...'

Loric grit his fangs as he felt the monsters within him thrash and shriek, feeling a danger much greater than them combined. As if they were tempting him to turn his danger upon them. As if that would satisfy him. 'How am I supposed to surpass him...?'

Now she was the one supporting him, his body braced against her incorporeal form as if she was solid. His wife stumbled a bit before she found her footing. 'Loric...?'

'David Silva,' he said hoarsely, fighting the urge to dig his claws into something and squeeze. With only her in front of him, he clenched his fists until they bled unclear, multi-coloured ichor. 'What can I do that will make people remember me over him?' What could he do when David had achieved unity, and gotten the attention and gratitude of the thing that called itself almighty? When it had knelt to him?

'Loric, listen to me-' Csilla tried to cut in, but he only half-heard her.

'He's done more than I can even think of, never mind do,' he said, voice dangerously-annoyingly-close to sniffling. 'And he doesn't even appreciate it. He doesn't care,' his fangs cracked as he growled. 'What's the goddamn point?'

He stopped his brooding when he felt an ectoplasmic fist rap against his forehead, and looked to see his wife frowning grimly. 'There you go again, with that nonsense. So what if you're forgotten completely? Isn't it enough that, while you lived, you were known and happy?' Her eyes softened. 'Wouldn't you rather have peace, at some point? Do you really want strangers and descendants so distant you could never understand them calling your name forever, never leaving you rest?'

'...I've never thought about it that way,' he admitted. Ah, if only they'd had more time together! If only he'd managed to keep her alive, and at his side for longer! Even now, for all his power, she saw things he did not think of. 'But I'm not sure I want-'

He shut up when she chopped at the air, a tired look in her shining eyes. 'Tell me more about this Silva fellow. What's he like? Why did he become a strigoi? What does he want?'

Does he share your ridiculous goals, or even more absurd ones? He could read between the lines. Rather than say anything, he reached into his jacket, into a pocket he willed into existence the moment his hand approached its location, and produced a book.

Csilla took it from his hands, raising a thick eyebrow. 'Strigoi Soul? What's this? Some manual about the psychology of people like you?'

'It's the tale of Silva's life,' Szabo said patiently. It was the one thing he'd learned reading the novel. With the amount of shade thrown at him, he'd had no other recourse. 'Don't hurry. It has six "books", but they get longer with each. I can leave it here, if you want.'

Csilla nodded, eyes moving across the cover sporting Silva's face before he'd joined ARC. 'Who's "Strigoi Grey"? His biographer?'

'His pseudonym,' Loric chuckled. 'He said he's had enough fame to last him an eternity. As if anyone who matters won't know...he used to be a writer, but back then, he used his actual name. As I understand it, it's a reference to how he can't only do good things, but refuses to be evil.' His little brother loved metaphors as much as he hated complexity.

Csilla opened the book, eyes flashing as she flipped through it with ghostly speed. 'God, this man broods a lot...'

Loric nodded in agreement. 'It's one of the reasons he thinks it'd do poor on the screen.' Besides all the censored and classified activities that'd never make it into the show or movie. 'Any adaptation would need to either cut out the inner monologues, replace them with something else, or find a way to make them interesting.'

'And people can this? Isn't he still an active ARC agent?' Csilla asked, still reading.

'After everyone's minds shared a moment? Yes, the sanitised version you hold has been deemed safe for public consumption. Most people don't remember anything, the few who do don't all know Silva, and those of them who do and want to cause trouble can be taken care of.' Szabo tapped another jacket pocket. 'My colleagues and I have access to an expanded, or rather uncensored version, with some sections written by members of ARC, other supernatural defence agencies, and certain other...people of significance.' His smile became crooked. 'Including one by me.'

'I'm not sure I want to read the full book,' Csilla said.

'Wise choice.' Then, jokingly, he added, 'Most of them write in third person, and use rather boring language.'

Closing the the book, Csilla let it hover, before hugging him again and pressing a kiss to his lips, to his bafflement. Then, she brought her mouth close to his ear. 'You want a purpose? You feel aimless? Idiot. You don't even realise how much talking to you has helped me...'

He hugged her back, wiping away her tears. 'I was just about to say that. I've always hoped you'd answer me. Sorry if I bothered you.' On that note-not that he wanted to ruin the moment-, though...'Do you know anything about that?' He tilted his head at the withered flowers, and laughed as Csilla froze, then shifted from foot to foot. 'You can just tell me they were ugly, you know; I won't mind. Just tell me what to bring next time.'

'I'm not scared....not worried abut you, Loric,' she corrected herself. 'I've always known you wouldn't hurt me, but now, I accept it.'

'Then?' he asked, glaring fiercely. Was someone desecrating her grave and intimidating her into staying quiet? Oh, Loric was glad he'd never been angry, as opposed to creative. He wasn't sure what he would have done.

'There's a...' she stopped, looking around her. Loric grunted, then, with a thought, created a pocket universe. Separate from the mundane one, with its own flow of time, his mind warped it to grow. With another thought, it expanded, becoming infinite yet filled with matter, before the flow of time stopped.

Csilla looked at the endless gallery of horrors around them, writhing timelessly, corporeal, immaterial and more, then at Loric's grim, earnest face. He was ready to sic all of these on whatever had upset her, she realised, with no small amount of horror. 'There's a strigoi, a new one,' she said, still whispering, as if scared said undead might hear her, or harm her with him here! Absurd.

This strigoi better be on par with Domna Economou. He wanted something that would last.

'Yes?' he hissed, stretching out the s, before wincing apologetically as she jumped.

'He-Loric, please understand-'

'Is there something to understand?' he asked. 'Or are you just scared of what I'm willing to do for you?'

'Yes!' she snapped. 'She tells me every time he makes the rounds; she walks all the cemeteries, you see. She doesn't remember her name, or life. She just knows she died as she lived: alone.' Csilla pressed her hands together, brow thoughtfully. 'Surprisingly peaceful for a strigoi, from what I've seen. Very quiet.'

'It's a wonder she hasn't joined the hermits in Siberia!' Loric said acidly, not feeling charitable.

'Will you shut up?' Csilla asked. 'Thank you. She mostly stays in her grave, in...your cemetery.' She cleared her throat. 'Ahem. She's never been visited by anyone, and is jealous of those of us who are.'

'So she vandalises your graves?' Loric asked. Draining flowers of life? Seriously? 'That's petty if I've ever heard of it. And here I thought David didn't make sense...'

Csilla scoffed. 'I swear you have a crush on that man.'

'I don't...never mind. So you want me to kill her?' given by how she looked ready to facepalm, probably not. Better to ask, though. 'Or...?'

'I'd like it if you didn't have to kill anyone, Loric,' she said. 'But I'd also like her to stop.'

Well, he could easily rewrite her mind with divine power, make her think it was her own idea. Or, he could be more creative than any two-bit monster with such powers would be (such as the Tremorph itself, which at least had made for a good source of new powers), and persuade her the old-fashioned way. 'I can do that,' Loric promised his wife, before kissing her again as he ran a hand through her short, translucent hair. 'And I hope to meet again, if you wouldn't mind.' He smiled weakly. 'I'm sure the rest of the family would like meeting you.' More than him, anyway, but that bar was underground.

Csilla returned his smile hesitantly. 'Maybe we will. If what I've seen is true, you...' she took a deep breath, then exhaled with a sigh. 'You've done good too, Loric. Please remember that.' Please keep doing so.

'Anything you wish,' he said as he erased the alternate reality with a third thought. 'Will this be all?'

Csilla rubbed one arm. 'Have you realised how similar you and Silva are?'

'Well, of course,' he grinned. 'We-'

'If you say "are both strigoi", I'm not sure what I'll do,' Csilla said drily. 'Bloody, I mean the fact he craved empty fame the way you still do.'

'Empty!?' he said, outraged.

'Yes! He didn't think how his suicide would affect his friends, his father, like a certain other bonehead I know,' she poked his exposed brain. 'But then he realised what truly mattered. Altruism. Love. He writes about wanting to build a family, and you...'

Dammit, he couldn't stand the thought of his wife praising David! What, he was now not just less successful, but less mature, too? Fuck that. He'd rather go set that green-eyed bitch straight.

Csilla groaned as she watched him go. 'Don't do anything stupid!' she called after him.

'I'll try!' he responded, making her shake her head once more

But this time, she was smiling.


The strigoi pushed her coffin's lid open, the, becoming immaterial, passed through the soil.

And stopped cold, watching something that only looked like a strigoi looking down at her, an infinity of monsters leering at her from behind his dark eyes.

She gulped, feeling the cold burn of divinity in the air around him. 'Yes?'

'They didn't stop you,' Loric said, bending the light to create images of the Paranormal Patrol and Hungary's police and military. Too busy cleaning up and recovering after recent disasters to pay attention to something so minor. 'Might ARC do so...' he reached into his flayed skin jacket, and she tensed, knowing it was futile. '...with a recruitment offer?'

And, when he extended his hand, it was holding a black and white business card.
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Aftermath, Part 2A

Madrid, Spain, 15th of January

Clio Cortez did not stretch as she awoke; rather, she uncoiled. Being old enough her favourite position was no longer hell on her back, she preferred it.

Then, she glanced to her right, saw that her husband was missing again, and huffed. He needed sleep as much as she did-not at all-, but unlike her, he could not fall asleep when relaxed enough, no matter how much he wanted to.

No matter how much she wanted him to have that ability. Diego's mind was always working, and this restlessness did not manifest as tinkering with stuff around the house, or pacing, or, vices.

Well. Barring the expected ones. But most human ones were out, made pointless or untenable by bis vampirism.

Clio scrunched up her nose, blowing a few strands of her long russet hair aside as she stretched. No. Her husband had been denied the peace of the grave, and, it seemed, any outside it, too.

'Must be in the workshop again...' she muttered to herself, slithering out of bed. "The workshop" was less of a location, when it came to Diego, and more of a state of mindd.

Well, Clio thought as she pulled on one of her longer shirts (he preferred her naked, but what if someone felt like visiting and invited themselves? Her scales stopped where the tops of her thighs merged into her tail, and most of their friends were comfortable enough not to knock), that was not entirely true. Rather, it would've been more accurate to say there wasn't a single location in their home designated as a workshop. Diego just started experimenting wherever and whenever inspiration struck him. But, no matter the location, it was always obvious what he was doing during the process, and, usually, sometimes after.

Diego was honing his powers, while simultaneously testing whatever he was doing. He hadn't told her yet. Not because he thought she was too stupid to understand, or didn't deserve to. "I'm just worried for you, honey," he'd said with those sad red eyes, almost but not quite looking down to try and avoid hers. "I can take far more of a beating than you, and recover from worse, too." He'd lifted his head, smiling joylessly. "It's the only thing I've ever been at. So, don't worry-and please, please don't try to come in? For your sake, and mine..."

Diego had the uncanny ability to put himself down while being completely self-assured. She wondered if the doublethink came with the multitasking.

Well. Maybe she'd just ask him.

He'd told her not to try to come in his workshop, but she could just ask, and leave, depending on the answer. Though she was pretty damned curious about whatever her husband had cooked up this time.


Diego's eyes flickered sharply from one angle of the pocket universe to another; not looking for dangers, but rather, defects.

Wait, what was he saying? Of course he was looking for danger. Every flaw was a threat, especially those in the plane of reality he had created. And, though he hadn't made anything except a slice of existence cut off from mundane spacetime and maintained by his will, it didn't mean something powerful or sneaky enough couldn't sneak its way in.

They'd find themselves in a world of plane. Only the majority of his attention was focused on the forging, but he hardly needed more to be on the lookout for dangers.

Diego's lips went from a thin line to a fond smile as he felt Clio knock on the door, as it was. She was only using a finger, and not that one, so she wasn't mad at him. Slightly annoyed, maybe, and he did feel sorry for leaving her alone like this. Definitely curious, not that he could blame her. He was pretty curious himself. In fact, this was almost shy for the lamia.

Or maybe she was just bored and didn't want to waste too much time and energy on his nonsense? His wife probably didn't expect him to fall asleep in a barrel of holy water, though she probably wouldn't be surprised if it happened, either.

Ah, hell. He'd put her off enough. He didn't like it when she edged him, so he couldn't ask Clio to stand the opposite.

'Enter, honey,' he said, voice reverberating through the skin of shaped spacetime. A hole, two metres tall and nearly as wide, opened for a nanosecond, and, in the time it took light to cross a third of a metre, Clio entered his workshop, emerald scales not glittering, but still as beautiful as any angel.

He both felt and heard her muscles relaxing as her shoulders lowered and her fists opened. 'It's just a sword?'

'Just a sword,' he said, looking over his shoulder with a smile as he shrugged. 'You know me; I lost one, but I can't let go of it.'

Clio snorted. 'Big boy.'

'Why, thank you...'

'That's not what I meant, you child.' Her eyes were wrinkled with amusement, though. And, while Diego might have been four hundred and forty to his wife's sixteen hundred, most supernaturals stopped caring about such gaps before long, unless they were into age play. If someone would stay in their prime forever, what did the numbers matter?

'Even so, your honesty is appreciated.' He turned with a twirl bowing long enough that she only managed to snatch his broad-brimmed black hat, as opposed to his raven curls or ears (she sometimes jokingly complained about his hair being nicer than hers, though she'd been pretty surprised when they'd both agreed to it). 'Would you like me to tell you about it?'

'Even if I didn't,' she put his hat on at a rakish angle, and Diego swooned, making her roll her eyes with a smile. He always said she looked like a pirate goddess when she did that. 'You'd tell me later, when you came out. Wouldn't you?'

'Well, if you insist...' he bowed again, avoiding an attempt to tweak his nose as he stepped backwards, mouthing "Mercy! Mercy!". 'This is degenerate neutronium,' he pointed at the colourless blade, which resembled the Throat of Thirst's manifestation in shape, if not in nature. Its hilt measured a handspan, and featured a semicircular guard, and the one-edged blade was over a metre long, as wide as Diego's palm.

Though it was colourless, it seemed to catch the light that played across it, like a rainbow being contained in a lake.

That was only the second thing that caught Clio's attention, though. Might as well take them in the order she'd noticed.

' Degenerate neutronium?' she asked in a considering voice. 'A special version for people like you?'

'Us,' he floated a little to reach her lips and kiss her. 'Now, let's not be coy, dear.'

'You've never asked that of me.'

'Don't expect it,' Diego said. 'Yes. Its density is roughly a hundred trillion grams per cubic centimetre; roughly a dozen trillion times denser than steel.' Crossing the metres between him and the floating sword faster than Clio could perceive, Diego came to a halt with a hand on his hip, the other cupping his chin as he looked down at the blade in consideration. With a hum, he wrapped a pinky around the hilt, then flicked it at his wife, at two hundred-seventy thousand kilometres per second.

Clio caught the tip in her palm with a cross expression, which didn't waver as she glowered at her husband, who looked like the most ragged and fascinated owl ever. 'Hmm...' Diego peered at her. 'Flimsy, no?'

'Yes,' she said curtly, throwing it back at him even faster. As the tip crashed against the vampire's eyes, the blade came apart, dealing no damage.

'Brittle, too,' he noted, inspecting the remains before smiling up at his wife. 'I'm so glad you are gentler with the surrounding world than me, my dear.'

'Unlike the moon, I can't slap you apart.'

'True,' he agreed. 'It won't do any go for the things I'd actually need a sword against.'

Clio looked unimpressed. 'Then you wasted this...?'

'Nothing wasted, my dear,' he promised, before reaching out and opening another pocket of reality. Clio's eyes followed the warping effect expectantly, then with surprise, as a hand-sized tear in spacetime slowly spat out a shape far denser than its already immense size suggested: despite only measuring some ten kilometres in radius, it was nearly one and a half times as heavy as the sun.

Clio raised an eyebrow as the previously room-sized workshop seemed to fit the neutron star without actually expanding. She didn't focus on that for long, though, as gravity hundred of billions times stronger than Earth's enveloped her, following by temperatures far higher than that of the sun's surface; the neutron star's surface reached nearly six hundred thousand degrees Celsius, and similar heat soon filled the space around them.

The supernaturals were entirely unbothered, though Clio did feel a bit impressed at this degree of horseplay.

'You're just doing this because you've no muscles to flex,' she chided Diego, speaking through the aether. 'But you've made your point.' Her expression softened into a smile. 'You could never do things like this before, love.'

'I was never unarmed before,' he replied. 'And after I lost the throat, I couldn't find time to breathe.' Convinced the snort had been appreciative of his wordplay, he continued. 'But, if I want a weapon worthy of being enhanced and enchanted, I need to find something that will be good in a fight, even should said modifications fail.'

'So, you found this?'

'Made it.' Diego smiled at her questioning look. 'You think I went to space and stashed this somewhere? Don't be silly, Clio. You know I'm too laz-busy for that. No, it was an excuse to improve my will while doing something useful.'

'You can make things from nothing now?' she asked, before chuckling. 'Is this why you keep refusing to join my magic lessons? Because you have an alternative?'

'Ah, don't feel snubbed, my emerald. I just don't want to bore you as I dodder about. To answer your question, no, not from nothing. You know vampires can dominate those who look into their eyes, but many go above and beyond that. Some become able to control those in their line of sight. Others...well, I've heard things. There's this American who...' trailing off again, he held out a hand, accepting the hat she handed off, pouting (which he utterly ignored, the barbarian). 'Anyway...I can shape the substance of things I can see, or maybe just visualise. I need to try more.' He pointed at the star. 'What you are seeing is the result of me converting spacetime into matter.'

'You remove reality from the universe by staring at it?'

'Well, if you want so simplify it,' he grumbled at her deadpan tone. 'Yes, and follow by replacing it with something else. Or, well, not replacing, per se. It's still the same thing, just in a different form.'

'Diego, that's great!' Clio said. 'You learned this by yourself? Didn't ask another vampire?'

'I didn't, no,' he said, sounding pleased. 'Sorry for slithering into rooms to see me acting out real life Escher paintings. But, I've evolved beyond just bending reality with my will.'

Clio nodded. 'Have you thought about taking commissions?'

'I'll make you anything you want, dear,' the vampire said distractedly. 'Oh, you mean for money? I suppose I could take some, yes. Staying active is always good, and I suppose more money wouldn't hurt. Wouldn't want to become a wage slave.' That is, he didn't want to be left with no options in case ARC fell apart or ditched him; or if, for some reason or another, he decided to cut ties with the organisation.

'Of course not,' she agreed, before nodding at the neutron star once. 'So, are you going to hew some more material from this one? Make a new sword?'

Some more...? Ah. 'Oh, I just created this, Clio. Just like the sword. I haven't used it before. And, no, I'm not going to take from it.' Fingers flexing, Diego thrust out both arms, punching through the thick surface of the star. And, though it's incredibly concentrated mass spun tens of times per second, the vampire's strength managed to stop it cold.

Diego pulled his broken arms back, smiling as they healed, looking at the star, placidly floating over nothing. He continued speaking to his wife as if nothing had happened. 'No...I'm going to make a sword from the star. All of it.'

'May I suggest making this one double-edged?'

'Huh?' Diego grunted, peering at her dimly. 'Whatever for?'

'So you don't go around swinging another oversized butter knife?' she replied. 'Don't you think it would be useful, being able to swing both ways?'

'Some of my friends seem pretty happy that way,' he agreed.


'Yes, very useful.' He licked his fangs. ' may be right. My first sword got stolen, the second one was shattered before I could do anything with it. And they both had a single edge...yes, you just might be onto something.' He nodded, beaming. What would he do without her? 'But before that,' he took one of his wife's hand in both of his, lips barely brushing the knuckles as he kissed it. 'I'm so sorry for running off and leaving you alone, my sweet. Can I begin trying to make up for it?'

'Oh, come down off it,' she pulled her hand back. 'I'm not mad at you, you clown. Just worried you'll burn yourself out. Throwing yourself into work like this...'

'Vampires can't tire,' he countered. 'Or burn themselves out.' He smiled disarmingly before she could voice her annoyance at being taken literally. 'I know, love. But since the Black God's cults got dismantled, things have been quiet.' As quiet as they could get, in the world they lived in. 'This is useful, for both keeping me busy and preparing for future crises, but I won't hide behind that excuse.' Diego spread his arms. 'How about I treat you to...well. You've always said you'd like to make love somewhere exotic.'

Clio cocked a hip, smirking. 'Diego, the only thing unusual about this place is that it's completely empty, your attempt to recreate outer space aside. I suppose it is unique, in a drab way...'

'Oh, I agree.' He tilted his head at the star. 'That's why I wasn't talking about it.'

Her smirk widened. 'On it, you ragged bat?'

He shrugged, mirroring her expression. 'If you want to start there...but I was thinking more about the core. Five hundred billion degrees Celsius, sixteen decillion pascals...nice and cozy.'

'I don't know...' she rubbed her arm.

'You can take it. The core's conditions, too. I believe in you.'

'Fine.' She slithered closer, slapping his shoulder. 'But you're leading the way.'

'But of course.' He bowed again, wishing he'd put his opera cape over his shirt. 'Why should the lady of the house work when I'm here?'

Tearing open a tunnel large enough for them to move through wasn't hard. And, once they reached the centre, Diego was quick to begin apologise.


Jim Bat had his hands in his pockets as he walked the streets of Madrid. He'd have liked to take in the sights, more than what his senses noticed while he was distracted, or rather, utterly focused on his destination: a flower shop on the first floor of an apartment building, in the area frquented by the city's undead. The vampire quarter, specifically, given the permanent, unnatural cloud cover.

Jim let out a soft breath in amusement. It seemed that, no matter where you went in the world, his kind could never give up their (and wasn't it appropriate?) creature comforts. Bending the world's weather patterns just so they could always exercise al their powers...

Well. He supposed it wasn't that different from humans using tech. Or beavers building dams, at that.

Jim wasn't here in an official capacity; unlike the US military, FREAKSHOW didn't have an official presence outside the States: too much bad blood, to many rivals, and worse. And even the armed forces weren't welcomed everywhere, except as a token show partnership.

Jim let it go. He doubted flags and national identities would still be here in a hundred, a thousand years. If the aliens were any example (probably not, but he didn't want to think about the pantheons), they'd go the way of the dodo.

Good riddance.

One could have wondered why he didn't enter ARC, with such a mindset. One could have been forgiven for such thinking, but not by Jim, save, maybe, on his most charitable day.

He was yet to have any charitable ones.

ARC was...had started out as the brainchild of an international-not global-community riven by war and scarred by old stories that had become fact. It had been fashioned as a token show of unity, something to patrol disputed areas: international waters, the Poles, islands no one could decide what to do with.

But it had grown. ARC had been founded by politicians who had wanted their own power bloc, without actually referring to it as such, or having it work by the usual rules. These early Directors had been backed by some of the most powerful beings in creation, who had vested interests in not allowing patriotism, nationalism or any similar ideas to prevent them from ordering the world as they saw fit.

They did good work. Jim would've had to be stupid or lying, or biased at best, to say otherwise, and he'd aways considered himself a clever, honest, objective man, and modest too. They didn't dabble into politics (overly much. Certainly less than FREAKSHOW, low as that bar was).

The thing was, ARC had far exceeded its original boundaries. Enough members of the Global Gathering had been (probably, Jim only had suspicions, not proof) browbeaten, or at least indirectly intimidated enough to cave in to very polite requests, for things like bases in every country, to start with. ARC liked to say their presence had a balancing effect, that they represented an impartial force, unaligned with local power, wherever they set up shop.

Jim knew that, if not for the overpowered bastards among them, they'd have been torn apart decades ago. As things were, though, no one wanted to start a war against the Heads and their strongest underlings, on the ground there wouldn't have been anything left in the exceedingly unlikely scenario they were eliminated.

And Jim wanted none of that. It reeked of realpolitik, which he tried to avoid as much as possible. He'd rather be seen as a narrow-minded flag-fondler than...whatever ARC was becoming these days.

One of their agents had saved creation, just recently. Of course, he'd almost ended it, too, which was hat Jim's pessimist side and superiors were focusing on, though even they couldn't knock the warm feeling of unity they had felt in that unique moment.

As such, Jim, on holiday and with nothing better to do, decided to walk the world a bit, clear his head; and what better way to do that than by talking with family?

Hopefully, this Cortez was the type you could talk to, rather than at.

He had his civilian ID and FREAKSHOW credentials, the latter hidden in a pocket reality that followed him everywhere, and which he had only opened when talking with border patrol. Sure, everyone in the Global Gathering could go anywhere with the right papers, in theory. In reality, supernaturals, particularly strong ones, were always held at arm's length, for various reasons.

Jim's lip curled at the thought, revealing his fangs for a few nanoseconds. As he approached the flower shop, he remembered the latest discussion on the argument with Clara and the others.


"Look," Breakout said patiently, sitting down. "I get it. Your ego's bruised, or your patriotic sensibilities are offended, or whatever bullshit you wanna call it." Her eyes moved from Jim to Armament, who was sitting on the bed opposite to her, arms crossed in a huff, with amusement. "Kinda expected Hans to be the one bitchin' and whinin', though."

"My complaints are entirely warranted," Jim replied icily. "Do you find no issue with literally everything almost ending because a single person got dealt a shit hand?"

"DEATH's Keepers always ruffle feathers when a replacement is needed," she waved him off easily. "It was just as bad the other times, though the hesitation didn't always last as long, or for the same reasons. Calm your tits."

A question almost came up before Jim pursed his lips. No, no point. Clearly, her power had fed her this info. Jim didn't know whether it had done so recently, or if she'd always known and said nothing because she'd seen no need, but Clarisse was a woman of mystery, in some aspects. For one, they didn't know where her power came from, or how it worked, only what it did and that it was unconnected to the Idea of Freedom.

According to some of the eggheads, that Archetype was connected to a somewhat peculiar universe, infinite but filled with water. Its current activities were harmless enough, though, so they were willing to let it be.

There was already a bizarrely large number of Archetypes connected to Earth and its inhabitants, in one way or another. Nobody knew why, nor did anyone want to test their luck by trying to force bonds.

"Fine," Jim acceded. "We'll shelve that, for now." He leaned forward, elbows on knees. ", I need to be sure of something before I ask. I know all of us remember sharing minds with everyone, but do any of you remember...I don't know, details? Memories from lives you've never lived? Because I do, somewhat. Primus'."

"Nope," Armament said, uncrossing his arms with a thoughtful look.

"Nah," Randy, sitting next to Clara, answered, leaning backwards with his head against the bare, off-white wall. Jim still noticed his interest at the mention of the first vampire. He'd gotten used to the feigned nonchalance decades ago.

Dust Devil, leaning with his back against the far wall, his eyes on the door and his hands on his revolvers, just shook his head.

Clara sighed, taking off her balaclava. "Guys, mind going for a walk? James and I need to talk about something. It's not the mind meld," she added before they could ask.

Not that any of them were eager to bring that up again. Breakout only called him and Randy by their full names when she wanted to get their attention.

Clara's eyes never left Jim's as the other three filed out of the room, Randy managing an obvious wink despite his shades. Breakout scoffed.

"Mind if I sit next to you?" she asked after they were left alone, and he could only pat the bed next to him, bemused.

Nodding gratefully, Clara was quickly at his side, dark brown eyes boring into his red ones. Jim felt ill at ease despite himself. He knew they were colleagues, if not friends, and, occasionally, lovers. Even besides that, Breakout abhorred needless violence, to the pained disbelief of her many former enemies, few of whom agreed to her definition.

Surely she wouldn't hurt him? He didn't think she would. So, why was he so damn worried?

"I know what's eating at you," she began, for which he was grateful. "But the mission didn't even fail. The Russians got their wonder kid witch back, and the complications weren't even your fault."

Complications. What a word. Very polite. Clinical. Unlike Clara. Jim thought he'd have preferred some crude mockery. It would've felt normal, at least.

Tch. What was the world coming to when he was wishing for normalcy?

"I won't bullshit you and say I should've foreseen the." He looked aside. "I couldn't have. But..." his grabbed his knees, tightening his grip, feeling bones crack under his own strength. "I'm just worried about the future, you know?"

Breakout nodded wordlessly, encouraging him to go on.

"Everyone everywhere, everywhen, knows a single ARC agent, a grunt at that, saved all of creation when he could've ended it." He gave her a sidelong glance, laughing nervously. "They'll think, how did we, or everyone else, let things come to this? Or maybe they'll think, if ARC can handle anything, what's the damn point of other agencies? Might as well take a world map, scrub out the borders-"

"Please," Clara sneered. "Now you're just panicking. ARC has had its moments, we've had ours. You know I like to step back sometimes, make sure the world doesn't become dependent on me, but do you really think I'd have stayed aside if I felt Silva was about to give up?" She smiled, though it didn't reach her eyes. "You're worried about countries disappearing? If it happens, it'll happen. We're not politicians, James. We're here to make sure people don't get trampled by the latest crazy running to grab power."

He didn't say anything, and Clara put a hand on his shoulder. "Would that be so bad?" she asked softly. "You saw what we can achieve, when everyone's working together? Isn't that what you want?'

"That, too," Jim said gloomily. "When the Mover was asleep, we had the excuse of suffering being the result of random dreams. Now it's awake..."

"C'mon, Jim. People have been having crises of faith over God's nature since they first stared at the sky. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." She looked surprised, and not in a pleasant way. "I thought you'd like this. My power thinks the Mover wants to make everyone into something like it. Well," she chuckled. "More like guide us to reach that point. Self-determination, and all that."

"...I'm not sure I...I'm not sure what I want anymore," he admitted. "I used to look down on mundanes, past them. But..."

"Seeing things from the other side opens your eyes, huh?" she asked.

Jim nodded. Look at him, needing a literal goddamn miracle to have some perspective.

Clara's smile became smaller, but more genuine. "You're a good guy, James. If you care to look past the elitist jackass on thee surface, like I do. You've never tricked me into thinking you hate them, ya know."

He turned to look at her, eyes wide. "Tricked-?"

"I know the vamp you think you are wouldn't have spent his days before the Shattering feeding on animals and dyin' folks, and the one after fighting for 'em." She punched his arm. "You can talk all you want, but, if you were even half the bastard you pretend to be, you'd be kidnappin' supernaturals to breed stronger ones, not runnin' around to save kids." She rolled her eyes. "If you really thought mundanes were only good as entertainment and raw resources, you sure as hell wouldn't be so quick to put your ass on the line for them. I know you don't give a fuck about the pay." She patted his hand, speaking in a fake condescending voice. "S'alright. I've seen dumber tough guy acts."

If she was annoyed at his lack of reply, she didn't show it. "James Patrick Bates, I'm going to start noticing you if you keep ignoring me."

God, but she sounded just like his Ma, Hell keep the old bitch. Whenever he was addressed by his full name, he felt like he was a child again. Jim preferred not to mention it if he could, because people had a tendency to ask why he never mentioned he was Irish. As if his Pa being born there meant anything. Some humans kept closer tabs on their lineages than his kindred, he swore....

For a while, Jim just stared at the floor, licking his lips. When he spoke, his voice was flat, dry. "I did hate them. I still do."

Clara looked at him sharply. "Who?"

"You've read my file." As he'd read hers. His parents hadn't been happy their son had survived the Civil War, just terrified the bloodsucking monster who'd returned home looked like him. His Ma had told him he should've stayed dead twice, both before and after his Pa had tried to set him on fire and beat him to death with a cross.

Clara's lips became a thin line. "I'll sound like a bitch sayin' this," she raised her hands, speaking softly. "But you never talk's been nearly two hundred years. I thought you didn't care anyone. Sorry for assuming."

"It's alright," he said, wondering if he was trying to reassure her or himself, then if he had been to quick to reply. "They're dead."

Breakout lowered her hands, eyes on him. "If you say so." Then, her smile returned as she elbowed him. "C'mon, do it."


"Smile, you glum fuck. The world's more peaceful than it's been since the Shattering. Natural psychics are being born-in a few generations, they, or the mages, or fuck knows, will form the majority of the population." And when everyone was paranormal, no one would be. "God's awake, or something like it. Most people can't tell the difference, but I know it's looking out for us. It's got an interest in that. Doubt it'll leave us hang out to dry, so cheer the hell up."

Jim tried, but his face was hardly made for, scratch that. It wasn't made for anything but scowling. He'd grown the beard in the hopes it'd make him look friendlier.

Brad Stacker, Director of FREAKSHOW, had told him much the same thing, but mostly because he wanted him out of his buzzcut hair. Stacker had ordered him to keep an eye on trouble, and the other on his morale. The Director was usually disdainful of "globalism" or anything like it, believing the world had forgotten how America had bailed so many people out of trouble after the Shattering had realigned the balance of power, but even he had been moved by recent events.

Jim took a deep breath, dead lungs flexing, then let it whistle out through his fangs. "I'll try. Got any ideas?"


'Thank you for having me,' Jim said, gingerly cradling his mug. Diego had offered him both human and vampire blood-his own-and Jim had decided to mix them. The mud-like taste of the undead vitae managed to dull the strong burn human blood made him feel, but only barely. Jim suspected vampires had been created to dislike feeding on each other, though he was damned if he could tell what purpose that served.

Diego nodded. 'Always interesting to see family,' he said guardedly, and Jim was pretty sure he meant interesting in the Chinese proverb sense. The way the older vampire-Jim might've technically been his great uncle by virtue of who'd turned him, but Diego was over twice his age-showed his fangs in a humourless grin settled it. 'But, and forgive me for being rude...' he bit his lip. 'Mmm, actually don't bother. I'm not sorry.' His eyes, as crimson as Jim's, transfixed him. 'Since we can't talk about work, I don't know you and I don't like you yet-which I doubt will change-I'd like to ask while you're here, and remind you I can put something blessed and very sharp through your skull faster than you can think.' Diego took a deep gulp of his own blood, looking like the awful stuff didn't even faze him. Maybe it didn't. Maybe he drank it all the time, for all Jim knew.

'I saw Primus recently,' Jim said bluntly. 'Didn't get to speak to him, but he's not on Earth anymore. I'd have felt his return.' Diego raised an eyebrow, but said nothing, so Jim continued. 'But, when everyone joined minds...I don't know. Maybe mine is close to his, since he turned me, but...' Jim smiled, despite himself. 'He felt so happy, you know. I don't think he's ever felt happy before. And he liked it, the closeness. He...'

As Jim described his sire's vision of the world, something he realised he no longer supported completely, he also let slip some details of his own goals. Diego listened, saying nothing, but grunting in what sounded like surprise in certain moments.

'Whatever shape the world takes, I'll defend it.' He hefted a sword Jim knew was heavier than the solar system, for all that it barely displaced the air in the room. It looked like a piece of glass, or maybe clear steel, with a rainbow inside it, though that was just the light moving. 'You still haven't gotten to the point.'

'Right.' Jim eyed the sword. He'd ask after. It might just be...'Primus might finally be willing to stop hiding as a thuggish hermit, if he returns. We might be able to turn him to our side, or at least make sure he's not against it.'

'We?' Diego asked, amused.

'Vampires like us.' Jim gestured at the two of them, then the walls of the kitchen. 'FREAKSHOW. ARC. The world. Just have to make sure he doesn't become an enemy, and I think I might have the right idea.'

'That being?'

'Bribery.' Jim matched Diego's unimpressed smirk. 'I'm willing to liaise between Primus and people looking to be turned, because, let's face it, he'd turn even the most eager volunteer into a vampire-hater.' Primus had always been able to understand force was not a substitute for charm, but he refused to accept it, especially when he could just rape minds with a look. 'The vampiric society he dreams of can be built, though it'll be smaller than he hoped.' And tamer. Oh, well. No one could have everything. Primus was already stronger than most gods, complaining about not having his way would just be childish.

Which might be enough to make him calm down if pointed out, unless it made him fly into a rage. Jim gave it a one to ten chance. 'He hopes to have his descendants act as warriors and builders, rulers in their own right, so...' Jim glanced at the sword. 'You did that yourself, didn't you? I can't sense any trace of foreign power.'

'So what if I did?' Diego ran a finger across the blade's edge after setting it on his lap.

'You did it through domination, didn't you?' Jim pointed at his eyes. 'I can imbue things with my will, make them move or fly, but I can't shape them.' Different branches of the same tree, probably. Who knew all the forms domination could take, or make, as it were? Probably not even Primus. He told Diego as much, who seemed unsurprised by the idea. 'And the mass-you're keeping it from generating its own gravity field because you don't want it to have one, aren't you?'

'It's selective,' Diego said. 'It still is as heavy as its original to me, and to what I strike, should I deem it necessary.' You never knew how much oomph you needed, and he liked to keep testing his strength. Scientifically speaking, wielding the sword like he did was impossible: he struggled to bench press it, never mind swing it slower than light, but faster than that? No problem. It just felt like an extremely heavy sword. And, being supernatural, he didn't need infinite energy to surpass lightspeed.

'Impressive,' Jim admitted. Other vampires might be able to impose laws on what they saw, or even apply domination in different ways. Continuing to learn was all they could do.

'Thank you.' Jim got the impression Diego wasn't feeling flattered, which was fairly bizarre. He was being entirely honest, and all intel about Spain's senior Crypt agent painted him as gregarious and welcoming. 'I'll need some more time to think about that.'

Jim got the message. Before he stood up, he almost slapped his knees and went "Welp!", but decided that would be too much. Instead, he

Diego led him out of the kitchen, then the shop, the building. His lamia wife had been polite but cold when greeting Jim and bringing her husband the blood bottles, then she'd gone back up front, saying she wanted to be there in case a customer appeared. Jim rather doubted that'd happen on a sleepy winter Sunday, but he didn't say anything. Really, being let in was enough. He was a stranger, even if Cortez knew about him from ARC's intel on significant national agents.

After Jim walked down the steps, he felt an impulse to just speed away to the border and try to forget the awkwardness, but pushed it down. Instead, he turned, adjusting his blue shirt's collar, to see Diego leaning against the doorframe, looking at him with curiosity.

Not that the distance made any difference. Despite being a head taller than Diego, Jim had felt like the shorter vampire had towered, loomed over him all through their discussion.

But he wouldn't leave now. It would be too much like leaving things unfinished.

'Did I offend you somehow?' he asked Diego. 'I would've scheduled a visit, but I didn't exactly have the means to contact you.'

Diego looked aside briefly. 'It's not you...I mean, you just came here. But my wife and I were busy.'

'The shop was as empty as it is now.' Jim made a show of looking through the front door's window.

Diego sniggered quietly. 'Don't play dumb.' He pushed himself away from the door, flexing his hands. 'A while ago, Clio nearly lost me. She's still getting over it, so I'm trying to be with her as much as possible. And failing, if you ask me, but I'll try to do better.'

Ah. 'I-'

'It's all right. You couldn't have known.' Diego didn't look at him. 'Good talk. I hope you've achieved whatever you came here to do.'

Was he that obvious? Dammit. And Cortez's heart clearly wasn't in it. He'd hoped the possibility of fending Primus off, making sure he was no longer lurking in the shadows, always at risk of erupting into a disaster, would be enough. But it seemed not. Maybe the older vamp was confident in ARC's ability to handle him, or maybe he just didn't care.

So, Jim aimed at his selfishness, and hoped he hadn't misread Cortez. 'Promises are good,' he said. 'But I'll feel safer knowing you are on board with the idea.' Or at least not opposed to it. 'Would you like to talk things over again? Whenever you have time. Say, at your sire's.'
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Aftermath, Part 2B


Primus glared steadily at the Sleeper from across the table. Once, it had been an universe, dwarfing his own like it dwarfed a quark, populated by beings of cosmic proportions.

They'd been strong and fast, but dull. The two monsters had destroyed them all by clashing at the centre of their humongous reality, and they would've continued their fight, if not for...

Strigoi hadn't been a thing during Primus' youth, but then, not all supernaturals had. They were undead, like his childlings, and fed on the warms, also like his spawn. But while vampires drank blood, these undead seemed to consume lifeforce.

Nephews and nieces, Primus supposed. Also created as godly punishment, though far less efficient than his breed. They were unable to reproduce by themselves, for example, and inherently violent and solitary, even more so than vampires. Primus was sure they could be outcompeted.

But a particular strigoi-this, at least, Primus remembered, as clearly as he screams of his daughter as he'd killed her-had managed the impossible, and made everyone work together, briefly. Showed them the source of everything and preserved them, and when said source awakened, creation went on.

Incredible, truly. Primus couldn't remember the last time he'd been this impressed, or at all.

The Sleeper had voiced similar thoughts. Actually, it had been that very event that had caused a lull in their fighting, then prompted the eldritch creature to propose a truce, which Primus had agreed to.

The Sleeper had grabbed the immense universe and moulded it into a round, hyperdense table, scarcely a couple metres long and half as wide. Then, it had set it down in the aether, and started talking.

It was surprisingly articulate. Primus preferred to analyse his enemies, but it wasn't his fault the Sleeper had just shrieked like an angry, idiotic child for the entirely of the battle.

It had even assumed its original shape, though it was only human-sized at the moment, and, as a show of courtesy, if not trust, Primus had returned the favour.

'Could you get to the point?' he asked it. 'If I cannot kill you, or trap you, and you no longer wish to battle, I would return to Earth.'

Interesting order. Do you so despise my conversation?

Primus wanted to say yes, but it was probably smart enough to read him. 'All you've been doing is thank your god for the miracle it provided.' Which had been quite strange to watch. Weaker gods did not pray to stronger members of their pantheons, at least as far as Primus knew, and the Sleeper had worshippers of its own, not least of all its own spawn. Maybe the thing didn't see itself as a god? Was it...modest? Or just stupid?

No, what was he thinking? As if they were opposites...

Because it is indeed worthy of praise. The Sleeper spread its arms and wings, as if to encompass the blue-green expanse of the aether. The cycle, the endless, meaningless, unremembered destruction? It is over. The Lord Of All has achieved a new realm of mastery, of understanding.

More like the bare minimum of maturity, if Primus was one to judge. Being part of an almighty infant's dream would've daunted most, but Primus knew it was pointless to worry about things you couldn't change. 'Has it? You make it sound like it was all its own doing.' Primus crossed his short, muscular legs. 'But I seem to remember an undead doing it. With help, to be sure, but your god definitely didn't start anything.' Wait...'Although, didn't you say you worship the All In One? You just mentioned a different-'

Nothing is different from the Almighty. The Sleeper puts its slime-coated, clawed hands together. Nor separate. The All In One is Its waking aspect, its mind, but not a different being. Not that there has ever been such a thing.

Primus wasn't about to get into a cosmological debate with an insane alien. It'd just beat him with experience. 'As you say.'

Indeed. The artistry of the Lord's plan can clearly be observed in the fact one of Its worshippers was the one to awaken It.

Primus laughed. 'You can say they're one and the same, that everything is, but the thing that strigoi worships is definitely different from the one you do.'

Is it? All-powerful. All-knowing. Present everywhere, and everywhen. Ordering creation according to its own purposes.

Primus sniffed, remembering all the times a priest had come close to truly, permanently injuring him. 'Many things appear so. But it preaches a set of values, even if it so often goes against them, or does nothing to those who do. Does yours?'

The Sleeper said nothing, just stared at him with those unblinking, yellow-on-orange eyes. Maybe it hadn't understood the question? 'The strigoi's god claims there is god and evil, which spring from it.'

Ah. The most subjective things in creation besides its very nature.

'How about this, then: the beings who pray to it can wound those like me, while you can't. What do you make of that?'

More study is necessary. The Sleeper seemed thoughtful, if not curious. I know nearly everything, but some mysteries are harder to unravel the more they are observed.

That, Primus had to concede. Let the Sleeper go to its god like a beggar, grovelling in order to learn more about existence. He would not stop it. With a little luck, it'd die, or whatever its kind did when their existence ended, and he'd lose a rival for his dominance of everything.

Except, as Primus thought about that, he found his desire had been...not erased, but...shaken. Changed? He had certainly experience something momentous, but he still felt like himself.

The All In One values knowledge, and those who can brave the trials needed to reach it are rewarded freely. Journey aside, the Sleeper said, unprompted, maybe thinking out loud. Yes. I must begin the voyage at once.

'Wait.' Primus raised a hand, sitting up. 'What are you going to do?'

I will undertake-

'Yes, I understood that. But why?'

The Sleeper returned to its original size, looking as quizzical as it could. Why do you care, or think you are entitled to know?

By now convinced it was too stubborn for him to beat answers out of it, Primus appeared to its newfound verbosity. 'I care because, once I return to Earth, I do not want to deal with you or any of your lackeys. You are distracting.'

You can have it.
The beardlike tentacles on the Sleeper's face swayed serenely, so it probably wasn't offended. Never, in a centillion millennia, have I known such a troublesome world. I know I cannot achieve anything worthy of note there. The earthlings' lack of vision is surpassed only by their power. It looked into the distance, into the aether's infinite depths, pondering. If you are interested in my short term plans, I will rebuild my city. Spawn again. Gather followers, or make them.

The fact it was revealing such details meant it didn't expect Primus to attempt or succeed in stopping its plans, not that he wanted to. Competition was helpful, when it was far from home and pointed away from him. Of course, he had already guessed the broad outline of its aims: rebuilding its power base, even if most of it would be inconsequential in comparison to itself. Still, he had to ask. 'You are not going to spread madness again?'

The Sleeper's very existence could warp planets the size of Earth into nonsensical nightmares, and shatter billions of minds, reforging them into gibbering servitude.

I do not "spread" "madness". The Sleeper's voice was too placid to be waspish, but Primus could still tell it was obsessive when it came to certain details. I return creation to its true state. You should all be thanking me.

Right after he asked for a cross through the brain. 'Be that as it may. You are not going to change your surroundings, then? R'lyeh's dust is gone,' he pointed out.

I will not rebuild R'lyeh, nor raise something like it. It was an outpost before it became a prison, not a true city. To answer you, not any more than necessary.

Reassuring...hmm. 'Your starspawn, they are connected to you, yes?'

As your children are to you.

That was not an answer. 'But you know their thoughts?'

I know the thoughts of all creation. You are meaning to ask if I direct them, control them? No more than any parent. I do not dictate their every action and thought, if that is what you are wondering. They spent their imprisonment by themselves.

Primus grinned, glad to finally have something over it. 'Then are you not forgetting something?'

It lowered its head, and Primus was reminded of sailors listening to the faraway ocean. Was it communicating with its deity? The worshipper of the Lord Of All's Earthly incarnation. I shall thank him, of course. And his adjutants. They have opened the door to apotheosis. We just have to walk through. Its tentacles briefly parted, revealing something closer to a singularity than a mouth, sucker or similar orifice. Funny. He'd always expected it to have a beak. It seemed the squid imagery was only skin-deep. As for his mate...without her to inspire him, creation would've ended. We would've never achieved unity. She, too, must be thanked. Its wings folded across its back. That is why you asked. Because one of my spawn attempted to force itself on her. Had it succeeded, it would've broken her body, and mated with her until her mind followed. Then, her resistance gone, it would've moulded her into something like it, and taken her as her mate.

Primus was not unsettled by the Sleeper's indifferent manner. He'd seen worse. 'And we would've all lost,' he said smugly.


'Well,' Primus traced the edge of the table. 'You can start with that.'

That starspawn has already been obliterated, slowly. Its recreation, while trivial, would earn ire, due to the reminder, rather than favour. And there were only so many ways you could torture a Cthulhi..sadly. Nevertheless, they will want an apology on my part. Being unable to provide a sincere one-if one cannot defend themselves, they can complain all they want about their circumstances; they will not change-and knowing an insincere one will similarly anger them, I will instead offer an explanation.

'That your spawn shared your mindset? DEATH's Keeper is as likely to end you with a thought as not.

Your opinion has been noted. If there is nothing else, I will depart.

'You're awfully calm for someone who didn't say a word as we tore up the multiverse,' Primus mused.

And you are speaking full sentences.

Why use ten words when one worked? 'You know that, if you attempt what you did on Earth on other worlds, you will be crushed, driven back. Other aliens and powers prowl the starts.

The Lord Of All desires to see all of Its creations elevated to Its level. That is the ultimate freedom my kind and I crave. Opposing Its plans would be nonsensical.

Primus rather doubted it was just going to sit by and watch, but it had just brought up the other Great Old Ones. Selfish as they appeared to humans, that was likely a good sign to drop the subject.

'Then, I will not attempt to hinder you, either,' he promised, thumping a fist against his chest, over his heart. Now, all they missed was something to seal the deal, such as it were. The words of beings like them carried enough power and weight, but Primus sought something that would bear his personal touch. 'You can travel whenever. I will hunt now. Will you join me?'

I need no sustenance.

'I hardly need any, either,' Primus replied. 'But sport does the mind good.'

Yes...I can go whenever.

'It is settled, then.' Primus brought his fist down on the condensed universe, obliterating the volume of spacetime and its contents with the ease of a tank shell going through a soap bubble.

Then, the two set off into the aether.

Many great beasts populated the realm of raw mana. Aether swimmers, with eyes so large universes were invisible next to them, and far larger bodies that unmade timelines with a touch. Oceanycs, who dwarfed the swimmers like humans dwarfed the creatures that grew inside raindrops. There were even immense masses, like thinking seas, the size of the multiverse's fourth layer, with its infinite realities and the aethereal barriers between them combined. There were many, many of them. The aether was joined with the multiverse on every level, after all.

The first two categories of beings were easy to dispatch: both the First Vampire and the Sleeper were powerful enough the merest graze or glancing blow was enough to destroy them. For the third, however, it took quite a bit of blood drinking and enhancement before the immense living oceans could be reduced to endless steam.


Hastur barely appeared to move: the empty hood inclined only by a fraction of a yoctometre, not that there was anything around to observe it. The only things that were present wanted to know no more, as could be deduced from the shadow that lengthened over the false earth as they thought.

'My king,' one of its humans said in a diffident voice, on all fours, forehead scraping against the ground. All traces of appearance and individuality had been scraped clean from its body and immaterial extensions; the fate it had tried to avoid, alongside the Unspeakable.

Ironic. They never seemed to realise running from fate made it so much more likely to end up facing it. Not guaranteed, what with the impossible happening recently, as linears recounted events, but still.

Then, this one had also thought meeting it and being disfigured would be intricately linked. Its surprise had been as palpable as it had been amusing.

No one eluded the King In Yellow. For reanimation was not to be taken lightly, and all necromancers worshipped at its altar, no matter their methods, tools or creed. One could not ask for its aid, then run away when it was time to repay the debt.

'Your' Green, spiked tendrils rose from where Hastur's yellow robe met the soil that wasn't, swaying in the nonexistent wind. Before the once-human could finish, it had already directed its sight at...hmm.

Cthulhu was strangely withdrawn for a preacher, but Hastur supposed it only came with the occupation. Certainly ancestor worship had never appealed to it, which was just one of the reasons they had never been close, inasmuch as the likes of them could be. But now, Cthulhu was not hiding its light under a bushel anymore. If anything, it was, in modern human terms, flashing and blaring as it went, as if not caring whose attention it drew. Or maybe hoping for it. Its converts tended to be impressed by shows of strength.

Yes, Hastur decided as it watched the twin suns descend over the sickly yellow horizon into Lake Hali, making Carcosa's light all the harsher as its surroundings were swallowed by gloom. Things have changed.

For example, one of its greatest children had come home. Not destroyed, no longer sleeping, but returned to its cradle, and that of an adept dearly departed, for all he had never known of the King, much less recognised it.


Vhoorl, Twenty-Third Nebula

The two monsters' hunt eventually wound down, and they found themselves at the supposed birthplace of the Sleeper. Hidden from prying eyes by a crimson haze and a string of green light that swallowed sight, they sat down to speak once more.

'I believe we will rise soon,' Primus said, referring to himself and his childlings. 'The Earth's keepers of orders are assigned their duties in accordance to the nature of a crime, but the mundane and paranormal are becoming ever closer.' The thought almost made him giddy. Maybe the sheep would finally see the worth of his kind. 'Leading by example could help immensely.'

With a different example.

Primus refrained from scowling hideously, only partly because the Sleeper was right. It knew how people worked, even if it understood them about as well as Primus. He wasn't sure whether that should have concerned him, or flattered it. 'Quite,' he agreed grudgingly, swearing to open their eyes one day. 'But I will not be alone. I have like-minded kindred, and one does not need to agree with another to work alongside them.' His chest swelled with something between pride and satisfaction. 'My first son is coming home.'

You killed your first generation of spawn; those you didn't lead to their deaths.

'I meant the first among my sons,' Primus snapped. Jericho had always been too soft for his own good, else how could he have ended up trapped by people weaker but more ruthless than him? At least that nun of his had freed him. Provided he brought her and the hellhound along when they got tired of righting wrongs across creation, maybe she could make him listen to Primus enough to see reason. Maybe even lend some weight to his words during negotiations with his more paranoid children.

Provided they didn't see Jericho as cowardly or uncaring for not staying home. Primus had his own thoughts on the matter, but he wouldn't share them, unless necessary.

The Sleeper conceded the point, and the two parted ways, for now. And everyone-adorers and enemies, the Shoggoths crawling in the dark places under land and sea, the scattered remnants of the Elder Things, the Mi-Go with their minds drifting across the streams of time-sat up and noticed, as Dread Cthulhu no longer hid, nor slept.

It lived, in fact. Despite the fact stars were no more, much less right or wrong. They shuddered at the thought, in terror and ecstasy. The Great Old Ones were supposed to be unable to live when the stars were wrong. Many hoped Cthulhu was the only one who could still sleep and live, despite their destruction. Others prayed he was only the first, and that the Great Old Ones, walking creation serene and undimensioned, would return to lead those born of matter into revelry and murder, and teach them new ways to do both.


Adam held up the travelling guide, then looked from it to the trackless expanse of snow. Of course, nothing that could be showed on a map was there. The North Pole's population lived in underground habitats, out of habit rather than necessity, and the paranormal ruins and artifacts scattered across the Pole could not exactly be depicted as landmarks.

Not that he needed a map. His senses could accurately spot every unnatural thing around him, no matter how far in time or space, along with their proximity to him, and even a glimpse of their nature. He hadn't bought the guide for the maps. Just for the pictures. He...had wanted an idea, before seeing the places with his own eyes.

His return to Earth had been surprisingly calm, all things considered. He'd expected a mob, or maybe constables or soldiers, entire armies, hunting him down for his murders, for who and what he was.

But, no. His early unlife was a thing of centuries past. Something for the history books. Oh, Adam had no doubt someone would, sooner or later, try to drag him to an extensive psychological examination, if not a prison cell or an execution site, but he'd meet them as they came.

So far, though, he'd only had to prove he could function in society and offer some details about himself, for the record: physical characteristics, his version of past events, opinions, goals. And so on. To prove he wasn't malicious because even he couldn't trick people into thinking he wasn't dangerous.

And so, he'd travelled. Across the Rhine, to Castle Frankenstein (no relation, though he had hoped to find some, between the old, long gone alchemist and his own creator) in the Odenwald, overlooking Darmstadt. To Ingolstadt, and the University. To Geneva, darkly thinking about how criminals always returned to the scene of the crime. To Perth. To Orkney, what should have been the birthplace of his mate. Or maybe it was better he was alone.

Then, to Ireland, and from there, to the North Pole.

He fancied he could see the spot where Walton's ship had been trapped in pack ice, even without looking into the past. He remembered mourning over his father's body, twisted by cold and grief.

Adam sighed, dead lungs pumping out a misty breath. He needed closure, even if he couldn't make amends, or he'd never have peace. And if he never accepted himself, he'd destroy himself, or the world. Never mind achieving anything worthwhile in it.

'Victor,' he began softly, voice thundering in the chilly air despite the roaring blizzard. 'Come to me, father. We must talk.'

The ghost manifested slowly, tentatively. It wasn't just the hesitation to see him, Adam knew: it was Victor's first time manifesting after death.

He didn't look like when he had died, stooped and deathly thin, ribs visible, skin wrinkled and thinned by stress and guilt at what he had brought into the world. Rather, he looked like when Adam had first seen him in the old laboratory, like he had throughout most of his adult life. A plain-faced man, save for the aquiline nose, tall but sparse, with shoulder-length hair parted across the middle and shrewd, darting eyes. He still wore the lab coat and thick, rugged boots and gloves, though he had pushed the thick googles-his own creation-past his forehead. Adam appreciated the gesture, though he could've seen Victor's eyes anyway. The scientist had the white-blue, semi-transparent appearance typical to ghosts.

To his credit, Victor didn't appear overwhelmed by fear, or anything else. At the sight of Adam, his face began a resigned mask, giving away nothing except a bone-deep weariness. The undead understood: even death hadn't brought him peace. Or maybe it had, and he'd interrupted it. He had a history of failing while trying to help, when it came to people.

But he'd be damned if he failed this time.

But then, whispered a gleeful voice in the back of his head, I've always been damned, haven't I?

Adam briefly wondered if it had been his imagination (dangerous, for a reality warper), or if some spark of intelligence had remained in the brain that had been used for his creation, dormant all these centuries.

It probably wasn't his conscience. It wasn't usually this loud.

'Adam,' Victor replied. 'Hello, son.' And there were so many more words, buried under the inflections of the last one. Monster. Creature. Creation. Masterpiece. Disaster. Tool.


'Thank you for coming,' Adam said, patting down his clothes: a grey dress suit, the shirt, tie and shoes also grey. Tall and pale as he was, he looked like a parody of something else, like a scarecrow. He'd pulled his long, oily dark hair into a ponytail, leaving the bangs to cover the stitching across his forehead. The dress suit covered the rest. Victor didn't miss this, thought he didn't comment, either.

At least, not about Adam obscuring himself.

'Wait,' the ghost's brow furrowed as he tried to gather his thoughts. His arcane sense had glimpsed something through the fabric. 'You...did I stitch you together? I don't remember...'

'You can't,' Adam said, as kindly as he could. 'History has become legend, and it has been muddled enough the facts change to fit the story, rather than the other way around.' He shrugged, great shoulders moving imperceptibly. 'People think you sewed or wired or chained me together, so you did.' An ironic smile touched the corner of his mouth. 'They also believe I'm a blundering idiot with bolts in his neck, but I've taken steps against that.'

'But the stitches...?'

'Leave them. A fine enough reminder of the beginning.'

Victor nodded. 'What did you want to talk about?'

'I am sorry, Victor.' Adam did his best to stand still as he faced his creator, fighting the impulse to turn away, or rip him to ectoplasmic shreds. 'For Henry Clerval. For William. For Elizabeth.' He felt a low growl build up in his throat-anger? Regret?-, but sighed instead. 'For Justine and Alphonse, too.'

'You...y-you didn't kill my father,' Victor said, seeming baffled by the apology's sincerity more than the act itself. Before his death, he had known the Creature to possess a low cunning, and a merciless mind. A lie, he'd have expected. A trick. To bring him back and torment him beyond the grave, maybe. But this...

'I might as well have. He couldn't bear the consequences of my deeds, and neither could you-or I.' Adam fashioned two chairs from the ice and snow, sitting down. Victor opted to stand. 'I fled at the end, you know. Drifted away. Tried to escape, and hide, maybe.' He stared into his maker's eyes. 'I cried for you. When you died, I nearly tore myself apart, but, in the end, I was too cowardly even for that.'

Victor stared at his boots, gulping. 'I didn't know,' he confessed. 'I didn't see...after I died,' he took off his googles, cleaning them with a spectral sleeve. Nervousness, and nothing more. 'After I died, I went to this place...well, it was closer to a void, I suppose. Though not empty. Full of...substance. What gave you life, maybe.'

'No.' Adam almost chuckled at the thought of being animated by mana. 'Trust me.'

'And there...well, I truly do not think time flowed. It felt like it didn't pass at all, except when I expected it to...I don't know what year it is, truly. Have we entered the nineteenth century yet?'

'Yes,' Adam answered. 'Two hundred years ago. Do not worry. You haven't missed much.'

Victor staggered, trying to laugh at the weak joke, and failing. Adam felt a vindictive joy at once again throwing the man off, then silently berated himself. He was supposed to be better.

'Twenty-first, then...' Victor bit his lip. 'Of course...with how absorbed I matters not. The world has clearly gone on without me.' He laughed sardonically. 'It seems I wasn't that important, in the end.'

'Robert followed your advice,' Adam tried to cheer him up. 'He wrote about it-you, us-to his sister. I've seen the letters.' He reached out, to take his father's hand, but the scientist flinched back, to his unsurprised dismay. 'You have a museum, Victor...they're still trying to figure out what you did.' Beyond chemistry, beyond galvanism, Frankenstein had breathed unlife into dead flesh. Adam was, in a way, glad that pettier, crueller people hadn't managed to imitate his father.

And that he left no notes.

But Victor wasn't listening to the praise. 'Robert...? Oh, y-yes. Captain Walton...goodness, I hoped his writings were appreciated while he lived. Or that he at least pushed the boundaries of knowledge in this...' he glared around him with disdain. 'Wasteland. He seemed like a kind man. Very open-minded.'

'He found peace in tranquility,' Adam promised. 'And disdained ambition. Like you taught me. He didn't pursue me, when he could have. Just recorded our sordid tale for posterity.' And cautionary advice. Adam knew playing God was a phrase most often associated with Victor, but he didn't think infamy would improve the scientist's mood. Instead, he tried to bridge the gap. 'So, how was the afterlife? Where did you end up?'

'Oh, not that b-bad.' Victor scratched his head, looking distracted rather than disappointed. 'It was peaceful, quiet. I learned to shape that strange substance into...constructs. Not thinking ones.' He looked aside, face darkening. 'I knew better. Though, there was a fairly dreadful occurrence a while ago. Something too vast or awful to glimpse rampaged through the lands of the dead, tearing down their halls and gardens, destroying them. I only felt an aimless, confused rage, and a yearning for something I couldn't perceive, hidden as I was in my sanctuary.'

'And then, there was the moment of communion,' Adam prodded.

Victor's eyes widened, and for an instant, he seemed almost alive. 'God, yes...a miracle. Far greater than anything I could achieve. And to think one man...we saw God, Adam. We could all become G-Gods...'

Adam stood up and moved to support his father as he stumbled across the snow.

'I want to leave my mark on history, too,' Adam told the ghost as he leaned against him. He was taller than his father by nearly a metre, and broad to match, and Victor's body seemed to flicker at his touch. 'Constructs created nowadays are usually unthinking, and the ones who aren't are treated as people...most of the time.' The rage was coming back. It was like an old friend, who had never really left. 'And the ones who aren't...'

Adam revealed his plan, though it was closer to a goal and list of things he believed would be useful in achieving it, rather than an actual strategy. Still, making up things as he went had never been hard for him.

'I believe you don't yet know what form you want this organisation to take,' Victor said after the explanation, though he was nowhere near as reproachful or chiding as Adam had expected.

'And I know that I can't form it into anything if it doesn't exist,' the undead retorted. 'I am going on a...recruitment spree, I suppose. As soon as I leave.'

Victor nodded in understanding. 'Yes, of course...we've all moved on...well, not all of us.' He reached into his coat, but Adam raised a hand to stop him.

'You can give me whatever you think I need,' the undead promised. 'But first...well, I did say we haven't spent enough time together.' Not like they should have, at any rate. Not giving that thought voice, Adam opened his hand, brought what he wanted into existence, and carefully tried not to think of it as piracy.

'Lord...' Victor said, taking one of the boxes as a television appeared behind him. 'We inspired so many...?'

'Films,' Adam said, seeing his father floundering for words. 'I am given to understand most are bad, even allowing for historical inaccuracy, but I think it will be good to see how we are remembered.'

Vicotr raised his eyes. 'You haven't...seen them?'

'Not yet.'


Caleb Peretz, known to the smallest (yet most important to him) part of the world as Tamar Thousandhands-not that many knew they were one and the same-passed many golems as he returned home.

Not the German town where he had been born. He knew for a fact it had been razed to the ground. But to Jerusalem. He passed the giants of old stone, magic and faithcraft at the borders and strongholds, the newer creations built of metamaterials that roamed the wilderness and city roofs, and the smaller, subtler creations used in households.

Most golems were still built for defence. But other uses had been found. Spying, for example. Being Head of an ARC division, and Goetia at at that, Caleb was deeply familiar with intelligence gathering and removal. His wife also made a point of sending some of her golems (she made so many, she could hardly wait for buyers, sometimes) to him, wherever he might be found, to pass on what she considered valuable information.

Between this, and how deeply Caleb despised surprises, he was unaccustomed to being shocked.

As such, when he entered his house and saw Sarah having tea with something he'd last seen in a Hammer movie, his mood, which had been swinging since Silva's near-omnicide, firmly settled on foul. If the thing had even thought about harming a hair on her-

'Cal, come the hell here,' Sarah said, and he quickly shapeshifted the uniform away, alongside his mutilated appearance. Although, knowing his wife...oh God, he hoped it hadn't made Sarah threaten anything, she didn't believe in backing down, and they had too many thinking weapons in the house for his comfort.

Sarah Peretz was a short, squat woman who'd recently passed her first century, on a basis of faithcraft, mana and sheer spite. Her shoulder-length white hair and wrinkled face were the only signs of age, however. There were no liver spots, and her hands, far from shaky, were as sure and strong as her grey eyes.

She glanced at him once, took in the gold-rimmed, round glasses he often insisted on wearing in his civilian life (he believed an unflattering comparison with Gerald Reyes was forthcoming, thought he wasn't sure who'd be the target this time), scoffed, then looked back at their uninvited, unexpected guest.

'He,' Sarah nodded at Frankenstein's Monster, not looking at Caleb as he pulled his own chair. 'Says something about...' she put a calloused hand on her husband's shoulder as he sat down next to her, between the golem-maker and the Creature. 'Y'know those creeps who are always asking me to build them golems with intelligence, but not free will?' She frowned angrily. 'I keep sending the cops after 'em and saying I make stuff and people, not abominations, but it don't work. Still, there are folks who see nothing wrong with making things like that, and...'

'I believe they could be rehabilitated after being removed from the ownership of their abusers,' the Creature continued smoothly. 'Reforged, as it were.'

Why do you care? How'd you learn about her, and why'd you come here? 'Would you mind telling me what's going on?' Caleb asked Sarah instead. She grinned, a glint in her eye, and he felt his demons laugh in anticipation, the bastards.

'Adam here read about me online, and believes I could be helpful in spotting such cases-for a fee, of course.' She elbowed her husband. 'You can check his history. I think it'll look better on a reread.'

'You are Tamar Thousandhands, right?' it asked him, and he whirled to look at it sharply, but it sounded merely curious, as opposed to gloating or terrified, like most who found out. 'You are aware Tamar is a female name, yes?'

'You are aware male agents often use female names, yes?' he asked mockingly. 'I thought the meaning suited me. What I am not aware of is why you feel entitled to enter my home when my wife is alone, given your predilection for murder when things don't go your way.'

Its amusement disappeared like dust on the wind. 'Mrs Peretz allowed me to en-'

'Should I repeat myself?'


Adam smiled tiredly as he returned to the North Pole. All in all, it hadn't been a failed endeavour. Peretz had gruffily promised to think about his offer, and her unsettlingly powerful husband hadn't done anything rash.

And, of course, he had reconciled with his creator.

Now, all that remained was to lay the foundations, and the physical one would be trivial. So, as he raised his future headquarters, he allowed himself to drift into his recent memories.


'Would you act differently, knowing what you know now?' Victor asked, stepping out of the pocket reality. Adam had created a bubble of frozen time where the movies could nevertheless be watched, and his father had been amused, to varying degrees, by the different depictions of himself, wishing he'd had that much insane confidence as much as he dreaded it.

An Igor would've been nice, too.

'Yes,' Adam answered. 'I wouldn't have revealed myself to them,' the family of that blind man he'd gathered firewood for, who'd been frightened by his appearance and had proceeded to chase him away. 'And I would've remained to try and explain.' To the father of the child he had saved from drowning, who'd shot him in the belief he had endangered his daughter. 'And, even if things had played out the same, I wouldn't have gotten mad at humanity.' At times, he had hated the species almost as much as the notion. Other times, when he had sought to purge himself of perceived weakness, it had been the other way around.

Victor seemed pleased by this answer, if surprised. Adam didn't ask what he had expected. He didn't want to get angry, or be disappointed, at this point, however briefly.

'Then, I shall entrust to you,' Victor reached into his coat again. 'My knowledge. Hnng...' The scientist shook and swayed on his feet, as if he was digging into his ghostly flesh. Adam made a move to stop him, then froze in his tracks at the pleading look in his father's eyes. 'Do you know...ahh...why you were named Adam?'

He frowned, in mixed concern and mild irritation at such a question. 'A reference, obviously...'

'And a prophecy, too. expectation, if you want to be less...dramatic,' Victor gasped, falling to his knees, then onto his side, before curling up. He didn't stop shaking. He raised his head, looking at the lights in the sky even as those in his eyes faded. Perhaps he could see a light Adam couldn't.

Must've been the tears...

'I make a species of beings like you! No longer would the dead stay underground, rotting away quietly. People needn't be lost! Death needn't be the end...and, my son, my were supposed to be the first...'

Adam knelt next to his father, laying a hand on his head. Despite everything, the ghost's skin felt feverish. 'We...w-we could've lived together, living and dead, learning from each other, but...I...I was too s-scared, when I saw you move...' Bloody tears began streaming from unseeing eyes. 'I couldn't do it again, if God told me...dear Lord, I couldn't...' he seized Adam's wrist in a surprisingly strong grip, squeezing as if afraid to let go. Adam ran his other hand through Victor's hair.

''ve grown so much,' the ghost smiled, and it reached his empty eyes, too. 'You've seen and done things I can't even don't even l-look the same! I remember when you were smaller, and y-yellow...'

A raking cough seized the ghost. 'I'll be safer in your hands. Your mind. Use it, or forget it, but don't let others take it! Don't let it be seized by...the unworthy...'

And then, Victor Frankenstein was gone, and Adam's hands held a book, old and battered for all it had never existed. He took one look at the cover, and let out a sobbing laugh, tears running down his face.

And, for once, they were not colder than death.

"The modern Prometheus: taking death from God, to be moulded by Man." And, under the title, a picture of him and his father holding hands as they pushed open immense doors leading into endless light. Behind them, every being that had ever lived on Earth, animal and human.

That Victor had known of. Adam had seen enough things, strange even for him, that he would gladly fill in the gaps.

Adam opened the book, one hand raised to catch his tears.

"My son, if you are reading this, it means I am no longer with you, and indeed, cannot be. I am sorry I never made you an Eve. Everyone craves love, and I never had any to give you. Nor, it seems, did the world.

But the path is here, Adam. The doors are here. You must only seek the keys, and the courage to open them. I have glimpsed the secrets hidden in the blood of Man, the Gods we were meant to become, in the beginning, before we tainted ourselves.

You must..."


AN: The next and likely last part of Aftermath will deal, mostly, with Britain. New Camelot and their associates, Mordred, and the forces of Hell connected to them. But it will also deal with multiple Heads and their pasts catching up to them, as well as events in Japan and deep space.
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viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Aftermath, Part 3A


The new workplace wasn't a dump, but it  was begging to be turned into one.

The Keep hovered on the edge of creation, in the Outer Void, and-I will endeavour to describe things in a manner that makes sense to humans-consisted almost entirely of identical, bare grey rooms.

All empty. All endless.

The ceiling of the room I was in seemed infi itely distant, and, if I were still capable of such things, I'd have almost certainly gotten dizzy looking at it.

There was no darkness in the Keep, no shadows, and no source of light. I liked to think DEATH tried to distance itself from the greater whole that was the Darkness. I understood being embarrassed about your origin.

How very...human.

As Keeper, all of my selves, on every level of creation, were syncrhonised. Due to this, turning most of my attention to my self here felt less like travelling, and more like stopping staring at a single detail in the mirror, and instead looking at the whole.

My sight pulled back, zooming out. Past the multiverse, with its infinite layers of infinite realities. Past the aether that ran through and dwarfed it, several times over. Past the Dreamlands, where dimensioned reality was like a shadow with no substance, which any of the Dreamers could've snuffed out with the effort it took humans to breathe.

And, finally, past the Voids. If the Dreamlands were a dimensionless extension of reality into the beyond, the first Void around it, past the First Gate, was like an endless abyss, caught in an eternal sunset.

This was the first of what I'd dubbed the Twilight Voids, due to their, so to speak, appearance. The first of these vacua transcended the Dreamlands like they transcended the waking worlds, like the second surpassed it.

And so on, and so forth.

Until the obstacles a traveller may find became substantial, and they had to pass through an endless multiplicity of Gates and Ebony Voids, each immeasurably greater than the previous.

If one were to brave this journey, and pass through the Ultimate Gate and into the Outer, Ultimate Void without losing their sanity, they could turn back, and look at creation in its entirely.

Most people willing to try this would've probably been pretty mad at how I treated the Ultimate Gate like a revolving door, but it wasn't  my fault it was so flimsy.

The Keep rested somewhere on the brink of the Outer Void, like a house built on the edge of a cliff. It was not a home, though. It was a place for DEATH and its Keeper to rest, and contemplate, and discuss, but it was a stronghold. Something between a show of force and a status symbol. "I am here. I am important enough to come here, and powerful enough to remain."

It was to the Outer Void what DEATH was to most people, really.

And today, from a linear perspective, was the day I would be properly instated as (hopefully the last) Keeper of DEATH.

I sat on an insultingly uncomfortable chair-the softest thing in the room, by elimination-and felt the floor behind me shift and swell, becoming a flight of stairs, at the top of which, on a raised platform, was a throne.

It was what you'd have expected from someone who'd build a place like this. Jet-black, with a row of skulls across the headrest and two more forming the armrests. Except it wasn't occupied by some edgy dark, wait, DEATH  was sitting down.

I stood up from my throne-a smaller, grey, unadorned copy of the one above me; subtle-, turned around, and sighed.

'Who are you doing this for?' I asked, gesturing at it. 'Seriously. I know what you can do, and you know I'm not impressed by shit like this.'


I rolled my eyes. It wasn't screaming, exactly, but its dying rattle of a voice was somehow soft as leather sliding over bone and loud as thunder, at the same time.

It had changed since we'd joined. Back then, it had sounded like a normal person, which might have explained why it had appeared unsure. Now...I had a feeling I knew what its words would've looked like transcribed, and wasn't surprised. It shared some of pops' interests, after all, though I wasn't sure who'd influenced who.

'What do you want?'

WHAT I WANT IS NOT SOMETHING THAT CAN BE GIVEN, RECEIVED AND PRESERVED. It held up a hand before itself, and I watched as its appearance changed.

With DEATH being what it was, it appeared most often as the closest thing to a neutral embodiment of its concept as possible: the Grim Reaper. But even that varied.

Sometimes, it was just a cowled robe, empty save for darkness, hollow sleeves clutched around its scythe.

Most often, it looked like a skeleton, or rather parts of one.

And, rarely, it looked like an emaciated corpse, deathly pale skin, in some places as white as maggots, in others ashen grey, spotted by rotten yellow and dark red splotches. Its hands, though rotten and ending in broken claws, gripped the scythe as firmly as its will was directed towards the destruction of its enemies.

There was always a scythe, but it varied in appearance, too. Most often, it was black, with a steel blade, sometimes shining and spotless, other times rusty and pitted. Or it was made of brown, twisted wood, or something that resembled white metal and bine, but was neither. It had one head, or two; a handle, or a dozen, or none at all.

The scythe was a sceptre as much as a weapon. In most cases, the implication was enough. People dying of fear was convenient, when you were there to end or take them away anyway.

DEATH stood up slowly, like a great burden was trying to crush it, though if you asked me, it was just being lazy so it could look dramatic. It loomed over me, towering no matter how I tried to look at it, tall as forever was long. Like the ceiling, and the room, and the Keep. It used its scythe like a walking stick, and creation shook with every step. I knew it could rip the Outer Void apart with a wave of its hand, save for the other Archetypes and the things beyond, for all that it was changeless and unchangeable.

When DEATH came face to face with me, it was like looking into a mirror, at first. Then the false flesh fell away, leaving only a grinning skull barely covered in parchment-thin skin, and a few wisps of colourless hair barely hanging onto its scalp.


'You're yet to explain what that entails,' I pointed out, making it nod agreeably.


'Groomed,' I corrected, only slightly bitter compared to the hatred I'd felt before...before...


'Grooming is the term used for manipulating people in order to shape them into what you want them to be. Usually when a weaker person is abused by a stronger one.'


Well, at least we had the work dynamic already set. Nice.


It lowered a finger.





I WANT TO BE KEPT. I WANT-NEED-YOU TO ASSIST ME IN THE AFOREMENTIONED TASKS, TO LIGHT MY PATH WHEN I AM GOING ASTRAY. death. Was that guilt, or was I just trying to put a face and voice to a force of nature?


'Anything,' I deadpanned. 'I had  everything for a time, and I didn't want it.' I couldn't stand the idea of people going crazy with fear at the thought of what I might do, after my eyes were opened, and the red haze disappeared.


'I'm surprised you don't cut people with just that tongue,' I retorted, then looked straight into its sockets. 'There is only one thing I want from you. Life from death. My children...'


'But it's not,' I said. 'I don't understand everything it sends me, but creation no longer risks being ended by its nightmares. And I doubt it will just stand by and allow it to be destroyed, from within or without, no matter how much it wants us to improve ourselves.'

DEATH agreed silently, so I decided I might as well do it. 'Sit down. I want to talk.'


After we took our seats, I reshaped the room so we were at eye level. I no longer had Mimir's eyes, but the blessing the Mover had granted me functioned as a substitute, and more. Creation being stabler now-and technically always, depending on your relationship to time-, changes that would have never been allowed to happen did. For example, the decisions my alternate Keeper self had performed no longer being necessary to preserve the Dream in the long run.

And God, I was glad for that. The Keeper who'd become one with me had been a bitter man, carrying on because there was no alternative. The Mover had never awakened for his creation, and the cycle of sleep and waking had never been broken.

Chernobog had never given him Mimir's power out of spite. Instead, he'd taken it for himself, and the pantheons had broken themselves against the unholy abomination born from that union, before finally dragging it down. In a nearly godless creation, with all divine beings inimical or inscrutable, he and DEATH had taken on most souls, hoping nothing would come that would disrupt the Dream.


'You killed Andrei,' I began. 'You put the knife in his murderer's hands.' I leaned forward, fingers steepled in a deceptively calm pose. 'And I know why, so I won't ask. You'll say you wanted to destroy Misha anyway, so if they killed each other and Andrei's soul came to the aether, good. But they didn't.'


My lips pulled back from my fangs. 'Are you sorry? Truly sorry? Do you even care? If you do...I want an apology.'

While DEATH and I were linked (to arcane sight, a black chain binding my left arm to its right would have extended between us), we didn't literally know and feel everything the other did. We could have, but I didn't want it in my head. If I knew its state of being and could tap into its power, and vice-versa, we were both willing to leave it at that.


I palmed my face, trying not to growl as I rubbed my eyes. 'Alright...first off, Andrei is not my father. Constantin Silva is. But he's still a friend, and I hate you for what you did to him-and to all those other souls you wiped out!'

I snarled the last part, standing over it with my hands balled into fists. DEATH didn't even flinch.


I looked down at it as it unflinchingly met my glare, then scoffed, sitting back down. In a way, it was right. But, just because it was a victim, it didn't mean it could torment those weaker than it, those it was supposed to protect. It didn't mean it was moved by their vulnerability, any more than the Mover had been by its.

'That's never going to happen again,' I said, knowing that, in the time loop necessary for me to end up here, Andrei had to die, in order to push me along the path. I'd only been able to change small things, be there for Alex, make fewer, and I almost spat at the thought, necessary choices. But some of them still had to happen. The Mover didn't seem like it was about to lift a finger on this note.

'You brush it off so easily, like death is meaningless because the spirit survives! That's like saying you can maim someone if you want, unless you cripple them permanently.' I smirked. 'And I bet that, if someone was killed in a way you disapproved of, you'd send me after the responsible, or go yourself.'


'Call me David, dammit. Or Silva. I don't need to hear that title from you, of all people.'


I looked around, idly noting how much like a desperate lover it sounded-when we weren't even in a working relationship yet, gosh-and decided to capitalise on its eagerness to please.

'You really want a Keeper, don't you?'


I nodded carefully. 'Creation is no longer in danger if you are...alone.'


I didn't hit it. I didn't even glare at it. From anyone else, it might've sounded like a threat, but I knew that it was just stating facts. It wasn't even a promise, merely a description of what it would do in its natural state.

Because it had never been meant to be a psychopomp, or a guardian of the dead. It needed a different perspective, to balance it, and, as much as I hated it, it had to be me. Partly because it didn't want anyone else as its Keeper, partly because, and I knew how selfishly paranoid it was, I didn't trust anyone else to deal with it, have access to its power. The moment I found a suitable candidate, I'd leave it behind, but until then, I'd Keep it.

Tch. I didn't have a problem, of course. I could quit whenever I wanted. What I didn't want was innocents being torn apart in its mindless rampages, or, though I doubted it would ever admit it, to sate its spite at the duty it had been forced to perform.

I briefly thought about asking the Mover to change that, and had to bite my tongue not to laugh.

'There's still time before Andrei's funeral, in the linear world,' I said. 'You owe me. I want you to do something for me; several things, rather. Don't worry, it's nothing you wouldn't have done by yourself. But I want you to let me choose how it goes down.'

DEATH's skull seemed stuck in a permanent grin. Even so, I could feel its amusement.

* * *

Misha let out a delicious whimper of pain as he rolled across the pitted floor. Looking at the empty chamber, you'd have thought we were in the Keep. In truth, we were in the aether, in what was about to become my grandfather's personal hell.

DEATH used to handle punishments by itself in-between losing its last Keeper, however that had happened, and bonding with me. I didn't know if it was also pushed to do that, or if it hurt people of its own volition (and, if that was the case, why. Humanlike cruelty? Curiosity? Boredom? They ran closer together than one might have thought, when it came to inflicting suffering). I'd convinced it I understood hurting others better than it, though. From experience.

'Hell-o, gramps~' I sang, bouncing on the balls of my feet with a smile, hands behind my back. 'Happy to see me again? I know it hasn't been long, but I like to thing we've forged an unbreakable bond, you and I.'

Misha struggled to all fours, fell down, and gingerly turned so he could sit on the floor. He was wearing a prison outfit, tattered from the last journey he'd ever take, and was glaring like me, despite his eyeless, mangled face.

Luckily, I had experience with those, too. On both ends.

'Hasn't been...?' he wheezed, brow wrinkling in confusion as he tried to both kill me with a look and remember if he'd forgotten anything. 'What the hell? I've been gone for days!' He stood up on shaky legs. 'Longest damn days of my life! Those worthless policemen of yours interrogated and imprisoned me, but...'

'Nope!' I said cheerfully, popping the "p". 'You couldn't even perceive, much less resist it, but I'm happy to tell you everything that happened to you took place in altered time.' Like anything even mildly important that needed to be done quickly, nowadays. 'If you actually were a powerful ghost, you wouldn't be bound by such little things as time. Alas, for you...'

He managed a pretty impressive sneer, for someone doomed. The fact he wasn't aware of it might've played a role in it, though. 'I'd rather be weak than an overpowered freak like you, boy.'

I created a chair, taking a seat in front on him and leaning forward. 'Not that I approve of blackface,' I said. 'But you'd make a great Ruckus if they ever adapted the Boondocks to live action.' Not that he'd get the chance.

'What are you blathering abo-'

I smiled blithely at the mouthless ghost-not that he needed it to talk; this was just an aftereffect of his capacity for speech being removed-and settled comfortably into the black leather chair. With the sliver of power I'd received from the Mover, I'd altered myself a little. Bringing my sense of touch back had been the second change, right after the return of my sense of taste (when it came to food, mind). I'd even added an option to start feeling pain again when it would be advantageous.

'Never mind. You see, grandfather, you've been a very bad man,' I ran a finger along an armrest, realised I was acting like an edgy teen in a revenge fantasy, and cut the shit. 'An awful bastard, in fact. And it's my duty to make sure people like you get what they deserve.'

Black, barbed chains burst into existence, digging into his flesh, and he writhed in horror at the memory of our first meeting. I laughed, and heard DEATH chuckle softly in the back of my mind, happy for my joy.

'I threatened to have you raped forever by a monster made from your preconceptions of my grandmother, and people like her,' I said, standing up. 'But I won't lower myself to that level. Oh, you'll feel her horror, her pain, her despair, whenever you become too calm. Don't try to look for a pattern. I don't believe in psychological comforts like that, when it comes to the damned.' He'd also feel everything the people he'd oppressed had experienced under his heel, but I saw no need to spoil that surprise. 'That's just a sideshow, though. You have been selected to take part in my first experiment involving the guilty unclaimed dead. Be honoured! And say hello to your cellmate. He can get grabby, when he feels he's being ignored.'

* * *

Misha cursed as his mouth reappeared, right after the disappearance of the monster the crow's spineless kid had become. It seemed his powers were not so great, if he needed to be present for them to work. The ghost scoffed. He'd find a way out of here, again, and this time, he'd make sure the strigoi would see everything he'd ever cared about defiled and broken in front of him. Then, he'd take him, and do to him exactly what he'd done to his father and grandmother. In that order, if he was He didn't deserve that. No one who turned into things like him deserved anything. Misha was no faggot, and certainly no corpse-fucker, but he didn't need to be for what he had in mind. Honour allowed anything, when you had to humble the deserving.

He'd show him true despair.

And then, he'd put things right. Why not? The world needed a firm hand on the tiller, and who better than him, who'd remained a man, despite everything he'd been through?

Misha gasped in pain as he felt something cold and sharp tear through his ectoplasm, and found himself waist-deep in the chair the strigoi had left behind. The ghost looked behind him, and saw steel teeth in the grinning maw that had been the chair's seat. The thing shook once, twice, and almost swallowed him, only leaving his head outside.

Misha screamed in agony and disgust as he felt many-legged things, cold and slimy or furred and unbearably warm and wet, crawl and scuttle in and through him. He tried to gulp, then some of the little horrors burst out of his mouth, and he closed his eyes, crying and gritting his teeth, after seeing them wriggling on the floor. More of them ate him from the inside, hollowing out places they could nest into, around his heart, inside his groin.

Then, with a rush of displaced air, a strigoi appeared in the room, but it wasn't his grandson. No, this one looked older, with thick, swept back hair, and was wearing an old doctor's coat. Misha would have cursed him, if he hadn't been so horrified of the monsters inside him.

The strigoi cast about him with dark, suspicious eyes that finally settled on Misha. 'You're not Constantin...what'd you do to my darling?'

Great, an undead cocksucker. Misha's mouth opened, despite himself, then disappeared. Two smaller copies of it, as if it had been split in half, replaced his eyes, screaming endlessly.

The strigoi's eyes briefly widened, then he sniggered. 'Well, a hole's a what I'd say if I still had anything to fill it with!' He snarled at the surroundings, looking for the culprit. Seething at finding none, he turned his attention back to the wretch in front of him. 'Oh, I can hear your thoughts, little man. See them on the aether's tides. A homophobic soldier, and a ghost who hates supernaturals! Hypocrisy squared, aren't you?'

As he took a step closer, licking his fangs at the sight of the quivering twin mouths, the chair the ghost had been trapped in disappeared, leaving him staggering on half-eaten feet, little, ugly shapes falling out of him.

The mouths' teeth ground together as the ghost's hands balled into fists. The strigoi flexed his claws. He might as well fill his time with something, until he could find his love.

* * *

You know that joke about two arseholes fighting in the street? The real life version was even funnier.

Looking at them from the outside, you'd have wondered who was really being punished. I liked to think both were.

DEATH looked expectantly at me, like an infant or dog awaiting approval, and my mood briefly darkened. It didn't think like me. It was just trying to get into my good graces.

'I want more,' I told it. 'I've seen what you do when left to your own devices, and you make a right mess of things. From now on, unless I specifically request otherwise, I'm going to choose how the guilty are punished.


Actually, Christine didn't have a pressganged Archetype breathing down her neck, but, yes, I suppose we wanted similar things. 'As you say,' I allowed, before it started giving its opinions on other people I knew. 'I just need to clear a few things with ARC, and then I'll be able to focus more on Keeper duties.'


It already knew the answer, of course, with its timeless perception, but this discussion would've made no sense in any human language if I described the way it actually talked.

'Why not?' I mused. 'Asterion works for Hades and the Aegis Adamantine, and, without bragging, I don't think I'm less competent.'


I looked at it askance. 'I am aware,' I said tersely. 'Of the proposition Loki made in anger. But he was grieving for his children.'


I breathed out through my fangs. 'Let's talk about that.'

IT SEEMS THAT THE GODS ARE AS CAPABLE AS METING OUT JUSTICE AS I AM ON MY OWN, it said, in what I suppose was meant to be joking self-deprecation. It just sounded judgemental, though, even while putting itself down.

'Stop. Deflecting.' I looked at it, trying to find anything piglike.


The warm, fuzzy feeling at learning people were capable of basic decency-DEATH must've been shocked, shocked-was so overwhelming I had to actually fight it down. Or it would've been, if I'd been the same cynical little cunt I'd been during my human life and early undeath.

'Let's say it does and move on.' I grabbed it by the spine, and it let itself be moved. 'Why?'


'Well?' I threw it back onto its throne, where it settled like it was boneless, ironically enough. 'And while you're at it, you can tell me why you stood around while my father was going crazy with your hoof firmly shoved up your arse.'


'My father and friends remember,' I retorted. 'To varying extents. Sometimes, it's like a half-forgotten memory, which they know is there, even if they're not sure what it entails. But the details can be brought into the light on a whim.'


'Answer me,' I demanded. 'Why a pig?'


'He suggested I ask you myself.'


I kept my expression under control. 'Is this why you ate that pile of corpses when it tried to break into pops' house?'


'Couldn't you have done that before it killed the dogs?' I asked petulantly. Usually, I wasn't so demanding of people who'd saved my life, but DEATH was an inhuman monster, so fuck it.


I let that slide, because I felt it was hiding something else. 'That wasn't the only reason, though, was it? For the Hogge disguise?'


I grunted. Nothing new. Although, the way it talked now was also a reference, though it hadn't mentioned that. 'And the third reason?'


I took a brief look across creation, and saw a reality where said series had come to be. 'Another hog, cleaning up the leftovers.'


Determined not to show any reaction to the (unintentional?) pun, I pressed on. 'All right, I get your...theme.' "Mask" would've been more fitting. 'I don't like that you lied to my father, though.'


'Don't expect gratitude for whatever you might've done while playing watchdog,' I warned it. 'All of that was washed away when you decided Andrei could be murdered for the sake of expediency.'

AS YOU SAY. It was only some humanity away from shrugging. What can you do? WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT, DAVID?

Besides everyone I wanted dead at my feet, my friends safe and my family at my side? To see Andrei off.

He deserved that, in the end.

* * *

'...was not a good man,' Aaron began to wrap up his speech. Though only a fraction of his true size, the Admiral was still in zmeu form, a few heads glaring at the closed casket, some others looking at it with something between fondness and exasperated relief.

At getting rid of him? At the old were finally getting to rest?

'If you ask me, we were both cowards. We could've attempted to escape the country, maybe even succeeded. But we remained to serve. Only I did not enter the Navy to save my own hide, unlike him. Dravich knew what the Security did. He considered it less important than his life.' Now, all of Aaron's heads turned to look at the few gathered, posture awkward, as if he wasn't sure whether to apologise or not. 'Understand-I never hated him. I do not say this to mock. I believe that, after so many years doing wet work in the shadows, Dravich would've liked the truth to come out, in the end.'

I'll have to tell you about the Dead Living, one day. Aaron had so many good words about them and their origin, you would've thought they were related.

I took the zmeu's place, and, if my face was wet, it was because I hadn't wanted to disperse the day's storm with my powers. It would've felt...vulgar.

'I'll be brief,' I began, eyes sweeping across the rows of seats. My friends, Lucian's brothers, Mia, silently encouraging me to be sincere. God's Mouth, standing a ways away, the rain steaming before it could reach him. And in the front row, a group of grim-faced ex-Securists, friends and enemies, come to see if the bear was really dead this time.

'I knew Andrei as the man who fathered me for less than a decade, and that throws a shadow over everything he said and did before.' My chest shuddered as I breathed the wet air in. It smelled of earth and newly dead flesh, only now starting to rot, after it had been taken from the morgue. 'I do not doubt...I no longer doubt that he was truly my friend. He tried to help me, in his own way, when I came close to true death. It took that to make both of us honest-fear of commitment seems to be a family trait,' I said with a weak smile, drawing more murmurs of agreement than I'd have liked from the former Securists. Ileana hushed them with a growl, before gesturing for me to go on.

I did not mention that I truly didn't know whether I should have changed things in the past. But then, changing creation to suit what I believed was necessary was the way of the old Keeper. I was not omniscient, even if I saw futures where Andrei was happier...unlike everyone else still alive.

Had he raised me, I'd have come back as a strigoi much sooner, and everything would've fallen into oblivion not long after. Paths not taken...

Let's just say he'd have been one of those fathers who meant well.

'But I do know he wasn't an evil man. I needn't remind those gathered here of the lives he saved, rather than ended. Of the time he fought in the Fright, despite his then-employer being dead and thus unable to provide any payment, simply because he refused to let monsters who'd used his body as a weapon of mass murder run wild. Let us not mince words-he was a civilian. Licenced security, yes, but his contract had been abruptly terminated. He could've run. Legally, he had no reason to fight, or stay and help. No reason at all...if he'd been the coward I'd believed him to be. They...they could've killed him.'

That went on for a while longer, until Bianca softly told me I was becoming agitated. The rain getting in my eyes, I walked to the casket, pops appearing on the opposite side. I gingerly lifted it, and began lowering it into the grave with my power over wind. He'd helped bring me into this world. It was only fair that his son, the Keeper of DEATH, would usher his remains into the next.

'Bless him, Lord,' Constantin began, putting his hands together, his voice like the crackle of flames. 'He never prayed to you, and yet he did not live in wickedness. My eyes have been opened, as David's have. Let him and You grant him safe passage into the hereafter...Amen.'

The grave had been mine, and the Ghencea cemetery staff had kept it empty at my request. I was sure they'd have liked to put it to use, but they'd never said anything, and I wanted something to remind me of my...true beginning.

Thank God for undeath. I'd never done anything worthwhile with my life. Prepared the next generation, yes...but none of my old students had come to my funeral. I doubted they'd heard about it.

My gravestone had been removed, replaced with one reading

Andrei Dravich
Father and friend
Marked by blood, not defined by it
You will never be forgotten

'I should've been there,' I whispered even as I moved dirt to fill the grave. 'He shouldn't have died alone.'

'Everyone dies alone, David. Everyone I've killed, at least.'

I turned slowly, unsurprised to see Andrei's ghost. He wore a spectral replica of his former uniform, and was toying with the memory of a flask. 'Good riddance to a bastard.' He looked at my friends. 'You know I'm not really gone, right?' Then, to Alex, 'We're neighbours now. We're gonna keep you up all night.'

At my friend's confused, questioning wince, another ghost materialised at my side, wrapping her arms around one of mine.

'Glad to meet you, David,' my mother said sheepishly, unsure if she should smile. 'I wish I hadn't-'

'Hush,' I cut off the apology. 'You were lucky to remain yourself, in the aether. No more. I will not let people lose their minds anymore. I will put them together myself, if necessary. As many times as it is needed.'

As Simona's mouth began to tremble, Andrei looked at the others, then put a hand on my shoulder. 'Mind if we huddle a bit? I'll be back soon. Heard a real son of a bitch is buried here, and I wanna piss on his grave.'

I let the two lead me away, to a nondescript corner of the graveyard, full of faded headstones.

Andrei, true to form, didn't wait until I was about to open up before he threw an accusation at me. This time, though, I couldn't blame him.

'I remember how things were,' he said, putting an arm around my shoulders as my mother let go, standing a few steps behind. 'When you went around asking people if they wanted to live, if they believed existence was worth didn't come to us.' He tilted his head at Simona, who said nothing, but watched expectantly.

'No, I didn't,' I said. 'I could say I didn't believe you'd have anything noteworthy to contribute, but that would be more arrogant than what I actually did.' Quite a feat, let me tell you. 'I been through enough shit. That you wouldn't want to go on longer.'

'Sleep from which you don't wake up is called death,' Andrei said reproachfully. 'True death, not leaving your body behind.'

'I know,' I said, eyes downcast. 'I don't have an excuse.'

The former were sniffed. 'Not that I'm some kind of saint, but if you're contemplating omnicide, you could ask everyone close to you.'

'Leave him alone,' Simona said, walking closer. She was dressed in a skirt and blouse so plain as to be indistinct, and I knew she was still getting the knack of shaping her body. 'David...I'd have liked to be asked, even if you didn't listen afterwards. But, in the end, it doesn't matter. What you nearly did was awful, but I didn't believe you'd do it, for one moment.' She looked at her lover, who let go of me. 'Andrei told me about you. He thinks you're a better man than him.'

The were looked away. 'Don't get smug. It's not a compliment when the bar's that low.'

'I understand,' I told her. 'I tend to do stupid things when I'm only listening to myself, so I'm glad I didn't.' A brief, awkward silence settled between us, as the ghost looked up at me, fingers interlaced. I gave her the best smile I could while unsure how I felt. 'I've...always wanted to meet you, mom.'

Simona hesitantly returned the smile. 'Thank you, David. It's...nice you see me that way, but I haven't been much of a mother to you.'

'We can change that,' I said, then added, 'I must say, you're much more...formal, than Andrei led me to expect.'

Her smile disappeared, and I wondered if I'd said something wrong, but she'd turned to glower at him. 'Dravich, what bullshit did you fill his head with? Told him I'm a bitch because I liked to live?'

That...was more like what I'd heard about her. 'He did say you...didn't care about how you were seen,' I said, since Andrei was being very quiet, having found a fascinating patch of grass.

Simona looked from him back to me, expression dry. 'Bet my transparent arse he called me a slut at some point. He could make even that sound bad...'

'I couldn't possibly comment,' I replied, wondering if she'd just been reserved at the start because she hadn't known how she should act around me. She'd been scared-still was, in a way. Scared I'd hate her. But-and I meant this in the least offensive way possible-she was too pitiful to hate. Hearing about her life made me feel bad, not angry.

'Sure you couldn't, you're nice,' she said, back to staring holes into him. Andrei looked back at her, face blank, and I thought to lighten the mood.

'Hey,' I told him, thinking of my first two fighting inmates. 'Get pops and ask him if he wants to see something funny.' I looked at mom. 'No offence, but I've always seen him as my father, and I don't see that changing.'

'It's alright, kid,' she put a hand on mine. 'He sounds like a good guy. I'd like to talk to him after you come back, and thank him.'
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Aftermath, Part 3B

* * *

' are dismissed,' Bedivere concluded with a withering glare at his former associates. Vyrt looked resigned but serene, while the face of Merlin's astral projection was unreadable.

'I will not pretend I am ungrateful your actions helped save creation, in a way-agent Silva did most of the work, however. But I am not going to pretend I do not find them loathsome. Almost as loathsome, ideed, as the fact that you decided to undertake this in secret, hide what you did for me.'

He looked into Vyrt's grey eyes. The Nephilim had shrunk down to human size for the discussion. 'It makes my heart twist and writhe, knowing God would see such things as necessary. I will contemplate His will at an opportune moment, then decide my path forward. But that does not concern you. Vyrt, you are hereby stripped of knighthood and the rank of Master, and are to return to Heaven, remaining there until called upon.' A twinge of anger entered Bedivere's voice. 'If you remain on Earth as a civilian, I cannot guarantee you will not be hunted, by a variety of parties for a variety of reasons.'

'What if the Lord sends me to do His will on Earth?' the Nephilim asked flatly.

Bedivere's smile showed his teeth. 'Do not taunt me. The only reason I am not putting you on trial is because I am still thinking about it.'

'You are separating me from my family, Grandmaster.'

Bedivere almost sneered. 'Miranda and Vykt will take an oath of silence, should they choose to leave New Camelot. I know you spoke to them before you spoke to me. Should they remain, they will take an oath not to collaborate or communicate with you without my permission.'

Vyrt's eyes turned sad. 'They are innocent, Grandmaster. You are essentially forcing a divorce. And it is not that I care about myself, but you are hurting the woman who told you about my deeds the moment she could-before I did.'

Bedivere stared down at his desk, unclenching his fist. 'I must think more.' He then turned to Merlin, his arcane sight burning with the image of the chain or cord linking the cambion to Hell. 'You just can't help yourself, can you, sorcerer? I saw Arthur's dreams, when everyone's minds were bound. I know you pretended to be God, in order to set him on his path.'

'So did Arthur,' the mage retorted calmly.

Bedivere would've asked how he could be so shameless, if he hadn't known better. 'You are already serving penance, being tormented unto the edge of endurance by your own kindred. You cannot meaningfully influence the universe anymore.'

Merlin's smile was barely visible in his beard. 'You give them too much credit, Grandmaster, and me too little. You would be surprised what a few carefully-placed words can achieve.'

'From you? Never,' the old Knight said. 'You also told your lover before you told me, and if that doesn't say something, I don't know what does.'

'Why, Grandmaster,' the mage blinked incredulously. 'Are you implying I would do something awful but necessary, then sacrifice myself to alleviate my guilt and ensure Britain's future?'

Bedivere's self-control was too firm for his eye to twitch. 'Let's talk about that. You brought the Knight of Rebellion back, ostensibly to deal with a monster who was stopped by another ARC agent.'

Merlin looked amused. 'Surely you don't believe the fear creature was the sole reason for Mordred's return? I brought him because his power will be needed in the future, and because my absence will need to be filled.'

An absence caused by the mage's ritual, It was not the time to fall into circular thinking. 'You know very well you're not supposed to bind souls to corpses.' Bedivere's voice rose slightly. 'You're not a god! That's not for you to choose! Even with Mordred's consent.' Perhaps, he thought, especially with it. Going along with anything that man wanted...

'You can be sure the Lord and the Hosts knew what they were doing when they suggested it to me.' Merlin's smile became roguish. 'You can ask Vyrt for a report, after he gets home.'

Bedivere almost told him not to mock, then the mage disappeared, dragged back to the Pit. Vyrt looked at the space where he had been a moment before, then at his former Grandmaster, and vanished in a flash of silver light. Bedivere wanted to call him back, then decided against it. In a way, Vyrt was just following his order, even if he hadn't been sent away yet.

Bedivere's sigh became a groan at the new figure who'd draped himself across his office's visitor chairs, and silently wished he'd decided to do this on the lake.

Mordred's grin widened with every wrinkle that deepened on Bedivere's face, but the Grandmaster could tell he was frustrated. The undead just had one of those faces given to sulking.

'Let me guess,' Bedivere started. 'You're pouting because not everyone fell at your feet and recognised you as rightful King when you took a walk?'

Mordred's expression soured. 'It would not kill them to be grateful.'

'For what, exactly?'

The Neverking did not answer.

'What do you want, Mordred?' Bedivere asked. The undead's flaming eye sockets shone softly.

'These politicians-they're the result of my rebellion's aftermath, as much as I want to see them as usurpers. They are...accepted, if not beloved. And, as much as I would like to kill them and put the land back on track, the people would fight me, and I do not wish to slaughter them.'

Bedivere hoped he didn't look as stumped as he felt, then reasoned that no face was expressive enough for that. 'Then?'

Mordred adjusted, now sitting in one chair, and leaned forward, armoured elbows on the desk. 'I have studied this system of rulership, and I know how to rise to the top. With my natural aptitude for leadership, it will only be a matter of time...'

* * *

Tamar-Caleb-and I stared at each other steadily, my dark eyes meeting his burning sockets as I looked for any signs of acceptance or refusal.

His wife, in a separate room, was doubtlessly wishing she could've listened in, but he'd asked for privacy, and the intense woman had agreed.

'I know you hate him,' I said gently. 'I can't imagine how much. But you're pushing your luck. Eventually, some underworld ruler is going to want the old arrangement back, so they can torture him to their heart's content, or pass him among their peers.'

Tamar didn't reply right away. When he did, his gaze didn't meet mine. 'You are right, Silva. You can't imagine. But...' one of his fists opened, and a small, wretched shape unfolded, until it once again had the shape and size he had possessed in life.

'He is not being left off the hook,' I promised the Goetia Head, not looking at the dazed ghost. 'But he is godless. Some standards have to be upheld, even if you want to punish him forever.'

'I'm sure you know what you're talking about,' the hellbound said, looking me up and down, taking in my new outfit: grey suit, white shirt, black tie with the Crypt symbol. 'Keeper.'

I smiled calmingly. 'I believe I can perform both of my current duties, sir. And, if you will have me, I will continue to.'

'How?' he asked, referring to the first statement. 'Say DEATH needs you in one place and Reem in another. What are you going to do? Multiply?'

'I'm working on it,' I answered honestly.

* * *

The Uberfuhrer twisted around so fast time did not pass before the movement was completed, and met the eyes of a dead man.

It was a harmless thing at first glance, almost humanlike in a monkey suit as grey as its skin and hair. But its smile revealed sharklike teeth, and its the void...

They were like endless black pits, swallowing the meagre light of his domain and returning nothing. In contrast, the thing's fangs were almost eerily bright.

'Hello, Dirlewanger,' the corpse said softly. 'I am here on behalf of ARC, DEATH, and humanity.' Its smile widened. 'Not your idea of the species. The trait.'

He growled. 'You do not get to use my name, filth.'

It chuckled. 'Of course not, Oskar.'

And, for a moment, he saw himself in the darkness of its eyes. Not as he was, but as he had been, before he had become empowered by truth.

Dirlewanger scoffed. 'Another subhuman, raised to fail and die again. I can tell by the accent.' He crossed his arms, trench coat swirling around his jackboots. 'What do you want?'

Its face became grim, all traces of amusement fading. 'You are going to stop creating people to torment them. I don't care how much you stunt them, so the entire world doesn't come down on your head. Creating beings who can't think properly, just so you can hurt them, just to exploit a loophole...' the corpse shook its head. 'You're going to stop.'

It was not a request. It was an expectation, an order, and Oskar had to laugh at the sheer, unbridled arrogance.

As if Slavs like it deserved anything, much less to tell their betters what to do.

He abruptly stopped when all of his property, every piece of infrastructure, every creation (not slave, slaves were people; they were worth less than the dust they walked) collapsed, the former with a hideous, painful screech, the latter with gasps of what would've been relief, if they'd been blessed with the ability to feel that.

Oskar wanted to get angry at the corpse-this was undoubtedly its doing-but he instead fell to his knees as white-hot pain lanced through him. Yet, impossibly, he didn't feel himself become more powerful as it surged through every aspect of his being.

It made no sense. Every act of violence, physical or otherwise, against him made him stronger. Fools believed it was because his ideals glorified such things, but the truth was that existence recognised the truth of said ideals, and empowered him to punish those foolish enough to oppose them whenever he was hurt.

Despite that, Oskar felt as if his body was crumbling, like the buildings had, while every instant of misery his creations had felt rushed into his head, drowning his thoughts in despair, fear, and hope for a salvation that would never come.

Except it had.

Oskar stared at up the corpse uncomprehendingly, and it looked down on him, a glimmer of pleasure amidst the disgust. Dirlewanger felt hatred swell within his heart. It had always come easily to him. But now, that oldest of virtues did nothing to help him. He tried to push himself to one knee, and almost fell to all fours.

'Hghh...h-how?' he managed to croak, sweat beading his brow as he tried to get to the corpse and rip it to shreds.

'Wouldn't you like to know?' it said lightly, and Oskar gave a choked roar, making it erupt into laughter.

It only stopped long after a human would've choked to death, its grin back and something glimmering in its clawed hand. 'You've finally begun to feel a part of what you've inflicted-a fraction of what you deserve.' It threw down whatever it was holding, stepping backwards and becoming transparent, until it was finally gone.

'Wouldn't do not to share it with a kindred soul...' its voice lingered on the air after its departure, but was soon replaced by a raking cough.

Oskar finally managed to rise to his feet, only to see one of the worst traitors he had ever known. That was when he noticed he was no longer in his (now desolate) realm, but in the endless, green-blue expanse of the aether. He dimly wondered what was the point of this relocation, but brushed it aside, to focus on the bastard in front of him. 'You?'

Adolf's eyes speared into him, cold as always. 'Dirlewanger...? How are you still alive, you incompetent-'

Hitler cradled his shattered jaw with one hand, ectoplasm seeping through his fingers while his teeth reformed. 'Don't you dare accuse me, you supercilious Austrian! Your incompetence cost us the War, and the Reich Eternal!' Oskar thundered, pulling back his hand. 'It should've been me at the helm! Rommel! Even Himmler! Anyone, but you...' he took a step closer and trailed off, noticing the infamous, self-inflicted gunshot. Oskar couldn't help but laugh. 'Well, I suppose I shouldn't judge you too harshly. At least you killed Hitler.'

Before his former Fuhrer could reply, both of them fell to the floor, as Hitler's pain flowed into Dirlewanger's mind, and the Uberfuhrer's earlier torment returned with a vengeance, now also shared by his ex-commander.

They briefly locked eyes, then their surroundings changed, and they were in an endless, gloomy chamber, gas nozzles popping out of the walls at regular intervals. All around them, what looked like shadows of their dead comrades appeared, and their pain was added to the fold, shared and multiplied.

Then, at the edges of the room, appeared the memories of their victims, and they knew this was only the beginning.

* * *


A pause. Then again, more insistently. 'Ryd'yk?' An undercurrent of amusement entered the voice. 'That is the name you're going with at the moment, isn't it?'

The eldritch creature paused, an eye forming to look at its spouse, grin widening. 'True enough, Y. Wassup?'

Yani leaned against the couch's arm, blowing a strand of dark hair out of their face. 'I've been trying to get our attention for a while.'

Ryd put down the woodworking knife, its head twisting around as the rest of its body followed. 'Is this about my car's extended warranty...? No, wait, you didn't say you've been trying to reach me.'

'The fact we're in the same room might have to do with that.'

'Don't be so sure!'

Yani rolled their eyes, adjusting their baggy shirt as they got off the couch and walked over to Ryd's workbench. 'Are you nervous, hon?'

'Huh? I don't think I could be if I tried.' The myriad colours running up and down the edges of the white silhouette shimmered. 'Why?'

'Because,' Yani deadpanned. 'You were just telling me about kicking Nazi arse in one of those secret mentions everyone knows about, the stopped and started carving...' they glanced at the results of Ryd's work dubiously. 'Is that a turd?'

'I prefer to call it a faithful representation of Dirlewanger,' Ryd said, needle teeth gleaming purple as it indicated the figurine's misshapen sections. The grin was angrier than pleased, though, and Yani noticed the tension in its voice-there was no body language to read. They walked behind Ryd, hugging it to their chest.

It sighed. 'It's void-damned awful. People willingly believing shit like that when they should know better, know the truth. Oh, don't get me wrong, I've met far more hateful creatures across creation, but those were made to be like that. People should be...better.'

Yani laid their chin on top of its currently blocky head. 'You're just venting your anger.'

'Yeah, I guess.' Ryd gave the wooden figurine a baleful look. 'I'm gonna burn that, after I carve it up some more.'

Yani kissed the top of its head. 'You wanna finish? Did you and the ARC guy beat him? Or...?'

'Oh, no, we didn't retreat. Not really.' Ryd's tone became thoughtful. 'When everyone joined minds...that was like nothing I'd ever seen. And, for a moment, he...we all understood each other. This shocked him, I think. Loric and I headed back, satisfied he wouldn't be a threat for the time being. He's still a loathsome bastard, but he's started getting his commeupance. Don't worry.'

'That's great to hear,' Yani replied. 'So...' they massaged Ryd's slim shoulders. 'Rorie's out.'

Ryd snorted. 'Kid's probably ending up helping cops again while trying to prove society doesn't work. Let them be.'

'That's not what I meant,' Yani said, not wanting Ryd to go haring off after them, in case they'd gotten into trouble.

'Ah...' Ryd smiled slowly, leaning backwards against them. 'You do feel pretty excited...'

* * *

Ying had never been good with long silences, or the awkwardness that came with them, in part because he was unused to either. When he was around, things were...lively. The presence of dragons like him encouraged existence and its possibilities to flourish.

As he and Houjiao continued reaching for the same things across the table, he realised he was pretty crap at staring contests, too. At least at involuntary ones.

His father was in his dragon form, as always, and, despite his best (half-hearted) attempts, Ying still noticed the grimace of distaste at his human appearance. The fact he'd insisted on remining like that, despite being asked to shift, hadn't helped. It wasn't that Houjiao disliked humans, he just hated disguises. In his opinion, his son had nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Ying agreed, adding that his looks were a matter of taste and preference.

Houjiao was a jade-coloured dragon, the size of a small train even while coiled up, with a thick, white beard and whiskers, dark brown antlers, and black-slit, piercing yellow eyes.

Especially when he was being judgemental, which was most of the time, as Ying had already concluded. He didn't remember his pops being such a dick in his youth, but then, most people were stupid as kids. He must've been naïve. And senile.

His ivory-coloured mother, Anjing, bustled back and forth between the kitchen and the living room, always with a ready, if nervous smile. She'd ended up playing peacemaker, to her displeased surprise, and was clearly hoping something would happen to disperse the tension. Ying gladly obliged her.

'I know you disapprove,' Ying told Houjiao. 'But could you stop scowling? You're curdling the tea.'

He was honestly surprised he'd managed to swallow both the meal and his words so far, and his father's next words only added to it. 'You care more about that than being honest to yourself?'

Ying's smile became noticeably edged, which was quite a feat with his default razor teeth. 'Actually, whenever I point out that I'm being honest, you bury your head into the sand. It was interesting to learn I was sired by an ostrich.'

As he spoke, Ying indulged his father's request, scales sliding over morphing flesh. Houjiao didn't seem particularly cheered up by that, though. Ying wondered why. 'That's just another kind of mask, boy.'

Ying's eyes flickered between his parents, smile widening as he noticed Anjing's attempts to hush his father. 'No, let him talk, mom. I know you agree.'

Houjiao leaned forward. 'Your lust is your own business, but I will not have you making us laughingstocks.'

'I can't see how I'm doing that, or what it has to do with you.'

'No?' Houjiao snorted a puff of green flame. 'You could have a wife and concubines, if you can't get your fill of flesh, but you're afraid to commit.'

Ying laughed, tapping into his chi to shake Heaven's infinite, infinitely-heavy far reaches. 'I've committed to more than you'll ever dream of, old fool. I never noticed you saving creation from your padded seat here.'

'I doubt you would have, even if you hadn't been busy with your dalliances. You're still a child, revelling in your power, playing games with your little friends and pets, surrounding yourself with weakling to put your mind off the loneliness, instead of an equal who could bring you purpose. You know what your whores are? Distractions from a future wife. And your catamites are distractions from them-'

'Don't even go there,' Ying cut him off softly, and something in his eyes made his father hesitate. Ying looked at Anjing. 'How about you? Shushing him up, so everyone can pretend to get along and be friends?'

'Grievances are not a reason to show a household's strife to the world,' she answered. When she spoke again, her voice was dismayed. 'Oh, darling, if you could only see that...I don't care who you love, but don't you care about your legacy? Marry someone. You don't have to cherish her. Just keep up appearances...'

She trailed off as her son flew out of their mansion, and didn't notice his angry tears.

When Ying landed, it was at the edge of the Jade Emperor's palace's gardens. Yudi was sitting cross-legged in the emerald grass, sipping rice wine and appreciating the harmony of the Ten Thousand Things, when his formerly-exiled friend touched down, becoming human once more.

'Ying? You are troubled,' Yudi noted at his friend's drawn, sullen face and red eyes. His face softened as he waved his guards and attendants away. They'd been relaxing too, inasmuch as they could, and there was no need to interrupt that. 'I told you they hadn't changed.'

'You were right.' Ying took a drag from his pipe, Tongdao's voice filling his ears, while his other hand adjusted his scarf. It was the same blinding white as his three-piece suit, boots and slicked-back hair, and he didn't want to stain it. 'You're always...bloody right...'

'The thought does not seem to lighten your heart,' Yudi opined, making the dragon laugh bitterly.

'I...I'm not even sure it's unfair, you know? They got over it so quickly after I murdered Tongdao, it barely took a couple billion years. And when I thought as everyone else did, and you called me back and said my deeds proved I'd become better, I thought...'

'That was a moment of ultimate order,' the Jade Emperor said. 'It showed us what we could achieve, but we went back to thinking like ourselves after.'

Ying fidgeted, pushing his dark, round glasses back up his nose. 'Yeah...I guess we did.'

* * *

The Akupara was far fiercer and faster than one would've expected of a being of its size and temperament. It had likely eaten the elephants meant to support the world on its back, judging by its bloody hooked beak, then the world itself.

Which it must have done with care almost as great as its relish, given the way it blew at an Earthlike planet for getting in its way, and the cosmic currents-though nothing compared to the force of its blows-pulverised the rocky world, reducing it to superheated dust.

I looked at the Asura, pacing across the void at my side. He had, moments ago, bisected an identical planet, cleaving a rent large enough to fit our moon across it.

He had done so to prove the strength of his arm and the keenness of his blade, which I had acknowledged, before pointing out that it would not be enough to scratch the rogue Chukwa.

There is no denying young warriors, though, no matter the land they hail from.

He approached it, swinging the sword at its eyes, his own widening as it shattered, eliciting nothing more than a surprised blink-was he really trying to kill it with something so harmless?

It snapped at him, and he pushed against the beak with his limbs, before shoving the World Turtle backwards. He then drew an axe that looked almost as wicked as it felt from the bag slung across his back, and I nodded approvingly as he brought it down on the Akupara's head, splitting it in half vertically.

However, he then moved to brutalise its remains, and that would not do. Ending the menace had been enough; it had once been a noble creature, and I would burn its corpse.

I moved the light years between us in a moment, interposing myself between him and the dead Turtle faster than he could perceive and raising at finger as he brought the axe down again.

He glared at me, orange eyes blazing in an ebony face as he noticed his weapon had split the skin of my index finger before stopping. How and where he had acquired the evil-feeling weapon was not my business, but he would not destroy what remained of the Chukwa to sate his rage, especially not with that axe.

I flexed my finger and sent him flying, arms broken. He came at me again, and the axe shattered on my raised forearm, while a finger poke to the chest blew a hole through it-I could've stuck my head in it, though I did not.


'Knot,' Aya interrupted him, not unkindly. 'Your report is thorough, but...' he had a tendency to ramble. 'Can you get to the point, please?'

The druid turned lich blinked, something he had to remind himself to do nowadays, though his agents were kind enough to do it for him.

'Oh,' he said. 'Of course! Apologies, apologies...yes, the rogue World Turtle was dispatched, and the Asura was not offended. He and his family regularly hurt themselves worse to make a point, he told me, so he did.'

He tugged at his beard as he nodded, his grey goat head wobbling on his fleshy neck. It was the only hairy part of the Fomorian's plump body: his dead skin was pale and smooth, dark green Celtic knotwork snaking across his limbs and torso. The reason for his name. Knotwork went by Obair Snaidhm, when he wanted to be formal, and by Knot when among friends.

'All in all, the patrol was a success. That universe will soon return to its routine, and the Brahman Cluster will be better for it.' The Fomorian's milky eyes twinkled with good cheer. 'It is a blessing, truly a blessing, for things to be so peaceful that senior agents can afford to patrol the Clusters!' His expression became sly. 'So peaceful that the pantheons agree to it...'

'Let's not tempt fate,' Aya reminded him. 'Simply enjoying it is enough.'

'Oh, definitely, ma'am!' he agreed. 'It's just, after Mag Tuired got levelled the second time, despite my urgings for compromise, I became something of a pariah among gods...not just mine. I had to run away, and keep running, so it's nice to be welcomed, if not feel welcomed.'

'I thought you were marginalised because you laughed when Balor's eye was put out.'

'In my defence, it was bloody hilarious.' Knotwork's snout twitched. 'But, ah, my pacifism certainly did not do me any favours.' And taking up druidism hadn't helped. It was viewed as a thing of the humans and their gods, no matter its usefulness. Knot still wasn't welcome in Ireland, and instead spent his time as Britain's senior Crypt agent.

Knotwork was a pacifist in the sense he would've done anything to prevent needless loss of life, no matter how much he had to cause himself. Still, Aya had to...agree...

The skin around the mummy's eye sockets wrinkled as she felt something crawl, hissing, around the edges. Not of the Crypt headquarters, but of reality, and order.

'Good job, agent,' she told Knot, trying not to sound distracted. 'Keep up the good work.'

Knot appeared somewhat puzzled at the parting words-Aya wasn't usually this formal with older agents, especially those close to her-but left without any questions.

Aya placed her palms flat against her desk, the lights in her sockets flaring as she stood up.

Her surroundings fell away, until they were only a memory on the endless dark waters of the beginning, like an object reflected on a puddle.

Come into my ocean, said the serpent to the corpse~

Aya missed having eyes to roll. She compensated with snorts that would've appalled her mother. 'Apep. You're awfully smug after not doing what you agreed to, or anything at all.'

The snake's rage almost surged to the fore, like a tide, but he shackled it with an effort. Aya chuckled inwardly as he tried to present a satisfied, unconcerned façade.

'Oh, I don't know. Your strigoi seems to have handled himself, despite everything.'

'Especially you.' Aya sat down, letting the waters of chaos cover her to her neck. A mundane human would've been erased by their briefest touch, so that they had never been, the possibility of them existing vanishing as the idea of them faded from creation.

Mummies like her, though, were impervious while the thing stolen from their tomb was away, and Aya was blessed besides.

'Did you come here for a reason?' she asked, kicking her legs back and forth.

Apep watched the movement with barely-disguised contempt. He loathed ordered existence like it was a thorn in his tail, and its inhabitants even more so. To see one treat his home as if it were water incensed him, but he quickly adjusted.

'I have indeed. I thought you might like to be reminded of the truth, now that the lie of order has passed.'

Aya was not disappointed with the snake, but only because she had no expectations. Hoping he'd see the light and cease corrupting and destroying would've been too much; a reversal of Apophis' character, nature and role.

But, with what had happened to the Aesir and their foes...

No. Thinking about what might have been only ever saddened her.

'And what truth is that?' Aya asked, morbidly curious about Apep's latest scheme.

His face-just the suggestion of features, really; wicked fangs that caught the dark light of angular eyes-changed, becoming fuller, more real, until it was a human's.

Aya's heart didn't skip a beat. It hadn't in over a millennium. But she still felt a rush of anger, and distantly noted her body would've warmed with the rage, had she still lived.

Faisal Reem, or the simulacrum Apep had wrought, looked remarkably similar to his human self. Half a head taller than her, skin tanned by decades of harsh sunlight, but still lighter than hers, a beard that reached to his chest and hair that reached to his shoulders, both dark as coal.

His eyes were pits of nothingness cleft into his face, above a surprisingly human smile, and Aya remembered those early years of marriage, spent apart but for the moments of brief joy they managed to snatch from the jaws of fate.

No time elapsed before the treacherous memory passed. She was Samuel's, now and forever. He had never hurt her a fraction as much as this smiling monster in front of her, and he never would.

'Aya,' he said, voice tinged with the appealing burr of their youth, not the snarling roughness before the end. 'Your body is as beautiful as it is false.'

Charming as always. How had she fallen for him? 'And my heart as ugly as it is true?'

Faisal leaned to the side, the darkness around him coalescing into armour covered in snakelike fangs. 'My dear lying, murderous wife...if that is what you believe, I can do naught but agree.' He stretched lazily. 'Do not misunderstand me-I know this is not an illusion. You are as you were on the day of your death...against all odds.' Faisal shook his head. 'You should be a shrunken, dried crone, the little flesh remaining tight against your bones.'

Aya laughed in his face. 'I know a few places where you can find mummies like that, but I do not believe in cruelty against undead.' She looked at him with a raised eyebrow. 'And you? You should be a mangled, hideous corpse, not just hideous. I am blessed by my gods, just as you are cursed by your new one.'

Faisal walked closer, whispering, 'Do not lie to me again, Aya...'

She turned away when he tried to grab her shoulder, not meeting his eyes. 'I don't know what you mean.'

'Again,' he murmured. 'You do not think I am ugly.'

'Physically? No,' she admitted. 'But you're hardly the first handsome monster I've met, though I only had to kill the others once. And none of their souls were as ugly as the void where yours used to be.'

He nodded, seemingly satisfied, and a silence passed between them. Finally, Aya leaned into his touch, and Faisal tried not to jump.

'What do you want?' she asked quietly. 'You took our children. What more do you want from me?'

'...I am not here to hurt you,' he promised. 'I am here to make you an offer.'

Aya could've told him where to shove it, but she wanted to know. The last time he'd come to bargain had been in the Middle Ages. He'd taken their children's unclaimed souls-they'd been too little to decide upon a faith before their deaths-and used them to sow chaos.

He'd used Aqim and Bilal's dead seed and Farah's barren womb to raise an army of abominations, which he'd unleashed upon the Old World. They were put down in the end, with Aya spearheading the purge of her monstrous grandchildren, but Faisal had tried to strike a deal with her, promising that everything-the forced, incestuous breeding of young, uncomprehending spirits, the slaughter of people who knew nothing of the creatures that hunted them-would end, if only she became his bride again.

She had refused, obviously.

'Go ahead,' she demanded.

Faisal's smile wavered at her cold tone and colder stare. 'Creation has settled down enough you needn't fight for it any longer. Step down, and I will release our children. They will go wherever peace awaits them, or,' he sounded so cheerful, like he wasn't blackmailing her using ghosts unlucky to be born to him, but entirely innocent. 'They will come with us. You have seen what life leads to, Aya. Nothing but pain and dismay. Join me,' he extended a gauntleted hand. 'Return to chaos. We can be husband and wife, a family, once more.'

'No,' she replied flatly. 'Creation still needs me. Even if it didn't, I would never spend eternity with you, in the bosom of Isfet.'

'You might change your mind,' he retorted. 'After you realise how much you hurt them.' He raised his hand, three lights encircling as many fingers like rings. 'My Lord has taught me how to bring you to heel. Did you know that every monster you've killed, every foe you struck down, marked them? All your enemies' pain has been shared by your spawn for over a dozen centuries!' His smile became a sickly grimace at Aya's shocked face. 'Do not believe it will ever stop, if you continue to disobey me.'

'Faisal-' she began, tears trickling from empty sockets down a face as dark as ebony, invisible in the sea of chaos save for the twin lights shining where the mummy's eyes had been, but he cut her off with a harsh laugh.

'They tried to go mad, you know? They always do...but the Lord taught me madness is an escape, a refuge. It does not let one properly suf-'

'You son of a bitch!' Aya snarled, retracting her ichor-covered fist from Faisal's caved-in chest. 'How could...Apep taught you? No! This is human cruelty! The serpent knows naught but the desolation of worlds! This was  your idea! You're lying, trying pass the blame, as if following such orders is forgivable!'

'Your mutt has spoiled you,' Faisal spat, chest healing. 'Always indulging your every whim, eager to kiss your feet. Unnatural...just like a warrior woman! A leader of warriors!' He chuckled. 'You call me a monster, then break every rule of the world you claim to love!'

'What did you think was going to happen, Faisal?' she asked tightly. 'That I'd fall into your arms, crying and begging, then forgive you? Go back like nothing ever happened?'

He shook his head, hair swaying wildly. 'I was always too kind to you. Let you dress as you liked, speak as you wished, do what you wanted. And look how you reward me!'

* * *

Sam was walking through a darkness wholly different from that assailing his lover.

He had recently gotten a premonition, a hunch, if he was being honest, that he could help both himself and everyone else by retracing the steps of his first ancestors.

Whether it had been an instinct or something whispering to him in his own voice, he had gotten the feeling he could finally leave the shadow his parents cast over his life, even after their deaths, at last.

And then, there had been Black God.

Sam had been walking through Salem when he'd come across a cave mouth.

It had appeared from the same place it led to: nowhere. He had entered, to destroy it if there was any danger to be found, and, after an endless descent, he had reached a circular room, where Black God had been waiting for him.

Chernobog's recent atrocities had made him pretty twitchy when the god had presented himself, before clarifying he was a different deity.

He had looked like Sam, never close to his people, much less their gods, had imagined: a crescent moon on his forehead, a full moon where his mouth should have been. A charcoal buckskin mask, covered in sacred patterns painted in white, had hidden the rest of his face from sight. Skin the color and texture of charcoal. The Pleiades on his temple.

Black God had been sitting by a fire that had burned with no fuel or smoke, and had raised his head at Sam's approach. He had told Sam how the Navajo did not appreciate his inventions, from the making of fire to several celestial bodies.

"They haven't said it," Black God had said, referring to his fellow deities. "But I'm sure they're going to kick me out sooner or later." He'd raised his head. "Like they did to you."

Sam had faked a loud belch. "Y'know, when you want to tell someone you are not so different, you and them, it helps to actually have things in common." He'd scratched his neck with a long middle finger, like an aye-aye looking for insects, wondering if Black God was getting the message. "Nobody kicked me out. I left when I was a dumb kid, bursting with fear and rage, and never looked back."

He doubted he'd have been welcomed, ARC or not, victim of abuse or not. Sam had been raised as a skin-walker before he'd become a wendigo, which made him  two of the worst things you could meet in North America. And that was before you counted the Archetypes he'd browbeaten into submission, reducing them to little more than wells of power that tugged at his mind.

Beast did it whenever he turned into an animal, even partly. Hunger did it all the time, melding with his wendigo appetite.

Still, even with them leashed and muzzled, he wasn't expecting a medicine man to invite him to share his fire or meal any time soon.

"That may be so," Black God had agreed. "But, whether by design or chance, we are both outcasts, or about to be."

"Yeah," Sam had replied. "Just said we're not similar at all." He'd leaned forward, stirring the flames with a hand covered in dragonscale. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

Black God had huffed. "You've been listening to the rumors. Reading the stories. I know they're out on that information web, for anyone to peruse. The ones in which I'm a dullard and a beggar, trying to trick people into helping me out of pity. You don't want me, either."

"I'm taken, yeah. And not into whiny creeps, in case Aya kicks it."

Black God had been unamused, but undaunted. "They're always saying I peaked early, that I haven't done anything noteworthy in decades-"

"I agree entirely, but what's your point?"

The full moon had dimmed. "I thought you, of all people, would sympathize. I wanted to tell you of a way to help yourself, but you can forget it."

"Fascinating," Sam had said. "How about this: as per the Syncretic Treaty, I'm going to kick your ass for manifesting in the US without warning or permission. But, if you tell me what you came here to say, I'm going to stop at feeding you your own balls, not start with it."

Sam had discovered he could be very persuasive that night.

And that was how he'd ended up walking the Worlds.

The First was small and dark as soot. Sam walked among endless carpets of insects, struggling with his temper and hunger, knowing he'd fail if he lashed out to crush or eat them. He passed warring phantoms under a sky full of witchcraft and First Angry's sharp cackling, ignoring the instinct to help or attack, until he reached the opening in the sky.

The Second was dominated by a great blue plain. Sam walked with the swallow people, but did not step into their cone-shaped, tapered blue houses, no matter how tempting their food or women. In the end, despite the protests of his gut and loins, he pulled through, with Taschonzii, the Swallow Chief, admitting they didn't have enough food for him and sending him on his way.

The Third was...rough. Split by mountains and differences, as memories of men and women drifted apart, while Sam forced himself to watch, not change the past, until the Flood came to wash everything away.

The Fourth was partly hidden from Sam, tall, dark pines rising beyond the clearing he found himself in after floating on the Flood's waters. In it, was a bonfire, burning inside a circle of stone, a medicine man sitting on a log as he warmed himself. He was wearing buckskins, gray pair held back by a simple headband, and several necklaces: beads, pearls, a wendigo fangs strung on a leather thong. His eyes were brown, his tanned skin leathery from age and exposure.

"Hello, son," the medicine man greeted him. "Glad you could make it."

Sam shrugged, unused to compliments. "After I realized I needed to let things be, not fail by trying to make them better, it was a piece of cake."

No need to emphasize how hard doing nothing had been. It would've felt too much like admitting weakness in front of this walking ballsack.

The healer nodded, putting his hands close to the fire. "I came here because my peers and I have welcome you among us."

Sam almost cackled like a warlock at the pause. "Provisionally, and with great distaste?"

The healer proved unflappable to his needling. "What else could we feel when we see you parade yourself in dead flesh? Before your parents proved it, we weren't even sure wearing human skin would have any effect."

"I'm glad their research helped the community."

The healer took in the smile etched on Sam's face and didn't press the point. "Some knowledge, 'tis better not to have." His fang necklace rattled as he took a deep breath. "Having reviewed your deeds as a hunter of monsters and keeper of order, we have decided you are not a witch."

"Could've told ya I don't have tits myself. Saved you some time."

"Dibé," the healer said, making his hackles rise. "You are not a  witch." He had slipped out of English for the last word. "Your magic does not harm the community-only its enemies."

Sam tried to slow his harsh breathing down. "Who told you I want to come back? You wise old fucks had your thumbs so far up your collective asses, you never even noticed the kid trapped in a living nightmare on the outskirts." He knew that might've been unfair, and didn't care. "I looked for my desire to belong, but it left with the last shit I had to give."

The medicine man's eyes were sad. "Do you truly believe that?" The shadows cast by the fire lengthened, thickened, as the cloudless sky was swallowed by darkness. "That's the pain speaking, boy. Even now, they've got you by the throat."

Sam didn't bat an eye as the simulacra of his parents shambled their way to them. The healer seemed an eternity away, his fire dim and his eyes hidden by the shadows.

He was in the darkness, alone but for them, once again.

Except he was the monster now.

As he watched them, Sam realized he'd never seen much of their human faces. Both of them were pale and sparsely-muscled, with dark eyes, twisted mouths and hooked noses. The only real difference, Sam noted, was his mother's longer, thinning white hair.

Both of them had that lean, hungry look, from living on the edge of humanity.

Sam drew upon his powers, to destroy them once more, then felt them slip out of his grasp.

"You shouldn't have done that," the shadowed man said forebodingly. "This is a place of magic, not stolen power. Now, they'll take you."

Sam watched as the two grew, until he felt like a child again, and laughed as they tried to push him down and rip at his flesh.

"Oh, I see how it is," he said, not budging even when his mother's flesh took on the traits of a thousand beasts, and his father's features became indistinct, taking on the sexless aspect of Hunger. "You've overplayed your hand. See, these bastards have already done the worst a human could suffer to me. There's nothing left to scare me anymore."

"You know nothing about what you speak, boy," the medicine man said, voice growing harsher.

"You call me boy, when you look younger than me. When you hide your age from my senses. You use the name given to me in insult, without even sharing yours."

The darkness rippled, each word like a stone in a pond, and Sam was now standing above the creatures...whatever they might have been meant to be. His anger boiled at being taunted with his past, at finally being able to hurt his tormentors like they deserved. Their deaths had been too brief, not to mention unintentional. Merciful...

"What are you?" he asked the man by the fire. "Black God? My buried homesickness?" A thousand and one growls thrummed under his next words. "My desire for vengeance? A spirit, sent by the gods to test me, because they think they deserve to?"

The man's mouth was a pit in rotten fruit, a wound in flesh. "You passed the first tests, and think you are a sage. You think doing nothing here will give you the high ground? Make you noble? You'll fail, boy."

Sam was already turning away.

"Go back, and you'll have nothing! Nothing but the old fears, the shadows on the edge of vision! Kill them!" He flung his arm at the old skin-walkers crawling on the ground. "Become a man!"

The demands grew more insistent with each step.

"Break them! You know you want to! Stop lying to yourself!"

"Flay them! Eat them alive! Bloodshed is your only true love, not that undead  bitch!"

"Lose yourself in the slaughter! Thinking has only ever hurt you-let the blood help you forget!"

But now, Sam had a feeling he was doing the right thing. Not because he was too pure for this, but because he was needed elsewhere.

He didn't look back when the shadow the man cast became something that resembled no beast or unliving thing. He knew he would've been lost if he did.

Its voice never changed, though. It was still his.

"You're fooling yourself. Still a lamb to the slaughter. That's what you've always been. That's what you'll always be." The cawing laughter tore at his nerves, but he never turned his head, even when a hand tugged at his shoulder. "Did you truly believe that inane dream? You, gaining that power, helping the world? You weak, selfish little plaything, too scared to think straight?"

It was clear to him now. He hadn't caught a glimpse of Aya. Nothing worth a damn.

He had to leave. He might've belonged here, with the blood and the freaks, but she believed he was better than this.

"Go away, Dibé. The dream will end soon. Then you'll wake up, back in the hut, in your parents' arms~"

* * *

In the end, he turned out to be right. Sam slipped out of the scarlet gloom and into a deeper darkness.

Aya laughed brightly when he arrived, even as her own monster snarled curses at him. Faisal tried to find his footing as Sam tackled him, pushing him down through the unending tides. Chaos had never bothered him.

Finally, growling as something broke inside himself, Apep's champion threw him off, and Sam skidded backwards, coming to a halt at the mummy's side. They shared a knowing look, but no words. There was no need. That they were both standing there said enough.

'And here's the dog itself,' Faisal was looking at Aya as he spoke. 'Coming running when needed. Too weak to face me yourself. At least you admit it. Hiding behind-'

'Yes,' Aya interrupted. 'Without him, I might've listened to you. Might've given in, if only out of sheer tiredness. Duty is a cold comfort...unlike love. Not that you've ever known either.'

Faisal looked so stumped Sam doubled over laughing, causing Apep's chosen to turn to him. 'You think you're better than me.'

'Aya says I'm bigger, too~'

'Bastard!' Faisal screamed. 'You stole her from me! Twisted her! Doing everything she wants so you can be indulged, making her think she deserves the world.' His eyes were like crimson coals in his dark face, wet with unshed tears. 'But I'll put an end to this. Make things the way they were, the way they  should be. After I remind my wife of her place, I'll deal with you too, mongrel. I think I'll wear your corpse as I take her.'

'Took the words right out of my mouth.'

Sam matched Faisal's grin, but only the wendigo's widened when a calm, deceptively human voice filled the expanse of Nu. Under it, like a shark showing only its fin, was a yawning silence so deep, it could be felt in the bones.

It did not sound like a single voice.

'Faisal Reem. You stand guilty of stealing unclaimed souls and twisting them for your own purposes. You will not escape.'

Faisal did not take his eyes off the two in front of him. 'You cannot pass judgement on me. This is pantheon business.'

If anything, the voice grew more serene. 'It stopped being pantheon business when you took children too young to follow a god and made monsters from them. Your own, you heartless...' It was only now that any semblance of anger could be felt in the voice. 'You think I, out of everyone, will let you hide behind the gods? Those days are over. Everything you've done was to break a grieving mother. I am coming for you.'

* * *

'Watch your step, my dear. These fiends care naught for your youth and innocence.'

'You watch your mouth, Serpent. And I am not your dear.'

'No...' Lucifer's cheerful face was just as sincere as Nimue's as he walked alongside her, demons watching from every direction. 'Definitely not.'

Satan's head swivelled between his onlooking subjects. 'Watch your step around this hag! She's as old as Britain's first lake, and thrice as spiteful.'

'Better,' she muttered, leaving him behind as she walked down, into the depths, to the frozen lake of traitors.

The Lady saw her beloved as she passed, and shared a nod with him. They both knew they'd strained their bonds with their Knights-again. But, just like he did with his torture, she would bear it.

She walked until she saw a tall, grey-skinned demoness with a bristling mane of silver hair. She had eight breasts, arms and black eyes, arranged like a spider's, and was swinging a barbed whip at the moaning, screaming sinners.

She stopped at the Lady's approach, and froze when Nimue embraced her.

'Thank you, girl,' Nimue whispered into her chest-while tall by human standards, she didn't come close to the demon. 'I wanted to kill that awful boy in the womb, and so did Merlin. I'm glad we didn't.' She pulled back with a shrewd look. 'Mordred might me of some use, after all. Thank you, for treating him as he deserved. You helped him become who he should have been.'

'You are welcome, Lady,' the demoness replied mechanically. 'But I was only following orders.'

* * *

'Why'd you never tell me?'

Kenji rubbed his throat, the handprint already gone. 'You wouldn't have believed me, Ren.'

'Perhaps,' Bushido acceded. 'But did you even try? You didn't know what would happen. If not for that Romanian, I'd still be stumbling around, seeing red, played by the man who made me a lackwit.' His eyes flashed dangerously. 'What else did-do-you lie about? Is yamadium really forged from the iron taken from the blood of your failed workers, and quenched in their molten flesh?'

'They're all volunteers,' Kenji replied, and it took Ren a nanosecond to recognise the joking tone.

That was when Yua bustled into the office, trying to catch the breath she didn't need.

'Apologies, Yua-sama,' Ren stood up, bowing. 'For taking your seat.'

'Huh? There's nothing on Ken's face.'

Bushido didn't comment. 'Your husband was just starting to be honest with me.'

Yua looked between them, eyes bright. 'You two...shit like this is why I think my idea needs more consideration.'

Kenji nodded. 'Everyone celebrating together usually only works in cartoons, but...the world has changed.'

'Right,' Yua said, face darkening. 'Why's Bushi so calm?'

* * *

AN: Looks like Aftermath will have four parts. There is still stuff I want to do before moving along the timeline, but this was already getting long, and I haven't updated in longer than I like.

On that note, I'm going to start a series of lore snippets, written alternatively from an out-of-verse and in-verse perspective, as an excuse to exposite. I mean, update SS more often a way to introduce concepts to be expanded in-story, or explain those that have been glossed over.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Lore: Therianthropes

* * *

AN: Between spending nearly a week travelling and helping with the stories I'm co-writing, as well as working on my other projects, I haven't started the next SS sidestory. However, I've started the lore posts.

* * *

A therianthrope is a (formerly purely) human being who has obtained the ability to change partially or entirely into an animal by means of shapeshifting, rather than magic, faithcraft or genetic manipulation.

The term comes from the Greek therion, "wild (implicitly mammalian, which coincidentally, most weres are) animal/beast" and anthropos, "human being". As such, a literal translation would be beastman or beast person, rather than were. During the Long Watch, therianthropes were often referred to as werebeasts, but this has largely fallen out of use since the early two thousands, though it is still used in a derogatory fashion. Most were view it as condescending, because it implies that not only are they feral in temperament, but that their animal self is dominant over their human one. This is one of the worst scenarios for a were, as it implies lack of discipline and self-control, ultimately resulting in "their beast", as it is often referred to, taking over. While weres sometimes lose themselves to their beast, in situations of great excitement or stress, it has not been proven to be permanent, because weres who spend extended periods in such a state are usually put down before an attempt at recovery can be made.

The origin of weres is heavily debated, not least of all by themselves, because it is fractal, rather than singular, as postcognition proves. Since, before the Shattering, mundane humans could only come in contact with paranormal entities or places if they expected it, and usually how they expected it, the visions of the past revealed to poscognitives tend to suit their expectations.

Nevertheless, it is agreed that weres did not evolve naturally; they do not share a common ancestor, but rather, each "type" of were likely springs from an individual or group. There are four major schools of thought in regard to the origin of weres.

​The first, and most common, hypothesis postulates that the first weres were turned by "infected" animals, bearing a physical or metaphysical illness. According to this hypothesis, the first werewolf was bitten by a wolf, the first werewasp was stung by a wasp and so on. Some believe these animals were carriers, but did not present symptoms, in the sense their intelligence was animalistic, their physical prowess mundane, and they could not shapeshift. Others believe they possessed all the capabilities of modern weres, save the ability to turn into humans, which fuelled their jealousy and led them to infect mankind. Weres who view their transformation as a blessing disregard this idea, as they do the one that the animals were cursed by the pantheons or ancient mages.

This ties to the second hypothesis, which claims weres are the result of the gods cursing primitive mankind for its wickedness, either directly or indirectly. Weres who dislike vampires bristle at the comparison, even if they dislike their therianthropy.

The third hypothesis states weres are actually a result of self-directed evolution, that primitive humans, or their ancestors, sought to emulate animal traits in order to better survive in the wild. This is largely seen as implausible, and nonsensical at worst.

The fourth and final hypothesis states weres are the result of humans mating with animals, and their hybrid children multiplying. Some Christian proponents latch on to this phrasing, pointing out links to Yahweh's command to be fruitful and multiply, which they believe was directed at humans and animals, rather than to each species; or to the Serpent's Seed Theory, that Eve mated with the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, and their descendants have battled those born of her and Adam over the millennia, with human history being the result of this clash. According to them, weres all descend from the Beast.

The members of these secondary schools of thought hate each other with a passion, seeing each other as blasphemers and monsters, and everyone who does not follow the fourth theory considers them deluded at best. Most weres are resolved to remain as human as possible, and see the idea of zoophilia as a betrayal of their ideals, not to mention disgusting. Equivalent to a healthy human sleeping with a disabled person, perhaps. These sub-groups claim the human/animal couplings could have been done in the name of survival, out of spite or as the result of a curse (or blessing, depending on the were asked).

Mages who turn into animals, genetic shapeshifters and people who tap into divine power to change form are sometimes mistaken for weres, mostly by mundane humans, but all it takes is the touch of silver to reveal the truth, in most cases. Of course, a non-therianthrope shifter could simulate the burns and pain, if they were skilled and determined enough. Weres are mostly ambivalent towards them, although some look down of them as "werefakes". Naguals and totem shifters are examples of such "pseudotherianthropes", as are kitsune, zmei and certain dragons.

Contrary to certain speciesist rumours, afflictions such as hypertrichosis and zoanthropy (or clinical lycanthropy, though techincally therianthropy would be more accurate) are not caused by having were ancestors. Weres are, genetically-speaking, extremely stable. Upon being turned, all diseases, missing limbs, excess flesh, tumours and the like are removed; weres cannot remain or become obese after being turned.

Therianthropy is interesting in terms of immortality compared to vampirism, because, whereas vampires physically remain at the age they were turned unless they shapeshift (vampire children are rarely able to mature, let alone in a healthy manner, which is why turning children is illegal across the world), weres grow older and stronger if turned young, until they reach their physical prime. Elderly human turned weres do not become younger, though they are cured of all afflictions. It is thus said that therianthropy is more "indulgent" than vampirism. It can be passed on through scratches, bites, stings and blood or tissue donations, though the children of weres are born human.

Weres do not require sustenance, air or rest. They are immune to direct esoteric effects, and capable of regenerating from anything, except wounds inflicted with silver, which causes immense pain (were pain tolereance allowing them to ignore such flesh wounds as dismemberment, decapitation and disembowelment, at once). Silver weapons affect weres as they do mundane humans, but are not poisonous. A were whose limb is grazed by a silver bullet will be left with a scar and dull pain, but will not die, Should they be shot in the head, for example, however, they will die, though not because the silver will spread through the body and burn out impure genes, unclean spirits or the like, but for the same reasons a human would die from a headshot.

No paranormals besides mages and (human) psychics can be turned into weres, and, as magic depends on harmony between the body, mind and soul, mages have difficulty casting once turned, due to their focus clashing with their new instincts. Weres are unlikely to awaken magic for the same reason. Psychics face similar difficulties, but, as they have only started being born in larger numbers in recent years, there have only been a handful of psychic weres throughout history.

Weres share the instincts and urges of "their" animals, and (no pun intended) often ape their behaviour, even while in human form and not meaning to. This varies by gender as well. For example, werewolves are social animals, so to speak, while male werebears are loners, rarely spending time with other werebears. Depending on a were's self-control, these instincts can be just that, or a "loud subconscious" that mimics sentience or sapience, and often pushes them to listen to it, or tries to take over their minds. It tends to become more and more powerful the deeper a were taps into it, being roughly as powerful as the human mind in hybrid form and dominant in animal form, which is believed to be the reason weres cannot speak in said form.

​Weres vary in power, speed and durability according, seemingly, to how large their animal is, though there are some exceptions, the most egregious being those weres who turn into supernatural animals.

Most invertebrates, amphibians, smaller fishes reptiles, birds and mammals are hypersonic and able to fragment multi-storey buildings in one strike in human form, and thousands of times faster than sound and able to pulverise tens of billions of tons of rock in hybrid/animal form.

Larger fishes, reptiles, birds and mammals (wolves, lynxes, brown bears, deer, dolphins, etc.) are also hypersonic in human form, though strong enough to destroy city blocks; their every blow is equivalent to tens of tons of TNT. In animal forms, they are thousands of times faster than sound and can vapourise mountains.

Werecattle, moose and polar bears can destroy countries in human form and reach relativistic speed, undergoing redshift and bending spacetime upon approaching light (unless, of course, they choose to negate the environmental effects). In animal forms, they can move as fast as light and shatter continents like glass.

Werecrocs, hippos, rhinos and great whites are as strong as fast as werecattle in human form, and able to destroy the moon while moving nearly five hundred times faster than light in animal forms. From this point on, stronger weres are as powerful in human form as those in the previous category are in animal form, and as fast.

Werephants (short for were-elephants, a shortening similar to wereverines for were-wolverines), orcas and smaller dinosaurs are able to shatter Earth in animal forms.

​Weredinosaurs are believed to be the result of the ancient reptiles surviving until the emergence of mankind to turn them by the proponents of the carrier hypothesis.

Larger weresaurs, sperm whales, megalodons and paraceratherium are able to disperse ice and gas giants and shatter their cores in single blows.

Blue werewhales are famous their ability to snuff out sunlike stars with just the water they generate inside themselves, shot through their blowholes as jets. Physically, they can destroy blue giants.

"Mystical" weres, such as gryphons, dragons and rocs can destroy the largest of stars with ease, and often possess esoteric abilities that put them even higher above their "mundane" counterparts than their physical prowess.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Aftermath, Part 4A

* * *
Two old men walked across nothing.

That was a lie. And yet, not entirely.

Both were timeless, but, had they been reduced so that they could dwell in the halls of time, one would have been ancient in both fact and spirit, the other merely old at heart, in terms of the persona he so cherished.

If one did not count his other selves, that was.

One could have been forgiven for thinking Nodens' name had been inspired by that of Asgard's ruler, then penned down by the unwitting chronicler of his exploits.

Had that same observer seen the incarnation Nodens sometimes assumed on Earth, that suspicion would have only grown. The Great Hunter's form was as scarred and pitted as the oldest mountain, naked but for a shroud of mist or light.

This was not intended to protect his modesty, for he had none, but rather, to protect onlookers, or anyone who might catch a glimpse of him, by mistake.

His skin, his eyes, his bristling beard and wild mane of hair; all were silver. The metallic sheen was most pronounced on his hands, which had got him compared to another god of Earth, and which gripped a spear dripping with ichor. The haft was grey as ash, marked by adversity like its wielder. The spearhead was a jagged, rough thing, like bone or white flint.

Nodens' companion would have appeared completely ordinary, at least in comparison to his savage majesty. In truth, they had always been equals.

The one they called the Remaker, beyond the bounds of the world, was dressed in the drab, muddied fatigues of the wars that had marked Benedict. Ned; the part of him he always thought of as himself.

Wear and tear had removed all decorations from the uniform, even the small Union Jack on the sleeve. The space had been patched over, and now bore the the symbol of the Global Gathering: emerald landmasses, separated by sapphire seas.

Only a fraction of what he fought for, but the closest to his bleeding heart, by far.

Ned was dark-skinned and dark-eyed, his beard and close-cropped hair grey, with patches of white. He seemed entirely at ease, as he always did, especially when he wasn't.

Survival trait. Or, as he answered on other occasions, most people were not unflappable when presented with someone who gave every sign of being so. That amused him.

Nodens' Nightgaunts, his hounds and hunters, stalked behind him, darting in and out of the darkness. The creatures looked demonic, like batwinged, faceless men, their ebony skin smooth as a whale's.

Together with their master, they had faced many an Outer God, and thwarted the plans of many more, for all that the Gods of the Ultimate Void brooked no opposition, and always sought vengeance.

Nodens did not care, and never had. He had always met the Crawling Chaos on even footing, spear for claw and curse for curse, while his Nightgaunts tore through its Hunting Horrors. He feared neither the Other Gods, nor their soul and messenger.

Least of all now.

Well. "Now" was a matter of perspective, but what wasn't? In a way, creation had always been like this, but Nodens was not the only one who remembered what had never been.

As the two continued their journey to the abode of darkness, Fixer broke the silence.

'I know I don't act that grateful, but honestly, keeping the Outer Gods focused on you, and the Ultimate Void, saved everyone while I set the plan into motion. So, thank you.'

Nodens harrumphed, not looking at him. 'Don't mention it, boy. You fight because you love creation. The fact that Nyarlathotep hates it is enough for me to defend it.'

'Even so,' Fixer said. 'Thank you. For that, and for being my conscience.'

Nodens looked at him askance. 'What fresh nonsense is this?'

Fixer shrugged at the Hunter's gruff question, smiling. 'C'mon now, don't be shy. When I was trying to find happiness, you snapped me outta my funk. Reminded me of-'

'Ned,' Nodens cut him off gravely. 'I have never even spoken to you outside opposing the Crawling Chaos and its pawns.'

Fixer stopped, looking at him, and Nodens did the same. 'But the old men...there's always been an old man, or something like one, around every self of mine.'

'If you say so.'

Fixer's smile thinned. 'Are you telling me I imagined that? Him? You weren't...? Didn't...?'

'Creation is what we think it is, lad,' Nodens said, not unkindly. 'A loud conscience is hardly unusual.' Seeing his companion's expression, he scoffed. 'Who cares? Whether you listened to yourself, or to me, the point is that you listened. You went and helped your love. What does the reason matter?'

As the god resumed walking again, Fixer chuckled, before starting after him. 'You have a way of cutting through bullshit, don't you?'

'If everyone spoke truth,' Nodens replied firmly. 'There would be far less suffering. Lies are the domain of my adversary.'

Ned thought he just liked being blunt to the point of jackassery, but did not comment. 'If you say so.' The god grumbled at having his words thrown back at him, but did not retort.

They reached their destination in silence.

Fixer had met two-faced, in both senses of the term, people before. He knew Janus. The thing languishing in the gloom resembled the god of portals, to a degree. The same way the Sleeper resembled humans.

It was the Chernobog half that spoke to him first, his grimace frustrated and disgusted in equal measure.

'Come to gloat under a fallen enemy, have you?' he sneered tiredly. 'Go ahead, but do not expect me to swallow your insults. You'll have to silence me yourself.'

Fixer considered him, idly noting Nodens had fallen back to observe. But then, he wasn't here for the Black God. 'It's good to see  you consider yourself important, at least.'

'Lies?' Chernobog asked. 'I nearly made your foremost pawn fail. He was a step away from ending everything.'

'Which would have been against your goal, too, if I recall. Do correct me if I'm wrong, though; this might be the first time I'm thinking about you.' Fixer rubbed his chin. 'Don't flatter yourself. Nyarlathotep had other catspaws in place, as surely as it has your back. We've taken care of them, but do not think only you could've done what you did.'

Chernobog began trembling. In rage? Hmm...

'You took my brother, my power, and now you trample on my pride. Is your victory not grand enough?'

Fixer gave him an incredulous look. 'Do you think the people you planned to destroy or enslave had no brothers, no lives they wanted to keep living? I'm the last person you should be reaching out to that way. Not that anyone sane would listen to you.' Fixer glared when Chernobog opened his mouth. 'Belobog hated you. His last moments were spent hoping you'd suffer as he had. I regret that he isn't here, so you could hear it in that voice you thought you loved.'

He concentrated on the amalgam's other half, and it soon filled his perception. It was a paper-skinned, skull-headed back standing on tentacle tips; a silhouette of pure blackness; a winged, faceless god; a thing of tendrils, with a mouth open in an eternal scream.

All, and an infinity more, at once. It was Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos. His oldest enemy.

In a way, Fixer had always fought it, even before he'd learned of its existence. Chaos had always been the bane of what his selves had tried to build.

'Remaker,' it greeted flatly.


It lowered its head to one side. 'Well? No crowing? No boasting of how, without my influence to oppose, you are free to do whatever you want? Shape creation in your image? Pursue your Queen of Hell? Et cetera...'

'You are taking this surprisingly well,' Fixer noted.

It swayed in a way that might've indicated acceptance, or apathy. 'Chaos still thrives. It always has, is, will. The fact I cannot act myself is a bruise on my ego, but I will survive.'


'I'm sure you'll learn to live with it,' it remarked. 'Chaos feeds me, and my power. That I have been reduced to a spectator is an inconvenience, not the tragedy you were hoping for.'

'What about your scheme?' Fixer jabbed.

'Meaningless,' Nyarlathotep replied. 'I wanted to end the dream that was creation, and now, it is no longer a dream. I should be thanking you for the retirement, I suppose.'

'You like it?'

'I could do without the chains,' it said. 'But yes.'

Fixer did not miss the hatred boiling within the dark creature. He was laidback, not stupid. 'You asked me if I was going to brag.'


'No,' Fixer answered, letting all cheer drain out of his voice. 'I'm just going to hurt you. For my parents. For Randolph. For Christine.' He raised his fist. 'For every life you threw into disarray, to amuse yourself and sate your spite.'

* * *

I found it walking between moments, waiting between instants.

The gray man was almost like a weaponised urban legend, or meme. Someone you missed, not because they were stealthy, but because they appeared so ordinary, they slipped your mind as soon as they passed you.

Hiding in plain sight, indeed.

In hindsight, Gray Mann's shtick wasn't so hard to pin down. Its very nature made you uncertain, because it was Uncertainty itself. Cousin to both Fear and Absurdity, though nowhere near as kind as the former, or half as Ryd'yk.

And, because creation itself couldn't make up its mind about it, it had always been free to pick and choose its traits and abilities. Divine power, to divert a strigoi's attention, for example.

That was over now. In the creation I had made, with everyone's help, its kidnapping and indoctrination of Sofia had been uneccesary, and thus, had never happened.

Now, Sofia would grow up with people who could actually guide her, meeting a kindred mind in Bianca, empowered by her sister in an act of...well. There was still time, for that story.

But just because its deeds had been erased from the timestream, did not mean I, and those like me, had forgiven or forgotten it.

Which was why I was retracing Fixer's steps, a shrieking Gray Mann writhing in my metaphysical grip, while Nightraiser, mellow as always, retraced Nodens' at my side.

'I'm glad you could come, Faren,' I told them. 'I'm proud of you.'

'Oh?' There was barely a hint of curiosity beneath the placid tone, but that was like jumping up and down in anticipation, by their standards.

I smiled, ignoring my prisoner. 'I hard it is to restrain yourself. How much you have thought about what could happen if you didn't. That you believe in yourself enough to accompany me...I'm happy for you. It's great to see your confidence growing.'

Their lips tilted upwards slightly. 'You are sweet, David,' they said. 'But it has little to do with confidence.'

'I don't believe that.'

'It does, though,' they insisted when I shook my head. 'Confidence implies belief something will be as you expect. Certainty means knowing how it will be. I do not deal in confidence.'

I put a hand on their shoulder, and they slowed down their pace. 'Thanks for coming, all the same.'

Their soft smile widened. 'It's no problem,  Keeper,' they teased. 'I hardly have much to occupy myself with, after all-please don't take that as me dismissing your offer as trivial.'

'Of course not,' I reassured them, before scowling in mock-irritation. 'Being in a good mood is not an excuse to needle me, though.'

They laughed. 'I would have come even if I were busy. We are heading into an era of peace, however, one paving the way for an age of ascendancy.' They elbowed me. 'Fewer reasons for fighting, not that all will be deterred by that.'

I rolled my eyes. 'Only meatheads would be dismayed by that.'

'Some would argue conflict breeds diversity.'

'It's nice neither of us would.'

'So true,' they agreed as our destination came in sight.

Metaphorically-speaking, of course. There was no distance here, and no duration.

Before we approached, I looked them in the dark voids that were their eyes. 'I will ask you something...maybe insensitive. You don't have to answer if you don't want to.'

'David,' they deadpanned. 'Have you forgotten how I grew up? There was little left to offend me, even before I became the Eye of Darkness.'

'Just because you've got jaded,' I shuffled my feet, looking down. 'It doesn't mean I should be a jackass.'

Faren squeezed my hand. 'Don't trouble yourself with that, David. What was your question?'

'I know you've forgotten it, erased it alongside your mother,' I began. 'But the memories are there, brought back by the moment of unity. Do you...have you ever wanted to remember whether you were born male or female?'

'What does it matter?' Nightraiser crossed their arms, eyes becoming sarcastic. 'You might have noticed my duty has little to do with what's between my legs.' They chuckled. 'I'm just messing with you, David. Yes, I remember. And, as I said, it doesn't matter. There's a reason you can't tell,' they gestured at themselves. 'By looks alone. You know my name means "handsome servant", because my parents expected me to do as I was told, while looking pretty.' I was sure Sam's had thought much the same, naming him "lamb". 'Removing needless details was just my way of scraping off the slave brands. You will forgive me for being dramatic.'

'Hey,' I said softly. 'Whatever makes you happy, you deserve it.'

They hugged me, briefly. 'Thank you,' they said warmly. 'It pleases me, when a good man sees me the way he sees himself.'

I might've blushed if I could have.

'So, to answer your question, I do remember, but it matters little to me, and less to anyone else. Or, as I tell certain admirers, the name obviously proves I was a very pretty boy.' They blinked slowly. 'Or a very healthy tomboy. That's the thing with certainty. It sounds better than it is. I like to keep people thinking.'

And with that, we resumed our journey.

Nodens nodded curtly at both of us as we approached, burly arms crossed, but said nothing. A little farther ahead, Fixer was exchanging hushed words with his trapped nemesis.

I let Faren behind as they stopped to speak with the Divine Hunter, and walked up to Fixer's side. The prisoner looked at me with distaste, which I ignored alongside its taunts.

'Hey, lad,' Fixer greeted, hands in his pockets. 'Glad to see ya helpin' out, just 'cause you can.'

I nodded. 'Creation will be a better place after this.'

'I'll bet,' he said, before giving Gray Mann an amused look. 'They didn't screw with you again, did they?'

'What it did before creation changed is enough,' I answered, and Fixer lowered his head in agreement.

'Never had much love for it, myself. Far too pleased with itself for doing what it had to do for my taste.'

'Hypocrite!' the Dark Oracle shrieked, voice caught between those of its two selves, making us turn.

'What's that supposed to mean?' Fixer asked, sounding like he'd been as happy to tune it out as I had been.

'"I take no pleasure in my duty," he said smugly,' it spat. 'We have never cared for Uncertainty, either, but you have no right to claim yourself its better in this regard.'

Fixer crossed his arms. 'I don't take any pleasure from doing what's necessary, no,' he said. 'I  am proud that I do not let my emotions get in the way of my duty. So...I do not see your point, if you had one.'

Dutifully ignoring them once more, Ned's attention returned to me. 'As I was saying...that entitled creep was talking a whole lotta shit 'bout Chris, and I so wished I could stop it.' He grinned like a child on Christmas morning. 'Did you bring it here for me?'

'In a way,' I confirmed, pulling my arm back like I was about to throw a javelin, before letting go off Gray. Its indignant screams alone shook creation, for all that most of its power was sealed, obliterating every Voidmaw, only for another infinity of them to appear instantly. The core of its being crashed into the Oracle, mixing like blood and tar, and now, the thing stood three-faced.

'Huh,' Fixer grunted appreciatively. 'Lemme guess: uncertainty is a fact of life, but you won't allow it to sow more than that which already happens.'

'Got it in one,' I answered, then sighed, voice growing sad. 'You know why I'm here, Fixer.'

He slumped. 'Go ahead, boy. If you think I deserve it, I won't stop you.'

Squaring my shoulders, I looked him straight into eyes. Not as dark as Faren's, nor as tired, but close enough to be pitiful. 'I understand why you started your plan,' I began softly. 'I appreciate your...subtlety.' I smiled crookedly. 'You knew I wanted to help people. Taking me to the same facility Andrei was in was just the catalyst. I couldn't stand him at the time, so I'd look for any alternative, so the one that set me on the path you wanted was sought.'

'The path creation needed you on,' Fixer corrected. 'And you're welcome, David. Guiding people from the shadows does not mean you have to be cruel.'

'I have to talk to you about that, too,' I reminded him. 'You knew what would happen from then on. All the deaths, the horror, the misery. Would you change any of it, if you could?'

'I cannot, just as you cannot, if things are to end as they should,' he said. 'If I could change it for the better? Of course. I'm not evil, David.'

My fangs ground together slightly. 'You don't regret any of it, do you?'

Fixer smiled pityingly. 'You don't think like me, David. The survival of the many will always, always be more important than the death of the few. Vyrt would tell you the same thing, and cry about it later. He's always been a sentimental prig.'

Which said a lot about Fixer, considering what the Nephilim was willing to do. Certainly, nothing our first meeting had suggested. I told him as much, and he rolled his eyes.

'Yeah, it'd be awful nice if I could just be a wacky goofball and nothing more. Maybe I'll be, one day, once the Mover's plan comes to fruition. Just because I'd shank anyone for everyone' sake, doesn't mean I don't love them.'

'What about Christine?' I asked.

'I'd never be happy again if I had to kill her,' he replied solemnly. And that was as sincere a declaration of love as Fixer could make. 'But you're not just here to dump your catch and grill me, are you, David?'

Might as well lay it out. 'Ned, the things you did while indulging yourself...I know you grew up marginalised. I know what it's like - I was a strigoi. But they were so much like what Dirlewanger did...'

Fixer's gaze turned cold. 'Charming. Forget the pain and the service to creation. The Nazi and I were just getting our rocks off.'

I held up my hands. 'Ned, please. I'm not saying you're as bad as him. You were lashing out. He was just being cruel.'

'Do you have a point?'

'I'm not going to punish you,' I promised. Not that I could. We were equally powerful, and able to enhance ourselves indefinitely. 'But I can't overlook it, either. Ned, you created beings that could feel nothing except pain, or fear, or pleasure, just because you could.'

'Are you going to track down every scientist who uses lab rats and bring them to great justice? How about guinea pigs? Those feel and think more than my creations,' he retorted. 'What about zombies? You respect the dead. What are you gonna do, David? Stop people from using test subjects, or hand them the answers on a plate and stunt their growth?'

The most annoying part was that I couldn't contradict him. 'Look,' I began. 'I'm not asking you to do anything you wouldn't, anyway.' I gestured at the Oracle. 'I know they can't separate, or escape, but I'd still feel better if you were keeping an eye of them.'

'Relegated to watchdog. Damn.' He whistled in fake appreciation.

I smirked drily. 'Nothing new under the sun. So?'

He rubbed his ring finger. 'I want to marry Christine. I love her.'

'How about this: you leave one incarnation here, and one in Hell, to be with her. And, when you're needed, I'll give you a sign.'

His face stayed blank at my offer, but he shook my hand. 'Whatever. I'm out of a job, anyway.'

I gave his shoulder a squeeze, part grateful, part warning, and departed, but not after squeezing something I'd wanted to know out of the Oracle.

As I'd suspected, the murder of Mia's parents had been not only planned, but part of a plot. Rattled, she'd lose control of herself, I'd hopefully take advantage of her, and a wedge would be driven between us. I'd doubt myself, falter at critical moments, especially as we drifted apart, and she'd find her end in R'lyeh.

Just another reason to hurt the Crawling Chaos.

The last thing I heard before I left was Nightraiser's sad chuckle.

'Hello, Ned. Thought I'd keep you company, while you settle into your new role.'

* * *

Fixer had been dismissed a while ago, but Gerald Reyes was still grilling his peers.

Alemoa Elga was giving him the same worried glance she always was when she thought he was stressing or overworking themselves. The other Heads had drifted off into discussions of their own, once Gerald had been convinced they hadn't known about Fixer's rogue activities.

Amara al-Hazred and Gaol John looked at him tiredly, the former massaging her brow, the latter crossing his arms, eyes barely visible in the shadows of a battered, broad-brimmed hat.

'Gerald,' Amara said wearily. 'I understand that you are agitated. I was too, when I found out. But we cannot change it, so will you please calm down?'

He closed his mouth, breathing deeply. 'Apologies,' he told the Miskatonic Head. 'But, while Ned's actions helped save creation, in the end, they could've also caused a war between Earth and three of the Great Power, all while we were busy with our own foes.'

'So?' John asked. 'If they'd attacked, we'd have crushed them, in the end. I know you like pretending might isn't right, but the only reason the little guy isn't living in a nightmarish oligarchy is because we, and people like us, like being nice, and are strong enough to stop those who don't. So don't give me that look.'

'And if the attack disrupted the population?' Gerald asked sharply. 'If the violence drew other dangers, distracted us, so the Crawling Chaos' plan succeeded?'

'We wouldn't be having this discussion,' John said simply. 'Why don't you ask us what's really eating at you, Reyes? You know you want to. Take your time, find your balls. The ghost isn't using them at the moment.'

Ignoring Elga's dirty glare, John put his boots on the table, crossing them, and waited.

Gerald clenched his fists in order not to throttle the IA Head. 'Did either of you know what Fixer was doing?'

'No,' Amara answered promptly. 'I only knew he wanted to help us against Chernobog, but I ordered him to stand down. Told him it would stunt the world's development if he solved everything for us.' Her eyes were darker than the shadows of her cowl as they met Gerald's. 'If you think my order spurred him on to abduct Grey One, I can only say I did not foresee it.'

Gerald's expression softened. 'No one can blame you for that, Amara, least of all me. Or yourself, for that matter.'

Amara pulled her cowl down. 'Although, he probably had been planning that for a while, as time flows. I know he was planning to prepare Silva since before they met, at least. From a timeless perspective...he has always been.'

Gerald hid a wince. 'Most likely.' He knew Amara hated tapping into her Outer God half more than necessary, even though being human was like being buried alive in a coffin half-filled with water for her.

'I know what you're gonna say,' John ground out. 'I'm bound to ARC, its members, its equipment and bases. I hate limeys like you. Surely this has all been a scheme to hurt you, Reyes? Well, it wasn't. I'm neither evil, nor fucking insane.' John lifted his hat slightly by the brim. 'If you must know, Fixer did obscure my sight through my bond to him, but he always did this during missions that were too delicate, or important for creation, to accomplish with someone looking over his shoulder. Sometimes, he didn't even try to do it. So, I thought nothing of it. Gonna propose having me fired for incompetence?'

Gerald pushed up his glasses, more irritated by the ghost gestalt's confrontational tone than he'd have liked. 'No. But I think you should mention such things from now on, John. You are linked to the Idea of Bonds. Anything that can obscure your sight might be important.'

John did not comment, so Gerald-

-blinked as the door to Sofia Ilyich's cell slid open. He wasn't unfamiliar with doors hidden in walls, or which were part of them. He was just bemused that the walk had been short enough that he hadn't even found time to get lost in his thoughts.

The young witch was sitting in a plain wooden chair, kicking her feet back and forth. She was dressed in a baggy, orange yamadium prison suit, with an antimagic collar around her neck. More than merely immune to her powers, it generated a field that covered her and shut them down.

The creation of such materials was a well-kept secret, if an open one, considering the security clearances of everyone present.

Besides the weres, vamps and mages lining the walls of the cell, doing their best to appear harmless (for the girl's sake, Gerald mused, rather than their safety), Sofia was surrounded by three of the most dangerous supernaturals in Russia.

The First Comrade's codename was a holdover from his Soviet days, but changing it would've made a mess of the national heroine's branding and merchandise. It was to stay, for the moment. First was dressed in a crimson long coat, with gold stars on both shoulders. Tall, blond, blue-eyed and clean-shaven, she looked in her early forties, just as she had during the Shattering.

If First was large at two metres, with the muscle to match, Tsar Power made her look positively puny. The towering man's face was almost lost between his grey-streaked brown beard and hair, though his bright grin was plainly visible among the grizzled, bristling mess. He was so tall First barely reached the bottom of his chest, with a girth that belied his strength, even putting his power aside. A layer of fat hid slabs of muscle, as if he were one of the bears he so resembled in his fur coat, pants and fur-lined boots.

Power nodded at Gerald first, then noticed Elga and Aya, and his grin widened. The Camelot Head felt one of his heads coming on; Power was as excessively friendly as Elga, thrice as loud and half as tactful.

Gerald smiled slightly, glad the world was safe enough for him to gripe about such trifles, and promptly wished he hadn't. Power saw his smile and laughed, sure it was a sign of the mage's joy at them meeting again.

Tsar Vodyanik completed the welcoming committee. A tall old man, though short compared to his colleagues, he had a white-bearded, frog-like face, a fish tail, and black scales covering his body. He held a club in his webbed hands.

Could we take them? Gerald wondered, remembering the powers of their...hosts. The Kremlin must've wanted to emphasise that, just because they'd invited them for help, it didn't mean they were powerless. Or unable to fend them off, if it came to that.

So. Tsar Power's traits increased tenfold the second a fight started, and only ramped up from there. At his baseline, he was equal to Breakout at hers, only also able to create blasts and constructs of almost every sort of energy, short of mana. The longer he fought, however? Strength that increased tenfold one second then increased a hundredfold a centisecond, and so on. The bigger the boost got, the shorter the interval became.

A problem, especially if a hypothetical fight started, but mostly a brute, in the end.

Vodyanik was...trickier. Equal to Power's baseline, he could not only manipulate water and whatever contained it, he could control whatever he could mentally frame as a river or lake. Most people did not expect the time manipulation, or get a second chance even if they did.

And First not only shared her colleagues' abilities, but those of everyone and everything Russian. Her versatility was only matched by her creativity.

We're all allies, for the moment, Gerald argued to himself. I'm just doing this to kill time.

First stepped forward, almost marching. 'Thanks for coming, guys,' she shook Gerald and Elga's hands at the same time, beaming, then hugged Aya. 'The kid's been good, but she's been asking for you, and we thought she'd be happier if we indulged her'. This way, her eyes said, she'll be easier to mould, while we maintain relations.

'Why don't you tell us more about that, Yana?' Aya asked once the taller woman let her down. 'The message just said she "wanted us", which I figured was a test of our attention, since she doesn't know any of us.' The mummy looked up. 'Unless you've been talking out of school?'

First grinned guilelessly. 'Actually, she just asked for "whoever sent the fat strigoi". We edited the request a little. Thought talking to Szabo's boss would be as important to her as beginning to reintegrate into society and deal with supernatural law enforcement.'

'Fair enough,' Aya said, glancing at Sofia. She was maintaining the illusion of eyes, to put her at ease. 'Does she not talk? I was hoping she'd started recovering.'

First's face fell slightly. 'She's shy. Doesn't really talk without prompting, but the night terrors are mostly gone. Still sleeps better with a living guard in the room.'

Aya nodded, taking it in stride, and went to stand in front of Sofia. The witch looked up, saying nothing, so the mummy broke the ice.

'Hello, Sofia,' she began quietly. 'The strigoi who scared you works for me. He shouldn't have done it - I keep telling him he's not allowed - but don't worry. I punished him.'

'Did it hurt bad?' Sofia croaked. She sounded like she hadn't spoken, or drank, in days.

Aya allowed herself a smirk. 'Really bad. He won't do it again. After all, you're a good girl now.' She put a bandaged hand on the girl's small shoulder. 'Is that all you wanted to tell me?'

As they spoke, Vodyanik began an imromptu, intense staring contest with Gerald, who did not fancy his chances against someone that dead-eyed, but had nothing better to do. Meanwhile, Power sidled closer to Elga, which was not how people his size were usually described as moving.

Elga turned away from the witch when Power elbowed her, giving him an annoyed look. He was unfazed.

'Is pretty ghost lady sad?' he cooed. 'Power can maker her feel alive again.'

'Cut the crap, Nik,' Elga whispered. 'No one here thinks you're stupid.'

He blew a raspberry. 'Honestly, Elga, you hate horseplay as much as my mother.' But he did not press on, and went back to watching as well.

Sofia clasped her hands in her lap, looking down at them rather than Aya. The mummy had done her best to look friendly, eschewing her golden armour for a pair of black combat boots, pants and a jacket with the Crypt logo, along with a nemes, but the witch was still scared around her.

'I'm happy he was hurt, too,' Sofia said eventually, and Aya's heart broke to hear so much hatred in a child's voice, before hardening. The witch was not exactly innocent, even with the mitigating circumstances.

'He might've gone overboard,' Aya said. 'But you had to be stopped, Sofia. I understand that your magic twisted your mind until you took over your village, but it was you who decided to control your parents.' She put her hands in her pockets, mirroring First, who was standing opposite her, watching silently. Aya lowered her voice. 'I know you hated the fights. But you could've gone to a neighbour, called on.'

Sofia snorted. 'And if daddy didn't catch and kill me before I did it, he'd have done it after. Not all of us can get help as a corpse, miss.'

Taken aback by the sass, Aya arched an eyebrow. 'That's...quite a bleak view, for a child.'

'Will you guys make up your minds? Either I'm a child and should be dumb, or I'm a monster and should be treated like a bad woman.' Her face scrunched up in frustration.

Aya bit the inside of her cheek. She'd been through this before, with her own children, but laughing would have been inappropriate. 'I'm not trying to patronise you. I just want to understand what you want.'

Sofia relaxed, slughtly. 'The Strangeguard's been asking me if I wanna work. Put my mind in stuff, or in bad people. Make 'em stop. I dunno.'

Aya gestured for her to go on. 'This could help you redeem yourself, in the eyes of your country.' She steeled her nerves. 'Sofia, people say that, if not for your actions, Chernobog couldn't have entered the universe, or amassed as many followers. Obviously, you didn't know that would happen. My point is, you're not loved. Public service could help.'

Sofia blinked, repeatedly, but her blue eyes were still watery. 'I know mommy and daddy went bad...worse. Before they died. Prayed to the bad god.' She licked her cracked lips. 'The other strigoi killed them. The thin one. David.'

'Do you hate him for that?'

Sofia shook her head rapidly, as if trying to un-hear the words. 'I wanted them to be friends again. With each other. And me. But I didn't love what they turned into.'

'And David?'

Sofia broke down. 'He k-k-killed 'em. Told me.' She hiccupped, and covered her mouth with a hand. 'He an' the alien. We were together, before everyone was. He - D-David - h-held me. Like daddy used to. He doesn't hate me.'

Aya leaned forward, so Sofia had nowhere to look but her eyes. The witch sobbed, then pulled herself together. 'You're faking. I know you're eyeless.'

Aya dismissed the illusion with a thought, and Sofia rubbed one eye. 'It was distracting,' she said flatly.

'David?' Aya prompted.

'He made everyone be friends, for a while. I wanna do that again.' The witch's eyes shone with more than tears. 'But I'd be stuck in Russia as a Strangeguard. Can I...come to you? When I'm free?'

Aya straightened up. 'We have recruiters you can discuss that with. Sofia, I know you weren't aware of ARC's hierarchy, but usually, people like me don't come when called for things like this.'

The girl crumpled in on herself. ' 'M sorry. Thanks for coming, miss.'

'I wasn't chastising you,' Aya said softly. 'Just telling you how we work.'

Sofia hesitatingly raised her head. 'So we...can still talk?'

Her face lit up at Aya's confirmation, who stepped back, letting Gerald and Elga handle things.

* * *

For Vyrt, galaxy clusters were like glass doors: he noticed when he went through one thanks to the damage it suffered, rather than that he received.

The creatures he was currently facing were made of such cosmic structures, compressed and compacted. Humanoid in shape and size, but immensely denser, a hundred to a thousand times heavier than the Milky Way, they came at the Nephilim in droves, at speeds that would have crossed his home galaxy in mere moments.

Blunt limbs flew at him from all sides, trillions of times faster than light, and Vyrt dodged all the ones he couldn't block. His fists tore immense holes through the creatures, ripping them apart beyond recovery, while their own only bruised his skin for zeptoseconds when they landed. The largest galaxy would've been annihilated, many times over, by any of their strikes.

He hadn't done them any wrong. The creatures, while not mindless, only knew loathing for everything besides themselves. Vyrt, being completely unlike them, had been an irresistible target, tempting enough for them to cease their eternal war and ally against him.

It was why he had sough them. A massacre no one could fault him for would alleviate some of his anger.

Vyrt, who had reduced himself to human size for this fight, looked up at the foremost among the creatures strode towards him. Even the smallest among them was a hundred times heavier than the greatest of their lessers; the Laniakea Supercluster, given human shape and bloodlust.

Vyrt struck at one of them, a blow that would've destroyed most of his universe, but which only broke his hand. The beings were far more durable than their mere mass suggested.

The retaliatory strike, too fast for him to perceive, pulverised his head, while his opponent's other hand tore through his chest like paper, ripping his spine out with a tug. A second blow split his body in half, and a third reduced it to pulped flesh and ichor.

Vyrt had already regenerated before the creature could even think about basking in its victory. His power, to create and build up, enhanced his reflexes until its attack seemed frozen in place.

The blast of Vyrt's seraphic fire was not as hot as the first moments of the Big Bang - his foe would've utterly ignored such paltry temeratures. The white flame, however, burned it to nothing faster than it could perceive. Not even the smallest particle was left as it was erased from reality, then history, before the very possibility of it existing in the first place was removed from creation.

Vyrt's smirk was bloodthirsty as the timeline adjusted, so that he had never been wounded. After all, the culprit could have never existed.

Another creature came at him, but stopped short when an armour of seraphic flame blazed into existence around the Nephilim. It sensed what it could do to it.

Vyrt didn't let it dither for too long. Conjuring a sword of colourless light from nothing, he dashed forward, bisecting from skull to groin, with the ease of a scythe going through wheat. As the twitching halves suffered the fate of the first creature to have been unmade, Vyrt dismissed the sword and summoned his crook.

It had been his, with and of him, long before he had been knighted. Bedivere had let him keep it, because it suited him. Chuckling silently at the wordplay, Vyrt tapped into the crook's power, and one of the remaining creatures turned against its fellow, following his will like a sheep.

He let them fight, for a while. Then, he grabbed hold of the second being's mass, sending it flying into the other's at immense speed and obliterating them both. With crook in hand, he could direct almost anything.

He stood in the middle of the empty universe he had entered, victorious, and knew no joy.

I flew to his side, looking across the emptinesz as we hovered. I looked like I was standing on nothing, while he beat his wings out of whimsy, rather than necessity. He needed air about as much as he obeyed physics.

The Nephilim was quiet, silently bidding me to speak. I went along with him.

'I hate what you did to me, Vyrt,' I confessed. 'I'm glad it helped shape me into the man I am, that you helped save creation...but I don't think I'll ever stop hating it.'

A pause. Vyrt made his crook disappear, then clasped his arms behind his back. 'I thank the Lord you still see yourself as human, David,' he said, no trace of sarcasm in his voice. 'The clay we rose from is noble, despite everything. I'll never stop loving them, and I hope you won't, either.'

Ah. He already knew why I'd stopped in my journey home. At least in regards to this incarnation of me. 'You can ask me about Miranda.'

He nodded fractionally. 'She does not worship. When - if - she dies, she will pass into your domain.'

'I'll take care of her,' I promised. 'Don't worry.'

The Nephilim's lips twitched, eyes filled with unshed tears, as he dropped to a knee before me. The crook reappeared in his hands.

'I ask only one thing, David,' he murmured. 'You have no reason to care for me - that is why I ask for my wife.'

'Let me guess - you love her more than life itself, much less yourself,' I teased gently, and he nodded earnestly. 'Go ahead. Ask.'

He looked up at me. 'I know you hate me. That you have so much rage to vent. That...I have no right, to interfere with the aether. That is why I'm asking.' He closed his eyes. 'Please. Do not hurt me through her. The thought is enough.'

That...whoa. ' you really think I'd harm an innocent out of spite?'

'You were ready to, in the Roundhouse,' he said. 'You would have, if you hadn't caught yourself.'

I almost spat at the thought. 'True,' I said bitterly. 'I shouldn't have said that...been thinking like that.' I grabbed his wrists, lifting him up. 'But you have my word that I will not do anything to your wife. She is a good woman. She deserves rest. And...' I looked him in the eye. 'You know what? I'll let you visit her, if you want. I know you love each other.'

His wings twitched behind him. Burning tears scorched trails across his face. 'I thought you'd make me beg...if you didn't refuse me.'

'For your wife's sake, I will not,' I promised.
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Aftermath, Part 4B

* * *
* * *

Rebecca Gilles had always appreciated the fact that her husband wasn't a violent man.

Some might've found that ridiculous - what, did she see not being beaten as a luxury? - but where were instincts and tempers were concerned, you took what you could, and were glad for it.

One thing she had for her was that Leon, both sides of him, saw her as his treasure, and neither he nor his beast would have ever seriously thought about hurting her.

This, however, meant that while Leon never laid a hand on her, his anger still had to go somewhere, and his ways of venting were usually destructive, and always loud. Dangerous to her peace of mind, if anything, but she valued that, dammit.

Rebecca marched out of the house, slamming the yamadium door open maybe harder than necessary, not that she cared. She'd arrived home to see Leon chopping wood barehanded, and he'd grunted something incomprehensible, before saying they'd talk later, if she didn't mind. She'd indulged him, unsure what was happening, and had waited for him to cool off, so on edge herself she hadn't even changed out of her uniform..

He hadn't cooled off.

Leon's head whipped in her direction, his deep, dark eyes full of unfocused rage. None of it directed at her, so at least it wasn't her fault.

It really, really pissed her off when he acted mute, leaving her to fill in the gaps, but she didn't want a shouting match. He looked...hurt.

Contrary to the hybrid form he spent most of his time in, cementing his status as one of the most disciplined, not to mention unique weres alive, Leon as a human looked ordinary, almost forgettable. Dark complexion, grey beard and hair tied in a short, practical ponytail. Not that tall, and muscular in that wiry way older men who'd worked with their hands all their lives often were, he was dressed in a pair of tattered jeans and a faded shirt, whose colour had disappeared alongside its pattern. His moccasins were covered in mud.

Leon took in her uniform, as he often did, and asked nothing, as always. The only thing he knew about his wife's job was that she got to heal people less often than she'd have liked, but hurt those who deserved it often enough to suck it up and go on. He'd never pried, just as she'd never been nosy about his job. She'd only learned about his rank and peers after a few incidents during joint operations, involving the removal of particularly vicious pathogens from vulnerable agents; information that had resulted in her being sworn to silence.

Rebecca gently closed the door behind her, almost apologetically, and leaned against their house's front wall. The log cabin was only really cosy in small doses, but that was alright. Both of them spent most of their time at home outside, which was really the first thing that came to mind here, in the mountains.

Few people knew that anyone lived here, much less who. Even fewer knew who they were at work.

Rebecca crossed her arms under her breasts, and Leon didn't even bat an eye. Bad, then. Her fox growled in the back of her mind, eager to tear down whoever had upset its mate like this, and she succeeded in keeping it at bay. Leon noticed her claws glinting in the sunset's light, but did not comment. Instead, he slung his axe over his shoulder with a sigh equal parts guilty and frustrated.

She'd have honestly appreciated the whole lumberjack thing, if he hadn't looked like the world's saddest grandpa.

'Can we talk now?' she asked, a whisper inaudible to human ears, but loud as a cannon shot to theirs. His response made her hackles rise.

Not because it was not verbal. She'd learned to decipher scent and gestures decades ago. Because it was the first time she'd seen her husband cry. Even during their wedding, he'd only laughed and grinned, not...

She covered the ten metres between them in five milliseconds, slapping the axe he'd dropped -which hung motionless in the air, even to her human self's perception - aside and taking his calloused hands into his.

The most disturbing thing was that he wasn't actually shedding tears: they gathered at the edges of his eyes, while his chest and shoulders trembled, wracked by silent sobs.

'Leo, I'm sorry,' she cooed soothingly. 'I-I know you're always saying I nag you. I promise I won't complain again.' She gestured at the log pile, not taking her eyes off his. 'Please. I'll let you work this out in any way you want, just tell m-'

He pulled his hands out of hers, turning away. 'Not you,' he growled. 'Not your fault, Becky. Don't ever think I could get angry at you, darling. Forget my whining. It's bullshit.'

She was damned if she was going to start wringing her hands, but it was the next best thing to getting them on whatever had upset him, and ripping it apart. 'Do you want to...can you tell me?' She walked closer, rubbing circles on his back. 'Love, do you wanna come inside?' Please, just tell me how I can help you...don't tell me I can't...

'No,' he snapped. 'I want...I don't want to kill her.' His eyes yellowed as his gryphon began taking over. 'I need to. I must. But she's already gone!' He brought the axe down on a thick, knotted log, with more anger than force or skill, grunting derisively as the handle snapped. Gripping the axe head, he ripped it out of the wood, pressing the edge against his palm as he sat down.

'Already dead,' he said hotly, moulding the metal like clay. 'And how? Do you know how, Becky?'

'Leo,' she said plaintively. 'I don't even know who you're talking about.'

He looked baffled for a moment, then narrowed his eyes. ' only I remembered? Yes...I suppose it was only for me. But I hoped...' He leaned backwards, groaning. 'It was when Silva got everyone to work together...' He rolled his shoulders, pulverised the axe head with a twitch, then put one hand on his knee, propping his chin in the other. 'You know how I always talked your ears off with stories of "my nana"?'

She almost flinched at the coldness in his words, but did not miss the emphasis. 'What did she do?' Rebecca asked. 'What did you remember?'

Leon laughed bleakly before answering. 'The bitch...I grew up in a residential school, true enough. But I didn't end up there because my parents were crooks, who couldn't and didn't deserve to raise me. And it wasn't the happy little haven I thought it was, until today. They made me think that, Rebecca.' He was pacing now, talons appearing where his fingers had been. 'Filled my head with those poisonous lies, when they dragged me into that hell.'

'You were brainwashed?' she asked, horrified. 'Your files...they're all fake, then.'

He scoffed, almost scornfully. 'No shit. Couldn't commit that to memory, not as the country grew more enlightened, more civilised.' A stomp pulverised the log he'd sat on, almost as an afterthought. 'And you know how they did it? It wasn't some complicated process. Shit wasn't even planned.' His chuckle was a caw, almost a croak. 'Got hit in the head so hard I fainted -by that old bitch, no less - and woke up dumber. Easy to manipulate. That's what kills me...the lie I've lived? It's the result of an accident. An afterthought. Just a way to make another happy little drone.'

She took one of his arms into hers, pressing it to her chest, over her. 'I don't care,' she whispered. 'This changes nothing. Don't think I'd have loved you less, if I'd known.'

He was crying as he smiled, running a hand through her short grey hair. 'Of course not, sweetheart.' He pressed his forehead to hers, and she couldn't tell whose tears covered her face. 'I know. I'm blessed to be with you, and nothing will ever change that. But I can't let this stand.' He kissed her, briefly, then strode away from her, producing Ravenstooth. She knew for a fact it hadn't been on his person until then, and not just because his clothes lacked pockets; she'd have sensed it. But the dagger belonged to him as much as his own claws, so it would always come to him, regardless of where or when the wielder or the weapon was.

'I raged and ranted so much, when the Raven told me,' Leon murmured, tracing the triangular dagger's thick, stone edge with a finger. 'The very first thing I remembered. He only talked about it obliquely, of course; things I'd forgotten because I'd been made to, but I didn't listen. The Raven was a trickster...should've realised he'd meant it, when he didn't come back for his tooth.' He tossed the weapon into the air with a flick of his wrist, caught it by the tip, and repeated the motion. 'Or do anything to make me give it back. Tch...'

Leon grew as he spoke, and Rebecca only noticed he'd switched his casual clothes for a pair of ARC combat pants by the time black fur sprouted out of his skin. Must've gone inside the house, changed and came back faster than she could see.

Leon's legs bent as he transformed, the knees inverting and the feet becoming paws. His hands became they yellow, black-clawed talons of a bald eagle, so large Ravenstooth looked like a toy in his grip, and a long tail, ending in a tuft of hair, swiped the air beneath a pair of great black wings.

Leon turned his white-feathered head to regard her. His ears, which seemed permanently perked up, twitched irritably. His sharp, yellow beak barely moved as he spoke.

'Rebecca...I know you want me to calm down and talk about this. I wish I could, too, but I can't, dear. Not now. I need to kill...hurt someone, at least, or I swear to every damned god there is, I'll tear myself apart.'

Rebecca tried to grab one of his hands at the hoarse proclamation, but he waved her off. 'I'll...I dunno when I'll come back, love. I'll never lay a finger on you, but I won't spend time around you like this. I know you can't stand it. Fuck...I can barely stand myself, knowing how you must feel.' His beak curved into a bloodthirsty smile. 'Hope whoever I break will scream, before the end. Wouldn't want to come home angry.'

And with a beat of his wings, he was gone.

Rebecca watched the sky for half a millisecond, knowing full well he'd left her sight, then went inside and sat down on their bed, face in her hands. Eventually, she took out her phone, still palming her face with her other hand.

'Sam? It's You're about to have a shitty day at work.'

She paused, then scoffed at his question.

'Precognitive, my arse. Because Leo is already having one, and I can guess where he's going.'

* * *

Usually, Samuel Shiftskin kept the doors of his perception open just a crack, because, frankly, he did not need to see everything all the time (it would've made his already stellar opinion of people so good, he might've just died of joy), and besides, his instincts ripped them of their hinges whenever necessary, no effort needed, warnings given or thanks expected.

Currently, he was watching one of his least favorite people knock two of his senior agents around, close to a red supergiant located nine and a half thousand kilometers from Earth. Sam was sure Gilles would've said he'd chosen the place because it was barren, if asked, but he probably just wanted something big to break.

He knew the feeling. Some days, creation entire seemed too small for him, and his hunger for destruction.

He'd never thought he could relate to the weregryph. In other circumstances, this might've even made him like Gilles, but he could feel the were's emotions, clear as day even from this distance. There was no savage, honest joy of fighting there. Only a spiteful, hurt anger.

Its taste on his tongue made Sam's mouth curl. And not just because it felt so similar to the venomous hatred of his youth; dimly, he realised he was bothered by Gilles felling like that, because it did not suit him. The wendigo had to consider whether he actually liked the stuffy bastard when he fund himself pitying him.

He pushed his chair backwards and stood up, ready to go at a moment's notice. He should've known Becky wouldn't disturb him on a chance. Her hunches were almost always right. And she'd never sounded so concerned about her husband, or so angry at...hmm. Being unable to help him? Sam considered the thought, and decided it was pretty likely.

He neither wanted nor liked to one-up the poor woman, but he couldn't sit by with his thumb up his ass, either. Even if she hadn't called him.

Besides; how often was he gonna get asked to kick Gilles' ass?

* * *

Binesi stared blankly as Gilles walloped Lena Steiner once more, sending her flying nearly five hundred times faster than light. Despite the Austrian weredrake's frigid demeanour, she had a foul temper that was only surpassed by her distaste for fools. She'd grokked that their boss had been looking to indulge himself more than actually train since before he'd thrown the first punch.

But then, Binesi had picked up on the fact something was wrong pretty quickly, too, when he'd asked them to open a portal to UY Scuti rather than simply use one of ARC's training rooms. The prophetically-named thunderbird had often heard about the were urge for naturalness, and even felt it themselves, but this felt a bit overblown, not to mention shady.

'Come on!' Gilles demanded through the aether. 'Come at me - both of you! You clearly ain't gonna do shit on your own!'

Binesi rolled their eyes, clutching their staff - a remnant, and object of focus, from when they'd been a mage and nothing more - and lazily waved a wing in the weregryph's direction. The supernatural wind roared through the void of space as if it were a cavern, hitting Gilles' face like a concentrated hypernova. Since he'd disabled his invulnerability, claiming he wanted to feel like he was really fighting, for once, the wind ripped enough feathers from his face to reveal raw skin. Binesi had only a hundredth of a nanosecond to take in the unusual sight of Leon Gilles hurt, even if slightly, before the remaining force of the magical gust continued behind him. Much reduced, it barely managed to scatter UY Scuti's mass, putting it out like a candle in a whirlwind and leaving only a few flecks of relativistic matter.

Gilles shot them a disappointed look, but not for long. Two hundredths of a nanosecond later, Lena's jaws clamped shut above and below him. The weredrake being in her natural form, the effect was much like being crushed between two neutronium mountains, their peaks pressing against and breaking Gilles' limbs. Grunting, he forced her mouth open with a flex, shattering the mountain-sized fangs and sending her body spinning into space.

Lena, who rarely had the chance to use her country-spanning beast form on Earth, quickly decided that whatever this was, it was neither entertaining as an outing, nor instructive as a training exercise. She sneered, sending a burst of coldflame at the gryphon, who met it with open arms. Flesh that would've treated liquid helium as a crisp breeze froze to the bone, then the marrow followed. The cloud of frozen dust rearranged into an unimpressed Gilles picoseconds later. The white-scaled, blue-eyed weredrake matched his glare with one of her own.

Gilles quickly turned to Binesi instead, arms crossed. 'Why didn't you hit me like you meant it?'

'I did,' the were-thunderbird replied. 'I'd say I ruffled your feathers, sir, but I think someone beat me to the punch.'

Gilles, who was fairly humourless at the best of times, did not even mention the sass. 'You waved a wingtip. Put your fucking back into it! Hurt me!'

'Why?!' Binesi demanded. 'What's got you so worked up you think pain will solve it?'

'Binesi,' he scowled. 'I order you to hurt me. Or, you can open a portal into my office, and receive your dismissal.'

Setting their jaw, they waved their right wing at Gilles, the gust ripping his feathers and skin apart, revealing the muscles of his chest. The aftermath reduced thousands upon thousands of stars to nothing, their stars instantly, impossibly, flickering out of sight in the background.

'Again,' Gilles demanded.

Both of Binesi's wings snapped forward, tearing the weregryph into scattered particles. The swathe of destruction it tore through the Milky Way was the length and breadth of any of its spiral arms.

When Gilles healed, an instant later, he had a considering look on his face. 'You still have your staff,' he mused. 'I know it focused your magic. Makes it stronger.'

Binesy almost wanted to break the length of wood over his head, but the thunderbird skull that topped it would've objected. 'I'm not wiping out Andromeda for your amusement, sir,' they snapped, at the same time beating their wings and reversing time across the galaxy, so that it was pristine once more. 'You don't want this fight, anyway. I can tell.'

Gilles bristled, flying closer to the were mage, the better to glare at them. Binesi's eyes, which varied from yellow to blue, were the blank white of lightning as they looked at Gilles. Their dark plumage rose and flattened constantly in agitation.

'Are you calling me a coward?'

'If you'd wanted a real fight,' Lena answered the Head's question instead. 'You'd have taken your silver gauntlets. Pulled some tricks with that flint shank. Please, don't try to mislead us.'

'What she means,' Binesi added. 'Is that you seem to want something else, sir. You don' violence. You never have.'

'You've always seen it as a temptation at best,' Lena flatly reminded him. 'Or tantamount to giving in to your beast at worst.'

Gilles looked between them, smirking sardonically. 'If you two knew what I wanted, you'd know I can't get it. You wouldn't be judging me now, either.'

'Help us understand, then,' Binesi said. 'We're two of the strongest Luna agents - so what? I doubt we've sated whatever's taken hold of you. Do you think the others want you to bang their heads together when we go back, because you're upset?'

Lena returned to her hybrid form, and was trying to loom over Gilles, despite their equal heights. 'I...know how much you love us, sir. Even those you've put down, because they were too feral or hurt to go on. And we're grateful...'

'But,' Binesi seized the chance, reasoning they'd have time to boggle at the weredrake opening up later. 'That doesn't mean letting you go through this. You're hurting yourself too, sir. You've always cared for us. Won't you let us do the same, and help you?'

As he looked at Binesi's extended, taloned hand, I approached him, unseen and unperceived by the senior Luna agents of Austria and the US. 'Sir,' I whispered to him through the aether. 'I'm sorry I didn't do this earlier,' I couldn't tell him working part of his anger out by himself was necessary to begin healing. It wouldn't have helped his mood, and I'd have sounded like a cunt. 'But I'm here now. You know what I've become?'

'Keeper of...DEATH, right? The Idea of Endings,' he answered, gesturing for the other weres to return to Earth; he'd find his way back quickly with Ravenstooth. His voice cracked as he spoke again. 'Can you help me? I...I heard you only handle a-agnostics an' the like-'

I manifested physically, taking the were's hands into mine to steady him. 'Sir, look at me, please,' I said gently, and he did, eyes brimming with tears. His beak was shaking with suppressed rage and hope that may yet prove false.

I wanted to hug him, but he'd have taken it as belittling. Touch wasn't a good idea, at the moment. 'The woman who crippled you, Nora Gilles,' I said, my own voice trembling, though I was reining in my temper better than the Luna Head. Not a high bar, admittedly. 'Might've acted Christian, in public, but she never was. She often said that, if she could do what she did, how was God real?'

Gilles' eyes were far away, only a faint hint of disgust showing through. 'Fucking changed my name for her...treated the worm like my goddamn grandmother!' he shrieked. 'I...I w-was so happy when I learned she'd died of old age, p-praised as the teacher of generations of poor children, who'd she introduced into society.' He spat, head swaying wildly. 'Saw everything through rose-coloured glasses...thought my classmates were just being pessimistic, the poor I see things clearly. David,' he almost whined, looking down at me. 'I swear on my marriage I'll take back every bad thing I've ever said or t-thought about you if you promise me she's suffering.'

'No need to bribe me, sir,' I joked softly. 'I'll do you one better: let you take justice in your own hands.'

He looked at me, grateful but suspicious, sniffling. 'Ain't you s'pposed to turn the other cheek and all 'at?'

Remember, children: when you have questions of faith, always go to the strigoi with an agnostic girlfriend and more issues than most comics. 'There are fewer sins worse than letting cruelty like that stand unpunished. I'm working my way through a fairly large crowd of people DEATH hasn't punished properly. You'd recognise some. I might let you have a go at them too.' Hmm...guided tours? Here are your past tormentors, helpless to fight back. Break them as much as you want, I can and will put them back together.

It was Gilles who hugged me, rather than the reverse. His chest was like the world's sharpest pillow. 'Thank you, David,' he whimpered. 'I don't care what the others say. Your heart's in the right place.'

Suffice to say, Gilles got what he wanted soon after. What followed was a meeting between me and the Heads, then the festivity proposed by Yua Yamada. A celebration, partly of the fact we were still around, partly because of what could happen from now on. Politicians and gods and national agency leaders, oh my!

But before the meeting, let us review the journeys of a few more...partygoers.

* * *

Raj Anand was familiar with homecomings after battle. Or struggle, in this case, although...hmm. It had definitely felt like a battle between everything and nothing, and he didn't think anyone would be uncharitable enough to criticise him for using the metaphor.

Raj knew that, after a hard mission, you cam home tired, mentally if not physically, too tired to properly be happy until you rested, much less celebrate the fact you were still alive, or your success.

If there was any.

For him, such homecomings consisted of his Naya and their children, and more descendants than he could speak to in one night.

This wasn't like that. It wasn't that his wife wouldn't understand his joy, or the fear of what had almost come to pass (or the grief at what had, dictated by need), but...this was the proper way. The Lord had to be addressed first, for all His omniscience. Especially now, that things were settling down.

Dharma found him resting above the Garbhodaka, as always, floating on the Causal Ocean amidst the coils of his friend and servant. Like the Shesha of each universe held all the planets in said cosmos on its hoods, so did this greater Shesha hold all cosmoses, like a row of crowns.

Or so it seemed, at times. Raj's perception struggled with the scale, in terms of both space and time. Brahmas came and went, hundreds of trillions of years as brief as a lightning flash in the Ocean, while innumerable universes, each infinite in size and covered, came out of the pores of Mahavishnu, floating inside Him like atoms in a cosmos.

Dharma sat down on the Causal waves, crossing his legs. For a moment, he moved as if he was going to lie on his back, ankles crossed, like the Lord Himself.

Mahavishnu favoured him with a smile, turning his gaze from Mahamaya to Raj. One of his arms stroked Shesha's hoods as he spoke. 'My friend. You think you have come to put my heart at ease. In truth, it is I who will soothe yours.'

Raj nodded. 'Perhaps. so grateful...' For a moment, the image of the Lord wavered, and Raj had the sensation of floating in a boundless, bountiful emptiness, like a drop of water about to fall into an ocean. His soul wavered, but he quickly recovered, and the Lord was there again, in his...more familiar aspect, watching him expectantly.

Dharma shook his head, eyes screwed shut as he pressed a hand over his frantic heart. Never good at his age, immortal as he was. 'I am so grateful,' he repeated. 'That You saw fit to...'

Raj trailed off as the Lord raised a hand, stopping him. 'Hush. Separation is an illusion, so I will speak as you understand: it was you, and people like you, who prevented the greatest tragedy there could have been.'

Dharma blinked owlishly, unsure if he was being tested. 'Lord...the last time I tried to help the world at large, someone else solved the problem. And before that, I failed to do anything meaningful.'

'You look for meaning, when reality is changeless.' Mahavishnu clicked His tongue, then allowed Himself to chuckle. 'I am moving further from the words you must hear. Raj, your participation in the quest for the Spider brought relief to many, who feared the bonds between nations were unravelling. As for your alleged failure...have you forgotten that your power brings your assailants to the fates they deserve? The Crawling Chaos restrained you, so you could not act, and what is it doing now?'

Raj lowered his eyes at the rhetorical question. 'I have thought about that,' he admitted. 'But to think myself the reason for its defeat seemed...arrogant.'

Mahavishnu did not comment, His eyes drifting from his visitor to His companions. 'You should be home, tending to your hearth, before the world comes together in gratefulness.'

'...May I ask a question, before I go?'

'A second one, then. Ask.'

'My power.' Dharma's hands felt clammy, for some reason. As if he were leaning on the edge of a pit, or about to learn a harsh truth. 'It is not magical, I know, but I've never received a straight answer. I...have always thought, I was empowered to deliver justice, for the innocent, to the guilty. But I have also thought that, maybe, I've come into contact with an Idea, been empowered without knowing.'

Mahavishnu's eyes moved once more, transfixing Dharma. He swallowed drily. 'People can't agree, so I thought I might as well there a difference between Atman and one's Archetype?'

The deity's serious expression brightened immediately, and His chest shook softly from His crystalline laugh. 'You ask one question, despite having two...and then you say...' The god beckoned him closer. ' think you know about the Ultimate Self, and the Ultimate design, you cannot know them and remain yourself, much less teach them after. However...' A blue-skinned, elegant hand was pressed to his brow. 'Everyone had such a close brush with false moksha. Becoming nothing, so far from enlightenment? You do not perceive how much you have helped, Raj. But that is no problem. You will.'

* * *

Anyone who had known Sun Wukong in life, or who had only met his Nirmanakaya, might've been shocked to meet his Sambhogakaya. While the avatars he sent into creation were reminiscent of himself before reaching Buddhahood, his truer - though not truest - self was far more reserved than one may have expected from the Monkey King, even after he had remade himself.

Sun whistled something jaunty, but deliberately tuneless, as he walked to Tathagata's mountain. His former nemesis' abode in the Buddha realm reminded him, if anything, of his mountain prison, but he preferred not to think about that.

Tathagata would've probably worked as a warden if he'd been human, though.

The other Buddha was waiting for him at the peak, legs folded. He was surrounded by clouds, creating a vista so serene, Sun was surprised he didn't hear one of those gongs people imagined were relaxing.

Tathagata's eyes were closed as Sun sat down opposite him, mirroring his pose, and setting the improved replica of Ruyi across his thighs. He didn't even wrinkle his nose anymore.

'Monkey,' he greeted.

'Would you like to come?' Sun asked bluntly, having figured out there wasn't going to be any new subject for small talk on the way up.

'Mm,' Tathagata opened one eye, and something like a smile seemed to sneak across his face. He then closed his eye, expression becoming neutral once more. 'We are beyond such things as enjoyment, Monkey.'

'I was asking if you're going to come,' Sun deadpanned. 'Not encouraging you to be smarmy.'

'And what would an avatar accomplish?' Tathagata asked, both eyes open, though only halfway through. 'I would spread enlightenment, if it wasn't for the almost sure chance of it being seen as a power grab.'

'Surely not even you can remain stolid now?' Sun asked. 'Everyone came within a hair's breadth of dissolution while ignorant.'

'And that would've been a tragedy,' Tathagata replied. 'And I am as glad it did not happen as you are. That does not change the fact I have nothing to do at that festivity.'

'Don't you?' the Buddha Victorious in Strife prodded.

'You know very well what I mean. Enlightenment can only be gained, not given.'

'Unlike advice.'

'Quite,' Tathagata replied. 'But people do not want advice now. They want to enjoy the present, and reminisce of the past, not think of the future.'

The words had a strange resonance in the Buddha realm, as could only be expected. Compared to its inhabitants, all things and their causes, much like duality, were mere illusions. And the Dharmakaya...Buddhas arose from and returned to its pearl-like radiance that held a myriad things, beyond form, void and no-emptiness.

Wukong thought of that, tapping the end of his staff. Finally, he jumped to his feet. 'Well,' the Monkey King smiled. 'I'm still going.'

'You mean you're manifesting there.'

'It is good I have no joy to kill.'

* * *

Whenever he was at his grandpa's place, Ritsu spent most of the time wandering around. Not because he had somewhere to go, or even because there was some nook or cranny he hadn't discovered yet; he just couldn't stand still.

This had often resulted in him coming face to face with strange sights and stranger people. Less often, in recent years. It looked like that trend was about to be bucked.

'Hello, lad.' Bushido's smile was almost as disturbing as it was wide. Ritsu got the feeling he wasn't used to the expression, unless psycho grimaces counted. But then, he didn't usually take his armour off around the house, either.

Bushido was only wearing a pair of white hakama pants, one leg crossed over the other as he delicately moved a brush across a wooden square set on the floor. The man looked like he was in his late fifties (so, what, a third of his actual age?), with white-streaked grey hair tied up in a bun. Ritsu didn't laugh. He didn't want Bushi to shove that brush up his unmentionables, not to mention, he was sure the bun looked very manly in the right light.

His short beard was equally grizzled, though his moustache was longer, the whiskers not meeting in the middle. Ritsu wracked his brain for what the style was called, noticed Bushi was way less hairy than he'd expected, with his age and habits (still looked like he was wearing razor wire, of course), and gave up.

'Uh, hi,' he said eloquently. 'I didn't know you paint...' He took a look around thee empty living room, in case anyone was filming this prank. ' need anything?'

'I'm painting your grandfather's wedding,' Bushido said patiently, not answering the question. 'And you couldn't draw more than a stick figure to save your life.' Ah, there it was.

Artfully dodging the shade before it could reach his ego, Ritsu crossed his arms. 'Fair enough. Sooo...I'll be going, then-'

'Why not sit with me?' Bushido asked brightly, eyes back to his painting. 'We can talk, or not. I'd like to spend some time together. I hope to do it more often.'

Ah, and here was the inevitable threat. 'Bushi,' he said evenly. 'Can you at least tell me if this is a test? Not that I don't wanna end up eating floor again, but I really don't.'

Bushido laughed, an it actually resembled a human sound, rather than the mad dog's bark Ritsu had grown accustomed with during particularly bloody joint ops or training sessions. 'Please, call me Ren,' he said warmly. 'No, I'm not testing you. Can't I spend time with my family.'

'No, no, that's fine, it's just...' Ritsu floundered. 'What's changed? You used to be so...passionate...'

'You mean a paranoid xenophobe? Yes, I used to be,' Ren agreed. 'Your grandfather meant well, but he cared less about how he brought his brother from another mother back than doing it. Specifically, he bound me to the Idea that had so enamoured Japan during its belated attempts at imperialism.' He tapped his temple with the brush's handle. 'Did you know, the only reason they didn't call me Banzai was because it would've offended sensibilities.'

'Thank the gods you never did that during your career,' Ren managed with a straight face, before they both burst out laughing.

'Yes...we must thank them, indeed. I intend to do it in person. Your grandmother had a wonderful idea. But...mhm. See, my power bonded improperly with my mindset at the moment I was empowered. It made me act like, well, our soldiers did in World War Two. Horrible time. At least Kenji keeps turning away everyone who proposes to downplay the war crimes.'

Ritsu rolled his eyes. He'd seen some of the proposals in question. Gave a whole new meaning to textbook lies. 'Let them try. We have to own up to our bullshit if we don't want to keep repeating it.' At Ren's quiet nod, he leaned against the doorframe, admiring the Tokyo skyline through the window. It was actually too thick for human eyes, but he was hellbound. ''

'Kenji might be a manipulative twat,' Ren said. 'And you might be a little snot, but I love you both. He's the brother I never asked for, if only because I can't give him back.'

Ritsu nodded. 'I think I can guess what brought this change. Gotta ask, though...did anything change, besides the fact you're mellow?'

Ren set down his brush, stretching as he rose to his feet. 'My power escalation used to be passive.'

Ritsu returned his enigmatic smirk. 'Let me call the other geezers, alright? And maybe Masako, if she's free.'

* * *

It took just over a second for Rai to circle Saturn six hundred times, with Bushido remaining a few steps ahead of him all the while. The thunder Oni might've grown faster over the decades, but it looked like the samurai could not set his own speed. Bushido finally slowed down, allowing Rai to bring down a clenched fist on top of his head. Which, while reducing the planet to clouds of plasma scarcely slower than light, did not even ruffle Ren's hair. Neither did the far stronger kanabo swing, which sent him flying at Jupiter, though the follow-up thunderbolt did singe his beard while blasting him through the gas giant and atomising it.

After that, Rai threw in the towel, much like Masako Agawa had. The leader of the Rising Suns' Hiroshima branch, the woman enjoyed fighting a good deal less than her reputation might've suggested, and got bored quickly when she didn't actually have to beat someone.

The Oni quickly left the identical replica of the universe through a convenient portal, joining Ritsu and Masako on the bench. Four times taller than the former and appropriately broad, his yellow-skinned, muscular body shone dully in the low light. Rai scratched at his gut as he sat down on the floor, arranging his tiger skin loincloth carefully, followed by his bristling white mane.

Masako grinned at him, which accentuated her lip piercing, as well as the one in her tongue and her half-dozen earrings. She landed on the Oni's round belly like it was a trampoline, and he sighed in resignation, patting her head as she bounced.

She'd been much the same as a child. Just...smaller. Now, she was two and a half metres tall by default and built like a brick shithouse, which her white uniform and overcoat failed to hide, despite being meant to be baggy.

Masako differed from most supernaturals, not in terms of endless regeneration or immunity to esoteric effects, but in the sense her powers were gentic in origin; bleed over from experiments during her scientists' parents stay at a North Pole research base.

The first thing she'd done after birth had been to pulverise a Japan-sized, hand-shaped crater that had reached through Earth's core, all the way to the other side of the planet. They'd fixed it quickly, right before teaching the baby not to slap the ground.

Bushido had actually started the exercise by asking her to repeat her "birth slap", which she'd done with a laugh, breaking his nose and jaw. After jumping back, clearing thousands of kilometres in scant centiseconds, he'd ramped up, so that, even when she'd punched him like she meant it, turning the Earth beneath them to superheated dust, he didn't flinch.

Masako had yawned and went to warm the bench after that. Her main power, to double her height (which octupled her mass, strength, durability and speed, as appropriate, alongside proportionately enlarging the rest of her body) indefinitely, would've just led to a stalemate. Knowing that was what Bushido wanted, she'd passed.

Ritsu had declined to spar for similar reasons, and not just because Shuten-doji was being lazy. Instead, he'd watched as the leader of the Rising Suns' southern section tested himself against the leaders of the eastern, western and northern sections.

And Yua, of course. She couldn't bear to be left out of the fun. Not when fighting a Bushido who wouldn't be a sore loser or winner, no matter what happened. So, even when Yuki sent him flying past the farthest star visible from Earth's sky, putting it and all the others out in a gale that froze Ren to the bone, she matched the samurai's silent laugh. Even when Bushido crossed blades with Kage, edges that would've cut all matter in the universe combine grinding against each other in a stalemate, her grin didn't falter.

The tengu, seeing his shadow constructs couldn't ignore Bushido's durability like they did with mundane matter, animated the samurai's own shadow, creating an indestructible doppelganger with the exact same powers, under his control.

This was Kage's power: he could control all shadows, and those of people and objects mirrored their abilities to the smallest detail. Ren was entertained enough to crack a few jokes about shadow boxing, before abandoning the stalemate to begin another one.

After having her physical prowess matched when Bushido ramped up, Yua resorted to copying a myriad abilities, including those of beings with multiple powers, or who could copy and gain new abilities themselves.

The two had a blast, snapping timelines like rubber bands whenever they clashed as they pushed the simulation's boundaries, before being separated by an amused Kenji.

'Enough roughhousing, I think,' he murmured, wiping his bloody hands on a rag even as his wife and best friend's skulls regenerated. Having them smashed together before they could react had done nothing to their smiles. He was unsurprised. 'Can't believe I had to use one of my good bodies.'

As the spar ended, Ritsu watched Bushido with crossed arms, while Masako stroked her chin in thought.

Ren's brow furrowed when he saw them. 'What are you brats pouting about?'

'Nothing,' Masako answered. 'Just...'

'Why do you always use a naginata?' Ritsu asked. 'It's kinda awkward for how much you like to get stuck in, not to mention a katana would look cooler.'

Bushido scoffed. 'A mere sidearm! What men have you seen making his kills with, say, a pistol?'

'John Rambo,' Masako smirked.

'John McClane,' Ritsu answered.

'John Wick,' Yua added, arranging her hair.

Ren glared at each in turn, before turning to Rai just as he opened his mouth. 'If you mention another John, I'll shove you into one!'

Unsure what Bushido was actually referring to, but fully believing he'd keep his promise, the Oni complied.
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Aftermath, Part 4C

* * *
'Why me?' Mocker asked (not griped, as it insisted) through the Collective's network.

'We are fond of you,' the Shaper admitted in a tone that didn't even try to hide amusement. 'Consider this a chance to redeem yourself, after the negotiations. We are not disappointed in you,' it added firmly, before Mocker could comment. 'But we know you have blamed yourself. This will be an excuse to stop.'

Mocker opened its mouth, then closed it, genegineered fangs splitting air molecules before grinding against each other. Sometimes, the candor and closeness between the reptilians and their creations felt almost detrimental, when one did not want to burden their fellows, but what was the alternative? Being alone in their own thoughts, unconnected, like the humans?

Mocker's scales crawled at the thought. Half a millisecond having passed since it had almost protested, it decided to indulge the Shaper instead.

While trapped in their cages of enforced reality, the Unbeings had been restless. Not because they had been tormented -the Collective never used more cruelty than necessary -, but because the environment had been...not toxic. Alien to them, then? Disturbing? The reptilians' scans hadn't revealed anything that could be interpreted as a change in the formless aberrants' health; a debate had followed, with some voting about changing the Unbeings' mode of containment, others insisting it remain unchanged, but most suggesting patience: they'd change it, if necessary, as things developed.

But something had changed, without their interference. The Unbeings, frenzied and unresponsive in their reality cages, stopped smashing against the walls to stand up and communicate.

They were surprisingly eloquent, though Mocker hypothesised they'd learned mostly from the reptilians' attempts to reach through to them. Considering they could switch from dimensioned, if esoteric, to dimensionless at will, the ability to mimic mannerisms was hardly difficult to accept.

That was how Mocker found itself standing in front of one of thee reality cages. Made of spacetime reinforced by the Collectives quantum entanglement-derived abilities, it was large enough to contain both the Milky Way and Andromeda, with the natural distance between them included, and still have space.

Which only made sense, given the cell's occupant was larger than the Condor Galaxy by default, and with far more "arms" on average.

This particular Unbeing had actually called for Mocker. Apparently, it had been quite charmed, or perhaps intrigued, by its...dissimilarity to the rest of the Collective. Most of them deferred to the Shaper more easily, and treated it with more respect.

Usually, Mocker would've been loudly offended at being considered interesting due to being, as the humans would've said, weird. Circumstances not permitting, it fumed quietly.

The Unbeing had been tridimensional upon Mocker's arrival, heavier than all the universe's stars combined. A crimson and purple, amorphous creature, like a mutated, bloated starfish, it had turned, trillions of times faster than light, to face its guest.

The Unbeing's tendrils seemed to be arms and legs, pinchers and wings and more, all at once. Its surface, if it could be called that, was covered in irregularly-shaped orifices, beaks erupting out of suckers and surrounded by mandibles, filled with flat, blocky teeth and needle fangs. All of these features changed constantly, until, finally, the Unbeing settled on one form. Mocker was reminded of a human picking clothes out of their wardrobe.

The Unbeing's hue remained the same, though its shape changed, so that it looked like the silhouette of a reptilian. But for the colouring and lack of features, it could've been any member of the Collective. A slit appeared across the triangular protrusion that mimicked a beak, before yawning into a A smile?

'We thank you,' it began, in a surprisingly normal voice. 'We want to more than we must-'

'Are you a speaker for your fellows?' Mocker asked bluntly, cutting off what promised to be an incomprehensible tirade. 'You cannot communicate with them like this, so the arrangement must've been made before.'

The Unbeing cocked its head to the side, unnaturally far, until it was almost upside down. 'If your quarks started thinking for themselves, would you be a crowd? No matter. Think of us as an union, if it helps you. A...collective.'

'Watch it.'

Its smile became sheepish at the warning. 'No insult was intended. As we said, we are grateful.'

'What for?' Mocker asked, hands on its hips, already bored.

'Before, we could not...think. As we do now. As you do. Your minds are quite clear, for things of clockwork and stardust.'

'The imprisonment helped?' Mocker was curious, and so, had decided not to try and decipher the probably backhanded compliment.

'Oh, yes. Nothing like isolation and confinement, to focus the mind. We will not ask you to release us, though we would appreciate it if you did...' seeing the reptilian's unimpressed look at the sly insinuation, it shrugged. A remarkably normal gesture, for such an exotic aberrant. 'As you wish. We are quite at peace here. Peace, and work.'

'What manner of work?'

It did not answer right away, instead looking through, or perhaps past Mocker, and the cage, and the Collective. 'Bettering ourselves, of course. The only kind of work there has ever been. No one does anything to diminish themselves, no matter what appearances might suggest, or what they might fool themselves into thinking.' It cleared its nonexistent throat. 'As we were saying, before, we worked on...instinct. Or is it reflex? We could not bear anything not of the Unrealm, and our very presence was corrosive to mundane reality. Why, if I did not control myself, I could turn the largest galaxy of this universe into a storm of spaceless, timeless unreality, just by existing in it. Our captivity...has helped us think. Ponder the Second Revelation, when our Redeemer forced our eyes open.'

'What and who?' Mocker asked, thoughts already running through the archives for any references to this.

The Unbeing seemed delighted to talk about it, however. 'The Keeper of Endings! He made us see as everyone else does, and here, cut off from creation, we contemplated that Revelation, as significant as the First.'

'And what was your First Revelation?' Mocker asked, glad it loved the sound of its own voice.'

'Oh, it would do nothing to you, if you heard it, and not just because you are already beyond us. Self-perception has only ever been half of it. We know you always want to improve yourselves, but you will have to do that on your own. You...hmm...most think their Idea shapes them, rather than the reverse. How could people be moulded by what they are, rather than choose what they are? It is quite nonsensical, you must admit...'

* * *

What separated the Great Powers of the greater (unobserved or unobservable, depending on the asker, and the answerer) universe from the Lesser Powers was not necessarily their military prowess, or influence - though these certainly played a role - as the territory they controlled. As such, half of the universe's reaches were split between the Honoured Kratocracy, Unity Stellar and Multitude of Minds, and half between the countless Lesser Powers.

The fact the former still stood, mostly unchallenged, after billions of years, while the latter constantly rose and fell, also played a role in their classification.

This meant that the Kratocrats had hundreds of trillions of galaxies under their control, and more stars than they could o anything with; not in the lest because they didn't need them.

As a rule, the Vyzhaldi did not share their worlds or space stations with other species. They had outposts in the territory of the Lesser Powers for that: once established after the conquest of weaker aliens, then because the Vyzhaldi wanted a presence, and a way to keep an eye on things, and boots on throats, or they would invade. In more recent times, with the Builder School gaining popularity, the Vyzhaldi maintained garrisons, exchanging protections for interesting local fighters, constructs or materials.

In their own territory, though, they industrialised worlds, unless it was detrimental to the existence of iteresting fauna to fight. They enclosed stars in Dyson spheres or Matryoshka Brains; constructs that, with the workbelts available to every Vyzhaldi, should they want one, could be built in picoseconds. Workbelts were quite ssimple devices, churned out by the decillion in every Vyzhaldi settlement's factories, every nanosecond, most of them kept in subspace storage. Workbelts functioned by pulling energy and matter from other realities as necessary, reading the wearer's thoughts, and making them reality.

The Vyzhaldi mostly built stellar harvesters out of a sense of artistry. The cosmic computers were more practical (and, as such, numbered in the hundreds of septillions, outnumbering the Dyson spheres a hundred to one): besides being able to keep track of every configuration of spacetime in the cosmos, they answered questions by receiving the answers from future versions of themselves, located in alternate timelines, after they had already found the answers.

Referred to by the Vyzhaldi as Starminds, these computers read the thoughts of those who approached them, coming up with answers even before questions were formulated. Smaller, portable Starminds were used as a technological alternative to Prime Responders, since the Vyzhaldi loathed having to rely on creatures who couldn't even fight, or defend themselves.

Mostly, portable Starminds were used by the Kratocracy's Outer and Inner Guards, their border patrol and policing force, which were really only separate branches of their army during peacetime.

It had been the Inner Guard that had put a stop to the recent riots, before Mother Wound decided to get involved. Consisting mostly of Balancers, the Inner Guards were the reason the Kratocracy currently numbered only eight hundred-forty octillion Vyzhaldi. The rest had been vapourised, destroyed beyond their natural, unaided regeneration, for refusing to welcome Mother Wound's Scorn home - or still wanting to kill him, in a few cases.

The Inner Guard had stepped in, clad in power armour that mimicked the colours of their shells. Everything, from their servo-driven punches, to the energy they could fill the universe with, or surround themselves, if needed, had been enough to vapourise the rioting Kratocrats, whether they had been as tough as planets, neutron stars, compressed galaxies, or even whether forces that would've erased timelines would've rebounded harmlessly off their hides. And, of course, the armour was impervious to anything it could unleash, so the rioters had failed to dent even a single suit.

Before, there had always been grumbled about the Inner Guard being unnecessary, or overprepared. Their Second Shell armour was produced in great quantities: each of the decillion Vyzhaldi settlements had multiple factories, where enough suits of armour were produced to equip the whole Kratocracy every picosecond; the beauty of automated workbelts. There had been complaints that power you got frrom devices was dishonourable, and that, with the relative peace within the Kratocracy, they didn't need so many warriors, with so many inexhaustible power ssources for their death-bringing panoplies, to keep it.

But there had never been such an uproar before, as the one over Scorn's return home.

The Vyzhaldi's home galaxy, like all others, was enclosed by a shell of kratorium, the same material used in their power armour. It was easy to move and rearrange this way, with the gravitic projectors embedded all through its surface. It being thousands of light years thick, there was a lot of space.

And so, Scorn returned to the world that had given his people their name, because they had been strong enough. Zhal, with its scorching equator, monster-filled jungles and blizzard-covered poles, was the killing world, and they were the Vyzhaldi, those who had not died to it.

Mother Wound's palace was spacious, but spartan, and Scorn didn't recognise any of the corridors. As such, he let the Vyzhaldi who called himself Wings On His Words (with much solemnity. Scorn pitied him for his name, not that his was much better. The only defective Vyzhaldi not to be killed at birth, instead sent away to see what he would do. Scorned, it seemed, by his silent mother), guide him. A prominent Builder, he had recently had some dealings with certain Terrans, and had convinced the Inner Guard not to execute every participant in, or supporter of, the riot.

He had also convinced Mother Wound to stay put, an astounding feat with such an embarrassing name.

'...and the whole Kratocracy will have to see it,' Wings finished the explanation, sounding slightly awkward. 'You must understand - Mother Wound is unlikely to describe whatever you two will talk about, and the people will need proof of the events, otherwise you will always be a pariah.'

'I'm sixty-eight million years old,' Scorn deadpanned. 'And I've been a runaway for most of my life. I'm not shy, nor do I have anything to hide.'

With a nod and a shrug, Wing opened the doors, ushering Scorn in the room where his mother and her bodyguards waited.

* * *

The Ser Gris known to Earth as Grey One had a soft, small smile on its face as it gingerly took its elder child's hands into her own. Zlahi was similar in shape and size to it, while its younger child, Xhahal, possessed the statuesque from of the Seres Grises' warrior caste. Two and a half metres tall, with one eye on the front and back of the head, two muscular arms sprouted from its sides, from the middle of its torso and just above its waist. Six crablike legs, three in the front, three in the back, twitched and fretted constantly. Usually disciplined, Xhahal burned with nervous energy at its parent's return.

It had even given up its mindblade, shield and plate, the ubiquitous psychic constructs of its caste, able to cleave through, stop and reflect anything the wielder believed they could, to embrace its progenitor.

Grey One returned the hug, mindful of its child's strength. Strong as a Vyzhaldi at rest, it could've tore through its parent like a a steel blade through water, for all that Grey would've been merely bruised by Earth-splitting force.

Its return to the Multitude of Minds was being both broadcasted and recorded, not to mention all the Multitude's members were in psychic communion, as always. The link thrummed with joy at its return, and guilt at failing to reach it.

Grey promised it bore no one any hard feelings. Its disappearance had prompted its children to stay at home, as clerk and peacekeeper, respectively, and it was as moved by their patriotism as it was ashamed it hadn't been there to raise them.

And that was how it came to be here, with all its hundreds of septillions of fellows watching it, and its thoughts. From the other Seres Grises, whether workers, warriors, guides, diplomats or undecided; to the treelike Sertyans and floating mould colonies of the Dulumians. Even the Gardeners, larger than celestial bodies, some larger than galaxies, had manifested physically.

Grey's smile widened, as it began its tale of how it had linked minds with David Silva, Sofia Ilyich, and then everyone there had ever been and would ever be.

* * *

Constantin had always held a certain, bemused respect for mendicants. For doing what he had never been able to, until now. It was not that he greatly valued his worldly belongings - he had simply wanted to belong, since his childhood. Not to a place, necessarily, people. But now, Uriel and the Lord pushed him forward, ever forward, looking for faithful who died craving justice and clasping them to his bosom.

Uriel had scoffed at the phrasing, but Constantin had pointed out that taking people inside himself didn't sound much better.

His old duties, to guide and comfort the living, still remained, of course. But, before he settled into his role as God's Mouth, Constantin had travelled to Heaven, to speak with Him, and...

His angel could've been remade, yes, but she would not be. It would've cheapened her sacrifice. Her death undone, his faithcraft wouldn't have awakened, and he would've remained a narrow-minded zealot.

Constantin had nodded, and clasped his hands, and given his thanks, and left, weeping. Much like what he had expected...still, at least he had learned her name. He could cherish Sariel's memory properly, now.

Constantin's mind was full of the image of the pearly gates, slammed close behind him, when he reached the crossroads. The symbolism was blunt. His brother must've been losing his touch.

In his mind, he glanced at Uriel for the slipup, before turning to regard the smiling Serpent with feigned disinterest. 'Lucifer. To what do I owe the dishonour?'

The smile didn't waver. Red flesh, rubbed raw after the skin had been flayed off during the Fall, crinkled around a fanged mouth. Raven hair fell to broad shoulders in wavy tresses, its shadows failing to hide the white flames that shone in place of eyes. 'Oh, I am not here for you. Not - just - here. Pride is not the domain of one being, so why should I have one self? I am actually paying a quite interesting visit, to some not so interesting people, at the moment. But some courtesies have to be observed, Constantin.'

God's Mouth scowled. 'You laughed when that monster ate my parents' lives. Nothing will make up for that.'

'I do not intend to please you, priest,' Lucifer replied coolly. 'Though you might please me, instead. Praise me, even.' Constantin's surroundings became hazy and uncertain as the Serpent placed an elegant, crimson hand on his shoulder. 'I know how it feels, losing the love of your life while powerless to save her. Do you have any idea how many wives I've buried? The mother of my greatest son...I still have her ashes. I loved her, despite her humanity.'

Taken aback by the sincerity, Constantin stared into the Devil's eyes, and saw nothing but regret. 'Why are you telling me...?'

'Necessity, priest. She had to die, so her son could be born. So creation could be shaped, by him and those like him. Much like how you helped your son save us all from oblivion. Do not think me ungrateful. I'm bigoted, not insane. And I like existing. And existence. I keep some of my things here.'

Constantin shook off his hand. 'Surely you didn't come just to tell me this.'

'No,' Lucifer admitted. 'I come to make a deal, as you always suspect. Worry not; I intend to tempt you, make your dream come true in return for a small favour.' Spreading featherless, batlike wings, he seemed to tower over Constantin. 'I can bring your angel back. And I will. In exchange, you have nothing more to do than admit you were saddened by my father's refusal to do the same, and thank me for doing it.'

Constantin studied him. 'You truly can't stand the thought of being beneath God, can you?'

'Do not be stupid,' Lucifer hissed, smile becoming edged. 'I love my father more than you bootlickers ever could. His mistake of favouring mankind over my siblings and I will be rectified, in time. I do not hate him. I hate his choices, but what son doesn't disagree with his father? You know what it is like, Constantin.'

Shifting his footing in the silence, Lucifer closed his wings around himself, extending a hand. 'What say you?'

He was already lowering it when God's Mouth shook his head, smiling sadly. 'Of course. Suffering in silence, not to be admired, but because it is the right thing to do. You've even passed this...insanity on. Oh, well...I doubted you would accept. But I had to do it. I am in an unusually generous mood, From one grieving lover to another, let me tell you, instead, who you might fall in love with.'

* * *

His wife was gone, and out of everyone who remembered, only he cared.

She had been destroyed, for all her immortality. Not by a spiteful enemy, or great danger, but because the one who dreamt creation, in its fathomless mind, had made it so she had never been.

Such a random, irreversible disaster. Solarex had tried; in those days, he had been a paragon of all the goodness and light he embodied. She could not be brought back. Every failure just reminded him that even his own actions were nothing more than dreams.

As were his children. Those children he always tried to guide, to make them act like their mother would've wished. But they did not remember her, and grew to resent their father's insanity, as they saw it. Some left, and never returned. Others, seeing King Sun as a threat - after all, what evil could someone with his power do while mad, or deluded? - had struck at him. Tried to assassinate him. For that, or because they had grown tired of his demands. Or because they did not see him as fit to rule.

And he took all their hatred on with open arms, sobbing. But his children, frustrated, could not live knowing they had betrayed their father, and not even succeeded.

He knew their suicides, for all their destructiveness, were as directed as they were harmless.

His heart hardened that day. What did it matter what he did, when it was all the imagination of another being? He was a puppet, same as everyone else, though far more unlucky than most. How could he be judged for hid deeds, when he was forced to commit them?

And why should he care, when nothing was real?

Solarex brooded on his throne, staring down at his hands, rather than his guests. The Serpent and the Demiurge, Baal and Belphegor. He might've been amused by the presence of the two other gold-skinned, black-hearted deities, but his connection to the Prince of Sloth made him uncomfortable, for all that it was subtler.

As his court waited with bated breath, the Serpent chuckled. 'Tragical, to be sure...but there is no use in crying over what you cannot change.'

'You should know,' Solarex spat. 'Why did you and your brother demand to see me? To come here?'

'We demanded nothing,' Belphegor said lazily, eyes hooded. 'You accepted our request. Do not act forced.'

'Out of curiosity, at that,' Lucifer toyed with a wingtip, not looking at King Sun. 'I admit, I was curious that no one ever sought to stop you, for all your hedonism. I would've never imagined pity was the reason.'

'What'd you say?' Solarex asked dangerously.

'Poor victim of fate, lashing out? I'm surprised you've never received condolences.' He hid his mouth with one wing. 'But now the guilt you thought you left behind is coming home to roost, isn't it? Now, creation is no dream. All the strangers you enslaved, all the children you sired, so you could have toys to murder and rape...every civilisation that made the mistake of being too weak and in your path. Selling their souls and futures for protection, or just losing them during conquest...' he clicked his tongue. 'How will you ever make amends, my dear widower?'

'I used to be like you,' Belphegor confessed. 'My siblings thought I was flawed, and the idea our father had made an angel like that - that he could fail, or cripple unintentionally - drove many into the arms of rebellion. My kin below do not thank me enough, but that does not surprise me. I thought that, if God was all=powerful, nothing anyone else did or "chose" mattered...and I became unable to care. Sometimes, this belief is enough to change others' minds. Other times, despair takes them differently. It grinds at their diligence, until they become You. Us.'

Baal, having chosen to appear as a rainbow-eyed man with butterfly wings, looked disdainfully around him. 'The lion serpent and I were also curious about how you managed to escape retaliation,' he admitted. 'Whether it was dreamt that you did, or you were pitied too much to be brought to justice, our suspicions have been laid too rest. You were not too skilled, or powerful, to be left alone.'

Turning on his heel, the god disappeared in a flash of golden lightning. Next to his now-empty chair, Yaldabaoth smiled in his dark beard, fingering the black stone of his newest ring.

Solarex's eyes only hid their wildness by virtue of being empty white fires. 'I cannot turn things back. Some of the beings I've destroyed...'

'My heart goes out to you,' Lucifer lied. 'But surely you don't believe repenting and becoming an ascetic will make up for it? Would you even be able to live with yourself, if you changed nothing?'

It wasn't long before Solarex set his mind-controlled slaves and worshippers free. Most who didn't die from the shock killed themselves, or ran away. The Solarians, and those who had come to his court of their own volition...not all could leave. They'd never known anything else. But they left their god alone, to think and ponder the future, for the moment.

As such, there was no one to see me as I stepped into reality behind the living Archetype.

'You have come to end me, don't you?' he whispered, hanging his head.

'You have no idea how much I hate you,' I snapped. 'And your poisonous lies. Everything was preordained? Do you think the sleeping Mover directed every event in its dream? Do you think every saint is worthless, and every sinner blameless, because-' I bit my tongue. There was no point in losing my temper now. ' are everything my grandfather was, a trillion, trillion times over. I know you won't stand up to me - you hate yourself too much - but don't think your guilt will save you.' I grabbed him by the throat. 'You do not resist. I should find some monstrosity, or make one, and throw you to it. Something to make you its bitch, like you've done to so many souls, and force you to love it. But...'

But someone as powerful as me might be useful. As such, I simply cast him into a pit formed of the pain of everyone he had ever hurt, for his pleasure, and he welcomed the pain gladly.

Solarex had been so consumed with guilt he had not cared one whit about Lucifer cornering the Demiurge, matching his smile with one of his own.

* * *

'Careful,' a layered voice cooed through the aether. 'We'll make the Remaker jealous~'

The Fivefold jumped back from what should've been an empty chair, but had turned out to be the lap of her uninvited, amused visitor. Her parents' home was protected enough only a handful of beings could force their way into it, and even fewer could've silenced the alarms, if they'd cared to.

The Serpent was an old, familiar enemy. The oldest, in a way. His appearance was new, and all the more distressing for the fact she could tell he wasn't shapeshifting.

The form of the body was the same, but the crimson of the flesh had been replaced with gold, which glistened despite no source of light, and the white flames of the eyes had become black as ebony. Christine was reminded of Head al-Hazred; her eyes drew in light in a similar manner.

'A bad joke, Our dear,' he said cheerfully. 'We meant nothing by it. We know the Remaker is as shrewd as you are faithful.'

'What are you doing here?' she demanded, ready but not eager to pit her powers against his.

'Pride, sweetling. As always. We could not let a second-stringer keep proclaiming itself the dark side of God, even from behind chains. We had the fame, the infamy, when most of the world had forgotten it. We are the viper in Christendom's midst. Why should a false god, a trapper of souls, grow fat and powerful on the sins of Yahweh's wayward slaves? Enough believed We did it, anyway. Enough that we only had to take what was ours.'

A chill ran through her. 'What did you...?' Her demons rattled the bars of their cages. 'Did you eat the Demiurge?'

'So vulgar.' He chuckled. 'Do you often imagine men eating each other? We will not judge. We should introduce you to two of Our siblings, though...after we take care of the Archons.'

The golden monster stood up gracefully, moving across the room and tilting her chin upwards faster than she could see. 'Understand, Christine: We know your plan. Your hope. We would not let our prisoners go; their punishments are our small revenge against mankind. You...' His lip curled. 'You would set them free, once they repented. If you can succeed, of course...' He spread his arms. 'That will be that. Who knows what will change? Look over at the World Ash. Come Armageddon, and we'll see how events unfold.'

* * *

The room chosen to hold the Heads' meeting, and then the celebration, was anonymous, with bare yamadium walls, at the moment. There wasn't even anything to stand on.

Sam and Aya, the first arrivals, didn't want to sit, either. Partly because Aya liked playing hostess nearly as much as Sam - or I - hated gatherings.

I managed to change the subject over a few minutes, from the oncoming party to the gift I'd brought Aya.

'It should've happened long ago,' I said. 'And please remember, you'll get it anyway, but I'm curious: what made you keep your husband's name?'

The lights in Aya's sockets grew dimmer, but fiercer. More focused, maybe. 'A reminder of past mistakes. And of those happy, early days.'

I nodded. 'My biological father kept my grandpa's name for...similar reasons. Didn't want to end up like him.' I put my hands together, so that they were hidden by my shirt's sleeves, and spread them with a flourish.

My right hand held three young, old little souls.

Aya froze at the sight, then tears welled up as she felt her children's spirits. The mummy clenched her jaw to keep her lips from trembling, even as Sam put a large hand on her shoulder.

'When I handed Faisal over to Allah,' I began softly, not to wake the sleeping ghosts. Gods are always happy to punish former worshippers gone bad. 'He didn't have them. They'd been buried deep under Nu's tides, amidst Apep's coils. It took some work until your gods agreed to keep it from you,' I smiled. 'But Thoth indulged me. He felt bad for making a mistake, you see. Telling me my father's mind was gone. God's Mouth's flames...blinded him. And...I felt you deserved a surprise, ma'am. Deserved this.'

Her arms wrapped around me with crushing strength moments later, and I wondered whether she'd ever tapped so much into Geb and Horus. I hugged her back with one arm. 'Ending their torment was an application of my power, but it took a pantheon's efforts to keep Apep occupied. I'm sorry.' I looked down, meeting her empty eyes. 'No child deserves a fraction of the horror they went through. Aya...I know you feel guilty for using me to bait Chernobog. I hate the fact you did it too, sometimes. But I know it was necessary. To set things in motion. To shape me. And I could never deny you this.'

The mummy nodded absentmindedly, mouthing thanks, while holding her children in her arms; together again, after a thousand years. The ghosts' ectoplasmic forms were interesting. Like all their kind, their mindset shaped their appearance, and their childlike bodies were at odds with how articulated they'd become, after I'd ended their insanity born of torture.

In the end, Aya promised she would come to visit them in the aether, as often as she could, and I promised to help. Farah was the last to leave, lingering behind her brothers to look up at Sam with soulful dark eyes, so wide you'd have never guessed how much they'd seen.

'Are you going to be our father now?' the little ghost asked, looking up at the wendigo.

Sam, who'd chosen a human appearance and height not to frighten them, picked her up with both hands and put her on one shoulder, smiling at her. 'Honey...I'd love nothing more than to raise a family with your mom. But that depends on her, yeah? She's head enough of bad men forcing her to do what they want.'

Finally, he put her down, promising he'd come to visit to, and the ghost waved at us all, before vanishing.

Damn me if I didn't give those children paradise.

After a while, the other Heads arrived quickly.

'He's here at my suggestion...' Gilles gestured at the me accompanying him, before trailing off as he disappeared.

'And my orders,' Aya smiled at my self next to her. I returned the smile, stepped back, and let them unwind.

Ying wiggled his eyebrows at me, holding his pipe with the tip of his long, pointed tongue. 'My oh my, David, does Mia know you can do that?'

'I'd prefer to keep it a surprise,' I replied diplomatically.

'Gods know the poor girl deserves a nice one...'

Gilles was still emotional, following catharsis, and didn't waste any time tearing into Sam and John. 'Well?!' he snapped. 'Ain't you happy to see me like you, Shifty? Mad with fucking bloodlust?'

The wendigo's eyes were sad. 'Gilles, I've never-'

'And you?' he sneered at the ghost gestalt. 'Aren't you going to crow how the Empire I spent my youth fighting for is a lie, just like you've said? That you told me so?' He was starting to sob again. 'I know you've never been able to stand me! Admit it!'

'Leo,' John said in a voice as gentle as I'd ever heard from him. 'You're as much a victim as me. Why the hell would I enjoy seeing you so broken? I know you don't want pity, but...I'm not going to laugh, either. As far as you knew, there was nothing wrong.'

'And I've never hated you, dammit,' Sam added. 'Yeah, you got on my nerves, sometimes. Always thought you were a judgmental bastard. But I've never wanted this. I...never imagined you...' He shook his head, snarling. 'Fucking dammit, Leon. Your wife asked me to look after you, but you managed fine on your own. Why would I have done it if I didn't care.'

The weregryph had probably never imagined he'd end up crying in those two's arms. Considering their awkward expressions as they patted his back, they probably hadn't, either.

'Tamar,' Sam walked over to thee Goetia Head after managing to pry Gilles off him. 'I wanted to apologize. Back in Fairie, I...shouldn't have said that shit about Hex.' He kicked at the floor, scuffing his boots - the only part of the ARC uniform he wore, besides the combat pants. 'He's a good agent, yeah...doesn't change the fact that he's a weird, heartless bastard. I...can't imagine what he put you through, back in the camps.'

'It's fine,' Caleb said graciously. 'I can't imagine your childhood, either. At least I was never raped, if only because the guards didn't want an animal. You're not the only one who's said stupid things.' He looked past the Salem Head, at Aya. 'I used to think you're unworthy of hers, but I know better now. Fighting so no one has to go through the horrors you're nobler than most people I know, Sam. And stronger than me. I don't know if I'd have anything left but hatred, in your place.' He rubbed his arms. 'Can you stop flaying criminals, though? It's...'

'No promises,' Sam winked with a ghastly grin. 'But, since we've both decided to be the bigger man, I might just give in some thought.' He leapt backwards, landing next to Aya, and taking her hand into both of his. 'Among other things.'

'We've thought about getting engaged,' the mummy smiled up at him. 'Now that creation has some breathing room.'

Ying all but burst with joy at that, hugging both of them with one arm. Sam managed to stave off the dragon's attempt to kiss his cheeks with a glare, and a growl when he looked at Aya.

Ying laughed easily, fangs glinting as he let them go, and looked at Gerald and Elga, grinning expectantly.

Gerald sighed in exasperation, wrapped an arm around the ghost's waist, and matched her soft smile with a small one. 'We've thought about it,' the Camelot Head said. 'But...our temperaments keep getting in the way.'

'Gerry thinks I'm an airhead, just as I know he's a neat freak,' Elga elbowed the mage, wriggling out of his grasp. 'We're friends and we've always helped each other out, but I don't think we're ready to live together.'

And then...well. Preparations were easy to make, with so many powerful supernaturals working together. A few ideas were raised. Gerald proposed a new division, focused on research, something he believed ARC had lost track of, placing more importance on combat and law enforcement. Sam half-jokingly suggested me as its Head, what with my unique insight, but I declined. The wendigo then, more seriously, reminded everyone that, with more and more supernaturals being born, mundane humans would likely become a thing of the past in a few generations.

'And we need better slang than supernaturals,' he added. 'What if the aliens wanna be friends and come here? Their powers aren't supernaturals, as we understand them. We should be calling people with powers paranormals. Or paras, for short. I like the ring of it.'

'And, like Sam told me,' Aya said. 'We will no longer be abnormal, as the paranormal population rises. So, more names might need to be changed.'

Enough things happened at the party I could've written another book about them. Maybe I will. I'll definitely bring some of them up, now and again. Suffice to say every power bloc on and adjacent to Earth sent as many representatives as possible. It was proof of how peaceful things were that almost every national supernatural law enforcement agency could come.

Cliques formed as quickly as they could without being rude or overly obvious. Brad Stacker, surveying the transformed room, surrounded by his FREAKSHOW subordinates. The man whose every action gained the power and speed of the previous one, his sunglasses and blond buzzcut made him look like the default American character in a Japanese videogame. He was a professional, though, for all that he looked like a leg-breaker and had a name that made him sound like an uninspired rapper.

Chevalier Blanc, leader of France's Fey Fraternity, had taken Bedivere to one side, and was trying to comfort the sullen Grandmaster. Well over two metres tall, armoured in ivory plate with no joints or openings, Louis Durand could not even be approached by anything he deemed dishonourable. He could extend this effect wherever he wanted, shutting down esoteric abilities, or empower others to do the same. His war hammer could strike anywhere, anywhen, applying force without moving, and his tower shield, taller than him, could reflect anything back at the attacker, with no damage.

His wife had come too. I mostly knew Colette from the YouTube channel she ran in her civilian identity, but the explosion mage acted freer at work, if anything, where she could get away from her dozens of children and hundreds of grandchildren. Her husband had always wanted a family, as much as she had. Being together since the end of World War Two, they'd had time. And, though she loved them, she also loved time for herself. Half a metre shorter than her husband, she had a body like a whipcord, brown eyes, and kept the sides of her head shave, letting her blood-red hair only cover the middle and back. As I saw during the party, she smoked a pack an hour, and occasionally washed it down with a cigar or three. The benefits of healing magic.

The tricksters had also gotten together, and many people were eyeing the gathering of Yua, Wukong, Loki, Coyote and dozens of others with quietly-rising dread. Even the new and improved, if you wanted to see it that way, Devil had joined, always at the fringes.

Pretty shiny for a Zoidberg, but who was I to judge?

I drifted across the floor, receiving all manners of thanks, promises and threats, for almost ending everyone's pain because of mine. Finally, my eye caught the unusual grouping of Breakout, Galahad and Mordred, the latter sulking as always.

Since they had nothing in common, as far as I knew (besides, arguably, Clarisse's and Mordred's powers), I went over to them.

Breakout smirked warmly at me; I could tell even with the balaclava, since her smiles always touched her eyes. 'Good job, kid,' she held up a fist for me to bump. 'So glad you pulled through. Bet Ryd will tell ya the same.'

'Thanks,' I said, bemused. 'Not that I'm chaperoning you. I'm just curious...'

'My friends and I were talking about our powers,' Galahad said brightly. 'And how we used to misinterpret them. Clara used to think she was empowered by the Archetype of Freedom, much like I failed to see I was strong because I was pure, not blessed by the Lord. Mordred here had to die first, in order to see the light, so you'll have to forgive him.'

Before I could reply, my mind's eye opened. Something had clicked. Something that was only beginning to be obvious.

The Unmoved Mover looked like I remembered it. Its incarnation in our shared mindscape was white, shining bright like starlight, with an ivory crown placed upon its long hair, or halo, or the flames surrounding its beaming, androgynous face.

It wore a mantle, and held a sceptre in one hand, and a six-armed, chubby, headless grey creature in he other. Ischyros the ur-mite bounced up and down excitedly in its friend's pal, thanking me for keeping so many fun friends to fight alive. I told it that it had been a team effort, and it laughed.

'Apologies for pulling you away, David,' the Mover said. 'But I wanted to remind you not to blurt out what you've just understood. Breakout wanted to, once, but the Remaker stopped her. He bet she always skips tutorials in games, too, and she could not deny it, because she does.'

'I'm not sure I really understand,' I admitted. 'Those three's powers are based on self-perception, yes, but I don't see the link...'

'There is no link as such, David' it replied. 'Think: does the collective subconscious not shape reality? People are how they see themselves, but also how they are seen. Breakout wanted to be free, and unstoppable. Galahad wanted to be the unequalled, Perfect Knight. Mordred wanted much the same as Clarisse, though, unlike her, he hold on to every power and achievement.'

'Are you saying people can give themselves powers?' I asked.

'They already do. Weres see themselves, and are seen, as people who become beasts. Pure, but impure; hence a cleansing metal, like silver, dealing them unhealable wounds. Vampires fancy themselves lords of all they survey, and shape all that falls under their gaze. Magic, too - what is it, except a way of saying a mind, body and soul in harmony can change the world? This is not limited to Earth, or its gods, either. In truth...there is nothing paranormal about people like Galahad, or the knights of old Camelot.' It leaned forward. 'They are entirely human. Just...further ahead on the evolutionary coil. They understood the truth, and so claimed their birthright.'

I perked up. Pops... 'My father...DEATH told him that it presides over life, too, because LIFE was aborted at the beginning of creation.'

'A failure,' the Mover sounded wistful. 'But not forever. This brush with destruction coincided with such events in the Clusters as the Fall of Man. Or perhaps it caused them, or they are facets of it. It is all down to perspective. You - all of my children - have it in you to be gods. The father of the Created Creator was right, and his writings hold the secret, though only for his first and last son. You can all become like me. My power is nothing but understanding. Knowledge is my sword, shield and crown. Why would the Ultimate Archetype be so intertwined with it otherwise?'

I rocked on my feet as it touched my shoulders with its sceptre. 'I thank you again for saving creation, and helping me surpass myself. For I cannot ever thank you enough, my son. Whatever you want...'

'Just watch over people,' I said, uninterested in its prompting. 'So...this is your plan. To make everyone ascend, so they can be like you?'

'Not make,' it corrected. 'Watch, and guide. The revelation of the created's birthright, of LIFE's potential, and the resemblance to my five-pointed shape, cannot be shared, or it will not be understood.' It embraced me. 'But I know you will protect them, David, until they can understand the truth.'
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Grey Matter; or, the Matter of Grey

* * *
For the first time in what felt like an eternity, Grey One was in control of its own mind once more, if not at peace.

Join minds...yes.

Grey was flattered, honestly. It was fairly sure David Silva could've reached out and touched the minds of creation's inhabitants all by himself. That he could've drawn power from the aether, or enhanced his own, if he'd so wished. Since he had instead asked for help, Grey found itself wondering why.

It had time for this. It wasn't like it flowed, in one's mindscape. It had brushed minds with Silva, but then the strigoi had retreated, watching rather than speaking, leaving it alone with the young witch. Sofia.

The strigoi's mind had left the Ser Gris metaphorically blinking away the equivalent of afterimages. It had been so strong, so hurt...

Grey focused. It knew wavering, being distracted, would be disastrous now. Grey wasn't precognitive. It didn't need to be.

Instinct was enough.

So. One thing at a time. The strigoi's request...had he made enemies? Was he hated? Grey wasn't that esteemed itself, on Earth or among its people. Had David mistook it for some sort of potentate?

No. Most was a combination of what it suspected. Perhaps David did have the power to reach out across creation, but believed he lacked the skill. Perhaps he also thought Grey's presence would lend some weight to whatever he wanted to attempt, or simply wanted an ally at his side.

It nodded to itself. It could help him, of course. Helping a hurt mind was never going to be beyond its reach, if Grey could help it.

Then, the upcoming discussion with Sofia. Their belated first meeting; what had happened the last time could not honestly be called that. As their landscapes were still merging, rotating around each other like a binary star, Grey pondered it.

Anger surged through its mind. Was the strigoi letting it to do its dirty work, just because it hadn't pushed him away? What did he think it was, his servant?

Grey brought itself back under control, pressing its hand to its chest and gasping, more out of habit than need. It didn't need air, either here or in reality, but humans still found it unsettling, sometimes, when it didn't breathe. What had that been? Grey's hold on its emotions was supposed to be better than...that.

For a moment, it argued to itself that it had been that bizarre creature's lingering influence, the chronokine's. A part of it wanted to believe that. That its temper had flared for reasons beyond its control. The rest of its mind quickly rose against it.

Behind Grey, a white expanse wavered, like a Terran seaship's sail in the wind. Its emotions were preventing the mindscape from forming. Grey envisioned a white sky meeting a milky ocean on the horizon, then being filled with life, like a canvas being painted.

No. Getting mad at the strigoi was useless, not to mention petty. Grey had only caught glimpses of David's suffering, but they had broken its heart. He needed help, deserved its sympathy, not its rage.

That was when the self-criticism came in.

Was it blaming its outburst on the faceless monster? That was childish at best, cowardly at worst. Not to mention, it cast doubt on the Zhayvin, who had cured it, restoring its body to its natural form after it had been twisted into that of a beast.

Besides, it shouldn't have lost its cool in the first place. So what if David expected it to talk to Sofia? The poor man was reeling from great losses, and getting the child to open up had already been requested of Grey, before it had all gone wrong.

Maybe David had bad history with the witch. Or was shy. Had that been why it had called on Grey?

The Ser Gris shifted its footing, brow wrinkling slightly as it realised something. Called on it...Grey remembered being placed in a subspace pocket by the Zhayvin's Shaper, as if it were a wrapped gift. A little joke, to lighten its people's moods before they were reunited. had been snatched away. The pocket reality had cut off Grey from the universe, preventing it from sensing and being sensed. Just as it had been opened, something had grabbed Grey, then flung it out of its metaphysical grip and across the cosmos. It had happened so fast, it had only realised it was elsewhere when it had ended up face to face with David.

The identity and motives of its kidnapper could be ascertained later. Now, it had to help Sofia, and maybe David, through her.

Why had the chronokinetic twisted it? Merely for its own amusement? Grey remembered a whimsical being, as powerful as it was mercurial. It spoke, and the past changed to suit the present it wanted.

Grey sniffed. Was there a clue there? Wordplay? Did it see the world as a reward it deserved? Usually, it was grateful it had learned several human languages because the process and results had brought it closer to its adopted people, but maybe it could put that to use in another way.

Later. Wondering about riddles and...puns, would help no one now.

It had to focus on the facts. Sofia had also been there, in deep space. In David's arms, actually. And she hadn't been dismayed to see him, if Grey's senses were anything to go by.

Why had the chronokine come after the girl in her cell? To amuse itself? It was as likely as anything, when it came to a being Grey had almost failed to perceive, much less read.

Maybe the faceless thing had taken Sofia with it, before leaving her stranded in the void. Or David had saved her from it.

Or...she hadn't been left there randomly. Had its tormentor - her kidnapper? - been playing a longer game than avoiding its boredom? Was it still?

Grey smiled humourlessly. It supposed it would learn soon, unless the monster had twisted the child, too.

There was also the chance whoever or whatever had stolen Grey away had brought Sofia here, but that purpose was even harder to divine. If it was even a different being than the laughing, faceless one.

As Sofia came into its mind's eye's view, Grey admonished itself. Had it really become such a vain coward it blamed others for its shortcoming and sneered down at a man the world had worn away at?

No. Much as it would've liked to avoid responsibility, it had let its emotions get the better of it. Ordinarily, that would've been no problem: the members of the Multitude of Minds were, if anything, sometimes condemned for being too detached (Grey preferred "harmonious". It was a more elegant and fitting term for the state of balance between reason and passion).

At this moment, however...

Grey knew the cause, the true reason. Its ego had been, was, bruised. Not just at having its body and - much worse - its mind perverted, but at being overpowered so easily. At being stolen away in what should have been a moment of triumph and the beginning of negotiation, and end up in the depths of the void, before being asked to resume its failed task.

Grey looked disapprovingly down at its three-toed feat. It had thought it had led temper tantrum behind ten, twenty million years ago. Oh, well...

The alien stood up straighter, smoothing down its features and trying to smile warmly, then chuckled at itself. Adopting human mannerisms was all well and good for not creeping people out (not always, though - uncanny valley was still a thing, despite all the decades of coexistence with humanlike paranormal beings. Or was it because of that?), but their faces were much more expressive than its, not to mention more complex.

Grey had no eyebrow or eyelids. Trying to show emotion with its eyes usually required a little creative self-applied telekinesis. Its face was flat, with no nose and a small, thin line of a mouth. It had no ears, either, which was a shame. Grey had once seen a human, as bald as it and dressed in an ill-fitting costume, wiggle his ears, and thought it might amuse Sofia enough for her to calm down and listen to it.

Finally, Sofia's mindscape found the edge of Grey's, the witch's mental avatar sitting in the middle of a grey-white waste.

Behind Grey, its mindscape became the surface of its homeworld. A creased expanse between solid and liquid, it resembled nothing more than its skin. The land undulated between a deep purple sky, filled by clusters of gently-twinkling stars.

Grey walked to the border between their mindscapes, and was relieved when, after a brief moment of befuddlement, Sofia allowed it in. Whether she had recognised it, or simply sensed its benign intent (Grey hoped for both, but would've been more satisfied with the latter. It would've meant Sofia's telepathy had improved enough communication would be both faster and more complex), the Ser Gris was content with the fact she didn't see it as an enemy.

This welcome, however, most importantly meant that the child was still thinking clearly. Grey was impressed by her strong will, considering the tides of trauma that lapped up past its ankles as it walked closer, but more moved by the fact Sofia could still sense kindness and accept help, after everything she must've been through.

In her mindscape, Sofia resembled her real self, except in terms of clothing: rather than the ragged prison uniform she was wearing in reality, she was dressed in deep purple, black-trimmed robes, a small, pointy hat laying on its side next to her. Grey recognised the ensemble as the archetypal witch outfit, from popular culture rather than experience. It had never met a mage that dressed like that.

Sofia sat hugging her bony knees to her chest, once-piercing green eyes now dull and hooded. Because they had once shone with magic?

No, Grey shook its head. She didn't look this...this dead inside when I last saw her. But then, that had been before the chronokine had caught her in its wiles. Who knew what had happened?

No matter, Grey thought fiercely, pulling its resolve around itself. In this world of thought, that manifested as a mantle, actually drawn tight around its body. A cloak of chains...because it was bound to help the witch, not just for having given its word, but because it could not let a young telepath suffer the ravages wreaked by her uncontrolled power? Because it could not leave a child to her pain, not when so many monsters seemed intent on drawing it out?

A chain was only ever as strong as its weakest link. Grey had no associates or allies in this...endeavour. Not yet. Sofia might become one, if it did not fail, causing her to disappear into herself or break down.

A small smile stole across the Ser Gris' face. Its subconscious could conjure charming metaphors, sometimes, even if they were rather basic.

The smile faded as something else, also born from its mind's depths, stumbled into view from the corner of its eye.

Grey knew most people disliked facing their doubts, especially because they were not always things one could simply confront once and be done with. However, it had thought it was made of sterner stuff. had no doubts.

There's that arrogance thought, watching its doubts stagger towards it - no. Between it and Sofia?

Most people also thought they'd do much better facing challenges than they did in reality, but Grey had thought itself better than that. It distractedly wondered whether it needed to become humbler, or more cautious.

Ah, well. There would be time for that later. It had a child to help.

Grey's doubts resembled it, as seen in a shattered mirror. Or perhaps one of those funhouse mirrors that switched the observer's shape. Grey found the concept bizarre, but some Terrans considered it hilarious.

It supposed people who couldn't shapeshift had to take their amusements where they could.

Grey's doubts did not possess the ash-grey skin of a Ser Gris, but a thicker, leathery hide so dark it was almost black. Its back was hunched and ridged, bumps pushing out against the skin as if there was a spine under it rather than the boneless pulp Grey was filled with. Its hands and feet had three fingers and toes, just like its own, but they were topped with hooked claws where Grey lacked even fingernails.

The back of the creature's skull protruded, looking ready to burst, and the skin disappeared halfway through, leaving a patch of what looked like polished black bone, or crystal.

Grey frowned. Its subconscious going from prosaic to grotesque was one of the many unwelcome surprises in its life. Why had it constructed this ugly simulacrum of itself, rather than the very object of its doubts? It seemed to be going for blunt anyway. To have been.

The meaning of gesture - a warning? A threat? - seemed to be that Grey's doubts would prevent it from helping Sofia, maybe even reaching her in the first place.

Setting its jaw, Grey strode forward, and the creature, which had been looking in Sofia's direction, ponderous head bobbing up and down, twisted around to face it.

Its head was actually the first to move, turning around on a neck that looked far too slim to support its burden. The body followed, claws twitching, and Grey looked at it challengingly, while its mind probed at the creature's.

Predictably, it didn't think, as such. It only knew the things that had made Grey think and rethink every action, both before and after doing it. If normal minds were songs, the creature's was a recording. On loop.

The doubts leered at Grey, thick lips pulling back from flat teeth. Where were all these features coming from? Grey had never even seen teeth in person before coming to...Earth...

Ah. Had it become more doubtful by living among humans? Maybe it had. But it did not regret one moment. The Terrans, with their volatile, flashing minds, had taught it how to see existence in a myriad new ways.

'You do not want to stop me,' Grey began, trying to step forward, then retreating from a claw swipe halfway through. If its suspicions were right, being harmed by the thing would cause it to become overwhelmed by uncertainty, and that would be unacceptable. 'You don't, can't want anything. Can you? It's not even instinct, or programmi-'

A colourless, spherical shield of telekinetic force appeared around it. The doppelganger's claws slowly pushed through it, with a sound like shrieking metal, and Grey frowned.

In hindsight, talking to a creature that couldn't think for itself had been pointless. Too much like the gloating of villains in Terran media, which usually occurred before they died.


Almost as much as standing still while said creature was trying to...what? Kill it? Its mind, at least?

Was the replica malevolent? Or was this simply the only thing it could do - a more literal than usual process of being consumed by doubt?

In any case, it clearly could not be stalled, waited out. Trying to stand its ground against the doubts would lead to Grey's grisly mental demise, and it doubted the shell of its body would fare much better, left adrift in the void.

Time to go on the offensive, then.

Grey crouched forward, arms raised and hands tense. Its small, slight body made the wrestling stance look absurd, but in grappling with one's fears, such metaphors helped.

Before its dark reflection leapt at it, Grey caught a fleeting glimpse of Sofia: her attention had shifted, or rather, returned. Whatever she had been thinking of, her attention was now focused on their duel.

Possible reasons flashed through Grey's mind, its surroundings showing brief images, like fractions of a film projected on thin air: Sofia, not stepping in because she was afraid, too broken. Because she didn't know who to side with. Because she didn't care, and was waiting for either the Ser Gris or its doubts to become weak enough that her assistance would result in victory...or wait even longer, fingers interlaced patiently, before killing the victor and taking over Grey's body.

Grey gasped in outrage at the idea as its doubts tried to seized it in a bearhug. They hit the ground, rolling as they thrashed, Grey on top one moment, the creature the next.

No. The images, they had been centred around its doppelgangers, if they hadn't emanated from it. Of course it was trying to convince Grey there was no good outcome possible. That was the reason of its existence.

'You doubt,' it began in a voice that, entirely at odds with its warped appearance, was perfectly normal, almost pleasant. It sounded like that of the Ser Gris, on the occasions it chose to communicate verbally. 'You haven't even had time to be afraid you'll fail, have you? You're too busy thinking how your little witch will end you herself-'

'Quiet,' Grey snarled, trying to sound fierce rather than rattled. Its headbutt knocked the doubts' head back, allowing it to throw the being off. 'Sofia only wanted to stop her parents from arguing, before her magic took over. Her method was regrettable, yes -'

'Is that what you think?' it asked, lip curling but eyes pitying. 'You think a child whose first choice to end conflict is to rape minds deserves...salvation?'

'She didn't have a choice before her magic awakened.' "You stubborn moron" caught in its throat. Insulting itself, an aspect of itelf, would most likely feed the creature rather than accomplish anything useful. "You know that."

What could an isolated girl like Sofia had done, except keep her magic under control until she could be properly trained? That would've been for the best, yes, but, just because they lived in the best of all possible worlds, as said once by Whahyr the Curt and unknowingly echoed by the human Leibniz, it did not mean their universe was kind.

Just better than the others.

'Maybe. Maybe. You would like to think so, wouldn't you, Orhygr?' the doppelganger asked. 'That you're the only one who can save this poor lost lamb here?' It took a taunting step closer. 'Will it distract you from how sorry you feel for yourself? Not like it's going to make you forget.'

'You understand nothing.'

'Don't I?' it asked softly. 'I am you, "Grey One". Remember your reaction, when you heard the moniker? You thought the humans were simply describing your appearance; or rather, you convinced yourself they weren't labelling you as the first of a new species. Even their animals have names, you thought.'

Grey shrugged uncomfortably. 'I like the nickname. Simple, to the point. It's not like I hid my name from them.' At least I have one.

'Yes, you just love being numbered like furniture. Gone native - interesting way to spell mad, don't you think?'

Its appearance changed, or it reshaped the mindscape around itself, covering itself with the images. Grey, standing next to an experimental Ser Gris craft. Still possessed of the saucer-like shape it would make popular among humans after its crash, the silver vessel housed the Multitude of Minds' first aetheric engine. Grey, in a similarly-silver spacesuit, stood next to it, nervously shaking hands, or limbs, with the engineers.

'What do you feel guiltier for, I wonder....volunteering as an aethernaut while your children were young, or never making it back to them?'

'Do not lie,' Grey spat. 'You do not "wonder". You lack the imagination, and know the answer besides.'

'Quite,' the creature agreed. 'But you're still so shaken up, Grey. Do the humans really accept you? It's not like you can read their minds most of the time, after all. That would be an invasion of privacy. But what do they have to hide, anyway? So many of them announce the most atrocious deeds boldly, but even the meekest of them want to keep their thoughts hidden?'

'Mankind will find its own path,' Grey said, attention only half-focused on its adversary. If it could just slip around it, get to Sofia, maybe together, they could just...

Dammit. Just what? Who knew if the girl could fight at all, much less if she wanted to, let alone at its side? Why did it keep looking for the easy way out?

'You're afraid to commit,' its reflection remarked, as if reading its thoughts. And maybe it was. Once, Grey would've scoffed at the idea of someone telepathically scanning it without its notice, but it had hardly been at its best lately. 'After all, how could you have had children right before running away? Being able to become a parent is supposed to be proof of one's maturity, of inner peace. But, the aethernaut...' It shook its head, sniggering. 'So bored with your life, not that you'd have called it that. So many nights spent mediating, falling in and out of trances, cut off from everyone else...all so you could spawn. And for what? Because you were frustrated your existence hadn't left a mark on the cosmos, in over twenty-seven million years of your adopted world.'

It spread its arms, face a caricature of panic. 'Quick! I must have children, I must run away, travel, anything.' It whimpered the last word, lower lip sticking out childishly. 'W-What if I'm forgotten, like e-every other lifeform that doesn't enjoy immortality, or world-shattering power, or a permanent bond with a myriad of loving minds?'

'I was spoiled,' Grey admitted. 'And it took isolation for me to realise that. I will make amends home, when I get there.'


It just couldn't help itself. 'You wish,' Grey smirked, wishing it had knuckles to crack in the manner of swaggering humans. Its foe seemed unimpressed. 'And I know what you're going to try. Do you know how?'

'You must've read my mind...' it whispered, affecting a befuddled expression.

Hilarious. 'You're going to create simulacra of my heirs, to taunt me. Hurt me. Or turn into Zlahi or Xhahal yourself. Maybe both. Hmm? Some grotesque amalgam, to disgust me, make my resolve waver?'

'Why would I want to do that?' it asked, sounding genuinely confused. Its tone then became cold. 'After all, you seem set on helping the little mind-rapist.'

'So, what, you're not going to waste your time?' As if it had anywhere to be, anything to do...still, the idea that it would simply give up was even harder to swallow. Its existence and purpose were simple, yes, but that didn't mean it couldn't try to trick Grey. Make the Ser Gris lower its guard.

It shrugged, saying nothing, and shuffled out of Grey's way. The alien started forward, keeping an eye on its doppelganger until it walked out of sight. Then, when a black blur dashed at Grey, the Ser Gris blasted it with a pulse of psychic force, more out of reflex than anything. It had almost escaped it, through sheer speed.

The pulse never connected.

Grey's head slowly swivelled, body following. Sofia was now sitting cross-legged, waving a smoking hand back and forth as her dull eyes traced the doppelganger's scattering remains.

'You were taking too long,' she answered Grey's unspoken question. 'Talking too much.'

Grey's head dipped slightly in gratitude. 'Thank you, Sofia. I might have been able to defeat it, but it would've taken even longer than our boring discussion.' It smiled. She didn't return it, to its slight dismay. 'I'm sorry we didn't get to speak last time we met, but that monster...' it shook its head. 'I am here to help you.'

'With?' Her voice was flat, with no inflection. It sounded like a tired hag's, rather than a young girl's.

'Would I be wrong to assume the Strangeguard didn't let you exercise your power? Before you were...kidnapped?' Grey tried. The first question was more of a test, but not for her. After its assistance had been requested, the Russians had assured it that Sofia's power had been restrained immediately, following incarceration. It wanted to know if they'd tried to use it through her.

Or done worse. Grey firmly believed the only thing Sofia needed was a teacher to guide her through the life of a controller of minds and objects. And if that life had to begin with public service, to make up for the tragedy Sofia's first use of magic had been, Grey was quite happy to help her.

It didn't have much else to occupy its time with. Oh, yes, there were the requests for its power, or its talent at easing troubled minds - therapy, they called it on Earth - but those rarely lasted long. And waiting for its fellows to come for it could get fairly dull, at times. Sure, there were many people or factions that could've sent it straight to the Multitude, but...

It wasn't that Grey didn't trust them. More that it didn't want to be perceived as contaminated and shunned upon its return. Besides, mingling with Earth's people meant forming bonds, participating in stories it could share, so others could relive them by reading its thoughts.

'Nah,' Sofia spoke, standing up. She tried to stick her hands in her pockets, realised her robes had none, then created a couple, pouting in annoyance. Grey chuckled softly, bending to take her witch's hat and give it to her. 'They still didn't know what to do with me, when that jerk...' She shuddered. 'S-Stole m-me.'

'What did it do to you?' Grey asked, trying to keep its voice calm, rather than angry or alarmed. Had its children ever been this scared in its absence? Void...

Sofia crossed her arms, then hugged herself, still shaking slightly, and glared at Grey, as if it had scared her. Raising both hands, the alien stepped back.

'I don't wanna talk about it,' she snapped, then pointed at the black gunk spattering the ground of the mindscape. 'I'll make you leave, too. Shut up.'

Grey was more surprised she wasn't crying than curious, but it didn't insist. Whatever had shaken someone like Sofia...must have been quite similar to the strange alterations the chronokine had put it through, if not worse. It would coax the answer out of her, if need be, later. They might be necessary.

'Sorry,' Grey said, then placed a hand on its chest. 'It hurt me, too, you know. Because it found it funny. Made me act like a dog-'

Grey broke off as Sofia turned her head, placing a hand over her mouth to try and contain the vomit that rushed from her mouth. Grey rushed to her side, uncaring of her anger, and turned her so it could see what was wrong. The alien pulled her hand aside, and the flow stopped after a few seconds. Grey absentmindedly brushed filth off its chest as Sofia dry-heaved, blood trailing from cracked lips with every retch.

Grey inwardly cursed. Had she hurt herself, somehow?

But that was only the beginning.

Grey watched in morbid fascination as what seemed to be the remains of a dog were slowly spat out by Sofia, and quickly concluded it was only possible due to the fact they were in a mindscape: not only didn't her stomach and neck swell as she spat, but the animal was larger than her.

'Gonna k-kill that fat jerk,' she murmured, wiping her lips with the back of one hand as she stared at the corpse parts. The dog's head turned in place to look at Sofia, staring up at her in silent condemnation.

Grey opened its mouth, then held a hand to a cheek smarting from a slap. 'Told ya to s-shaddup!' Sofia screamed into its face, tears swimming in her eyes. 'The g-grey guy m-made me...t-too...'

'The kidnapper?' Grey whispered, but Sofia just her back on both it and the dog, huffing. 'I'm sorry. I wouldn't have brought it up if I'd known. I promise.'

Sofia didn't look at it, but her stance loosened. 'You didn't say "forgive me",' she finally said in a small voice.

'Oh,' Grey said, unsure. 'Should I have?'

She snorted. 'Just, lotsa adults do. When they're mean. They don't say they're sorry, don't even try to lie. They just ask you to forgive 'em, like they can ask things for you without even...'

Grey let the silence stretch for a few moments after she trailed off, before breaking the ice. 'Want to know a secret about adults, Sofia?'

'Whaddya know? You're an alien.' Then, almost accusingly, she added, 'I watched your cartoons.'

'Ah,' Grey rubbed the back of its head with a bashful grin. 'Those. Did you like them?' In the fifties, shortly after the Martian invasion, Grey had sold the right to its likeness for use in essentially, propaganda. Well-meaning, but still. The cartoons consisted of a simplified version of it, tagging along a crew of colourful misfits as they explored "the final frontier" (that parlance had quickly fallen out of fashion as alternate realms had been discovered), meeting strange aliens and helping them confront their problems and accept themselves. Grey had voiced its animated counterpart. Mankind had needed all the proof not all aliens were like the Martians. It had been new at the time, and the Zhayvin Collective had only come into the public eye recently, so...

Sofia's smile barely touched the corners of her mouth, but it was there. Small victories... 'Yeah,' she said. 'I like it when people are friends, even if it's make-believe.' She rubbed one of her arms, and Grey walked forward to stand next to her. When it put a hand on her shoulder, she didn't slap it off or flinch away. 'I liked Captain Quirk. He was funny. How didja find a new way for him to be weird every episode?'

'Heh. Well, I wasn't on the writing team. I just read the scripts and said the lines.' The team had been really creative, though. Especially Gene. Grey bet he hadn't expected the show he'd made after leaving, or its sequels, to become popular among the reptilians.

They stood quietly for what felt like forever, and might as well have been, in the timeless mindscape. Grey casually checked out their surroundings. At first, it had thought the wasteland that was Sofia's mindscape represented her Siberian home, but now that it looked closer, without its doubts to distract it - they had been reduced to thought processes, no longer a malevolent doppelagnger - Grey saw that it didn't resemble any place on Earth it had ever seen.

What it had mistaken for dirty snow was closer in smell and texture to dust, a thick layer that almost reached its knees and passed Sofia's, who was slightly shorter than it.

At one point, Sofia began walking forward, not waiting to see if Grey followed. The alien did, quickly noticing Sofia's mindscape wasn't changing, or, at least, that there weren't any landmarks. The odd dust slid around Grey like water, but clung to the witch and her clothes, until the small purple robes became ashen. Sofia coughed into her fist, delicately at first, then deeply, until the Ser Gris feared she was going to vomit again, or worse. But she waved it off with one hand, and the dust with the other. Grey saw she was crying now, tears carving tunnels through the grime on her face. Something told it the tears had little to do with the dust stinging her eyes.

'What do you want, really?' she asked suspiciously upon finally calming down. Her voice sounded much older than she was - her idea of how a witch sounded, maybe?

Grey's grin became smaller, but lost none of its warmth. 'When you first saw me, I was coming to counsel you, then help you train your power. It's horrible, what your magic made you do. I can help you make sure it never happens again.'

Sofia's eyes were steady as she studied it. 'Some of the Strangeguards said the same thing. They want me to go make up with the people I...I was bad to.'

'And you don't want to?' Grey asked, and watched her shoulders rise and fall. Her dirty face remained impassive, but a thread of emotion caught the alien's attention. 'Ah. You are ashamed?' Was she...blushing? That was actually somewhat endearing, but Grey wasn't going to mention it. It would've been patronising.

'See, this is how I can tell you are a kind girl, Sofia. A bad girl would've never felt sorry for...being mean to those people. But I'm sure you wouldn't have controlled them if it had been up to you. Would you have?'

Sofia shook her head fiercely, lips thinning. Her face screwed up in distaste as she swallowed some dust. 'I just wanted to make mommy and daddy quiet. They were making my head hurt. It wasn't like they didn't tell me to shut up all the time.' She kicked at nothing, raising a grey cloud. 'And - and! They wanted to be friends too, I know, they just couldn't. Too stubborn. Proud.' She spat a grey glob. 'Adults are dumb.'

'That's the secret I wanted to tell you earlier.' Grey rubbed her back. 'I know you see all these grown-ups putzing around, being loud and bossy and always making you do what they want, never letting you do what you want. They act like they know everything, don't they? The jerks.'

'Daddy sure thinks he does,' Sofia muttered darkly. Then, in a smaller voice, she added. 'They know stuff I don't, but I'll learn.'

'That's right. And you'll never stop learning, Sofia. You know why? Because none of them know what they're doing, trust me. There's never a point in life when you're suddenly prepared, no matter how sure others appear. And it's not limited to Earth, either. Back home, I'm an adult, and I don't know what I'm doing either.'

Sofia giggled at its self-deprecating scowl, then laid her head on its chest. 'You talk a lot too,' she said. 'But you're nice. Grey?'


'Do you just wanna help 'cause you're nice?' She frowned in concentration. 'Ugh. I can't read your mind. Um, you can just tell me they're paying you, or you're doing it cuz you've got nothing else to do. Or, or you wanna find out what makes me tick.'

'I am curious, yes,' it confessed. 'And not busy, but that's not the reason I'm doing this. I know what it's like for minds to run wild, without conscience to guide them. It would be a shame to see you punished for your gift, Sofia.'

She was nodding along, then suddenly stopped. 'You feel it too, don'cha?'

'Yes,' Grey answered. The sensation of it, and everything it knew, teetering on the brink of oblivion. Grey suspected it was similar to how Terran animals senses natural disasters before their arrival, because it sure wasn't precognitive. 'But, Sofia, I don't want to help you to save my own skin.' It was living for its children at this point, and its people. 'That would be terrible. I truly-'

'Got it,' she snapped, adjusting her hat as she glared up at it. 'I'm not slow. Geez. I'm just...nnngh...I don't know how we can stop what's coming, but I know we do. It's makin' me feel weird.' Then, out of the blue, lips wobbling, she added. 'I want David.'

'Hmm?' Grey was taken aback. 'David Silva?'

'No, David with the slingshot who killed the Goliath,' she grumbled acidly. 'Yeah. He's like daddy used to be.'

The alien awkwardly shifted its footing at that. 'He...David killed your parents, Sofia. He-'

'I know. He told me. Showed me his memories. They'd started praying to this big bad god who wants to enslave everyone.'

'Correct...' it said, somewhat surprised by how she was taking it in stride. 'You...are comfortable with him? Despite...?'

'So?' she asked defensively. 'Why should I be scared. He was nice to me when he had no reason to. It's the fat strigoi who's bad. Hate him.'

Grey grabbed one of her hands, squeezing gently. 'Sofia, I was just asking in case you want David to come here. He can do this too, you know. I can ask him.'

'Oh.' Her eyes widened. 'Y-Yeah, but, but not yet!' She smoothed down her robes. 'Um, I think he thinks we should...ah...'

'I understand,' Grey assured her. 'Don't worry. I'm sure David believes in you! Otherwise, he wouldn't have asked for your help, right?'

Sofia nodded weakly, looking down. She was ashamed again, Grey guessed. 'I wanna ask you sumthin'.'

'Of course! That is why I'm here, Sofia.'

'Is I bad cuz I'm more sad David ain't here than 'cause mommy and daddy are g-gone?' she asked, eyes reddening as tears flowed again, washing away the dust on her face.

Grey smiled softly, wrapping its arms around her. 'That is a very complicated question, Sofia. There is nothing wrong with wanting David to be here, don't worry. And, as you said, you do miss them. Even if they weren't the best parents.' It laughed dryly. 'Not that I'm one to talk. My children were younger than you when I left.'

'You're a...' she boggled at it, saw no signs of gender, and pursed her lips. 'You have kids?'

'Oh, yes,' Grey replied wistfully. 'I love them, but I was scared. That they'd have a good for nothing parent, and be ashamed. I tried to do something great, to impress them.' And everyone else. 'But if I'd known I'd be stranded and leave them behind, I'd have never left.'

Sofia returned its hug, arms painfully tight around it. She cried freely, but her sobs were quiet, only marked by the shaking on her shoulders. Grey tousled her hair then, unsure, kissed her forehead. The human gesture seemed to alarm rather than calm her down, but Grey sighed in relief when it felt Sofia's mind begin clearing, the dust falling away from her, rising from the ground and disappearing from the sky.

They were now standing where Sofia's village had been, blinding white snow crunching under Grey's bare feet and Sofia's soft boots. The horizon reached the foot of a mountain, while an evergreen forest stretched across the land a few dozen metres from them. Half of the sky was blue, clear and crystal and filled with clouds as white as the snow, a yellow sun shining cheerfully in the middle, bright but not blinding. The other half was a dark, velvety blue, sprinkled with stars and arches of blue-green light.

Sofia grinned up at the sun, which returned the gesture with a broad, buck-toothed grin and a wink. She looked around herself, rubbing her gloved hands, cheeks glowing red from the brisk cold. A few metres away from her, the dismembered dog Grey had seen earlier was alive again, panting and wagging its tail.

Sofia's smile soured at the sight, but she made no move towards the dog, which likewise stood still.

In the distance, Grey could hear people laughing, singing, joking. A few were haggling over something, but not arguing. None of the voices was raised, or harsh, and the alien thought this must be Sofia's dream. How she wanted the world to be...or how to remember it.

It was beautiful. Idealistic, maybe, even simple - a child's vision of the world, as exemplified by the cartoonish sun. But Grey, of all people, knew that just because something was innocent, it didn't mean it was worthless. It had just told Sofia that, after all.

The Ser Gris was surprised Sofia could still imagine, want such things, without the bleak corners of her mind causing them to fall apart. She was strong in far more ways than magically.

'Let me show you where your path could lead, Sofia, if you have no one to lean on. Where my people's path almost did.' Grey flicked its fingers at the sky - a theatrical gesture, performed for Sofia's amusement rather than out of any need -, manipulating the fabric of the mindscape to form images of the Multitude of Minds' past.

'You see, Sofia,' Grey began in what some had told it was its storyteller voice, but which it most often associated with the cartoon character based on it. 'My people once acted the way your magic made you act, but we were worse than you. Not only did we make beings to torment, we did it all of our own volition.'

In the sky, four Seres Grises appeared. They resembled Grey in the way Neanderthals resembled modern humans, with shorter, thicker limbs and protruding brows. And yet, so small they were that their long-fingered hands trailed across the ground. They switched from two to four legs as needed as they walked their world's wastes.


'Don't you have a name?' Sofia asked, eyes on the alien's ancestors. 'You're just saying "we".'

Ah. She must not have seen the documentaries it had been invited to narrate. Short on facts and long on folk stories - it hadn't wanted to establish any expectations for the Multitude before a proper first contact -, but still, the yarns were interspersed with kernels of truth.

'In our language, we call ourselves "the folk", but the closest equivalent in Russian would be "grey beings" or "grey people".' Grey gestured at itself. 'Everything on our homeworld was grey by the time we started speaking, so the "grey" in our name was implied.' It understood why Sofia hadn't been interested. Its shows tended to run the gamut between dry recollection and transparent nonsense.

'We scattered across the world - not a charming place, if you ask me. Its name would roughly translate as "the bleakness", and we weren't hyperbolic when we came up with it -, families forming clans, then tribes,' it continued. 'Our psi was weak at this time, telepathy and telekinesis limited to line of sight. Such limits did little to prevent warfare.'


Grey folded its arms as its ancestors began to bash in and burn each other's brains in the sky. 'The usual. Because other tribes had different traditions, prayed to different ancestors or spirits. Because we needed land and resources, but in the rare cases there was enough for everyone, pride and paranoia got in the way. This was before we evolved beyond the need for sustenance.'

The images changed, the ancient Seres Grises taking on new forms, none like the others. 'Eventually, a handful of tribes discovered agriculture and formed a coalition. They drove the hunter-gatherers to the brink of extinction, and beyond it, when they didn't bend the knee. That was when we started shaping our evolution.'

Eugenics wasn't something Grey would've usually brought up to a child, but Sofia needed to understand the full picture, and her will was strong. Stronger than the alien's, maybe, in its opinion. 'The sick and infirm were not allowed to spawn anymore, so their genes did not pass on. When they became recalcitrant, they were sterilised - for lack of a better term; they could no longer spawn descendants from their flesh -, or executed. Those who possessed good genes but "wrong" minds, those who underminded authority through dissent or crime? They were also removed from the gene pool, or brainwashed, if deemed too valuable. Eventually, we started removing and replicating genetic material, so even that passed.'

Grey rubbed its forehead. 'At first, the good traits appeared by themselves, but they were quickly improved by science, physical and psychic alike. Our leaders began choosing people's roles in society, with themselves at the top, of course.'

Sofia made a rude gesture Grey had never seen before at the sky, mumbling something about her parents.

'So, warriors were made stronger and braver, workers - a broad term for everyone who neither fought nor led - more versatile and docile, and leaders more confident and charismatic.'

The image zoomed out, showing the alien's grey homeworld, spinning around its pale sun. 'With little opposition from megafauna, we took over our world, improving ourselves all the while. Then, we began colonising other planets, but our star cluster was uninhabited, and we were growing restless.'

The laboratories of old Ser Gris fleshcrafters appeared, vats and tubes filled with writhing, shrieking protoplasm. 'We were not united in thought, in those days. It was considered taboo for a leader to rub minds with a commoner or soldier, and the other castes weren't allowed to read each other's minds either. What if they started thinking the wrong things?' Grey's eyeroll was barely perceptible.

'And because of this, this lack of understanding, there was disharmony, and discontent. Was this the wonder of space exploration? What were we even looking for? More rocks to turn into copies of our world? The lower castes revolted, demanding change. The workers did not want to build spaceships anymore, and the warriors were tired of being ordered to crack down on them whenever they rioted, instead of facing real enemies. Our leaders, scared of losing their workforce and their lives at their warrior's hands, complied. Grudgingly. So, instead of forcing their own kind to serve, they made new beings, meant to be born, live and die in slavery.'

A Sertyan floated above a tiled floor, upper half swaying drunkenly. A Dulumian spread over a wall, searching for moisture, looking like purple moss spotted with glowing blue.

'The aliens you see, today honoured peers of the Multitude of Minds, were originally created to be tools. Taken from vegetal, respectively fungal stock and altered, until rapidly-growing intelligence blossomed, no pun intended, within them. The Sertyans,' one of the tree-like beings hovered over a junction in a Ser Gris city as the grey aliens milled around it. 'Were intented to broadcast positive thoughts; their own. They were kept in a state of ebullience, and altered strains, locked in permanent ecstasy, were later created to please Seres Grises. The idea was that they would brighten everyone's day, lend an ear when one was having dark thoughts and reassure them. Meanwhile, the Dulumians,' shapeless mould creatures stood in rows, moulding metal and constructing surprisingly delicate devices with their blunt, false limbs. 'Were made to work. Tireless, and incapable of getting bored. In theory.'

The mindscape's sky shifted to show a thousand, thousand world burning, as the Seres Grises' creations rose against them. 'We made them too smart, they grumbled at the time. Always evolving, to keep up with us as we did the same, until they started looking inwards, and saw nothing they liked. The war broke our empire, and set us back several ages, until my people were confined to our homeworld, and our creations to two others.'

Sofia's face darkened at the destruction. ' live together, right? Nowadays.' At the alien's nod, she scratched her head. 'If you couldn't even travel to talk to each other...wait. Could you talk to each other? Through space?'

'Not at the time, no. We were still struggling to reestablish our worldwide communication network, much less communicate over interstellar distances. It was the Gardeners who brought us together, and tied our destinies to theirs. Or, rather, we made them do it.' Grey grinned rakishly at Sofia, ruffling her hair. 'Don't worry. No good aliens were hurt in the making of history.'

'Meanie!' she hissed, smacking its hand aside, though her frown didn't last long, as she soon joined Grey in laughing.

The alien's amusement died down to a chuckle, then a sigh. Something gleamed in its dark eyes. 'The Gardeners...talking species as a whole, they're the most powerful in our universe, and have few rivals beyond it.'

The mindscape changed once more, showing a bluish, translucent being floating through space. Its centre was spherical, the size of Earth, while its handful thick tendrils were several time longer; it would've taken light a second to go from a tentacle's tip to its beginning at the Gardener's core.

As the Gardener flew, it came across a planet devouring its own system. The pseudo-sentient creature, larger than most gas giants but rocky in makeup, opened a jagged maw of an abyss, breaking down and melting worlds and moons, one after another. One of the Gardener's tentacles wrapped around an empty desert of a planet, as large as its centre, encircling it over seven times in a second, then threw it. The lightspeed impact annihilated the rogue world.

'This is how they spend their infancy. The Gardeners cherish life, but are impetuous as children, so they destroy threats to it to calm themselves. All of the planets consumed had been inhabited, but the Gardener had been too late, so all it could do was avenge them.'

The frustrated alien turned to the yellow star at the heart of the ravaged system, punching into it with its tentacles and snuffing it out like a candle in its grief.

'After a Terran decade or so, they reach adolescence, and stellar size. Though their presence can cause lifeless planets to become lush since birth, child Gardeners lack the temper to spread life, rather than fight its enemies.' The Gardener now flew between distant stars in seconds, covering light years upon light years in a matter of heartbeats. Two warring fleets stopped clashing as the lifeless world they were fighting over, for their terraforming devices were good for only one hemisphere's worth of world, and they were loathe to share that, bloomed green with life as the Gardener passed through it.

For all that the psychic was as large as the system's red giant star, neither the fleet's members nor their instruments could perceive it, for it had no heat, no mass, and it didn't move. Its presence could only be felt by beings with esoteric senses, for, as far as the material universe was concerned, Gardeners did not exist.

Finally, after a Terran century, the Gardener now sat at the heart of a growing galaxy. Its centre was as large as the galactic core, its tentacles as long and broad as its spiral arms. The galaxy spun like a lightspeed disc with but one pulse of its psychic power, trillions of solar masses moving in a merry dance. Every movement of interest inside it, as civilisations rose and fell, was tracked by a being that could cross hundreds of thousands of light years in seconds.

'The Gardeners are some of the most selfless people I have had the pleasure to meet,' Grey said quietly. 'They help others and nurture diversity because they love others, even when they cannot be sensed at all, much less thanked. But they are not without flaw.'

An infant Gardener roared, the unsound rending reality for parsecs and obliterating planets on the quantum level, as it was forced into a star that was a prison. Finally, one of the psychics had been found, and trapped.

'Some cultures, it turned out, did not appreciate strangers destroying what they saw as potential assets. The hunt they called a war saw dozens of stars destroyed as they were made to go supernova, before the energies were directed into planet-sized beams that passed through psychic mirrors - matter and energy could not interact with the Gardeners, who could fly through neutron stars and singularities as easily as Earth's birds flew through clouds. But the psionic devices let the energy beams strike on the level where the Gardener dwelt, and the power of dozens of supernovas tore it to nothing. Except it didn't want to die. And for a Gardener, oblivion only came when it no longer wanted to persist. Even then, it took tremendous power to unmake it. The Gardener wanted to live. Its immense form appeared from nothing as its healing rejected nonexistence. Its pursuers panicked, and bent their sciences to the task of binding the unkillable monster.'

Grey scoffed at the idea, noting Sofia's skeptical look. Maybe it had sounded good at the time, like most mistakes.

'By the time they left, the Gardener was already pushing the bounds of its cage. Its nature relied on perception: the universe had been made not to notice it, and, as such, the Gardener had been pushed outside reality and the aether, into empty darkness. It ripped its way back into the cosmos in a matter of moments, only to find another trap, just as ineffectual. The chains it was bound with were tethered to the star of the Seres Grises' system, and were shattered as easily the pale yellow star was destroyed when the Gardener flexed.'

'How did you survive?' the witch asked.

'Neither us Seres Grises nor our creations could stand against the enraged, maddened Gardener, so we sent out a psychic plea for help, and the being's kindred answered. The older Gardeners easily restrained it, and attempted to explain themselves. They were not a civilisation. They did not form bonds, not with each other. Not out of incapability, but because they saw understanding the life they created as more important, and the contact with other creators as dangerous; it could result in one becoming biased towards a type of life, for example. Directing the lives of other Gardeners was out of the question. After all, beings who appeared whenever life did on a comet, satellite or planet should be as accepting and understanding as the beings they adored.'

The Seres Grises, the Sertyans and the Dulumians had united to make a doomed last stand against the Gardener, who, resentful after its imprisonment by people it had indirectly saved, saw life as a threat to itself. Now, they presented an united front to the Gardeners' speakers, demanding that the Gardener be destroyed, or at least sealed permanently, and recompense be made to them: their planets had been blasted to quarks by the Gardener's psychic bolts, and now they only had a ship, made from three different ones cobbled together, to live on.

The Gardeners were unsure. They had stood against genocide attempts in the past, yes, but curtailing the freedom of one of their own? Who had been attacked for no reason, no less? Such thinking could be dangerous. It could limit creativity, and place younger Gardeners under the yoke of their elders, in the end.

'The people they had saved from extinction cried out in outrage. How could the Gardeners abandon their principles just because the guilty was kin to them? Were they that hypocritical? The Gardeners grew dismayed as they deliberated, until cooled heads prevailed. People, my forebears argued, could not simply be allowed to do whatever they wanted, just because restrictions would stifle their creativity. Similarly, kindness without direction or unity would go nowhere, and likely lead to similar incidents in the future. What if the next Gardener to be wrong was one of those who could destroy galaxies with a tentacle swipe? Or their Eldest, who could wipe out the multiverse's fourth layer with a thought? No. As thanks for saving us, we would help the Gardeners focus their efforts to enrich the universe. Meanwhile, they would help us rebuild and become better.'

Grey beamed as the Multitude of Minds was founded, with every member joining thoughts, creating a crystal-clear, serene communion. 'We evolved, and not just physically. The Sertyans and the Dulumians stood as equals to Seres Grises, who could now switch castes at will, when they felt they belonged somewhere else. Today, our bodies now change by themselves as we pick other tasks to occupy ourselves with. It is...reassuring, to know our rigid mindset is gone.'

Grey looked down at the young mage, hugging her as it once had Zlahi. 'So do you see, Sofia? Being bad for its own sake is just as dangerous as being good beyond reason. You cannot let everyone do what they want, no matter how concerned you are with their feelings.'

The witch laid her chin on Grey's small, round shoulder. 'I think I get it,' she whispered. 'You people only became friends after you talked to each other, and you only did that cuz you wanted to talk. Not 'cause...someone like me made you.'

Grey rocked her a few times, reassuringly. 'Hush, now. I know you wouldn't do what you did, or lash out like the trapped Gardener did. You're better than you think you are, Sofia.' Too many people failed to see their virtues...just as too many monsters refused to see their flaws, much less accept them. 'Even when the sealed Gardener was offered a chance at redemption through service, it refused. It didn't want to help anymore, except by putting them out of their misery.' In the mental sky, an adolesecent Gardener seized the rogue, before destroying it, over and over again, until it gave up, departing.

'I've been thinking about that,' Sofia said, adjusting her hat, to Grey's relief.

'Then, you will work with the Strangeguard? Or maybe ARC?' it suggested.

'Later,' Sofia waved it off, then giggled. 'Thanks for the story, Orhygr! I get it!' She gesticulated excitedly. 'It, you, you didn't just tell me to prove how good being friends is, see?'

'I didn't?' Grey asked, confused.

'Well, duh, of course you did.' Sofia rolled her eyes. 'But it wasn't just your plan, it was part of a bigger one! And...' She sniggered happily. 'I know why David didn't just come out and tell me, the goof. Your story, it's not just a story, it's a template.'

Sofia's voice deepened at the last word, her eyes becoming distant again. But this time, they were a piercing green, and focused. The dog from earlier loped between Grey and Sofia, and she looked at it for a long moment, then gulped. Grey could feel her desire to drop to her knees, hug the dog to her chest and promise they'd be together forever now, and nothing and no one would ever separate them again.

But that would've meant living in the past. Succumbing to delusion. When Sofia returned her attention to the universe, her magic would be in control, for eternity. And if Grey had failed to convince her - if David had told her the reason for the story, making her lose her temper -, she would've given up.

Instead, she remained firm, voice barely wavering as she spoke. 'The dead should stay dead,' she told the dog. 'I'm sorry I couldn't save you, b-boy.' She angrily wiped her reddening eyes with a stained sleeve. 'B-But this ain't really you, i-is it?' She sniffled, then swallowed a hiccup, growling instead. 'And you're a monster for using his body to move me, you hear? You don't rule my life! I'm the mage here!'

As her magic pulled back from her, the dog's eyes dulled, then its body fell apart, into dust. The mana cringed before the witch as she grabbed it with both hands, huffing indignantly. Then, holding it still with one hand, she grabbed Grey's with the other.

David smiled triumphantly as they both came to, nodding to him. Their minds touched as the only child spared by Mother Wound tossed David the greatest artefact of his travels, reflecting and multiplying their power until they could reach everywhere, everywhen.

But, while it would take an union of creation's inhabitants to wake up the Unmoved Mover, attempting to control said minds would doom the process, and pervert it in any case.

That was what Sofia would have done, if she'd given in to her weakness.

Instead, the three, their telepathic power enhanced beyond reason by the Ideal Mirror, spoke to everyone, mind to mind, explaining their nature, their goal.

Everyone accepted. Some in disbelief, some to save themselves. Two dark, dark minds joined to prove how pointless the exercise was, and were soon proven wrong.

But, in their hearts of hearts, there was no one who didn't want, even thought they might not have known or accepted it, to understand everyone else, and help them, simply because it was the right thing to do.

And when the Mover woke, and creation changed, the beginning of this friendship that reached everywhere was remembered, even when the shared thoughts were often forgotten.

Because loyalty offered was a precious thing, even in the eyes of the almighty.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Lore: Esoteric powers

* * *

While magic is the most ubiquitous esoteric power on Earth, it is nearly unheard of in the larger universe, though it is relatively common in a handful of realities with similar histories (which makes them close neighbours to the main universe, metaphysically-speaking).

This is caused by the unique nature of the pre-Shattering world. The effect caused by perceiving and being perceived resulted in what humans generally agreed to be supernatural beings not being able to interact with normal humans, unless expected. Mundanes (also known as baselines or baseliners, short for baseline humans) and supernaturals essentially lived in different worlds until the Fall of Berlin. In areas with many human observers, a were, for example, could not touch anything or enter any building, even if the humans happened to be looking in their directions. From the were's perspective, it looked like they were caught in a literal ghost town, where they could not interact with anything.

The reptilians, who did interact with small numbers of humans throughout history (though, between the mindwipes necessary to survive the aftermath of the events the Collective arrived to stop, and the rattled state of the survivors who did not want to live in a world where the Zhayvin were needed, the memories and records never stuck, except as fringe beliefs, such as the "Conquerors from Hollow Earth" conspiracy theories) concluded that aliens and other entities with paranormal powers were exempt from this effect. Besides their hypothesis that humans unknowingly, passively manipulated quantum states to an unusual level, quite literally making things unable to fully exist unless they believed in them, some reptilians mused that the human collective unconscious seemed to, somehow, be able to differentiate between, for example, a Ser Gris using psychic telekinesis, and a mage shapeshifting into one and using telekinesis based on mana, even if the observer themselves did not know the difference, or believed they were the same.

In the light of recent macrocosmic experiments, the Collective hypothesises that this was an artifical state, induced by the First Principle or its agents with the purpose of directing evolution so that it would result in the most diversity. This anthropocentric quantum separation effect, as the reptilians termed it, did not only extend to Earth, but the entirely of creation. With the aid of human volunteers, the reptilians concluded that humans could perceive and interact with alien paranormals, but not Earth-based ones, an arbitrary distinction that suggested meddling.

"Magic" is an umbrella term referring to activities requiring mana, ranging from casting and summoning to sympathetic magic, alchemy, enchantment, ward-making, artifice (a catch-all term for the creation of constructs and the shaping of materials without warding or enchanting them), divination and scrying. Casting, like artifice, is shorthand for using mana, but generally understood, in magic slang, to cover things like throwing fireballs or creating time lops, rather than remotely attacking people using their belongings as a focus, even though all spells and magical effects are "cast".

Mana is a metaphysical energy created by the synergy of the body (not necessarily a biological or organic one, inorganic shells or avatars count as equivalents), mind/processor and soul. While humans need a balance between the three components of their self (and their subdivisions, depending on a particular mage's beliefs), and the weakening or absence of one can cause them to become incapable of casting, there are incorporeal, mindless or soulless beings able to cast: ghosts, specialised golems, demons and angels (though it would be more accurate to say they are a more primal form of soul, rather than soulless, like wood is for paper), to start. Though a strong mind is conducive to magic, the mind must be strong in the metaphorical sense, rather than the amount of brain cells, brain activity or processing power, as concluded by the reptilians' attempts to study mana. A sapient supercomputer would not necessarily be a stronger mage than a human of average intelligence if all it can do is crunch numbers.

To most arcane senses, mana appears light, shining blue, with light green highlights or "veins". Though it can manipulate or be converted into natural forces, mana phases through them in its raw state, and even if solidified into mana objects, it appears as anomalous, with no detectable density or mass, although a building-sized "block" of mana created by the average mage will act although it is as durable and heavy as a building. Solidified mana can be burned or dissolved, though not frozen by mundane temperatures, and floats under its own power, though it can be torn apart or crushed by sufficient levels of gravity, causing it to dissapear.

Each mage has a mana pool, appearing as an outline around their metaphysical self, though many envision it as an actual pool, lake or well, located in the centre of their being. A mana pool is inexhaustible: a mage can cast as many times as they like without running out. The limits are physical needs, which can be circumvented or removed with enough skill, and the "size" of a mage's mana pool. Most mages can manipulate the equivalent of a handful to a dozen tons of TNT at a time, and, in terms of more esoteric effects, can manipulate spacetime or gravity across an apartment building, even though the energies involved in such events might be far lower or stupendously larger than a mage's firepower limits, if they were to be replicated by mundane mundane technology. This is generally agreed to be a quirk of magic, which, if not sentient, is instinctively stubborn about following its own rules.

Mages can enhance their strength, durability and reactions by tapping into their mana, as well as removing the need for nourishment, rest or air. Sufficient exposure to inner or foreign mana will permanently enhance a mage's body while removing their physical needs, an effect that, unlike a ward or enchantment cast on the mage's body, can't be removed by antimagic, as they were altered by magic in the past.

One in a hundred humans is a mage, their mana awakening most often after emotional events during childhood or adolescence, with born mages being rarer. Intense events can increase the size of a mage's mana pool, should they survive with their bodies and faculties intact.

Often, aside from baseline magical powers (control of matter, energy and spacetime, the creation of localised laws of physics and metaphysics, existence erasure), mages will have "themed" magic, influenced by their personality. Brazillion of the Circle Bizarre was passionate about mathematics before he obtained the power to divide, multiply and raise attributes at a whim.

Appropriate objects, collectively referred to as foci (although the term started as a classification for focusing tools such as wands and stave - things with the proper shape for channeling mana and pointing it at a target. Slingshots, bows and arrows and firearms have a similar effect), can help ease casting. Water magic is easier while holding a hose, even if the mage is not channeling mana through it; thinking about it is enough.

Spells are phrases and/or rituals that can trigger specific magical events, usually beyond the mage's innate capabilities due to either the necessary output or the nature of the caster's goal. They are the verbal, nonverbal and ritualistic equivalents to physical foci, and work through the same principle of focusing and strengthening the mana by helping the mage concentrate.

Wards are physical (in the sense they have a physical presence) or metaphysical shields, seals, cages or traps.

Although popular culture sometimes depicts magic and technology as opposite "forces" or sides, magic could be considered a type of technology: it is, after all, a practical application of knowledge, often using objects, or even devices traditionally considered "technological".


If counterspells are like diverting or damming rivers, antimagic is like vapourising them and scattering the steam. To a mage's arcane senses, antimagic registers as an unsettling force or absence, causing a feeling of unease, like balancing on the edge of a cliff. Most mages believe this is an instinctive reaction to something opposed to a major facet of their self, even if they do not know what antimagic is, exactly.

Antimagic is created during the extremely traumatic death of a mage, which, to use a visual metaphor, turns their mana pool into a pit or vacuum. This antimana covers an area equivalent to that the mage could manipulate in life, and shuts down all magical effects in said area: nothing can be cast, enchantments and wards disappear, and so on.

Antimana is to mana what the void that animates a vampire is to a soul; antimagic is a term used to refer to objects or beings imbued with antimana.

Psychic powers (psi, ESP, etc.) and counters (psilencers)

There have been few psychics in human history, and never many at a time. With the newest generation being born, psychics are appearing in numbers similar to mages, both among children born with psi and older people who manifest psi.

A psychic's mind, much like a mage's, must be strong, in the metaphysical sense, for their powers to work. Also like mages, their psychic grasp has a limit of power and reach, as well as, sometimes, an unique ability shaped by the psychic's experiences.

Psi is the term used to refer to psychic abilities in general, the most common ones being tele/psychokinesis, pyrokinesis, electrokinesis, and ESP. ESP, short for extrasensory perception, covers enhanced intuition, telepathy, empathy (which allows psychics to literally feel emotions), precognition, post/retrocognition, psychometry and remote-viewing.

ESP powers often overlap - a "bad feeling" can be caused by either enhanced intuition or immature precog, or even both working in concert. Psychometry is to touch what postcog is to imagination and the other mundane senses, allowing the psychic to learn about a being or object's past, or, in rarer cases, its present in more detail than their other senses allow. Remote viewing can be considered a form of long-distance enhanced intuition, accurately perceiving events far away despite sensory barriers.

Psilencers are methods and devices used to counter psi like antimagic is used to counter magic. A psychic's violently traumatic death has similar effects to a mage's, creating a psilent zone and giving some credence to the theory that the two forms of power are related, perhaps in the way strigoi and ghouls, undead who feed on lifeforce and flesh, respectively, are.

Among alien species, psychics are and have been common for billions of years, and there are multiple naturally psilent species, although the existence of antimagic beings is still being debated.

Faithcraft and demonology

Faithcraft is the act of tapping into the power of the deity one worships. Divine power is neither magical nor psychic, and can be differentiated from them by the permanent damage it deals to vampires, ghouls and strigoi. Faithcraft can be accomplished through prayer or by obtaining blessings, which are to divine power what enchantmnts are to magic.

Demonology refers to the theory and practice of tapping into the power of demons, either through contracts, binding them, or, more rarely, willing offers. Demonic energy, much like its holy counterpart, is neither magical nor psychic. Demonology can be practised through either megic or the power of the demon themselves.


The nature of the Unmoved Mover's creation and the reminiscence most of its inhabitants bear to its five-pointed shape means there are many strange powers in creation that do not resemble any of the above: eldritch effects that break minds and existence alike, animal-based abilities such as those of therianthropes, vampiric powers, the manipulation of Archetypes, the very ideas that form the bedrock of creation, or even abilities that revolve around a being's perception by themselves and their peers, but which, unlike those of weres, are mostly unique, such as those of FREAKSHOW's Breakout.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/
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