Chapter 16 - ‘Bar Talk’
Jason woke three days before
Christmas, depressed and starving after missing dinner the previous evening. He
staggered into a shower and then got quickly dressed, trying desperately to
ignore the rumblings of his empty stomach. Once dressed, he made his way down
and across the compound to the mess hall. He braced himself for the usual stares
and lustful looks and then pushed open the doors. Silence rained. The room was
deserted. He checked his watch and then the large wall clock. It was barely nine
o'clock, the mess should still have been bustling.
He grabbed a bagel out of the cafeteria and sat himself down with a cup of coffee, to await someone to show up. Fifteen minutes, one bagel and two cups of coffee later, he found himself making his way towards the training court, intent on passing the time exercising. At least until he caught sight of a few stragglers hurrying off towards the far side of the compound. The first sign he had seen that he wasn't the only human left, he raced after them. They slipped through the door of a massive carved stone structure and he slowed to a brisk walk.
Reaching for the iron door ring, he stiffened as he caught something in the wind. He turned his head and sniffed again, smelling the distinct odor of sulfur and brimstone. Jason turned on the spot and searched the surrounding hills for the source of the smell. A sudden sense of dizziness washed over him and he staggered back against the stone wall. He blinked heavily and gasped as he felt them close -from the sides! He blinked again, and felt his sight pinch close form the sides and then his normal eyelids slid to cover over them as he squeezed his eyes closed. When he opened them again dark bands of swirling mist flowed across the ground in front of him. They extended from all around him, and he followed the line they made, converging on a distant rise. And there was that distinct smell again.
Jolted into action by the sight, he flung the door open and dashed inside.
* * *
"He sees us."
"So?" Damien sneered. "It doesn't matter if he's dead."
"HA!" the other man laughed. "It'll take more than a few of those Abyssal creatures to take him out. Trust me."
"That's why I'm requesting the service of one of the pit lords." Damien said icily.
"His Lordship has decided that, due to your recent behavior and lack of subtlety, you won't be supplied with any more resources besides the basic catchers."
"WHAT?" Damien almost shouted in disbelief. "How the hell am I supposed to kill him with just catchers?"
"You're not. His Lordship ordered his capture, not his death. We need him alive."
Damien grunted disapprovingly as if he thought it was all a waste of time.
"If I were you," his companion continued. "I'd get in there yourself and see to it you loose as few of your 'resources' as possible." He smirked and then a mushroom of flame swallowed up his feet and traveled up his body. The acrid scent of ozone and sulfur hung for a moment in the air before being swept away by the cool December breeze.
"Fuck you all!" Damien snarled.
* * *
"It is my proud honor today," Sara said loudly, her voice ringing across the arched hallway from the podium and drawing the attention of the gathered crowd. "To welcome you to the unveiling of the 'Albrich Infirmary.' Donated kindly by Mr.'s J. Smith and G Albrich. who unfortunately couldn't be with us today or we would have had to kill them."
A soft chuckle emanated from the crowd, the fact that visitors were never aloud was a sore spot for all, and Sarah was thus constantly trying to make light of it.
She drew a break and continued. "Now, without further ado I-"
The rest was lost as Jason burst through the doors shouting for everyone to get out. "Run! Get out of here! Now!"
A buzz of noise washed through the room. What was going on? Had Sara's brother cracked under the pressure of his intense training? Was he mad?
"What's going on here Jason?" She shouted from her place. "Can't you see this is important? I would have expected better from you Jason." She berated him. "I will speak to you afterwards."
"After!" she interrupted and then smiled wanly at the crowd. "Now, without further interruptions," she glared at a chastened Jason, and reached to pull a silk cord near her. "I present to you th-"
"Commander!" A guard came sliding down the wide ramp that led further into the infirmary. "Mistress Sara, we're under attack!"
"What?" she snapped.
The guard gasped, out of breath, "I was in the watchtower when I saw them. There are fires everywhere and something is moving out there too." His voice carried to the microphone Sara had been using and was magnified around the hall.
At the word 'fire' the crowed sprang to their feet and tried to push their way outside to carryout their duties in case of such an event. The backlog of people crowded around Jason in their push for the exit.
"Scott," he heard Sara say. "Organize a security party and find out what the hell is going on. Stop whoever it is from doing more damage."
Jason hung his head. "It's too late, they're already here."
And then the screams began to carry in from outside.
* * *
Panicked people, who had just moments before been pushing to get out, now struggled desperately to get back into the shelter of the hall. Carried by the tide of bodies, Jason was pushed up near Sara. She grabbed him by the collar and hoisted him up onto the platform she was standing on.
"What's going on Jason?" she shouted over the noise. "You knew something was coming, what is it-"
She was cut short as she ducked and pulled him to the ground as man-sized boulder hurtled through the great doors and shattered against the wall above and behind them. Rock shards rained down on them.
Sara pulled him to the side, out of range of the doors and shouted for everyone to do the same. A few more of the boulders followed the first through but then ceased. Heavy silence hung in the hall, disturbed only be the low moans of wounded people who were quickly being moved further into the newly furbished infirmary.
"Jason what is going on?" Sara asked him. She shook his shoulder but received no response. "Jason?" asked again. But his mind had already slipped away from him.
Jason crouched on the ground by Sara as the black swirling bands flowed through the door and circled around him. His mind was suddenly being called and pulled out through the door, leaving his body behind. Whereas before, the black bands had been few and concentrated around him, here, outside the building, the ground was black with them.
His mind flowed around the dead and wounded who lay on the ground. They had been the first victims, he hoped there wouldn't be too many more. He sensed the flames licking at buildings around the compound, but his mind was drawn back to the infirmary. Black shapes were moving up the walls towards the stained glass windows. As soon as he knew what was going to happen, his mind was slingshot back into his body and he came alive next to Sara with a gasp.
"Jason?! What's happening?" She demanded.
"The windows!" he managed to call out. "Move away from the windows!"
People scampered out of the way moments before the largest of the stained glass windows burst inwards. Four heavy forms crashed to the ground amongst the rain of crystal shards. They glistened black in the light flooding through the windows. All four of them simultaneously rose to their feet.
"Shoot them!" Sara ordered.
Scott's team was already opening fire with pistols, but the bullets seemed to ricochet off them. The tirade of bullets cased and the six figured moved forwards towards Jason. Scott's guards charged at them, a few drawing knives and attacking with them. Black clawed hands snatched out and hurled most of them aside to slump against the walls. One of the men managed to land a blow with his knife against the leg of an intruder before being snatched up. Thick, oily liquid pumped out of the wound onto the ground. The clawed hand holding him by the neck held him aloft and tightened its grip. Jason heard him gasp and struggle as the blood in his veins reversed its flow and pumped up towards his neck. His skin turned ashen and shriveled as the claw sucked his lifeblood out. It tossed his crumpled body aside and advanced again on Jason.
Scott moved in front of him and Sara. He pulled a second pistol from his belt and fired several times up under the chin of the foremost of the intruders. It tottered for a moment and then fell back, brackish liquid oozing from its neck and chin. Another picked up Scott in its claw and dangled him in the air.
"NO!" Jason screamed. "Let him go! You're here for me, not him."
The being turned on Jason again and tossed Scott to the floor casually, with a back swing it lashed out again and sent Jason flying several feet. He landed heavily, but, as Scott had showed him just the day before, he flung his legs high into the air and then brought them down again, using their momentum to lift his upper body back up.
One of them now stood over Sara, she was crouched low in a defensive stance and her hand lingered on the ceremonial blade at her side. He vaulted over her back and smashed both of his feet solidly into the things chest. It staggered back a few steps and Jason fell heavily next to Sarah. His shoes sizzled slightly as if they had come in contact with acid.
"What are you doing Sara?" he hissed.
"Shut up Jason, I can take care of myself" she snapped. "Just get out of here, I'll hold them off."
He shook his head. "No, they only want me. They'll kill anyone who gets in their way."
"Jason," she growled.
"Sara," he warned.
"Fine!" they said together as they sprang to their feet.
Jason leapt at the attacker to his right and pounded his fists against its torso. The black carapace that encased it dented slightly inwards under the blows, but his hands felt like they were on fire. He looked down at them and found a black chemical coating his knuckles. He wiped them off on his shirt and it quickly began to eat through the material.
Jason dropped to a crouch and swung his foot out, hoping to knock the feet from under his attacker. His foot slammed against its calf and came to a jarring halt. He felt like he'd kicked a lamppost. He pulled forwards with his foot, hoping he could at last unbalance it, and caught a tube that ran along the back of the things leg. He yanked sharply and the tube disconnected, spewing thick oil on the ground. The limb went rigid and Jason scampered away as the thing brought both fists down onto the stone where he had been lying, cracking it and causing it to buckle.
He could hear a whirring of gears as the limb refused to move and the creature pivoted, swinging wildly at him. He cast a glance over to Sara who seemed to be fairing better.
She had seen the tube disconnect and guessed that not only did the protective shell not cover their whole bodies, but the tubes seemed to allow them to function. Her keen blade slashed at the carapace, chipping it in places, but causing no real harm until she sliced through a tube on its thigh. It spewed vicious oil for a moment and then the leg shut down. She ducked a swinging claw and caught sight of a cable hanging just under where its armpit would have been. She slipped beneath its reach and brought her sword up, cutting through the cable. More oil splattered the ground and the limb whirred and then froze in midair above her head, claws pointing downwards to impale her.
She breathed a sigh of relief. "That was close!" before somersaulting backwards and avoiding the remaining claw. She recalled Scott's success with his gun on the throat of the other creature and she leapt high, holding her blade before her like a spear. The steel pierced through the unprotected material and out the other side, stabbing through another of the arterial pipes. Her momentum carried both her and the creature toppling over onto the floor. Red eyes glared back at her from its face and its mouth opened revealing rows of saw-like teeth. Ocher pumped out around the blade lodged in its throat around her and the red eyes faded. Eventually, all movement of the beast cased and she struggled to her feet, her front stained by the oil.
Sara pulled her sword from the creature’s jugular and turned to find the third. Scott however was already dealing with it. Having recovered from his fall, he had leapt onto the back of the creature, trying to stab it with a hunting knife. Before she could even offer to help, he managed a slash to its throat. The being slowed in its movements and then stopped altogether, crumpling forwards onto the floor. Scott leapt off it, his clothes smoldering from the acid on its carapace. Sara looked down at her own clothes, now speckled with holes and burn marks.
Jason's hands felt like he had dipped them in liquid fire as he danced around the wild stabs of the last intruder. It was really beginning to piss him off. He let the anger surge up in him and then as he saw an opening, lashed out with his foot. His foot connected with its head and he felt the power release. Sara gasped in surprise as its head was knocked clean off and spun to the floor. It rolled across the ground and out the open hall door. The body remained standing until Jason delivered a last lash with his foot to its knee from the side. The joint snapped and the body collapsed.
The three looked at each other, panting loudly after their ordeal. Scott moved off to help get the rest of the wound into the infirmary to be tended to while Sara eyed Jason suspiciously.
"What?" he finally asked once he noticed her gaze.
"What's going on Jason?" she asked. "How did you know they were coming through the windows, and how did you know they were after you?"
"I don't know I just-" he began but was cut short as someone screamed his name from outside.
There was a sickening snap of tendons ripping and then a scream of agony. It was suddenly cut short by another loud crack.
"Come on out Jason! How many of them do I need to kill before you're ready to play?"
Sara's face went pale when she heard the voice. "Jason run." She whispered.
And he did. He ran.
He ran past her, snatching the blade from her hand and dashing towards the door. She shouted for Scott to stop him, but Jason was already past him and out the door.
He dashed past Scott, the blade down, its point scratching a line on the floor as he ran. He burst through the door screaming one name in rage.
* * *
"Matthew you have to stop." Ashley told him.
Matt was sitting on the balcony overlooking the clouded vista. He remained silent.
"Matt do you hear me?" she asked. "You have to stop doing this to yourself. And you can't keep visiting him."
"I just got back from having a little talk with Ophiel. " She said, "It's a good thing he likes me so much. But I'm having a hard time keeping him from telling Miriam about you little visits to Jason."
"So, Matt, if she catches you, she'll strip you of your wings!" Ashley warned him.
"Maybe that would be best... if she took my wings..." he sighed.
"What? How can you think that?" she looked at him in shock. "How would you be able to help Jason then?"
"I haven't helped him much so far have I?" he snapped. "I was wrong. I'm an angel and I was wrong. How could I have been so stupid?!"
"Love can be a blinding thing," She touched his shoulder gently.
He whirled and stood before her. "Look at me Ashley!" His face was pale and he had dark circles under his eyes. He shuddered slightly as his wings sprouted and flowed down his back. The once pristine plumage was now gray and shabby, the feathers looking almost wilted.
Ashley laid her hand against his face. "You still haven't been able to meditate?"
Matt shook his head. "Not since..." he turned back to the balcony and away from her. "Every time I close my eyes, I see him dying. Over and over again." He paused and his hand gripped the marble railing. "I have to find him, Ash. I have to see him!"
* * *
Nick Palmer had been late to the opening and as such had been standing near the back of the gathering. He had also been one of the first to make it outside when the attack had begun. He lay now on the ground just a few feet from the door to the hall, his right arm and leg bent at odd angles, numerous claw holes marked them.
The creatures that attacked him had suddenly discarded him like a broken doll and raced to the sides of the building. Shortly after he had heard the sounds of shattering glass and then a fight ensuring inside. He wanted to turn and crawl back into the hall, but his injured limbs refused to move. The toxins on his attackers claws had seeped into his blood and he watched in anguish as the veins around the puncture holes slowly swelled and blackened. He tried to cry for help but only a scratchy croak issued forth. The creature had crushed his larynx.
Nick turned his head and moaned into the ground as he tried to lift himself on his uninjured arm. His arm shook too much and he promptly collapsed on his side. He looked up to see if anyone else was nearby to help him. That's when he noticed the dark flames blossom from the ground a dozen or so meters from him.
The flames rose to man-height darkening almost to black and heavy clangs of metal crashing resounded through the air, and then a man stepped out. He wore the same carapace like armor that Nick's attackers had worn, only edged in blood red. The black flames diminished and left the man standing, casting about him with eyes like coals.
There was a sharp crack from inside the hall and then a dull rumbling sound of something approaching. The head of one of the attackers rolled out the door of the hall, past Nick and came to rest at the man's feet. He looked at it a moment and then raised his foot and slammed down. Sparks flew as the head shattered.
Nick watched him saunter over to one of his injured companions and raise him off the ground by his shirt. The man called over his shoulder towards the hall, "Jason!"
He looked at the boy in his grasp and then grabbed his arm, wrenching it from its socket with one powerful tug. The boy screamed in agony. The man sneered at the noise and then snapped his neck with an audible crack. Nick cringed.
The man tossed the body aside and faced the hall again. "Come on out Jason! How many of them do I need to kill before you're ready to play?"
Nick heard someone running from inside the hall and then a shout of rage.
Jason burst from the great doors, knocking them against the walls as he raced past Nick, Sara's blade in his hand, angled low to the ground. As Jason neared Damien, he spun to his right and slashed the blade at Damien's abdomen.
Nick had never seen anyone move so fast. Damien's right hand snapped out and caught the blade in his bare hand, heedless off the razor edge. Jason stumbled as the sword was wrenched from his grasp. Before he could react, Damien whipped his left hand in his face and Jason flew back, slamming against the wall of a warehouse.
But Jason was back on his feet in a flash, he wiped a trickle of blood from his split lip and then took a defensive stance. Damien took one look at him and then threw back his head and laughed heartily.
"What's this? The cub as teeth?" he scoffed. "Well, lets see how well you fight then." He tossed the sword in his hand aside and curled his own fists.
The sword clattered to the ground near Nick, and Jason's eyes followed it. His eyes connected with Nicks for a moment and then he nodded grimly.
Jason rolled forwards, snatching up a shard of twisted metal in his hand and then sprung up past Damien, slashing with his hand as he did. He sunk to a crouch behind Damien and pivoted. "This 'cub' has claws too" he spat.
Damien turned again to face him, the shard of metal protruding obscenely form a long gash along his face. He tugged the shard out, and dabbed nonchalantly at the black ichors that oozed from the wound.
"Very good!" he clapped his hands mockingly. "I honestly wasn't expecting that from you. You certainly seemed to have learnt a lot since our last encounter. However, you are still only human..."
Like lightning, Damien was behind him, he kicked Jason's kneecaps out from under him and tugged his head back. He sneered down into Jason's upturned face. "...Which means," he continued, "that you are still bound by the speed of muscle synapses."
Jason brought his other hand round against the side of Damien's knee, jamming the sliver of metal he had concealed in his hand deep into the leg.
Damien released his hold on Jason and stumbled backwards. The leg screeched as the joint ground against the metal shard.
"You little shit!" Damien cursed.
Damien dragged his leg backwards another step and his foot brushed against Nick's broken arm. He looked down at the prone boy and a many-toothed grin split his face.
"Leave him alone, Damien." Jason called out. "This is between you and me!"
Nick chose that moment to grasp the sword in his still functioning hand and plunged it upwards through Damien's stomach. It split right through his back and lodged there. Nick tugged at it desperately.
"Oh, well then," Damien looked downwards at the blade piercing him. "The boy's just sealed his fate." Damien clenched his abdomen and the sword shot like a piston out of his body and back at Nick. Jason heard his ribs crack from where he was before Nick screamed in pain.
Jason suddenly felt it again. That switch inside him. As if a great hand had reached down and flipped the switch, activating a circuit. His rage boiled up out of him and manifested itself as a whirlwind of blazing white fire. It swirled around Jason, obliterating the world from his view and then spun across the gap between Jason and Damien. It flowed like a maelstrom around Damien. Flashes of black energy broke the surface of the blaze and then subsided. The funnel of energies collapsed in on itself and then exploded outwards with a shock wave that knocked the walls off the buildings behind Jason.
Jason blinked rapidly to clear the large purple splotches in his vision. He searched for Damien but found only a greasy patch of blackened ground where he had stood. His eyes connected with Nick's who blinked in surprise.
Nick's hair was standing on end, blown backwards by the force of the shock wave. But the wounds that had dotted his torso had healed without a trace.
"That was unexpected," he gasped as he stared back at Jason.
There were shouts as people ran from inside the infirmary and lifted Nick onto a stretcher and took him inside. More people, most with only minor injuries ran out to combat the fires that were still burning in the compound. People pushed past Jason in an effort to get away from the scene. Someone forced something into his hand as they passed, but he couldn't see who it was.
Scott and Sara who had been watching from the doorway and seen the whole fight emerged more slowly. Scott stared at Jason openmouthed. A mix of fear and amazement painted on his face. Sara looked like she had been hit in the face with a wet towel.
"Jason? You're a... you're..." she gaped.
Jason opened his hand and stared at the crumpled piece of paper that had been pushed into his hand. He un-crumpled it. It bore a message.
'I have to see you. There's a town a half- hour's drive from here. Meet me in The Chopping Block. It's a bar on the edge of town.
'M' for 'Matt' Jason thought.
Scott and Sarah were on either side of him now, they were both talking, but Jason wasn't listening. Scott and Sarah each put an arm around him and tried to carry him back to the infirmary. He planted his feet.
"No." he said. "I have to go."
"You're not going anywhere, buddy" Scott informed him.
"NO! Matt's--" Jason tried to explain.
Sara glared at him. "You're coming inside now"
Jason looked at her with sad eyes. "I'm reeaally sorry you guys..." He lifted his legs so they were supporting his weight for a moment, before slamming his feet down against the backs of their calfs. He vaulted up and backwards, flipping in midair as their legs were shoved from under them. They hit the ground heavily, stunned. He hit the ground running and didn't look back.
Scott helped Sara to her feet. They stared after Jason.
"What the fuck?!" She gaped.
"Don't worry," Scott told her. "He won't get far on foot and he doesn't have keys to any of the cars." He patted the chest pocket of his shirt reassuringly. A look of panic flashed across his face. He patted it again, then looked inside. It was empty. "Sonofabitch!"
Scott had been supporting under the shoulder and Jason's hand had been hanging down over his chest... right where the pocket was.
* * *
Jason found the town, just as the note had said, half an hour away. The Chopping Block was likewise easy to find. A large gothic building, it looked as if it had once been a church, now painted black and the windows replaced with red glass. In fact, a sign on the wall read in gold letters, 'Not a church. Get over it.'
Jason parked Scott's car on the street and made his way in. It was empty except for the bartender, but hey, what had he been expecting? Matt, wings out in all their glory, sitting at a table sipping a whisky? Not likely.
Jason took a seat at the bar and sat down for a wait. After all, the message hadn't said when they were to meet.
* * *
"He's a caster?!" Sara was shouting. "Why the fuck didn't you tell me he was a caster?"
Her hooded companion seemed nonplussed by her tone. "I didn't think it was relevant. And mind your language."
Sara spluttered. "Not relevant? He's my brother! I'd say that makes it pretty bloody relevant." She clenched and unclenched her fists. "Were you even planning on telling me?"
"Eventually, perhaps," was the only reply she got.
Sarah stared at her compatriot. "There are reasons we don't train people in both fighting and casting. Don't you know that? I thought you were supposed to be omniscient."
"Supposed. Remember, it's not my bible."
Exasperated, Sara attempted to explain. "People can't be both a fighter and a caster at the same time. They burn out too quickly, or they make mistakes that kill them and the people around them."
The hooded person shrugged. "Jason won't. I'm confident of that."
Sara made a sound of contempt. "It's also incase they grow rampant. That way, they can only fight or cast, not both."
Her companion turned away from her and faced out of the large window. "Perhaps Jason is meant to 'grow rampant' as you say."
"What do you mean?" Sara asked. "What is he?"
"He's... different. That's all you need to know for now."
"Well where is he?" She asked desperately.
Her companion moved towards the door.
Sara grabbed at a sleeve of the robe. "Where is my bro--"
There was a crack of thunder and Sara was flung back against the wall. She slumped on the ground and groaned. When she looked up again, her companion was crouched over her.
"Do not touch me child. I won't warn you again."
Sara groaned. "Jason... Where is he?"
"Jason is fine. He is about to have an encounter with an old... acquaintance of mine. He'll be back before sunset, at which time, I would recommend that you take him home for... What is it you call it these days? 'Christmas.' And take Scott with you, the boy has a part yet to play."
Robes swished across the floor. The door creaked open and her companion slipped out into the hall, shutting the door behind.
"Sara!" Scott shouted as he burst through the door. He looked wildly about for her and then spotted her on the floor. He ran to her side and started to lift her up.
"I'm fine!" She snarled. She ran to the door and stuck her head out into the hall. She looked both ways. It was empty. "Where'd the fucker go?" she cursed silently.
Scott joined her at the door and similarly scanned the hallway. "Who?"
"The person who left just before you came." Sara said, looking at him in surprise. "You must have passed them in the hall."
Scott shook his head. "Sorry, the hall was empty. No-one entered or left your the room before I came."
She looked about to argue, but then changed her mind. "Why did you come in here anyway?"
"I was right, Jason took my car. It'll only take a little while to find him if we send out an air patrol though." He informed her.
"No. Jason's fine... he'll be back before sunset," she echoed her companions words.
Sara stepped out into the hall and gestured for Scott to follow her. She made her way to the end of the corridor where a security camera was positioned to monitor the hall. She stood on tiptoe and peered into the camera. "Come on," she said over her shoulder before setting off down the hall. "Let's pay the surveillance room a visit. We're going to get to the bottom of this."
"Bottom of what?" Scott asked as he trailed behind her.
But he received no reply.
* * *
The bartender, having refused to serve Jason without an ID had left Jason to using his fingers to thrumming out the beat of songs playing over the radio positioned behind the bar.
'Don't be aroused
by my confession
unless you don't give a good god damn
Christ is coming
and so am I
and you would to if this sexy devil
caught your eye'
"Hello Mr. Parker." Someone said in a thick British accent.
Jason turned. "Hel--"
There was no-one behind him. "-lo..." He looked around the barroom, but besides the bartender, he was still the only person there and the bartender was busy cleaning glasses at the other end of the bar.
Someone whistled shrilly and Jason turned towards the sound. There was an empty bar stool beside him and then the wall. Something made him look upwards though, towards the ceiling. He almost fell out of his chair.
On the ceiling was perched an upside-down man with jet-black hair and a open, tanned face. His black trench coat was spread across the ceiling around him. He waved jovially at Jason. Jason looked to the far end of the bar for the bartender, but he was still busy wiping glasses and seemed not to have noticed the man crouched defying gravity above Jason.
"H-hello?" Jason stared up at him.
The man pressed his hands up against the ceiling and then pushed off with his legs, flipping over so he was hanging as if his hands were stuck to the ceiling. Then he let go—from what, Jason wasn't sure-- and landed comfortable on the high-stool next to Jason. He extended his hand to a dumbstruck Jason.
"Good to see you again Mr. Parker." He said.
"Sorry?" Jason asked in confusion. "I don't remember you, and I think I'd remember a man who crouches on ceilings."
The man chuckled. "I guess, I look a bit different from last time, hm?" He gestured as he spoke. "Leather pants, no shirt, black wings... ring a bell?"
Jason's eyes widened in surprise. "You!"
The man clapped his hands like a happy child just given a new toy. "Oh you do remember me!"
Jason frowned. "You're not Matt. Where's Matt?"
The man looked about him. "Matt? Oh, were you meeting him here too?"
"What do you mean 'too'? I don't know you, why would I be meeting you?" Jason pulled the note from his pocket. "Matt asked me to meet him."
The man's face split with a sad smile. "Oh, my boy, I apologize. I suppose I should have put my full name, shouldn't I?" Before Jason could stop him, the man had snatched the crumpled piece of paper from his hand, and with a metal quill he produced from his sleeve, he wrote in the rest of his name and then handed it back to Jason.
Jason read it over. 'Mephistopheles' it now read.
"Yes, very funny Mr. Mephistopheles, a lovely Faustus reference there, but I'm waiting for Matt, so if you'd just leave me alone for now..."
The man made a 'tch' sound. "How rude." Then he sighed "Damn Marlowe and his bloody play. Honestly, you tell a story to one play-write, one, and you never hear the end of it!" Mephistopheles tapped his fingers on the bar. "So... Jason, is it?" He asked as if he knew the answer already.
"Look, I already told you, I'm waiting for Matt." Jason snapped.
"I shouldn't keep your hopes up kiddo, Matthew and his ilk can't get in here." Mephistopheles gestured at the door.
Jason turned to observe a patina of runes, written in something that looked suspiciously like blood, running around the door frame. They throbbed gently with an eerie red light. Jason silently wondered how he had missed something like that when he entered.
The bartender had by now noticed Mephistopheles and came over to serve him. "Waddya want?"
Mephistopheles half-turned to face the man and put a finger to his lips. "Shh."
The bartender took on a vacant look, and his mouth hung slack.
"'..And the Archangel Michael came down upon them and they cursed him, and he put his finger to his lips and bade them be silent...'" Mephistopheles recited. He turned back to Jason. "That's where that groove above your lip comes from, you know."
Jason scowled at him, resigned to the fact that he had indeed been tricked into meeting this 'Mephistopheles.' "What do you want?" He demanded.
"Actually, I could use a nice glass of Southern Comfort right now." He raised his hand and then paused. "You want something?" he asked Jason.
"uh... B-Baileys." Jason stammered.
Mephistopheles stuck two fingers up and then twirled his hand in a small circle. There was a small puff of purple smoke near the bottle of Southern Comfort behind the bar. A similar one blossomed out of the air near the refrigerator underneath the far end of the bar. Out of each cloud of smoke came, what looked like, a small, naked, red-skinned person with little wings sprouting from their backs. One grabbed the bottle of Southern Comfort and flapping it's wings strenuously, brought it to Mephistopheles. The other landed, and tugged open the refrigerator and rummaged inside, producing a small bottle of Baileys. Then it too took flight again, hovering near Jason.
Mephistopheles reached out his hand and two of the glasses the bartender had earlier been cleaning shot up the bar towards them. Jason pulled his hand back out of the way as they sped past. They clinked into Mephisopheles' hand and the two imp-creatures poured their separate drinks into each. They set the bottles down on the counter and then with a wave of his hand, Mephistopheles banished them in another puff of purple smoke.
"Er... thanks." Jason said and slowly took a sip of his drink.
Mephistopheles took a sip from his own glass. "Useful creatures, imps. You can train them to do practically anything. Trouble is, they aren't born knowing how to fly, or much else actually. Just how to annoy."
Jason looked uneasily at the bartender who was still standing, open-eyed and openmouthed. He hadn't even blinked once.
"Sorry, is he bothering you?" Mephistopheles asked him. Not waiting for Jason's answer, he reached across the counter and pushed with a finger against the mans head. Like a plank of wood stood on end which suddenly becomes unbalanced, the man toppled backwards and hit the ground with a heavy thud. Mephistopheles sat back nonchalantly and took another gulp from his glass.
* * *
Sara knocked on the thick glass window that looked into the surveillance room. The was a buzz and the a clank as the security door unlocked to allow her and Scott entrance.
"Ma'am?" the young woman monitoring the screens asked.
"Isabelle, I need you to check out the camera in the hall outside my room." Sara told her.
Isabelle tapped furiously away at an expansive keyboard attached to the chair she was sitting in. She swiveled around in the chair to face a large screen that took up most of the wall opposite the window.
"Any time in particular?" she asked.
"Everything in the last half-hour." Sarah instructed.
Isoabelle's fingers danced across the keyboard in an intricate pattern and the screen was suddenly filled with the view from the camera outside Sara's room. She looked to Sara for further instructions.
"Fast-forward until I enter my room." The numbers in the corner of the screen raced upwards and people shot up and down the corridor. Someone opened Sara's door and went in.
"OK, play it from there."
They watched as several minutes ticked past.
Then a second person came to Sara's door and opened it.
"Freeze it." Sara told her.
Isabelle paused the camera. The three of them looked at the person entering her room.
"That's me." Scott said.
"Yes. Isabelle, play it backwards slowly from there."
The image of Scott closed the door and moved backwards up the hall, the way he had come. Otherwise however, the hall was empty. Sara frowned.
"Were you looking for something in particular?" Isabelle asked her.
"I'm not sure..." Sara pursed her lips. "Half the current play speed and go from there."
Not entirely sure what this was all about, Isabelle did as she was asked.
Sara barely saw it. Her door opened about an inch and then closed again. She asked Isabelle to play it again.
"It's probably just an anomaly on the film," she told Sara.
"No, reduce the speed further and play it again."
They watched as this time, the door opened fully for a moment and then closed again.
"Can you slow it down even more?" Sara asked, now leaning on Isabelle's chair.
"I can try," Isabelle told her, "but it's going to be choppy. This camera wasn't really designed to record things at this speed."
The screen flashed frame by frame the image of Sara's door. It opened and closed without explanation and then a sudden blur appeared before the door, moving down the corridor away from an approaching Scott.
"I-I don't understand..." Isabelle stammered.
"What?" Scott asked. "What is that blur? A person?"
Isabelle shook her head. "That's impossible. Nothing can move that fast. It's not physically possible."
"What do you mean?" Scott asked her again.
Isabelle pointed at the numbers at the bottom of the screen. "That's in milliseconds there. Whatever it is, is moving faster than the speed of sound. Much faster. Something like that would have created a sonic-boom that would have knocked you down the hall and shattered the stone walls."
Sara had moved forwards and was peering at the screen. She pointed out an area of the screen. "Can you zoom in on that?"
Isabelle's fingers danced again and area Sara had indicated was enlarged 'till it filled the screen. The outline of a hooded figure was just recognizable.
"Sonofa bitch." Sara cursed.
The area where the face of the hood would have been was blocked out with white light, as if a flash had gone off.
* * *
"Where is Matt?" Jason suddenly demanded.
"I told you, it was me who gave you that message. I'm the one you came to meet here," Mephistopheles sighed. "For all I know, or care for that matter, Matt is probably up in Heaven with that girl of his."
Jason felt his heart sink. "What g-girl?" he stumbled over the word. Matt had told him he was gay-- hadn't he?
Mephistopheles waved his hand as if searching for something. "A-something rather... Ashley I think. That angel girl." He looked at Jason's shocked face. "Oh, Matt didn't tell you about her? Hm, perhaps I've said too much."
Jason stared hard at the mirror behind the bar and fought the lump in his throat.
This is almost too easy, Mephistopheles thought. Oh well, at least he was having better luck that Damien had ever had.
To keep his mind off the possibilities of what Matt and this 'Ashley' were doing up in Heaven, Jason studied his companion in the mirror. His mind flashed back to the few moments when he had seen him before, standing on a spire of rock overlooking a seemingly endless field of iron and steelworks. Jason blinked and realized Mephistopheles was staring back at him through the mirror. His eyes were black, like bottomless pits.
Jason quickly turned back and faced his drinking partner. "So you're a demon?"
"Aht--" Mephistopheles raised his hand to interrupt him. "Not a demon, a Fallen Angel. Very different."
"Wait, you're one of the originals? One of the ones who rebelled with the Devil and were cast from Heaven?" Jason asked, mocking slightly.
"Well, I don't like to brag..."
"Why are you British then?" Jason queried.
Mephistopheles grinned a white smile. "I'm not. Remember, I was born in a time before the angels came down and messed with everyone's heads. You know, Tower of Babel and all that." He gestured absently. "I speak the true language, it's your mind that makes me sound British."
Mephistopheles took a nut from a small dish on the counter. He popped it into his mouth and grimaced before spitting it back out onto the floor. He scooped a handful out of the dish and turned them over in his palm. He raised his index finger of his other hand before his mouth and blew on it. A red flame sprung from his finger tip.
Jason looked on, uneasily as Mephistopheles stuck his tongue out of the side of his mouth, like a child concentrating and aimed his index finger at the nuts in his palm. The tiny flame on his finger blazed like a flame-thrower over his hand and the nuts. The flames let up and he blew out the tip of his finger. He popped a nut into his mouth and crunched happily.
"Roasted almond?" He offered Jason.
Jason edged slightly away from him and politely declined. Jason looked to the closed door. "You're not going to let me go are you?"
"Not yet." Mephistopheles said between nuts. As if to emphasize his point, the pool table skidded across the room and flipped on end before smashing against the wall, completely blocking the door.
"Are you going to kill me?" Jason asked him calmly.
Mephistopheles laughed heartily. "I'm not like Damien."
"You didn't answer my question," Jason persisted.
Mephistopheles turned and fixed him with his black eyes. "Do you want me to answer it?"
A moment of silence passed between them.
"Didn't think so." Mephistopheles said and popped another almond into his mouth.
"So then you admit that Damien is working for you to kill me?"
"Did I say that?"
Jason paused. "Well, no but--"
"Indeed, Damien was once in our service. As Sara told you, he was also once in the service of Heaven."
Jason started. "How did you know Sara told me that?" He thought back to that night in the hotel. What else had Sara said? He tried desperately to remember. Had it all been true?
"Hell keeps a close eye on the few mortals who hold significant interest in the fate of the world. Also, I think Lucifer rather took a liking to you..." Mephistopheles commented before refilling his glass.
"But I've never met--" Jason started.
Mephistopheles cut him off again. "Oh, the bible is constantly going on about how God is omni-this and omni-that. The church prefers for people not to know that Lucifer isn't just a Fallen Angel. He's the anti-God. That doesn't just mean he's not 'good' like God is." Mephistopheles spat on the ground. "Lucifer is just as omni as the Big Guy ever was. You can find them both in most things if you look hard enough."
Jason thought this over for a moment. "So then Damien's like you? He's a Fallen Angel?"
Mephistopheles threw his glass against the wall and burst into pieces. "Damien is nothing like me. We Fallen Angels kept our wings. We bear their blackened forms with pride. Oh no, Damien had his removed. He's less even than a demon. All he ever did in Hell was spend his time replacing bits of himself with metal and working on ways to 'perfect' his body." He snarled angrily.
Jason moved his arm just in time for the glass that came hurtling up the bar to miss him. It slid to a halt before Mephistopheles and he filled it again with Southern Comfort.
Something struck Jason as odd. Mephistopheles kept referring to things that angels had done, but he was sure that in the bible, it was God who had intervened at the Tower of Babel. And Mephistopheles had said 'was.' 'As the Big Guy ever was.'
"Is God dead?" Jason asked quietly, almost fearful of the answer.
Mephistopheles spluttered into his drink. "'Is-is God dead?'!" He looked at Jason. "You're serious, aren't you?"
Jason nodded slowly.
Mephistopheles set down his drink and exhaled slowly. "Boy, you really do need to talk to Matthew more."
"Well sorry, but we haven't had much time of late," Jason snapped. He didn't really feel like going into detail with this still-stranger about the state of his relationship with Matt.
Mephistopheles frowned and then repeated, almost to himself, "Is God dead?" He drew a breath. "Well, that's a more complicated question then you might think. Firstly, what do you mean by 'God'? Do you mean, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and all the rest, God being a generalization of religion? Do you mean God out of the Bible? The ideal of God? Or perhaps you mean the Supreme Creator? Hm?"
Jason open his mouth to speak, "No, I just--"
"Secondly," Mephistopheles spoke over him. "What do you mean by 'dead'? Nonexistent? Deceased? Forgotten? It really isn't that simple you see."
"No, I just meant, well..." Jason looked thoughtful for a moment. "It's just that you keep referring to God in the past tense, and saying angels did the things the Bible says God did, and if God were around, then why does Heaven have a ruling council?"
Mephistopheles knocked back the rest of his drink in one glass and stood. "All perfectly decent questions that have perfectly decent answers, but--" Mephistopheles pushed up the sleeve of his coat and looked at his wrist. "My my, would you look at the time?"
Jason frowned. "You're not wearing a watch."
"An excellent point, the powers of observation you humans have never cease to amaze me. But really I must be going. Besides, if I told you, you'd never believe me. Fallen Angels are viewed as so much less trustworthy than angels. Mind you have a chat with Matt about it, hm?"
Jason stood, pushing the stool backwards. "So you're not going to kill me after all?"
Mephistopheles paused in straightening his coat and seemed to toy with the idea for a moment. "No. No, I don't think I will. You're more interesting alive." He pulled a black disk from the sleeve of his coat. With a furl he whipped it through the air and the center popped up forming a brimmed hat. He placed in on his head. "Now then, I really must be going. Sinners to punish and innocents to tempt and all that," he waved absently, "besides, I hear there's a good performance of Marlowe's Dr. Faustus in London and I do so love seeing how they represent me."
Mephistopheles moved back from the bar a few steps. "'Hasta la vista, baby!'" He chuckled, "ah, cracks me up every time. Ta!" He waved and then, like a television that's had it's cable suddenly unplugged, his image collapsed in on itself and he vanished.
Jason jumped as the pool table that had been jammed against the door suddenly slammed to the ground and skidded across the room to where it had originally been. He exhaled deeply. "That was..."
He was interrupted by Mephistopheles' head, which popped seemingly out of a pocket of air into existence before him. "By the way, I'd hurry back to Sara now. I made a promise to an old acquaintance that I'd have you back by sunset, which gives you roughly half an hour." The head cocked its self to the side as if listening. "Also, the bartender is about to wake up, and I have a feeling he won't be pleased about the damage to his door," the head looked to the bar, "or the drinks we helped ourselves to. I'm guessing he won't be too thrilled about being knocked out either."
Then the head vanished again.
A deep groan issued from behind the bar.
Jason didn't waste another second. He ran out the door and into Scott's car. A screech of tires and he was out of the parking lot and on the road back to the compound. Back to Sara. Back to questions. And hopefully, back to Matt.