Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Thin Line

Matt was fully aware that if he paced across the waiting room one more time, he would probably erode a hole in the floor.

Sadly, that wasn't a joke with him. He was really hard on material objects. A side effect of his magical gifts, there wasn't much mundane he could keep for more than a few weeks before it started to break down. Clothes, computers, cars...

He groaned, leaning his head against the white hospital wall. The car. Moments after his entropic space-folding trip, the radiator had blown, the gaskets failed, and the exhaust system rusted through, venting smoke from every direction underneath the car. Such a nice vehicle, utterly ruined by the backlash of his spell.

And now, with the little girl in critical care, undergoing emergency surgery, it might all have been for nothing anyway. He didn't mind having played hero, even though it wasn't his style, but for him to go to so much effort and the child die anyway? No way.

Fuck that.

There had to be a way to bump the odds in her favor. He couldn't affect living things in any positive way, but what about probability? Isn't that what entropy really was, after all? Just Lady Luck finally bitch-slapping something? With his level of power, he should be able to tip the balance for the little girl's survival chances. Right?

He tried to feel confident about it, but his doubts weren't fooled by the bravado. Matt knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if he tried this and failed, it would have dire consequences. He'd probably kill the poor girl and maybe even several people nearby. he was in a hospital, after all, and he was hard on folks even when they were healthy. The sick and the invalid? He was like a pizza delivery by the Grim Reaper himself.

"I should get out of here."

Unfortunately, that wasn't an option either. Bringing in the girl in the condition she was in had flagged some Nurse Do-Right in ER and she'd called Security on him. He wasn't in any actual trouble, but he was being "held for questioning" regarding the patient and how she'd been injured so badly. Matt tried to tell them the truth, but no one was listening. This was a late night hospital shift in the South; it was easier to make him sweat in a locked waiting room than take five minutes and get his statement.

The lock on the door wasn't a challenge. A quick spell he'd made up on his own would pop that, but he didn't dare touch his magic. It always had a side effect. He would have gladly paid that price himself rather than risk the people here, but that wasn't his call to make. The effects of his magic were completely outside his ability to control.

Sometimes it was a nose bleed. Other times it was someone nearby slamming into a parked car. In a building full of people on life support, he didn't dare take that chance.

Of course, he knew a dozen non-magical ways to get out of a locked room. Score one for Dad's lifelong training again; he could pick a lock with a thumb tack or jimmy a window with a rolled up coy of the Watchtower. But none of those were the point right now.

There was a girl fighting for her life upstairs and if he left, he'd never know if she made it through. He wasn't sure why he cared about that enough to stay; he just did. He'd saved her, damn it. He had to be sure she survived. Maybe that was foolish.

Maybe he didn't give a damn if it was.

That's when he heard it. A low, muffled thud, like someone hitting a feather pillow with a baseball bat. Score two for Dad's teachings; he instantly knew what that sound was.

A silencer.

"The hell?!?" Matt hissed under his breath and pulled out one of his pistols. His didn't have silencers. They were loud. Loud, magical, and ludicrously violent. He grinned at that thought, knowing that if his hunters had tracked him here already, his guns would rip through them like tissue paper. Red, zealous tissue paper. Splat.

Looking at his gun, Matt then cussed quietly. His pistols would go through the walls of this hospital just as easily. The people hunting him might deserve to feel what ballistic decompression of their organs felt like, but no one else here did. Reluctantly, he holstered it. Okay. So no guns. Lovely.

He also didn't dare call forth his sword; it was an ethereal construct and more importantly, charged with angelic celestial energy. The moment he brought it out, his hunters would be able to sense it. Surprise might be the only weapon he had right now.

It really pissed him off to have to holds back like this. The Order never held back. They never cared who got hurt or who saw them using their gifts. They were soldiers of God, after all; that made everything all right. Property damage? All in the name of the Lord. Terror and coercion? All in the name of the Lord. Killing innocent witnesses to cover their tracks? All in the name of the...


Matt knew what the sound of the silencer meant. There were only four people in the hospital who'd seen or talked to him. The head nurse, the second one who'd called security, the rent-a-cop who'd walked him down here to this room, and the little girl.

"No way in Hell." His eyes went dark as he put both hands on the door and pushed. He had a little bit of magic that wasn't entropy-based - physical enhancements that took their own sort of toll but always on him. That was acceptable. No one else needed to get hurt. No one else.

The door gave way at its hinges and lock plate. He felt his strength spell flow down both arms, forcing the metal security door to rip apart, shattering outwards and and falling with a thunderous crash to the tile floor beyond. It made a loud noise but it wasn't nearly enough. He had to get their attention before they killed everyone else in the hospital.

Fury rising, he closed his right hand and let his sword happen. It blazed to life, a wave of heat scalding his palm fiercely. Painfully. This weapon really hated him, and he couldn't blame it. But it also didn't have any choice but serve him right now. And right now, its best service would be to broadcast his location to the Knights in this building.

Matt ran to the main hall of the security level, looking to its far end at the only door leading into this level. With massive strength still coursing through his arms, he drove the sword into the floor, leaving it buried halfway to its hilt in the now-sundered tiles. Then he let go of it and dashed over to stand right beside the entrance.

His trick worked perfectly. The door flew open only a few seconds after he reached position, two Knights in their usual charcoal gray suits and shiny silver guns pouring out to see only an empty hall and his burning blade all alone in the middle of it. Then Matt struck!

The rear Knight was still in the doorway, a very unfortunate place for him to be. Matthew shoved the entry door back shut as hard as he could, catching the agent between it and the door frame. The sound of half scream/half shattering bone alerted the Knight in front as his partner died instantly. Messily.

The remaining Knight pivoted quickly and tried to bring his gun to bear but it was too late. Matt's hands were already moving. One for the pistol, the other for the wrist holding it. Matt felt something wet under the fingers of his left hand; the man's cuff was stained red. It was the telltale mark of a gunman standing too close to someone when he executes them. That only fired Matt's rage higher.

"You son of a bitch." His voice was cold, but his temper was white hot. One squeeze broke the Knight's wrist, grinding all the delicate bones within it together into a consistency like lumpy oatmeal.

The Knight howled in agony, remaining just aware enough to draw a combat knife out of his jacket with his other hand. The pommel was engraved with a crucifix; the blade was burnished gray, inlaid with silver, and flecked in red. "Abomination of God!"

Matt let a moment's dark amusement take him as he pulled the gun free and pointed it at the Knight. This pistol had a silencer, a piece of equipment that both muffled sound and limited the penetration abilities of a handgun. He aimed it right at the knife as the agent drew it out of his suit jacket, a thin line of fire that would send his bullets straight through the blade and into the fanatic's chest.

"Damn right I am." Matt didn't stop firing until the clip was dry. In his mind, he could see the bodies of the people upstairs. The nurse on duty, slumped like a scarlet rag doll over her console. The head nurse, crumpled in the back of a maintenance closet where the Knights had questioned her about his location. The security guard, his throat slit by this twitching meat sack, bleeding out thirty years of failed ambitions and simple Southern dreams on the stairwell half a floor up.

He didn't know how he knew these things. He just did. The images were as clear as if he were watching them on a screen. In violence, he was finding lucidity. Terrible, fatal lucidity.

But there was no sight of the little girl, just a premonition of danger. Immediate danger!

Matt leaped over the sprawled, shredded corpse and skated on a crimson pool all the way to his discarded sword. It filled him with its immortal hatred at him killing two more members of the Order. He filled it right back with his limitless not giving a shit.

All that mattered now was getting to the girl. The entrance door was stuck shut by the gelatinous remains of the first Knight torso, but magical strength handled that just fine. His potent enhancement spell wouldn't last much longer and when it failed, he'd be as brawny as Snuggle the dryer sheet teddy bear for the rest of the night.

No matter. The Knights were dead; he just had to get to the girl. He just had to stop whatever threat she was facing. Then he could crawl off and whimper as his muscles tried to eat themselves until dawn. It was ugly, but it was a price he was willing to pay. Just don't let her be hurt.

Please, don't let her be hurt.

By the time he got to the hospital's emergency OR, Matt could already feel the spell fading. His shoulders were in agony and soon that would spread to the rest of his body. He'd put the sword away; it wasn't worth feeding the blade's existence while he wasn't fighting. He threw open the door to the OR's observation room and ran inside...

...to see a tall man in a long coat standing at the room's plate glass windows. Past them, there were two doctors stitching closed a young girl. Her EKG looked stable, her color was better than it had been when Matt arrived. She appeared to have made it through the surgery all right.

And the man was pointing an ornately engraved Order of Saint Michael, Archangel handgun directly at Matt's chest from under his right arm. The figure wasn't even looking at him, but the aim was flawless. Matthew was flatfooted, utterly caught off-guard. He could see the man's face slightly reflected in the window - older, distinguished, and seemingly emotionless.

Matt had nowhere to go. Nowhere to dodge. One shot, and it would be all over.

"Damn it..."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Coins for Charon

Dropping the gear into 3rd for more pulling power, Matt began to cuss out the hills of Tennessee.

The Smoky Mountains were a trial for any vehicle, but his was ill suited for the sudden slopes and sheer drops of its cliffside roads. He wasn't really in any danger; the roads were icy but he could handle those. The real trouble was his lack of sleep and the weary lethargy that lingered in every muscle. he had his magic back, but having it all rush into his body at once had taken its toll.

Now he was nodding off on the pass between Knoxville and Chattenooga. Not a good call. He could sustain himself on pure stubborn for a while, but eventually he would have to pull over or succumb. Here, there was no shoulder to stop on, no rest areas to catch a quick nap. It had been more than a hundred miles since the last gas station and more than that since the last hotel. He hated the thought of giving his hunters any time to catch up, but there was quickly becoming no other option.

Not that stopping was an option either. No place to do it meant not doing it at all. Matt's car slid under him again, coming frighteningly close to the edge. Past it, a sharp drop of more than a hundred feet awaited him, waiting to swallow him up. Eyes wide and a little more awake now, Matt pulled his vehicle back to the center line and pressed on.

For nearly an hour, this was the way of things. Awake for a while, a moment's slip, a longer moment of panic, and then awake again. Nodding off, waking up, all the while bordering on the edge of a heart attack. This could not go on. He would have to stop soon; there wasn't any choice. Even if he had to ditch the car and find a place to hole up on foot, he would have to stop. It was either that or plunge into the mist-filled ravine and end the chase permanently.

And that was not an option.

Almost as if in answer to an unspoken prayer, a small shoulder appeared on the snow covered road ahead. Just a stone embankment with a metal railing around its far edge, it was big enough for one car only. It was enough! He slowed down, easing into the turn that took him onto the shoulder. Mist rose up from the gap beyond, but he didn't care. The metal railing wasn't even intact, but that didn't matter. He could stop now; he could get some sleep. That was all that mattered...


The railing was broken?

And that wasn't mist. It was smoke.

Matt groaned. "Damn it."

He was out of the car, one hand on his left gun and the other holding the door for support. The break in the railing was new, its edges still shiny and uncovered by the snow still falling all around him. Another car had recently done the same as his, only it hadn't stopped on the shoulder.

It had gone over.

Running as fast as he dared to the side, Matt used a simple spell to sharpen his sight. It was one of the many tricks Mary had taught him. Bright-eyed girl, smarter than he would ever be, and now very dead. He'd grieve for her, he'd grieve for all who'd died to keep him alive. Someday. But not now. Right now, he had to make those sacrifices mean something. Maybe there was still someone to help down there.

The smoke made it impossible to see, so he reached out with his free hand and clawed at the air. Rakes of entropy shattered the obscuring wind, sending streamers of smoke in all directions, opening up a path between him and the ground. It didn't last long, but the tunnel of sight was enough for him to see what lay at the bottom of the mountain.

A van, its side doors wedged forever shut by its impact with the ground, was wedged between a pair of massive rocks. The smoke was billowing up out of its underside, now turned to the sky. Oil and gas were burning freely, one of the stones imprisoning it blackened by the blaze. The car hadn't been there long. That meant that despite how terrible the damage appeared, someone could actually be alive down there.

Even Matt had a hard time believing that. A wreck like that had to be fatal. Who could have survived something like that? He turned back to his own car. He had his own life to worry about, not the one-in-a-million chance of someone living through such a plunge.

He stopped, hearing Mary's words in his memories. He'd asked her why the coven had taken him in, and her answer had shocked him. "Because, silly, that's what magic does! Magic is life, and life is hope. If we didn't help you, who'll help us when we need it most?" Of course, that had been before the Order found him and killed them all. Magic hadn't helped them. No one helped them. Even he'd done nothing, hiding while the Knights butchered them all.

Growling, hating himself for being such an over-emotional twit, he turned around and walked back to the edge. This was pointless.

He holstered his pistol.

No one survived that crash.

Matt opened his coat.

They are all dead down there.

He reached into the air, hand closing around empty air as he summoned forth his sword of radiance. The angel's blade, held now by someone unworthy.

There's no one left to save.

With a deep breath, Matt let himself feel a moment of faith. He didn't know how this would work, or even if it would work, but he had to try.

You're only wasting time you don't have.

And with that, he leaped off the cliff, plummeting into the smoldering crevasse below...

...and halfway down, his trenchcoat flared wide, becoming arcs of glorious shadow. Light and dark, the glow of his sword and the shade of his beating wings, trailed through the air as he descended to the burning earth below.

Amazed, Matthew settled to his feet beside the broken van. His wings folded, almost of their own volition, and vanished, fading into his back and becoming a coat once more. One swipe of his sword took the side of the vehicle off, its edge cleaving effortlessly through steel and glass. A hundred pounds of refuse fell away, allowing him a look inside.

Two bodies were pinned upside down, their blood raining onto the roof of their crumpled coffin. Dead, utterly dead, they were beyond his help. His tainted magic could feel their demise; he knew without seeking such knowledge that they had been dead before he got here. Nothing he could do for them now.

But his magic also revealed something else, something it couldn't touch. Entropy magic easily pierced objects and the flesh of the fallen, but it had a hard time affecting the living. That was the province of White Magic, the power of life. Somewhere in that twisted hulk, a heart still beat. Faintly. Slowing... Slowing...

Matt jumped from the ground to the rocks to the top of the van and struck as swiftly as he could. Layers of the van carved away; he had to be careful but he also had to be quick. He could have easily ripped the van apart with a few strokes, but he couldn't be sure where inside the life was; one false stroke and he'd silence the heartbeat ringing in his ears.

Finally, the undercarriage was peeled away and he could see the van's lone survivor. A young girl, a bloody mat of hair covering her face, suspended by her seat belt in the middle of the backseat bench. Her back turned at an awkward angle, the girl's peril was obvious. She was suffocating, her chest too constricted to allow for much breathing. He knew moving her could hurt her further, but at this point she was damned if he didn't anyway.

His sword lashed out one last time, cutting her straps as he grabbed her by the shirt. She was small, maybe ten years old, so he could easily pick her up with one hand. That was good, since he had only one arm free. Cradling the little one to his chest, he aimed his sword at the sky and begged it to bring back his wings.

Pinions of darkness erupted from his back, his coat expanding to banish the smoke around him. With one beat of them, Matt took to the air and flew upwards at a dizzying speed. The sheer cliff soared past him, disappearing as he passed the edge of the road and arched into the snow-shrouded sky. Much as he wanted to stay in the air, enjoying the feel of flight, the girl in his grasp needed help now.

Matt landed, his wings vanishing again, and ran to his car. Throwing the back door open, he had her on the back seat and was checking her over. Her ribs were spongy, probably broken, and her hair was stuck to her face because shards of broken glass were in her cheek and forehead. Her bleeding had stopped, but the damage was done. She was pale and cold, probably only a few minutes from death.

"Damn it!" Matt hadn't done so much just to lose this girl now. "Don't you dare die on me!" He had no healing magic. None. His powers had been corrupted long ago; the rite that awakened his powers had also twisted them away from the Light. He could kill easily, but he couldn't so much as close a paper cut.

"Fuck it." Entropy was all he had, so entropy would be how he saved her. The wings thing had worked; he was feeling lucky. "Fuck it all."

He closed the door and climbed into the driver's seat. His coat was over the girl now, keeping her as warm as it could. He was more than an hour from Chattenooga, just as far from Knoxville behind him, and the nearest town was probably too far for what little life existed in his back seat. Only one thing left to try.

But first, something he'd promised Mary he'd always do if he came across the dead. The last time he'd done this was for the old man on that train back near Nashville. He'd hoped he'd never have to do it again.

So much for hope. Matt rolled down his window and threw a handful of change from his pocket over the edge of the cliff. Four quarters tumbled into the smoke, falling into the darkness below. "Farewell. May your journey be a peaceful one." He didn't really believe in such things, but Mary had. Honoring her wishes was the least he could do for her.

But now, another young girl was depending on him. One he could save.

Matt gritted his teeth. "Here goes nothing."

And with that, he focused his power in a way he'd never wanted to try. It was dangerous. It could easily go out of control. One slip, one moment of failed control, and it could be the last thing he ever tried. And it was the child's only hope.

That thought bolstered him and, against his better judgment, Matt used raw Entropy to tear open the sky, rend open the world, and collapse space between his car and the nearest hospital.

It was the most frightening piece of spellwork he'd ever done...

...and it worked.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Red Aside

By the time they stopped running, the scene of their crime was nearly a mile away. The biggest of the group, now wearing his gleaming prize to keep his hands free, was winded. The other two were tired enough to be nauseous.

"We... have so... got to steal... a damn car," said the smallest. A petty crook even by the most generous of criminal standards, Jimmy never had any plan that didn't involve stealing something from someone. Not the most physical of people, a mile's run was a lot more than he ever wanted to do again. "I know.... a good place... for it."

"Screw that," the big man said again. He was the leader of this trio by virtue of sheer size and the fact that he basically had none. Virtues that is; Trey defined amoral. "As soon as we pawn this thing, we can buy a damn car. Maybe even just trade it for a set of nice wheels. Something with rims and a kick-ass stereo."

That left Marco, the middle man. He was the one first up whenever a head needed caved in or an old lady needed her purse stolen. He would do anything, a trait Trey found very helpful in a flunkie. They hadn't moved up to killing people during robberies yet, but it was only a matter of time. When they did, Marco would definitely be the first one shooting. "That sounds great, T. I could go for a hot Vette with room in the back for some honeys."

Trey shook his head and spit into the gravel of the alleyway. "Vettes don't have back seats, dumbass. But you can bang bitches on the hood just fine." The body gesture Trey made to go along with his statement was something unprintable.

Jimmy caught his breath and hoarsed out a rough laugh. "Hell yeah! That's what I'm talkin' about! When we gonna ditch that piece o' bling?"

Trey touched the thing, shifting it on his brow. The headband was a solid chunk of gold as far as he could tell. It had a strange crest of some kind on the front, maybe some Catholic school logo or something. "I dunno. It's weird looking, but the Shark oughta be able to fence it with no problem." Sticking it under his jacket, Trey turned to leave. "Let's head that way."

"Fine with me. I could use a cold one or eight right now." Marco was referring to the beers they'd be buying with the money just stole as soon as they reached the Hellhole, a rundown bar off Kingston Pike and Watley. The place was one of Shark's favorite hangouts. If he wasn't there now, he would be before the night was over.

Unfortunately for Trey and his boys, someone had other plans for them.

Jimmy was the first to drop. His brains were a heavy coating of meat and bone on the alley wall before the other two even heard the gunshot. It rang out from overhead like the angry voice of God as Jimmy hit the pavement. The hole in his head was big enough to pitch a baseball through.

"Fuck!" shouted Trey as he ran for the nearest piece of cover, a dumpster covered in spray paint and ten years of abuse. Marco turned to follow him, but his legs stopped working once his spine was no longer contiguous. It was still attached to his skull, but the explosion of his chest took several key vertebrae with it. He dropped in a haze of crimson mist, folding awkwardly in the middle of his former ribcage.

"What the hell?!? Who are you? What the fuck do you want?!" Trey pulled his piece and popped off four blind shots into the alley. he had no idea who to shoot at or where they even were; this was an act of ballistic desperation.

A quiet voice called out, the echo of the narrow street making it impossible to determine its point of origin. "Such language, Mr. Engel. I would have expected better from someone troublesome enough to require my services."

Trey fired again, this time aiming across the alley at the windows he could see on the third and fourth floors. "Who the fuck is M...?" His question was cut short by his sudden lack of vocal cords. Or a larynx. Or a throat of any kind, actually. His head bounced twice when it struck the street, coming to rest face down in Marco's pooling blood.

A few moments later, a shape plummeted to the aging asphalt nearby. The man seemed no worse for wear after having jumped down four stories, rising silently and smoothing the front of his long coat with his free hand. The other was holding a massive rifle with three barrels, a particularly rare and vicious item of field artillery called a Trident-AAC. The AAC part stood for Anti-Armor Cannon, but it worked equally well on people as evinced by the carnage at the shooter's black leather booted feet.

"I must say, Matthew, I am disappointed." The man's face was concealed behind a paratrooper's dark gray all-weather mask and a pair of low-light optical glasses. "For someone clever enough to have evaded the Ordo Michaelaeus this long, you were no trouble at all to hunt down. A pity..."

He walked over to the bullet-severed head and knelt to pick it up. "I had been hoping for more of a hunt." Then he turned it over in his hand and peered at Trey's face.

"Ah." He dropped it after prising off the Holy Seal. Standing up once more, the sniper put the enchanted headpiece in a small dark satchel and took a PDA off his toolbelt. One touch brought the small hand deck to life and a second brought up an image of Matthew Engel. It took less than a moment to confirm the mistaken kill.

Beneath the mask, a thin line showed that the man beneath was smiling. "Matthew, Matthew, Matthew. My faith in thee is once more restored."


By the time police arrived to investigate the gunshots, all they found were the charred remains of three people in a burning dumpster...

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Matt turned down the next alley, glancing back to check on his tail.

He'd picked them up a few streets back and despite his crossing through traffic and moving to a different city block, they were still back there. Persistent and speeding up gradually, it wouldn't be long before they would overtake him. With magic, he could have easily ditched both men, but magic wasn't an option right now.

Indeed, that's why this was happening.

Forty yards from the next intersection, Matt's luck ran out. A third one stepped into the street ahead of him. Kicking a mound of trash to the nearest gutter, the figure moved to block his path. Matt chuckled under his breath despite the obvious threat of the situation.

Garbage kicking garbage. The symmetry was just too perfect.

Matt took a deep breath and used a silent rite to toughen his body. It wouldn't stop a bullet, but it would keep him from getting too messed up if these punks started wailing on him. He thought about the guns in his coat; they were there in case this got out of hand. With luck, he wouldn't need to use them and no one would have to die tonight.

Of course, Matthew Engel was never exactly a poster child for good fortune...

He was ten feet from the one he could see when it happened. The sound of running footsteps entered the alley behind him, accompanied by the gasps of two men trying to get some air back into their lungs. They'd obviously run all this way just to keep from missing the show.

"Best not to disappoint them," Matt murmured to himself. He stopped walking and looked up at the kid up ahead. "Kid" was an appropriate term, even though Matt wasn't quite twenty himself. This punk was maybe sixteen, but he was still two inches taller than Matt and weighed a good thirty pounds more. He barely needed a knife, but he was holding one anyway.

"Where... you going... so fast, man?" The voice came from behind him but Matt didn't look back. His eyes were still on the knife. One false move and he'd be feeling it next. Time for something non-committal. Time for a lie.

"I was just on my way home. I don't want any trouble, okay?" As he spoke, he heard the two behind him walking closer. They'd be in trouble range soon. "Please, I just want to go home."

He was in Knoxville, in probably its worst part. Close to the campus but away from the class buildings, Matt was in the shadow of the city - the "bad neighborhood". All towns had them, and Knoxville didn't even try as hard as most to hide theirs. Just like the bridge in the Billy Goats fairy tale, wander into the wrong part of any forest and you'll find a troll...

...or three. "Well, man, if you want to go home, all you gotta do is pay the price."

Matthew swallowed hard and stammered a bit. "H-how m-much?"

The one with the knife answered first. "How much you got?" He grinned as if he'd just told the funniest joke in the universe. From the raucous laughter behind his shoulder, Matt assumed it was one that never got old for this street ogre's posse.

"I... I ain't got much. Please don't hurt me!" Matt reached up and put his hands over his face protectively. The gesture brushed his hair aside and the gleam of yellow metal across his brow lit up the thug's eyes. With a grunt, the big ganger kicked Matt hard in the stomach, knocking him down.

"Bitch! If yer lucky, mebbe we'll let you live!" Another kick, followed by one from the punks behind him. Matt collapsed against the wall, chest to the bricks, and cradled his chest with both hands. In this position, his back pocket bulged, gaping open enough to show a fold of leather.

A quick hand at his waist yanked the wallet free. "Damn! There's a couple hundred bucks here, guys! Ka-ching!" Another kick, and another. This was starting to actually hurt.

A third voice, one he hadn't heard yet, said, "Fine, let's go!." As he spoke, the unseen kid cracked Matt across the back of the bed with something hard. If he'd had to guess, it was a tire iron or a pipe. Too rigid to be wood and too solid to break even with considerable force. Without his current spell, Matt would have easily been struck unconscious by the blow. As it was, his senses reeled for a few seconds.

Long enough that by the time he regained his bearings, it was to the feel of something painful searing across his temples. There were fingers digging into his skin, blooding him in their rough urgency.

"I ain't leavin' without this!" The kid with the knife had him by the skull, pulling with all his strength. If he'd thought the pipe strike was painful, it was nothing compared to what he was suffering at the ganger's forceful tearing. It felt like his scalp was getting ripped off, his face sheered away as the street punk's hands yanked. And yanked.

And yanked harder. "There!" It was a lance of fire through his brain as the Holy Seal of the Order came off and the kid fell backwards, still clutching his golden prize. "Mine!"

"Shit, I think you killed the guy."

"So what!? Let's bail!"

And then running.

It took a long while for Matt's thoughts to return to anything resembling sentience. He was a void, a vacuous nothing with only pain and darkness for companions. A single moment felt like an eternity; the split second of the Seal being torn free stretching out over an eternity before the Light returned.

When it did, it was the exact opposite for him. He was instantly filled to bursting, power and sensation rushing in to fill what had been so terribly empty. The feeling was violent. It was overwhelming.

It was glorious.

Once he stopped screaming, Matt slumped against the ground and laughed. There wasn't anything funny; it was the mad hilarity of breaking an arm, of seeing everything in one's world break apart and having sanity fail forever. It was a laugh that became a wail.

Then came the tears. Everything he'd ever felt, ever thought, surrounded and impaled him. He was crucified on a cross of his own soul's making, pierced by nails of memory. It was the end of all things, the desolate moment between existence and oblivion...

This all went so far beyond catharsis that when it ended, he almost felt hollow again. The Holy Seal had cut him off from magic, but it had really done so much more than that. Magic wasn't just power. He'd never seen that before, but now it was as clear as the bitter glare of the rising sun overhead.

Magic was life. It was the power of everything and the substance of everything. Without it, nothing could exist. Truthfully, nothing should exist without it. What a cold, empty, horror of a life that would be. Magic was breath and blood, air and light. It was...

Matt shook himself out of the revelation. Life-affirming moments were wonderful and all, but he was still collapsed against a spray-painted alley wall in Knoxville. His head spinning from the pain of earlier, he forced himself to stand. He needed to get back to his car, get his real wallet, and get something to eat before he left this dump.

Groaning, he took the first few steps toward breakfast.

"Fuck, that's the hardest I ever had to work just to get mugged."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

<--- Matt's Guns --->

Taken from the bodies of two high-level agents of the Order of St. Michael Arachangel, Matthew's handguns are enchanted Janz JTL-500s with several custom modifications. The most striking feature of these guns, aside from their size, is their textured bone handgrips and the filigree work along their barrels and chambers.

Each handgun created for the Order's agents carries a sacred verse engraved on its barrel; this Psalm is never reused, making each gun a unique artifact. In addition, each one bears the name of an angel and gains its magical powers through the celestial connection forged between it and that higher being during its enchantment ritual. Once crafted, these handguns are nearly divine creatures themselves. They generate their own ammunition, never suffer normal damage or wear, and have virtually no recoil or need for suppression.

Matt's handguns are named Anachael and Zaechael. Anachael has a white grip and gold tooling; its verse reads: 5:12 Blessed is the righteous, for ye shall create for him a shield from your favor.

Zaechael bears a black handgrip and silver decoration. Its psalm is: 11:6 Upon the wicked, he shall rain a blaze of vengeance. They shall reap only fire, sulfur, and the scorching wind.

These handguns have only one true weakness; they cannot generate ammunition very quickly. While they can fire mundane bullets if loaded manually, they only create mystical shot at a rate of one ever ten minutes. If allowed to sit for an hour, they become and remain fully loaded, but they cannot be counted on in a protracted firefight unless the wielder is carrying real ammunition as a supplement for the guns' power.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

<---- Update: Physical Magic ---->

Some of you might be wondering how an organization as obviously skilled and experiences with witch hunting like the Order of St. Michael, Archangel could be taken off-guard by Matthew using inwardly-affecting magic. It's a valid question, but there is an answer.

Physical magic, the altering of the body or the improvement of one's own capabilities, is not at all common in the setting of Fallen Engel. Magic is almost entirely an external force, especially where the Order is concerned. To them, using magic to affect one's own body is a blasphemy against God. After all, if could be seen as trying to improve on the Lord's design. As such, they do not have much skill with said enchantment or its effects.

The magic is also rare because of the efforts of groups like the Order. Those with the skill to alter or improve their bodies were hunted down as heathens and blasphemers; their deaths took many of the secrets of physical spellwork to the grave. As such, only a few covens and solitaries worldwide possess the talent to affect themselves with magic.

Most magic in Fallen Engel is manipulation of external energy or mental in nature. Spells mimic psychic phenomenon or deal with the material world in some way. For example, Matthew's primary gift, Entropy, is a direct external power with often catastrophic effects on solid objects and the environment around him.


When next we discuss the magic of this setting, the subject will be: The Old Races, Magical Creatures and Spiritual Entities.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Click, Whirr, Snap

It happened by reflex. One moment, Matt was sound asleep in his stolen, still car. The next, he was wide awake and reaching for the first spell his panicked mind could find. As the driver side door splintered, impacted by a heavy van going faster than seventy miles an hour, only one magic surfaced.


He'd never successfully cast this spell, but he'd been dreaming of the One Pine coven and their resident scrapper, Snarlin' Carl. An animal spirit through and through, Carl'd been the one who liked him the least. Good instincts, that Carl. He kept saying someone like Matt would get them all killed, and he was right. Carl and the rest were in a shallow grave now, torched and buried by the same Order whose vehicle was now trying to do the same to him.

But Carl's dislike had been good for one thing. He'd fought Matt so many times while the coven was sheltering him that Matt'd picked up some of his spells. That was a gift of Matt's; if he saw a spell cast often enough, he could "wing it" pretty well. It wasn't as good as real training, but when the chips were down, it was better than nothing.

As his car started to barrel roll down the side of the embankment, Matt saw that the chips were most definitely down. Way the hell down. So, with nothing else to do and no other hope...


The magic took hold instantly. He murmured the same invocation Snarlin' Carl would hiss under his breath before punching him in the face. "Macht von Fenri!" It was just German for "power of Fenris" but as he'd come to understand, sometimes the words were useful for achieving the right focus. They weren't strictly necessary but at times like this, any crutch or time saver was a good one.

No sooner did he say them and reach for the power then everything exploded. His senses. His physical strength. His racing pulse.

And his car.

Up on the shoulder of the road, the van stopped. The driver stayed inside while the passengers jumped out to watch the doomed vehicle plummet in flames. One of them smiled grimly and gestured a kill sign to the man at the wheel. Lowering his assault rifle, he pointed down the hill and brought his hand to his neck.

He was still smiling when his head hit the ground. The foot wide shard of window glass kept going past his severed throat, through his spine, and out into the evening sky. Then Matt landed, snarling and crouched like the beast his soul had become. One hand still bleeding from where he'd smashed the window open to leap free, he balled it into a fist and shoved it through a second agent. Chest and heart detonated one after the other as the agent went down, coughing his last in a spray of red.

That left only two and the stunned driver. In Matt's eyes, they were sacks of meat too stupid to know they were already dead. He couldn't see colors any more; everything was a grey, scintillating blur with motion appearing in lines of gleaming light. When the nearest victim lowered his rifle to fire, Matt could see each bullet as it left the barrel. They were moving so slow...

And he wasn't. He ducked and rolled under the hail of crawling death. Matt had two pistols in his coat but he ignored them. Fenris, the primal spirit of fury, detested such things. Blood had to be tasted, battle had to be felt between one's claws and fangs. Anything else was the way of the magpie. The way of man. The way of the coward.

His fingers contorted, talons springing from their tips as he stood up beside the gunman and slashed with all his brutal might. Four roughly parallel fans of blood gouted from the agent, starting at his waist and ending at his forehead. The gurgle he made was satisfying to the beast within; his enemy fell in a rain of victory. Good.

One more outside and in Matt's enjoyment of the last kill, he'd lost track of just where the man was. He was quickly reminded as he felt a sting across his back. A narrow miss, close enough to hurt but not enough to kill. Matt accepted the pain; he deserved it for letting the human get the drop on him. Now the hunt would begin again.

Matt tensed and sprang, impossible strength taking him off the ground and out of the path of a dozen more bullets. He landed hard on the roof, spotted his prey, and jumped again as the driver inside put four holes through the metal where he'd been. Feral Matthew landed on the St. Michael operative like the Hand of Death itself. What happened next was wet, quick, and extremely messy.

Turning his head like a wolf regarding the last rabbit in a burrow, he stared up into the eyes of the van's driver and saw what he'd been hoping to see.


The engine of the van started up again, its front wheels spinning as the man inside desperately tried to gain traction and get back onto the road. Matt grinned, licking scarlet from his lips and swallowing the shreds of foe he'd taken from the throat of his kill. "No escape for you," he rumbled deep in his chest.

As the van tore past him, Matt saw something the driver had apparently forgotten. The gunmen had come out to make sure he was dead. They were very thorough, those Order agents. But they weren't that thorough.

They'd left the side panel door open.

One quick jump and Matt was inside the speeding van. With a roar, he crouched to spring forward, claws extended, fangs bared wide. The driver, with no other option, did the only thing he could. He slammed on the brakes and sent Matt slamming into the back of the passenger seat. Hard.

That stung. It also stunned Matt just long enough for the agent to pull his handgun and put it to Matt's dizzy face. "Die, abomination of Satan!" The man had an eastern European accent, something Matt could probably have placed down to the exact country of origin if he'd been coherent or given a damn. As a final insult, the Order knight stuck the barrel in Matt's gawking mouth and, with a sneer, pulled the trigger.

Click. Nothing happened.

Not entirely true. The sound of the gun misfiring snapped Matt out of his impact stupor. Not willing to give the St. Michael euro-trash another shot, he rolled sideways away from the gun, vaulted to his feet right up against the man, and head butted him. The irony of the driver reeling backwards with the imprint of his Order's own holy seal in reverse on his face was priceless.

A stiff arm to the man's elbow knocked his gun free and a slash across his chest cut the straps off his bullet proof vest. The armor fell open, exposing soft, yielding flesh. Matt pulled his hand back, straightened his fingers into a deadly five-pronged spear, and...

...waited. There was something he had to know. It was hard to talk while Rage burned through him, but he could force out the words.

"One... thing...."

The knight stared at him in horror, mute from pain and shock.

"Why... do you... call it... The Order of... Saint Michael.... Archangel?"

Almost twitching from the sheer incongruity of his would-be victim asking a question like that at a time like this, the man stammered as he answered. "B-b-because we revere him and... and his message of intolerance for the unclean."

Matt growled and kneed the man hard in the side, breaking at least one rib. Still poised to deliver a death blow with his hand, he shook his head. "No... moron. Why... both... Saint... and Archangel?"

The man's eyes, narrowed in pain, furrowed father in confusion. "What?"

Matt gritted his teeth. "The... Council... of Nicea... decreed that... the title of... sainthood was... the highest honor... bestowable upon a... holy man. Same conclave determined... the innate divinity... of angelic patrons." It was ridiculous, but this had really been bugging him.

The driver, his blue eyes wide in terror, stuttered again. "W-what?!?"

"Ergo, mother fucker... an angel cannot... be a saint. Only humans can be... sainted."

The knight shook his head, only barely understanding what was being said. "No no... Our patron is b-both angel and saint. He is our Master and the Right Hand of God. The most exalted one, the Sword of Fire to cleans..."

"Skip the speech." Matt growled again; this was pointless. Violence ensued.


An hour later, Matt was in a gas station restroom, brushing his teeth with every kind of toothpaste the little roadside mart had available. He'd already downed four energy drinks, a liter of water, four Big Mics, a large tub o' waffle fries, and enough Snackers candy bars to make a birthday party full of eight tear olds explode.

Everything hurt. Everything was weary. Every part of his body was paying the price for his bout of frenzy, and everything ached.

And nothing was getting rid of the taste.

"I can't believe I ate some guy's throat. Ewwww....."

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Running on Empty

"I don't fucking believe this."

Matt leaned against the steering wheel again, rocking his forehead back and forth as if somehow, denial would change the fact that he was out of gas.

And he'd been doing so well too. he was focused, determined, and had a destination for once in the months since that terrible night. Everything was clear, he was no longer pitying himself, and he was ready to actually do something.

And now he was out of gas. Out. Of. FUCKING. Gas.

He'd gotten spoiled to his motorcycle. An anima familiar was a wonderful thing, especially when it had the body of a Harley Davidson VRSCX and the spirit of a gryphon. That had probably been the only good thing to come out of his first encounter with the Order of St. Michael. One of them had been riding that motorcycle. A spell stolen from a Dark One's PDA and a soul gem later, Zephyr had been "born"

That bike was really his best friend, even if he couldn't feel her now or tell if she was okay. Damn Holy Seal. if he could, he'd tear the damn thing off himself but its magic kept him from affecting it in any way and locked it around his brow. Damn it.

The thing that had really spoiled him on Zephyr had been her lack of need for real fuel. She ran on, macabre as it might sound, blood and didn't need much at a time. She only really consumed the red stuff when she flew, a trick he'd been really surprised to learn she had the first time they went off an overpass. Well, flew and repaired damage. She guzzled blood when she was hurt; it was how she healed. Of course, typically when she'd been beat up, there were hostile idiots nearby volunteering to "top her off". Only fitting.

Unfortunately, real vehicles didn't take O Negative in the gas tank. They took gas, hence why it was called a gas tank. Matt had driven at ludicrous speeds past about a hundred gas stations now, never once thinking about putting a few twenties in its belly. Now, sitting in the stretch between Nashville and Knoxville called the Longest Mile, there was nothing.

Not a damned thing.

The last street sign had read Cookeville 102. A hundred miles to the nearest real town. That was quite a walk, to be sure. He could make it, but coming back for the car would be pointless if he did. Not exactly a suitable distance lugging back a gas can. He could try to thumb a ride, but
he looked exactly like the kind of person that people didn't pick up. Black trench coat, torn shirt, sunglasses, and biker's knee boots? He might as well have a button on his lapel that said:

"Hi. I am here to rape and pillage. Please form a queue."

Without magic, this was going to be difficult. He couldn't conjure gasoline for the car. he couldn't try to apport out of here, but even without the Seal, transportive spells were chancy at best. He was very Doctor McCoy when it came to the idea of breaking himself into energy and whisking across space. No thanks. Matt liked his molecules contiguous.

So that left... what? Walking again? Trying to hitchhike anyway? Kicking on the hazards and waiting for someone foolish enough to be kind? His karma was already pretty hammered; could he really afford to jump someone decent enough to stop for him?

Then, like a smack to the face, it occurred to him that he could actually just accept help without having to do anything illegal. It wasn't inconceivable that someone could just come along and let him use their cell phone long enough to call for roadside assistance. It wasn't like Matt couldn't pay for gas. There was somewhere close to fifty large in the glove box.

Feeling silly, he pushed the hazards button on the steering wheel and settled back to rest until help arrived.

He didn't wake up until the armored St. Michaels van rammed him hard enough to force him off the road and into the nearest ditch...

Monday, January 1, 2007


Matt pressed the pedal down as far as it could go, doing what his father always said.

"Son, when you steal a car, be sure to find out what she can do as soon as possible. Eventually, the cops'll find you and you don't want the car's top end to be a surprise when they do."

Dad was full of good advice like that. Of course, none of it had done him any good when the Dark Ones broke into the house while Matt was away at the ritual that had changed his life. His mother and father both had been killed, sacrificed to some foul power to ensure the rite went the way the leaders of the DO wanted.

That was one disappointment Matt had been happy to hand to the Dark Ones. Of all his coven mates, only Roy had been prepared to kill a person when they were asked to do so. Brad, Jainy, Janet, Ariel and he had all been violently opposed to murdering someone just because some slick-talking wizard in a nice jacket and shades told them they should. Of course, that refusal had cost Janet and Brad their lives, sent Ariel and Jainy into permanent exile at Ravenhurst, and set him on this loner's path he now traveled.

How the mighty had fallen.

Of course, his innate inability to be pretentious to himself reared its ugly head at that concept. He'd never been mighty. He'd just been some clove cigarette smoking poser with a black wardrobe and a gother-than-thou attitude. It was a solid way to get through High School but this was the real world. Real world rules applied and out here, attitude was only good for fist fights and dental bills.

The only thing that kept him going now was the chase. Dad had a saying for that too.

"In the end, the race is won by the guy willing to run the farthest."

What he meant, of course, was that it didn't matter if you were caught. The secret was to never stop running. Even if you were in handcuffs and leg shackles, forward was the only way to go. Rommel had understood that and it was as true in life as it was in war. When in doubt, charge.

Of course, Matt's father's advice was a little different. His words were, "When in doubt, run. When you think you may be on the verge of getting caught, run. When people look at you too long, run. When you are feeling too comfortable, run. Just run. Never stop. If they catch you, make them pay for it in sweat and effort."

Good advice. More than enough for a man who spent more then twenty years evading prison, at least. It occurred to Matt for the first time in his life that his father had never said he was innocent. Maybe his death was karma finally getting even. Either way, he missed his old man.

He missed his mother too. She was quite a woman, always in his father's shadow and never ashamed of the fact. She'd done everything for him. Hid his dad when the cops came around, even used her looks and her body to distract people when they got too close. Nothing was too much when it came to keep her family safe. He'd hated her for being "weak"; now he realized she was anything but.

He really missed them both.

The car's gauges were hard to read, fuzzy and indistinct. Touching his face with one hand, he brought back wet fingers and stared at them in disbelief. Was he crying?!? He never cried.

Matt hadn't cried when his brother had died from drowning in a neighbor's pool while they smoked joints and laughed at the floating boy. He hadn't cried when he'd tried out for the football team in 9th Grade and three seniors jumped on him repeatedly, breaking both his legs. He hadn't even cried when his whole world fell apart the night of that terrible ritual and the hell surrounding it.

Hells, even Clyde hadn't made him cry. And if anyone deserved a few tears, it was that poor man. If the old Vet wasn't in Heaven right now, God needed a stiff kick in the holy balls.

Real hard.

With a steel toed boot.

Matt blinked away tears. There was no denying it; he was crying. His parents were dead, it was his fault, and there was no way to undo the damage. The only thing left, apparently, was to grieve. His school counselor, Mr. Braely, would have called "a natural part of the healing process" and encouraged him to "let it out".

Then again, Mr. Braely was a closet homosexual and privately voted Most Likely to Make a Catholic Priest Look Tame in Matt's homeroom class. No doubt the vote was right. Even now, the fruit loop out test driving an ice cream truck. Still, he wasn't entirely wrong.

These tears didn't feel bad. In fact, he found himself enjoying the memories of his parents. He hadn't thought about them since that night other than to reflect on his father's advice. Dad's anecdotes had been saving his life every day since he'd started his mess. The old man had the right to be mourned. So did his mother, damn it. They'd been good to him. A few tears were the least he could do.

Matt grabbed a road map from the glove box stuffed with cash. Just why the compartment was overflowing with bank-banded stacks of fifty dollar bills was anyone's guess, but Matt didn't care about those right now. He was only interested in one thing.

How far was it to Chattanooga?

He'd learned a bit about the DO in his days since running away from the Dark Ones. The DO, which alternately stood for Dark Ones and Dark Order, had safe houses scattered across the world. The nearest one was in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In fact, some of the people who'd killed his parent could very well be there right now.

Matt drove his stolen car as hard as she'd go. Screw the police. Screw the law and screw the speed limit. His senses were magically amped right now, his reaction time so sharp that he could avoid a dropped McDonall's cup if he had too. He wasn't a threat to anyone or anything, even at 130 miles an hour...

His parents deserved grief.

But they deserved vengeance even more.