Wednesday, April 9, 2008


The angel stared straight forward, ignoring the buffet of wind whipping harshly past his face. One arm pinned in the twisted metal at his side, the other wrenched behind him at an awkward angle, he set his jaw and ignored the pain in his wings. With a deep, frustrated sigh, he growled under his breath.

"I am getting... annoyed."


[ Ten Minutes Earlier ]

Matt was kneeling by the side of his bike, prying white feathers out of her front wheel well. Each one was wedged hard in the wheel's spokes, dried spots of blood sticking them together where Zephyr rammed head-on into that celestial before. The impact was enough to put the flappy bastard down but some revenge was had by the dead angel in the form of holes in his bike's tire.

"Damn you, featherback," he muttered.

Anything else he might have said was suddenly interrupted by the feel of an iron hand clamping down on his shoulder, hefting him off the ground and hurling him into the metal side rail twenty feet away on the side of the interstate!

The sound of tortured metal behind him almost distracted Matt from the wrenching pain of hitting the bent rebar. Almost. "Ahhh!" He slumped for a moment, trying to clear his head from the pain. In that instant, he was hoisted into the air again and slammed back down, landing heavily on his side as he twisted to blunt the blow. It worked but in the process, he heard a rib snap. Better than his spine, but only just...

"Fucking hell!"

A booted foot caught him in the stomach and kicked him back against the railing, denting it again and sending another shock of agony though him. As he slumped again, unable to breathe, he heard a calm, masculine voice above him, its tone devoid of emotion.

"You blaspheme appropriately, hellborne, as that is where I am sending you."

Matt managed to open his eyes and reach for his guns, hands settling over their handles before the figure stalking towards him could get into arm's reach. Even so, he could not bring them to bear before the nearly seven foot tall man with wide shoulders, a strong jaw and eyes of blazing white light reached him.

Black wings, feathered like a crow, stretched up from the shoulders of this angry Superman in street clothes. Around his neck, the angel wore an Order of Saint Michael Archangel medallion. Though similar in design to the ones Matt had seen before, this one was much larger, much more ornate. The archangel depicted on the silver disc bore a striking resemblance to the angel... wearing it...

"Oh, shit."

Another snap kick caught Matt in the shoulder, turning him sharply and making him drop the pistol in his right hand.

Ignoring the pain, he hauled out his other gun and took a shot, aiming squarely for the angel's forehead. The shot thundered out but before it could score its mark, a flurry of ebon wing moved in the way and blocked the bullet. Then it flared outward, checking Matt across the chest and sending him back against the rail so hard the metal nearly tore.

"Jesus!" Matt rasped for breath, cussing as he tried to bring his magic to bear. This guy was too fast, too strong. He was unlike any angel he had ever fought before except the one from Stay's hospital, overwhelming and relentless.

"No," the big man said and planted his boot in Matt's face. The sudden tang of blood filled his mouth, the result of a split lip. Had Matt not turned his face at the very last moment, he would also have suffered a shattered nose. "He is a man of peace."

Then Matt was in the air again before he could focus even a fast spell. A perfect punch took him low in the gut, knocking the air out of his lungs and breaking another rib. Released before the force of the punch was through, he was pushed backwards by the remainder of it, tumbling awkwardly across several deserted lanes of traffic to end up on the opposite shoulder of the road.

"I am not."

Matt staggered to his hands and knees, most of his body screaming in pain. "Yeah... I gathered that." Internalizing his waning power, he forced his way back onto his feet. Hands extended, he called forth two of his captured blades, Aria and Requiem. They sang in protest, their battle songs strangely hushed in the presence of this angel.

"Okay, bastard. You want to fight? Let's..." Matt spat a mouthful of blood onto the gravel. "Let's see how you do when I'm standing."

The man looked at him, a touch of resentment in his eyes as he reached one large hand to his empty belt. In a flash of holy radiance, a battleaxe of silver and dark iron appeared there, resting in a ring made of seemingly solid light. "You have no right to hold those swords. I will relieve you of them now."

"Give it your best shot, fuckhea..." Before he could even finish his sentence, Matt had to quickly raise his weapons in a desperate attempt to save himself from the incoming weapon. In the time he had taken him to speak, the angel had drawn the battleaxe, taken a single step forward and thrown it with the speed and power of an oncoming train.

The bladed terror hit Matt's crossed swords hard enough to shatter stone. Bolstered by his battle spell, Matt was able to deflect the axe at the cost of both wrists being sprained instead of broken and the loss of both blades as they fell from nerveless fingers to clatter noisily to the ground at his feet. Staggering back, he tried to find his footing again before shock took him down again.

This was all happening so fast. Too fast.

The axe arched through the air, held aloft on an arc of pale fire before coming back to the black-winged angel's waiting right hand. "Surrender and death will come more mercifully than you deserve."

Matt moved back desperately, seeking something, anything to get him out of this mess. He had other swords but his hands were refusing to obey him, throbbing in raw pain and numb at the same time. His battle with the Order just an hour ago had left him too drained to do much magically and even if he could, there was little to work with here. This angel most certainly would be immune to anything he could throw.

That left his last trick, the ace literally up his sleeve. Lifting his left arm, he jerked his hand downward, the only motion that appendage was capable of at the moment. The cord he wore around his middle finger pulled taut, pulling the trigger of a stockless shotgun sewn into his jacket. BLAM!

The shot tore the end of his sleeve to pieces, sending an angry storm of iron shards, each enchanted to strike true and inflict horrific, entropic damage. At this range, it could tear the front off a bus, crater a concrete wall or obliterate a charging kodiak. The sudden burst of gunpowder smoke obscured the interstate in front of Matt, making it impossible to see.

When the dust settled, the man was still standing. His clothes were shredded but, aside from a single line of red running down his clean shaven cheek, there was no sign that the metal tempest had even touched him. It had simply had no effect.

"This night of reckoning has been far too long in coming. This is your end."

Matt felt his strengthening spell tick away, weakness dragging him down to his knees as the last of these words echoed across the highway. As he felt his heartbeat panic-pound in his chest, he watched the man slowly walk towards him, axe raising.

"Yeah... looks like it." He barely had the strength to speak, much less to fight any more. Matt was coughing blood, his broken rib like a burning ember lodged near his lung. Hope was fading as fast as his eyesight. If he was going to see tomorrow, he needed a miracle right now. "Se... se..."

Crossing the interstate, the black angel of death stopped in the middle of the nearest lane. "Last word, then. What do you wish to say with your last breath?"

Matt looked up, darkening eyes focused on the men as intently as he could. Entropy was his gift, his strongest magic, but it could not affect the angel directly. Nothing physical was going to save him here and even his usual tricks of tearing up the pavement or detonating the air would probably only delay the inevitable. Matt could not hurt this bastard, especially as weak as he was right now. But entropy was about more than the physical world. It was about chaos.

Chaos. Random chance. Changing the odds. Manipulating Fate.

It was risky, something he had never done on any scale other than changing the results of a dice toss or dealt cards. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it did not. But right now, what did he have to lose by trying?

Clearing his throat, he looked the angel right in the eyes and said past red teeth, "Semi."

The axebearer narrowed eyes, light growing all around him as he asked in that ominous, powerful voice, "What?"

Then the sixteen wheeler hit the archangel at seventy miles an hour.

Matt watched the truck roar past, consciousness fading. The last thing he thought before passing out was, "Heh... Order of Saint Michael Roadkill..."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bad Timing

"You have got to be fucking kidding me."

Matt stared over the handlebars of his cycle, looking directly into the headlights of the huge van moving towards him at ridiculous speed. There were people leaning out of all four windows, shooting at him as he sped towards a fatal collision.

"Who the fuck are these guys?"

Whoever was in the van, they were in his way. He was not here to get in a gunfight with locals. He was chasing a dangerous son of a bitch who'd already put four holes in him with blades moving so fast, they were a blur even to his reflexes. Unfortunately, the black-suited bastard had managed to dart around the van was already getting away because of this assholes!

"Screw this," Matt grumbled and swerved as much as possible to avoid the hail of incoming bullets. He could not go far; he was in a single lane section of the interstate, concrete construction wall cutting off both sides. It was a trap, a big ugly motorcycle-mashing funnel of a trap.

But Zephyr was not an ordinary motorcycle. Her chassis was imbued with the spirit of a legendary creature - a gryphon. Though she could not do so for long, she had the ability to fly. A short hop was all he needed. These sons of bitches want to slam down this lane, fine. They could do it without him. "Up, girl!" he shouted and pulled back on the bike's handles, taking to the air a second before impact.

Zephyr spread her metaphysical wings, taking to the air and arching over the van as it sped past beneath. The gunfire from its windows tried to keep up but his sudden flight left them unable to track him fast enough.

One of the gunner, leaning way out to try and get a shot at his undercarriage, was unfortunate enough to catch the crown of his head on one of the concrete barrier's reflectors. The impact instantly tore his skull from his spine, decapitating him in a rain of sudden gore and dragging him bodily out of the van. Matt winced. "Ugly way to go."

Knowing Zephyr could not stay airborne long, he guided her over the van and angled down to land on the asphalt behind it...

...but someone had other ideas.

All Matt saw was the shadow of something impossibly dark racing up at the underside of his bike. Then wings wrapped around Zephyr from below and inhuman strength wrenched her out of the air. Matt, motorcycle and black fletched wings all plummeted to the ground together!

At the last moment, he managed to leap free, forcing himself out past the sweep of razor sharp feathers with a burst of magical power. The jump cost him several small cuts to the face and hands but it was better than smashing earthward at 120 miles an hour. Bleeding but alive, he vaulted around in mid-air, drew both guns and came down in a landing crouch while taking aim.

Just as he thought, when the dirt and stone debris cleared from Zephyr's crash, an angel stood tall and defiant. "Is there any point talking?" he asked sardonically.

"Hellborn, you are charged with celestial murder and are sentenced to die." The golden-skinned man raised one arm and a shining sword of silver and steel, its quillions wide like the blades of an axe, appeared in his outstretched hand. "Surrender and your end will be swift."

"Yeah. That's what I thought." BLAM! Both guns thundered.

And with with a flicker of the blade, the angel deflected both!

Matt blinked. Twice. "Okay, that's different." Then he was forced to dodge left as the dark-haired angel came racing past him, sword out for a chest-slicing stroke. It was everything he could do to avoid the cleave and, as the angel closed, he was still nicked by a lash of its black wing. Each feather was like a knife, cutting deep and stinging like venom.

He clutched his shoulder, cussing at how easily the pinions had pierced his enchanted coat. Whirling, he fired off four more shots before his guns went dry again. What was it with people attacking him after he had already fought someone else? This was not fair!

None of the shots scored. One flat out missed and the other three were deflected by the unbelievably fast parries of that axe-hilted sword. "God damn it," he cussed and tossed the pistols. This was about to get up close and personal. As the angel turned for another pass, Matt concentrated and called out for Requiem - his first sword. His best sword.

The winged assailant hissed under his breath. "You blaspheme with every word and deed, hellion."

Their sword met between them, the force of the clash enough to send them both back a few feet from raw impact. They both came together swing. High cut, block. Low slash, riposte. A flurry of attacks and defenses that wove together like a tapestry of motion and murderous intent.

It took two full minutes for Matt to accept that he was not going to win this one. He was as fast as the angel, especially with combat magic speeding his reactions and strengthening his body, but it was not enough. Matching the celestial foe skill for stroke, he just could not compete with the one thing his enemy had that he did not. Wings.

Matt had learned quite some time ago to grow wings by means of magic, a trick that had gotten him out of a lot of trouble and into even more. Those would not help him here because his were constructs of enchantment meant to grant him the glory of soaring through the air. This angel's wings were different. They were not just feathers and flight.

They were weapons. As they fought, Matt was getting stung repeatedly by buffets from the black walls of blades and bone. His coat was warding off the worst of the strikes but he was bleeding now and it would not be long before either a wing slash got lucky or he was distracted enough to miss a parry. Then he would get his throat torn out or impaled. Matt was not big on either options. He needed to equalize the playing field and he had to do it now!

Breaking contact, he dove out of the way of sword and sweeps, narrowing avoiding getting blooded again. Turning tail, he ran for the treeline beside the road, sword held behind him in a defensive line. He hated running, but he had no choice.

"Coward! One cannot flee the Sword of Heaven!" The angel was right behind him, only two steps out of sword reach. He didn't have much of a head start and with each breath, it was getting narrower.

Just past the first big tree, Matt turned to swing and fell to the ground, one leg going out from under him as loose dirt betrayed his feet. He landed on his back, looking up at the angel with wide eyes, sword beside him in a momentarily stilled, trembling hand. Rising over him, wings spread towards the obscured sky, the angel took his sword in an executioner's grip. "Your sins end here, fallen one."

Matt tried to dodge, rolling away from the sword, knowing he could not avoid both it and the angel's wings. Over him, the angel realized the same thing and while his sword drove into the ground harmlessly, he slashed down with both pinioned limbs!

Instantly, Matt rolled up and forward, hacking with both hands on Requiem, cutting beside the angel's body to the left. Though his foe would normally have been too fast for this to work, the angel needed clearance to move his wings quickly. In a forest, clearance was hard to come by. That momentary slowing as the wing had to cut through branch after branch above was all Matt needed to bring his edge across it in a vicious arc of metal and blood.

The angel screamed, a howl of pain that almost drove Matt back from its sheer, agonizing volume.


Matt pulled his blade back to finish off him off and nearly got cut down by a spray of gunfire. The bastards from the van were back. This fight had taken a lot longer than he had wanted. "Damn!" he cursed and settled for a nasty slash deep across the angel's vitals before grabbing the celestial's dropped sword and dashing deeper into the woods. It was a goring cut; the angel would not be around much longer.

But his allies, all Order of St. Michael Archangel from the sound of them and the look of their ordinance, were still healthy and gunning for blood. "Kanriel's down! Get the hellspawn!" One of them was shouting orders, gesturing with one gloved hand while firing short, competent bursts at Matt to keep him pinned down.

The man had to go. Matt was aware that these soldiers were all protected from his entropy magic directly and if he tried to focus on the trees right now, he'd be potentially destroying his only cover. There were nine of them out there if his count was correct. Too many. Way too many. His shotgun was on his bike and, armed with just a pair of angelic swords, he would get cut down long before he took them all out. He needed to disperse the ranks and that meant dropping their leader. Hard.

He searched his memories took a page from Ariel's spell book, almost literally. If entropy was failing, he could try another sort of spell. One that focused on something other than destruction. Creation was one of the hardest things for him to wrap his head around but in this case, he had been shown how to cast this spell in his dreams. He reached out, letting his power contact the leader's body.

He reached inside, finding the smallest forms of life within. Bacteria in the man's digestive tract. They produced acids and gas, two things that could be very dangerous if they grew out of control. Matt sent a surge of twisted living magic their way, urging them to do just that.

Within moments, the leader of the Order squad hit his knees. Then, with a scream, he clutched his stomach and fell backwards, his torso literally exploding from the ribs down as a dozen rifts burst through his skin venting methane and bile! Vomiting and defecating ballistically, he shuddered on the ground in utter agony, covering his own steaming fluids!

"Okay," Matt said, eyes wide in shock. "That's disgusting."

With the leader down and the squad in understandable disarray, he made a break for it. If he was lucky, Zephyr was still in good shape back on the road. It took a lot more than a little crash to hurt his beloved bike. He could get on it and head back to Bowling Green. The trail of the Dark Ones had lead him to Louisville and now to here. The DO were here and he would find them, even if he had to kill every last angel and mage in his path. He was close. So damned close now!

The people between him and his bike went down in flashes of dual swords, cut, impaled or even trampled as they struggled just to react to his unstoppable charge. He was riding the crest of a special battle spell, a blindingly fast run that focused magical force into a headlong surge capable of shattering any barrier in his way - be that trees or people.

And, at the end of the charge, even the massive concrete barrier section on the shoulder of the highway. Matt smashed through it completely unscathed, though the energy required to sunder such a huge object was completely consumed by the effort.

Zephyr was indeed in good condition, having already righted herself and fixed the damage to her side cowling. The motorcycle roared to life and met him halfway, slowing long enough for him to jump on before revving as fast as possible away from the battlefield. Matt was certain he had killed most of the Order soldiers but if even one was still alive, there would be others coming.

He had no intention of being here when they arrived.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dark Omens

"Are you going to tell me what I want to know?"

The man he was holding up by the shirt spat at him, starting to say something in a language that hurt to hear. After the echo of an invoked name he heard before, Matt cut him off with a swift cuff across the side of the jaw, a hard enough stroke to loosen teeth, pop the man's mouth loose and send hind him the ground, unconscious from shock.

"Damn it. That was the last one left to question."

Matt looked around the room, a hallway strewn with soldiers. These were not members of any recognized armed forces but they were soldiers nonetheless - private muscle hired and trained by... someone.

That was the question Matt wanted answered. These people had been operating most of the dark magic rings in Chattanooga, eastern Tennessee and most of Georgia. They were big, whoever they were, and they were connected in some way to the Dark Order. That was how he'd found them and ended up in this business complex, getting shot at from all sides and as 'popular' as a small fish in a house full of hungry cats.

This guppy, however, was nowhere near defenseless. Ten soldiers were dead, another ten easily in critical condition and if he was still counting accurately in this room of pain, eight more would be joining one total or the other.

The man missing his molars was the fifth he had tried to question, all to no avail. They were not just combat trained and effective at battling witchcraft. They had some magical training as well. Enough to use quick battle spells, hence his abrupt silencing smack from before. If Matt had let the man finish his little Enochian chant, the results could have been explosive.

If the Dark Ones were funding the creation of a corps of magical mercenaries, he needed to know about it. More than that, he needed to stop it before the DO turned those troops on him. He had taken this lot out by surprise and momentum, moving from room to room before they could raise an effective alarm or counter attack in mass. Matt had no illusions about what would happen to him and Stay if these sorcerer-soldiers were to strike on their terms.

None at all; he'd lose. Hard.

And he just was not prepared to let that happen. The only way to win this was to stay on the offensive but to do that, he needed information. There was only one more place to check here, whatever was behind the doors these eight were so keen on him not investigating.

Hopping onto his motorcycle, Matt gave Zephyr's engine a hard rev and pulled up on her handlebars as he hurtled into the door. Her front wheel came smashing down as they made contact, 'knocking' quite destructively.

The doors shattered inward, their locking clattering useless to the titled floor just inside the room's landing. Inside, four men protected two others, raising machine guns as their surprised eyes gave way to hostile intent.

Hostile? Matt growled. These people had not seen the true face of hostile. He leaped off his bike, letting Zephyr rocket forward to slam into the desk as he vaulted over the four-way stream of bullets. As he came down, his guns came out. One heavy handgun resting in each steady hand, he was firing before his feet hit the ground.

The gunman on either end of the quartet went down in a spray of blood, two men dropping as their bodies were ripped through in a hail of sacred force. Their Kevlar meant nothing to the rounds in these guns, 'gifts' from the Order of Saint Michael, Archangel. Gifts the Order would kill him for having... that is, they were just one more reason on the Order's long list. Matt did not care; the Order were bastards and deserved to get put down but he could only handle one genocide at a time. The Dark Ones needed erased. The Order of St. Michael would just have to stand in line.

As nice as the handguns were, they were only able to regenerate bullets so quickly. He had used them a LOT on the upper levels so it came as no surprise that they went dry as he was gunning down the two soldiers. Dropping them, knowing full well they would find their way back to his holsters before he left the room, Matt rolled forward towards the shattered desk.

This move dodged the new rain of steel as the two remaining gunners tried to cut him down while running for cover. One went behind half the desk while the other dashed towards a nearby steel fronted wet bar.

Matt did not let him get that far. Reaching out, he called to the sword resting fitfully in the leather case on his cycle. Though they hated him with a literal Holy passion, the blades answered his call, albeit unwillingly. Two finely wrought swords appeared in his hands, turning parallel to the floor as he whirled beside the runner, crouching low.

One step past Matt, the mercenary fell to the ground, his legs severed at both the hip and the knee. Raw shock drove him unconscious. Blood loss would finish the job quickly enough.

The hard punch of three bullets painfully failing to penetrate his warded coat reminded Matt that the last gunner was still up and functional... and not yet out of ammo. Turning to face the soldier while the man quickly tried to reload, Matt threw his left hand forward and hurled Avia, the angelic sword that so recently been impaling his shoulder. Though it despised him, it did as it was Heaven-forged to do.

The sword's quillions spread in mid flight, arching into golden wings of divine light. These beat just once, speeding the sword arrow-straight towards the startled gunman. Before the man could react, it had penetrated the desk, driven straight through his body armor and pinned him to the far wall, buried a full foot into the stone foundation at his dying back.

That left Matt on one knee, holding one sword, in a room with two living men. One was under Zephyr, having be bashed unconscious when the desk splintered beneath his bike's ramming assault. The other was running...

...but not for long. Matt was out of bullets and his only throwing weapon was out of reach. This did not mean he was out of options. As he had discovered many times when dealing with the Dark Ones and their vassals, they were personally immune to his entropy magic. Personally immune. He could not affect their bodies at all.

But he could affect everything else, including what they were wearing. He made a slashing gesture at the fleeing man's shoes and every form of binding in them, from thread to glue, dissolved in a gush of black chaos.

Suddenly overbalanced, the dark suited warlock hit the ground with a yelp of pain and rolled over, already framing a bolt of hellfire between his hands. Matt had been hoping for a more damaging tumble but Life seldom ever went his way.

Cussing, he barely had enough time to throw up an entropic barrier before the sulfurous flames smashed into it. Turning the attack aside, he ran to close the distance before the downed caster could conjure another blast. Matt was not very lucky but he was very quick. Halfway through the spell, the man found himself without hands. Fountains of red gushed from his wrists as he screamed in pain.

Matt spared no time in bringing his blade to the man's throat. "You've got a minute before you bleed to death. I'll stop the flow if you tell me what I want to hear."

Howling, the blood-covered sorcerer nodded frantically. "Anything, anything!"

"I've been hearing a name. Oriax. Who is that?"

The Dark One mage trembled, slumping back as he tried to go into shock. Matt brought him back to the here and now with a quick stab to the shoulder. The pain roused the man enough to force a few words from his lips, "Louisville! The stars and planets... Oriax comes!"

Before he could get any more, Matt saw the man shudder and pass out. If he didn't get medical attention, the wizard was a goner. It did not take Matt long to decide.

"Sucks to be you." He turned away, heading over to his bike. Losing one was not a big deal. There was a fresh mage right over here under the wheel of his bike. All he had to do was smack the bastard awake and...

...figure out how to wake up someone whose face and throat were burned to a crisp by a stray bolt of hellfire. Now EVERYONE was dead.


It took Matt less than ten minutes to get out of the building and from the sounds of fire engines and police sirens around the front of the complex, he was not leaving a moment too soon. It had not been as productive a night as he had hoped but at least he had learned two things.

One, he needed to go to Louisville. Oriax has been involved in the ritual that had originally tainted his magic and corrupted part of his soul. If he or any of the people back home that he cared about, like Ariel or Jaynie, had any hope of a cure, this was a lead he could not pass up.

And two, he really needed to invest in a taser...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Meeting of the Minds

It was a long walk for poor Mister Flailie. Life was hard for a stuffed animal, especially one owned by Stay. Or, as they probably called her in Toy Hell, Stay the Plush Slayer.

It wasn't through malice or direct action, of course. She loved her animals, even if she did think Matt gave her too many. She wasn't a fool even if she was young. Stay knew he brought her these cooshy things because he felt guilty about the way they lived. The way he lived, mostly. Matt was so silly. Didn't he know she was happy? He took care of her and she always had Oreos. Life was good.

Good, that is, unless you were a two foot wide neon stuffed octopus. Then life was terrible. It seemed the blonde moppet-marauder was incapable, or at the very least unwilling, to actually carry Mister Flailie. Instead, all the way across the back yard to the fishing creek, she dragged it. Over every bump, every rock, through every puddle and ant hill. The doll was covered in grass and dirt before they had even gotten halfway. By the time Stay reached the bank of the little river in Mercy's backyard, the octoplush was almost unrecognizable.

If it could speak, Mister Flailie would have been screaming, "Kill me!" As it was, its little button eyes were extremely bright and emphatic... except for the one plastered over with mud.

"Isn't the water pretty at night, Mister Flailie?" Stay sat down on her favorite rock and looked out over the moon ripples, laughing at the sight of flowing silver. The plush was conspicuously silent on the matter.

Mister Flailie was not in a talkative mood but, as the voice that actually did answer Stay was about to reveal, she was not enjoying the river front alone.

"It certainly is."

Stay picked up her octopus and held it in front of her like a shield, frantically looking around to find the speaker. She was not so much scared as she was startled. She'd some here for several night now; the place was always private. Someone else here meant someone else in Mercy's yard, not something she figured the red-haired lady or Matt would really appreciate. "Who's there?"

"No one important." The voice was right beside her, coming from a man standing within arm's reach directly to her left. Stay scrambled, wide eyed, away from him and off her sitting rock. He was not been there just a second ago. No way!

"This is private property, mister!" She said it as authoritatively as she could but now she was scared. Who was that? What was this?

The man looked down at her, a gentle smile on his older looking face. "Don't worry. I won't be here long, Stay."

"How! How did you know my name?!" She stood up, knees shaking, Mister Flailie held in front of her like a weapon. A sad, limp weapon direly in need of a good scrub.

"I was there when you were given it, child." The man turned to face her, half-lit by the shimmering reflections off the stream. His eyes, completely black, focused on her almost painfully intense. "How are you?"

Stay was now very close to what the people on TV called 'freaking out'. Matt gave her that name the night he rescued her from that hospital, the one where they were trying to arrest him. He had called her his "stay of execution", Stay for short. But everyone at the hospital had ended up dead. The only people to leave that horrid place had been him and her.

Well, him, her and... the angel.



Stay turned around and tried to run but a calm hand settled on her shoulder and she froze in place. She was trying to run. She wanted to run. But she couldn't. Her legs just refused. Her whole body went limp. Mister Flailie fell to the ground as she sagged, held up only by the shadowy man's grasp.

He slowly lowered her to the ground, watching impassively as her eyes closed and her breathing calmed. Kneeling beside Stay as she slipped into unconsciousness, he stared at her face, his leather-covered hand moving to stroke her cheek. "Easy now," he murmured. "Easy now."

Once she was deeply asleep, the man sat cross-legged on the grass beside her. Taking off his gloves, the angel placed his fingertips to Stay's temples. He closed his eyes, pale lids concealing his white-less eyes behind them.

He sat there, completely still, touching the little blond girl's brow with a look of deep concentration on his face. The water rippled, the heavens twinkled and the clouds rolled past for more than an hour. Aside from the slow rise and fall of their chests and the occasionally dream whimper from Stay, they remained completely motionless. Frozen in place, the world spun on around them.

Finally, he stood, replacing his gloves one at a time. He picked her up and carried her back to the house, her travesty of a stuffed tentacle-horror on her chest. Once they reached Mercy's dark back porch, he settled her into a deck chair and took a small black note pad out of his coat pocket...

When Matt found her there asleep, just before morning, he also found a piece of paper cradled in Mister Flailie's grimy tentacles.

"Consider your stay extended for the time being.
Keep taking care of this little one as well as you have
and you might just earn a second chance, hellborne."

And at the bottom of the page, a small post script.

"Maybe you should cut back on the Oreos."