Sunday, March 1, 2009

Respite and Revelations

They crept closer, the moldering dead. From every field, from every hill, from the forgotten graveyards and the family lots for miles around, they came. Called by dark power and tasked to a darker end, they shambled forward. Constantly moving, rotting in the midnight air, killing anything they came across. Warm feasts indeed for cold flesh, but not the prey they sought.

That was ahead. That was where they were going, bony claws flexing in mindless anticipation of the slaughter to come.

"One wrong move, angel, and you're gone." He said it while staring down then edge of his favorite sword. Graceful, deadly, indignant Aria, shrieking in celestial tones at the hateful feel of his hand around her hilt.

The newcomer to the little shack he had been hiding in just smiled and stepped out of the shadows. "Haven't we had that dance before?"

"Uziel?!" The surprise in Matt's voice was apparent as was the waver in his stance. He had only just awoken from a recuperative sleep to sense the powerful energies of an angel nearby. This, just a couple of days after being bonded with his inner demon and the subsequent hunts that had harried him all the way to this remote corner of God Knows Where, USA, was not a welcome sight.

It did not help matters that Uziel was the only angel he had ever met that could handily, nigh easily, kick his ass and had done so the last time they met. Uziel was also the reason he had Stay, the archangel having basically assigned the little girl to him as a sort of living, marker-wielding parole.

"Look, about Stay…" Matt knew he had to talk fast. Uziel had said that if he ever lost the girl or sent her away his reprieve would be over. "I know you're here to kill me. If that's what you gotta do, then do it and get it over with. I'm not apologizing for saving her."

He was talking about the last thing to hunt him down, a necromantic creature called a bloodrider. A horse and rider called back from the grave, it was more than a match for him and if he had tried to fight the thing with Stay nearby, the resulting devastation would have killed her. Matt had made a choice, sending her to the one woman he knew would love and protect the blonde moppet as much as he did. If he had to die for that choice, so be it.

Uziel looked down at the battle blade in his hand and shook his head, his bald pate flickering as the shadowy tattoos around his brow started to move again. "I think I will let you live a little longer, hellsp…" Then a crooked smile creased his lips. "I suppose I cannot call you that now, can I?"

"So you can see it?" Matt asked, his sword still out.

"Oh, most certainly, Mathranael." The archangel sounded almost amused.

"What did you call me?"

Uziel moved deeper into the shed, closing the wooden door behind him. "Your new name, of course. A fusion like yours is rare and, if I am not mistaken, unique where one of the Seven Viles is concerned. But it is not unheard of with human possessed."

"Mind explaining it to me a little?"

"Call your ageless mother if you want a bedtime story. I did not come here to execute or educate you."

Matt leaned against the wall. It was more as a habit than anything else. He was not tired. To the contrary, he felt amazing. Every part of his body was vitalized; nothing hurt. He had never felt stronger or faster. In fact, with Incarnael's physical power and increased magical might, he might actually be able to take on Uziel and…

The archangel's sword came up, its point instantly coming to rest just under Matt's chin. "That is why I came here. To see what kind of beast Lilith's spell hath birthed. If you had not sent the girl away, we might be having a far less pleasant conversation right now."

Matt gulped softly, looking directly into Uziel's eyes. "I… all right." Hs grip on Aria weakened slightly. Fighting was so very not an option.

"You know you really should give up those blades. The Host only hates you more for keeping them."

Matt shook his head, careful not to slit his own throat on Uziel's weapon. "No can do. You know as well as I that once an angelic sword is wielded in combat against a foe, it can seek out that enemy anywhere he goes." He took a steadying breath. "I assume that's how you've been tracking me too. With yours."

Uziel's slight smile became an open grin. "You are clever. I was right to spare you." With that, the dark winged archangel sent his blade away, freeing Matt from its transfixing, almost fatal point.

"Not that I am not grateful?" Matt looked down and 'sheathed' Aria as well. It was a simple spell, bound into every celestial weapon at the time of its forging. They appeared when needed and when battle was done, they could be sent to any place, physical or extra-dimensional, their owner wished. In Matt's case, this meant Aria reappeared a moment later in a magical golf bag strapped to the back of his motorcycle. The bag held a lot more inside than it appeared, something his violent life for the last two years had made a sad necessity.

"But?" Uziel prompted.

"But why did you spare me?" Matt walked over and barred the door again. "You'll have to forgive me if I don't believe this was an act of mercy."

"More of that clever showing through." The archangel flexed his wings slightly and stepped a little closer. "I spared you because you have been a unique creature since the moment of your dire infusion with Incarnael."

"Right. I became a hellspawn."

Uziel looked dismissive. "No. Hellspawns are rare but they are pathetic. Hundreds rise every year and they get put down or burn out just as fast. No, you are a very special kind of beast, my young friend."

For some reason, being called Uziel's 'friend' made him almost as nervous as the presence of the archangel itself. He had access to Incarnael's memories now and from what he could recall, being associated with Uziel at all never ended well.

Matt sighed and found as much distance in the small shack as he could put between him and the angel. "Okay, I'll bite. What do you mean?"

Uziel seemed amused at the separation but did not give chase. He seemed content to stand in the center of the room, in the thin starlight trickling in from the whole in the old shed's roof. "Have you not been curious as to your longevity as a hellborne? Why you have lived so much longer than others?"

That got a shrug. "I've been too busy trying to survive to question it much."

After a slight laugh, Uziel continued. "Fair. Shall I tell you?"

"It's that or prove yourself a liar about not killing me by boring me to death." Such a remark was possibly suicidal but along with Incarnael's memories, Matt had also inherited the demon's immense hatred for angels. It was especially strong for archangels, though it helped that Uziel was not the one that had dragged him from the mortal world into the Pit.

"I will let that slide, boy." Uziel's smile was more dangerous now. "Considering we are in a sense blood relations, you and I."

Matt blinked. When one blink and a moment's pause did not clear things up, he did it again.

"I will explain. Your human last name is Engel, a long and distinguished moniker that was a title long before the language it came to you with ever existed." The archangel folded his hands. "It means quite simply 'angelic' and it was used to denote…"

Matthew's demonic memories churned forth the rest. "…the children of angels and mortals." There was a stunned quietude in his voice. That had honestly never occurred to him.

"Quite right. You are the many, many times removed child of a truly grave sin, one that should have gotten the angel involved banished from Heaven." Uziel smiled, leaving the rest unsaid. It was obvious he was waiting to see if Matthew would ask.

The archangel was not disappointed. "Okay, tell me. Who?"

"Now now, Mathranael. You want me to spoil the surprise so soon? You and I have so much to do together. Places to go. People to k…"

A heavy thud against the wall stopped the angel's words. Another shook the shed's one boarded up window, cracking what was left of its glass. Several more followed those two. In a few moments, it sounded like the building was surrounded, things pounding their way through its cobbled boards.

"What in His name is going on?" Uziel's sword flashed back into being as he turned to face the loudest sounds, muttering under his holy breath.

Matthew's mage sight confirmed his instant fear. "Nothing in God's name, I can tell you that. This isn't anything of Heaven. I'm seeing some serious necromancy." With a groan, he corrected himself. "More serious necromancy. Whoever called up the bloodrider is at it again."

"Back to back with me, Little Engle. If it is a fight they want, it is a fight they will have."

Matt moved fast across the room, Aria in one hand and Requiem in the other. He had just enough time to put his back to the angel's wings before the walls of the shack shattered inward and a putrid horde of the undead poured in, teeth and nails bared for blood!

"This is gonna hurt, isn't it?"

Uziel grinned at him, Matt's face reflected in his mirrored glasses.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009


The four of them crouched in the shadows behind a tour bus. One of them held a small metal box with a black switch. "We have to hurry."

One of the others sighed and covered the box with a gloved, feminine hand. "Isn't there any way to wait? We want the vampire, not some useless man." Her voice was angry, brooding as it echoed out from under her hood.

"No. She's got security and there's no way to be sure we won't get caught. We have our orders, Lika. You know what we're here to do. We send a message here and now." The one with the box moved Lika's hand apologetically. "Besides, this will do better than kill the fanged bitch. This is going to hit her right where it hurts."

"I doubt it. What's one man to a woman like her? If we want to hurt her, we should be doing this to that motor home of hers."

That got everyone else in the group to stare at Lika in mute surprise. One of them, the one in the back, managed to say what they were all thinking. "But that has kids in it. Children are sacred…"

"She declared war on us, Carol!" Lika hissed. "Do I need to remind you what she did to our High Priestess? Do you want me to describe what 'Ganna looks like now? Her face? What's left of her body?" Her eyes narrowed, threatening to recall something none of them wanted to think about. Just mentioning the image of their horrifically burned leader was enough to turn them all pale.

"Besides," Lika returned to a calmer voice, "this bitch killed Morganna's magic. There is no greater crime. No punishment too severe."

That slowly got the gathering of dark clad women to nod. "True… but no. No harming the children unless we get a direct order. The bus is our target. We're just lucky to be able to take one of her consorts with it." The one speaking was the one with the box – Rina.

Lika growled softly, noting Rina's face and this moment. She would make the acolyte pay for this someday. Everyone knew Morganna's moons were numbered now. Soon, leadership of the coven would pass and when it did, she would make sure Rina met with a terrible 'martyrdom'. Poor girl, having to die for the cause…

Lika did her best to hide her dark smile at that thought.

"Fine," she said at last. "You're right. Blow the bus."



From several lots away, there was another set of eyes watching. They watched the bus. They had been watching the Winnebago. Right now, they were watching the watchers. Who were these people? What were they doing?

And did one of them just say, "Blow the bus"?!?



Rina's hand closed over the top of the box, one finger touching the button. "Rot in oblivion, male."

Her next word was something unintelligible, a soft "gukk" of mingled pain and confusion. The box fell from her suddenly limp hand and she twitched forward before falling backwards. Blood trickled from the corner of her lips, a faint echo to the river pouring out of the hole around an iron spike in her back.

"What the?!" Lika and the others spun to face whatever had struck the woman down from behind. At first, there was nothing, just shadows and a dark parking lot. Cars, motorcycles and trucks galore; it was a vacant landscape of nature-ruining steel. No sign of the attacker. Where was he?

Where was he?

The answer came in the form of Carol dropping like a stone, someone landing hard on her shoulders from above. Power diving her to the asphalt, the blurring shape twisted to the left and brought a dark blade at torso height across the other two. As it shadowflashed through the air, a terrible song of ruin followed in its wake.

Lika ducked low, riding her surprise and evading the sweep of the deadly sword. Maggie, always a little slow, was catch full in the chest. The edge of the curved, black blade cut through coat and flesh with vicious ease, ripping jagged steel from one side of her to the other. She dropped in two pieces, a gore spray that plummeted like rain all around. Lika scrambled across the ground, desperate to get clear of the red reaping.

"Mother Lilith! What are you?!" She came up shouting, both hands clutching at the ether to draw forth a burst of spiritfire. Hurling it forward, she succeeded in catching the nearly invisible shape of her assailant by surprise. Ephemeral grey flames flared over the sword wielder, forcing it back off Carol's broken body.

From the sound the young witch made as she burned from the splashing spiritfire, Carol had not quite been killed. Unfortunate for her, Lika thought briefly. Still, it was one more weakling culled from the coven. Morganna would be told Carol was killed by the vampire and her protectors. That would make Lika's survival seem all the more impressive.

Of course, that assumed she survived. The shimmering figure was gone, disappearing around the side of the fire blast and blurred away. Lika reached for her athame, drawing it and charging it with a Warden spell. Letting go of its hilt, she smiled to herself as the dagger began to fly beside her.

Not a moment too soon. There was a flash of motion beside her and the attacker was there, sword cleaving overhead to tear through her skull. The athame moved like a bolt of lightning, blocking the blade in a shower of power and sparking metal. A keening wail of failing enchantment ripped through the air and as the black sword turned aside, the athame shattered violently!

Its loss hammered Lika back, a ragged wound in her soul. "Damn you!" she shouted, staggering to stay on her feet. Unleashing the fires she had called up before, a swath of ravening grey erupted all around her. There were two cries of pain. One was from the unknown foe; the other was the last scream of the burned witch on the ground. Little Carol had always been so enduring, so full of life.

Tragic, really.

There was no time to pretend to grieve. She could see the attacker still moving even though it was clearly ablaze. The fires were raging around it but that was all they were doing, just burning around the figure. The smell of acrid, roasted flesh was coming from the charred witch at her feet. The stranger was aflame but not actually on fire. There was an aura protecting it. Damn it!

Her coven sisters were down, her athame was broken and her magics were not working. She thought briefly about the gun under her jacket but knew she'd never get it out in time. The lethal shape was already lunging forward.

It infuriated her to do this but she had to run. One more blast. That was all the flame left in her. It would hurt, especially considering the hole in her soul, but she had no choice. It would not burn this bastard but it might buy her the seconds she needed. Both hands forward, she forced a burst of spiritfire to rage forth!

As she expected, the figure dodged. There were cars to either side so it took the only out it had; wings spread and it surged upwards in a lethal arc. The sword was shifted into a two hand grip. When the mysterious attacker landed, she would be a dead woman…

….assuming she was there to kill. Once the shape blurred into the sky, Lika shouted the words to a spell she absolutely hated to cast. It pledged her soul and service to the Great Lilith, arcane words surrounding a servile oath. She loathed this so much. She served no one. Others existed to serve her. Using this spell was humiliating.

But so be it. As the figure came down in a slash of dark steel that tore the asphalt apart, she was gone. Fading from existence, Lika avoided the stroke that would surely have ended her.

For a few moments, the stranger stood there, wings widespread, sword in both hands and tensed for anything. If this was a trick, an evasion before a counterattack, it was ready to launch into a final riposte. The hellish, rune-laden blade moaned in anticipation of another kill.

Three minutes passed. Then another and another crawled past. She was gone. The witch had escaped. She would be back, no doubt, but as hurt as she was it would not be soon. Tonight would be safe for everyone here. Destroying the detonator solved the immediate threat but to make sure this people could rest, one more thing had to happen.

He had overheard the witches talking. They were blaming someone he loved for what he had done to keep her safe. That had to stop. The lady had enough troubles to deal with right now. He was not going to make things harder on her. No way in Hell.

There was a spell, he thought to himself as he raised his sword over the burned girl's throat. He knew a spell that would send a message for him. In an hour or so, far away from here, he would let the Lilin coven know who was really responsible for all this.

All he needed was a very grisly component…




Stay woke up to the heel of a hand on her little shoulder. She had been having such a wonderful dream. Playgrounds and ice cream and a bed made of stuffed aminals. The bestest part of the dream was that she was home, a big home with other kids and a mommy and lots of people needing lots of hugs with faces that needed lots of marker drawings.


Her Matt-Matt was over her, one finger to his lips. "Shhhh… we have to go."

There was instant disappointment. "But you said we could stay." She knew she should not complain. He was obviously hurt again. There had been another fight. Stay knew he fought like this to keep her safe too. If Matt-Matt said they had to go, they had to go. Still, it was not fair.

"I'm sorry, little. I wanted to stay too. But we can't risk their lives. You really want to get your new friends hurt, kiddo?"

He thought she was too young to understand it but she knew pain when she heard it. He really did want to stay here with everyone but someone bad had found them again. That had to be it. Why else would he leave in the middle of the night?

With a sad sigh and a big yawn, she offered up her little arms. He needed a hug. Matt-Matt obviously needed loves. She would hold him all the way to wherever they ended up next. That would make him feel better and if that did not work, she would ask for Waffle House again. She pretended to like that greasy food stuff because she knew he loved their chocolate chip waffles.

It would be okay. The bike was not so bad. Maybe someday she and Matt-Matt could have a home with the pretty lady and all her friends.

Maybe someday she could have her dream…

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bitter Dinner

"I wanna go back."

Matt sighed, poking at his peas with a tin fork. "Well you can't, Stay. Neither can I. We were there too long as it was." The words tasted worse than the peach cobbler here... and that was saying something.

"But whhhhyyyyyy not?" She was curled around Mister Flailie, pouting and staring up at him from over the beleaguered plushie's lumpy head.

He grumbled again, trying to eat and failing again. One bite at a time was as much as he could do. It wasn't the flavor or that he'd been sitting here so long that the food was cold. His appetite was just dead. Parts of him felt the same way. Leaving that sanctuary had been the hardest thing he had done in a very long time.

"Do you remember Raze and his coven?"

Stay nodded, nibbling on one of Flailie's tendrils. "I do... I know we had to go away from them before we got them hurt, but..."

Matt shook his head. He had not wanted to do this, to tell her the truth until she was older but if this kind of thing was going to keep happening, she needed to understand why he kept uprooting her. He wanted a place to stay too. Matt was tired of constantly moving...

...but the alternative was just unacceptable.

"Stay, we did get them hurt."

She furrowed her little blond-mopped brow. "Huh?"

Here we go, he thought sadly.

"Remember how you woke up on the road, belted in behind me? How I told we we had left because there were bad people out there who would hurt Raze and his people because we were with them?"

Stay nodded again, still nibbling.

"Well, we left one night too late, midget." The sorrow in his voice was evident. he had never really talked about this before. The emotions of that hard night returned in a wave, crashing down so hard he felt his throat tightening up.

Damn it. He was getting soft in his old age. He had dreamed about Raze's coven last night. he had been for several nights in a row. He'd been still, pretending he was safe, for too long.

"You were sleeping when the coven got hit, Stay. The Dark Ones found us, just like I knew they would. I... I tried to run but Raze told me to stand and fight. He said we could stop them. The Ruby Falls chantry had never fallen."

Stay nodded. "Billy said his mom and dad had been defending it for like twenty years and their mom and dad for like a century before that! They are wunnerful!"

Matt sighed. There was no easy way to do this.

"Stay... Billy's dead."

She stared at him. "But you said... Billy's... no. Billy's fine."

He just shook his head. "No, Stay. I told you we would go back to Ruby Falls someday. And we will... but he won't be there."

He could see it in her eyes. She was getting it slowly, water pooling in her big blue eyes. "His daddy? His mommy?"

Matt just pushed his plate away. What little hunger he might have had was completely gone now. There was no way he was eating today. Honestly, with the food here? Not much of a loss.

"They are gone too, baby girl. They all are. The whole coven died." Again, his throat locked up. Matt was trying to get past his feelings here. They only ever got in the way. Being weepy and sentimental was a weakness. He could not afford to be weak. Weak would get him killed. Weak would get Stay killed.

"But... why didn't you save them?" She was biting her lip, wet eyes and wet cheeks.

That hurt. He felt it like a knife.

"Stay... Please..." The words were not coming now. He was grasping for something to say but everything he was thinking just swam away. She had it exactly right. Exactly right.

He had not saved them. When Raze went down, a cult blade rammed through his chest and his body on fire, Matt had not stayed to fight. He did what he always did. He grabbed Stay, ran to his motorcycle and ran away. He felt them die, one by one, the men.. the women...

...even the children.

"Raze... Raze told me to run."

That was true. It had been the last thing the man said, shouting it past the gurgle of his own blood. Run. Get away. Run.

And run he had. "I had to get out of there. We would have died too, midget." Matt's eyes hurt. His hearts hurt. This was hard. How could he make her understand? Was she just too young to grasp that he did all he could? Or at least, all he could do before all was lost?

Was she? Or was he just lying to himself and she was too innocent to believe it?

He slumped, face in his hands. "I swear, Stay... I didn't want to leave. I wanted to... to stay."

Sometime later, the minutes did not really matter, there was the feel of little arms around his shoulders. "You sound funny when you cry."

That earned her a head bump in the face. "I don't cry."

She laughed softly at him, snuggling a plush octopus up against his side. "Izzit just dust in your eyes again?"

He nodded. "Yeah. It's dusty here. Really dusty."

Stay stuck her tongue out in a little gaggy sound. "That would 'splain the meatloaf, huh?"

Matt, despite himself, was still chuckling with her all the way out to his bike...

Saturday, February 7, 2009


This was not his first demon hunt. Far from it. He had been on the run for two years now, trying to get enough distance on the Dark Order and the Heavenly Host to try and give Stay something approaching a normal life. She'd been with him nearly a year now and while nothing had happened to her yet, it was only a matter of time.

A stray bullet. A demon attacking the little blond one instead of the black haired one sitting in front of her on the bike. A driving accident… Anything could happen.

And if it did? That was the end of the limited protection on his life. Of course, if anything happened to Stay, Matt wasn't entire sure he would want to survive it anyway. She was as much a part of his life now as Zephyr beneath him or the guns under his coat.

She kept him going, just like they did. Losing them… or her… meant his end with or without Uziel's threat.

At least today Stay was safe, nearby and under watchful wards. That meant he could hunt in peace, tracking down a demon that made the critical mistake of threatening children and the lack of good sense to run back to Hell afterwards.

Or maybe he had. This was not his first demon hunt but it was the first one to be boring. He'd been at this for hours now, looping through the streets of the city, out here so long that he was surprised no one had arrested him for vagrancy. That would have been just the sort of irony his life channeled – arrested as a derelict when the demon he was stalking appeared to be one.

That was, assuming he would appear at all. Hours of nothing except panicked alley cats and a cluster of homeless throwing bottles at him. He was used to that. He scared people, especially people with nothing but each other. Bottles did not bother him.

Besides, without his bike and his guns, was there really any difference between him and them?

"Fuck this," he grumbled on the umpteenth pass through Bailey Avenue's back alley. "I threw the party. He didn't show." Dropping gear, he stopped his bike. "I'll come back tomorrow."

Rummaging through the inside pocket of his coat, Matt found his cell and flipped it open. The least he could do is call and let them know he was coming back in. Maybe the demon had been spotted there while he was out.

He was halfway through the numbers when the shotgun a foot from his back went off.

Both barrels. Point blank.

Flash and thunder. The roar of pressure and pain. Matt was insensate for the flying through the air and the impact with the brick wall beyond. Sadly, his nerves started firing again just in time to feel in perfect detail the landing on his head part at the garbage-strewn asphalt.

"Hah! Thought you would get the jump on me?! " Reloading. "I am older than the sands in the mortar beneath my feet. I can feel every choice you make. Every decision in your tiny mind, human. There is nothing you can do that I cannot counter. All I have to do is reach out and everything you are, I can anticipate. You are nothing. You are weakness to my strength. Failure to my victory!"

"How about pain to your silence?" Matt groaned and struggled to his feet, popping his back into alignment again. "Do you ever shut up?"

That took the raggedly dress bum off-guard. "You… you are standing?"

"Better than that," matt said as he cracked his neck to clear his head. "I am packing."

With a blur, his guns were out and firing. Round after round lit the alley's darkness, tearing through the night and through a tattered plain shirt and a fifty year old Army jacket. In through the front, out through the back. Twelve shots, center mass all.

The demon's clothing was shredded but he wasn't. Every scrap of cloth sank to the ground, rent asunder and completely empty. "Damn it!" Matt said, running forward to get away from the dead end. "He fucking Obi-Wan'ed on me!"

The demon was not gone long. No sooner was Matt away from the bricks when a grey, androgynous figure with bat wings and a jagged blade in both six-fingered hands screamed down from above and left a gaping slash straight through the wall. "Clever fast you are, nor human be… hellspawn!" Gone was the muttered infirm speech of a bum, replaced by the rasp of a beast from the Pit.

"That's me. Still planning on that victory?" Two more shots, both blocked by the suddenly angled edge of the demon's sword. Ka-tang! Ka-ting!

Matt sighed and dropped his hand cannons. Why did he waste time shooting at them once their weapons were drawn? It never worked. It NEVER worked. His guns could punch holes through a Bradley but they might as well be Super Soakers now.

So be it, he thought grimly. No more bullet time.

Empty handed, he rushed the demon. "Time to end you, stalker! You've been loose way too damned long!" Matt's fingers curled in the air, the gesture of fists.

"Longer than you can imagine, hellborne. And I'll be free long after you rot…" The demon raised its sword in an impaling stance. "Come, fool. You don't know my name. You couldn't hurt me even if you were armed!"

Moments before running himself through on the serrated sword, glowing blades appeared in each of Matt's hands. Aria, his personal favorite in his right, and Rhapsody in the left. Rhapsody was a blade of speed, a weapon that enhanced his already blinding speed. It let him sweep to the side at the last instant, bringing its edge up to parry the vile steel and allowed him a cross slash that cut deep into gut and ribs!

The demon took to the air, trailing blood and shrieking in pain. "How…!?!"

Matt arched his back, letting his own wings emerge, one black folds of night leather, the other a wave of fluttering white light. "Vereketh, right?" He brought his swords high and launched into the air, riding high on the sudden rush of vitality stolen by Aria's blessed edge. His angelic swords hated him so dearly… but they still served.

"The children you've been tormenting send their regards."

The demon hissed and turned to fight. There was no room or time to run. Blades clashed and sparked, skill born from a thousand battles pitted against heavenly steel and the raw power of a hellspawn fighting as if he had nothing to lose.

Every time High and Low forged weapons came together, the sky above thundered, the air growing wet. As fallen angel battled flesh-caged demon, cutting at each other with beautiful blades turned to raw brutality, the clouds opened in a crashing downpour.

God's tears, they used to call rain back in Matt's childhood Sunday School. Now he understood why the Almighty would cry.

Matt finally scored a withering strike to one of the demon's wings, forcing him to come to a heavy landing on the nearest rooftop. Gravel sprayed under Vereketh's barren feet, a flash of his good wing sending a hail of stones up into Matt's face, keeping him from capitalizing on the moment.

Matt went fully defensive in his unseeing seconds, a good choice as Vereketh hurled pinions at him with another wing sweep, feathered blades that Aria paired almost to the last. One snuck through his guard, plunging through enchanted coat and armored shirt into his shoulder. "AhhhHhh!" Matt's vision cleared through the haze of pain into a sharp, violent stare.

Vereketh could see the change in him. Blood was raging now. As deadly as Matt had been before, now he was angry. Now he would be even faster, even stronger. Lifting his sword to point at the slowly advancing hellborne, Vereketh played his Ace in desperation.

"I am the Fallen of Choices, doomed fool." His voice was broken now, weighed down by several wounds. "Long ago I laid a bitter geas upon my life. None may choose to kill me. The one that stills my heart will have his own stop as well! His seed will rot, barren and dry. Blood of his blood will wither and die."

Matt snarled, teeth going sharp and skin going shadowy. One powerful stroke of Rhapsody and the dark sword flew from Vereketh's nerveless fingers. Aria rose next, stabbing deep into the demon's gut.

"Blood's no big. I got no kids." Twist.

As Vereketh staggered back, running blindly into the Wall behind him, Matt slashed both swords across the fallen angel's bare back, flesh and blood freely and painfully shed. A cry of anguish split the night, no reaction at all on the hellborne's face.

"Seed's no problem either. It's not like Heaven or Hell is ever going to let me have kids of my own."

Four quick thrusts, each one a crippling blow that paralyzed limbs and dropped Vereketh to his knees. Looking up, the demon's ragged voice issued up past bloody lips. "You… do not… fear death? What… what are you?"

"You said it yourself," Matt said coldly, his Aria raised high. "I'm doomed."

The blade descended. Flesh and bone parted. A demon ended.

Matt dropped to his knees in sheer agony a moment after Vereketh's head hit the ground. Raw pain exploded in his chest, both swords clattering as he clutched at his shirt and fell over. Twitching. Reeling. Vision fading.

True to Vereketh's hateful word, when the demon's heart stopped, so did the hellspawn's.

Lucky for Matt, then, that he had _two_...