An Internship of Sorts

Scapegoatboy69’s An Internship of Sorts

Fallen Angels, Vampires, and Axe Murderers? All in a day’s work.

Dane Bishop is, with the exception of a quirk or five, a normal college student. Shortly after finishing his first year of study, Dane finds himself in dire financial straights. When a friendly professor recommends that he apply for An Internship of Sorts Dane can hardly turn the offer down. After all, it’s free money and work experience, right?

What follows is anything but what Dane could’ve imagined. Soon after, the seemingly simple job that he applied for becomes far more complicated than anyone could possibly have foreseen. In the face of incredible odds, Dane must do what he thinks is right. In a world of demons, zombies, vampires, and were-badgers can one person hope to make much of a difference?

With the help of unlikely friends, he just might.

Disclaimer:
I don’t own anything I may or may not have ripped off. Some names have been changed, some haven’t, screw the innocent. Some things in the following work may offend people, if that’s you then keep reading because this is good stuff.

Offensive subjects may include: Infantilism, various anime references, religion, politics, a distinct lack of foxes, PG-13 grade swearing, medium cheddar cheese, girls wearing pants, girls not wearing pants, poor spelling & grammar, large amounts of geek-i-tude, and chickens teaching hard science.

Introduction

It was with high hopes that Dane moved out of his parent’s home and into the dorms near the University of California- Santa Barbara campus. He relished the new freedom of his surroundings and enjoyed the academic atmosphere. He was able to split his attention between focusing on his course work and his hobbies, essentially granting him the freedom that he’d always hoped for.

Dane pursued his studies and passions and was met with success. His grade point average skyrocketed in comparison to his high school grades and he was able to attend several major card tournaments he couldn’t otherwise before moving into a bigger city.

After a semester of late nights and high amounts of caffeine, he felt like he had a grip on the college scene and that he was working towards a bright future.

Three months into his second semester of study his parent’s divorced. Following on the heels of that decision was the squabbling: over money, the house, and everything. With the legally and emotionally charged mess, the parent’s couldn’t agree on anything and became embroiled in a fight for Dane’s younger brother, Phillip.

One day he received a letter from his Mother saying that she wouldn’t be able to help pay for his studies because of the financial strain of paying legal fees. She offered to let him come back to her house if he couldn’t manage to make things work down in Santa Barbara.

He never received a letter, e-mail, or call from his father, but the bank did send him an official notification that his account would no longer be receiving any more funds from his father’s account number.

His father moved to Seattle in order to take care of his ailing parent’s estate and his mother won both the house and Phillip; however, she had been a stay at home mother and had a tough time getting back into the work force. Eventually she couldn’t make some of the bills and let the telephone service drop.

Dane, who didn’t know who won the house or what happened to his younger brother, was cut off from communication with his family. Often not knowing the truth is better than knowing as sometimes, late at night, Dane envisioned his family having reconciled and awaiting his triumphant return.

Luckily, his dorm fees and tuition had been prepaid till the end of the semester and he had a fair amount of funds left over from his part time job last summer. He was receiving some financial aid and still had a good thousand or so dollars worth of scholarship money, but he would be unable to pay for tuition, books, and the cost of living without quite a bit more money.

He buckled down. He tried to throw himself into his studies and under-graduate work but was often disrupted by a deep feeling of despair and discontent. He found that he was losing focus and began to wonder what would happen if he simply quit. He was doing the right thing, staying there and going to college, right? Should he go back to his family? Does he really need a Bachelors or Major?

At this point Dane did what any normal college student would do: go on a binge. Usually this would mean going out with some friends and drinking until they started to suffer from alcohol poisoning, but in this case, as with most everything else in Dane’s life, things went differently. He longed to escape all of his troubles and for him infantilism was his choice means of escape.

Rather than go drinking, take drugs or use women he often just went back to his private dorm, diapered himself up and cuddled with his stuffed moose until the morning. Everything always seemed better on those mornings.

And so it was that Dane approached finals week. The course load grew enormous with finals and end of term projects coming due and Dane still had no new source of income or even a place to stay once the dorms booted everyone out for two weeks of mandatory cleaning.

Dane awoke at his desk, looked at his wristwatch, and dashed out the door. It looked like he was going to be late to class.

Again.

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“My previous assistant lasted two weeks. This one lasted three days,” complained Serra, “Why can’t human resources get me someone more competent?”

Serra had already had a very bad day and things weren’t looking up. It started with her waking up late, arriving at work to find that her assistant had quit and culminated in this argument with her boss.

Her work was always impeccable, her assistants’ work on the other hand, not so much. This last one couldn’t even handle his first assignment and embarrassed the company over a simple task. How hard can it be to get coffee, file papers and handle one simple case study?

To top it all off, he didn’t even have the grace to quit like a normal fellow. Instead he jumped from the roof of the building and inflicted damage on their well-manicured lawn and corporate logo.

“Why are you complaining to me? Your work was sub-par and because of resulting damages to company property your pay is getting docked until repairs are complete,” voiced Vice President Christensen calmly.

“I don’t think my pay should be docked because of his stupidity! Besides, it was only some cosmetic damage.”

“Cosmetic Damage? He obliterated the J in our logo!” Truth be told, the assistant had also caused a bit of pitting in the sidewalk and broke a window, but there was no reason to quibble over details. “My decision on that is final.”

There was a pause as Serra started and disregarded several responses. She eventually settled on a nod.

“Was there anything else, Serra?” the Vice President asked after rubbing his temples a bit.

“Well, about my assistant… I want another one.”

Instead of responding with ‘Why do you sound like a child wanting a new puppy’ Christensen chose the more tactful “Why are you asking me? That’s Gabe’s department.”

“Actually, would you mind if I interviewed my next assistant personally? I know it’s against company policy, but it might cut down on my high turnover rate,” and give me a short break, Serra added internally.

“Sure, tell Gabe I said it was okay.” With that, Serra was dismissed. She turned to leave and had to restrain herself from skipping as she neared the door.

“Just don’t slack off on anything,” Christensen called out behind her.

Serra’s shoulders fell.

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This brings us to the present, with Dane Bishop shedding away the heavy course load in the last days of finals week, and finishing up his Socio-Cultural Anthropology final.

“What is the primary concern of the AAA and all successful Cultural Anthropologists?” repeated Dane under his breath. An easy last question, maybe Coach Robby is slipping. Dane scrawled down “The well-being of their focus group” and turned over the last page of the test. He looked at the blank back of the sheet of paper, then smiled.

He was the first person done. He decided to skip reviewing his test answers; it was bad luck.

Dane tossed his pencil case and binder into his backpack and walked down the row of desks until he came to someone with their feet up on a chair across the aisle. Rather than disturb the student he jumped down to a different row of seats and walked to the stairs leading to the exit of the lecture hall and the Professor’s desk.

Professor Robinson was a slightly balding and informal man who stood six feet four inches in height. He preferred that people call him Coach Robby because it was one of the few perks he got as the Coach for the Cheer leading squad.

The middle-aged man looked up from his desk and noted Dane’s presence.

“Finished already?”

“Yeah,” Dane said flashing the Coach a half-smile.

The professor looked back over his papers, “Have you ironed out that student aid issue yet?”

“I’ve confirmed that I’ll be getting some, but I’m not sure if ll be enough to make ends meet. My funds are pretty short and I need to find work.”

“I heard about a job from a friend of mine, you interested?”

“Yeah, it wouldn’t hurt to look into,” …after-all, I could always move back to Humboldt I guess, Dane thought to himself. “What’re the specifics?”

“Well, it’s an internship of sorts…”

Chapter 1

The coffee tasted better than usual. It usually was bitter and left a disquieting sensation in her stomach. Today it warmed her cold hands and helped her cling to the task at hand. The sugary donuts didn’t hurt either.

“Please, remind me again why we’re going through interviewing all of these college students instead of just grabbing a resume` of some professional off the Internet and calling it good?”

“Well, given my high turnaround rates, I’ve begun to develop a bit of a reputation-”

“Well deserved, I’m sure,” the man quipped.

“-among the professional crowd,” continued Serra, “Besides, college students happen to be a cheap, renewable resource.”

“Nah, you just like younger men.”

Eyes narrowed and shaking her fist, “One of these days Gabe…”

“As tempting as that sounds I’ll have to take a rain check on it today Serra, I’ve got a lunch meeting that I simply can’t miss,” Gabe, the Human resources director said.

“So I don’t get any help on the interviews?” pouted Serra.

“I’d love to, but this time you’re on your own,” Gabe said walking towards the door, “I’m sure even you can manage. Cradle robber.”

The door slammed shut as Serra’s donut impacted were his shoulder blades had been.

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When he accepted Coach Robby’s offer to look into the internship Dane hadn’t realized a few things.

First off was the fact that he’d be needing a ride. Dane had his driver’s license but had chosen to leave his car with his parents so he wouldn’t have to deal with gas money and insurance while at college. Normally this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but this was the weekend after finals week. Parties were raging and most all of his friends wouldn’t have the time to give him a ride, let alone be able to.

The second thing was that he should have been hesitant when Coach Robby offered him a ride to the interview.

“Are you sure about giving me a ride to the interview?”

“Sure, I’m meeting a friend near-by anyway,” said the Coach, “Come to think of it, he’s the one who told me about it in the first place.”

“Cool. Could you put in a good word for me?”

“Okay, if it comes up I will.”

“Thanks.”

The Coach had hit his mid-life crisis a while back and still had
the prerequisite red sports car. After getting into the RX-8 Dane checked himself in the mirror. His gray suit was left-over from the welcoming dance that occurred every fall and it still looked rather sharp on him. He ran his fingers through his hair a few times trying to straighten it and settled back to enjoy the ride.

What should have taken three hours ended up taking slightly less than two as Coach Robby sped between cars and worked his way up the traffic column at rapid speeds. Aside from the stale trail mix in his back seat and a few screams the trip was uneventful.

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Staring upward towards the tall, gray spire that was JESU Corporation building Dane couldn’t help but feel a little small. The imposing building’s face was dotted with stone busts of angels and demons and looked like a piece out of Greco-Roman Monthly.

“Looks like this is the place,” he commented to nobody in particular. Coach Robby dropped him off an hour or so early and told him that they’d meet up in a near-by park after the interview.

Dane sighed, checked himself over, then walked into the building. The lobby was pretty typical of big businesses. The walls and furniture were done in neutral colors, browns, tans and blacks everywhere, with the same two security personnel and the same receptionist with the overly-long nails and hair only slightly larger than her pet dog.

After taking in the room Dane made his way to the receptionist whose clothing in no way matched the neutral atmosphere of the lobby. Didn’t magenta blouses die off a few years ago?

“Hi, my name is Dane Bishop.”

“That’s nice sweety,” mumbled the receptionist as she checked her nails.

“I’m here for an interview.”

“Okay, with who?”

Drawing a blank, “Um…” yeah, that sounds intelligent, “for the internship?”

“Oh… That one. It’s on the fifteenth floor.”

“Thank you,” Dane said.

He was only slightly disappointed when she flashed him smile #27-- you’re welcome, go away.

Figuring that he could try to get into his interview early Dane headed towards the elevators. Besides, the receptionist was giving him the creeps.

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“I really think that I can do a good job here, I–”

“Thank you for your application, we’ll be contacting you.” It was barely noon and it looked as though today was going to be another long one.

After the latest applicant left, Steve Jones, 21, 3.87 GPA, Serra took out a blank piece of paper and scrawled “Busy” on it. She couldn’t help but sag her shoulders and hang her head a little as she grabbed her lunch and headed towards the door.

She had been over-joyed when she was granted the ability to choose her new assistant and she had been certain that she’d been right in bugging Mr. Christensen until he allowed her to set up this internship program. It had only taken a few hours for her to pick up the finer points of interviewing people from Gabe, the Human Resources Director, and she went into yesterday’s interviews feeling excited and hopeful.

After all, it wasn’t often when she’d be able to skip work for not one, or two, but three days.

This was all prior to yesterday’s bunch though. Her opinion of her plan had dropped considerably in the last 24 hours. Before this she had been used to dealing with professional people who had their act together and who actually knew their subject material.

Several of her candidates showed up to the interview unprepared. Others showed up haggard from parties. One even discovered that she was in the wrong building. Some didn’t even bother to show up. The ones who did show up ready to go often disappointed her with their stuffiness and… inexperience.

Despite all that, she couldn’t help but feel a little heartened by the thought of taking an extra-long lunch as she taped the sign on the door, locked it and walked towards the lunch room.

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“Busy?” read Dane, I guess they’re still doing an interview. Dane was still a bit antsy from his ride into town and couldn’t bear the thought of waiting out in the hallway for almost an hour till his interview was scheduled.

Well, might as well have a look around the place.

Wondering through the halls caught Dane glimpses into a few offices and saw the usual, cramped spaces, family photo’s on people’s desks and plenty of filing cabinets. As he made his way down the hall Dane caught a whiff of something that made his stomach growl. Hmmm… So this is were the food is. A peak wouldn’t hurt.

The place was well-furnished for something you’d find inside an office building. There were two coffee machines, a half-finished box of donuts, a large refrigerator, a pair of vending machines and several microwaves as well as three small tables set off to the side complete with a woman.

Wait… Women aren’t office furniture…

“Umm… Hi,” Dane ventured.

The woman, who had been thoroughly engrossed in her sandwich, looked up for a moment then refocused her attention on the sandwich. So much for lively conversation…

Dane decided that the donuts were looking lonely.

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Even though Rob arrived forty-five minutes ahead of schedule Gabe was there to meet him. He seemed to have a sixth sense about those kind of things.

They had chosen to meet at a small bar called The Alibi. During the hours they couldn’t serve copious amounts of alcohol to the under-age or football crowds the Alibi happened to serve pot stickers; as rumor would have it, the best pot stickers in town. This was apparently a well kept secret because almost no one chose to have lunch there.

Well, it was that or the rats.

Rob put in his order and joined Gabe at a booth near the back.

“What are you going by these days? Roger? Robert? Why not the old fashioned Ramie-”

“How long have you been waiting for me?”

“All week.”

After a long look at the man, Rob decided to believe him.

“So, what is it that you wanted to talk about?”

“Well, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind coming back and helping us out for a bit.”

“I thought that I made it clear when I quit that I didn’t want to deal with your kind any more.”

“Clear as crystal, but it would hardly be like your old job. I’m getting sent off because of some whim that upper management is on and I’d like you to take over my position while I’m gone.”

“That’s generous of you, but like I said, I’m done with that.”

“Awww… Not even after all these weeks I’ve spent buttering you up?”

“I thought you had an ulterior motive for showing up at my games.”

“Well, there was that, but the girl’s didn’t hurt either.”

And from there the topic turned towards the team’s chances of winning, which of the players needed to get better and the girl’s measurements.

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It started with the donut. Then he got bored and decided to see if the sandwich lady would react if he stared at her long enough. Finally it settled into comfortable conversation.

“It can’t be that bad.”

“But it is, I’ve been interviewing these people for the longest time and I haven’t found a single one worth talking to. They’re all boring, disorganized or drunk from partying.”

“All of them?”

“Yes, every single one.”

“Well, I might have a better chance then,” he said, extending his hand, “I’m Dane Bishop, pleased to meet you.”

Serra looked from her sandwich to his hand, then back again as she recalled her ranting about the applicants. Well, there are worse ways to introduce myself…

She eventually set down the sandwich.

Chapter 2

The ride back to his dorm hadn’t been nearly as insane as the ride into town. It was the first time Dane had seen the normally indomitable professor this… boring? calm? Low-key?

Introverted, Dane decided.

Coach Robby was usually lively and full of energy. His enthusiasm was one of the main reasons why Dane found his lectures bearable. Since he picked up Dane he hadn’t done much more than strike up a polite conversation and then let it die.

What did he eat for lunch? Dane thought, A puppy?

He had finished his interview without incident and had even managed to wrangle some baby carrots out of his conversation over lunch. The interview itself had been pretty short and to the point: he proffered his resume, talked about his references and work experience and pretty much laid out his plans.

He hoped he hadn’t screwed up too badly. Who knew her last name started with a silent k? She should have told me after the first three or four times I botched her name. Dane had pretty high hopes of landing the position, but his nerves sit ate at him.

She-- no, Serra-- had promised to get back to him about the interview by Wednesday.

Dane looked forward to the call with mixed emotions, but set his focus on the events of the coming Sunday: he was to attend a card tournament this weekend and he still had some planning to do.

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Serra rubbed her eyes.

The second day of interviews hadn’t been horrible and the third day had left her with some small hope for the future of mankind. It was Monday night and she had been working most of the day on the hardest part of the whole process: narrowing down the applicants.

Sure the first round of cuts had been pretty easy, Too fat, too ugly, too smelly and the second round weren’t too bad, but they required that she actually read the applications, unqualified, no real drive. The third round had given her a headache though she plodded through after popping a few aspirin he doesn’t really need the position.

A glimpse of her desktop clock showed her that she had been sitting in front of her PC for the last four hours. It was 1:30 am on a Monday, No, Tuesday and no sane being had any business doing anything this late on a work night.

She was on her fourth and final run-through of the applications and was determined to finish off the applicants.

Serra got up and stretched, and after a yawn her gaze landed on a picture of one of the six remaining hopefuls. eh… I don’t like his eyebrows.

Five left.

Damn.

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“Thank God for the simple pleasures in life,” Dane intoned as he pulled a can of Progresso soup from a cabinet. It wasn’t his cabinet or his soup, but that was the beauty of dorm life, right?

He popped the top off the can, dumped the contents in a bowl and threw it in the microwave. He remembered his first time with one of the machines. Explosions have a way of etching themselves onto one’s long term memory.

There weren’t many people in the dorms now that the semester was officially over, but wearing a diaper in the communal kitchen unnerved him more than usual.

Even from under his pants and a pair of boxers they still made noise. Normally the ambient noise easily drowned out the crinkling, but without the usual deafening cacophony that was two-hundred students crammed into a too small building Dane was a little unnerved.

Then again, Dane had been putting it off for a while and he always felt better about life in general during and after his diaper-related shenanigans.

He retrieved his midnight snack and carried it back to his dorm. It felt nice to lock the door and is felt better to sit down to enjoy his soup.

After slurping the warm meal down Dane threw the bowl onto his desk and it collided with his trading binder and knocked his deck onto the floor.

The tournament hadn’t gone too well, but he had managed to secure an invitation to a sneak preview for the coming set. If he could find out where one was being hosted he’d be happy to attend, but the previews weren’t supposed to happen for another three weeks and he had more pressing concerns at the moment.

Like Tanya Huff’s Smoke and Shadows.

Dane drifted out of consciousness with visions of vampire detectives and extra-dimensional Shadow Lords dancing through his head. And a slightly wet diaper between his legs.

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Sometimes life wasn’t pleasant. Sometimes it wasn’t fair, easy or good either.

Marrying Kate had been all of those things. And more.

Sure, his family hadn’t really approved, and he did gain some of their ire, but Robby felt that he had done the right thing.

Two grown kids and half a mortgage later saw Kate’s last summer in their house. Robby had been contacted shortly before by a few of his old friends who didn’t want him to try anything stupid. He had known full well that she would die before he did. He also knew roughly when it was coming.

He always knew that kind of thing.

It wasn’t through some mystical sense or ESP. It was from a cold chill he got whenever he tried to envision their future together. It came to him when he was planning a small vacation and the cold had never made him feel this sick before.

His friends were right. He had tried something stupid.

Really stupid, in fact.

“Kate, I’ve been thinking about… us. I can’t keep lying to you. I’ve been having an affair with one of my students.” He’d never been a good liar, but for her sake he had practiced.

Again and again.

“It’s best if we… uh huh. Yeah, me too. I …okay.” It hadn’t gone as planned, but that was the beauty of it.

So long as she wasn’t with him she would not be at the appointed place and time-- 11:19 am, World’s Smallest Church, Plaquemine, Louisiana-- the conditions would never be met. She’d be missed and get an extension until they could find her and fix that wrinkle in the paperwork.

Keeping things hidden was one of Robby’s greatest talents.

Sure, doing such would cause a stir. Sure, he’d get in trouble with his family and get kicked out of the family business. He was already in trouble anyway for marrying Kate and having children with her.

After all I’ve done to break with them, why did Gabriel invite me back? How is Kate doing?

With these thoughts the Grigori Ramiel, no longer Robby, sat and drank himself into a stupor.

Where’d the hic worm go?

Chapter 3

After months of searching and three dead Laura Croft look-a-likes, there it was: a golden chalice that was painted brown and encrusted with jade eyeballs.

All he really had to do now was snag it, beat-down a handful of Rat-Ogres, escape the Temple of Doom, use it to rescue King Mickey and then he’d be home free.

ring

eh?

ring

Damn!

Dane rolled over and grabbed for the phone. His cat-like reflexes managed to tangle his hand in the phone cord and knock it off his nightstand/bookshelf/milk crate. He scrambled for the phone and eventually came up with the receiver near his ear.

“Hello?” Dane rasped, his voice still recovering from sleep. Who the hell calls anyone this early in the morning?

“Hi, can I speak with Dane Bishop?”

Dane cleared his throat, “Speaking.”

“This is Serra, calling regarding the internship. We liked your application and would like you to come in for another interview, would Friday, by 10:30 be okay with you?”

“Sure, AM right?” There was a sigh and a click as the line went dead. Yup, AM.

Dane hung up the phone and looked at the red glowing numbers on his ceiling. His alarm clock had been a present from his father and he had to admit that it was pretty cool. He snorted at the glowing 11:30 am and rolled back over to sleep.

It really was too early.

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It wasn’t that Hunter was a bad person. He was just… boisterous.

Dane had regretted calling him and asking for a ride from the second he hung up the phone. Sometimes there were moments where everything is not right in the universe and things feel incredibly out of sync. This was one of those moments.

Another of those moments was when Dane got into Hunter’s banged up excuse for a jeep at 6:30AM and nearly sat on a rabbit.

“Hunter, I hate to ask this: why is a lop riding shotgun?”

“His name is Mr. Waffles.”

After sighing Dane tossed Mr. Waffles into the back seat. He wasn’t aiming for the empty guitar case, but the rabbit didn’t seem too perturbed by it’s new surroundings. Then again, the ball of fluff and eyes didn’t seem perturbed by being thrown either. Dane rested his eyes and settled in for the trip.

Hunter and Dane had been friends since shortly after Dane arrived in town. Dane had attended a party while hoping to meet new friends and found quite a few people.

Behind the house.

In the alleyway.

People didn’t seem to be as friendly in the arid parts surrounding Santa Barbara. After trying and failing to strike up conversations at the party Dane had decided to head back to his dorm. It wasn’t a long walk, but cutting behind the house would’ve saved Dane a few minutes.

The alleyway was comparatively well-lit with lights streaming in from houses on either side. Bad things only happen in poorly lit alleys, right?

He had been lucky that there were only three of them. He was also lucky that they decided to mess around with him before doing any permanent damage. After being shoved to the gravel road and kicked once they allowed him to get back up. He was then slammed into the wall of a small one-bedroom apartment. His shoulders hit first, followed by the back of his head in a double tap.

Luckily enough the impromptu knocking on the wall awoke the person living inside. That person just so happened to be a five foot six body builder and prospective UFC candidate who happened to be trained in Muay Thai.

After knocking out the three thugs he decided to knock back a six pack. Then he strong armed Dane into purchasing some harder alcohol as a reward for the rescue.

Despite being friends since that night Dane always felt uncomfortable around Hunter. The man was as random as daytime television and twice as crude.

“Hey, wha’did one lesbian vampire say to the other?”

“Heard that one already Hunter.”

“What’s the difference between 1,000 dead babies and a GTO?”

“Heard that one too Hunter.”

“What’s black-white, black-white and red all over?”

“Two nuns in a chainsaw fight.”

“Dang… Uhh… Wha’did one lesbian vampire say to the other?”

And after another couple hundred repeated conversations they arrived.

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“Hey pretty lady, do ya wanna see Mr. Waffles?”

Dane’s smile faded as a feeling of nervousness replaced the cruel satisfaction of siccing Hunter on the receptionist. He wasn’t Dane’s trained attack dog, but he was close. The ride up in the elevator didn’t do much to settle his nerves.

Neither did the walk down the hallway.

Well… this is it. Dane knocked on the door.

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Serra had been up all night. She was tired, irritable and slightly jittery from her last cup of coffee.

She had narrowed down the number of applicants to two and from there she couldn’t decide. Both of them where organized, presented themselves well and didn’t piss her off in the slightest. She invited them to her office on Friday and had given herself about two days with which to think of a way to decide who got the job.

If she interviewed them again she knew that she’d identify more with the person who was interviewed last. No matter what she thought of she couldn’t think of an alternative that was fair or at least partially without bias.

The solution had been handed to her, literally, with her morning coffee.

“Thanks for coming you two,” Serra said. Without giving them a chance to speak up she continued with her speech-- she elaborated on the responsibilities the winner would have, how little the pay was and every terrible thing about the job that she could think of.

“Are you both sure that you still want the job?” she finished.

“Yes,” said Steven Jones, a brown haired overachiever.

“Same here,” said Dane, the nervous feeling growing in his gut.

“Okay then,” Serra said as she fished her answer out of her pocket, “Call it in the air!”

“Heads!” “Tails!” they called at the same time.

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Easily the best part about being department head was the fact that he was the one who called the meetings. Robby tried not to abuse his power, but some days he simply couldn’t stand stuffy collegiate affairs.

Today, for instance. This feeling wasn’t really anything new to him as he had been avoiding every meeting for the past eight days. In fact, he’d been avoiding everything for the past eight days.

On the first day he got himself kicked out of three bars, and it was good. On the second he nearly cleared out the stock of a liquor store, and it was good. On the third and forth days he polished off his purchases and his private stash of hard liquor and chocolates, and it was good.

On the fifth day he tried and failed to impress the neighborhood-- "Ya wanna sheee sometin? I hic can fly! Wheee!-- and it was good. One the sixth day he took up Sudoku I had my emotions surgically removed at the age of 12. It makes it easier to play Sudoku and eat puppies, and it was good.

On the seventh day he rested and then went to the bathroom, and it was good.

On the eighth day he sat at home in his boxers and watched “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” and it was sub-par.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

It’s been two weeks already… Dane thought as he stared at the red glowing letters on his ceiling.

He hadn’t liked the military bunker vibe that the dorms had given off. The dull gray roof hadn’t been very interesting either. His new apartment’s roof was made of white fiberboard and Dane was busy counting the holes.

276…

Last week he had been in dire straights about getting kicked out of his dorm. He had gone to Serra to apologize and tell her that he couldn’t continue to work for her because he didn’t have a place to live down there when she told him about JESU Co.'s company housing.

277…

Apparently they owned a rather large apartment complex with larger apartments as one ascended floors. It was rumored that the top floor was a single huge flat complete with jacuzzi and Dane promised himself that one of these days he’d find out.

278…

To get the deal on the apartment Dane had had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Essentially he couldn’t mention anything odd about people in JESU Corp to anyone outside the company or he’d risk getting a fine of some-such. He hadn’t bothered to read the whole thing over as it was all pretty standard.

279…

In addition to the discounted rent on a half-decent one bedroom apartment, there were other perks to working at JESU. One of them happened to be a free gizmo. Dane wasn’t really sure about all of what it could do but he’d been told that it was a combination cellphone, camera, Internet browser, laser pointer, voice recorder, and fondue maker.

280…

Given the sheer number of buttons on the thing Dane wasn’t sure if that last one was a joke or not.

green…

Dane was a bit antsy as this weekend Serra had arranged for the two of them to do some fieldwork with one of their case studies. It shouldn’t be too difficult as typically all a case worker would do in this situation is help around the house or lend a hand with whatever the person needed help with. The over-all goal would be to help them resolve whatever problems they had when they hired on to JESU.

282…

What the company does is take cases and help people for a nominal fee. JESU does everything from providing day-care services to armored transport for dignitaries. The insanely large number of varied cases required constant attention and since Serra was the head case worker she (and consequently Dane) had their hands full almost constantly. Every now and then a particularly stubborn case would pop up and Serra would take care of it personally and leave the crush of paperwork to one of her subordinates.

287…

Or she’d declare a case a problem case and go on vacation, which is essentially what she had done this time. Dane had talked to her over lunch earlier in the week was it Monday? Tuesday? about his invitation to the preview and told her a few of the possible locations. Partially as a reward to her seventh longest lasting assistant and partially as a plan to avoid the crush of paperwork Serra set the gears in motion to go and deal with the next problem case personally.

288…

Serra was to fly down on the company’s budget, and Dane would be riding a Grey Hound. The thought of it made him shiver a little. The last time he had ridden one of those buses he had walked in on a man shaving his… “self” in the only sink.

289…

Well, it was times like these where being an infantilist came in handy. Dane planned on wearing a diaper on the 8 hour ride and changing out of it before he walked to met Serra at the motel they were going to be staying at.

Well, better get packing.

Chapter 4

As with all great stories, there is a part to this tale which happened quite some time ago. If I may digress: It was a gray and cloudy day in San Francisco, sometime in 1873. Then again, it was always foggy and gloomy in that part of California.

The plan had been simple, so very simple.

For the last eight months his host had been masquerading as one of the night staff at the San Francisco Mint. The fools had taken his forged reference papers at a glance and welcomed the extra help. The labor had been backbreaking, but worthwhile.

His host had gotten assigned to one of the melting vats and they had been feeding its’ hungry, burning mouth with silver day in and day out.

He was tired, so very tired of being trapped in his silver Denarius. He had been bound inside that silver coin long ago as a punishment. He wanted out.

His coin had traded hands many times over the years, first passing to Judas Iscariot. From the Traitor it passed to a bread merchant, then a moneylender, then to a Roman vassal and so on. Every time he found a new host he’d barter and negotiate with them, earning their allegiance and respect. In return for granting them knowledge, physical prowess or magical power he would live vicariously through his host and maintain some illusion of freedom.

He often let his hosts make their own mistakes, but he was protective of them. After facing the prospect of being buried with one of his former hosts he became acutely aware of what abandonment could mean for him: an eternity trapped beneath the dirt, with no way out and no way to do anything save wait for Armageddon.

This was by no means his first dastardly plot but it would be his most significant. If he pulled it off he need never fear such a fate ever again.

In a small pouch on his host’s work belt were a pile of silver filings. Each sliver of silver was taken from his coin and they would be added to a batch in order to make another fifty coins through which he could possess, coerce or otherwise affect the denizens of the outside world. He was usually pretty laid back in his evil-doings and was often content to just let his hosts live their normal lives until opportunity came knocking, which it invariably did. This time was different though.

For the last eight months the denarian had been planning this night, he wanted it to be perfect. After his host was dismissed from work they would hide in a ventilation shaft above one of the vats used for smelting. This would be impossible for an ordinary mortal, but by using a bit of magic to craft a seat partway up the pipe, magically shielding his host from the worst of it, and forcing the man’s breathing to almost match that of a dead man he was able to hide rather comfortably.

Once the majority of the workers left for the night he ordered his host out of hiding and into action. The plan was for him to go for the gladius that he had hidden under a workbench, dispatch the night’s security and cleaning staff, then use their blood to perform a ritual that would strengthen the slivers of his coin and allow them to survive the molten silver until they were made into coins and fell into the hands of his next fifty hosts.

The gladius was just where he left it. The people left in charge of guarding the building where stupid, but their blood was plentiful enough. The only real problem came in the form of the cleaning staff.

The two of them, one Black the other Asian, had been working on the same corridor. They heard the muffled cry of the last of the guards and got spooked. They bolted in separate directions, the black guy making for the front door and the Asian making for a side door.

It was easy enough to block the first man’s run to the front door and cut him down, but the gladius fouled in his ribs and by the time his host had finished disentangling the sword the Asian man had made his way out of the building and down the courtyard.

Although he was put out by the escape of one of his victims the denarian focused his hosts’ attention on getting things prepared for the ritual. He walked to each of his victims, placed the gladius upon a wound and whispered an incantation that drew a portion of their blood onto the blade to stay there till he released it.

It wouldn’t be long before the Asian came back with police, and the denarian had no wish to be caught flat-footed. The last thing he needed to deal with was a patrol of idiots with guns. All he wanted to do after he ensured his bigger and brighter future was to have his host bathe and get some sleep.

Using his sword as in impromptu pallet the denarian painted the runes and glyphs from memory. The blood smeared onto the vat did little to disrupt the grime that had coated it over the years and was almost indistinguishable from the black and red muck. With the designs drawn his host made his way to a catwalk above the tall vat to begin the obligatory waving and chanting.

A heavily accented voiced turned his head a few phrases into the incantation, “My name is Shiro Yoshimo, turn and fight.”

The host marked that it was the janitor from before. What drew the denarian’s attention was not the Asian man’s reappearance, but rather what he held: Fidelacchius, a sword of the Knights of the Cross. The three swords wielded by that order were constructed from iron nails taken from the Cross-- note the capital C.

His host reacted while the denarian was struck by the surprise appearance of one of the Knights of the Cross. He pulled his bloodied gladius from his belt and charged the man. Without the denarian’s help his host was no match for the man.

The host didn’t know that.

The host also didn’t now exactly what it was that severed three of his fingers from his right hand, just above the knuckles. He thought it might have been the sword, but he couldn’t be sure.

His host’s pain startled the denarian into action.

First, he numbed the pain caused by the missing fingers and ordered his host to bring the sword up and to the left in order to block the oncoming thrust. His grip wasn’t solid, but he managed to get the flat of his blade between Fidelacchius’s tip and his face.

The impact shattered his nose, but again the denarian numbed the pain.

The denarian’s time spent in Rome was his favorite, not only because of the wild feasts and wilder parties, but because his coin had fallen into the hands of gladiators. Lots of gladiators.

When the Knight went to withdraw Fidelacchius for another thrust the denarian dropped his sword and caught it with his left hand. He held the ruined remnants of his host’s right hand to his side and warily eyed the Knight.

Fidelacchius had a long blade, which, while a great weapon in distanced battles, was of little to no use in close quarters combat. The denarian’s gladius, on the other hand, was a shorter and heavier blade and quite capable of sheering limbs in close quarters. If he could manage to get within the Knight’s reach he should easily be able to outmaneuver and overpower the smaller man.

With less of a thrust and more of a flying tackle the denarian rushed the knight, who parried and backpedaled to avoid grappling with the larger, stronger man. His parry wasn’t able to withstand the full force of the blow, however, and the knight took a painful cut to his cheek. There wasn’t much catwalk left and if the denarian could force his opponent over the edge he’d be able to claim victory as the knight fell to his death.

The trouble was that getting inside Shiro’s reach wasn’t going to happen again anytime soon.

The catwalk’s narrow sides and the flashing Fidelacchius stopped the denarian from gaining ground. Try as he might, the denarian simply couldn’t bridge enough distance to throttle the other man. To make matters worse, his host was tiring-- first from spending a good portion of the day inhaling toxic fumes and doing hard labor, then yet more from blood loss-- and the knight’s stamina still seemed untested.

If his host hadn’t been so stupid as to lose fingers the denarian should have been able to quickly claim victory. While distracting this Shiro Yoshimo with a display of swordsmanship he would’ve drawn magical power into his off-hand and once he garnered enough force he’d simply blast his victim from the catwalk and let him fall to his death. However, there was only one spell the denarian knew that could be performed with his two remaining fingers and he didn’t think that a cleaning cantrip would be of much use.

With deft precision and a confidence forged, literally, in hellfire Shiro moved onto the offensive. His lightning fast and skillful display backed the denarian’s host further up the catwalk. Towards the vat. Only the denarian’s lifetimes of experience gave him the skill necessary to avoid mortal injury from the deadly long sword while fighting one-handed, with his host’s weaker off-hand, and a shorter blade no less.

The denarian’s injured hand had been at his back for most of the fight. First working to free the sack from his belt, then slowly opening the drawstring. He may’ve been losing the fight, but he didn’t need to win. He was able to invade the mind of anyone who touched his coin… or in this case, pieces of his coin.

He had no illusions about trying to dominate the Knight’s will with such a weak connection, but it should be a simple enough matter to ignite every pain center in the man’s body for a few seconds while his host disarmed and throttled the poor bastard.

Perhaps sensing his plan Shiro went into a dizzying array of attacks, forcing the denarian further and further down the catwalk and forcing his host to take small nips from Fidelacchius’ blade all the while. Finally they were in the right position.

Now!

The denarian dropped his sword and took a slash to the ribs. It wouldn’t be fatal, but his host would be feeling it for the next few years. Ridding the world of one of the Knights and claiming Fidelacchius would be well worth whatever aches and pains his host had to deal with. His host fell to his knees in a slump.

The Knights of the Cross where sworn to never kill a yielding opponent. Shiro believed that his opponent had finally acknowledged defeat and was about to launch into one of his monologues about how good will always triumph over evil. He didn’t get the first word out before he caught a cloud of metal filings with his face.

“Gotcha, Fool!” the denarian sent into Shiro’s mind.

The Knight fell to the ground and screamed in pain. Most all of the denarian’s attention was focused on this distraction and he could no longer keep his host’s wounds from taking their toll. His host fell to the ground, bloodied and past his limit.

“Damn, get up you worthless sack of meat!” the denarian cursed at his host. In little time Shiro-- father of three, 31 years of age-- would get enough of his control back to break the illusion of pain and put an end to the fight.

It was a shame that Shiro had to die, his body was fit, he had a lifetime of experience to feed the denarian, and, to top it all off, he had possession of one of the three holy swords.

Wait… did he have to die?

Waste not, want not.

With what little hold he still had over his exhausted host he willed the host into taking the coin from around his neck. With a little more effort he had his host wriggling towards Shiro. With the actual coin in contact with Shiro’s skin he could strengthen his hold and corrupt the Knight, fancy sword or not.

It was then that he felt something snap.

Shiro hadn’t broken the illusion of pain and still must’ve been feeling as if he were being cooked alive. While the feeling definitely wasn’t pleasant to him, it was familiar. Familiar enough to be ignored and put aside.

Shiro got to his feet, moving his exposed skin out of reach of the denarian’s host, and carefully walked the four feet to retrieve his sword. He used Fidelacchius’s slightly shaking blade to take the chain that the denarian’s coin was connected to and flick the erstwhile medallion into the vat of molten silver with a sharp snap.

The denarian screamed foreign words inside the head’s of the mortals present. He felt that he was dissolving, falling apart and losing whatever it was that made him whole. Rather quickly he lost his tenuous connection to Shiro. The host, however, wasn’t so fortunate. The once a well-respected shopkeeper cried and shook for minutes on end before falling silent. The denarian’s screams broke the poor man.

Shiro shuddered and leaned against the catwalk as his pain faded. He breathed a few shuddering gasps and set about regaining his composure.

Another day, another devil.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Back in the present day, in a musty, old attic a young lad named Joseph was distraught. The sky was gray and the rain had kept him in doors, which didn’t do anything to help his mood. His grandfather, an old and gentle man, had died last week. The boy had snuck up here to get away from his parents and all of the relatives that were wishing him and his family well. Joseph railed against them, and against how unfair it was to have taken away his grandpa.

Without much thought, he slammed his fist into an old cardboard box. The pile of junk that was under it unbalanced and sent the entire thing crashing to the floor spilling his grandpa’s coin collection all over the attic.

One coin in particular caught Joseph’s attention, and on impulse he grabbed it. It would be his memento. He pealed off the protective plastic seal that was around the coin and enjoyed feeling its cold metal in his palm.

Not long afterward, something about Joseph changed. He was constantly busy, always plotting, oftentimes he would be distracted, like he was listening to a voice only he could hear. At first his parents became glad that he no longer spent all his time hanging about the house and they assumed he was out making friends and being the young teenager that he was. They were glad that he’d gotten over his grandfather’s death so quickly.

Eight days later pets started disappearing from the neighborhood.

Two weeks later Joseph’s parents issued a Missing Person’s Report. Joseph’s mother spent that night praying for his safe return and well-being.

An Internship of Sorts

Ack. It cut off the rest of it. I’ll have 5-14 up sometime tonight or tommorrow. Sorry for the wait.

An Internship of Sorts

First off, I don’t ever remember seeing a reply to a completed story, so I am not sure if it is proper. If not, I apologize.
I loved it. It was not focused on the diapers, which is the problem with so many stories these days, it was well paced, and I actually understood the section about the denarians and the Knights of the Cross.

An Internship of Sorts

[size=14px][u]Chapter 5[/size][/u]

The bus lurched to a stop and Dane lurched forward with it, banging his head against the seat in front of him. Shaking off his sleep he rubbed his head, stretched a bit, and then looked out the window. It was raining heavily and quite dark outside. The clock at the front of the bus told him that it was one in the morning.

Why did the bus have to arrive at one in the morning?

Dane stretched some more and started to stand. He lost his balance and fell back into the seat onto his wet diaper. He had used it a little while after the first and only stop on the trip and was glad he didn’t have to worry about the freaky and dirty restrooms that seemed to be at every bus station ever.

He gathered his belongings together and and braced himself for the rain. He dashed from the last step off the bus to the overhang of the bus station about twenty feet away. The cold woke him a little but he was still startled by the blaring of a car’s horn.

Looking towards the noise Dane was able to make out Serra’s face and shoulders through the rain slicked passenger’s side window. Self-conscious of his wet diaper Dane made his way over to Serra’s silver Mazda.

“Thanks,” Dane said after throwing his stuff into the back seat then slumping into the passenger’s seat, “but wasn’t I supposed to walk to the motel?”

“No need to sound ungrateful,” Serra sniffed, “If you still want to you could walk.”

Dane looked out the window and considered. He had hoped to change pretty quickly, but Serra’s arrival sorta threw a monkey wrench into his plans. Then again, it was raining.

“Let’s get going then.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Just past a smattering of suburbs was a water tower that stored and supplied water for the town’s septic systems. The tall, gray spire was Joseph’s favorite place to come and think. He’d spent much of the last month or so since his grandfather’s death up there, surveying the town and thinking. The wind bafflers along the side gave him protection enough from the elements to spend his time up there in relative comfort.

They also kept the wind from blowing out the candles on his alter tonight. The heavy rain wasn’t too much of a daunting obstacle tonight thanks to a puffy black parka and his grandmother’s umbrella. The climb up the ladder had been difficult carrying the umbrella and a backpack containing his candles, a fixed blade knife and his neighbor’s cat.

The poor thing hadn’t been too hard to catch, but it had cut his hand up a bit before he managed to shove it into his backpack. He felt sorry for the cat, but it was all for a good cause. If he kept going he’d eventually get in contact with a demon that could bring his grandfather back to life.

He’d been shocked once his grandfather had started speaking with him. Gramps had seemed disoriented at first, but any dead man would be, right? He’d known things that only Grandpa could’ve known, like what they’d talked about while fishing and which girl he’d had a crush on in sixth grade. He had drilled a hole through and hung his grandfather’s silver dollar around his neck on a cord. Since taking this momento he’d been feeling better about things. He became more confident and his grandfather’s advice was never more than a few thoughts away.

After a few days they’d set about a plan to get his grandfather a new body. It had started with smaller things, like buying candles from the dollar store, collecting grave soil, and spending time in the library reading up on, as Grandpa put it, “Local magical influences.”

After that was done, his grandfather told him to go somewhere secluded and perform a ritual for him. It hadn’t taken much convincing, but Joseph was still unnerved by the thought of summoning demons.

He kept telling himself that so long as he got his grandfather back everything would be all right.

The great thing about demons was that they generally weren’t picky. All the first one had wanted was Joshua’s pocket change. The second one wanted his sandwich. Starting with the fifth demon they demanded increasingly exotic fare for their services. Jewlery, birds, small dogs. In exchange for payment each had given him the name to a stronger and more knowledgeable demon.

This one had promised to deliver him the name of a demon who could revive his grandfather in exchange for a three legged black cat. Joseph turned from his view of the town’s lights and retrieved his knife.

His neighbor’s four legged black cat wasn’t going to have a pleasant night.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Dane rubbed his eyes and yawned. After getting a bead on his surroundings he got out of bed and stretched. Last night had been a bit awkward, but Serra had walked into the room they were sharing and fell onto her bed and was snoring seconds later.

It wouldn’t do to leave a used diaper in their bathroom’s trash as it’d likely be spotted. After wondering what to do for a bit Dane decided to walk around the motel a bit. He found the indoor pool and checked out the changing rooms. He had quickly changed out of his diaper, balled it up and threw it in the trash there and made his way back to his room.

Sleeping for most of the bus ride had left him feeling too awake to sleep, but he gave it a shot and eventually nodded off.

Dane dragged himself into the shower and awoke fully in the steam. After an awkward few moments before opening the door and heading for his suitcase he realized that Serra wasn’t in the room. He pulled on some pants then went to investigate.

He found her in the lobby of the motel decimating the continental breakfast. Managing to snag an orange Dane sat across from Serra and her cup of coffee, two plates piled with various bagels and toasts, a bowl of oatmeal and a bowl of cereal.

“You sure you can handle all that?”

“Mm-hm,” Serra mumbled around a piece of toast, “Flying always takes it out of me.”

“Why is it that you got to fly and I had to take the bus?”

Serra glared at him and went back to eating.

Dane focused on his orange for a while. “How was the flight?”

“Not bad. A little turbulence. My shoulders ache a little.” Serra elaborated between bites.

“Isn’t the punchline ‘My arms are tired’?”

Serra stared blankly at him for a bit. Dane took the opportunity to visit the counter and returned with a bowl of shredded wheat and some juice.

“What’s the plan?” Dane asked once Serra’s appetite showed some signs of slowing down.

“I’ve got some business to deal with. How about we meet up back at the motel around five pm?”

“Sounds good, what business?”

“Stuff for the case,” Serra said while thinking about the spa procure in her purse.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

He’d felt cheated when he offered up the cat and was paid with the name Craig.

Craig the demon.

What a stupid name for a demon to have. He’d immediately banished the demon who offered the name and began the ritual for summoning again, this time invoking Craig. If the ritual hadn’t worked he would have summoned up the last demon and punished it for its’ insolence. Dropping it into the water tower would probably have been sufficient.

As it was, the ritual did work and Joseph was surprised. All of the demons he had summoned so far had been naked little imps. The first had been the size of a hummingbird, the last had been a full foot shorter than he was.

Craig the demon wasn’t typical apparently. He stood a head and shoulders above Joseph and was dressed in a fine black suit with a long, gray tie. He looked like the man who his aunt had called when she found out Uncle Dan had been cheating on her.

The demon hissed when the first raindrop impacted him. He brought his arms up above his head, muttered something, and then the rain stopped.

Well, not entirely, Joseph observed as he noted a globe around the water tower where the rain simply wasn’t.

The demon looked around and got a bearing on his surroundings. After inspecting the alter he was standing on with an obvious sense of disdain he noted Joseph.

“What do you want?”

“Why are you named Craig?” Joseph couldn’t help but blurt out.

“We can’t all be named Ich’Tharsus the Devourer, my boy.”

The demon chuckled as if sharing a private joke and Joseph stood in stunned silence. So far communicating with the demons had been like how he thought communicating with a cave man might be.

“Do you have my fee?”

“Fee?” Joseph asked.

The demon let out an exasperated sigh, “Yes, fee my boy. I don’t run a charity and if you’d like my help you’d have to pay like everyone else.”

“H-How much is your fee?”

“Usually either four souls or your firstborn child, but since you’re such a,” imperious glare, “young and charming thing it’ll be five souls.”

With that, the demon vanished in a puff of black smoke and the bubble of dry air collapsed, again soaking Joseph and putting out the candles.

Joseph had stayed awake all night on that tower, too tired to risk the climb down the ladder after summoning two demons and too wet to go to sleep.

Souls.

This new demon wanted five souls before it even set about helping him. Joseph had no idea where or how he was going to get them, but the voice in his head told him the easiest way to get a soul was to win it in a wager.

Joseph was happy that his grandfather had an answer.

With his lifetimes of experience the Denarian almost always had an answer.

While the Denarian provided the process through which to harvest souls his current host provided the means and had a perfect place to do so.

“Yes grandpa, I thought so too.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

The game was yugioh, or Duel Monsters as they called it on the show. The goal is to destroy one’s opponent by reducing their life points from 8000 to 0, destroying the opposing player’s deck, or using an alternate path to victory.

Each player, or duelist, seeks to accomplish this by employing vicious monsters, arcane spells, and cunning traps. In tournament play the winner is the person who bests their opponent in a match (two out of three duels).

Dane had waited in line for almost half an hour, but he was finally able to pay admission and register. Shortly after they began the first round of

His opponent set a fourth face-down card to his spell and trap zone and ended his turn. Dane sighed.

What an idiot, Dane thought.

Dane drew his card for the turn and loosed Heavy Storm, a card that obliterates all spell and trap cards on the field.

“Damn!” his opponent exclaimed, the twenty-five year-old man kicked himself for his stupid move. His four cards where destroyed and sent to the graveyard while Dane lost nothing to Heavy Storm’s effect.

Dane then summoned Bountiful Artemis and ordered the crystalline angel to attack his opponent directly. After taking the hit his opponent’s life points dropped from the full 8000 to 6400.

Dane set two face-down cards to his spell and trap zone and ended his turn.

His opponent drew and then activated Smashing Ground in hopes of destroying Bountiful Artemis. Dane responded by activating Magic Drain in response.

“Unless you can discard a spell card from your hand, Smashing Ground will be negated and Bountiful Artemis’s effect will activate.” Dane explained.

His opponent could not discard a spell. Bountiful Artemis was protected and it’s effect allowed Dane to draw a card.

“This should do then,” Dane’s opponent said.

He moved to summon Berserk Gorilla. The red-eyed simian has 2000 attack power which is more than enough to blow Artemis off the field. However, the Gorilla is required to attack every turn, hence the ‘Berserk’ part of ‘Berserk Gorilla.’

As soon as the Gorilla hit the field Dane activated another card.

Forced Back blasted the Gorilla back to its’ owners’ hand and Bountiful Artemis drew Dane another card. Since he had already tried to summon a monster once this turn Dane’s opponent was forced to pass.

Dane drew his card for the turn and summoned the Majestic Mech- Ohka, an griffon-like beast made of white metal, red crystals, and sporting an impressive 2400 attack points.

Dane’s opponent balked, “You can’t summon that without offering a monster as a tribute.”

“Wrong. Majestic Mech- Ohka can be summoned without tribute, unlike other high level monsters. The catch is that if Ohka is summoned that way it dies at the end of the turn.”

Dane attacked with Ohka and Artemis dealing a total of 4000 damage and leaving his opponent with 2400 life points. Dane set two cards to his spell and trap zone then ended his turn. Dane’s Majestic Mech exploded and went to the graveyard.

His opponent drew his card for the turn.

“I play Mystical Space Typhoon!” He slapped the card onto the field and used it to destroy Dane’s set Negate Attack card.

“Ha, now you won’t negate… my… attack?” he trailed off as he realized that it didn’t sound as cool as he thought it would.

Dane sniggered a little.

“Anyway, I summon Berserk Gorilla,” Dane’s opponent declared. He then had his Gorilla smash Dane’s crystalline angel to pieces, inflicting 400 points of damage to Dane, and sending his angel to the graveyard. Dane’s opponent ended his turn.

The score was 7600 to 2400 in Dane’s favor.

Dane drew his card and set it to the side of the field without looking at it.

“That’s game,” Dane told his opponent.

“How?”

In response to the question Dane removed his two dead monsters from the game in order to special summon the Soul of Purity and Light; a monster that matched the Gorilla’s 2000 attack points worth of strength.

If Dane simply passed the turn his Soul’s defensive ability would kick in and the Berserk Gorilla would have to attack leading to it’s demise.

Dane had other plans though. He went straight into the battle step and declared an attack with his Soul of Purity and Light. The Gorilla and Soul destroyed each other in combat and both cards were sent to the graveyard.

Without waiting for a reply from his opponent Dane activated his face-down trap card and paid half of his life points to do it.

“Return From the Different Dimension causes me to special summon to my field as many monsters that have been removed from the game as I can. That’s my Bountiful Artemis and Majestic Mech, more than enough to wipe you out.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

The day at the spa would have been really nice, but she had work to do. Serra’s client was an employee here and it was her job to assess the current situation and then remedy the problem as expediently as possible.

She had cleverly disguised herself as one of the guests at the spa and she’d spent the last two hours blending in all as part of an act that would make the cast of Mission Impossible jealous.

Or, at least, that’s what she told herself as she enjoyed a mud bath, manicure, and facial all on the company’s charge card. The person she was here to talk to just so happened to be managing the waxing area.

Between bouts of wax-induced agony and crying Serra was able to find out that the woman was having trouble with her son. Trouble with a capital T. Aside from the normal teenager shenanigans that he was prone to the boy had run off about a week-and-a-half ago.

Serra’s assignment had been to “reconcile Marry-Anne with her son” and it had been marked as an easily handled case. Apparently this wasn’t the case and their intelligence was as off as usual.

However, Serra had more important things to think about than spending the next however many days chasing some teenage brat around the town of Milton.

“Take a deep breath Miss, we’re almost done!”

Yank!

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Even though Ramiel was tired and sick he jumped at the sudden shriek.

He had left the television on all night and this Farscape extra really knew how to scream. He got up, stumbled into the bathroom, fell to his knees and voided the contents of his stomach. Most of it hit the toilet.

“One of those days,” he muttered to himself.

He’d been having ‘these days’ rather often lately and didn’t seem to mind them overly much. The worst part was the headache, and that was easily taken care of by a few more drinks and some headache medication. It’d be stupid for a human to do, but he was more durable.

Ramiel pondered life as he dragged himself into the bathtub and started the water.

Contrary to his expectations he still had all of his limbs. Outweighing his hopes he still had all his digits. He’d made sure to appoint his second-in-command as head of the Anth department while he was… vacationing, and his son’s were due to arrive at Mount Shasta for a ski trip they’d been planning on since late January.

After that they’d… belch

If Ramiel wasn’t feeling as terrible as he was he probably would’ve noticed the shiver running down his spine and the deeper sense of sickness he felt.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Dane was doing well so far. His first opponent hadn’t been much of a challenge in either game and his second had been rather talented, but ultimately unlucky. In a game of chance luck was almost as important as being able to play the cards properly.

It was with a smile that Dane sat down across the table from his third opponent. The match slip said “Nemec, Dennis” and his opponent looked… interesting? With bright blue hair, a white trench coat and a sheathed sword at his hip he didn’t look boring.

The guy was close to Dane’s age, possibly a bit older. His face was unshaven and he looked scruffy. He extended his hand.

“The name’s Dennis,” he said when Dane took his hand and shook.

“I’m Dane.”

Dennis took what looked to be a katana and laid it out to the side of the playing area.

“Um?” Dane intoned pointing at the sword.

“It’s just for… cosplay,” Dennis explained and popped the handle out of the sheath showing Dane that there was no blade.

Dane shrugged. He’d seen people do worse in the name of cosplay. One of his friends from high school had almost killed himself in the school parade when he decided to cosplay as Nicholas D. Wolfwood, six foot tall metal cross and all.

He couldn’t pick out the character, but he wasn’t familiar with too many anime shows. Dane resolved to ask Hunter about it the next time they met. Aside from being a bodybuilder and martial artist Hunter also happened to be a living breathing encyclopedia on everything from Arcade Gamer Fubuki to Zellos of Slayers Next.

They sat down, shuffled their decks and waited for the head judge to announce the beginning of the next round.

Dennis looked around, then his gaze settled on a spot a few inches above Dane’s shoulder. His eyes grew wide.

“Um, fuck,” he said by way of explanation. He gathered up his sword and bolted out of the room, bowling over a few people in the process.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Joseph was out of breath. He was tired from staying up all night and was hungry as all he’d eaten today was a bag of jerky he’d swiped from Murphey’s Market.

Don’t stop, keep going. Only a little further til you can rest,” urged the voice in his head.

They made it to the abandoned school where he had been sleeping. Perhaps abandoned wasn’t accurate as every now and then Joseph could hear voices and footsteps above the boiler room that he had broken into and made a home of.

He’d been hearing them more clearly since his first night. Perhaps it had to do with his summoning demons. Perhaps it had to do with the place itself. Either way, Joseph would be happy when he brought his grandfather back and they could go back to the farm again.

He ate his fill of stolen snack foods, curled up in his sleeping bag by the old boiler, and began to dream about bringing his grandfather back to life.

“Tonight granddad,” he mumbled before drifting off to sleep.

[size=14px][u]Chapter 6[/size][/u]

She’d decided to wait for Mary-Anne to get off work and talk to her more about her son. She’d had to tear herself away from the prospect of a mud bath or the promise presented by the massage room, but in the end it was worth it.

She’d seen Mary-Anne leaving a side exit of the building and had moved to intercept her.

“It figures that the staff wouldn’t use the main entrance,” Serra thought to herself.

Serra reached her before her client made it to her car. After a hurried introduction she’d been able to convince the woman to invite her over to her house for a late lunch. Serra had scribbled down her address and promised to meet her there in an hour or so.

On her way back to her rental car her phone rang. She picked it out of her purse and held it to her ear.

“Hello, this is Serra.”

“Um… Hi. It’s Dane. Can you pick me up?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be doing your tournament thing?”

“I was, but before the start of the third round they’d found five unconscious people crammed in a storage closet. After calling the cops they decided to cancel.”

“Okay,” Serra said as she hopped into her rental, “I’m on my way.”

I hope they don’t mind having another for lunch.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Dennis was pissed off. He’d been sent to this crappy town in order to investigate the serious amount of black magic that had been happening nearby. He’d attended the tournament because it was the largest gathering of people in the small town. Well, that and because even demon slayers had to have hobbies.

He had been surprised when he felt something happen before the third round. He’d grabbed his sword and ran to investigate, knocking a few people out of the way in the process.

One of them happened to be a youth with poofy, white hair and a large golden ring that had been tied around his neck, but was now rolling across the floor. “Dang, where’d that Ring go this time?” the youth muttered.

Dennis paid him no heed and kept going. Finding the source of whatever had been giving him the willies was like playing a game of hot and cold. Eventually he found where it had happened.

Unsure of what he might find, Dennis had put one hand on his sword’s pommel and slammed open the door to a janitor’s closet. Several bodies fell out of the closet and onto him. By the time he’d managed to disentangle himself there was someone screaming about dead people, another person running off to call 911, and a rather large looking Tongan fellow had an iron grip on Dennis’ arm.

Shortly after, the local authorities had shown up and the large islander let go of his arm. He was then barraged by a series of questions, and the series was then repeated four or five times in an effort to slip him up.

Dennis stayed true to his story: he’d left the tournament hall to go to the bathroom and on his way back he’d heard something from inside the janitor’s closet so he’d opened it only to be covered in unconscious people.

Eventually they let him go. He took the opportunity to walk into town. From there he’d find a quiet place to wait. The next time some seriously bad mojo went down he’d be ready.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Serra pulled the car into their driveway. Dane yawned a bit then got out of the car, he’d decided to leave his card stuff stashed in the back of the car, but had his deck in one of his cargo pockets.

The place was surrounded by a waist-high wooden fence, there was a barn behind the building, fields behind the house, and there was a large tree in their front yard that had a swing hanging from one of the branches. Dane could describe the place with a single word: quaint.

They walked down the short path to the farmhouse and were greeted at the door by a decidedly jolly old lady.

“Hi’ya. You’re Mary-Anne’s guest ain’cha?”

“Yes,” Serra said, “Is it okay that I brought my friend?”

“The more the merrier, come in, come in,” the woman said as she ushered Dane and Serra into the house. It was larger on the inside than it looked to be and most of the space was covered with art of some variety. There where little glass animals, portraits, hand-knit wall-hangings, and three easy chairs lined up against the wall in the greeting room.

There didn’t appear to be a television, but there was an old radio and a bookcase inside the room. Dane could hear a voice coming from what he thought was the kitchen.

“Did he come in again? Okay. Just put it on my tab like the rest of the stuff he’s taken. How has he been looking lately? Sorry, I’ve got to go, I’ve got company.”

The last of it was said when Serra entered the room.

“Your tab?” Serra asked.

“Joseph. He’s been stealing from the local store. The owner’s a family friend and he called me about it. I decided to set up a tab with him to pay for whatever Joseph’s been taking.”

Serra decided to keep her opinion on the matter to herself. If it where up to her she would’ve had someone grab the kid.

Sensing her disapproval Mary-Anne continued, “He’s been having a hard time since his grandfather passed away. They were pretty close. He needs some time to heal and leaving him alone is the easiest way to deal with that.”

“What if he decided to do something stupid?”

Mary-Anne laughed a bit, “You do realize that this is a small town, right? Everyone’s business is everyone else’s. If he tried to do something too stupid he’d be grabbed up by someone.”

“So you know where he’s been living?” Serra inquired as a handful of people clad in overalls, flannel, and boots started to trickle into the farmhouse. Could they get any more stereotypical? Serra wondered to herself.

“Actually, no. We think he’s been camping out somewhere. C’mon, the food’s ready and the hands are getting boisterous.”

They walked into the dining room, which happened to be where they had a large horizontal refrigerator and a back door that opened to the backyard and fields beyond. The table was covered in rolls, potatoes (scalloped and otherwise), and a large hunk of meat. The meal was trimmed with asparagus, two pitchers of water, corn, and an indescribable orange mush.

“Those’re yams boy,” one of the larger, more grizzled hands said to Dane as the dish was passed around the table. Once everyone had dished up their plates the old lady who had welcomed Dane and Serra into the house led them in grace.

They dug in, food flying in various directions, passing dishes around, and generally devouring anything that stayed on the table for too long. Once appetites died down a bit conversations began. Dane ignored most of the talking in favor of a baked potato and what he assumed to be roast beef.

“…I betcha ten dollars he’s been hiding out in that ol’ water tower.”

“Water tower?” Dane spoke up around a mouthful of potatoes.

“Ya hav’n noticed? It’s the big blue thang. Joseph likes to climb it and just sit there every now and then. First time he almost gave his mum a heart attack, six years-old he was.”

“Sheven,” corrected another farmhand who was in the process of chewing.

“Six!”

“Sheven!”

Dane filed it away for future reference and went back to eating.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

After getting out of a nice, warm shower Ramiel was feeling better. He’d taken the last day or so to recoup and had sworn off drinking for the next few years. He reflected after pulling his bathrobe on.

‘Better’ being a relative term. His head still ached, his eyes were bloodshot, and he felt like he’d been run over by a train a few times, but he was still in passable condition. He should be back to one-hundred percent by the time his son’s came down to visit.

A cold, sick shiver went down his spine.

Damn!

Ramiel went to the garage, grabbed his ladder, and set it against the side of the house. Takeoff wasn’t easy under any circumstances and taking off from the ground would just be a waste of energy.

Once he got on top of the roof he pulled deep within himself and focused. He felt his bones lengthen and grow lighter. His wings unfolded and grew. He stood a full foot and a half taller than normally and had become far more muscular than normal. His bathrobe didn’t change, but seemed more of a toga after he adjusted its fit to accommodate his wings and larger body.

He jumped from his roof, flapped hard, and was gone.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Joseph yawned, stretched, and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes in that order. He pulled himself out of his sleeping bag and pulled his shoes back on. He hadn’t even bothered to undress before falling asleep.

He’d managed to win the five souls he’d needed, but his grandpa had insisted on taking them all at once, just in case someone noticed them harvesting the first soul and tried to stop them from getting the rest.

He ate the last of his jerky, washed it down with Gatorade, and thought about going to Murphey’s Market to grab some more food. If everything went well he’d be able to go back home tonight. Then there would be no reason to steal from anyone and everything would be alright.

After gathering his stuff together he crawled out through the ground-level window he’d been to get in and out of the boiler room and made his way to the water tower.

The climb up the ladder was harder than it was last night and Joseph had to pause on the way up to catch his breath. He eventually got to the top, made his way to the little alter he’d constructed, and set about the summoning ritual.

Craig the Demon looked none too happy to be summoned, but took his payment without complaint.

“What exactly is it that you want?”

“I want my grandfather to be brought back to life.”

“Shouldn’t be too big of an undertaking,” Craig noticed the dark circles under his summoner’s eyes and how weary the kid’s posture was.

“Are you sure you want to be doing this today? You look pretty worn out, my boy.”

“Concern?”

“No, just professional courtesy,” the demon said with a smile.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

After lunch they’d decided to split up. Dane would take a borrowed bike to Murphey’s Market and Serra would stake out the water tower. If they had any luck they’d find Joseph, talk him into going back to his mom and, they’d be free to leave in a day or so.

She pulled her car off the gravel road that passed the water tower to the north and turned off the engine. After getting out she decided to look around a bit. The near-by bushes didn’t hold anything of interest, but as she made her way closer to the water tower she was able to make out voices drifting down from up on the tower.

Figuring she was lucky Serra started to climb the ladder that led to the top of the tower. If she was lucky she’d find the brat and be done with it all by nightfall.

Worst case scenario, I piss off some city utilities person,” Serra thought to herself.

About two thirds of the way up she stopped hearing the voices. Apparently their conversation had ended or some-such. When Serra’s head crested the top of the water tower she spied Joseph busy messing with some candles and pulling stuff from his backpack.

Serra took two steps forward and announced herself, not wanting to startle the youth. “Hel-”

“Boo!” shouted the tall man dressed in a pinstriped suit that suddenly appeared not two inches from her face. Only after yelping and dropping her purse did Serra notice the small horns on his head, poking out near his temples.

“I love it when they do that!” the demon chortled.

Without responding Serra turned, reached deep inside herself, and lept from the tower. Her wings spread and flapped once. She’d be out of there in no time, get somewhere safe, then call the head hanchos for someone to get rid of this demon.

It wasn’t to be, as after a short series of gutteral words were incanted, a large and shadowy hand extended from the top of the water tower and grabbed her around the arms and waist.

“Let go of me!” Serra demanded, wings flapping furiously.

“Craig! Th-that’s an angel!” gasped an astonished Joseph.

“Craig? What kind of stupid name is that for a demon?”

Ignoring the jibe Craig explained to his young client, “What’s to be surprised about, my boy? You’ve been summoning demons all this time, didn’t it ever occur to you that angels also exist?”

“Shouldn’t we let her go? I mean, it can’t be good to be messing with an angel.”

Craig brought Serra closer to him and sniffed. “Only a half-angel from the smell of it. If we let this one go it’ll come back with friends and weapons. You don’t want it to hunt down and kill you and your grandfather, right?”

“No, but…”

Just let the demon handle it,” reasoned the voice in his head.

“…I’ll let you handle it,” Joseph said.

Smiling Craig looked for a suitable place to stash his catch until he could take it back home with him. His eyes settled on the hatch to the water tower’s holding tank.

Perfect!

Using the hand that wasn’t controlling the magical shadow Craig gestured at the metal hatch. The padlock popped open, the chain unwound and the hatched propped itself up.

After trying and failing to shove her down feet-first damn wings, he incanted another magical hand, used it to hold her wings in place while he shoved her through the hole head-first.

At another gesture from the demon the hatch promptly shut and locked itself, sealing his prize away for later.

Suppressing his appetite, Craig turned back to the task at hand. “You’re well-prepared kid, but we’re still missing a willing sacrifice in order to bring your gramps back.”

“Willing? How do we do that?”

Craig’s response was interrupted by an obnoxious ringing coming from Serra’s purse. Joseph and the demon eyed each other for a minute before the demon went to the purse and retrieved the phone.

“Hmm, cough ack-hem!” Craig cleared his throat. Answering the phone in Serra’s voice he said, “Hello?”

“Hi, have you found the kid yet?”

“Yeah, but I’m having some trouble. Could you please meet me at the water tower?” It was Craig’s experience that manners were usually required in procuring willing sacrifices. And unwilling ones. This case was no different.

“Okay, what’s the address?”

“Address? It’s the big blue thing. You should be able to see it from most anywhere in town.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Looking over his shoulder, Dane had to admit that it was true. He could see the large blue tower and it wouldn’t be hard to find at all.

“Okay. I’ll be there in a bit,” he said.

Serra had sounded a bit odd, but Dane put it out of his mind and pedaled his way to the tower. It was beginning to get dark when he arrived at the bottom of the tower and found Serra’s rental.

After looking around a bit Dane heard some voices then yelled up towards the tower, “Serra, are you up there?”

After a second he got a reply. It sounded like Serra was getting congested. Perhaps later he’d suggest that she get some cough syrup or something. Either way, Dane made his way up the ladder.

As his head crested the ladder a patch of shadow passed over him and plucked him from the ladder.

“What the hell?!” Dane protested as be found himself suspended above the ground and about five feet from the side of the tower.

“That’s rather accurate, my friend,” said a man in a dark suit after he stepped out from behind one of the wind bafflers.

“Who? What? How?” Dane shot off in rapid succession. “Are those horns?

Ignoring his captives’ questions Craig the demon made an offer. “I will let you come onto this platform if you agree to make a deal with me. If not, I will drop the subject, and you.”

Dane didn’t know what was going on, but creepy businessmen were preferable to a messy death.

“Okay, just please put me down on the water tower.”

Resisting the urge to drop him from thirty feet above the water tower, Craig settled on five feet. His floating hand disappeared and Dane fell the five feet to sprawl awkwardly on the metal platform that was the top of the water tower.

Dane looked around a bit and gathered his senses. There was another person, Joseph Dane realized, crouching at the far end of the platform, but he didn’t see anything resembling his boss.

“Where’s Serra?”

“I’m glad you asked,” the Demon said. He sauntered over to the loosely chained hatch that marked the center of the water tower. “She’s stuck down here.”

“Well let her out.”

“That’s what I wanted to speak with you about. You see, we need a willing sacrifice. You want this woman back. Of course, you’d rather keep your entrails where they are and I’d rather keep your friend. How about a bet?”

“What, if I lose whatever bet this is I become your sacrifice?”

“Yes; however, if you win, I’ll give you what you desire,” Craig said, kicking the hatch for emphasis.

“Fair enough. What’s the bet?”

“You have to beat my little friend over there in a contest of his choosing. Well, either that or I throw you off this structure,” Craig remarked as he brought another shadowy hand into being.

Joseph was a bit startled about being singled out, but it had been part of the plan they’d concocted. If the bonehead said he agreed to the bet he’d whip out his deck of cards and challenge him to a duel. Since didn’t have one of his own he’d forfeit automatically. It had been grandpa’s idea.

Joseph was proud to have a grandpa that smart.

“I’ll take the bet.”

“Very well. Joseph, what contest have you decided on?”

“I challenge him to a duel,” Joseph said as he retrieved his deck of cards from his backpack.

Dane looked at him then he began rapidly digging through his pockets. Eventually he came up with his deck from the tournament. “I accept.”

Craig chuckled. This wasn’t what either of them had planned, but he might as well make things more entertaining.

“Let’s make things interesting, shall we? Each of you shall maintain your monsters with a portion of your soul. In addition, whenever one is destroyed or you take damage you shall become weaker. If either party is unable to continue then they lose.”

With that a cloud of darkness issued forth, and the demon laughed as it covered the water tower.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Dennis Nemec couldn’t only feel the bad mojo, he could see it. It was a clear evening and a dark cloud had enveloped the top of the tower. Being able to see it wasn’t enough though as he was still partway across town. He’d have to hurry.

This wasn’t going to be pretty.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

He wasn’t worried in the slightest, though he was put out that his grandpa’s plan for an easy win had fallen through. Joseph wasn’t much good at this game, but he’d been able to best five people who had traveled here to participate in the tournament with the help of his granddad.

The way he explained it Granddad was able to count the cards in his deck and memorize their order. He’d then take very close note of how it was shuffled, cut, and dealt. If he observed all that he could tell Joseph exactly what his next cards would be and they’d plan the game full turns in advance.

Joseph took the initiative and went first.

He drew a card, putting his hand size at six and played one monster face-down on the field. With a swirl of wind a large, horizontal card appeared before him. He set a single card to his spell and trap zone and ended his turn.

Dane didn’t know exactly what was going on or how the businessman with horns was doing all this, but it didn’t really matter. He needed to win and get Serra out of this overgrown metal fish tank.

He drew and summoned Maharagi, a clay doll nested within another doll. “Maharagi. Whenever it is played I get to choose whether or not I want to draw the card on top of my deck or the one under it during my draw next turn.”

Dane then activated a spell card from his hand. “Creature Swap forces us to swap monsters,” Dane explained.

His clay dolls and the large face-down card on Joseph’s side of the playing field swapped places.

With that Dane ended his turn and Maharagi disappeared from the field.

“What just happened?” Joseph demanded.

“Maharagi is a spirit monster. At the end of any turn in which it sees play it will return to my hand.”

Joseph drew and a voice whispered into his ear “You’re going to draw it next turn.

Smiling, Joseph set another face-down monster card and ended his turn.

Dane began his turn and activated Maharagi’s ability. Instead of choosing to draw a Shining Angel card he decided to chance his luck on what his next draw was. Shining Angel went to the bottom of his deck and he drew.

Dane flipped the face-down monster face-up, summoning it and revealing its identity as Night Assailant. Whenever Night Assailant is summoned that way it can destroy any one monster on the field.

“I’ll destroy your face-down monster,” Dane declared. The shrouded assailant cut through the card and a barrage of dust filled the arena.

“You destroyed Sandmoth. Instead of going to the graveyard it comes back to the field with 2000 attack points.” A large winged creature composed of sand and dust appeared on the field.

Dane’s stolen Night Assailant only had 200 attack points. Rather than leaving the creature on the field, Dane sacrificed it to summon his Majestic Mech- Ohka. With a flash of light the griffin constructed of ivory and ruby appeared on the field.

“Ohka’s 2400 attack points are enough to destroy your Sandmoth, Ohka attack!”

Dane’s Majestic beast was met with the activation of Joseph’s trap card. “Widespread Ruin blasts your Mech to smithereens.” Sure enough, the huge explosion blasted Ohka into scrap metal and Dane winced as he felt part of his strength slip away.

“Before I end my turn I’ll set a face-down card to my spell or trap zone and play the spell Card Trader,” Dane declared.

“My turn then,” Joseph stated. He drew his card and played it without looking at it. “I summon Senju of the Thousand Hands. Whenever it is played I can add one Ritual Monster from my deck to my hand.”

Inwardly Dane groaned.

Of all the monsters in the game Ritual Monsters were some of the hardest to summon. Correspondingly, they were also some of the strongest monsters in the game. Luckily enough, it usually took some time to gather the proper ritual spell and meet the conditions for summoning. Dane hoped that he would be able to use that time to pound this kid’s face in.

“I’ll add the Dark Master Zorc to my hand.”

He then ordered his Thousand-Handed creature to attack Dane, weakening him further and bringing his life points to 6600.

“I’ll set one spell or trap and end my turn.”

Dane began his turn by drawing a card. He then activated his Card Trader’s effect. “Once per turn this card allows me to trade a single card in my hand for a random card in my deck.”

A creepy little fellow wearing part of an opera mask appeared at Dane’s side and traded him a card in his hand for one he produced from under his top hat. The card that was given to him was Magic Drain.

That should disrupt his plans to ritual summon the Dark Master,” Dane thought. Every ritual monster needed to be summoned with a ritual spell. If Dane countered the spell Zorc would waste away, a dead card in his opponent’s hand.

Dane set Magic Drain face-down and activated Mystical Space Typhoon, wiping away Joseph’s set trap card.

Dane then summoned Bountiful Artemis in attack position and used the crystalline angel to blow Joseph’s thousand-handed monster off the field. Joseph gasped as he felt part of his soul wilt under the assault and he took 200 damage to his life points.

Dane ended his turn with his Angel in attack position, Card Trader active, and two face-down cards in his spell and trap zone.

Joseph smiled as he drew his next card, again he played it without looking at it. “My Heavy Storm card obliterates every spell and trap card on the field,” Joseph remarked.

Dane mentally kicked himself for making the same mistake his opponent had in the first round of the tournament.

Well, not quite the same mistake,” Dane mused as he activated Magic Drain in hopes of stopping the Storm from destroying his cards.

“I’ll discard a spell card from my hand to allow my Heavy Storm to wreck your field anyway,” Joseph replied.

Bountiful Artemis still activated and drew a card for Dane, but it was little more than a consolation prize. The storm ripped his defenses from the field.

Joseph continued his turn, “I’ll summon Sonic Bird. Whenever this jet pack-equipped bird is summoned I get to add a Ritual Spell to my hand.” The darkness extracted a card from Joseph’s deck and brought it to his hand.

“I activate Contract with the Abyss and offer my Sonic Bird and in-hand Opticlops as sacrifices in order to summon the Dark Master Zorc.”

With a swirl of shadows the Dark Master Zorc appeared. The muscular demon was clad in a cape, ragged pants and not much else. Its 2700 points of attack power dominated the field.

“Zorc, destroy his angel!” With a great swipe Zorc shattered Dane’s crystalline angel and left him with 5500 life points remaining. Dane winced as his strength was drained.

Joseph set one card and ended his turn confidently.

Dane drew his card and looked over his hand. He didn’t have any way to kill the Dark Master outright, but there where always opportunities. What made Dane an above-par duelist was his ability to improvise.

Dane set a monster face-down and set a face-down card in his spell and trap zone.

He then ended his turn.

Joseph drew his card for the turn and looked towards the Dark Ruler. “During each of my turns the Dark Master levels his rage at a target and obliterates it. Be it a single monster on your side of the field or all of your monsters.”

Zorc howled and launched a beam of purplish light across the field, blowing Dane’s face-down card away and taking a portion of his spirit with it.

Joseph took that moment to attack, in hopes of weakening Dane further and moving one step closer to the conclusion of the duel. “I activate the spell card, Scapegoat!” Dane declared as Zorc was getting ready to maul him.

With that, four fluffy sheep appeared on Dane’s side of the field and Zorc was left mauling one of them instead of Dane’s life points.

Joseph ended his turn.

Dane drew and activated a spell card.

“Enemy Controller allows me to sacrifice one of my scapegoats to take control of your Dark Master for one turn.”

“Big deal, I’ll still get it back and there’s no way you can finish me this turn.”

“Actually, look at your monster. Its rage is building and it has no target. Demons are typically unpredictable and Zorc is no exception.”

Zorc looked around the field for something to blast into nothingness and saw only multi-colored sheep. One blinked at the demon. Zorc screamed in rage and exploded, destroying itself and the rest of Dane’s scapegoats.

Dane continued his turn by summoning Harvest, the Angel of Wisdom and used it to attack Joseph directly for 1800 damage, knocking Joseph down to 6000 life points and weakening him. It didn’t seem to bother Joseph much and within seconds he looked as strong as he’d been before.

Dane set one face-down trap card and ended his turn.

Joseph drew his card for the turn. “Luckily enough for you I’ve managed to gather the pieces to another ritual,” Joseph mocked.

“I activate Advanced Ritual Art and offer two monsters from my deck to summon Reshef, the Dark Being!”

A being composed of stone slabs and three glowing balls of energy materialized onto the field. “I can use it’s power to steal one of your monsters until the end of the turn by offering up one spell card from my hand,” Joseph explained as he sacrificed one spell to steal Harvest. He then attacked Dane with both monsters, blasting him almost to his knees and leaving him with 1200 life points.

Joseph tried to end his turn after setting a pair of face-down cards to his spell and trap zone. “Wait! Before your turn ends I’ll activate Dust Tornado, a card that lets me blow away one of your traps and allows me to set one of my own.”

One of Joseph’s trap cards was blown off the field and a face-down trap card materialized on Dane’s side of the field.

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Despite the back and forth action and the explosions Craig was getting impatient. He decided that he might as well take a peek at what both players where planning and find out who would win.

First he read Dane’s mind. Understandably, he was concerned about keeping his entrails where they were at the moment. Despite his dire situation Dane seemed to be unworried by the state of the game and was confident that he’d claim victory once his next turn rolled around.

He then read Joseph’s mind, or tried to anyway and was blocked by something. He walked onto the dueling arena and grabbed Joseph’s head.

“Hey, Joseph my boy, did you know that you’ve got something in here?”

“My brain?”

“Besides that.”

“Well, my grandpa has been helping me.”

“Trust me boy, this thing inside your head isn’t anyone’s grandpa. It’s a big, evil beasty from a long, long time ago. It has been trying to get you to get it a body, hasn’t it?”

Joseph thought things over a bit.

No, don’t listen to him!” the voice in Joseph’s head said. “He’s a demon, and demon’s can’t be trusted.”

“Hey, my boy,” said Craig as he gained a foothold in Joseph’s mind and began rummaging through his memories, “didn’t you think it was odd that your grandpa could teach you how to summon demons?”

Joseph concentrated on the presence in his head and felt disgusted. This weird, alien mind had been in there with him all this time? How long has it been there?

Since I picked up the coin…

Joseph took the coin off from around his neck.

No, damnit boy! I’m your grandfather!” the voice said, sounding less like Joseph’s grandfather with every syllable. Craig took the opportunity to seal the boy’s mind from the thing’s touch.

“I don’t need you to bring my grandpa back. I’ll do it myself!” Joseph threw to coin to the floor where it bounced, rolled, and came to rest on the hatch.

“Are we going to continue or just keep on talking all day?” Dane asked.

“Of course we’re going to continue,” Joseph quipped. “It’s your turn.” As the words left his mouth Harvest, the Angel of Wisdom returned to Dane’s side of the field.

Dane drew his card for the turn and summoned Freed the Brave Wanderer. The armor-clad soldier appeared on the field and hefted his sword. Its 1700 attack points worth of strength paled in comparison to Reshef’s 2500.

“I’ll activate Freed’s special ability. By removing two of my dead monsters from the game I can destroy any one of your monsters that is stronger than Freed.”

Freed’s sword began to glow with white light, and with a slash Freed destroyed Reshef the Dark Being.

Dane then attacked Joseph directly with Freed and Harvest, bringing his life points down from 6000 to 2500.

Dane activated his face-down trap, Return From the Different Dimension. He grunted as his life points dropped from 1200 to 600, but rescuing Serra and keeping his entrails where they were would be worth it.

Majestic Mech- Ohka and Bountiful Artemis returned to the field. An attack from each of them would seal the duel in Dane’s favor.

“I attack with Majestic Mech- Ohka,” Dane declared.

“You’ve fallen for my trap! Needle Ceiling,” fired back Joseph, “Now that there are enough monsters in play it will destroy all of them on the field.”

A large rack of spikes appeared above Dane’s monsters and began to drop. Dane played a spell card in response, but it couldn’t stop then the press of spikes from striking his monsters. With a crash the spikes hit the ground and faded from view. His monsters were destroyed and Dane’s soul continued to wilt.

With a strangled grunt Dane fell forward. He’d reached his limit.

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Serra wasn’t having a pleasant time. The water was cold, the walls were slimy, and to top it all off she was the hostage of some demon. She supposed she’d had worse days, but she couldn’t think of any at the moment.

She’d been clinging to a set of rungs that were set in the side of the wall. They’d become standard issue ever since small kids started finding their way into these things and drowning.

Clinging to the rungs she’d been able to hear a good amount of what had been going on above. None of the details, but she’d been able to determine that Dane had somehow gotten involved. It looked like she was going to lose another assistant.

After some thumping and yelling she’d been able to hear a pained grunt followed by the sound of someone crumpling against the tower and making it ring, probably with their head.

This was the last straw for Serra and she almost broke into hysterics. She swam to the middle of the holding tank and thumped on the hatch as hard as she could. It bounced up about two and a half inches then fell back.

The force of her blow dislodged the coin that was resting on top of the hatch. It bounced off the hatch and rolled about a foot and a half, unseen by both Joseph and the Demon.

Eventually it rolled to a stop against Dane’s outstretched hand.

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Get up…” said a voice.

Dane tried to move at first, but found he couldn’t. I can’t.

Get up you pussy.

No arguing with that logic.

Dane felt strength flowing from his hand, down his arm, and into his body. After a moment of struggle he got back up. Once Dane gained his feet, he opened his eyes.

“You shouldn’t be standing,” mumbled Craig, not really trusting his own eyes. “The strength of your soul has been totally depleted. By all rights you should be close to death.”

“Let’s finish this,” the newly invigorated Dane said as he pocketed the coin he’d found in his hand.

His Bountiful Artemis was safe thanks to his Book of Moon spell. Book of Moon forced a single monster into face-down defense position, and it was enough to allow his angel to dodge the falling rack of spikes.

“It doesn’t matter, I’m still going to win!” Joseph proclaimed as he took his turn.

Joseph drew his card for the turn and was happy to see Spirit Reaper. The card had abysmal stats, but its special ability prevented it from being destroyed in battle. With Spirit Reaper on the field Joseph could stall until he could bring forth his next Ritual Monster and annihilate Dane.

Joseph played his Spirit Reaper face-down. He then ended his turn and felt assured of victory.

Before taking his turn, Dane paused for a bit. Both players were on their last legs. Neither one had many cards in-hand, both of them were at very low life points. The duel could go either way, but the odds were heavily slanted in Joseph’s favor. Dane drew his card with a prayer.

“I’ll offer my angel to call the Majestic Mech- Goryu to the field,” Dane announced.

Flecks of golden grains swirled around both duelists and around the water tower. Eventually sections of ivory plating faded into being and helped the golden flecks coalesce into crystals, growing longer, wider as a great serpentine shape wound its way around and above the water tower.

The face of a white and gold dragon materialized above Dane’s side of the field, with its limbs clenching onto the tower. The last things to form where its wings, great and huge alabaster wings that sprouted from its shoulders and pierced the cloud of darkness.

Despite the display Joseph remained confident. “C’mon, attack me then!”

Insolent brat,” a voice inside Dane’s head commented.

“Very well,” Dane said. Though impressive, Goryu would unmake itself at the end of this turn. Normally he’d do what he could have to avoid this situation. He’d had to summon it without a proper offering, but in this case he had no choice. This was his only chance to make use of its power.

“Goryu, attack!”

The dragon reared back and loosed a breath of harsh white light, revealing a skeletal wraith holding a scythe.

“Ha! My Spirit Reaper cannot be destroyed in battle. It doesn’t matter how many times you attack it or how powerful those attacks are, the result will be the same: my Spirit Reaper will survive and your Dragon will be helpless to prevent you from succumbing to my next Ritual Monster!”

“Your Spirit Reaper may have survived the attack, but you’ve still lost,” Dane said as his Majestic Dragon breathed a stronger blast of energy that blew straight through the scythe wielding skeleton to flatten Joseph against one of the wind bafflers.

Dane smiled then collapsed again, in exhaustion.

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Craig didn’t really know what to think. He’d been doing this kind of thing for a long time, but large golden dragons were not part of what he was used to covering. He figured that he might as well make good on his bet with the guy.

This was the part he loved most: screwing people over.

He’d said that he would grant him his desire. He’d keep his word. While he’d wanted the half-angel, there must be other things he desired as well. He’d grant whatever this person wanted then retreat back home five souls and one half-angel richer than he’d been this morning.

All in all, not a pretty bad haul.

Sifting through Dane’s mind he’d come up with a few options, but one thing really seemed to strike his fancy. Smiling Craig cast the curse and wove it tightly, making it a part of Dane. He then walked over to the hatch, and, with a flick of his wrist, he opened it, half-pulling his angelic prize out of the water.

He smiled, showing teeth.

She eeped, and dropped back into the water.

With a sigh of exasperation he dispelled the cloud of darkness and incanted a hand with which to fish her out of the water tower.

He could almost taste her now. Her warm, sweetly barbecued flesh. Her bones broken open to devour the marrow. Her jui-

He and his hand vanished in a puff of black smoke and sulfur fumes as Dennis Nemec’s sword sliced cleanly, upwards from his left hip and exiting somewhere near his right shoulder.

Dennis first checked the two unconscious people at the scene. Nothing too battered, although the smaller one looked like he’d been through hell and the larger one looked to be a close second.

Only after checking their pulses and breathing did he turn his attention to his wet and angry half-sister.

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Ramiel the Grigori cried.

He’d found their car wrapped around a tree half a mile between the town of Shasta and the ski slopes.

It had skidded on the ice and fallen down the embankment. After hitting a tree and dislodging snow from the branches their car had been covered. Hidden from sight, and their tire tracks covered over by the snow, they’d been passed by for several hours.

His sons had been able to hear other people going back and forth on the road for several hours. Eventually the sky darkened and with it came the cold.

Starting with

An Internship of Sorts

[size=14px]Chapter 7[/size]

“Wake up Baby,” someone said.

Shortly after, Dane suffered a nudge. He stirred, made a ‘mrmph’ noise, and rolled away from the disturbance.

Dane heard a sigh, then he gave a start as he was tugged out from under his blanket. “C’mon little one, it’s time to get you changed,” said the large woman who had hefted him from his crib. As he nestled into the crook of her arm Dane realized three things: he was wearing a diaper, it was wet, and that he was dreaming. Well, either dreaming or he’d been transported to the land of giants.

Might as well enjoy the dream while it lasts,” Dane mused hazily.

He was set down on the too large changing table and the woman changed his diaper. “Are you feeling better little one?” his caretaker said once she’d finished taping a new diaper onto him. Dane mumbled an affirmative. That was the great thing about people in dreams: they weren’t too picky on details.

“That nap must’ve been just what you needed,” Dane’s caretaker reasoned. She finished snapping him into a onesie and carried Dane down a hallway towards what he assumed was the living room. There were portraits hanging along the walls, but Dane couldn’t pick out any of the faces they showed.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t recognize the faces. They just weren’t there. Normally, Dane would have been pretty freaked out by a hallway full of portraits that lacked faces, but he chalked it down to his dream and just snuggled into his caretaker a little more.

They reached a living room that looked to be nothing if not comfortable and she set him on the floor.

“Don’t cause any trouble little one,” his caretaker said, “I’ll be back in a minute with a snack.”

Dane took the opportunity to look around and he ended up setting his sights on a stuffed moose about half-way across the floor. His caretaker found him happily playing with it when she came back into the room with a bottle of cold apple juice.

She scooped up both Dane and his moose and settled down on the couch. “I bet you’re hungry, aren’t you?” she teased as she tickled Dane a bit. He still had ahold of his moose, but she propped him up with the crook of one arm and fed him a bottle with the other arm.

Dane couldn’t actually taste the apple juice, but it felt cool and refreshing nonetheless. He closed his eyes and relaxed. He relaxed more than he had in weeks, and enjoyed the sensations of being looked after and cared for. It didn’t to him matter what happened in the outside world, nor did the events of the last day or so.

“It does matter. And greatly so, my landlord.”

Dane opened his eyes. The first thing that he noted was that he was now seeing everything in gray scale. The colors had fled from his dream and the comfortable looking living room now looked stark and empty.

He looked up at his caretaker and noted that she, like the portraits in the hall, didn’t have a face. Dane was quite creeped out at this and deliberately shut his eyes. When he opened them again his caretaker had vanished and he found himself laying on the sofa and far larger than he had been.

“I was wondering when you’d come to your senses,” quipped the dark-haired person sitting across the room from Dane. He looked to be roughly of Arabic descent, but Dane couldn’t really place why. His skin color was a dark tan, and he looked to be only a handful of years older than Dane.

“Come to my senses?” Dane repeated.

The long-haired stranger rolled his eyes. “My, aren’t we the sharp one. I’ve been waiting for you to wake enough to have this little chat.”

This is turning out to be a pretty weird dream,” Dane thought to himself.

“This isn’t a dream. Or rather, this isn’t all a dream,” the stranger amended.

Dane gaped for a bit.

“Well, I’m in your head, right? It only makes sense that I’d be able to hear what you’re thinking.”

“Umm… How did you get in my head?”

The stranger gave a frustrated sigh and Dane was greeted by a flash of memory.

Dane stood, swelling with strength, and opened his eyes. He refuted a distinctly yuppie-like demon and pocketed the coin found clenched in his hand.

With that memory, Dane also recalled what the demon had said while playing around with the kid’s head.

“Aren’t you some big, evil beastie?” Dane said, using the demon’s words from earlier.

The stranger laughed. “Could you please make it sound less cheesy?”

“Fine, what exactly are you?”

“First off, my name is Samniel. Secondly, I’m a very old spirit that fell from grace and was sealed inside a coin as punishment.”

“Sealed inside a silver dollar?”

“No, one of the thirty coins paid to Judas for his betrayal of Christ.”

Dane recalled the coin he’d pocketed. “Sure looked like a silver dollar to me.”

Samniel fumed for a bit. “The silver dollar was a mistake.”

Dane decided not to press the issue. “What are you doing in my head?”

“Well, it’s what I do. What would you do if you were trapped inside a coin until the end of days?”

Dane had to admit that he had a point. “Why me?”

Samniel huffed. “It’s not like I could afford to be picky. To be perfectly honest, you’d be one of the last people I’d choose as a host. You aren’t in any position of wealth or power, you aren’t in peak physical condition, you don’t have any magical aptitude, and… look at you.” the Denarian finished with a gesture to Dane’s current state of dress.

“Should I take that as an insult?” Dane bristled.

“Yes. About the only thing you have going for you is that you’re young and healthy. At least my last host had some minuscule magical talent.”

“What’s stopping me from throwing your coin in a river or burying it somewhere?”

“If you so much as try that, I’ll make sure you regret it. You’ve touched my coin and accepted a gift of strength from me. I’ve got a link to you that won’t fray for quite some time.”

“You didn’t act very wrathful when that kid threw you away,” Dane pointed out.

“The demon blocked me out of the kid’s mind. If he hadn’t I’d have forced the kid to pick me back up, you would have been used as a sacrifice, and I’d have a new body by now.”

“Bitter, much?”

Samniel smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “Not really. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried and failed to get a new body.” He looked at the wall to Dane’s left for a while, and perked up a bit, “All that aside, I think it’s your lucky day.”

“Lucky? My tournament was canceled, I was attacked by a demon, and possessed by you. Does that just about sum it up?”

“Actually, you were cursed too.”

“And cursed, to top it all off! How in the world am I ‘lucky’ by any stretch of the imagination?”

“Well, I’m not too sure about there being any upside to the curse, but your possession need not be so bad,” Samniel said, spreading his arms, “I’m not a malevolent fellow by any stretch of the imagination.”

Dane started into a rant, “When a Demon refers to anything as being big and evil-”

“-it is probably lying,” finished Samniel. “What I’m trying to say is that I don’t intend to be a freeloader, like most things that would possess you.”

“What, do you intend to pay rent?” Dane said. The idea of sharing his brain with this… thing wasn’t pleasant, but he supposed that getting eviscerated last night would have been worse.

“Actually, yes. I’ll enjoy comfortable lodgings in your brain and you’ll find that there are very few problems that a person with 3,000 years of experience to draw on can’t handle.”

“And if I refuse?”

Samniel’s eye’s sparkled, as though lit by some infernal force, “Then it’s your unlucky day and you get to be my meat puppet instead of my landlord. Sure, it might take a while, but everyone eventually cracks.”

All things considered, Dane didn’t like the sound of being anyone’s “meat puppet”. “Okay. How long is this supposed to last anyway?”

“Until you can pass me on to a better host, I suppose. It certainly shouldn’t be hard to find one.”

Dane felt a bit nauseous at the idea of passing the thing in his head on to someone else, but it would definitely be better than spending the rest of his life with this thing roaming around his subconscious.

“Fair enough. Although if I do agree to this, I want to be in charge and I want your word that you won’t interfere with my well-being in any way.”

“I can abide by those terms,” Samniel agreed, “However, I will not allow you to compromise your usefulness. Also, if a possible host comes along I reserve the right to-”

A voice that wasn’t Dane’s cut Samniel off. “I tell you, those guys at Kritiker can’t take a joke. After that I pretty much signed away my only chance at making WeiB (Author’s Note: Pronounced ‘Vice’).”

“I guess our conversation is over for now. Landlord or meat puppet?” asked Samniel, the smiling Denarian.

“Landlord.” With that the gray room began to dissolve around Dane till he found himself surrounded by warm blackness.

“It’s your fault you know. Kritiker only handles serious business, and they have no room for new recruits who pull practical jokes,” came Serra’s voice.

“It’s just as well I guess. If I had gotten the job I wouldn’t have been the one to pull you out of this mess,” replied a familiar male voice.

Dane stirred and made a groaning noise. He opened his eyes and discovered that he was back at the motel room. Someone had dragged him all the way back from the water tower. The someone was probably either Serra, who was sitting on the edge of the other twin sized bed, or the blue-haired cosplayer who she was talking with.

His name was… Dennis?” Dane wondered to himself.

Yes,” answered the voice in Dane’s head. That was going to take some getting used to.

“He’s awake,” said Dennis Nemec as he followed Serra to Dane’s bed.

Serra took a fortifying breath. This is usually where she lost most of her assistants. “I guess we’ve got some explaining to do.”

That was an understatement. After last night Dane was convinced that the closet had been incinerated, the barn door blown off its hinges, and the bag seriously devoid of cats.

Before he could lay into her about what the hell had happened up on that water tower, about how irresponsible she was for not telling him, and about how she could just go and find a new assistant Dane felt an odd warm sensation.

It was with a dash of horror and a large dose of embarrassment that he realized that he was wetting the bed.

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In the days after the night on the water tower Joseph had begun to feel more like himself. He had contracted what the farm hands called “One heckuva faver,” and had spent most of the last two days or so in bed and getting fussed over by his mom.

He supposed she wasn’t too bad. For an adult. As soon as he was clear of his fever he’d headed to the library to look for more ways to bring his grandpa back. He was stopped at the old-fashioned card catalog by a rather imposing looking young man who towered over him.

“There’re better things for a kid your age to be doing than sitting around reading things that shouldn’t be read,” the man dressed in camouflaged fatigues had rattled off before dragging him out of the library. Joseph had shouted to the librarian, but she didn’t seem to notice. Neither did anyone else until they were on the far side of the only baseball field in the town of Milton.

He stopped out in left field and looked around a bit before letting go of Joseph. “You almost broke one of the big laws kid,” the man finally said.

“Who the hell are you and what laws are you talking about?” Joseph retorted.

“My name’s Carlos and I’m talking about the laws of magic. Specifically, the sixth law: Thou shalt not reach beyond the borders of life.”

“Magic?” Joseph said. Even though he’d spent the last month or so summoning demons he found it hard to stomach, “Like hocus pokus, card tricks, and disappearing elephants?”

“Something decidedly less fun and more dangerous,” Carlos said in a serious tone. “If you actually do break one of the laws you’ll probably find yourself dead faster than you can say abracadabra.”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

“Well, it just so happens that you’re in need of some teaching and I’m in need of an apprentice. Interested?”

“Maybe. First, show me some magic,” said Joseph. He was still undecided on if this guy was a threat to him or not. If the man failed to deliver he’d back out of this and get back to the library and continue his research.

The man in camouflaged cargo pants and a mesh shirt smiled, “Look, you’ve got something behind your ear.”

He reached behind Joseph’s ear and Joseph couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Not that stupid coin trick again. His Uncle Rick did that to him at every single family reunion.

Needless to say, he was a bit surprised when a large green object was pulled from behind his ear. There was no way he’d have been able to palm it or hide it in one of his sleeves. Heck, he wasn’t even wearing sleeves.

“Is that a grenade?”

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Dane woke up and couldn’t really stop himself from grinning. There was a part of him that enjoyed waking up each morning diapered, and apparently that part of him was a morning person. The rest of him woke up slightly slower and promptly pimp-slapped the smiling portion of himself.

He’d been stuck with a curse. Two curses if he counted the thing currently slumbering in his subconscious. While the thing sharing his brain hadn’t actually done anything to him yet, his other curse had already done more than enough.

After wetting the bed in front of Serra, and Dennis diagnosing him as cursed, she’d maturely decided that Dane should wear some protection until they lifted the curse. Until Dennis had come back with a plastic bag of disposable briefs Dane had had to sit on the toilet as he didn’t have any control. He was happy to get the briefs and had snapped at Serra when she asked him if he knew how to put one on.

Only after putting one on and getting mostly packed up for the trip back did Dane realize that there was more to the curse. He had total control while diapered. This would have been a good thing in most situations, but it only served to embarrass him more as he actually had to make a conscious effort to use his diapers.

On the ride home via an Amtrak train he tried to slip the brief off and use the toilet. That hadn’t been a smart idea because as soon as the diaper came off he found himself without control again. He’d made quite a mess and didn’t enjoy cleaning it up with moist towelettes.

Dane mixed some water in with yesterday’s leftover coffee and poured it back into the machine and awaited a fresh cup. After adding sugar and milk he sipped it down and focused on getting the rest of his morning preparations out of the way.

He used his diaper, took it off, threw it in the trash, and stepped into the shower. It felt great to let the warm water beat down on him for a half an hour and he was feeling distinctly more optimistic when he stepped out of the shower and diapered himself back up.

The company insurance had been willing to cover his diapers as a work-related injury and he briefly wondered how he would be able to afford keeping himself in diapers without it. He dressed in some professional looking grays, grabbed an English muffin and headed out the door. This was going to be his first day back at work and he didn’t want to botch anything.

About two blocks away from his apartment, and about twenty feet away from the local Starbucks, Dane felt a buzzing sensation. After taking another step there was a flash of light and a low thrumming noise punctuated by a zap. Dane found himself about five feet back from where he was about to step, with his back against the sidewalk, and his head spinning.

Whatever that was, don’t do it again.” Sage advice though it may have been, Dane was still trying to stand up. First standing. Then, if he had to, running.

While he was trying to pull himself together a middle-aged man with slightly graying hair walked up to Dane and offered him a hand up. Gratefully, Dane took it and was surprised at the strength the man used to lift him to his feet.

“You’re the new guy, aren’t you?”

“Umm… Yeah,” Dane said, figuring that this older man also worked for JESU. He brushed himself off a bit self-consciously. “I don’t mean to be rude, but who are you?”

The older man chuckled for a bit and ignored the question. “You’ve got to be pretty careful with the wards. They’ll fry anything bad that tries to cross them. What were you thinking about when you got zapped?”

“I wasn’t really thinking about anything,” Dane said, “I guess I was thinking about being late.”

The old man thought for a second. “Hmm… is there anything else you’ve been doing that could have triggered them?”

Dane thought of the creature sharing space in his brain and decided to play it safe. “Well, I got cursed a few days ago.”

“Hmm… lets try crossing it together.”

The old man and Dane walked closer to the place where Dane had been zapped. He felt the slight buzzing sensation and braced himself. The old man gave him a push and he made it through. “That should do, but tell the receptionist about your problem with the wards as soon as possible.”

With that the old man walked back into Starbucks and Dane continued on to work. He walked in and talked to the receptionist. After frowning for a bit she pulled a little gold pin out of one of her desk and handed it to him. It was one more thing for Dane to worry about, because if he ever tried to cross the wards that surrounded the nine or so city blocks that JESU was located within he’d be zapped.

Pondering the side-effects of such a large, supernatural bug zapper Dane stepped into the elevator and headed up. On the second floor the elevator stopped and a very short fellow hopped into the elevator.

He noticed Dane staring at his uniform and tsk’d. “It’s not polite to stare you know.”

Dane looked away and tried to ignore the little fellow, but his eyes were invariably drawn back to the red spandex jumpsuit and large metal spork that the creature was outfitted with.

“Um, I haven’t seen you around here before,” Dane said as some kind of apology.

“It’s typical. I hang out around the cubicles on the lower floors,” the spork wielder said. “Hey, you’re the new guy, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” he extended his hand, “I’m Dane, nice to meet you.”

“I’m Phil, Prince of Insufficient Lighting.”

Dane didn’t know what to make of the creature. “So, are you some kind of demon or something?”

“Actually, I’m an office gremlin,” Phil replied. “Wait… so you know about demons and such? About JESU?”

“Um, yeah. Serra explained some of it to me.”

“That’s great! It means we can finally get some action on the betting pool!”

“Betting pool?” Dane asked.

“Whenever a human joins up we always have a round of betting on what’ll happen when he finds out. I’ve won the last three rounds of betting,” Phil explained proudly.

“So, what is the bet?”

“Well, people put down a certain amount of money on what the person will do when they find out.” Phil looked around the elevator conspiratorially and whispered, “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but most people have money on you quitting.”

Dane snorted, “Fat chance.” The was a lengthy pause as the elevator continued to climb slowly. It eventually came to a stop on the Phil’s floor.

“What did you bet on?” Dane asked the gremlin as it stepped out of the elevator.

“That you’d jump off the roof.” Phil said as he gestured upwards with his spork.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Ramiel did what he always did when he was confronted by moral crisis: he fell deep within himself and waited for an answer.

The choir of angels called Grigori weren’t nicknamed Watchers without good reason. Unlike lower choirs of angels the Grigori could focus themselves in order to achieve an omniscience close to that of God. They could see most anything going on on Earth. It wasn’t hard for them to glean details and insight from their time spent Watching. A Grigori lacked the timeless comprehension of true omniscience, but they could piece together what had happened and would happen from gathered details and such.

Ramiel focused harder and searched deliberately for an answer to how and why his sons died.

The longer a Grigori spent Watching the more apt he was to lose himself in the affairs of the world. It was simply too easy to get caught up in human drama and miss participating in years upon years of action. In fact, Ramiel had spent most of the dark ages Watching the world like a grade schooler watches Saturday morning cartoons. He supposed that most of the higher choir angels spent their time being entertained by the affairs of mortals.

The ice leading to the road had been caked. Was it the woman in the minivan’s fault for helping to pack the snow? Her husband for giving her the wrong directions back into town? The husband’s doctor for proscribing him medication that weakened his judgment?

His sons’ breaks hadn’t functioned perfectly. Perhaps he should visit wrath upon their mechanic. Maybe on the mechanic’s children for disturbing the mechanic’s sleep? Or on the Coca-Cola representative who passed the formula for the Cherry Coke that had wired the children up?

Their chains hadn’t been properly affixed. Should he blame the person who wrote the crappy instructions? Surely it was the person who sold the chains to his sons. No, it was the landlord who demanded rent every month from the salesperson. Was it the landlord’s ex-wife for claiming child support?

No matter how far back Ramiel went he couldn’t find a single person who had done an unjustifiable act that helped contribute to his sons’ demise. Mafia dealings, drug addictions, and corporate espionage could all be linked to their deaths in one way or another, but, as he kept looking, every act was justifiable and every person was ultimately accountable for their actions.

Eventually he traced his son’s deaths back to their ultimate source: himself. If Ramiel hadn’t coupled with his wife his sons would never have died. If he hadn’t insisted on dating her while she was working under him they never would have gotten together and given life to his offspring.

He couldn’t bear the thought of this and delved deeper, seeking a target for his rage.

If he hadn’t worked at JESU in the first place he never would have met his wife. If it wasn’t for Gabe-

No… Gabriel,” he corrected.

-he never would have stopped Watching long enough to become involved in the affairs of mortals.

If God hadn’t created the mortal world Ramiel wouldn’t have been watching it in the first place.

That’s where accountability lies,” Ramiel concluded. He would punish those who were responsible for bringing his sons’ into the world and consequently to their deaths.

A corporation, an Archangel, and the Big Cheese himself.

He searched for what each held dear and plotted ways to take it. He eventually found a grave in Britain, a garage band’s new recording equipment, Names, reserved plane tickets, soulless creatures, a son, and a Rolodex.

Ramiel opened his eyes for the first time in five days since he’d begun Watching. He stretched his legs, rose, and began to methodically stretch every muscle from head to toe and wingtip to wingtip.

The first thing to escape his throat was a dry cough. The second was a stuttering, disconnected laugh.

End Chapter 7.

[/b][/u]Chapter 8[/u][/b]

“Hurry, get the ladder!” Serra ordered in a hushed voice.

Dane, dressed in slacks and a dark blue blazer, rushed out from the bushes, and maneuvered a hefty, aluminum ladder into place on the side of the building. Serra scrambled up the ladder to a window, opened it, hopped in, and poked her head out a moment later.

“Hurry up already!” she commanded. She’d been dressed in all black and outfitted with a number of useless gadgets like an extra from a Bond movie.

Dane hurried up the ladder and fell into the room. Together they managed to haul the ladder up and in through the window with Serra dragging it in and Dane quietly collapsing sections of the ladder.

The last part of the ladder folded into place with a dull clang.

“Shh, do you want us to get caught?” Serra chided.

Her plan was pretty simple. Under cover of darkness they’d break into St. Mary’s Academy For Wayward Boys. From there, Dane would distract the security staff while Serra clanked around in the ventilation system. Dane would walk out the front door and Serra would use the ladder to sneak down and out of the building.

“Isn’t there an easier way to do this?” Dane muttered.

“I suppose there are other ways to handle it, but this is the best solution.” Dane noted that she didn’t use the words ‘safest,’ ‘cost-effective,’ or ‘ethical.’

As Serra had explained to him earlier, JESU was in the business of answering prayers. Oftentimes business would be handled by the Big Cheese, but there were a large enough number of them that deserved to be looked at, but were impractical for Him to answer.

For example, a child praying for a doll typically wouldn’t be answered by a hum of divine light and the doll appearing. It would be far more likely for her prayer to be answered by a well-placed stranger drawing the attention of the doll to her parents shortly before Christmas or a birthday.

It was said that God worked in mysterious ways, but, as far as Dane was concerned, Serra had Him beat on this one.

“The request was for Spanish tutoring before their Final Exam. Why the Hell are we breaking and entering?”

“First off, we haven’t broken anything yet and we don’t intend to. Secondly, this’ll work.”

Dane felt like arguing that point, but gave up when Serra pushed him out the door and into the hallway.
“All clear,” he muttered after glancing up and down the line of bedrooms.

At that Serra left the door and sprinted for the Janitor’s closet three doors away. From there she’d crawl a portion of the way into the ventilation system and set up a small device that would hopefully pump sub-audible Spanish tutoring tapes throughout the building. Thanks to the wonders of subliminal messaging within two weeks or so everyone who slept in the building would have a better grasp of the Spanish language.

Hoping that his imitation uniform would keep people from noticing him, Dane tried to slouch and look two years younger. He wasn’t sure if it’d work, but he headed to the office anyway. Once he got there he proceeded to fake a drunken slur and harass the only person in the office.

The nun looked at if she was going to beat him up personally, but, after he insulted her sexual preference, she opted to make a phone call. About three minutes later a trio of security personnel showed up. Unlike the typical rent-a-thugs these were outfitted in pressed pants and carried crucifixes around their necks.

"Just great, Dane thought, “After they can beat me up they can tutor me on Deuteronomy.”

“Take this student to the isolation cell. Twenty-four hours should be fitting repentance.”

Dane gulped at this. He’d thought that his act would draw security, but he didn’t think they’d try to lock him up. He blitzed down the hallway and towards the main doors. The three bible thumping thugs chased after him after receiving a nod from the nun in the office.

Dane grabbed at the main doors and found them to be locked. He remembered another exit on the other side of the building, but he would’ve had to get around his assailants to get there.

“I could use some help,” he muttered under his breath. He didn’t get an answer, but as the three thugs rounded the corner he eeped and took off running. They’d eventually outpace him, but for now Dane’s long-legged stride gave him the advantage. His set his sights upon a doorway that led to a classroom.

Don’t try the classrooms, they’re locked,” whispered a voice in Dane’s head. “Hang a left and go through the nearest set of double doors.”

Without questioning, Dane sprinted onward. He threw his weight against the double doors and entered an indoor gymnasium. He sped out into the middle of the floor and stopped, panting for breath.

This would be a lot easier if you worked out more,” chided Samniel.

Between breaths Dane replied, “Shut it. What’s the plan?” The three who had been chasing him made their way into the gymnasium and walked towards Dane. They spread out a bit. If any of them grabbed Dane he’d be easily caught and apprehended: there’s only so much a person can do against someone with arms thicker than a Christmas ham.

“Don’t think of running again boy,” one of them warned.

Dane didn’t think, he ran. Directly at the man circling to his left. When the man widened his stance to intercept him, Dane dropped one shoulder and dove between his legs. He clipped his shoulder a bit and had to scramble to get back to his feet, but he made it to his goal: the light switch.

Under Samniel’s advice, Dane killed the lights with a kick rather than a flip of the switch. The damaged switches wouldn’t turn back on until someone repaired them. He rolled to the side and scurried for a bit before the thugs wised up and stopped moving. Dane froze as silence reigned. If he moved or even breathed too hard his diaper would expose his location with a telltale crinkle.

You owe me for this one,” Samniel commented.

A moment later Dane heard a demonic voice issue from somewhere else in the gym. Dane couldn’t make out what was said, but he thought it was Latin. A second later the same voice spoke up from a different location. After it sounded a third time Dane began to hear nervous scuffling coming from the bible-thumping thugs.

It sounded a fourth time, in a louder, more imposing tone. This time Dane felt a tingling sensation in his throat.

The fifth time was little less than a scream coming from high above the center of the gym. At this the thugs ran out of the gym and Dane could hear them running further and further away.

“What was that?” Dane asked, “Is that thing still in here?”

The Denarian chuckled. “There was no ‘thing,’ my landlord. I threw your voice.”

Ventriloquism… duh.

Feeling like an idiot, Dane made his way into the locker room that was connected to the gym and out of one of the windows positioned above the showers.

“Took you long enough,” Serra complained from the bushes.

“Whatever, lets get out of here. I need a change.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

After their shenanigans Serra drove Dane back to his apartment. He got up to his apartment and changed his diaper. Looking around his apartment Dane realized that he didn’t have anything left to munch on. His gurgling stomach eloquently convinced him to walk to nearby 7-11 and grab some food.

You know, you’ve got some pretty weird stuff in your head," said Samniel as Dane prepared to head out.

Like what?” asked Dane.

What isn’t? Talking Geckos, your whole AB/DL thing, that one “Eurotrip” movie…

The voice in Dane’s head didn’t shut up on the way out of the apartment, down the elevator, out of the building, on the walk to the store, nor when Dane came to a stop in the produce section. The “produce section” just so happened to be the shelf they kept stocked with fruit roll-ups.

Having grabbed two boxes Dane moved on to fulfill the other basic food groups.

“I’m not that weird,” Dane said to himself.

You’re lying to somebody Landlord,” Samniel replied, “I haven’t met anyone with this much… junk in their head. Ever.”

Dane threw a can of squeezy cheese into his shopping basket.

“It’s the age of information,” Dane said, recalling his last sociology class, “People now-a-days know more and are bombarded by more information.”

Ha! Know more? That’s a laugh,” the Denarian chortled, “Do you know how to butcher your own meat? Hunt? Grow food?

“I know that these taste good,” Dane said as he threw in a bag of Cheetos. They where part of his favorite food group: orange. “Besides, what’s wrong with this way of living? There is a lot more time with which to pursue self-enrichment.”

Self-enrichment does not include knowing how to calculate a barbarian’s THACO,” contested Samniel.

Dane blushed a little, “Hey, that was a long time ago. I was misguided.”

From somewhere in Dane’s subconscious came the words: “I cast Magic Missile.” “What are you attacking?” “I attack… the darkness.”

Dane grabbed some Vegi-Tales Crackers. He told himself that they counted for two food groups.

I guess my point is that I wish there was something more… normal in here,” complained the Denarian.

“Like what?”

How about the greatest pastime of man?

“Baseball?” Dane said, while grabbing a Slim Jim.

Woman,” said Samniel, “I know you’re not a eunuch. You’ve eyed your boss often eno-”

“Shut-up,” Dane said. A nearby shopper eased a little farther away while Dane continued his inner diologue.

How about you buy one of those?” Dane felt his gaze become drawn to a row of adult magazines.

“No. That’s not my kind of thing. Besides, most of them are advertisements anyway.”

Let me put it this way: you owe me for saving your arse back in the gym.”

After a bit of arguing Dane checked out of the store and made his way back up to his apartment.

I don’t see what’s bugging you so much, it’s not like you actually have to read it,” Samniel said.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” Dane said. He opened the magazine and did as the Denarian instructed. So long as Dane actually saw something it was burned into his visual memory. Normally that would fade almost instantaneously, but Samniel was able to grab the images and squirrel them away somewhere in Dane’s subconscious.

Or that was the idea anyway. Dane flipped quickly through the magazine, glanced over the centerfold and threw it in the trash.

You were right, it was mainly advertising,” said a somewhat disappointed Denarian. At least it had better pictures than the hand-painted vases of yor.

Dane squeezed some cheese onto his Slim Jim and munched it. He was exhausted from the events of the day and fell asleep without reading that night.

Shortly after he started to dream his body stirred and rose. Samniel walked Dane’s body over to the trash and retrieved the magazine.

“I can’t believe he skipped over some of it.” After reading the magazine more thoroughly Samniel grew a bit bored. His host was finally out from behind the wheel and Samniel planned to enjoy every second of his freedom while he could.

He grabbed Dane’s coat, put on a pair of shoes, and left the apartment.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

That morning, Dane looked at his eyes in the bathroom mirror. They were bloodshot and felt gritty. His body felt like it had run laps for most of the night.

You look like how I feel,” muttered a sleepy sounding voice in Dane’s head. Apparently he wasn’t a morning person either.

He put on a pot of coffee and drank twice as much as usual. In the shower he noticed a handful of small cuts and bruises that he hadn’t taken note of before. Dane resolved that he’d turn down the next time Serra wanted to attempt a break-in.

He’d moped his way to work and was a little late because he’d forgotten the pin that allowed him to pass the wards. The receptionist gave him smile # 32: Hi, you look like Hell.

He was happy when he arrived at Serra’s office before she did. She came 'round the corner of the hall and grunted at him.

I take it back, she looks like how I feel,” said Samniel with a yawn. Dane could feel the Denarian preparing to go to sleep. The lucky bastard.

After opening the door and settling into her office chair Serra grunted at Dane again.

“You’ve. Got. Appoint. Ment.”

“Where?”

“Top. Floor.”

“Who?”

“Boss,” with that she hid her face underneath a few pages from yesterday’s paper. On his way out Dane heard her start to snore.

Dane walked out of the office and back to the elevator. He punched the button for the top floor and dozed for a little while. The soft ding and lurch woke Dane enough for him to walk out of the elevator. He made his way to the head hancho’s office.

For all his time working at JESU so far this would be the first time he met the Boss. He stopped in front of a door with a plaque that said Mr. Christensen, Vice-President and groomed himself for a bit. Dane briefly wondered why nobody ever mentioned the President. After running his fingers through his hair a bit and taking a few deep breathes in an attempt to wake himself up more he entered the office.

Everything in the room looked to be antique in some way. From the large grandfather clock, to the dull brown carpet, to the box of cigars, to the ironwood desk that the cigars rested on. The man sitting at the desk seemed to have been crafted to fit the room. Or vice-versa, Dane supposed.

He also just so happened to be the well-dressed old man who had helped Dane through the wards earlier in the week. There seemed to be a smile in his eyes and a quiet dignity all about him. It was obvious that the place was his and that this was were he belonged.

Any Blue’s Clues veteran could tell that the other man sitting in the room simply did not belong. He wore a brown leather duster, had messy brown hair, was a gangly type of tall, and could be described as well worn. He had a nicked and carved upon walking stick laid at the side of his chair and seemed to be frumpy.

“Come on in and take a seat,” said Mr. Christensen, “This is a consultant who we work with every now and then. His name is Harry Dresden.”

Dane reached out to shake his hand and Dresden refused to shake hands.

“Sorry. My hand is a bit sore from a work related injury.”

“The reason why I had my friend here flown in last night was because I’d like him to take a look at you, Dane, and render his expert opinion.”

Dresden looked a bit out of sorts when Christensen mentioned flying him in. “So that’s why Serra is more wiped out than I am,” Dane realized.

“If you two will excuse me, I’ve got a meeting to attend to,” said Christensen. With that he walked out of the office.

“What type of consultant are you?” queried Dane.

“I’m a professional wizard.”

Dane stifled a laugh and realized that he shouldn’t have been surprised. First a demon, a fallen angel in a coin, then half-angels, and earlier this week an office gremlin. He supposed that he should have been expecting a wizard and wondered when he should expect ghosts, vampires, and werewolves.

“That’s better than the reaction I usually get,” Dresden said with a smile. He shifted to a more professional tone, “So, what is your problem?”

“Well… I got cursed.”

“How?”

“There was a fight on a water tower, a demon was involved, and I fell unconscious.”

“So you don’t know how long this demon spent cursing you or all of what it did? Did it leave any marks on you?”

“I’m pretty sure that the demon hasn’t marked me physically or anything, but I have no clue as to the other stuff.”

“Well, this is going to be interesting,” said Dresden, “Without more information I can’t tell what type of curse we’re dealing with. Sometimes I can get a general sense of magical energy and such surrounding a person by touching them. Do you mind?”

Dane shook his head and offered Dresden his hand again. His time the wizard took it and shook it. There was a look of concentration upon his features which then shifted to one of surprise.

“The curse wasn’t the only thing that happened, right?”

Samniel was somewhere within his brain and Dane paused. He could feel the Denarian sleeping, so he answered truthfully.

“Actually, I picked up a passenger,” said Dane while feeling like such a geek for saying this, “He calls himself Samniel and he apparently lives in a coin.”

Dresden looked to the left, nodded, and began to draw something on a yellow sticky note he’d pilfered from Mr. Christensen’s desk. He eventually showed Dane a drawing of three concentric circles with a thick black line connecting them. “This is very, very important. The thing inside your head is one of thirty fallen angels. They compose a really evil group called the Order of the Blackened Denarius. Have you ever seen this symbol before? Anywhere on your body?”

“Nope. What’s so bad about this Order? So far Samniel has been a bit of a pain in the neck, but he’s been useful.”

Dresden showed Dane the palm of his injured hand. There was a sigil upon his palm and the area around it looked to be undamaged by whatever had burned his hand. “This is the mark of Lascial, the Denarian who inhabits my mind. Being helpful is all part and parcel to their game. Every time one of them helps you in some way you’re giving a piece of yourself to them. Lascial gives me some extra magical kick when I need it, but the more reliant you become upon your Denarian the faster they’ll take over.”

“If they’re so bad, why don’t you get rid of yours?”

“I can’t. The only way to get rid of a Denarian once it has marked you is to give up whatever it gives you. If I got rid of Lascial I’d have to give up my magic.” His tone said that there was a snowball’s chance in hell of him forfeiting his magic. “What did your Denarian first give you?”

“He filled me with strength and let me beat the demon and his cohort. He saved my life.”

The implications went unsaid between the two of them. If Dane was ever marked by Samniel he would have to forfeit his life in order to get rid of him. Talk about stuck between a rock and a lifetime of meat-puppetry.

Dresden handed the sticky note to Dane. “If you ever find yourself marked with this symbol, contact me. I might have some friends who could help.”

“How can I contact you?”

Dresden took a small quartz crystal from out from under his duster. “I’ve enchanted this. All you need to do is say my name three times loudly and clearly and I’ll find some way to get in contact with you. Think of it as a magical, one time use pager.”

“Umm… thanks?”

Truth be told, the quartz rock had been picked up off the ground a little while ago and this kind of one time use enchantment was easier than pie.

“No problem. I’d feel like a dick for charging Christensen all this cash for what was essentially nothing.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

The phone rang five-and-a-half times before someone picked it up.

“Mrrumpph?”

"I’ve got a job for you Mr. Co- "

“Ya bloody wanker, why ring me this early?”

Ramiel supposed that it was fair for this particular art collector to be angry. After all, it was barely four in the morning in Britain.

End Chapter 8.

An Internship of Sorts

Chapter 9

It was a nice summer day. Of course, it wouldn’t be summer in Britain without a heavy haze and a light drizzle. “Wet ground’ll make things easier,” a man in a brown raincoat thought to himself.

He took a draw off his cigarette and pondered for a bit. By all rights he should’ve left town by now. His last gig had landed him in big trouble and he’d had to fake his death. The plan was to go on a road trip with the damsel he’d saved, her teenage son, and the son’s friend. Still, making a little bit of extra cash before heading out seemed like a good idea.

He put out his silk cut cigarette as his cab pulled up to the sidewalk. The door opened and the man in the brown coat hopped into the passenger seat.

“Ya know I can’ be given ya rides whenever ya want 'em John,” said the driver.

“Demon,” John grunted.

“That was a long time ago John. We’re even.”

“Tha time you got possessed?”

“Even on that one too.”

“The other demon?”

“We’re even on that because o’ last time. I had ta get a tow.”

“The time you got frozen?”

The driver snorted, “That was your own bloody damned fault.”

John smiled, “Because we’re friends, Chas?”

Chas sighed despite himself, “John, I’d love ta, but friendship don’t feed a man.”

John hefted a brown glass bottle in a wet paper bag, “I got a forty.”

Chas turned off the cab’s meter. “Where to?”

“Ou’side of Norfolk I think. Ma client was a bit shady on the details, but we’re supposed to fetch something from an unmarked grave.”

Chas turned on the car and sped out. He was a few miles over the speed limit, but he figured that he should be fine so long as he didn’t run down any of the royal family.

“Grave robbin’? Can’t it ever be something like ‘go retrieve the chocolate bunny from the island of cute ponies and pixies’?”

“Wrong line o’ work for that one ah’m afraid.” John’s line of work happened to be professional gambling.

Poker becomes a lot easier when you can read the minds of the other players. Every now and then he’d go somewhere and clean up big, then he’d pay off whatever bills he’d gathered. The hardest part was knowing when to lose. He’d gotten beaten up more than a few times before he’d learned that lesson.

This particular errand was one of his side jobs.

“Are we there yet, Chas? Me arse is sore.”

“Close enough for ya to spend the rest o’ tha day walkin’,” grumbled Chas. Eventually they made it to their destination.

Chas dug a shovel out of the back of his cab.

“John, why’d ya only ask me te bring one shovel?”

“‘Cause. The shovel is plan B. If I’ve got things worked out a-right we won’ need it.”

“But why only one?”

“I ain’t diggin’.”

“What’re we supposed ta get anyway? Some amulet or stone tablet?”

“Nah, this time we grab some poor bloke’s head.”

“His 'ead?” Chas repeated before following John into the graveyard.

Following his client’s instructions Constantine took twenty paces south-east from the uphill corner of the only mausoleum. He withdrew a large container of salt from his coat and began to pour it in a vaguely box-like shape around where he supposed the grave was.

“John, why are ya doin’ that? We both know ya shouldn’t need any o’ that hocus pokus stuff ta achieve some results.”

“Ah, don’ need it ta cast the spell, but I’m gonna raise 'em up as a zombie. Would ya rather see just one zombie or a whole graveyard full?”

He completed the rectangle of salt and lit another cigarette. He sat cross legged in the box of salt and concentrated, willing his magic into being. The spellcaster’s full name was John Constantine, or just Constantine as he was mainly known throughout occult circles. Over the years he’d built up an impressive reputation through daring deeds. He’d summoned and banished major demons, had a stay in Hell, and saved the world. Saved the world a few times, actually.

Sometimes he wondered if they handed out plaques for that kind of thing.

“Is anything happening John?”

Constantine got onto his hands and knees and listened for any sounds coming from the grave. He heard a slushing sound as something made its way towards the surface.

He got out of the square of salt. He didn’t feel like getting eaten by a zombie today. Within a few seconds the head of the zombie popped from the mud. They waited for a little bit, but the rest of the zombie was stuck.

“Bloody convenient, that is,” Constantine muttered.

He strode back into the rectangle of salt and grabbed for the zombie’s head. Before he could give it a good twist and be off the skeleton’s arms broke free of the mud and proceeded to throttle Constantine.

With bony fingers trying to crush his larynx Constantine gasped, “Chas, plan B.”

Chas took up a cricket stance behind the zombie and swung hard with the shovel. The the zombie’s head went flying and its body went limp.

Constantine pried the fingers off his neck and took a few deep breathes. Once they collected the head he pondered how he was going to spend this paycheck. He’d heard some good things about the party circuit in America. He figured that after following it once or so they’d head to Egypt or something.

There was always time for planning later.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

The first thing that Samniel had learned on his nighttime excursions was that there isn’t a whole lot of things you can do at night without money.

A figure darted out of an alleyway, hit an old lady with his shoulder and ripped her purse from her hands. It was the fourth person he’d mugged tonight.

“Help! Thief!” whined a little old lady.

The man who had stolen her purse rounded the corner of an alley and continued running. He’d outdistance the old bat and be off to spend the night’s hard gains.

As the running man passed a small alcove in the alley, Samniel reached out and grabbed the back of his shirt. Samniel yanked hard and pushed down, causing the thief’s feet to slip on the grimy ground. The thief fell and his head smacked the ground.

Samniel jumped on top of him, pinning his arms with his legs and laying into the thief’s face with a series of blows. Once Samniel was convinced the man wouldn’t interfere he proceeded to root through his pockets.

He came up with a sizeable wad of bills and credit cards. To the victor go the spoils. It was times like these when he considered changing his name to Badassiel.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” called a wavering, elderly voice. The old lady had tottered to the mouth of the alleyway and cautiously peeked around the corner. She’d probably heard the scuffle.

Samniel hefted the purse the thief had snatched. It wouldn’t be hard to deal with this old lady should she make a fuss. Beating up on someone the old wasn’t something Samniel would have qualms against, but there wouldn’t be any point in it. If he really wanted the purse he could just out run the old hag.

“You saved my purse!” the old lady gushed, “Thank you for stopping that rude man.”

Samniel looked from the purse to the old lady. After a lengthy hesitation he handed it to her. She had to pull a bit to get him to release his grip on the purse.

“Thank you so much young man,” the lady said, “Take this for your troubles.” She pulled a twenty from her wallet and placed it in his hand. She then skittered off in that odd manner that old women have.

He felt… weird.

Samniel had a nagging sensation pass over him as he began to walk out of the alley. He returned to his victim and proceeded to steal his fingerless, black leather gloves. He gave the mugged man a parting kick to the gut and felt a bit better.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Samniel stormed into Dane’s apartment about an hour before Dane’s alarm went off. He’d gambled with a portion of his money and had stopped at a 24-hour pharmacy and a place called the Java Garage. He opened the package from the pharmacy and poured several drops from the bottle he’d purchased into his eyes.

If the packaging had been correct, it should help get rid of his bloodshot eyes. He grabbed the foam mug of chai tea that he’d gotten from the Java Garage and chugged it down. If he went to bed soon and suppressed the caffeine in his system till his host woke up, Dane would wake up feeling like a million bucks.

Or, at least, wake up feeling like he wasn’t suffering from severe sleep deprivation. That was the general idea anyway.

Samniel hid his winnings in Dane’s closet and buried the things he’d purchased deep in the trash can. He then undressed and put on the shirt that Dane had gone to sleep in. After taping on another diaper Samniel forced Dane’s body to fall asleep.

About an hour later Dane’s alarm loosed a terrible beeping noise. Resisting the urge to smack it off his nightstand, Dane rolled over and turned it off.

He dragged himself out of bed and turned on the coffee machine. Instead of waiting for the coffee he headed into the bathroom for a shower.

He shampooed his hair and began to give his once a thorough inspection. He hadn’t forgotten Dresden’s advice and he had started every morning since then by checking for the mark. His knuckles appeared to be bruising up a little for some reason, but aside from that everything seemed normal enough.

Not to make you feel paranoid or anything, but what if I’d decided to mark you internally??” echoed a voice from inside Dane’s head.

“Internally?”

Yes my landlord. For all you know I’ve already marked you on the lining of your stomach or somewhere on a kidney.”

Dane got a sick feeling.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

At work Dane had to stand in line at the copy machine. The person in front of him growled a bit at the wait, and when it refused to spit out the copies he’d wanted the man gave the machine a kick. It left a dent, but Dane hoped it would still function. After adding toner to the machine the guy barred his teeth at Dane for standing in his way a moment too long.

“Jeez,” said Dane to himself, “What’s his problem?”

“It’s his time of the month,” replied a woman standing in line behind him.

“Time of the… he’s a he, right?”

The woman rolled her eyes, “He’s a lycanthrope.”

“Like a werewolf?”

She rolled her eyes, “Werebadger actually.”

Dane grabbed his copies and hurried off to Serra’s office.

“Serra, what’s with this place?”

“Eh?”

“Is everyone who works here some kind of mythological creature?”

Serra enjoyed a laugh at Dane’s expense. “You’re human right?”

“Yeah.”

“Then not everyone.”

Dane didn’t appreciate her joke, “You’re some kind of half-angel, right? Are there other ones working here?”

“There are a few. Most of the higher-ups are either half or full.”

“What other things work here?”

“Calling people ‘things’ is a pretty easy way to insult them,” Serra denoted the word with a quoting gesture.

“Fine, are there any other normal humans who work here?”

“Well, Christensen is… and the receptionist used to be one.”

Dane raised an eyebrow, “Used to be?”

“I don’t mean to gossip or anything, but ever since she died she’s been a bit of a stick in the mud. It’s been forever since she’s done anything but work.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

The receptionist seemed to be quite lively when Dane made his way out of the lobby for lunch. Apparently Hunter had gotten tired of waiting to meet up with him and he’d stormed the building with Mr. Waffles riding shotgun, as usual.

“C’mon, he’s cute and fluffy,” Hunter remarked to the receptionist with her out-dated wardrobe.

“I don’t care how cute and fluffy he is, furry creatures are against company policy,” replied the hassled looking receptionist. There came a growing from one of the employees who was heading out to lunch. Dane was fairly certain that it was the guy who’d dented the copy machine.

Before Hunter and his lop of doom could cause any more problems Dane dragged them out of the building.

“Wha’da’ya wanna do for lunch?” Hunter asked.

“Well, there’s a taco van over by the park usually. Let’s grab something from there.”

“Are they any good?” Hunter asked.

“Pretty good, just keep a close eye on your bunny… unless you’d like him better as a burrito.”

Hunter reflexively held his lop tighter and they kept walking. About three fourths of the way to the taco-mobile they were interrupted.

“Hey, Dane, wait up.” Dennis came jogging to meet them and had to keep one hand on his head to stop his cat ears from falling off. His hair color had changed to a vibrant orange and he wore a polo shirt with dark cargo pants.

“Hi, umm, this is my friend, Hunter. Hunter, this is a co-worker of mine named Dennis.”

Hunter eyed Dennis carefully for a bit then said, “Kyo Soma?”

“Gesundheit?” said Dane.

“Yup, good guess,” said Dennis, he turned towards Hunter, “Would you mind if I had a word alone with your friend here?”

Dane sent Hunter to the taco van with a handful of wadded bills and instructions to not get anything too spicy.

Once Hunter was out of earshot Dennis’s demeanor grew serious, “I was told about your problem.”

“The curse?”

“The other one, idiot.”

Dane had a hard time taking anyone wearing cat ears seriously. “I don’t see what the big deal is. I’ve got it under control.”

Dennis’s eyes narrowed, “Nobody has one of those things under control.”

“Well I do. I got some help from a professional wizard.”

“I know that. I’m here to make sure that you get rid of that thing in your head as soon as possible. It’s a security risk that can’t be ignored.”

He was being lectured about security risks by a guy wearing kitty ears. Dane failed to stifle a laugh.

Dennis grabbed Dane by the front of his shirt, “If you don’t handle it soon, someone is going to get hurt. It’s my job to stop creatures like the thing you’ve got involved with.”

Dane agreed with him on some level, but didn’t appreciate the connotation. “Hey, don’t blame me about it. It’s not like I asked for this,” Dane said as he reached into the neck of his shirt to pull out the coin.

Dennis reacted by slamming Dane into a tree with his left arm and reaching for the hilt of a sword that he kept in his right cargo pocket. His hand was stopped half-way there by a firm grip coming closed around his wrist.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Hunter said, “But I don’t like to see my friends get roughed around.”

Dennis looked from his wrist to Hunter and back again. With a conscious effort he let go of the front of Dane’s shirt. He took a moment to straighten his cat ears.

“Give it some thought, Dane. If you don’t take care of things, I will.”

Hunter bristled, he didn’t really know what was going on, but he didn’t like the tone. “Pansy,” he growled.

“Redneck.” With that, Dennis turned and left the two to their Mexican food.

Mr. Waffles snuffled.

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As head of Human Resources it was Gabriel’s duty to oversee the moral and management of each branch of JESU. This included various international offices, but the one he was due to visit was just outside of Tokyo, Japan.

It hadn’t been hard for Ramiel to contact someone who was willing to get rid of him on his coming trip, but the price had been higher than he’d expected. He took out a new mortgage on his house and sold his nice, red car. It’d be worth it though. In a few days, one third of his plan would be complete. A day or so after that, he’d be done.

He walked to the living room door and opened it, startling a man in a brown UPS uniform. “Yes, I’ll take the package, no I wouldn’t like any special offers, yes I’ll sign for it.”

The man in brown stuttered a little and held up his electronic clipboard. Ramiel signed it, took the box, and wished the man on his merry way before slamming the door on his face.

He plopped the box onto the kitchen table next to some recording equipment he’d purchased from a fledgling garage band up the street. He opened the box and fished out a still wriggling head.

“Sloppy spellwork,” he muttered as he inspected the head. There was a lump near one of the cheekbones that Ramiel spilt with a kitchen knife.

Thanks to the garage band and his son’s he had the means to punish JESU. The only problem was that he’d be unable to bring his apparatus and malicious intent they represented anywhere near the wards without getting fried.

The head was his ticket in. Or rather, what was inside the head. Shiro Yoshimo, former Knight of the Cross had vanquished many things in his time and had been a force of righteousness. After a fateful mission in California he’d begun to hear voices and had passed on his sword and title. Eventually he’d died and had been buried in an unmarked grave.

A bit of silver glimmered within the wound as the zombified head wiggled a little more. With a twist Ramiel had the little piece of silver out and sealed in a ziplock bag. He tossed the head in the kitchen’s trashcan.

He smiled a bit when he thought about the poor man who would find Shiro’s head.

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Dane felt pretty run down. The day had been long, the walk home felt longer, and all he really wanted to do at this point was crawl under a rock somewhere. First, though, he had to resolve something.

“Samniel,” Dane began.

Yes?” answered the voice in Dane’s head.

“When was the last time you ate a baby?”

Pardon?”

“When was the last time you did something despicably evil?”

Why should I answer you?”

“Consider it your rent for the day.”

Stealing lunch money evil, or serious evil?”

“How about Hannibal Lector it-puts-the-lotion-on-its-skin evil?”

Fair enough. I suppose it was when I helped Joseph steal souls with which to preform heinous magical acts. Why?”

“Just curious. Why’d you do it? Do you just get off on doing evil things?”

I did it to get myself a body.”

“What big evil thing did you do before that?”

I killed the night staff at a place and painted a some pretty pictures with their blood.”

“Why?”

Again, to get a body I suppose.”

“I’m sensing a pattern here.”

Duh, Sherlock.”

“I guess that settles it then,” Dane said as he prepared for bed.

Settles what?”

“I’ve been giving thought to what you told me in the shower. I have no way to tell if you’re trying to magically screw me over somehow, or if you’ve already marked me somewhere I can’t see without a fiber-optic cable and a gallon of KY.”

Yeah, and?”

“And, you seem like a pretty decent person, despite the Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe you give off. I’ve decided that I trust you.”

Dane got under the covers of his bed and soon fell asleep.

Samniel decided not to go out that night.

End Chapter 9.

[u]Chapter 10[/u]

Samniel was doing his best to get some shut-eye while his host dreamed that he was far too young to spell responsibility, let alone have any.

Hello?”

The Denarian gave a start, it had been a long time since he’d heard a voice that didn’t come directly from or through one of his hosts. He was usually the voice in people’s heads. Now he had a voice in his head.

Yes?” Samniel replied.

The voice chuckled a bit, and Samniel noted that it sounded old, but not in the typical sense of the word. Older than the hills would be a better description. This struck the mystery creature from the short list of mortals who could contact him directly.

I’ve no patience,” Samniel said to the thing, “How are you speaking to me, and what is it that you want?”

I’d like to meet sometime, at your earliest convenience,” the voice replied, “As for how, I think we should focus on the why. I need something from you, Samniel.”

The Denarian was surprised at the almost straightforward answer. It cut a wide variety of creatures off the list of things that could be talking to him. To know his name, it had to be something with plenty of knowledge, and in the world of the arcane, knowledge equaled power.

Very well, how about we meet on the grounds of the Southern Baptist Church on Q?”

Sounds good.”

That definitely didn’t sound good to the Denarian. The fact that it didn’t question which Nation, State, or City that he was in meant that the creature knew roughly were his location was. The fact that was more disturbing was that whatever had contacted him was either a do-gooder, or an evil creature strong enough to not be bothered much by Holy Ground.

Samniel’s last encounter with something that massively evil had been in the ancient city of Babylon shortly before its fall. It was very, very unlikely that a creature that big and evil would need anything from Samniel. It was also unlikely that any force of goodness would contact Samniel shortly before one in the morning.

So, whatever had contacted him had a lot of supernatural oomph, wasn’t bound to speak in riddles-- like most of the Faerie folk-- and, to top it all off, was able to set foot on Holy Ground. That narrowed the list to one thing. Samniel groaned.

He hated dealing with newbie fallen… they tended to be so over-dramatic.

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The seat was too small. It was lumpy, too. It was what he got for riding coach. The food was salty and unfilling. In the background, he could hear the noise of people bickering over something. Someone had their music playing obnoxiously loud. Two seats behind him, a baby started crying.

He loved it.

It wasn’t often that Father Alexander Anderson got to travel coach. Usually he would be ferried back and forth in either a military transport or some private airline with first class accommodations. In either case, things were too quiet for his liking. Anderson took this opportunity to brush shoulders with humanity as a vacation. Well, it was a vacation that was forced upon him, but he should be able to enjoy himself none-the-less.

Last week he’d embarrassed the Vatican on a large scale by urinating on the back of the Pope’s robe during a meeting of the cardinals. If he had been any other priest he would have been excommunicated from the church. It was only because of his stellar record of service that he’d been able to mitigate some of the punishment. The Pope had personally forbidden him from breaking any laws for the duration of his punishment and he was carted off to the most boring place his superiors could think of until he could get his head back on his shoulders.

He took a sip of the drink that had been left for him by one of the stewardesses. He’d asked for ale and had gotten a fizzy, amber colored drink that was neither Canadian nor Dry.

Things hadn’t been quite the same since his last visit to Britain. Ever since then he’d had nightmares about a red-cloaked figure stalking him. Eventually it would take him like a mountain lion taking a deer. Every night it seemed a bit closer.

The seatbelt sign above his head turned on.

He’d been so haunted by the dreams that he’d sought council in Vatican City. The days had turned into weeks, and the weeks into months. Eventually the lack of sleep got to him and drove him to do some pretty goofy things. The last of which had been staining the Pope’s second favorite set of robes.

The pilot’s voice chimed throughout the cabin, “We’re beginning our descent into San Francisco International Airport, please make sure all tray tables are in their upright positions.” Anderson gulped down the rest of the drink and handed his trash to a stewardess.

The plane bumped and shook quite a bit on entry, and the priest held his breath. This was the part he hated about flying. During take-off and mid-flight he felt safe, like he was ascending from the toils of earth to take his place somewhere in the heavens. Up among the clouds things were better. It was a world of light and splendor that often had Anderson pressing his face against the window. There was order, and everything seemed to have a clear pattern.

The descent felt less controlled than the ascent, and every time he flew he’d worried until he was filled with the absolute certainty that things were out of control and he was going to die because of it. This is to say nothing of metaphorically falling from grace. The last thing he needed was to imagine the plane descending into Hell.

The priest re-adjusted his glasses, closed the little window, and took a deep breath. After three heartbeats he thumped his head against the covered window and held it there. He wrung his gloved and shaking hands together. Another two heartbeats and he felt a sharp drop.

I know it! This time, we’re going to die!

It wouldn’t do to perish with sins still weighing upon his heart. Between beats eight and nine he began a prayer. He prayed faster than some submachine guns can discharge a clip. “Ah’m sorry about teh tramp in Scotland. An’ teh one in London. An’ teh one in Paris. An’ teh one in Brazil… umm… two in Brazil. An’ teh-

Before he’d completed his list the plane touched down. He’d finished before the plane finished unloading its passengers, but only just. He grabbed a carpet bag from the over-head storage compartment, or attempted to grab it anyway as the bag fell from his grasp and hit the ground with a series of loud, metallic clanging noises.

A slightly embarrassed priest walked off the airplane and towards the terminal.

Unnoticed, a black shape began to peel itself from the hull of the aircraft. What might have been a bat stretched itself once or twice and proceeded to fly in pursuit of the good Father.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

It seemed that every time Dane had a handle on things Serra decided to change his job description. Running to make copies or fetching things had been easy enough. When Serra’s workload grew Dane helped her to organize the cases and sort them by importance. This time it was something new.

“You want me to what?” Dane asked.

“Well, normally it would be Gabe’s job, but he’s out of town.”

“Fair enough, how would I get there?”

Serra tossed a set of keys in Dane’s direction, he fumbled for them, but eventually caught the things.

“Umm… thanks?”

“It’s a rental,” Serra explained, “If you wreck it, it’ll come out of your paycheck.”

“Thanks,” came Dane’s slightly more sarcastic reply. The truth be told, Dane had barely gotten his drivers license. At the age of 19. On his fourth try. In fact, he hadn’t driven a car since he’d gotten his license.

Just like riding a bike, right?” Dane thought to himself.

If you get yourself killed… I’ll kill you,” the voice in Dane’s head threatened.

Dane puzzled over that on his way to the rental car.

Two hours, several near collisions, and some near havoc in the parking garage later saw Dane standing near the arrivals terminal with a cardboard sign clutched between his hands with the word “Anderson” scrawled across it in thick, black permanent marker.

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Half way across the globe another youth was also holding a cardboard sign and waiting for someone to get off a plane. The young man, Uryu Ishida, did his best to look alert and professional. His glasses, tie, and pressed shirt exuded a general sense of the later, but his deep yawn shattered any attempt at the former.

This was supposed to be Ichigo’s job,” Uryu thought bitterly. His orange-haired idiot of a friend had been assigned this task, but the jerk had run off and left Uryu with the honor of holding a stupid cardboard sign. He sighed, it looked like today was going to be boring.

He was interrupted from his reverie by the approach of a tall, fair-skinned American man in a business suit.

“Mr. Gabriel?” Uryu said in his slightly accented English. He was the best in his class at the subject. In fact, he was at the top of his class in most subjects.

The foreign man extended his hand and smiled, “Yes, but just call me Gabe okay?”

Uryu looked at the man’s hand for a second, then shook it, “Okay Mr. Gabe.”

“You’re to be my escort today, right?”

Uryu nodded.

Gabe shook his head and without another word he walked past the young man and into the baggage area. Uryu followed. He picked up a single checked bag and added it to his briefcase and rolling suitcase.

After picking up his luggage, the two of them pushed their way into and through a series of crowded hallways until they reached an even more crowded underground parking area. A limousine was waiting for them and the driver was sitting in the front seat reading a newspaper.

Gabe tapped on the window and the driver jumped a little. He unlocked the doors and popped the trunk open. Gabe made to put his luggage in the trunk, but the polite Uryu stopped him. “I’ll handle it,” he said. Rather than contest the young man’s honor Gabe opened the door to the back of the limousine and climbed in.

Uryu briefly wondered if the luggage contained the executive’s kitchen sink when he lugged it to the rear of the limo and proceeded to load the trunk.

A shadow streaked from under a passing car and settled below the limo. It took a second to gather itself, then formed large, white teeth. The shadow’s huge mouth expanded once, twice, then sprang shut, shearing the rear half of the limo off. Uryu managed to keep his arm by throwing himself backwards as the mouth snapped shut.

Uryu readjusted his glasses and looked from the astonished limo driver to the creature of shadow that was pulling itself together before him.

It looked like things wouldn’t be boring after all.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

The same could also be said of Dane’s drive back from the airport. He nearly broadsided a semi-truck, ran a Volkswagen Beetle off the road, and was amazed that he hadn’t been pulled over. The Denarian screaming in his head was probably the main thing that kept Dane from committing vehicular manslaughter.

Every tight corner that Dane rounded or near disaster he avoided caused his passenger to squeeze the handle of his carpet bag a little harder, but otherwise Father Alexander Anderson showed no reaction.

After about two hours of city traffic they neared their destination: a small church that was nestled between large buildings, about six blocks away from the JESU building.

“Thank ye for the ride,” the priest said as he got to his feet. The man stood taller than Dane by at least three inches, and at six foot six he cut an imposing figure. “This is where weh part ways, righ’?”

“Well, I was ordered to help you get settled once we arrived, if you wanted,” Dane replied from the driver’s seat.

“Aye, yer help’d be… eh, helpful,” Anderson said as he shrugged his shoulders.

Dane nodded and proceeded to park the car in the nearest parking space while Anderson made his way into the church. Dane pulled the keys out of the ignition, put on the parking break, and stretched when he got out of the car. Before he followed the priest into the church he noticed something black an rubbery on the roof of his car. He judged it to be a wad of black electrical tape and peeled the thing off the rental and threw it into the scraggly bushes near the car’s front bumper.

Dane walked into the church and the large, ornate door closed heavily behind him.

He black thing he’d peeled off the rental began to shift and grow, roughly to the size of a man, but a man built at odd angles, with arms and teeth entirely too long to be real. This time the creature was noticed, but an elderly bum who happened to be camping under a neighboring bush.

The old man stared in shock for a minute, and broke from the cover of the bushes, towards the church parking lot. His bare left foot connected with asphalt and he entertained the thought of safety being right across the parking lot.

A white gloved hand connected to a red-clad, serpentine limb grabbed the running man’s right foot and dragged him back into the bushes.

The creature’s other hand covered the struggling old man’s mouth as it took a moment to inspect it’s prey. It looked disappointed.

“I hate junk food.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Interesting seemed to be the order of the day for Uryu. The thing that had swallowed half a limo and the person he was supposed to be watching out for turned out to be a Hollow, a soul that had been corrupted and misused in life. As a general rule of thumb, the larger and scarier the Hollow, the stronger and harder to take down it would be.

Uryu was familiar with this type of creature, having seen and destroyed hundreds of the creatures. After all, he was Uryu Ishida, the Last Quincy.

This particular Hollow had a huge mouth supported by a ludicrously small body shaped like a gecko’s. What became a problem for Uryu was that it was fast and small.

What should have been a simple mangling of the small creature turned into a running chase throughout the airport, past the security stations, through several irate guards and onto one of the runways. At least on this field things would be flat, and there would be few people to distract Uryu from the job at hand.

He stopped chasing the Hollow and assumed a loose stance. He shook his right arm loose and concentrated on the cross hanging from his left arm. It glowed blue and arched upwards, forming the shaft of a bow. Uryu drew is right arm towards the bow and pulled back, a blue arrow of energy forming. He took a deep breath.

The Hollow kept running, for all it was worth. Once it got away it could receive its payment and live it up in Heucto Mundo, the closest thing it had to vacationing grounds. It realized that it was no longer being pursued and slowed.

Uryu held his breath a moment longer and aimed.

The Hollow stopped running, turned towards the figure in the distance, and flipped a stunted middle finger at it.

The Last Quincy smiled. One-hundred and forty meters, an easy shot.

He exhaled as he loosed his arrow and held his stance for a moment while it flew through the air. It blew through the creature and it began to expand, coughing up it’s most recent meals. Uryu ran towards the rapidly growing pile of things.

Gabe, covered in goo, extricated himself from the pile of car parts, stuffed animals, socks, car keys, remote controls, and other things the creature had eaten.

“Is it always like this in Japan?”

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The first thing Dane did in the Church was locate the bathroom to change himself in. The car ride had been frenetic and he had to admit that there was something very convenient about wearing diapers on long drives. Freshly changed, he helped Anderson unpack. There was a small apartment above the Church that the priest would be living in for the duration of his stay.

After helping to unpack the priest’s one suitcase of luggage Dane started to move for the priest’s carpet bag, but Anderson stopped Dane cold.

“Ah’ll unpack these meself,” he said in an unfriendly tone.

Dane shrugged and disregarded it. Anderson had been clenching the thing like a security blanket during most of the drive and seemed to be inseparable from whatever was in the bag. It was probably important to him, and Dane figured that it could be anything from a rock collection to a box set of Nuns Gone Wild.

After helping Anderson get his living quarters set-up a bit, the two of them moved onto the church proper. It was a small thing, but there was still plenty to do.

The church had truly seen better days. It was full of dust, cobwebs and other signs of disuse. Apparently it hadn’t hosted a congregation in years and the last person to give a sermon there had been an anti-fur protester stirring up some support before a rally.

The sun had set by the time they’d finished dusting, clearing out cobwebs, and replacing light bulbs. There was still a large amount of work to be done, but Dane was beginning to grow tired and Father Anderson felt content with the day’s work.

“Ah trust that when ah finish ah’ll see ye aht me sermons,” the priest said as he offered Dane his hand.

Dane shook the priest’s hand, but said, “Well, about that Father…”

“Ye be a non-believer o’ a heathen?”

“Well, no, I-”

“Good, then ah’ll be seein’ ye.” With that Anderson wrapped Dane in a hug. A large and awkward hug.

Dane eased his way out of the embrace and made his way to the big doors leading out of the church. He was anxious to be out of there, partially to get a change and partially to get some sleep. He pushed open the door and as soon as his hand cleared the threshold he was yanked from the church. Dane fell forward onto his face, and that’s the main thing that saved him from getting his face eaten.

The thing that had yanked him off balance looked to be an old homeless person, but upon closer inspection Dane noticed a huge wound on it’s neck that exposed the while of a vertibrea. Dane received a shock when he looked at its eyes. They were blank and… dead.

It continued to yank him out of the church and into the driveway where several other zombies milled about. There was a young couple, a woman in a spandex jogging suit, and a yuppie in an imitation business suit, all now looking emaciated and sharing the same deadpan look as the homeless man.

The stunned Dane didn’t react until the closest of the pack of zombies neared him and pulled at one of his legs. He kicked, twisted, and tried to break free of the first zombie’s grip. All he succeeded in doing was straining his arm more. The woman in spandex managed to catch a hold of his pants’ leg and pulled while the original zombie still dragged him towards the pack of zombies and the bushes beyond.

Dane struggled and bucked, and was soon suspended between the two zombies like two children fighting over a doll. It was at this point that two of Dane’s brain cells rubbed together and produced a spark.

“Help!” Dane shouted. He didn’t normally speak aloud when asking for Samniel’s aid, but shouting seemed appropriate in this circumstance.

Like I’d just let you get eaten,” quipped a slightly amused Denarian, “You may not like my plan, but I think it’s the best alternative.”

“I don’t care!” Dane said, “Just don’t let them eat me!”

The homeless man faltered a bit and Samniel kicked Dane’s body into action. He twisted and hit the creature’s fingers near the wrist with his free hand. The undead creature couldn’t fell pain, obviously, but tendons are still tendons and thus connected to the bones making up the creature’s hand. The tendons twitched and the zombie’s grip faltered, allowing Dane to slide free of the first zombie.

The second one still had a hold of his pants leg and that presented a problem.

Ditch the pants!” Samniel shouted in his head.

Dane regretted the decision, but pants are lower on his list of priorities than avoiding cannibalistic undead. Dane quickly undid his fly and wiggled out of his pants, exposing his wet diaper, but shaking the grip of the zombie jogger.

The rest of the zombies were not idle; however, and they were close to within arms reach of Dane. He scrambled madly, away from them, between the zombified lovers and straight for the church door. A long, red sleeved arm snaked from the bushes, between the zombies and griped Dane by the neck before he could grasp the door handle. It pulled him off his feet and began to drag him towards the bushes. The zombies moved towards Dane also, perhaps to eat him, perhaps to help carry him to their Master.

Umm… Crap!” commented the voice in Dane’s head.

You’re a Fallen Angel with thousands of years of experience and enough arcane knowledge to choke every goat on the planet and your expert opinion on the matter is ‘oh, crap’?!” responded Dane. If he was going to die, he wanted to make sure that he could blame it on someone else.

I think it accurately sums up the situation,” Samniel pointed out, “My professional opinion on the matter is that you’re pretty much screwed.”

Dane closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see whatever thing wanted to chew his face off. He heard a dull thock noise, followed in rapid succession by another four thock noises and the hand around his neck stopped moving.

Dane craned his head upwards and saw that the arm was pinioned in five places by three foot long knives with crooked handles. “Bayonets,” corrected Samniel.

“Sorry 'bout teh wait.”

Paladin of the Iscariot Division XIII, Father Alexander “Angel Dust” Anderson, AKA Bayonet Anderson, AKA Bloody Anderson, had heard Dane’s cry for help from inside the church and had immediately ran for his carpet bag. Inside the bag were a copious amount of bayonets, which Anderson now employed.

He stood, holding a pair of his bayonets and used them to bisect the former homeless man as the zombie fell to pieces it turned to dust. He threw one of the bayonets into the wrist of the hand that was still holding Dane and the thing spasmed and released him. Dane got to his feet and ran behind the priest who had begun to pray.

“In the name o’ God…” Anderson threw his last bayonet through the skull of one zombie.

Anderson’s favorite tools were his white, heavily decorated gloves. While wearing them, he could literally perform miracles. Well, one miracle: that of many from one. He drew another six bayonets from inside his robe, holding them between his knuckles.

“…impure souls of…”

Six bayonets flew from his hands and turned the yuppie zombie into a pincushion.

“…the living dead…”

He drew yet more bayonets and pulped the former boyfriend.

“…shall be banished…”

The former girlfriend followed suit faster than Dane would have believed.

“…into eternal damnation.”

The hand that he’d pinned to the ground began to dissolve into a mass of insects and stream back into the bushes. Seconds later what might have been a bat few into the distance.

“Amen.”

Dane stared in shock for a few seconds. Zombies. He’d just been attacked by real, honest to God zombies. Part of him was disturbed by that fact, another part of him was thrilled, but the largest part of him told him to get his pants on and get out.

He quickly walked to his discarded pants, wiped some zombie dust off them then put them back on.

“Ye gonna be okay?” Anderson asked in a gentle voice. It was hard to believe that the kind priest could switch to the almost maniacal monster-killer he’d just seen.

“Yeah. On a scale of one to ten on the freak o’ meter, this was about a six.”

“Heh. If ye don’ mind me asking, why the nappies?”

It took Dane a second to process what the priest meant, and a second more to decide on a response. He thought about telling Anderson that he had a medical problem of some variety, but given what the priest had just done…

“Well, I told you that this was a six on the freak o’ meter, right? Well, a few weeks back I had a ten and became cursed.”

“Ah.”

“So you’re not going to pass judgment on me or something?”

Anderson shrugged, “Teh Book ov John, chapter eight, verse seven. Ah’ll still be expectin’ ye te come te mass.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Samniel supposed that he’d had a rough day. He wasn’t able to sleep while Dane was driving, he had to deal with his host’s ineptitude, and to top it all off, they were expected to attend mass. Samniel had never been to such an event and was intent on keeping it that way.

It was with a sour mood and a sore body-- well, Dane’s sore body-- that he made his way to the Southern Baptist Church to meet the thing that had bugged him the night before. Only an idiot would come to such a meeting unprepared, and Samniel was no idiot. He started his night by hiring a cab and picking up supplies, then he had the driver drop him off an hour early at the Southern Baptist Church.

The church was a refitted Blockbuster and they still sported the distinctive sign out front. The words “Got Faith? Mass on Svndoys” were prominent. Someone had taken a permanent marker to the v and o in ‘Sunday,’ but the letters still looked odd. Regardless, the place was hallowed ground and would serve as a suitable meeting place.

For a generous donation the pastor of the church let Samniel into the building and left him unsupervised. He made his preparations and waited.

On the second they’d agreed to meet a middle-aged man strode into the building and down the hall. He looked worse for the wear, and his eyes were little more than dark circles, but Samniel was able to pick him out of Dane’s memory easily enough.

“Dane? What are you doing here?”

“He’s not here,” replied Samniel, “He’s asleep and I’m in the driver’s seat.”

“Ah,” said Ramiel, “I suppose then that you know who I am.”

“Professor Robert Clay, Head of the Anthropology Department of UC Santa Barbara and new member of the Fallen, I presume?”

"Fallen? Not so much yet. I still count as a good guy for all intents and purposes. Just… out of favor. Are the candles, circle of salt, matching set of mirrors, and carved circle of runes really necessary?

“Yes,” replied Samniel. Even though Dane didn’t have any magical talent the symbols still held power. Enough power to stop a point blank gunshot should push come to shove. Anything that tried to cross his barrier from the outside would spend the last second or two of its life wishing it hadn’t.

“Did you bring what I asked you to?”

“Maybe. First, tell me what I’ll get out of dealing with you.”

“Me, or rather, the corporeal bit.”

Samniel’s eyes narrowed, “What proof do I have that you’ll willingly give me your body?”

“Look at it this way, I’ll have no use for it once I get my revenge, and this is probably the closest you’ll ever get to your original body.”

“It looks poorly taken care of.”

“Pfft! It’s immortal. You can afford to spend a year or two working out and toning it however you want. The only condition that I’m placing on this is that I want to get my revenge first. Once Christensen is dead and JESU is burning to the ground you can have it.”

“I want your word on this,” Samniel said. While mortals were free to break their word at any time they chose, most immortals were incapable of breaking an oath once given.

“You have my word. Did you bring it?”

In reply Samniel pointed to a small golden pin that was stuck in a cushion on a pew two rows back. He’d be an idiot to break the protections he’d laid out.

Ramiel retrieved the pin and returned to Samniel’s side. “Wanna see a miracle?” he said as he pulled a pair of white gloves from a coat pocket.

The Denarian’s eyes grew wide, “Those belong to a priest. A strong one. How’d you get them?”

Ramiel smiled, “Said priest happens to be helpless when it comes to beautiful women with fishnet stockings. She simply swapped these with a pair of fakes.”

The former professor put the gloves on and pulled gently at either side of the pin. After a few seconds he had two pins, then four, then eight. He stopped at that and gave the Denarian an unnerving smile.

“Thanks, you can have your pin back if you want it.” Ramiel past Samniel’s circle of salt, carved runes, and everything else to pin the original pin onto his host’s jacket. With that, the Grigori walked from the church.

Samniel lingered there, wondering what exactly he’d just done.

End Chapter 10.

An Internship of Sorts

[size=14px]Chapter 11- Hell Breaks Loose, Part One[/size]

Ramiel stepped back and admired his work.

A half-open summoning circle was inked into the ground. Normally it would be an incredibly stupid thing to do as demons are prone to attacking their summoners, but the Grigori had no intention of being anywhere near when the circle started summoning demons.

Connected to the half-open summoning circle where a pair of magical circles drawn around the recording equipment that Ramiel had obtained from a near-by garage band and a large pile of magical trinkets that he had been able to obtain and duplicate using the priest’s ever so useful gloves.

Three things where required when summoning a creature: a name, sufficient magical mojo, and a location. Being a Grigori, Ramiel had no shortage of demonic names in his memory and had spent the better part of three days recording them on his newly purchased sound equipment. In fact, because of the modern wonders in audio technology Ramiel was able to speed up the list of names greatly. What took him three days to recite would take less than six hours to be said by the machine. The veritable hoard of shrunken heads, charms, family heirlooms, and other trinkets that he’d accrued would provide sufficient mojo to summon every demon he knew the name of. The summoning circle grounded the demons to this plane, and specifically to this area.

Normally, if a demon was summoned and didn’t feel like hanging around it would go back to the Hells. However, the powerful wards that protect the JESU building cannot be crossed by demons. Ramiel smiled as he contemplated that the thing which had kept the JESU building safe all these years would be the thing that brought disaster to it.

He cocked his head a bit when he noticed that his device shared the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head. Ramiel shrugged and let it pass. So long as his device was functional he was happy. He checked his watch and turned on the playback. The ten minutes of silence at the beginning of the track began to tick away as Ramiel made his way out of the building and towards JESU, for his appointment with Christensen.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

The ten minutes of silence began to wind down and eventually the machine began to spit out a rapid-fire list of names:

“…Meg’Denthalia, Chisthocrisax, Zerrax the Pungent, Craig…”

The sharply dressed demon poofed into existence on top of a pile of slower, less fortunate demons. He looked around the crowded room and marked the existence of the machine that had summoned him. He tried thrice to return to his office in the Pit, but found himself unable to. Craig looked out the one window in the room and viewed the street. With a snap of his fingers he vanished in a puff of black smoke and appeared on the street corner.

He was the first demon out of the building and he began to walk. If his interpretation of the machine was to be trusted, there would soon be a rampaging army of demons tearing down the street, demolishing buildings and anyone dumb enough to stand in their way. Craig had no intention of joining in on the festivities and figured it would be best to lay low until things blew over. As Craig walked on, it seemed that all of the buildings were marked for destruction, with the exception of the small store that Craig now made his way to. It was a Starbucks, and hell recognizes its own.

He opened the door to the shop and boisterously stomped into the building. His entrance, and horns, were noted by everyone in the small shop, including two young men who were standing in line. Craig did a double take, having recognized one of them, and turned to run for the door. So much for avoiding trouble.

“Hunter, grab him!” ordered the better dressed of the two young men.

Craig might’ve made a distinctly high-pitched yelp when someone grabbed the back of his suit jacket and dragged him back into the store, but he’d never cop to it. The woman behind the counter shot one of the young men a concerned look, but he smiled a disarming smile and said, “He’s just an old friend. We won’t cause any trouble,” he shifted his gaze to the demon, “right?”

Craig looked from one of his former clients to the muscular man stopping him from fleeing. He nodded. The three of them went over to a booth, with Craig firmly sandwiched between Hunter and the wall. There was a long moment of silence.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Dane asked the demon.

“It’s nice to see a repeat customer?”

Dane glowered at the demon, Hunter punched him in the arm.

“Why are you here?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then leave.”

“I can’t.”

Hunter punched Craig in the arm again.

“Ow!” Craig complained, “Why’re you doing that?”

Hunter shrugged. Dane probed further, “How’d you get here?”

“That information will cost you,” Craig said as he motioned at a nearby large sign advertising a double shot drink of some variety.

Dane rolled his eyes and offered Craig a five dollar bill. The demon took it and continued to sit. Dane raised an eyebrow. Craig responded with “Where’s my drink?” Hunter drew back his fist to punch Craig in the arm again and the demon flinched. “You guys are no fun,” he said as he got up and shoved his way to the front of the line to order his drink.

When he came back to the table with his drink he sat down, tossed Dane the change, and explained what he’d seen to the pair. He felt generous enough to explain the implications as a bonus, “…and soon you’re going to be up shit creek without a paddle.”

Hunter and Dane shared a look. Hunter laughed and Dane felt nauseous. “Demons? Summoning? Come on.” He looked at Craig and saw that the horned businessman was serious. He turned toward Dane, “You’d have to be an idiot to believe that garbage. I can buy roughing up this guy, but demons?”

Dane began to try to explain, but after starting and failing a few times he turned to Craig, “Can you show him something?”

“I don’t work for free.”

Dane handed the demon another five dollars. Craig took it. One moment he was sitting. The next he vanished in a puff of black smoke and re-appeared, crouching on the table with his pointed teeth, burning eyes, and too-long fingernails barred at Hunter.

“Holy Shit!” he exclaimed as he started and fell out of his seat and into the aisle.

Craig stepped down from the table and smoothed his hair. “Unholy shit,” he corrected.

Dane helped a shaken Hunter to his feet and they left the coffee shop for the JESU building. Craig sipped down more of his coffee and pondered what to get with his five dollars.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Ramiel leaned on the receptionist’s desk and said, “Robert Clay, here for an appointment with Mr. Christensen.”

The receptionist shifted her gaze away from the envelope that she was tearing open with a letter opener and said, “Go on up, he finished with his last appointment early.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Anderson had the same dream last night. He woke up feeling a desperate need to wash himself clean and get rid of the terrible taste in his mouth. The long shower didn’t help, neither did the tepid tea he had with breakfast. He found himself wondering further into the city until he found the thing that usually works. This woman’s name was Mallory and she might’ve been French, but she wasn’t cheap.

He held the redhead close to him and used her to wash the taste away. She wormed her hands underneath the long coat he was wearing and the priest flinched. She withdrew a little and gave him a puzzled look.

The awkward moment was broken by a girly scream and the thudding of footsteps. “Thank God,” Anderson thought, glad for the distraction.

He looked towards the mouth of the alleyway that he was in and saw Dane and a muscular young lad in blue jeans and a tank top run past, followed closely by a handful of odd, chaotic things. “Stay here,” Anderson instructed the woman. With that, he grabbed up his carpet bag and ran for the mouth of the alleyway.

He didn’t have time to slip on his gloves, but a bag full of poking implements has roughly the same effect.

Anderson pinned one of the four demons chasing the pair to the ground by throwing a bayonet through one of its four feet and into the sidewalk. He beheaded it as he ran past.

Dane tripped and fell to his face. The leading demon was a creature mostly composed of arms and legs, with a small set of teeth and an eye near the middle. Hunter rounded on it and sent a kick into its body breaking at least two of it’s many limbs.

The remaining two demons rounded on Anderson after he sent another bayonet through the neck of one. In seconds the were no more and Anderson put yet another of his long knives through the back of the creature Hunter had been fending off.

Hunter helped Dane back to his feet and the pair of them explained the situation to the priest after some small introductions.

Back in the alleyway, Mallory was becoming unnerved. She decided that it would be best to follow the priest. A small black shape began to peel itself from the wall high above her, and it decided that her course of action was best: follow the priest.

Dane gave directions, but mostly felt useless as the trio made their way to the JESU building. Anderson insisted that they use crosswalks and wait for proper signals for some strange reason, but he proved very effective against the few remaining demons they encountered on their way. Hunter was awed by the priest’s prowess and tried to guess his style of swordsmanship several times. He eventually gave up and just labeled it under ‘good.’

About two blocks from the JESU building, Anderson heard a high pitched yelp and turned to see the redhead that he’d told to stay put being dragged of by something with a pair of tentacles and centipede legs.

“Ye can make it from ‘ere, righ’?” said the priest as he pulled a handful of bayonets from his carpet bag and put on his white gloves.

“Yeah,” said Dane.

“Good.” Anderson ran off, choosing to ditch the heavy bag that might slow him down.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Dennis had been at lunch when things started to go down. When he first sighted a demon within the wards he killed the thing then hurried to the JESU building with all haste. He sent word to Christensen’s office, but didn’t get a reply. After talking to his half-sister they decided to play things safe and have him guard the door.

When Dane and Hunter hit the door at a running pace Dennis almost decapitated them. Losing an intern and lowering the world’s population of rednecks wouldn’t have been too bad, but the last thing Dennis needed to deal with was a pair of murder one charges. As soon as the pair busted through the door they wheeled and closed the heavy thing behind them. A moment later Dennis heard thumping and saw the door jolt forward as it was repeatedly hit by whatever was outside.

Dennis rushed to the door and pressed his back against it. “What’s going on?”

“Demons,” panted Dane.

“Lots of them,” panted a not as exhausted Hunter.

And the idiots brought them here,” thought Dennis. He took quick stock of the situation. “Okay. Dane, go get Serra. She’ll have some idea of what to do. We’ll hold the door.”

Dane looked to Hunter, who nodded, then made his way quickly to the elevator.

“‘We’ll hold the door’?” quipped Hunter.

“Yeah, got any better ideas?”

Hunter shook his head and muttered, “Pansy.”

“Redneck,” Dennis replied.

For a few seconds the constant jolting on the door slowed, then stopped. Hunter and Dennis looked to one another with identical expressions of relief. Perhaps the demons got bored and went elsewhere.

A mighty blow cracked the door and flung it open. The two people with their backs against it were catapulted through the air and into the lounge area. Dennis landed at the foot of a couch. Hunter flew towards the receptionist’s desk and cracked his head against it with a hollow thunk noise.

A large creature, wholly seven feet tall and easily four hundred pounds, stepped over the threshold and a swarm of smaller creatures swarmed in from behind it. Dennis griped his sword hilt, and called the blade to life. He sliced his way through several of the smaller creatures in an attempt to get to the downed Hunter, but there was no way he could make it before the swarm of smaller creatures got to him.

“Fuckin’ redneck,” Dennis growled in frustration.

The receptionist had been busily opening mail with her letter opener this whole time, paying the pounding on the door and her flying co-worker no special attention. What gripped her attention was that the annoying man was back. It seemed that every day he came in and tried to get her to go places with him or have lunch. He was laying on his face and there were… things moving towards him. She shuddered for a second, then stood up, still holding a letter and her letter opener.

She moved through the desk and attacked the nearest creature. It wasn’t anything stylish or fluid, like Anderson’s flamboyant fighting style, nor was it practiced and precise, like Dennis’ efforts. She simply picked a target then stabbed it. Eyes, joints, armpits, necks, hands, feet; all where good enough targets. Claws, tentacles, and thrashing limbs simply passed through her while her letter opener harried the creatures.

Hunter stirred.

Having cleared most of the smaller creatures away, Dennis concentrated on the larger thing. He neared it cautiously as a blow from it would probably tear him to pieces.

Trying to end the confrontation quickly, Dennis swung with an overhand strike at the creature’s head. Instead of sheering the demon in half, his blade stopped and bounced off it’s forehead. The creature grabbed the glowing blade of Dennis’ sword and wrenched it from his hand. Unnerved, Dennis backpedaled and fell backwards over one of the chairs. The creature took two lumbering steps towards him and stopped.

It’s eyes rolled up, into it’s head and it fell backwards. Hunter, holding a dented fire extinguisher, stood behind the creature, smiling.

“Fuckin’ Pansy.”

The two turned towards the ruined door. “It’s going to be a long day, isn’t it?” Hunter asked. “Yup,” replied Dennis.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

The lobby of the JESU building was the easiest entry point, but not the only one that the demons had access to. Some crawled up the side of the building like gigantic lizards or spiders. Some simply appeared in the building with a puff of smoke and brimstone. Yet others jumped and bounded into the building. Yet more flew. Something about the building drew the demons to it like moths to a flame. It was safe to say that the JESU building was under siege.

When the doors opened Dane rushed out of the elevator, only to jump back in when he was confronted by a nightmarish scene. A three foot tall flaming creature was chased down the hallway towards him by Phil, Prince of Insufficient Lighting, armed with spork and spandex, who was riding on the back of a very large and very angry looking badger monster.

Once they’d passed, Dane hurried out of the elevator and towards the office the he shared with Serra. He opened the door to the office and was greeted by a creature that seemed to be a ball of wings and shark fins. He slammed the door on it and continued to look for Serra.

He eventually found her in the break room, giving orders to several other employees, a trio of heavily armed office gremlins in camouflage fatigues, and the water cooler.

“I want you three to patrol the floors and look for stragglers. Get as many of them as you can together and hide somewhere,” Serra ordered. The trio of office gremlins, each in a different color of spandex under their military fatigues, snapped salutes and moved out with a series of ‘huts.’

“Nadine, I want you and the rest of your friends to handle any fires. Organizing a defense won’t matter if we burn down on accident.” The water cooler, having understood this, wheeled itself out of the room.

“The rest of you, hop to it!” The motley crew of employees set to various tasks and quickly dispersed.

“Dane! Where have you been?”

“Outside. There’s some kind of machine that’s summoning all these demons, and Dennis told me that we should find Christensen.”

Serra thought about that for a moment, “They haven’t been able to get a hold of him?”

“Yeah.”

“First, we should to go to my office so and grab the key to Christensen’s office in case he’s in trouble.”

“There’s some kind of freaking flying ball of shark fins in there.”

Serra lifted her eyebrow.

They approached Serra’s office and Dane opened the door. As expected the weird demon-thing flew straight at him and revealed a scary set of teeth. Dane took a step back while Serra came forward, and swung with one of Gabe’s golf clubs. She knocked the thing out of the air on her first swing and the subsequent eight swings to its torso made sure that it wouldn’t be getting back up.

While Serra rummaged through her desk for her set of emergency keys, Dane surveyed the room for anything useful. He found the chunk of quartz that the wizard had given him earlier and figured that now was as good a time as any to use it.

Feeling like a complete dork, Dane held it in both hands and shouted “Dresden!” three times at the thing. A moment later there was a popping noise and a slight tear appeared in the wall. The wizard Harry Dresden strode through it with both hands cupped over his ears. “You didn’t have to yell.”

Dane and Serra quickly explained the situation to him. “I think it’d be best if I helped play defense on this one. I’ll help corral employees and once I’ve got them all together I’ll ward the area to keep them safe.” He then eyed both Dane and Serra.

“Are you two packing any heat… I mean, besides the golf club?”

“No.”

Dresden handed Dane a .45 caliber pistol with a wink. “My favorite wizarding tool, never leave home without it.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

“You know, I thought it would be more difficult.” Ramiel gave the old man at his feet another kick.

“You could at least put up a fight,” the Grigori said, “The result would be the same, but it would at least be more enjoyable.”

The old man got up to one elbow and gave a wheezing laugh, “Why would I do that? So you can sleep better at night?”

“No, but it would help you last a little longer.” Ramiel kicked the man’s elbow out from under him and lifted him by his collar to eye level.

The old man stared at him for a while and smiled.

“It doesn’t really matter,” the graying man decided.

“Is that your final answer?”

Silence.

More silence.

Ramiel lost his patience with the old man. He dragged Christensen to the standing area behind the big mahogany desk and set his back against the window. He pinned the old man to the full length window with one outstretched hand.

The angel smirked, his eyes seemed disconnected and wider than they should be. “You’re responsible for all of this, you know? You could have granted my wife an extension without forcing me to act. You could have never assigned her as my assistant. You could have never sent Gabe to ask me about a new job. You could’ve done something for my sons.”

With each accusation Ramiel pushed harder against the old man’s chest and harder against the glass.

“Yes, I could’ve. I didn’t.”

Ramiel snarled and pushed a little harder.

“Consider what else I haven’t done. I haven’t tried to stop you from getting your little revenge kick. Moments after Gabe was attacked in Japan, he called me and warned me that something fishy was probably going on. It wasn’t hard to connect the dots between a certain distressed Grigori and more recent crimes we’ve taken note of: desecration of a grave in Britain-- the contents of which where mailed to your address-- stealing a holy artifact of the Catholic Church, and hiring a middling spirit to kill Gabriel.”

Ramiel sneered. “Didn’t do or couldn’t do? It doesn’t matter, because today I’m settling all debts.” He pushed harder, but found that he couldn’t break the thick safety glass that comprised the window. With a thought he grew larger, more muscular, and his wings spread out behind him. He pressed harder against the old man’s chest, elicting a wheeze from him.

The glass cracked.

Christensen gave Ramiel a weak smile. “It won’t get any of them back, you know.”

Ramiel’s left eye twitched and his grip loosened.

After a full minute of contemplation Ramiel’s wings darkened, the gray and black tones sweeping from his shoulders to the tips of his wings. “I know,” He shifted his grip on the old man and used his right hand to grab the old man by the belt buckle, “But it’ll make me feel better.”

With that, he drove Christensen through the window. He watched with satisfaction as the old man plummeted into the mass of demons clustering around the JESU building.

Ramiel stepped back from the window and wiped his hands together. Now that the JESU building was in tatters and Christensen was dead he no longer had any purpose to stay. He supposed that he should have been grateful to the old man for letting slip the fact that Gabriel was still alive-- it would not do to leave his revenge incomplete.

Ramiel adjusted his coat to make the fit near his wings more comfortable, made sure that the golden pin that allowed him to cross the wards was still firmly attached to his lapel, and strode towards a back door in Christensen’s office. It would lead him to the roof, where he’d make an easy take-off and proceed to hunt down Gabriel.

As he strode up the stairs he thought he heard a chiming noise, but he discounted it as unimportant.

Today was going to be perfect.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

“Ge’ in 'ere!” Anderson shouted at Mallory, the disheveled prostitute.

The pair were standing outside of a slightly damaged motel of some class. Shortly after rescuing her, Anderson had tried to call more bayonets into being using his gloves. Instead of extra weapons appearing in his hands he had been surprised to find… nothing.

Of the six weapons he’d brought with him, he only still had three and they were beginning to show heavy signs of wear and tear. It seemed that with every demon Anderson managed to kill two more would find them. Eventually Anderson and Mallory were forced to flee… scratch that, ‘retreat.’ Paladins of the Iscariot never fled.

This opportunity had come upon them suddenly, but Anderson was extremely glad for it. He would be able to hide Mallory somewhere safe then, for better or worse, he’d confront the demons. Mallory complained a bit, but the urgency of the situation quelled her protests. She fled into the building.

There was a quiet splop noise as a black smear flew head-long into the wall of the building Mallory had fled into. It took a moment to adjust itself, as if settling down to watch a movie, and a large eye appeared in the middle of the splotch.

Anderson was oblivious to this however, as his attention was focused on the mob of demons that had finally caught up to him.

The Priest brandished two of his remaining bayonets at the oncoming pile of scaly, clawed, and tentacled things. “In teh name of God, yer wre’ched souls shall be banished inteh eternal damnation. Amen.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

“Shoot him!” Serra ordered.

She and Dane had rushed out of the elevator and surveyed to office quickly. The broken, bloody window bespoke the fate of Mr. Christensen, and the two of them heard a door slam shut. Moments later they were out of the back door of Christensen’s office and tailing whoever had been in the room earlier.

They had managed to get to the roof in time to see a tall, black winged man step onto the ledge of the roof. Once he heard them approaching the man stepped down from the ledge and waited for them to approach, he then turned, with a flourish.

Even with his eyes seeming floating in his head, black circles surrounding them, the huge, muscular body, and the black wings Dane still recognized his former professor. “Coach Robbie?”

Ramiel didn’t really have time for sentiment or anything else at this point. He wasn’t even sure why he’d stopped. Perhaps it was the fact that he was a bit of a showman: no matter how amazing his efforts they could never be properly appreciated unless there was an audience.

“Nope, Ramiel. Next question?”

“Where’s Christensen?” Serra demanded of the larger, darker angel.

The Grigori smiled. “Well, we had a bit of a talk, and he wasn’t feeling too good afterwards, so I sent him home.”

“Home?” said Dane.

Ramiel made a downward splatting motion, then mimed something with little wings flying upwards. “I imagine he’s in Heaven by now. Or Hell if one of those Demons managed to grab him and run off somehow.”

Serra made a leap of logic, “You’re responsible for this, aren’t you?”

“Yes. The whole kit and kaboodle. It’s been the most fun I’ve had in years.”

“Why,” Dane asked, “Why would you ever do something like this?”

“I just said that it was the most fun I’ve had in years. It was also a good excuse to check out my old stomping grounds, say hello to a few old friends-”

“Dane, shoot him,” Serra ordered, interrupting Ramiel’s monologue.

Dane hefted the gun. There was no way that this thing could be his old professor. It even admitted to having a different name. If it really had killed Christensen, then there was little doubt in Dane’s mind that it deserved to be shot.

“Shoot him!” Serra ordered.

Dane hefted the surprisingly heavy firearm. This was a moment he’d given thought to a thousand times. What would it feel like to pull the trigger? To deliberately end someone’s life? The was no question that he would. If the first shot only incapacitated the winged creature in front of him, he’d continue firing until there was no threat. He’d remove the creature from existence and feel a taste of the power that God has.

He squeezed the trigger, expecting elation, dread, and a heaping helping of finality. The gun was heavier than he had expected and seemed to be growing heavier by the moment. It shouldn’t have mattered in the slightest, but something–

I’m sorry, my Landlord, but I can’t let you do that.”

Dane’s eyes glossed over and eventually the words “I can’t” fell from his lips. There wasn’t anyone to hear them, though, for Ramiel had decided that he’d wasted enough of his time. Since Samniel had given his word to keep Dane in check he had been unworried by the gun. He ignored the words flung at him by the blond female and lept from the roof.

He flapped his wings hard to maintain altitude. “Nothing could ruin today,” Ramiel thought to himself.

No sooner was that thought out of his head then a large winged creature collided with him from above.

Serra had taken wing and tackled the larger angel. She wasn’t quite sure what she’d do, but she was determined to do something. If necessary she’d wrestle him to the pavement and pin him. The problem with that course of action, she soon realized, was that a Grigori tended to be larger and stronger than even exceptionally beautiful and talented half-angels.

With a huge beat of his wings and a sudden twist of his shoulders Ramiel used the drag created by Serra’s wings to free himself. An amused Ramiel circled back towards Serra and figured that he had time for one more distraction; after all, they’d interrupted his dramatic monologue.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

When the situation had deteriorated the Denarian had decided that it was time to take matters into his own hands.

He took Dane to the living room in his dreams. Shortly after they arrived Dane found himself reduced in size. The brightly colored room was littered with toys, stuffed animals, and he could hear his caretaker making the short walk from the nursery through the hallway to the living room.

When she made her way into the room Dane noted that she now had long red hair and a pleasant face as opposed to the horror he had glimpsed when her face should have been earlier. “Did you have a fun time playing sweety?” his caretaker regarded him for a little bit, but continued speaking as if she didn’t expect a response, “It’s time for your nap, come here little one.”

Dane’s head felt almost full of cotton and he was feeling exhausted. A nap sounded like a good idea. Something nagged at him as his caretaker bent down to pick him up. There was something that he should be doing. Something important.

He pulled away from his caretaker’s warm hands and said “I can’t.” Back in the real world his lips echoed the same movement. The realization that he wasn’t in a place that was real gave him something to focus on. Dane closed his eyes. He felt his caretaker lift him up and begin the walk back to he nursery, but as he focused her grip felt less substantial and he grew in size.

When Dane opened his eyes again, he found himself sitting on the couch in the living room. Instead of being filled with vibrant color it was a smoky gray and a glance towards the hallway revealed a few of the faceless portraits he’d noted earlier. A television across from the hallway showed what must’ve been what Dane’s eyes saw in the real world. There was a door to the kitchen, Dane knew, but, curiously enough, there was no door to the outside.

Normally when Dane visited this place it was warm, fuzzy feeling, and full of vibrant color. Currently his surroundings seemed seemed stark and this unnerved him more than a little. What distressed Dane the most was a portrait of his faceless caretaker hanging on the wall above and behind the lazy boy armchair. Sitting smugly in the armchair was the Denarian, Samniel.

“What the Hell are you doing?!” Dane shouted. There was stuff of dire importance going on outside, and in order to do anything Dane had to leave this dream place.

“Did you like the red hair? I have a bit of a thing for redheads.”

“I don’t care if you have a thing for pigmy sheep, just let me out of here!”

The Denarian raised an eyebrow at the sheep comment. “No can do, I’m bound by the terms of my agreement, as are you.”

“Our agreement? I don’t recall agreeing to anything about not killing things that look like my old teachers.”

“Actually, that was your teacher. Killing him would break your promise to not interfere with my getting a new body.”

“What if I shoot him in the kneecaps?”

“That would break my agreement with him. In exchange for keeping you directly out of the conflict and for services rendered he is going to offer me his physical body. You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this, and there is no way that I’m going to let you muck things up.”

Dane’s attention was drawn to the flashing images on the television. Coach Robby-- Ramiel Dane corrected-- had lept from the roof and begun to fly away. Serra unfolded her own wings and followed in quick pursuit. It wasn’t long before the two of them were out of the television’s range of sight, but Dane knew that Serra would be hard pressed to deal with any creature half-again her size.

“We need to do something.”

“We are doing something,” replied the Denarian, “We’re waiting. Soon enough I’ll have my new body and you can do as you please, but until then, I’ll hold you to the terms of our agreement.” As Samniel said this, things in the room darkened and his eyes took on an eerie glow. Dane was forcibly reminded that he was dealing with something distinctly inhuman.

There wasn’t any way that he could overpower a creature like Samniel. Demons were roaming the streets. Serra was off, probably losing whatever fight she was in. Hunter was probably demon chow by now. Even the JESU building was likely to crumble out from underneath his feet. Even if Dane could somehow beat Samniel and make his way back to the real world, what could he do about the large number of demons? What about Serra? Hunter?

“There really is no point,” Dane muttered aloud. He was too small, too weak to do anything. The friends that he relied on for help where in need of help themselves and the best that Dane could manage was to stand on a roof like a fool.

Samniel had said it best when they’d first spoken: You aren’t in any position of wealth or power, you aren’t in peak physical condition, you don’t have any magical aptitude, and… .

As those thoughts filtered through Dane’s consciousness the room began to shift slightly. Slowly colors began to swirl into the room and the things inside it began to gain more substance. The toys that had been littered throughout the room began to reappear slowly, the temperature began to rise, and more details appeared than Dane was used to seeing in his dreams. The portraits in the hallway gained facial features and eventually became a gallery of people who had helped Dane previously. His second grade teacher, his Grandpa Bob, and even a portrait of his family, before the divorce, with Dane and his younger brother framed by their loving parents. The portraits seemed to almost come to life, sometimes swaying, winking, or doing other things.

One portrait did come to life. The portrait hanging behind Samniel’s large brown chair stuck her hands on the canvas and walked through the wall as if passing through a curtain of beads. The comely caretaker from Dane’s dreams stood behind an astonished Samniel and as she seemed to become more solid each second Dane found himself and the Denarian to be growing smaller.

When the process stopped Dane was a little shorter than Samniel and they were attired differently: Dane wearing a light blue onesie and disposable diaper while the Denarian wore a cute toddler outfit and training pants.

Samniel wasn’t exactly sure what to think of his new outfit, but there was one thing that he was absolutely sure of, and that was that fallen angels do not do cute.

Dane’s caretaker noticed that Dane was upset and crossed the room to him. She hefted him up and placed a nearby pacifier in his mouth. Only after comforting him a bit did she notice Samniel.

“Hello, what’s your name?” she said to the dark haired toddler skulking at the foot of the brown recliner.

Samniel pouted a little and pointedly looked away.

Talking from around his pacifier Dane said, “Heesh Shamiel.”

“Samuel? That’s a cute name for such a sourpuss,” the caretaker said, with a wink in the, now pint-sized, Denarian’s direction. “Let’s go see if there’s anything in the nursery for you to play with, besides, baby Dane needs a change.”

The last thing that the Denarian wanted was to watch his host get his diaper changed. Up until this point Samniel had been playing along out of a morbid sense of curiosity. He willed himself back into the depths of Dane’s unconscious mind… and waited. Then waited some more.

Perhaps it was the fact that a good portion of Dane’s unconscious mind was embodied in his caretaker. Perhaps it was a result of the stress that Dane was undergoing. Perhaps it was a result of Dane’s curse. Whatever the cause, Samniel was unable to resist being led by the hand to the nursery. He found himself struggling like… well… a toddler.

When she managed to drag her unwilling charge into the room the caretaker shut the door. She immediately took Dane over to the changing table and Samniel busied himself by taking in the rest of the room.

The first thing that struck him was how large the room seemed. He was able to pick out a rocking chair, crib, playpen, dresser, toy chest, and closet in addition to the now occupied changing table. Samniel made his way to the toy chest and was surveying it’s contents when he felt a hand reach down and pull back the rear of his pants and pull-up.

“What the Hell are you doing?!” shouted Samniel. The caretaker had just checked his pull-up, after finishing changing Dane and putting him into the playpen with his stuffed moose.

“My my, someone’s a little fussy. Perhaps it’d be a good idea to put you down for a short nap.” With that she hefted ‘Samuel’ and plopped him down into Dane’s crib. She took his stunned silence as acceptance and left the room for the kitchen.

Samniel got to his feet and tried to climb over the railing. Failing that he reached for the latch to let the crib side down. When he couldn’t accomplish that he tried to squeeze between the bars. He ended up giving up on that soon after and sat for a while, pondering his options.

He turned his attention to his host, who was sitting, depressed looking in the play pen.

It was obvious to Samniel that Dane’s living room had come to life once he was struck by the hopelessness of his situation. Maybe if he convinced Dane that they actually could do something Dane would snap out of it. As soon as that happened Samniel reasoned that he would keep his host out of the action and still be able to collect on Ramiel’s promise.

“What’s bothering you?”

Dane glared at the Denarian and didn’t reply otherwise.

The Denarian reclined against a stuffed animal and said, “Things’ll turn out well, you know.”

“How?”

“Not everything is as bad as it seems. Sure, there are demons running around, but they’re all of the minor variety. It wouldn’t take long for most of them to get hunted down or wiped out.”

Dane still glared. “That’s not what I’m worried about.”

“Hunter then? You left him standing next to Dennis. The last time I saw him in action he banished a pretty strong demon; your friend should be fine.”

Dane looked a little relieved, but was otherwise unchanged. “What about Serra?” he said.

“She’ll be fine. She probably couldn’t even catch up to Ramiel. If she did, I’m sure that he wouldn’t do anything too bad to her, he is a pretty nice guy.” The Denarian wasn’t speaking the truth on his opinion of Ramiel’s good nature, but anyone can lie through their teeth.

Dane recalled the time that he spent with Coach Robby and he had to agree that he had been nice; however, the creature that called itself Ramiel looked to be anything but. Dane decided to trust Samniel on this one though.

Dane grew slightly larger and his clothing grew with him. He was now about the size of a toddler and he had clothing to match. It was obvious to Samniel that they still had a bit to go.

“What’s bothering you most?”

“The fact that this whole fiasco is my fault. If I never applied for this internship I wouldn’t have been given the pin that Ramiel used to get in. It’s all my fault that he could summon those demons in here and that he killed Christensen. My God, what if they all find out what happened? I’d lose my job, my apartment, and everyone would think that I was…” Dane stopped, his head in his hands.

“That’s it?” Samniel almost laughed.

Dane looked up and nodded.

“The past is past. You took the job, have benefited greatly from it, and now you regret it? That’s silly. You weren’t the one who gave Ramiel the pin to copy, you weren’t the one who summoned the demons, and you weren’t the one who killed your boss. You haven’t done anything bad, and, in my humble opinion, you’re still one of the good guysl.”

Dane thought on Samniel’s words for a few minutes and decided that the Denarian was right. With that realization Dane grew in size and apparent age. Soon a young man of twenty was standing in the playpen, still dressed in blue, but blue denim cargoes, a dark blue T-shirt, and an over shirt as opposed to a onesie. Dane stepped out of the playpen.

“Good, now hurry up and get me out of here.”

The larger Dane looked down at Samniel, who was still stuck in the crib. “What’s to stop me from leaving you here?”

The Denarian’s eyes went wide. He hadn’t considered the possibility that Dane would leave him. Without Dane’s help in leaving Samniel would be stuck in this portion of Dane’s mind until his host saw fit to let him out. He did not want to spend the next fifty or so years stuck playing the role of a toddler in Dane’s subconscious fantasy land.

“What would it take to convince you to let me out?”

Dane pondered for a bit. “A renegotiation of our partnership. I’m in charge, 100%. No more trying to mess with my mind and no more hatching evil plans without me.”

“Very well, but what do I get in return?”

“You’re not really in a position to bargain, but I suppose I’ll help you find your new host ASAP.”

“Deal,” said the Denarian. Dane lifted him from the crib and they walked through the hallway and into the living room. Dane’s caretaker was waiting for them.

“And where are you two going?” she said, apparently not noticing the difference in Dane’s height.

“Nanny, could we pwease go play outside?” Dane said.

“Certainly.” With that she walked to a non-descript wall in the living room and opened a door. She opened it and it was filled by a white haze that neither Dane nor Samniel could look through. Dane walked towards the door, but was stopped by the pint-sized fallen angel.

“Before we go, I just have to commend you. Blackmail? Manipulating authority figures? You’re becoming a man after my own heart,” Samniel complimented.

“Shut up.”

The two of them stepped through the door and out of Dane’s fantasy world.

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The first thing that Dane noted was the wind.

His eyes had stayed open the entire time that he was in his dream world and they stung. He blinked a bit of grit out of his eyes and scanned the sky for Serra. He didn’t find her until he looked over the ledge on the back side of the building. She and Ramiel were grappling about fifteen floors down and it looked to Dane as if he were lecturing her the whole while.

He was struck by inspiration.

“I’ll take care of the plan this time,” Dane said. Ramiel had gone to great lengths to get a copy of Dane’s golden pin. Dane figured that if he could at least take the fake pin from the fallen angel he’d be able to trap him within JESU’s wards.

He looked down from the ledge to note that Ramiel was holding Serra and the two were maintaining roughly the same position. Perfect.

So, what do we do?” Samniel asked.

“You don’t wanna know.”

Dane jumped onto the small ledge surrounding the roof of the JESU building and moved himself over the railing. He moved back and forth a bit, sighting his target.

Samniel didn’t need an explanation, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Nope, just make sure that I can get a hand hold.”

Dane jumped.

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Ramiel was having a great time.

The half-angel woman proved to be no difficult adversary and he was able to catch her easily. Currently he was doing his best to maintain altitude while holding her by the neck with one hand. Sure it was pretty taxing to maintain that pose, but his newly cultivated megalomania demanded that certain sacrifices be made.

He continued his monologue.

“It’s maddening, you know. How in the name of all Creation could He let something like this happen? I’ve killed His son, destroyed His little project here, filled this wonderful little evil-free zone with demons, and soon, I’ll kill you. But first I’ll tell you why He doesn’t lift a hand. He doesn’t care. God is a child and we’ve been forgotten in favor of some new toy.”

His point made, Ramiel threw Serra through a window and into an office of the JESU building. The Grigori advanced towards the window and gingerly climbed through.

Dane, who was streaking towards the ground, cursed when he saw his target move out of the way.

Oh, Crap!” said Samniel.

End Chapter 11.

An Internship of Sorts

[u][size=14px]Chapter 12- Hell Breaks Loose, Part Two[/u][/size]

Serra hurt.

She knew that much.

Gathering her senses together she was able to make out that she was sprawled across the corner of a desk and that her back ached. So did her throat. Her arms and legs moved, but they were cut in several places from where she had impacted shards of glass from the broken window. She heard a muddled chatter near the back of the large room and supposed that some of the employees might be hiding there.

What drew her attention most was the large black-winged creature. She was too rattled to remember its name or what its motivation was, exactly, but she knew that it wanted to hurt her more. It hit the window. Hard. Glass shattered and he alighted in the room smiling.

She tried to roll to her feet and succeeded in rolling off the desk and onto her hands and knees. She crawled around the desk and as she crawled into the small walking space her head brushed against a length of black leather that smelled vaguely of dog and sweat. The person the coat belonged to was taller than most. He had dark hair and an unforgiving light in his eyes.

The man, Professional Wizard Harry Dresden, was a bit old-fashioned. If he gave his word, he kept it. If someone had his respect, he called them sir. If someone hit a girl, he hit them harder.

You up for this Lash?” he thought to his Denarian.

Of course,” Lasciel responded.

Ramiel swept forward, intent on killing his prey, hardly even noticing the man standing over her at six foot something. He didn’t notice him lift his staff, nor did he notice Lasciel’s Hellfire arching up the thing and lighting the runes etched upon it. Ramiel simply didn’t care: he would rend her and enjoy it.

“Forzare!” Dresden cried.

The air rippled as an invisible fist of kinetic energy slammed into Ramiel, blasting him back towards the bank of windows at a different trajectory. He had come in through a broken window, but Dresden’s blast knocked him through a small desk, a new window, and a portion of the wall. All that remained of him in the room was a cloud of black feathers.

The wizard helped the young woman to her feet, slowly because her lower back and leg throbbed. Serra spent a while massaging her neck while Dresden led her to the place where they’d managed to stash most of the employees. The first words out of her sore throat were inspiring. What followed next were directions.

It was time to retake the building.

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It was Ramiel’s turn to know pain.

He’d felt worse over the course of his long life, but this numbered in the top ten. The arm that he’d clipped on the wall wobbled limply and he was certain that he’d broken at least two ribs. He flapped his wings hard to stabilize the awkward spin that the wizard’s blast had put him in. The broken arm would mend quickly-- his immortal body could deal with far worse punishment-- but that didn’t change the fact that it hurt.

He was still trying to adjust when Dane fell out of the sky and impacted squarely with his shoulders. Because of his high velocity Dane bounced.

“Now!” screamed Dane.

Before they could travel out of reach Samniel took over and hyper-extended his host’s right arm in order to clamp one hand around the trailing end of the Grigori’s jacket. The muscles strained and something popped out of place near his elbow. Of course it hurt, but the Denarian did what he could to dull the pain. The two spun madly in the air while Dane’s momentum played out and Ramiel tried desperately to stay airborne.

As a general rule of thumb, it takes a lot to surprise a Grigori. Being struck by a former student falling out of the sky was one of the few exceptions to the rule. Even thought he didn’t harbor any ill will towards his former student Ramiel decided that he didn’t have time for this.

“Get off!” he shouted. The only response that he got was Dane tangling his other hand into the jacket.

In an effort to shake his stowaway Ramiel took wing. What would have been a beautiful aerial tour under different circumstances was a terrifying experience for Dane. He never really had a fear of heights, but hanging from a speeding angels’ coattails’ gave him an appreciation for those who did.

They flew onward, past buildings, down a city block, through an alleyway, and the fallen Grigori was able to finally shake Dane by running him into a building’s fire escape. Dane’s hips and lower torso impacted with it and he rebounded backwards. The jarring force of the collision was enough to break his grip. He fell away, but not without ripping a piece of the fallen angel’s jacket off.

Did we get it?” Samniel asked.

Dane didn’t reply. He was slightly preoccupied with his imminent death by falling. With a startled cry he fell backwards. It was only two stories up, but that would be more than enough to kill him if he landed on anything that wasn’t a conveniently placed dumpster or mattress.

Instead of hitting the painfully hard concrete that Dane was expecting, or a pile of trash like he was hoping for, he landed in something infinity worse: a pile of squishy demon tentacles.

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Carlos Ramirez, Warden of the White Council and self-proclaimed lady’s man, was in a grumpy mood. He’d been training his young apprentice in the fine art of wooing drunken women when he’d received a message from his most troublesome friend.

“Dresden, what have you gotten yourself into this time?” he lamented. His friend’s choice of messenger was unappealing as the small fairy had a tendency to buzz too close to his ear while trying to deliver messages. He managed to make out the location, the word Demon, and what he thought might’ve been the words ‘kick its ass’.

He could not ignore his friend’s urgent summons (or the chance to once again prove himself); nor could he simply leave his apprentice behind. He opted to bring his apprentice with him. He ripped a hole into the Nevernever and was to his destination in minutes, having used a secret pathway provided to him by Queen Mab herself.

Joseph, his apprentice, was awed by the trip and had never expected to be dragged along on one of Ramirez’s missions. Then again, Ramirez had never really expected to take Joseph either.

Within seconds of crossing into town the pair were accosted by several demons. A large almost-frog lept towards the young warden’s face. Instead of going immediately for the military ordinance Carlos opted to throw up a green cloud in the creature’s flight path. Once inside the cloud the demon rapidly dissolved into smaller and yet smaller bits before exiting at the same velocity it had entered. Instead of coming face-to-face with a barbed tongue and too many teeth, Carlos and his young protege` were peppered by a cloud of dust.

When the dust settled, there seemed to be more demons then there had been a minute ago. The crowd advanced as one on the pair.

"Umm… grenade time?"suggested Joseph.

“Demons. Fire. It doesn’t tend to work well,” Carlos tersely explained before clubbing an approaching demon in the face with his staff.

“Go find someplace to hide!” Carlos ordered his dense apprentice.

Joseph ran to a safe distance of about two blocks and hid around a corner. He peaked his head out and stared intently while his master melted, froze, sliced, diced, and otherwise clubbed the demons into submission in a variety of ways. He fought flamboyantly and with flair; after all, one never knows when pretty ladies are watching. It also never hurts to impress the wide-eyed apprentice.

While Joseph watched his master set to his task with great zeal, something with too many legs crept up behind him. The eight legs that carried it were spiked and oozing with some type of toxin, it’s insectoid thorax ended in a pair of long tails with too sharp stingers, and, what seemed weirdest about the creature was its head. The almost human head was on a neck that slowly unraveled and lengthened until it was almost three times as high as the creature was long.

It cocked it’s head to one side to ponder the unattentive morsel standing in front of it. It grinned and lengthened it’s neck as high as it could go.

The pair of scorpion-like stingers on its tails dripped poison. It drew the tails back and up in preparation to strike.

A large black hand decended from above and struck the creature palm-down. The deafening sound of one hand clapping turned Joseph’s head from his master’s antics to regard the squished bug that would certainly have killed him.

Joseph noticed the smoky hand and the creature behind it, one that he was very familiar with.

Craig waved his half-empty cup of Starbuck’s product in greeting.

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Ramiel grinned. Sure, it would be a while before he was done licking his wounds. Sure, his revenge wasn’t complete. Sure, one of his former students had just torn a bit of his jacket off. Sure, that student had probably plummeted to his death.

None of that mattered to the elated Grigori.

He’d co-opted JESU Corp., killed Christensen, and he knew that, sooner or later, he’d be able to finish the job that his hired Hollow had been unable to. He patted himself on the back for a job well done as he flew away from the JESU building.

His bird’s… err… angel’s eye view of the damage offered him an interesting contrast that almost drew an exact line of where the wards where. The area outside of the wards was a normal, undamaged section of city, while the area inside the wards had been thoroughly ravaged.

“With the exception of Starbuck’s,” Ramiel muttered to himself.

He flew on, past the undamaged building, and was surprised for the second time that day.

He was repelled from the wall of wards by a flash of white and a pealing thunderclap. The now slightly charred Grigori fell to the concrete and skidded to a full fifty feet back from where he had tried to cross the wards.

That shouldn’t have happened,” Ramiel thought to himself as he lay propped up against the concrete sidewalk, “The ward pin worked last time…” Ramiel gathered himself back together and shifted to a sitting position. He moved gingerly to accommodate for his broken bones and was able to encompass the pain rather than be distracted by it.

He slowly checked over his jacket, looking for the pin that had failed him. Maybe there was something wrong with it. Maybe the copies made using Anderson’s gloves only lasted so long.

Maybe it was stolen.

Ramiel cursed when he found the latter to be the case. The piece of his jacket that the pin had been stuck to was missing-- part of the section torn out when he’d slammed Dane into the fire escape.

It wasn’t long before the fallen Grigori had decided on his next course of action. It wouldn’t be hard for him to escape JESU’s wards at all; after all, there were six more ward pins back with his demon summoning apparatus.

The barriers that protected the machine from tampering only stopped demons, and Ramiel happened to be something other than a demon. He brushed himself off with one hand, slowly got to his feet, then began the short trip to his demon-summoning machine.

All he had to do was zoom in there, swipe a ward pin and be out before the unfriendly demons that where being constantly shot from the machine rended him limb from limb.

“Piece of cake,” said the confident immortal.

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John Constantine was having one great week. He was slightly buzzed and had left the interior of the comfortable bar he and his entourage had found behind in search of cigarettes. Not just any cancer stick would do for the picky Londoner either; he had to have his silk cuts. He’d left his date and the two kids back at the bar and both of the young men were happy enough to use the fake IDs that Constantine had procured for them.

He’d begun the week in Seattle and had followed the party circuit down the western coast, stopping every day or so for a concert and more beer. He still had to hunt down his cigarettes though.

And so it was that a sloshed Londoner in an unwashed Trucks t-shirt got lost in the city proper.

He wandered about for several hours and was thinking of hailing a taxi when he noticed something that he didn’t see every day: a large lime-green creature composed almost entirely of tentacles accosting a young man.

If it had been a young woman Constantine probably would have dismissed the sight as a hallucination of some sort and kept walking, but when he realized that the thing being accosted did, indeed, not have boobs he realized that it wasn’t a product of his sloshed mind.

Upon closer inspection the Londoner was able to discern that the young man was definitely not enjoying himself, thus ruling out the possibility that this was some strange Californian pastime. The young man blurted out a few words before the creature squeezed tighter around his chest. It sounded vaguely like “Help me,” but the inebriated Constantine wasn’t too sure.

The creature began to pull at the young man’s limbs, seemingly intent on tearing the young man to pieces.

Constantine, using intimately arcane secrets gleamed from his time in Hell, pointed down the block, away from the tentacle moonster, and shouted out perhaps the only phrase that could save the young man’s life: “Look! It’s an underage yet improbably busty schoolgirl!”

The creature composed almost entirely of tentacles turned and… flounced? Flounced, Constantine decided. It was the only word that he could use to appropriately describe the creature moving. In any event, the creature dropped its most recent prey and charged off in the direction that the Londoner had pointed.

The young man had been roughly dropped to the ground in the creature’s haste to fin new prey, but he seemed largely okay. If by okay one meant half-dead.

The young man was gathering himself to his feet before Constantine could make his way over. He managed a thank you then proceeded to hobble into a near-by alleyway.

“I think I dropped it,” was all the explanation that the Californian youth provided. Constantine followed, curious to know what was going on and planning on asking the young man if he knew where there were any cigarettes.

In short order he found a torn piece of jacket that not only had the golden pin he had been trying to retrieve stuck to it, but also had a pocket that contained a pair of familiar white gloves. Dane pocketed them and turned to the person who had saved him from the tentacle monster.

“What in Hell is going on?” the man slurred for about the third time.

Dane introduced himself, received John’s name in return, and quickly gave the man the basics of the situation. Instead of making a disbelieving snort or calling him crazy Constantine just laughed.

“I imagine I’d try to wreck you up a bit if you landed on my head too,” John said, in reference to the attack by the tentacle monster. Once he managed to stop laughing the Londoner seemed to sober up a bit. “In all seriousness, we should probably get somewhere safe.”

They started on the way back to the JESU building. Not even fifty paces into their walk Constantine spotted a storefront that had a carton of his Silk Cut cigarettes in the front window. Whoever had been managing the store had ran off, or been eaten, and left the store unattended.

Never one to pass up such an opportunity John hefted a nearby parking meter that had been torn from its stand.

“You’re not actually going to-” Dane began.

Without paying him any attention, Constantine heaved the thing through the window and gingerly picked his carton of cigarettes out of the pile of broken glass. He cradled it as gently as if he were holding a newborn.

“Onward and such,” Constantine said when he spotted Dane’s dumbstruck and disapproving look.

This really is shaping up to be a good week,” the Londoner thought to himself.

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Mine,” the creature thought with satisfaction.

It watched its human down on the street side, fighting against a roiling mass of scaly, spiky demons. “He’s mine.” The more that the creature thought about how well its human was doing the more pride it felt. After all, the strongest of masters should have the strongest of pets.

The strongest of the Undead, the vampire Alucard, watched Anderson beheaded another creature. He’d been at work fighting these things for a long time now. It could have been half an hour or half a day and he would not have been able to tell the difference. He was still fighting strong and could keep going. His battered bayonets, on the other hand, were showing definite signs of wear and tear. Of the three weapons that he had started the fight with only two (well… one and a half, really) remained.

He spun wildly and bashed one creature with the consecrated hilt of one weapon. The other blade slide between a creature’s ribs and fouled. He yanked hard, trying to retrieve it, but it was stuck fast. He begrudgingly let go and offered a punch to the face of the nearest advancing creature. It didn’t do much other than stun the creature, but it was enough for him to back up a few steps and regain equal footing. He kept fighting, careful not to loose his last bayonet, and the demons slowly drove him back. One foot, two feet, a yard. He was driven past the front of the building he was guarding, but, luckily, he had the demons’ full attention and they did not storm the building to kill Mallory, the woman he was protecting.

As he neared the corner of the block he was ambushed by what could have been a squid with legs. It wrapped its face around the arm holding his last bayonet and squeezed. With a twist and shake it disarmed the priest. Seeing that their prey was unarmed, the pile of demons that had been stalking Anderson moved in and jumped him.

He was bulled onto the ground by the tide of demonic creatures. Something bit him in the leg. What felt like a sea anemone wrapped itself around his upper arm. Claws ripped at his back. Something clubbed him in the head. Another something wrapped a thorny appendage around his left calf.

The black smear on the wall above Anderson elongated and a red clad hand popped out. Ii puhed against the wall and in short order the rest of the creature was pulled out of the smear. It was a thing of too long limbs, black hair, and fangs topped off with a large red hat and orange sunglasses. It would not allow its favorite distraction die. It would be especially embarrassing to have his pet be killed by vermin such as these demons, the vampire mused. Still standing horizontally on the wall, he drew a gray handgun from within a long, red coat.

The first bullet shattered a creature that looked as if it had a dog’s face. The second traveled through the squid creature that had disarmed Alucard’s pet. The third fourth and fifth soon found their marks. It seemed as if a hail of bullets-- far more than the handgun could launch, or even hold-- was raining down upon the creatures. As each was mortally wounded by the blessed bullets they collapsed into a pile of dust.

He walked down off the wall, across the sidewalk, and over to his pet. He tsked as he pulled the priest out from under a large pile of demon-dust. The priest was shell-shocked, although the wounds that he had taken were already disappearing thanks to the latest in Vatican sponsored gene-therapy.

What struck the red-clad vampire the most was the large amount that his pet had bled. It looked inviting, more so than anything would to mortal senses. Needing no such invitation, Alucard grinned, and his fangs grew more pronounced. He tilted his pet’s neck to the right and fed deeply, as he had so often since their first meeting in London. What had made the priest so adept at hunting and killing vampires, his ability to heal almost instantaneously, also made him the perfect thing for Alucard to feed from.

The puncture wounds were always gone by morning, his blood refreshed soon-after, and Alucard’s nocturnal visits were easily dismissed as nightmares. The only problem with the arrangement, for the vampire, was that Anderson often had travel plans that took him out of the country.

Perhaps it was finally time for the vampire to drag is pet back ‘home.’ It wouldn’t be overly difficult to transport the stunned priest, and it probably wouldn’t take too long to have him properly trained.

The still-feeding vampire gasped aloud when he felt something metal rend his spine.

“Bloody-” he gasped. He slumped and dissolved into a reddish pile of blood and insects. No longer supported by the vampire, Anderson fell to his knees. The pile of gooey insects quickly became a swarm of bats that flew away.

The drowsy priest looked up, his heavy, lidded eyes barely open.

“Mallory?”

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“Let me get this straight,” Carlos began.

“You,” he pointed to the demon, “Want us to follow you to a machine that may or may not exist in order to stop the flood of demons that are being drawn here by it. Not only that, but you want us to fight our way through said flood of demonic badness in order to get to the machine. And to top it all off, you expect us to do all this on your word?”

“Well I-” Craig started. He almost went on to say that he was doing it to repay the five souls that Joseph had given him earlier, but he had been interrupted by a series of weird faces and motions that Joseph made behind Carlos’s back.

“Well, yes,” the demon continued, “That sums it up nicely, with one small exception. I never said that we had to go through the bunch of demons when going over them would work far better.” With his point made, Craig brought a large, smoky hand into being.

The three climbed onto the thing and off they went, moving quickly above the streets, largely unnoticed by demons wrecking the streets below. Craig had to work hard to resist the urge to drop the two to the horde. He reminded himself that he was on the clock and kept his manner professional. Several flying imps took pursuit, but the hand was able to out-distance them.

They came to the building that Ramiel had chosen to house his apparatus in. With an evil cackle Craig created a smaller hand and stepped onto it. He sent the larger hand flying through one of the broken windows and willed it to throw the pair at the apparatus. After throwing the pair into the building, Craig used the hand to pimp-slap a flying imp that had been planning to accost him.

Carlos tumbled into the large pile of trinkets that acted as the things fuel source while Joseph rolled to a stop near the recording equipment. The older wizard brushed some shrunken heads off and took note of his surroundings. The demon’s aim had been true and the pair had landed within the area that was strongly warded against demons.

Taking in the design of the machine, Carlos smiled. This might just work.

He ordered Joseph to press the stop button on the tape player and the pair were relieved to find that when the voice calling out names stopped the flow of demons also stopped. Carlos withdrew a piece of white chalk from a pocket of his military fatigue pants and set to work. He was careful to erase and replace the runes on the inside of the circle one at a time, but in short order he was finished.

When he was done he had turned the summoning circle into a banishment circle.

Unnoticed by either of the wizards, their well co-ordinated impact had jostled loose one of the ward pins and knocked it out of the wards. A mouse-sized hand, made entirely of smoke floated along the floor, spotted the pin, and snatched it.

The hand made its way back to its master. Craig took the small pin, pinned it to one of the lapels on his suit jacket and disappeared in a puff of black smoke.

Carlos ordered his apprentice to turn on the apparatus again. It began to spew forth the list of names again, but this time, in reverse. One by one, the demons in the room were drawn back into the half-circle that they had come out of, kicking and screaming.

Joseph accelerated the speed on the player and both he and his master were amazed to see a nigh-constant stream of demons being dragged into the building, through windows, doors, and even a busted out skylight.

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An almost perfect circle of the city had been wrecked. There wasn’t much anyone could say to the contrary, except the owner of a small Starbucks which had weathered the assault far better than any of the other, nearby buildings.

There were small fires, dents made to the sides of cars that looked like they’d come from an angry rhinoceros, melted lamp posts, glitching traffic lights, and car accidents aplenty. Those who had been in the area and made it to safety swore that they saw weird, incredible creatures wrecking havoc. Some people claimed that it was the end of the world.

Just as quickly as the creatures had appeared, they began to retreat.

Indolent imps, depressed demons, grumpy gremlins, and all other manner of summoned creatures began to be dragged along invisible wires back to a building. Some of them left claw marks on concrete as they were being dragged back. Others clung to parking meters or small trees, which were inevitably dragged along as well. Few lucky demons had managed to grab something worthwhile to enjoy back when they were in Hell. Numerous pidgeons, a small amount of jewelry, several roaming cats, and other such things were carried off. Most of the people that the creatures took back with them were either already dead or dying.

This is to say nothing of those who were unlucky.

The Grigori Ramiel sped as fast as he could towards the building that housed his apparatus. His injuries and lack of rest forced him to fly lower to the ground than he would have liked. In fact, he couldn’t even see above the roofline.

He was confident in his ability to keep a handful of small demons from harassing him while he retrieved a ward pin and made his escape. What he failed to notice was the lack of demons and other such creatures on the roads below him as he flew on.

He rounded the block and caught sight of the building. He stopped flapping forward and simply came to a slow stop, alighting on the sidewalk. What he saw unnerved him. The summoned creatures were zooming back into the building in several nigh-constant streams of angry demon flesh. His distraction was blown.

Surely, whoever had reversed his summoning device was still in the building. They’d probably act to stop him from getting a ward pin and being able to escape.

No,” Ramiel thought, correcting his earlier notion, “It’s most likely that whoever did the deed is dead or has been dragged into Hell by the demons.”

The Grigori thought on the situation and decided that it was all for the best. Now all he had to do was wait for the last of the demons to be unsummoned, walk into the building, grab a pin, and make his way out. It was going to be easier than he thought it would be.

He thanked fate for this fortunate turn of events…

…and was promptly struck in the lower back by a demon that was zooming its way back into the building. The bird-like creature sqwacked loudly and clamped onto him with talons and beak. Ramiel was unable to pry the unexpected creature off him in his weakened condition. The creature pulled Ramiel inexorably with it, back to a place that Ramiel had never thought he’d end up.

He struggled. Grabbed onto things. Flapped his wings mightily.

He cried out for help. For mercy. For anything really.

In short order he was dragged into the building and through the half-open summoning circle.

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Dane’s knees were bothering him. So were his legs, his right arm, and for some reason his stomach decided to join in. The walk back to the JESU building had Dane in nervous fits about what he would find.

On the walk back he noted every busted up fire hydrant, torn asunder parking meter, downed power line, or broken storefront. He’d seen pictures of the Chicago riots that looked prettier. The one saving grace for the walk was that they were able to make their way unchallenged.

He and the now smoking Constantine had been astonished when they’d seen the a line of demons flying through the sky and away from that section of town. The sheer number of them that streamed away from the building led Dane to guess, rightly so, that most all of the creatures had gathered around the JESU building, drawn like moths to a flame.

“Probably more like mosquitoes to a bug zapper,” supplied an unexpected voice.

Dane reacted with a start and turned so quickly that his hurt arm protested. Standing next to him was Samniel. The still slightly inebriated Constantine didn’t notice Dane’s sudden spin.

“Don’t freak out, my landlord. This is only an illusion. You’re the only one who can see or hear me, and your companion might find it odd if you started talking to nothing.”

Dane digested this and answered with a nod. Apparently the Denarian was causing Dane to hallucinate his presence. Dane had to admit that it was a neat trick, but he wondered why Samniel hadn’t tried it before.

“Well, mainly because I didn’t feel like it,” Samniel replied in response to Dane’s musings.

Dane and Constantine continued to trudge their way forward. Samniel’s image made the walk with them, in silence for the first few steps.

“So, what’s next?” queried Samniel.

Dane didn’t have the slightest inkling. He was tried, beat-up, and feeling like he could use a hot shower followed by a long nap.

“We go to JESU, I guess,” he whispered out of one side of his mouth.

“I wasn’t wondering about our course of action. I was wondering about what you think will happen next,” Samniel clarified. “So far, you’ve encountered fallen angels, zombies, the bloodsucking undead, demons, were-creatures, ghosts, and all other manner of things. Most of the hosts that I’ve had haven’t encountered as many things in their whole life as you have in the past few months.”

“Eh,” was Dane’s eloquent response.

“You may be a crappy host, but things happen around you. It’s like you’re a magnet for the unusual. Around you, life isn’t boring.”

“It happens.”

“I guess my big question is: what will you do next time?”

“There’s a next time?”

Samniel rolled his eyes. “If I’m right, and you are some kind of beacon of weirdness, then this is only the beginning. If I’m wrong, you’re still affiliated with JESU. Either way, you’re bound to encounter even more weirdness. I suspect that even if you quit your job right now it would still follow you. My question still stands, what will you do next time?”

Dane shrugged. He rounded the corner of a blasted building and was almost surprised that the JESU building was still standing.

The ornate, gothic archetexture had definetly seen better days. It seemed that for every single imp that had been scared off by a granite gargoyle another five imps had decided to deface the building. Weird doodles, chunks of missing building, and scorch marks covered the building’s walls. Unbroken windows were few and far between.

The big JESU logo that had been slightly damaged when Dane first joined up was now demolished. The green corporate lawn in front of the building looked like it had been trampled, lit on fire, eaten, then spat back out; probably in that order. One of the large front doors was off its hinges, and small bits of the building were scattered around its base like crumbs off a cake.

Also scattered around the building were the various employees of JESU, some in worse condition than others, but alive none-the-less. The cost of defending the building had been great, but manageable. Most of the assembled employees sported injuries of varying degrees; from broken limbs to a splinter that one of the office gremlins was complaining loudly about. The worst of the wounded had been gathered on the lawn in front of the building and among them Dane could pick out an unconscious Father Anderson who was being ministered to by a woman that Dane didn’t recognize.

He could make out an uninjured-looking Dennis helping to administer first aid among the injured. Dane ignored him and made his way to the priest. He fingered the contents of his pocket for a moment then dropped a pair of white gloves on Anderson’s prone chest. When the woman near him gave Dane a questioning look he replied with, “They’re his. He’ll probably be glad to see them.”

A rough hand clapped Dane on the back, hard. Dane turned to find Hunter standing behind him with a bandaged head wound.

“Do you think it’s over?” the weightlifter asked.

“Yeah, I think so.”

Hunter sauntered off into the crowd of employees shouting something about somebody’s mother.

The mass of employees at the base of the building seemed to be celebrating already. Friends found each other and hugged, co-workers greeted each other with more than the typical formal nod, and Constantine, who had wondered into the crowd, was trying to start a rousing song of one type or another.

A small, red figure made its way up to Dane and tugged hard on his injured arm.

“Hi Phil,” Dane said in a tight, annoyed voice.

“Did you really jump off the roof?”

“Umm… yeah, I guess.”

The gremlin’s eyes gleamed and he rushed back into the crowd; presumably to collect on the betting pool.

Samniel’s illusion appeared at Dane’s side again, this time impatiently tapping one foot. “You still haven’t answered my question. What do you plan to do during the next disaster? What if I’m not around to bail you out?”

In answer to Samniel he looked to the people who had defended JESU. “I suppose that it doesn’t matter. If you’re right, and there is another disaster, I have my friends. They always seem to be enough.” Dane noted an exhausted Harry Dresden leaning against a wall, and continued on.

The Denarian scowled and didn’t bother to reply. He vanished and Dane could feel him making his way back into the depths of his unconscious mind.

Dane continued to search the crowd, glad for not having found Serra among the wounded. He found her near the middle of the crowd, giving orders and organizing the writhing mass of employees. He winced in sympathy at the bruises around her neck and how weary she looked.

Dane decided against trying to hug her since they were both pretty beaten up. He settled on a kiss.

But that’s a story for another day.

End Chapter 12.

An Internship of Sorts

Chapter 13

Ramiel awoke with a start. He sputtered on salt water for a bit, then rolled onto his back. Searing pain shot through his shoulders and spine.

“Big mistake, Mister. You’ve got a pretty bad sunburn.”

Ramiel rolled to his hands and feet and took inventory. He was on a beach, near the waves. It was sunny, he was wearing swim trunks. Nearby was a young child dressed in black dress shoes, dark blue pants, and a white dress shirt. His Sunday Best.

The last thing Ramiel remembered was…

“Am I dead?”

“Maybe. I don’t think it matters at the moment though.”

The boy wondered over to a pair of beach towels that were shaded by a large umbrella. He plopped down on the blue one, “Blue’s my favorite color,” the boy explained. He rummaged around in an ice chest for a bit.

“Would you like a drink?”

Ramiel got to his feet and accepted a Capri Sun. The child dug a beer out of the icebox and settled down on his towel. He popped the top off, looked at Ramiel, then took a long gulp of the beer. The child took another gulp, waited for a few more moments, then frowned.

“What? You’re not going to chastise me for having a beer at my age?”

“I think we both know that you’re old enough to drink,” the Grigori said as he sat on the other towel.

The boy pouted. “Well that’s no fun. There aren’t many people I don’t get with this act.”

Things were definitely turning out differently than Ramiel would’ve expected. He was off guard, but still curious of his current location and companion. “Where am I, and who are you?”

“Would you believe me if I answered?”

Ramiel pondered for a minute and decided that he didn’t want to know. “Fair enough.”

The boy stretched and leaned back on his towel.

“Why am I here?” Ramiel asked.

“Why do people always ask that one? You’re here, or anywhere, because you are.” The boy took another sip of his beer, “In any event, I wanted to talk to you for a bit.”

“About?”

“Your argument-- the one-sided bit you jammed down a pretty woman’s throat before getting dragged here. It’s pretty well thought out, but I’ve got a problem with it.”

“What’s your main problem?”

“You’ve been in His presence before and you know beyond a doubt that He exists. You probably know Him just about as well as anybody. I suppose my main problem is how you can think that He doesn’t care.”

“How can I think He does? He’s got tremendous, unfathomable power and for some reason He doesn’t use it. I wrecked His little project on Earth and killed His son. If there was going to be anything that would force His hand it was doing those things.”

The boy rolled his eyes. “What do you think would happen if God simply came among the people and said, ‘Let everyone live in peace for all time’?”

“People’s problems would be solved?”

“Yes, although it would be boring. He would be forcing it upon them with his decree.”

“And therefore abolishing free will?”

“No, it simply wouldn’t be what He wants. Besides, free will doesn’t exist.”

“What?!”

The boy explained slowly, like an adult would to a Kindergartener, “The way of the universe is that everything is caused by something that happened before it. Even coin-flips, rolls of the dice, and games of chance are predetermined by exactly how one flips the coin, throws the dice, or shuffles the deck. An action of the past ripples forward and causes things to happen. If there were no past actions that cause repercussions there could be no present, nor future.”

The boy set his beer in the sand and let that sink in for a while.

“What does that have to do with me?”

“Think of a pond. Rocks get thrown in to cause ripples. The rocks are objects that create actions which reverberate through the years. The ripples are the consequences that create the present and future.”

“Okay.”

“You, my friend, were somebody’s rock.”

Ramiel felt nauseous for a minute. He had been manipulated?

“Whose?”

“I don’t know.”

The Grigori buried his face in his hands, “I did some very terrible things.”

The boy shook his head, “The trouble of it all is that if you don’t have free will there is no way I can hold you responsible to your actions. I can’t judge someone for something they have no control over.”

“Really?”

“Sort-of. My advice is not to worry about it. Good things will come of your actions.”

“Like what?”

The boy glanced skyward, squinted and said, “We’ve got a fair amount of time left. Look.” The last was as gentle a command as Ramiel had ever received and he followed it almost without noticing.

Before his eyes the waves lapping towards the beach froze in place and straightened. Before long, colors swirled into being where they shouldn’t be.

They looked into the water and Watched.

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Phil made his way through the hallway.

He was exhausted and in dreadful need of a break. He’d spent the day covering for Bill, Lord of Misplaced Tacks and Janet, Duchess of Finicky Copy Machines. Phil figured that he was past due for a vacation; after all, he needed some time to blow the betting pool that he’d won.

He made his way to the bosses’ office on the top floor. He paused at the door when he heard voices and proceeded to look through the old fashioned key hole that was on the ornate door. Serra looked a little taller than she used to be and she’d cut her hair short. Gabriel had taken over since Christensen kicked the bucket, but it was a temporary appointment.

Their conversation difted through the heavy door frame and into Phil’s hearing.

“I’m sorry I missed all the action, it would have been really nice to give the old flaming sword a workout.”

Serra laughed.

“No, really, I do have one,” he winked suggestively, “Would you like to see my sword sometime?”

“I think I’ll respectfully decline,” Serra said. She put one hand over he eyes and sighed, weary from all of the press and red tape recently. “I’m amazed that we were able to cover it all up so well.”

Gabriel took the opportunity to dash some of the ash from his cigar into a tray. He took another long drag of the expensive hand-rolled thing. Christensen sure knew how to pick 'em. “Gas leak,” he said, “It seems like it gets over-used, but it’s such an effective excuse. People assume that the gas made them hallucinate, that all the killings that took place were inspired by the hallucinations, and much of the damage to the city can be chocked up to rioting or a few idiots lighting up during the leak.”

“Of course, the damage to the JESU building was tremendous, but we didn’t even have to lie to cover that one up. We’re doing renovations.”

“Hmm…” intoned Gabriel, “Perhaps we can finally get the J fixed.”

“Perhaps? They replaced it this morning, along with the rest of the letters.”

Phil chose that moment to enter the office with a cheerful, “Heya Boss!” It was casual Friday and Phil had taken the opportunity to dress in a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses. The over-all impression was of a toddler trying on his father’s clothes.

Serra took one look at the office gremlin and laughed. Gabriel took one look at the short gremlin and choked on his cigar. He snapped into a standing position and Serra turned towards him in shock. After a shocked moment, she and the gremlin rushed towards Gabriel-- who had begun to cough a ring of smoke.

In the rush to help her boss, Serra accidentally pushed his rolling chair into and through the still unrepaired window. It whooshed through the black plastic covering the hole, bounced through one of the riggings outside the building, and thoroughly demolished the J.

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Constantine had been to Hell once.

It hadn’t been too pleasant, but he thought that he’d be more likely than not to visit it again. Upon reflection there was little difference between it and this concert hall. It was full of people writhing: some in pain, some in pleasure. They were people who lived and sinned under the dancing lights.

He had loved once. It was a warm feeling that gave him more hope for the future than any man should have. It felt right. It was right. He had been where he belonged. In an effort to escape from Hell he’d given up his love. It was the only way he’d see her again, but he was wrong in thinking that he’d escape. It had followed him under the dancing lights.

He had been lonely. As simple as it sounded, he’d been lonely for the longest time. It had taken a friendly cave troll, the Lady of the Waters, and a subterranean Shakespeare to shake him from melancholy. He’d made friends and they had saved him under the dancing lights.

The music hammered at his senses. Sometimes life was like a poorly put together music video, full of discordant images and jangling notes. Sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes it happened to make sense and things came together. Everything came together here, in this concert, this place and time.

He held Her and they kissed under the dancing lights.

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Harry had been hired to check out a large portion of beef. Apparently disappearing beef is just vaguely spooky enough to hire a wizard to check out. This was probably only the third case that he’d ever worked that didn’t start with a murder of some variety.

He’d set up a stake out and used his thick leather duster and a minor evocation charm to keep him warm in the giant refrigerated warehouse. The charm had done nothing to keep his sandwich warm, but he’d muddled on as best he could.

A scuttling noise drew his attention.

Dresden stared up towards the ceiling. Hanging from the rafters of the cold storage warehouse was a large green creature that seemed to be all scales, claws, and teeth. It seemed that the thing had a taste for cow. When it leveled its gaze on him he briefly wished that he’d brought Mouse along.

The large and protective dog would’ve probably been enough to ward this creature off. Even bringing his apprentice, Molly Carpenter, would’ve been helpful. She was beginning to show some real improvement and had a natural talent for making things invisible. Instead of asking them along, he’d urged the two of them to enjoy a day off. He hoped that Molly didn’t feed Mouse any more ice cream.

The creature leaped from the rafters and landed on a side of beef that was suspended by scary looking metal hooks. Upon closer inspection he could detect a smell like that of rotten eggs and Mouses’ stale farts: sulfur. Sulfur = demon, demon = bad news. Harry had developed a standard operating procedure for dealing with large, scaly, demonic things: run away. Very fast. He panted a little as he neared the exit of the building with the creature in hot pursuit.

He hit the door, it was locked.

Smooth move, idiot,” commented a voice from inside Dresden’s head. “Shut up Lash,” Dresden replied, using the Denarian’s nickname. The creature slowly stalked forward and Harry began to draw on his magic. With Lasciel’s help he should be able to roast the creature before it tried to eat him. Should. The runes on Harry’s staff began to glow red as Hellfire flared to life.

Carlos’ standard operating procedure for large scaly things was slightly more effective than running. Mimicking the trick he’d first performed for Joseph, he pulled a grenade out of thin air, pulled the pin, held it for a bit, and let it fly.

Dresden was happy to see an old friend and his apprentice step from behind a row of beef sides, but he wasn’t too thrilled about the state of his leather duster. The dry cleaners would charge a fortune for picking the gooey creature bits off his jacket. For a moment he was tempted to loose his fire on the pair, but incinerating a friend wouldn’t clean his duster any more quickly. The Hellfire gathered in Harry’s staff dwindled.

“It’s a crime to be this good,” Carlos boasted as he extended his hand.

Harry took the offered hand and squeezed it as hard as he could. His attention turned to the demon-bits. “That shouldn’t have worked. It was a demon. Generally they aren’t very flammable.”

“Bless this, thy Holy Hand Grenade,” Joseph quipped.

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Dennis Nemec, JESU’s newly appointed Head of Security was a trained observer. When the receptionist moved from behind her desk during the lunch break he knew something was up. She never had to eat. In fact, aside from the fighting a few weeks ago, she hadn’t moved from her position in all of the time that he’d known her.

He shadowed her out the door and to the nearby park. There he saw that insufferable redneck, playing with his guitar and his bunny on a leash. The receptionist reached down to pet Mr. Waffles, then stretched to give Hunter a kiss on the cheek. Hunter grabbed her and returned her kiss. With interest.

Dennis shook his head and walked out onto the trail.

“You realize she’s a ghost, right?”

Hunter looked as if he was going to level a sharp retort, but decided against it. “You realize I don’t care, right?”

Dennis shook his head again began the walk back to JESU. “Fuckin’ redneck,” he muttered to himself.

Hunter truly didn’t care. He finally had someone who laughed at his jokes.

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With time Father Anderson became better at giving sermons and his congregation swelled in earnest. There weren’t enough local Catholics to keep the church well-supplied so Father Anderson began to reach out to people of other faiths as well. He’d never compromise his faith in the one true God, but his obligations eventually grew to include a handful of Methodists, a gaggle of Lutherans, and even a certain Protestant prostitute.

As Lent approached, the good Father prepared his sermon. Lent was a time of giving up what one enjoyed in order to become closer to God. He hoped that he’d be able to convey to his congregation that it was not only the right thing to do, but that it was also a great way to move forward and break out of old habits. It was truly a time of new beginnings.

On the first Sunday of Lent a stranger garbed in red made his way into the church. Father Anderson’s voice trailed off mid-sermon and his ungloved hands shook a little. He took a step towards his podium and the pair of long knives that he kept hidden behind it.

The stranger flowed quickly from one end of the room to the other. It snapped to a stop between Anderson and his baptized weaponry.

“How dare ye come unteh the house ov God?” Anderson said.

He’d finally made a life for himself outside of killing men and creatures like the thing that stood before him. The thing that had been haunting his dreams all these months had come for him. Without a way to defend himself there was no way he would make it out of the building alive, let alone his congregation.

If the creature so wished, they’d be slaughtered and their sins laid bare before God.

The thing gave a toothy smile and moved forward. The priest welled with rage. “Why are ye here, ye impudent beastie?” he said quietly as shaking hands turned into shaking fists. When it got within range he would strangle it. He would kill this creature, Alucard the No-Life King, with his bare hands if he could.

Instead of stepping into the punch that Anderson had readied the creature snapped and melted forward again, within an inch of Anderson’s surprised face. Before surprise turned to anger the vampire wrapped Anderson in a tight embrace and leaned into Anderson’s neck. Anger sparked, but turned quickly to revulsion as Alucard ran a too long tongue up the length of the good Father’s neck.

He found himself paralyzed by the simultaneous urges to throw himself off a building, dunk his head in boiling water, and seek immediate repentance for his vile thoughts. The creature in red whispered something into Anderson’s ear. An invitation.

After a long moment, the priest managed to shove the vampire away.

The vampire supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised-- after all, his pet was Catholic. He gave a hurt sniff and said, “If that’s the case, I give you up, Priest.”

With that the creature turned and walked out of the church. Anderson’s hands shook a little more and, with a great sense of relief, he smiled. His haunting was over. Anderson swore that as soon as he could wrap up the sermon he’d scrub his neck raw with a pad of steel wool.

Outside of the church, the Vampire Alucard also smiled.

Lent was only thirty days long.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Craig, having discovered the joys of Java, set out to explore the profit potential. His efforts eventually paid off in a partnership with Muddy Waters Coffee, a small chain that operates throughout the Pacific Northwest.

His obsession with coffee led to the loss of his BAR license and his independent practice down in the pit. Because of this, the curses and bindings he’d dished out over the years frayed and vanished. It was a lifetime worth of hard work down the drain.

Once in a while, Craig would regret setting aside his past life.

But he was a demon.

“After all,” he mused, “Demons aren’t supposed to care.”

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

Dane slowly finished his sandwich and looked up from the remainder of his meal.

“Are you sure about this?”

Across the table from Dane sat an illusionary image of Samniel. A silver dollar lay on the table between the two.

“We’ve been over this a few times, and you know it’s for the best,” though only Dane could hear the illusion speak, it felt odd to hear Samniel’s voice from outside of his thoughts. He’d grown used to the Denarian’s presence over the time they’d been together.

Sitting two tables down was a fellow that Samniel recognized from one of the dirty magazines he’d goaded Dane into purchasing. The man was a slightly balding thirty-five year old who helped manage the X-Games. It was his job to make sure contestants were well-accommodated. In every sense of the term, apparently, and that’s how he’d made his way into Maxim Magazine.

This time, Samniel’s evil plan wasn’t quite so evil. He’d possess this assistant manager and make his way to the athletes. He’d settle in and live the good life for a while, in the fit bodies of a race of adrenaline junkies.

“For what it’s worth, you weren’t a useless host.”

Dane smirked, “Thanks. For what it’s worth, you weren’t a bad friend.”

“I-” Samniel opened his mouth and closed it. He’d had hosts and minions over the ages, but this had been different. For the first time in quite a while, he didn’t have a witty response.

Dane finished his iced tea and slid a twenty under his plate. The extra tip would hopefully cover the trouble that he was about to cause. With expertise borrowed from Samniel, he hefted the coin once and threw it, harder than he needed to, at the back of the balding man’s head.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

The boy stretched and accidentally knocked over his can of beer. Orange liquid poured into the sand and was absorbed.

Ramiel lifted an eyebrow, “Orange soda?”

“Beer tastes pretty gross,” the kid said by way of explanation. He expounded on the point by making an ugly face. After holding that pose for a little while the boy rose and wiped his sandy hands on his pants, “Well, it’s time.”

“Time for what?”

The boy pointed across the water to another beach. Ramiel followed his gesture and glimpsed a vision of beauty. His former wife seemingly didn’t notice them.

“She’s been waiting for you for almost two years now.”

Ramiel frowned and inquired as to his destination. “Is it Heaven? Hell?”

“Do you really want to know?”

Ramiel decided against asking; he figured that he’d find out soon enough anyway. He reached inside himself and willed his wings to open. He’d fly across to her and make everything right. He’d confess everything and live not only with, but for his beloved Kate. He waited and willed a little harder. His wings remained unopened.

“No such luck my friend,” said the boy, “Those might not work for a while. Besides, this water is meant for swimming.”

Ramiel pondered for a second and strode into the water. Soon he had swum past the breakers and out of earshot.

The sharply dressed boy plopped back down on his towel and mused.

Sometimes mortals were so serious, and always about the smallest things. Revenge, honor, untimely death. They’d have an easier time of things if they focused on the truly important things. Fellowship and love chief among them. He felt sad for a bit, mortal affairs had become so complicated and… dark over the years. He’d seen man’s inhumanity towards man grow over the centuries.

The boy opened another orange soda and started to drink.

Every year there seemed to be larger, more effective ways to dole out suffering. Sure, Cain’s murder of Abel had been tragic, but a man strapped with home-made glycerin explosives taking out a bus had it beat. So did Toyota when factory lay-offs impacted small families, or the Jelly Belly company when pre-schoolers choked to death on their product.

Somewhere in the midst of the tangled mass of human affairs, a fellow outside of Yuba City stepped on a rake and tumbled to the ground clutching his groin. The boy laughed and snorted orange soda from his nose.

Even though they may get things wrong from time to time, there was always something of value about mortals. He wasn’t quite sure what, but it was there none-the-less, in all of them.

He threw the can out onto the beach, and after a short time it ceased to exist. A moment later the Boy disappeared as well. Shortly after, the beach he had stood upon faded from sight.

:heart::spades::diamonds::clubs::diamonds::spades::heart:

He made it to the beach, exhausted by the seemingly gentle current. She hurried over to him, more surprised than concerned; after all, how’d he get to Italy? “Rob, is that you?”

He caught his breath and responded as Robert Clay, Professor and Ex-Husband.

Never again as the Grigori Ramiel.

End, An Internship of Sorts.

[size=14px]Epilogue[/size]

Four months after the fact saw Dane standing at the counter of a rather drab building called Skinsignea. The place used to be an arcade, but had been bought out and filled with pictures of dragons, tigers, cars, flames, and faeries.

“Yeah, we do custom jobs,” said the man behind the counter. “Wha’da’ya want?”

In response, Dane reached into his pocket and withdrew a slightly crumpled sticky note.

There were a few more questions, but Dane answered them competently enough. After forking over some money he was ushered to a padded chair that looked as if it might’ve belonged in a dentist’s office.

It hurt, but the process was over rather quickly. He hadn’t wanted anything big or overly complex. It bled a little. They put a gauze bandage over it and instructed him not to mess with it for a while.

Dane stepped out of the store and into the afternoon sun.

He focused for a few minutes, delving into is mind and searching for something. A moment later a belittling thought whistled through his head.

Idiot.”

End Epilogue.

So, what did you guys think of it? Any comments, critiques, concerns?

An Internship of Sorts

I enjoyed reading your story- thanks for posting the end of it.

There were a couple of very small things I noticed- they don’t detract from the story but since I saw them I thought I’d point them out:

“Chas turned on the car and sped out. He was a few kilometers over the speed limit, but he figured that he should be fine so long as he didn’t run down any of the royal family.”

In Britain, we actually use miles per hour and measure road distances in miles, not kilometres. It might seem like we’d do things in kilometres, but we haven’t got round to changing to metric for that yet- though we do buy things in metric quantities. So we buy fuel for cars in litres, and then measure their fuel consumption in miles per gallon… no, it doesn’t make sense.

“In all seriousness, we should probably get someplace safe.”

I think the character speaking here is British- if not, then this doesn’t apply. “Someplace” isn’t a word generally used in British English- we’d usually say “somewhere”.

An Internship of Sorts

Thank you for pointing those out. I’m kinda terrible about writing accents or in dialects.

I’ll go a hunting for those errors and correct them with extreme prejudice.