Sunday, February 9, 2014

12/28/12 - The Master and Mother!@#$er - pt 9

Now the entire herd had begun to wheel wider and faster along the bluff 
and the outermost ranks swung centrifugally over the escarpment 
row on row wailing and squealing and above this 
the howls and curses of the drovers that now upreared
 in the moil of flesh they tended and swept with dust 
had begun to assume satanic looks with their staves and wild eyes 
as if they were no true swineheards but disciples of darkness 
got among these charges to herd them to their doom.

 Cormac McCarthy -- Outer Dark (1968)
* * *

Moscow -- The Beehive
April 30th, 1968

And so it begins -- six against six, for the fate of the world.

Holy swords are swung against thrice-cursed spells and demon machines. Reshaped reality pitted against words that can destroy it. Spells cast against fate, fists raised against fear.

Life itself fighting against the darkness that would devour it, whole.

The battle rages throughout the Beehive -- its entire structure impregnated with the soul-gutting foulness of Hell. Its combatants hack, slash, and fire up and down hallways lined with sputtering meat-machines. They crash through walls slick with liquid darkness, tear up floors spattered with still-twitching human remnants.

With each step forward they bring back the light, but when they lose ground the darkness multiplies.

As the fight rages -- unheard, unseen -- its echoes bleed over into the world around it. Reality warps and bends under the weight of their titanic forces. The ether shakes, the heavens tremble, the walls between the realms go up and down.

And in the spaces between, dangerous things that don't belong in each others' company begin to mingle.

Ideas no one should ever have slip into the world like carrion birds, perching upon fresh minds to peck away at their goodness and decency.  Good people dream of bad things. Bad people dream of things so terrifying that they start awake lest they lose themselves in pure evil.

And those who do not care to wake go on to do terrible things, indeed.

The battle rages, and time ticks by. The hour draws close to Midnight, and all that fight there know that this conflict must be settled by then. Should the forces of light and life win by that point, all this darkness will be banished by the dawn.

But should their opposite number hang on -- even just until the stroke of the Witching Hour -- the world will be theirs for at least another year.

And what a terrible year that will be. 

* * *

The celebrated warrior-poet sings as he dances against their well-dressed, mustachioed leader -- his sword deflecting the demon's terrible, skull-shaped blasts of soul-warping energies. He laughs and gambols about the monster, ignoring the thing's threats as he slowly closes the space between them, ever-careful not to let the sickly red light touch his skin.

But with each step he gains, the radiance of the thing's power begins to weigh down on him. Before long, he realizes that he is seeing something else, there in the red-lit battlefield. He is seeing himself in those blasts -- older and wasted, his usefulness gone and his life a mockery of what it had once been.

Jim Morrison sees his own death in those spells, clearer and clearer all the time. And it takes every inch of will and power he has to ignore it and keep on going.

Especially since he knows that, with each burst of malefic power the demon throws his way, the more likely it is that this sad vision will come true.

* * *

Elsewhere, John steps in and out of reality as the wide-mouthed, motley demon screams salvo after salvo at him, destroying and reshaping the world as he goes.

One shout, and the wall where John stepped into a moment before is now bleeding and covered in filth. Another, and things that have no name in any living civilization erupt from the air and come to take him back with them, into the liquid dark.

Yet another, and the ground where he was about to stride is a deep pit filled with spikes, monstrous snakes and vermin slithering in the wet, corpse-strewn ground below.

He stays one step ahead of each attack, John does, but it's all he can do to defend himself. This Koroviev doesn't seem to run out of noise, and is beginning to anticipate his moves. Sooner or later, he'll catch him in mid-stride and nail him with a tricky reversal.

And then he'll be done, and that will be that.

Still, John didn't get to where he was without knowing a thing or two about a thing or three. He's beginning to think he can see the flaw in this !@#$ demon's M.O. He's beginning to think he might be able to beat him.

He's beginning to think he can win through, provided he's willing to risk losing everything.

* * *

Meanwhile, Dr. Krwi is having the time of his life.

The wall-eyed, fang-mawed fool he's been accidentally pitted against is actually scared of him. Azazelo keeps calling up machine after machine, invention after invention, mechanical being after mechanical being. And every single weird, walking contraption that he sends out to deal with this angry, screaming Polish vampire hunter is being sliced to pieces or shot apart.

There was a case, not long ago, when Krwi had to go after some aging, decrepit vampire queen in her castle, down in Italy. The old hag had a taste for necromancy, and had ensorcelled an entire graveyard full of old, moldering bones into her service. So there were skeletons everywhere on her estate -- standing guard, disguised as statues, or wandering the halls like silent courtesans, awaiting an audience with their betters.

Such a sight might have been enough to keep the authorities far away, for fear of their souls. But to a man who routinely fights things that could turn him into one of them with one, solid bite, a legion of clattering, slow-moving bones was no more threatening that being mauled by a small puppy.

The memory of crashing through those skeletons -- one swift, sharp swing of his sword at a time -- is coming back to Krwi, now. He laughs at this paltry and feeble attempt to remove him from the world. And he relishes the thought that, once he gets to the end of this demon's stockpile of twisted, demonic machines, he will take the beast's head from his shoulders just as easily. 

(And, not long after, he'll find a way to do the same with that English revenant, who robbed him of his true target.)

* * *

"Traitor!" Hella screams, slashing at the Hell Blazer's leather armor with her claws as he grapples with her atop his demon motorcycle, careering through the circular, black stone hallways surrounding the central dome.

"!@#$!" he shrieks back, trying to punch her in the face with a flaming fist.

"Idiot!" she replies, ducking and trying to reach up for his heart.

"!@#$!" he swears, laughing as he hand breaks against something under his armor.

"I should never have made that deal with you, ungrateful whelp!" she howls, stepping backwards as her hand knits itself back together.

"I should never have made it with you, you withered, fang-faced tramp!' he proclaims, stepping forward and pointing an accusing finger in her direction.

"You would have made it with someone, you spoiled creature!"

"They'd have served me straight!" he shouts, running forward to punch her with a fiery fist: "Better than you, anyway!"

"Oh, yes," she sneers, ducking down and kicking him in the crotch so hard he flies off the back of his bike: "Just tell yourself that, you sorry thing. Some other demon would have given you a better deal, surely."

"Any other demon would have been pleased with what I've done!" he shouts, going down the back, whipping around the bottom, and then leaping back up the front, the better to kick her in the back of the head: "Any other demon would have appreciated what I had to offer!"

"Any other demon..." she says, putting her head back on straight: "Would have wiped their !@#$ with your soul after !@#$ing all over your sorry little contract!"

"I gave you my life, my soul, my servants!"

"You gave me nothing!" she spits, pointing her finger in his face: "And in return, I gave you the opportunity to impress me. And what have you done with it? Become some kind of ridiculous hero out of spite? Aided our enemies in order to get revenge?"

"You betrayed me!" 

"No," she insists, standing her ground: "You betrayed yourself! You were a !@#$ed fool who !@#$ed himself to join into my service, but was too eager for power to read the fine print. Just like every other idiot who sells himself to us!"

"You..." He starts to say, but falters. The flames in his hands die down. He steps back as if reeling.

"I'm sorry, does the truth hurt?" she sneers, clearly amused to see him having second thoughts: "You have no right to be angry with me, late Lord of Puddock Manor. You are unworthy of Hell, and not welcome in Heaven.

"You are pathetic, and I will deal with you the way I should have done a long time ago!"

And then she lunges at him, teeth suddenly so large that they can't quite fit into her mouth.

* * *

Within the dome, SPYGOD and Behemot rest on the floor, coming back around to full consciousness.

They tried, really. They did. You have to give them that, at least.

They fired bullets at each other until their guns were empty, and then they healed up and went at it again. When they were out of bullets they blew chunks out of each other with explosives, but then they healed up and ran out of grenades. And then they went to sharp objects -- knives versus claws and fangs -- but no matter much much they cut, slashed, gouged, and ripped open, they would just heal up.

They were at it for what seemed hours. They tried everything they could think of to kill one another. But no matter what they did, nothing worked. 

Nothing at all. 

SPYGOD gets up and winces, realizing his guts are back where they belong. The cat snorts and rolls over, just sort of looking at him as his face heals up and resumes its previous shape.

They stare at each other for a second, and then sigh.

SPYGOD pulls out a flask. Inside of it is vodka. He pulls a bit, and then, after a second's hesitation, passes it over to Behemot.

"I think we're gonna have to call this a draw, cat," he says.

"Poshel na khuy," the cat mutters, but takes the vodka anyway, soon finding it to his liking. 

So they pass it back and forth and get !@#$ed up. At some point, the demon cat winds up in SPYGOD's lap, purring. Somehow he's not surprised by that, or the fact that he starts petting him. 

Somehow, it just feels right.

* * *

"Are you done, yet?" Abbadon asks, still just standing there with his arms crossed, uncaring as ever.

"You'll... have to pardon me," Doctor Power says, wiping the tears from his eyes: "I mean... I knew. I did know. She told me as much when we made this deal. But..."

"But it's one thing to hear it from her, and another thing to hear it from someone else," the demon finishes the thought.

"Yes. Yes, it is."

"You should have thought of that earlier," Abbadon says, not caring to scold: "All those plans. All those schemes. All those deals you made and broke. Didn't you think they would catch up with you?"

"I didn't think that far in advance," the magician admits: "I always thought there was a way out of it."

"No," the grey demon says: "The only way to win the Game of Hell is not to play. You should have known that. You didn't listen."

"So what can I do?" he asks, looking at the demon: "There has to be some way-"

"Would you ask me for help, then?" the demon asks, turning to look the magician in the face, his dark glasses reflecting the panicking man's red-eyed features: "Would you sell yourself to me, over her? Would you hope that I would be less demanding in the here and now? More giving of power and knowledge? Less horrible, when the time comes?"

"... would you?"

And Abbadon laughs, full and gloriously. As he does his glasses fall from their perch on his nose, and Doctor Power can see what he has for eyes. 

It almost makes him sick.

"No, you fool," the demon says once he composes himself: "I wouldn't take you at all. The games of the others are of little consequence to me. I am what I do, now and forever, and that is enough. I need no servants. I need no souls.

"And you have nothing to offer, except a rivalry with someone I don't care to anger."

Doctor Power opens his mouth, and then closes it. He turns, shaking his head.

"You are !@#$ed, Eben," the demon says, smiling and putting his glasses back up where they belong: "You can use your powers however you'd care to. You can be a hero or a villain. You could even go beyond such titles if you want, or have the imagination to do it. 

"But you made a deal with the best Hell had to offer you at the time, and now you're bound to it. Accept it. You'll be happier."

"There has to be some way...." the man mutters, looking down as his allies fight their separate battles: "There has to be some way!"

And the grey-faced demon smiles and says nothing, knowing how much more silence will hurt than words.

But then something rips through that silence, and they both know that the battle has just ended.

* * *

"The !@#$?" SPYGOD shouts, jumping up as the world reforms itself around him, changing back into the great, domed room of the Beehive. Behemot jumps off his lap and walks over to where Voland stands, dazed and uncertain. 

"I think we have won through," Dr. Krwi says, sheathing his sword and looking around as his adversary slumps to the floor, clearly weakened.

"We have," Morrison agrees, making his own weapon go away and making a silly face at Voland, who doesn't care to reply in kind.

"About !@#$ time," John says, walking over to where Koroviev lies -- his mouth a wide, distended thing -- and kicks him in the teeth. The demon whirls around in a swift circle, turning inside out, and then returns to where he was, looking dazed and confused.

"I didn't know you could !@#$ing do that," SPYGOD says.

"You'd be !@#$ surprised what I can't do, you get me !@#$ mad enough," the old man says, pulling out a cigarette. Morrison's about to offer to light it when it lights itself, and the old man takes one !@#$ of a long drag.

"Well done," Abaddon says, applauding the victors as he and Doctor Power return from wherever they've been all this time.

"You traitor," Voland curses, weakly, no longer able to stand up: "I knew you'd side with them..."

"I side with no one," the grey demon insists, not seeming to be depowered at all: "I simply do not care."

"My god," Doctor Power says, looking at who's there and who's not: "I think that it must have been our English friend who struck the winning blow."

"It must be," Azazello says, weeping into his hat: "I can't !@#$ing sense my lovely gel anywhere."

"And yet I can still smell her evil," Dr. Krwi insists, looking around.

"I am not commenting on that," Morrison says, laughing.

"This isn't funny," Doctor Power says, looking around: "It's a minute to Midnight. Who's won?"

And then there is a magnificent screaming, as if a rude, unshaped piece of metal was given a voice and then thrust into a white-hot furnace.

A section of the curved wall breaks open as though it were nothing but cardboard. The second it does a red and black machine rips through it, its path on fire behind it. The demon motorcycle whirls around the central dais, with its weird, human machinery, and encircles it in a wall of flame. 

And then it cruises over to where the others stand, revealing its lone passenger: a vision in thick, red leather armor, its helmet a baroque, screaming skull.

"Is that you, English?" SPYGOD asks as the rider gets off the bike.

"It is I," the Hell Blazer says, his voice more echoing than before: "The fight is over. We have won."

"But how?" Doctor Power asks, looking at him with something approaching fear: "What did you do?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Morrison asks, chuckling as he walks up to get a better look: "He shook hands with the demon, man."

"You became her," Dr. Krwi says, unsheathing his sword: "You have joined the ranks of the enemy!"

"Don't be !@#$ing stupid," SPYGOD says, about to go for his gun but then realizing none of them are loaded, anymore.

"No, the excitable pollack is right," the revenant admits, taking off his helmet: "She got the upper hand and did what comes naturally. But that was her last mistake."

As he removes the helmet, all eyes open wide.  His once-wasted features are gone, and in their place is the image of the man he once was: cruelly handsome, terribly compelling.

And as pale as the driven snow, with red-in-black eyes and a mouth full of fangs.

"It turns out that a demon vampire can't feed on an undead creature she's made herself without losing something in the bargain," he explains, smiling a little: "As she fed on me, I fed on her, and before long I gained the upper hand. By then she was too far gone to stop, and, well... here we are."

"You lie," Voland hisses weakly, still unbelieving.

"No, it's no trick, Voland. I am her, and she is me. I could have told her this would happen, but I guess she never read the fine print."

"So what the !@#$ does that mean?" SPYGOD asks, putting a hand on Krwi's shoulder to make sure he doesn't do anything stupid.

"It means we've won, sort of," Doctor Power says, pointing out how the meat machines are falling apart: "Their hold over things is slipping. The damage is reversing itself. By the dawn, there won't be anything left to show they were ever here."

"Thank the man Jesus," John says.

"So what now?" Krwi hisses: "Are we just going to let them go?"

"It would be the best !@#$ thing," John says: "We're not powerful enough to destroy a single !@#$ one of them. We've played the game and won. Best we can do is let them leave the board."

"But they will return again!" Krwi insists: "Sooner or later, they'll be back! We cannot let this happen to the world, again!"

"Would you challenge us, then?" Voland asks from where he lies on the floor: "To do that, you would have to enter The Pit, itself. You would have to see us as we are, and fight against us while we are most powerful, and you are least significant.

"Do you think you can do that, little man?"

Krwi's about to say something stupid, but before he can Morrison steps in front of him and shushes him: "I don't think that's in the cards for anyone, tonight. Game over. All go home."

"But what about next time?" John says: "I hate to admit it, but the hunter's got himself a !@#$ point. Some !@#$ fool will probably call them up again, and then we'll be back in it, again."

"Well, we've !@#$ing got him on their big !@#$ team, now," SPYGOD says, indicating the Hell Blazer: "They can't have a Supreme Six if there's a !@#$ing dissenter in the ranks, now can they?"

At that, Voland starts laughing. It's not a pleasant sound.

"And just what the !@#$ is so !@#$ funny, you sorry magician?" John asks. 

"You didn't read the fine print, either," Abbadon says, indicating Hell Blazer: "You. Will you tell them, or shall I?"

"The problem with that," the Hell Blazer says: "Is that Krwi was more right than he knows. I didn't just take her energy. I have become her. For all intents and purposes, I am now the Lord of the Undead."

"The Queen is gone, all hail the Red King," Doctor Power muses: "And how long before... well..."

"Before we're enemies?" the revenant finishes the sentence: "It's... well, let's just say it's taking all my concentration to keep from doing what is quickly becoming the obvious thing. The sooner we leave, the better."

And things get a little silent after that.

"Wait," SPYGOD says, looking at Behemot, who's busy licking his !@#$hole: "I've got an idea."

"You can't be serious," Doctor Power says, looking at the cat and the superspy: "That thing... it's deadly dangerous."

"What are you suggesting?" Abbadon asks.

"Collateral," SPYGOD says, picking up the cat and cradling in its arms: "You got one of our people, we'll take one of yours. No more Supreme Six."

"There's no way to do that!" Voland shouts: "We come and go as one-"

"Actually, now that this has happened," John says, indicating the Hell Blazer: "I think we got ourselves a !@#$ window when some of the rules can get lost."

"What do you say, cat?" SPYGOD asks, looking at the fuzzy beast: "Sleep in a former weapon of mass destruction? Fight Communism? Have all the vodka you can drink?"

Behemot looks up at him, and then meows. A few of them laugh, a few don't.

Then, with what little strength they have, Doctor Power and John perform the magic necessary to make it happen, and a few other things besides. This keeps them quite busy until the dawn, during which time the others keep a close eye on the demons to make certain they don't do anything rash.

And, during which time, Dr. Krwi can't stop looking at the new Red King, and wonder if this wasn't somehow his plan all along. 

* * *

"About time," John says, looking towards the eastern side of the Beehive: "!@#$ sun's a coming out. It's morning in Russia."

"And that means you all need to hit the road," Morrison says, holding out his hands to the demons: "Just as we were all getting to know one another, too!"

"Spare us the cynicism," Voland says, already starting to fade: "You know what you have lost here, Lizard King. I'll see you in The Pit yet."

"Ah, !@#$ off," SPYGOD snorts, watching as they slowly slide away, and relieved to see that the kitty in his arms is staying firm and solid (and asleep).

"No final words, then?" Doctor Power asks, looking at Abaddon as he does.

"Hell awaits," the grey demon says, smiling.

"A good battle," the Hell Blazer says, walking towards SPYGOD as he strides to join his vanishing companions: "Good companions, too. I do not think I could have asked for anything else."

"When next we meet?" Krwi says, not looking in his direction: "It will be as enemies, and I will kill you."

"You will never see me again," Hell Blazer says, quickly handing something over to SPYGOD while no one else sees: "And be grateful for that."

Krwi turns to accost him, but he's already gone. So are the others. No one else is in the Beehive but a stockpile of  barely-alive thaumathematicians -- slowly coming back to life now that they no longer have an obligation to be flesh machines -- and Colonel Bulgakov, now whole again, but quite insane. 

"I will kill you all," he hisses from his wheelchair, too weak to do anything more than threaten: "Somehow, one way or another... all of you will die..."

"I think this is where we leave," Morrison says, gesturing to the nearest wall: "Care to follow me on a Moonlight Drive?"

"You first," John says, chuckling: "And when we get there, you are buying."

"!@#$ straight," Morrison says, locking an arm with the man and wandering between worlds. Doctor Power heads after him, visibly shaken by something, and Doctor Krwi follows close behind, cursing that he didn't bring just one more gun.

As for SPYGOD, he considers what his former ally has given him: the heavy, black revolver with the inverted crucifix dangling from the butt, its weight strangely comfortable in his hands.

("For the next time," he'd whispered as he'd handed it over: "Call it more collateral.")

"Hey, !@#$head," SPYGOD says, aiming it at Colonel Bulgakov with one arm while cradling Behemot with the other: "This is for Comrade Sharik, you sorry red !@#$."

The bullet blows both of the man's testicles out of his scrotum, and he screams as he flies up and out of the wheelchair, landing some distance away. 

And by the time he's come to a complete stop -- and realizes he's been gelded --  the man with the demon cat is gone.  

(SPYGOD is listening to Manfred Symphony (Tchaikovsky) and having a bottle of Moon Mountain Vodka)

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