Watching Sinners hurl themselves into traffic at his command did nothing to soothe his irritation. He hosted no lingering harm from Alastor's tantrum, a safety granted to him by Lucifer's Remit, but still, that tantrum burned at Birch with flames of gall. Again, Alastor had stymied him, mocked him, denied him. That was the worst of it to Nathan Birch. That Alastor remained as infuriatingly immune to his words as he had, despite all other signs that his once unshakable might was crumbling away. And all of the power that Lucifer's Remit gave him wasn't enough to crush that slippery insect underfoot. A week had not soothed that wound in the least.
Oh, how he wanted to break that scum's smile. To say a word and make him rip out his own teeth. To put him against the Pride Wall and tell him to walk until his skin erupted into flame. But against every indicator, against every scrap of basic decency and common sense, he was impervious, his will adamantine. There had to be something protecting him. Something that he kept close to hand, but not on his person. Something that was growing brittle, hence his change in deeds.
Birch knew that he could demand answers of all of Hell and not find it, though, because why would a parasite like Alastor intimate such details to literally anyone? As much as the mere mention of his name ignited outrage in Birch's withered heart, he was not so arrogant as to think Alastor a fool.
He paused, rubbing his chin with long fingers as he contemplated. Pentagram City was Alastor's center of power, now and always. So whatever it was that was his genius loci was hidden somewhere here. And for something as able to slaughter the great hordes of the Damned as Alastor was from his first moments in Hell, even by Birch's recollection, he would have ways of knowing if somebody were nosing about trying to find that Dorian Grey Portrait that would be the source of his invulnerability.
So it was that Nathan Birch went afield. "Drive into the canal," Birch said as he departed the Sinner's car that he had commandeered. And with no other option, the owl-cat with mismatched eyes immediately hit the gas and drove over the edge of the road and down into the filth that was flowing away from Imp City.
In every way, Imp City was a poor reflection of Lucifer's Capital upon Pride. Its main inhabitants were the scum and hell-born that didn't commute in from the other Rings, a more homogeneous populace by far than the metropolitan avenues of Pentagram City, hosting the small, the hairy, and the pathetic.
Birch knew that he would need an agent, someone to keep an arm's-length as to his investigations as to the source of Alastor's power. True enough, he did also have the marching orders from the King of Hell, to find that strangeness that had somehow done what even Birch could not, and brought a Sinner out of the one Ring set aside for them. It was Alastor. It had to be. If Birch were a gambling man, he would have put everything he had on Alastor having discovered some secret, and done so without the slightest worry of being wrong. And when Birch discovered what that secret was, when he ripped it from Alastor's hands despite his every failing effort, then Birch would become not merely the Proxy for Lucifer, he would be able to Usurp the Deadly Sin Pride, and be the second greatest in all of Hell.
In time, he would even look to unseating Lucifer. But for now, one thing at a time.
He'd heard word of a mercenary who had dove headlong into interGoetic struggles, one who was normally based out of Wrath, and as such beyond Birch's reach. But word placed him in Imp City of late, and Birch would use such an actor in his troupe. It was a rare beast who took a knife to the third rank of Hell's hierarchy.
The meeting point was a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that specialized in food which was on the cusp of being familiar. The imps and hellspawn already seated turned toward him, confusion clear on their faces. "Everybody who doesn't work here and isn't waiting for me, get out and go home," Birch said. Four of the five tables this establishment had instantly emptied, and the swarm pressed past Birch on their way out. All that remained in the eatery were two gluttonous hellspawn wearing horn-punctured hairnets, and an imp a leather duster, a bullet-holed stetson hat, and hard boots. "You would be my road agent, then?"
"I might be," the tall imp answered with a voice like grinding a snake-skin under a rock. "Which would make you the King of King's Voice. What brings you to my doorstep, Proxy?"
"You will moderate your tone," Birch said, only to have a chime like tapped glass to sound, and a reverberation hit the air starting half way between them. The imp smiled with those long, dripping fangs, one of them a venom-stained gold, and revealed a charm on a leather thong laced 'round his neck. It bore the mark of Satan in red wax.
"You're not the only one who's working as a Proxy. Mine just uses a few more than your boss does," the imp said.
"And Satan would lower himself to using an imp to do his dirty deeds?" Birch asked.
The imp grinned, leaning forward. "I'm not your ordinary imp," he said. "So what does Lucifer's Proxy want out of Satan's newest hired gun?"
Birch considered trying to find a way to separate the imp from that charm, so he could bend the scurrilous fool to his will in all things. But he reigned himself in. To attack Satan's proxy would be igniting a war between the rings of Pride and Wrath. And while Pride would not lose, neither could it win; Wrath was a breeding-ground for armies, as much as it was for hogs, aurochs, and furies. Invading that place would be more hopeless than an empire moving into Afghanistan.
"I have heard some stories about you, Striker," Birch said, lifting his briefcase and opening it, extracting a file from its innards. "According to Duchess Stella, Goetia, you failed in your attempt to assassinate High Prince Stolas," he said.
"Uniquely unlucky circumstances," Striker said with a shrug. "Besides, the contract was specifically 'to put that cock-sucker's head in my crosshairs', and 'to pull the trigger'. The fact that those two events didn't coincide ain't a problem of mine. I fulfilled the wording of my contract. I got paid. And if she ponies up the dough again, I'll make my next shot from a bit closer up," the imp laid a carmine-and-moonsilver revolver onto the table. The sheer holiness of the item made Birch lean away from it. That was a weapon that could kill anything in hell, and from the look of it, hand-crafted for one particular user. "Hell, if he ponies up the money, I'll take a shot at her instead. Makes no difference to me."
Birch hated his cockiness. He wished he could destroy his pride as easily as bending a spoon. But the rules were the rules. Both were acting as the living wills of others, and thus, both were bound. "So it goes," Birch said. He reached and extracted another file from his briefcase. This one, he set down on the table between them, revealing an incredibly dense sensor-readout. "I have been set to discover the whereabouts of a Sinner who has violated Lucifer's Law and exited the ring of Pride. Due to my nature, I cannot pursue certain leads. Which necessitates you."
"A Sinner outside of Pride?" Striker's smile grew particularly impudent. "I can see why you'd be on that. Lookin' for a way out? To take a trip to the rest of Hell?"
"My business is to capture the violator and cast them at Lucifer's feet," Birch said. Striker's viperine eyes narrowed.
"And you think you know who it is, already," Striker said.
"I believe I do. I need to prove it, so that I can call down the Full Remit and bind him."
"I'd do the job better if I had a name," Striker said.
"Alastor..." Birch began.
"The Radio Demon?" Striker interjected. Notably, he looked shocked, but not afraid
"Is this a problem for you?" Birch asked.
"Not a problem, per se. But something warranting a moment's consideration," Striker leaned back in his seat, flicking his fangs with a claw. After a few seconds, he nodded. "Alright. That seems like a pretty big ask, but..."
"The matter of your payment is up for debate," Birch said.
Striker shook his head. "No charge. If the Radio Demon is looking to expand his grasp, that's bad news for every Ring, Wrath included. When I tell my boss about this, he'll tell me to jump on it, so I'll just cut out the middle man and tell you I'll start looking into the red-man's dealings."
"See to it you're more successful than you were in your last endeavor," Birch said.
"Of course I will. This time Blitzø won't be around to gum up the works," Striker said as he slid the incredibly blasphemous revolver back into its holster. Birch's head tilted a bit at that.
"What is 'Blitzø'?" he asked, as Striker started to rise.
"Not what; who," Striker said. He resettled himself in his seat. "He's an assassin mooching his way to the surface to kill the living for the money of the Damned. Toughest damned imp I've ever found except for m'self."
"An imp with a way to the world of the living? That shouldn't be possible," Birch said, scowl deepening on his face at this absurdity.
"I agree. Blitzø's got Stolas wrapped 'round his finger. Or wrapped 'round his penis, as the case may be," Striker shook his head at the insanity of it.
"This is a breach in Law and Decorum," Birch said. "And would you testify to that?"
"As a Gun of Satan, I would," Striker said with tip of his ripped stetson.
At that, Birch finally did smile, for the thought of one of the Ars Goetia suffering because of their own absurd appetites was so deliciously appropriate. "Then start your task, Gun of Satan. I have a few other things I should look into, while I'm in the neighborhood."
"Don't mind if I do. I've got some trees to shake," Striker said, finally departing the table.
"I will leave you to it. I have... personal business to take care of," Birch said, as a plan began to form in his mind which was delightful in his heinousness. One way or another, he would break the Radio Demon's smile.
"Buhbye! See y'all tomorrow! Remember to think of me while you're fucking!" Blitz shouted as Millie and Moxie closed the office dire behind them. While Moxie did offer a shudder at that, Blitz was cocooned in his own idiocy so he didn't notice it. Today had been fuuucking busy. So busy that they actually had to dig into the spare ammo. And since M&M had done their time, that left it for the heart and soul of I.M.P. to do the little shit that kept this trainwreck rolling.
Blitz strutted for all his diminutive height would allow to the armory, over a pile of discarded empty guns, and viscera-dulled blades. The whole thing had once been a itty-bitty safe that he'd kept in his office, but ever since he put that wailing snatch in her place last Spring Break, business was booming, and he managed to expand a few things. Like his armory, now the size of a really fucking big walk-in closet.
"Ugh, gross. Are you going in there to jerk off to your gun collection again?" Loonie groaned from her place at the front desk.
"No! Well maybe a little," Blitz admitted, as he kicked the guns into the safe and sat down on a little stool. Pride of place was a rifle that radiated goodness and purity to such an extent that it the only one in the office who could carry the thing around was fucking baby-dicked Moxie. Everybody else was a stone-cold killer, and the Carmine-Crafted Blessing-Tipped rifle he'd stolen from that daddy-fucker was a bit too spicy for Mills or Blitz himself. How that shit-snake managed to hold the gun was a mystery well above Blitz's paygrade – and cognitive capacity. But instead, he started at something much more his speed; shoving lead into magazines and speed-loaders.
"Blitz, how long are you gonna stay back there this time? 'Cause I could be doing literally anything else right now," Loonie said.
"Just gimme a minute, gotta get this shit done so tomorrow won't bite me in the taint," Blitz shouted back. When the bullets had been refilled – except for those high-test fuckers that he used in his Convertible Rifle. That beast was a bitch and a half but he loved it anyway – he moved on to the thing that he really had to restrain himself from jerking over; his pile of money.
He'd made as much today as he had his first two months in this business. And that was after he paid M&M their part for being an integral part of the mayhem, and Loona for being their ever-present get-the-fuck-out-of-Dodge button. So he started to tidy the money into three piles. Clean went into one. Blood-soaked went into another, that he would run through the washer with his underpants. The third pile was given to him by a Lust Damned, near two thousand, all in ones, and most of them soaked through in all manner of other non-blood bodily fluids. Even to one as unabashedly depraved as Blitz, he had to acknowledge that those bills would need a wash-cycle all their own. Maybe two.
The door to the office chimed, as somebody came into the waiting area.
"We're closed, fuck off," Loona said with her usual distracted disinterest.
"Break that phone," a calm voice came. Followed immediately by the familiar snap of a Hellphone being broken in half. Immediately, Blitz's Dad-Sense was tingling. "Bow down to me."
"What the fuck is going on?" Loona's voice had a clear edge of panic, which pulled Blitz off his seat and made him pull his flintlock and storm into the waiting room.
"You may not speak," the voice said. And Loona was silent. When Blitz kicked the door, it came off of its hinges and landed next to where a fuckin' human was standing with his boot on the back of Loonie's neck, as she was genuflected on the fucking carpet. He pointed his gun at the weirdo and cocked its hammer back.
"Get your foot off my daughter you cum-sucker!" Blitz shouted.
"Drop it," The human said, turning an utterly unimpressed look at Blitz. The fuck if that was going to happen! Wait what the fuck, Blitz thought, as he watched his own hand drop his gun. It hit the floor and went off, sending a bullet into the leg of his aquarium, dumping the entire thing onto the floor and causing the electric eels to spark in on the carpet in panic for the second time since he'd bought them. "Cease," the weird fuckin' human said, and the eels were still, their sparking ended before they could set his office on fire AGAIN. In the moment it took for that to happen, Blitz had already pulled his third favorite knife from its sheath and lashed out toward whoever the fuck this was.
"Be still," the human said, and Blitz was motionless, about half way to gutting the chucklefuck where he stood.
"How about you quit it with the magical BULLSHIT you cum-gargling man-twat!" Blitz howled at the fucker who'd had the audacity to come into his office and pull this horse-hockey.
"No," the human said, adjusting his tie. When he did, Blitz could see the ring on his middle finger, the Fruit of Knowledge cameo displayed clearly on it. "You are engaged in ongoing flouting of the rules of Law and Decorum. By my right as the Proxy of Lucifer, King of All Hell, I am within my rights to have you flayed and the scraps of you hurled into the Abyss That Was Once Betrayal."
"Well la-dee-fuckin'-da! Half of all Hell's doin' that kinda shit all the time! You're gonna have to be a lot more specific about what I've done to piss you or your boss off. I'm just running a business here."
"A business predicated entirely on the unlawful use of a Goetic Grimoire," the human said.
"A what now?" Blitz asked. The human looked at Blitz as though he had expected the absolute most idiotic to be in front of him, and then found Blitz somehow to be lower. The human snapped his fingers, and Stolas's heavy, fancy book drifted from Loona's desk and came to a halt, hovering with magic spilling out of it, next to the human's left hand. "Oh, right that thing. What's it to you? And who the FUCK are you anyway?"
"I am Nathan Birch," the human said. He idly flipped through the book's pages, a wistful smile on his face. "An imp holding the property of one of the Ars Goetia. What has Hell come to in these last few years?"
"The fuck kinda name is Birch?" Blitz asked.
"A name which once caused people to faint in fear, and to spill their living blood for me," the balding dickwad answered. He looked down at Blitz, an act which by its nature made the ambitious imp's teeth grind, and adjusted the glasses on his face. "And it should for you as well, however I was forewarned about your positively chthonic intellect."
"Why thank you! Compliments will get you everywhere," Blitz answered, lacking a definition for chthonic and thus making one up for himself. Birch just stared at him for a moment, then sighed. He idly took his boot off of Loona's neck and moved to sit on her reception table, eyes still on Blitz.
"I have a job for you," Birch said. "It is to go to a specific place, and kill a particular human. What he has done to deserve this is immaterial. You will kill him and you will savage his carcass such that there will be no funeral for him."
"Uh huh, and what are we getting paid for this?" Blitz asked.
"If you don't agree to do this, if you fail to do this, if this event does not take place for any reason, whether within your means or outside it, you will take that knife on the floor, and you will flay this hellhound as she lays on the ground. If she does not die from that treatment, she will then wallow in the sewers until she does. You, on the other hand, will wear her skin every hour of every day until it rots off of you. Fail in this task, and your suffering will be total, and enduring," he said. Blitz just stared at him for a moment, actually struck speechless.
"That's bullshit! What kind of payment is that?" Blitz asked.
"The payment is a lapse in pain," Birch said. "After all, it was not your lack of judgment that put a Goetic Grimoire into your hands. And as long as it is in your hand, the crime of Prince Stolas is irrefutable, so the pain will spread to him as well. But enough of that feathered fool. The two of you will go, now, and do this deed."
"Hey, wait a fuckin' minute there bud; I can kill any red-blood with one hand tied behind my back. Loonie doesn't need to be here," Blitz pointed out.
"She is not here because she will be of value. She is there because she is implicated in a Breach of Law and Decorum. She is being punished as well as you are," Birch said.
"This will not fucking STAND!" Blitz shouted.
Birch cracked that little smug fucking smirk and leaned forward, looming over the imp and the still bowed-down hellhound. "When your task is complete, she'll be back in your office, safe and sound. But I tire of this, and your time is running out. Do you agree to this contract?"
"Don't give me a fuckin' choice on that do you?" Blitz asked. Birch just smiled. "Fine! I'll kill your rando human! Give Loona the book so we can..."
"No, I will be providing your portal," Birch said, pulling a haze of blue-black energy from one of the back pages of the book, and spreading it across the air like slathering butter on a butt. He then turned a disdainful eye to the two of them. "You may now go and kill for me," he said.
Instantly, Loona lurched, turning an eye toward Blitz, then to Birch. Birch gestured toward the portal, and she limped, shuddering, through it. Blitz also found himself walking now, toward that portal. He turned a look over his shoulder and flipped the weirdo off as he went through.
"Break your own finger," Birch said. And then with a crunch, Blitz watched as he bent his own middle finger back entirely too far with his other hand.
"ARGH! You nut-gargler!" Blitz said as he crossed the threshhold.
Immediately, he felt his balls fall into his boots and his stomach lurch up and out of his mouth. He'd been through a hundred portals a hundred times, but none of them had felt this weird and wrong. He landed with a crash of seventy pounds of imp onto wet leaves and sticks and a currently vomiting hellhound. A moment later, he joined her in that fantastic pastime. After losing an entire balogna and partially digested bread slices, a bag of gummy Buers, and a dog-treat, he finally rocked back onto his ass and stared at the sky.
"I swear to Satan and God at the same fuckin' time that I am going to gut that pink skinned motherfucker!" Blitz declared.
"Blitz?" Loona said, sounding groggy and miserable.
"Yeah honey?" Blitz said.
"Where are we?" she asked, swinging her blood-red eyes around and trying to make sense of things.
"Well we're obviously in the Human World. Where doesn't make a ball's-lick of difference," Blitz said. It was some forest or another, damp and muggy as a succubus' twat, and probably as infested with disease. "So who do we need to kill again?"
Loona sat on her haunches, staring at him somewhere between dismay and fear. "You didn't ask?" she demanded.
"Oh wait it's right here," Blitz pulled a photo from his pocket. It was weird and cracked and crinkly, all black and white, showing a slender, black haired man with glasses and a grin on his face. "You recognize this guy?"
"All humans look alike to me," Loona said. She pushed herself to a stand, and snapped her fingers. Absolutely nothing happened in response. She scowled, and snapped her fingers again. Again, nothing. "Blitz, why isn't my human disguise working?"
"You think I know? I haven't even gotten around to buying mine, yet," Blitz pointed out. Loona scowled at him for all the hellhound was worth, then snatched the picture from Blitz's grasp. She sniffed at it for a moment.
"Blech, this smells like old lady ass," Blitz's adopted daughter complained. "And seriously, where are we? I'd check my phone but that asshole made me break it."
Blitz pulled out his own hellphone and gave it a prod. Instead of opening up to him with a scream of somebody being stabbed, it let out a buzz and showed some weird-ass error. He prodded it again, trying to get past the ransomware he presumed it was. When that didn't work, he even gave it a hard shake. Loona then took the hellphone with a look of adolescent contempt and took a look. That contempt didn't last long, because even she had a confused look on her face. "Well?" he asked.
"Gimme a second, I've never seen this one before," Loona tucked the wet-plate photograph into the beltline of her shorts and went at Blitz's hellphone with a passion. He wondered if the universe was sadistic enough for that thirsty owl to call him right now, but the universe seemed distracted. Finally, she had an 'aha!', followed immediately by a 'what the shit?'.
"Got it workin', honey?" Blitz asked, trying to look over her shoulder – a ludicrous proposition because she was a foot and a half feet taller than him.
"Blitz... this is messed up," Loona said, her face a picture of worry that he'd only seen on her once before, the day when he'd first saw her. The concern turned to anger, and she looked like she only just restrained herself from hurling Blitz's hellphone into the distance. "That asshole just made us Break The Arrow!"
"We did what now?" Blitz asked. She answered by turning his hellphone to him and tapping the corner where the clock was ticking. So it was 1 AM, what was the big whoop? When he asked the question, she tapped again, more urgently. He looked at the date next to it. The fifteenth – it was the seventeenth – of May – it was June – but the kicker was the year.
Don't Break The Arrow
"So seriously, what is Breaking The Arrow?" Sam asked, as he followed the goat through a claustrophobic warren that was built into the bowels of the nearby metropolis titled 'Imp City'. Even though he didn't have a stellar height, he had to hunch his back fairly uncomfortably to get through a lot of the doors, and even past them couldn't straighten to his full stature.
"Do you remember how I said that time is warped in Hell?" Apoc asked, his voice rattling slightly as though others were trying to speak along side him. "To take it to its logical extreme is to use that warpage to move from one place along Entropy's Arrow from the moment of Divine Creation until its end at Armageddon, and drop yourself onto an earlier point."
"Time travel, then," He said. "Does that happen often?"
"Absolutely. We are all time-travelers, Sam. We move into the future at one second per second."
"Don't be a fart, Apoc," Sam said. Around him, dozens of tiny humanoids were fondling knives, clubs, sickles, and a few pistols, as they moved past and deeper into the den.
"That's the loophole to the Most Ancient Law of the Unbroken Arrow; you can move farther down the arrow as far as you like. If you walk from the right spot in Hell, it's even said that you can traverse to the End of Days over the course of an afternoon. And you'd never be able to come back, of course, as the End of Days is not simply a book-cover over a boobie-mag. But if you take one step backward along Time's Arrow, then you're in violation of a Most Ancient Law of Hell."
"I imagine that doesn't end well for those who try."
"Mostly not," Apoc agreed, pausing to stare down an imp who was about the same height as him who was trying to act the brute. While he might have been beefy for an imp, he was still tiny and spindly even compared to Sam, and Sam was not a large man anymore. The imp grunted and stood aside, allowing them into the outermost layer of the inner sanctum. "You must understand, Sam; most of the Most Ancient Laws of Hell are older than Lucifer, and have built-in punishments if they're ever violated. I make my entire business on invoking a Most Ancient Law. But Breaking The Arrow is fairly unique among the Most Ancient Laws in that it doesn't innately punish you for doing it. Lucifer will, absolutely, but the Law itself doesn't kick you for making an attempt at playing with history."
"So what, if I was clever, I could go back in time and keep those assholes from nailing me to a wall?" Sam asked.
"Worse," Apoc said. "If you were truly clever – and notice I didn't say smart, but rather clever – you could prevent yourself from coming to hell at all."
"Which would prevent you from coming to the place which would enable you to go back in time and prevent yourself from coming to hell. Creating a time-paradox. Breaking time's arrow," Sam said.
"Are you sure you're uneducated? Because it usually takes a solid afternoon to explain Breaking The Arrow to people," Apoc said. "I am here to see Red Sugar."
"And who are you?" the imp demanded, priming a submachine gun that dangled across his chest.
"The person holding his debt," Apoc said, the legion under his words. The imp pointed the SMG at him, and Apoc held his arm out so Sam wouldn't round on him. Not that Sam tried; he was paid to stand behind Apoc, not to fight his enemies for him. "Any who stand in the way of the procurement of this debt will be charged with its repayment in full! Stand aside or join in the debt!"
That knocked the wind out of the imp's sails. The goon backed down, his cocky smirk curdling and the gunbarrel dropped toward the floor. He stepped aside. But Sam noted that he did immediately retake his place at the door. This time, facing in.
"Might not have made it into Uni, but I literally lived in a library for the coldest winter in two decades. I didn't have much else to do most nights than read," Sam said.
"That's what I appreciate most about you, Sam. You're an autodidact," Apoc's voice held a vibrato now, the legion just under the surface. "Any time you are given a chance to learn something, you pounced on it with gleeful abandon. That's a trait which will serve you well, here in Hell."
"An honest compliment from you. You're getting better yourself," Sam said.
"Most people who teach themselves are very good at teaching others," Apoc said with a wistful smile. They rounded a final corner to what was obviously intended to be a throne, all in gold and topped in skulls that were burnt black, or otherwise an ashy grey, horns more often broken than whole. Seated upon that throne was an imp with one eye, one arm, and one horn, and the rest burned and scarred on the offended side. "You owe a debt of Service and Glory, do you–"
"Somebody kill this pillock!" Red Sugar shouted, and the sound of guns being cocked interrupted Apoc's offer.
"I guess he forfeits, then," Sam said, taking his place at Apoc's back.
"Oh. Well. That probably isn't good," Blitz said.
"Ya think?" Loona snapped. Blitz scratched his chin, then shook his head.
"Look, whatever that pink-skinned pussy wants is gonna happen, so we'd better get to it," he said.
"Just like that?" Loona asked. Blitz paused, turning back to her.
"The fuck am I gonna be responsible for harming a hair on your head. And the fuck am I gonna let him get away with putting us in this position," Blitz swore. Loona honestly felt a bit touched at that. It wasn't often that people stood up for her. Almost never, in point of fact. "Now let's find this chump and put some lead in 'im and get back to the office."
"Something about this doesn't feel right," Loona pointed out, following her nose through the woods. It was a strange sense that hellhounds had, not exactly smell, but something adjacent to it, that allowed the Dogs of Hell to track people from almost any clue to almost any location. She would be able to track a human from a fingerprint on an unwashed glass to a bunker on the far side of the planet. And the path she 'smelled' was leading deeper into the woods. "I smell a lot of blood out there."
"Not a problem. His will just add to the pudding, then," Blitz said as blithely as he always did when he didn't understand things – which was almost always.
"No, you don't get it, there's too much..." she began, only to have Blitz reach back and clamp her muzzle.
"Bup, we're close," he said. Loona wished she said that she growled at the audacity of the imp, but in truth the sound that came out of her was closer to a whine. She hated everything about this. She hated being here, she hated being forced to break one of the Most Ancient Laws, she hated having no power, no protection, and not knowing anything other than the appearance and location of a target.
Well, if there was one thing that Blitz was actually good at, it was killing things. She tried to take some comfort in that. The choking forest opened into a clearing, which was marked with great streaks of blood. With one whiff, she could 'see' the whole of it, and she immediately grabbed Blitz, first by the arm and then across his mouth so he couldn't speak.
It was a Greater Summoning Circle.
"Hmph dm bg dl lnnnl?" Blitz complained against her grasp.
Moxie had probably read more of that grimoire than Loona had, but she'd read enough to know that this was one of the ways to get a direct communion with one of the Deadly Sins, which was something dangerously far outside of a hellhound or an imp's payscale. She narrowed her eyes, and glowing faintly against the black was a figure near the center of the Circle. He was clad in a pelt of an elk, and its antlers snaggled up from a ceremonial crown on his head, the tips dripping with gore. His sleeves were rolled up, showing blood rilling down ritual scarification easily as blasphemous as the Circle, and far more densely packed.
"He's trying to contact a Deadly Sin," Loona whispered to the imp who was flailing in her grasp.
"N hmph?" Blitz asked.
"I don't know which, but it's not good whichever one it is!" she hissed.
"Ls js shk d gh!" Blitz gestured toward him.
"It won't be that easy," Loona said. Her vision saw him flickering from time to time, as though her weren't wholly there. Something about this was dangerously bad, and she didn't know what it was; she wasn't the kind of hound to admit a fearful nature, but this guy gave her the jeebies. There was a squirt of something cool and slick on her hands, and instantly, Blitz slipped out. "Ew! Was that lube?"
"Always keep some on ya," Blitz said as he kipped out of her reach. "Let's just ice this idiot and go home."
"Blitz that isn't going to..." she tried, but he stepped into the clearing and kicked some mud over one of the lines of the Greater Summoning Circle, breaking it.
"Hey! Ass-face! Some tree-named asshole says get fucked!" he said, and pulled out his flintlock. The target turned to them, light glinting off of his spectacles, as the gun fired.
When it struck him, he exploded in grey powder. Even from the distance, Loona could tell it was the dust of a moth's wings.
"Whoever sent you is too late," the target said from somewhere in the dark. "I've already sworn the Thirty Seven Oaths upon the Nine Circles."
His voice was oddly familiar. "Yeah, well I don't care who's dick you're suckin', I've got a lot on the line for killin' ya, so it's GONNA FUCKIN' HAPPEN!"
"Behold Edge, that force which turns men into ghosts," the voice appeared from the far edge of the Circle. With Loona's senses, she could smell and feel the blade of air that swept toward Blitz, slamming into him and tearing open his flesh, spraying black blood onto the forest floor.
"Blitz!" Loona screamed, and started running. Another blade was coming, this one oriented so it would take his head off of his shoulders. She hurled herself in a dive, intercepting that blade with her back. It destroyed her favorite top, split her pelt, sawing through meat and impacting the bone of her scapular and spine, but she was a Hellhound. Her kind were tough by design. She landed with a thud at Blitz's feet, trying to not curl fetal and failing. It ignited a primal hate in the imp's eyes, and he pulled his other flintlock with a roar more in keeping with a monster than a perverted imp.
"You stay away from my daughter you shit-stick!" Blitz howled, and fired his other pistol at the target. The target simply put his hand over his chest where the bullet was going to hit; when it struck the back of his hand, it didn't penetrate all the way, flattening out as very loud heartbeats filled the air.
"Heart endures, and so will I," the target said. He took a few steps toward them, and despite his middling height, he now towered over the two of them. "Now let's see what the Consent of Wounds will show me. What fool sent a hell-spawn to kill Hell's Favored Agent in the world?"
"Gooooo fuuuuuuuck yourseeeeelf," Blitz said. Only he didn't; it was his wounds which flapped and spoke for him.
The target blinked in confusion, looked down at his hands, then held his grasping hand out again.
"Suuuuuuck a diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick," Blitz's wounds declared.
"Well. That's never happened before," the target said, as a grin began to spread across his face. "How fascinating," he then turned to Loona, who was still curled up on the ground. "Maybe your dog will be more forthcoming."
There was a pain, as she felt her wound flap and twitch. "His naaaame waaaasss," it started, but she pushed herself off of the ground and hurled herself at him, her jaws clamping onto his out-stretched hand. She twisted her entire upper body hard, ripping the extremity off and causing the target to lurch forward, shock freezing the grin on his face into a rictus of confusion. The red haze overtook her, and she just let it come, down on her hands and feet like a beast, tearing off his other hand as he tried to do something else. Then, as he staggered back, she grabbed onto his belly and tore, spilling his guts amidst the viscera which had been dumped in preparation of the Great Summoning.
"Well I'll be," the target said, coughing blood, with an oddly chipper tone. "This isn't how I saw this going..."
"Yeah, uhuh, well, that's what you get biiiiitch," Blitz said as he finished reloading his flintlock, pressed it right above where the target's brows met, and fired a bullet straight down and into his brain.
The target died with a grin on his face.
"What...?" Loona said.
"Loonie, your bits are showing," Blitz said, stooping now that the adrenaline was leaving him. Loona looked down and realized he was right, so crossed an arm across her chest if only for her own dignity.
"What the hell was that?" Loona asked. "He was using magic! And not even Hellish magic, he was using Power From Outside!"
"Well it doesn't matter a rat's-dick now, 'cause he's fuckin' dead and we're not," he said, arduously putting his pistol away and leaning over the body. "Weren't nearly squirrelly enough to get away from me, now where ya?"
There was a click and a whir behind them, both of them turning just in time for a flash to light the dark. Standing at the edge of the circle, just in the woods and outside of the blood-line, was a portal, and just on the other side of it was Birch. He was holding a polaroid camera, pulling the photograph out of it and turning it over. "Very nicely done," Birch said. "The dog will deliver this to... its destination immediately upon return, and your punishment will be complete."
"Hey, what the fuck, buddy! That guy had Oaths and PFO and shit!" Birch turned an unimpressed look at his outburst.
"Do you really think that a punishment would be a simple affair? It has hardly even begun. The rest of it will commence, anon."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Blitz demanded.
And as he watched, the darkness solidified, into a figure tall, crooked and jagged, long elk's antlers sprouting from its head and eyes crackling and glowing to life. Blitz looked up at the figure which pulled itself out of the target, and even Loona could tell that he was in a state of terror. Because as much as Blitz cocooned himself in stupidity about a lot of things, there were some things which were as easy to ignore as a bullet-hole in the gut, even to one like him.
"You made me kill the fuckin' Radio Demon," Blitz said.
"Have fun, Blitzø," Birch said, and walked back from the portal in front of him. That was another thing she'd read about in that book; some souls had a chance to... retaliate... before they were dragged to Hell. And the figure of the Radio Demon looming over the two of them looked very much in a retributive mood. "Dog, come and do your duty."
"Wait what?" She asked, but then she was being pulled, dragged against the digging of her claws toward that portal. "No! Blitz!"
"Loonie!" He reached for her, but a dark tendril raced out of the broken Circle and barred him from getting any closer to her, slithering around him and bearing him off of the ground.
"DAD!" She howled, as the portal loomed behind her.
And Blitz smiled at that, a heart-broken smile. "...you called me dad," he said, gently. Sweetly.
And then, the portal swallowed her whole.
The stink of black blood saturated the place, with broken and grey-burnt bodies flopped in every place that Sam cared to look. He lay seated against a barrel, having a hard time breathing. How many new holes did his shirt now have in it? The pain was incredible.
"You're alright, Sam?" Apoc said, leaning in with his concern plain on his face.
"I got shot. A lot," Sam said.
"Let me see?" he asked. Sam unbuttoned his shirt, showing the seven bullet holes that snaked their way down his torso. "Yeah, that's all lead. You'll be right as rain soon enough," Apoc said.
"Doesn't feel 'right as rain'," Sam said.
"Don't be a baby," Apoc said, offering a hand and dragging Sam to a hunched stand.
Despite Sam's aggravation, he did feel a bit better now that he wasn't laying on exit wounds.
"What just happened?" Sam asked.
"You earned your money today, that's for certain," Apoc said. He shoved the corpse of Red Sugar off of the throne, and pulled the cushion off of it, revealing bricks underneath. "You ambitious fool."
"What is it?" he asked. It looked like bars of silver.
"Seraphic Steel. He converted it all to Seraphic Steel. What was he going to do? Kill an Overlord?" Apoc asked.
"What's Seraphic Steel?"
"Metal from the weapons that Exorcists leave behind every Purge, purified and rendered into ingot form. A metal native to Heaven, which the Damned use so that they can inflict a permanent end on other Damned," Apoc said. He picked up a brick with a hand, and made to hand it to Sam. "Other hand, that one's got a hole in it," so Sam picked it up with his left. It felt... lighter than an empty hand, somehow. "If you ever find a weapon made of that used against you, be really careful. Those things can create unhealing wounds."
"So your crossbow uses the same technology?" Sam asked. Apoc had already stowed it away, but the goat nodded.
"Similar; there is Seraphic Steel in its construction, but it was actually a wholly heaven-built mechanism, not beholden to the gutter-industry of Hell. In a word, that," he motioned to Sam's ingot, "is used by demons to kill other demons. This," he motioned to his satchel and the crossbow within, "was built by angels to kill demons."
"A Heaven-crafted weapon must have cost a pretty penny," Sam said, stretching his back and feeling a bullet fall out of one of his wounds. It hit the ground with a plunk. Apoc's usual wistful smile died entirely, leaving his face haunted and distant.
"It was hand-crafted in Azazel's workshop. You don't want to know what it cost me to get that weapon, Sam. You really don't," he said.
"Then I won't bring it up again," he said.
At that, the smile did return. "And I appreciate that, too. Now since the collection's in Forfeit By Blood, I've got to determine out how much of their now defunct belongings are to be given to my Patron, how much is now mine, and by that figure, how much is now yours. Would you mind starting to make piles? This might take some time."
Loona collapsed onto the floor of the office amidst a pile of wet leaves and broken sticks that her heels had dragged in with her. "...GodDAMNit!" Loona shouted. "You just left him there to..."
"Silence," Birch said over his shoulder, staring at the photograph as it slowly resolved to show Blitz and Loona, staring like a pair of dumbasses, over the corpse of the guy the Radio Demon had been while he was alive. "That was acceptable for his part. Your part has scarcely begun, however, as it was your hand which consistently tainted Stolas' Grimoire."
For an instant, Loona didn't understand what he'd meant. But then it clicked. All those times that Blitz and the others had gone into the human world, who was it who held the key back? Her. She'd made more portals than twice all of the others combined. And now he was going to punish her for it. She glanced down, dread settling into her stomach at her half-naked state. Good god, he was going to rape her. He was going to rape her and he would tell her to do it herself and she would be utterly unable to do anything about it.
Her fears faded, though, when he turned, and his expression turned immediately into deep disgust. "Cover yourself you degenerate cretin," Birch ordered, and Loona needed no excuse to dig through the scraps-bag that Blitz collected from the people he killed. The first thing appropriate was a baggy green hoodie with the protagonist of My Worst Angels depicted hunched under Uziel's gaze. She pulled it on so fast that she ended up missing one sleeve and getting her arm out of its neck hole. Birch's disgust turned to disdain, as she very carefully adjusted herself to the point where she was wearing it properly.
She tried to say something, but it seemed that 'silence' was still in effect, so all she could do was stare. And despite her best intentions and her deep desires, she did not do it with defiance in any measure.
"As for you, you are to deliver this in person to the Radio Demon. You will not rest until you do so," Birch said, handing over the photograph. He stared at her for an uncomfortable moment. "You have questions. Ask them."
"What did you do with Blitz?"
"Left him behind to be killed by that foolish killer's shade," Birch smiled at the notion. "Ninety years in the past, trapped in the human world, I am sure I will never need to deal with that gutter trash ever again. He lacks the wit to survive amongst the Living. Heaven cannot abide the thought of hellspawn on Earth, after all."
"But why?" Loona asked. Birch turned a smug, patronizing look at her.
"You don't need to know why. Nor do you deserve to," Birch said, as he put the grimoire back on Loona's desk. "You may not give this back to Stolas. No wait, you have an agreement with him, don't you? He has been working. You must accept this grimoire back from Stolas after his use, and may not relinquish it under any other circumstances, nor pass it to any who has not already been doomed by its use, am I clear?"
"You're leaving us the book?" she didn't understand in the slightest.
"Of course. That way, when I bring charges of Breach of Fraternization against Prince Stolas, you will still have the evidence required to prove it. You will reveal this to nobody, by action, word, or omission."
And just like that, Loona was damned to watch everything Blitz had worked for burn down, and she could do nothing to stop it. And now she had to prove to the Radio Demon that she was involved in his death? God DAMN it!
"Where is the Radio Demon?" she asked the question that needed answering, even though she hated the thought of having to follow through on it.
"I don't know. You will have to find out," he pulled out a battered pocket-watch. "Hellhounds are resilient, so you can probably last fourteen days without sleep before you lose your mind and die. I suggest you hurry."
And with that, he turned and left.
"You may go, now," his voice came down the hall, and Loona could finally crumble. She landed in a pile, unable to keep the terrified tears at bay any longer. In a heartbeat, he had broken through everything that she'd spent the last few years trying to build up, to become, and left her the terrified pup that had been abandoned on the street corner. She was powerless against him, utterly and absolutely. She could not fight him, she could not ignore him. And whatever he wanted, she would do.
She didn't know how long she sat there, crying like a child, when the door to Blitz's door was kicked off of its hinges from the inside, joining the boardroom door on the carpet of the waiting area. She was stunned to silence and stillness by Blitz storming in sweeping a Luger around the room.
"Alright where is that cockwomble!" Blitz bellowed as he came. He was wearing something odd, subdued, and that reeked of the Living World. Like a uniform of some Mortal army, but cut down.
"Blitz?" she said.
"Loonie, I love you and I've missed you and you're wonderful but is that cunt-rot-snorter anywhere nearby? 'Cause I'm gonna put a new hole in him AND THEN FUCK HIM IN IT!" Blitz shouted.
"How?" Loona asked, wiping her snout.
"With my dick, obviously!"
"No, how did you..." Loona tried, but Blitz, having swept the office more fully, no longer actively pointed that human-made gun at anything.
"That's a no, then? Well FUCK! I got a murder-boner thinkin' I'd have a change to blow his brains out and I missed the fuckin' chance. God DAMN it!"
"Huh? Oh right," Blitz gestured at his clothes. "That ass-canker left me up there for TWELVE FUCKING YEARS! Fuck, that was a pain," he leaned against Loona's desk, rubbing his brow with his other hand.
"How did you get back?" Loona shouted at him.
"Oh that, I killed some shit-stain with a stupid mustache in a bunker with his own gun – long story, kinda bullshit, lots of vodka involved – and there were these guys who came through portals to try to steal the kill from me. And some other idiots who came to kill those idiots. So I ducked 'em both and hopped through the first portal that looked like it was heading for Hell!"
"Killed a..." Loona began.
"Yeah, killed him and his bitch, too. Should'a seen the disappointment on those glory-stealing butt-boi's eyes to see I'd already got the kill!" Blitz let out a harsh, braying laugh and a middle finger in a seemingly random direction. "Eat shit, whoever the fuck you were! Anyway, I landed in Sloth, and that was a bitch and a half getting out of 'cause I was in that toilet-spot. You know the one?"
"The Gate to the End?" Loona asked.
"Yeah, that one. So I hoofed it and... Why are you wearing my hoodie?" Blitz finally got distracted. And it was amazing he'd managed to get as far as he had without it.
"You never wore it!" Loona answered.
"I was gonna!" Blitz countered, tucking the Luger into a holster. "M&M are still at home, then?"
"I... maybe?" she asked. "I have to go, hand this to the Radio Demon," she said, holding out the picture of the two of them over the would-be-Radio-Demon's carcass. "And I don't know where he is, and..."
"He's at the Happy Hotel," Blitz said, pulling off his shirt and pulling a spare jacket from a cubby, replacing that life-reeking getup with something more appropriately hellish. "Dumb fuckin' spot in Pentagram City, claim they can get people into Heaven, can you believe that?"
"Wh... how do you know that?"
"Commercials," Blitz said.
Of course. After twelve years, he'd still remember commercials.
"Then let's get this shit done tonight," Loona said, because now that she knew where to go, she literally had to go there.
"I'll be right at your side," he said, joining her as she limped out the door. "You called me dad."
"Shut up, Blitz."
"You called me daaa~ad," Blitz grinned. In most days, she would have punched him for that. Today was not most days. He drove differently than he usually did. He wasn't swerving wildly from lane to lane for the inches of advancement it could get him on the commute to Pentagram City. And he didn't even shout profanities at the other drivers, nor crank the music to its loudest setting. He just seethed. Blitz always had exactly one setting on his outrage machine, and that was bombastic screaming. If he was being honest, and he'd spent twelve years in the human world, that time had installed a new one; quiet, ultra-high-pressure fury.
"So... you were..." she tried to cut the silence.
"Not now, honey, I'm too pissed to drive and talk," Blitz said, with a surprisingly kind tone, before he sideswiped a car and drove it off the edge of a highway, plummeting a good thirty feet to crater into a lower roadway. He didn't even gloat at the shot. This was weird.
The last stretch into Pentagram city was a blur, one that Loona could do nothing but watch as Blitz' fury grew ever closer to the surface. He finally slammed the car into a spin that dumped it mostly into a parking spot with admittedly more accuracy than he'd shown before – maybe he'd spent some of that twelve years practicing? – and he stormed out toward the truly bizarre looking hotel which stood as part of the lunatic skyline of Pentagram City. Standing near its doors was a Sinner with burning hair and bloody holes in his shirt, staring at his Hellphone and smoking. Blitz wasted no time grabbing that phone from his hand, as he gestured toward the doors.
"Yeah, he'll get back to you," he said to the phone.
"What the hell, buddy?" the burning Sinner demanded, but when he tried to snatch his phone back, Blitz just pointed his new Luger in his face, and he fell still.
Blitz didn't say anything, just thumb-dialing a number, as Loona knocked on the door to the Happy Hotel. "Yo bitch put the Thirsty Owl on, this is important," Blitz said. The door knocker echoed ominously through the building, as though using it as a drum. "Uh huh, Yeah. Stolas, shut the fuck up and clear your schedule tomorrow. I'm coming over early. I've got twelve years of built-up fucking to do and I'm givin' myself twenty four hours to do it. Yeah, I thought you'd be happy 'bout that, guhbye," and like that hung up. He immediately started to dial again.
"Am I being robbed or...?" the Sinner asked.
"Shut the FUCK up and you'll get this back sooner. God DAMN it you made me misdial!" Blitz shouted back.
The door opened, and the gracile form of the Radio Demon loomed, grinning wide, as he stared down at the hellspawn before him. "Hello~?"
Suddenly, Loona wanted to run away. And she knew she had no option to. With a flinch on her face, she slowly held out the photograph. The Radio Demon's smile turned inquisitive, as he plucked the picture from her hand, showing how it depicted him in his last moments, with the two of them standing over him. And now she could see what Birch had written on the back of the picture. 'What goes around comes around'.
Start running legs! Come on, you handed over the picture, you did what he said, now start running! But Birch's magical bullshit still held, as the Radio Demon turned the photograph over, read the back, then looked out at the Hellspawn on the sidewalk.
And then he started to laugh.
And he laughed harder, and harder, and harder, the air filling with static and the shadows leaning away from him, fleeing into the light if it would allow them to get away from Alastor the Radio Demon, as he laughed first from his gut, and then from his very soul. He laughed so hard that oily black ichor began to weep from his eyes like tears, so loudly that one of the window panes in the front doors cracked, so helplessly that he was paralyzed by it.
When it started to die down, he turned to the two of them, a look of genuine joy on his face. "That has to be the funniest thing I've ever seen!" the Radio Demon said, and tucked the photograph into a pocket, walking away humming under his breath. Even the Sinner at gunpoint looked as baffled and alarmed as Loona felt in that moment.
"Pick up, pick uuuuup," Blitz said. "Fuckin' finally! Moxie, get your wife's strap-on out of your asshole and listen up! We're closed tomorrow, day after that, come to the office with all of your shit together, because WE ARE GOING TO FUCKING WAR!"
You know what? Fuck it. I'm tired of all these idiots traipsing about through history, killing some stupid German for bragging rights. From now on, no more time travel. Time is an arrow, with its fletchings at the Moment of Creation, and its head at the End of Days. It shall be henceforth unbreaking. Respect the flow of time, or face my wrath.
-Lucifer Magne in the aftermath of the Second Great Time War
Look, I'm not saying that Blitz fought in the Red Army during WW2 and killed Hitler with his own gun, buuuuuut...