Archive for October, 2014

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The Fire Child



Compared to the bright noon sun of Paris in August, the interior of Le Cave Marcel was dark and cool, the only lights the tiny downlights that illuminated the walls stacked high with unique wines. Early, having found a rare Bordeaux for a half decent price, was in a good mood as she stepped out into the bustle and the glare of rue des Archives. Just for a moment she was sun-blind so she did not see who bumped into her at first. It was a hard knock that spun her sideways, toppling the two bottles of wine out of her arms. Cursing, she lunged after them, snatching them out of the air just above the cement. Someone grabbed her around the waist, thinking she needed saving from an imminent fall. The touch lasted far longer than was polite. Early turned, about to make a cutting remark, but the sight of those cold eyes stopped her. Brother Joseph. Her old pal from the exorcism in the Oregon convent. Cardinal Benninni’s toady. Joseph smiled and tightened his grip on her body.

“Fuck me,” Early said. “I moved to get away from you people.”

“Just relax. We mean you no harm. The Cardinal would like a word,” the priest said as he took the bottles from her arms and passed them to a large man with no neck who stood beside him.

“You people ever tried phones? Great invention. Lets you talk to anyone on the planet,” she said as an SUV with tinted windows stopped in the middle of the nearest lane of traffic and the side doors flew open. It did not take long for the honking to start as the irate Parisian drivers had a very low tolerance for fools.

“Get in the car, please,” Joseph said, herding her towards the dark interior of the SUV.

Early sighed in resignation. This was not going to end well. She did not resist, allowing Joseph’d muscle to shove her into the open door. Rough hands caught her and pulled her further into the dim interior of the car as Joseph climbed into the front and deposited her wine under his seat.

“I am going to want those back when we are done,” Early growled.

“It is your penchant for fine wine that led us to you,” Joseph said smugly.

“Perhaps it was not clear from the last time we met. I no longer work for you people.”

“No. You work for someone, something far more sinister.”

The car swung around and headed south towards the river.

She was not sure where Brother Joseph was getting his information. Early did not work for anyone anymore. She officially retired. But she was not going to argue this point with the humorless priest. They crossed the Pont au Change and headed west.

“Ok,” Early said finally, curiosity winning out. “I’ll bite. Who do I work for?”

“The Dark Lord, Satan. He is your lover, witch. It is as I suspected. Your exorcisms were no more than a ruse to fool the faithful and allow the demon lord to continue his work unchecked on the physical plane.”

Early nodded. “Riiiight. Ooooohkay. I thought you didn’t believe in all this religious mumbo-jumbo shit.” Joseph had claimed he was an atheist and a scientist, once.

“I have seen your lover, if you will recall.”

“Mmm,” said Early. “He was naked. You can understand my obsession, no?”

Joseph flushed and turned around, ignoring her for the rest of the trip.

They turned south and then west and then north onto rue Barbet de Jouy. The Archbishop of Paris lived near here. It did not take a genius to know that was where they were taking her. Somewhere close to the residence, they turned onto a ramp that led to an underground parking structure. In the far reaches of the 4th level down, they stopped by a security door.

Joseph hopped out and opened her door. “Out.”

Early complied. She was still in something of a good mood after spending her day shopping, so she decided to humor the priest and play along with his game. Mostly, she was curious to see what game he was playing. The two goons from the car followed her. She ignored them and walked over to the door. It was heavy steel and the security panel on the wall beside it looked expensive and high-end. She put out a finger to see if she could mess with its innards. Joseph pushed her aside, leaned down, and looked into the glass panel and spoke his name. Retina scanner. Sophisticated ID software. The meat puppets really, really did not want anyone going through this door that did not belong. She wondered what lay on the other side.

The door opened and Early followed Joseph into the underbelly of the Roman Church in Paris. A wave front of dissonant energy lay just beyond the door. Something dark lived down here. Later, she would look back and wish that she had turned around before the steal door banged shut behind her with a solid finality.

Early’s reaction was instinctive. She began pulling energy out of the air around her. Her hands began to tingle.

“Somebody has being naughty, playing with black magic. Been playing with demons again, Father?” she asked brightly, smiling at Joseph. Joseph scowled at her and walked away. The two goons pushed her to follow. She allowed their touch, but only because she wanted to see what Joseph was up to down here in the dark. Nothing good. That was certain. Fucking priests, she thought. Always have their hands in the nasty shit.

They went through many doors. Doors that led down dark hallways. Doors that led to stairwells leading down to darker places. Beyond each door, the twisted, ugly thing beat at her harder. She drew more energy, this time accessing the places from beyond the veil. There was something vaguely familiar about the energy signature of the thing they were approaching. Early stopped, a frown of concentration between her brows, as she tried to access the memories it triggered.

Joseph saw her hesitate. He grinned maliciously. “This is hallowed ground, witch. Does it hurt to come this close?”

Early gave him an annoyed glare but said nothing. Joseph laughed, smug and full of secrets. One of the goons shoved her back into motion. That was going to be the last time he touched her, she promised herself.

At the last door, Joseph nodded at his two well muscled attendants and suddenly Early found her arms twisted behind her as Joseph opened the door and held it wide.

“Hey, I was coming peacefully. No need to manhandle the merchandise,” Early yelled.

“Don’t let go of her, no matter what,” Joseph instructed them. “She can be very slippery.”

It was then, at the verge of stepping into the thick miasma that swirled inside the room, that Early began to get scared. She struggled against the meaty hands on her arms as something icy cold and stinking of death oozed out of room and pooled around her ankles. Early held her breath and dug her heels into the cement floor. Unbidden, the energy she had been tapping rushed into her mind. She gasped as she tried to settle it into some sort of order and still stay human. Her hands felt like they were on fire. She would have to release all this energy soon. Hopefully into something that needed destroying.

“Bring her,” Joseph said, stepping into the darkness beyond.

Early snarled at them. Already she was half in the wee space between the worlds, her mind questing for the the demon they kept caged here.

It was not a room but a cave carved out of the bedrock under the Archbishop’s house. Actual torches burned in the brackets along the walls. The floor was soft and sandy. She could not find any place to dig in her toes that would stop her progress towards the center of the cave. The two goons pushed her towards a bright spot, lit by a dozen candelabras, far out in the middle of the floor. Joseph fell into step beside her, watching her struggle with avid interest.

“You are helpless in the face of such holy power, witch. Your magics do not work here because it is sacred ground and you are a defiled thing. I see you tremble, witch. You cannot lie to me now.”

Early stared at him. She decided he would be the first to die. “Whatever,” she said, baring her teeth at him to warn him off.

He snorted. She was in the wrong form to intimidate the unbelievers. Early considered changing into one of her more monstrous shapes but decided against it. Better to let the Inquisitors reveal their secrets before she ate their brains from their skulls.

In the center of the room, lit only by candlelight, stood an black altar upon a low stone dais of the same color. Two priests in strange garb waited for them there. She knew enough of the Old Testament theology to recognize a holy sorcerer’s garb. They had it all, the crystal embedded breast plates, the staffs, the robes with the writing stitched in gold. They were of no consequence, these two. Any magic that could have hurt her had been erased from human memory by the White Elephant Lord thousands of years ago. It was the thing they guarded that interested her. Early studied the altar. Ancient runes were carved into its sides and along the risers of dais. Early read their message and wondered that the priest could stand near them, knowing what they said. Of one thing she was deadly certain. The air was fetid with the smell of the White Elephant Lord.

Fools, she thought. They think their old god kept them safe. She smiled a smile that revealed her canines. She had met the White Elephant Lord. Killed him in a rage. There had been nothing benevolent about him, the old bastard. His influence surely led the priests into this folly, filling their heads with lies and misinformation. Had he told them they could control the old magics? What occult ritual did they practice here, thinking to bind the magic to do their wills?

Twice cursed fools. The magic in this room was never meant for human minds.

She suddenly realized why the stones of the altar were black and she choked in horror as she resisted in earnest. The bones of her arms bent near to shattering as they forced her closer.

Blood stones, they were. Ten thousand lives had ended here, human veins opened to anoint this dark altar. So many that blood had flowed like a river off the altar and down the steps to seep into the sandy floor. Even in death, the dead had been defiled, their spirits bound to the stone, their dying agonies etched into the fabric of reality, every bit as deep as the runes in the stones.

Her one goal in life became reduced down to a desperate need not to touch those black stones.

Early’s toe brushed the first step. The smell of offal and burning flesh was a memory here. The White Elephant Lord’s pleasure hung over everything like the stink of a thousand lovers on a whore’s bed. She was suddenly glad she killed the Old Lord. If he were here, now, she would do it again. Her rage ignited at that memory. It had been instinctive, then, the killing blow. It was only in the aftermath that she realized what she had done. It was happening again and she had no control over it. Not now, not then.

Something powerful and infinite rose out of the core of her body and exploded into her mind. The stone under her feet ignited. The men who had been touching her were suddenly gone, she knew not where. The flames, the flames fascinated her. Early watched as they grew and spread up the steps to the altar. She let them climb her body until she was a white hot pillar of flame. Men were screaming and running but it was too late. With a harsh laugh, she sent her rage into the core of the stone. The altar evaporated. A shock-wave of released energy collapsed into the hole this created then exploding outward. Anything human that was within the room turned to jelly.

Early was no longer human. Part of her was elemental fire. Part of her was something infinitely darker. She lifted her head and screamed a challenge, her rage unbounded. The roof of the cave began to glow orange as she sent her rage out beyond the walls of this cave, into the human reality and out beyond the veil.

In the next moment, a shadow passed between her and the melting stone.

Harry curled his wings around her as she burned bright.

Stop, he whispered into her mind.

Early was on fire and it felt good. The ceiling of the cave began to sag over her head.

“Stop!” he roared, “It is done. Do not burn down the rest of the Universe in a fit of temper, please.”

Her head snaked around and she hissed at him, showing him all her teeth, but she transitioned all the same, shrinking down into the woman shape again. Her eyes still burned and her hair, unbound, danced in a hot wind that should not have been blowing this far underground.

Harry transitioned just enough to appear almost human. Looking down, he saw smoke coming from the soles of her shoes.

“Little fool,” he said, lifting her up and carrying her out of the heat. She closed her eyes so she did not see the smudges on the wall of things that surely must have once been human.

“Was it your intent when you woke up this morning to burn down all of creation?” he asked casually as he set her down in the hallway far enough from the door into the hell she had created. Here, the heat did not make the air shimmer.

She sank to the floor and covered those terrible eyes with her hands, trembling. Playing with that much energy had consequences. The rage lingered like a stink in the back of her throat as she tried to remember she had once been human. “He said questions,” Early whispered. “I did not think he meant to bring back the White Lord’s Inquisition.”

“Who? Who wanted to ask you questions?” Harry asked as he squatted down in front of her and dusted the soot from her skin.  She was hot to the touch. If he had been anyone else he would have burst into flame.

“Joseph. Benninni’s pit bull. There were chains on that altar meant for me. I would burn this planet to cinder if I thought there were anymore places such as this hiding from my view.” she looked up at him. The rage was fading but she had gathered too much into herself. Her eyes burned bright, like molten lava. “I killed everyone in that room.”

It was not a question.

“Yesss,” purred Harry, “You were selfish and left me nothing to play with. I am quite put out with you.”

Early almost smiled.

“I can think of one more being who deserves to die more. Let us pay the good Cardinal Bennini a visit.” she said, rising to her feet.

Harry smiled, showing his dragon teeth. It was not just Early who had taken in too much energy. Shielding her had taken all that he had and more. It was going to be difficult to squeeze back down into human form. He grabbed her around the waist and shifted them in and out of the human plane, coming back to human reality in a room high over the cave.

Early stared up in wonder at his new form. He picked a shape that was dramatic and intimidating. That it had wings that filled up half the room was all the better.

They stood in the center of an elegant study, the furnishings a rich mix of antiques and antique replicas.

Cardinal Benninni sat at his desk frantically mashing a button somewhere near his left knee. If he had security guards at hand, they did not come.

Early could not take her eyes off Harry. There were ebony horns growing out of his forehead and a pair of magnificent black feathered wings sprouted out of his back. He was also naked except for an ornately worked armored codpiece.

“Whoa,” breathed Early, watching his abs ripple as he hovered a foot above the floor.

“Ssst,” hissed Harry. “Do pay attention.”

Early looked down at her feet. They were firmly planted on the floor, thank god, but now she was barely clothed if one could count an artfully draped piece of gauze held in place by a golden armored girdle as clothing. The golden cuffs on her wrists and the heavy torque around her neck seemed like bondage gear.

“What the hell …” she sputtered. Harry let a wing hit her in the ear to shut her up.

“Tell me why I should not kill you and wipe the memory of your church from the minds of all creation?” Harry thundered, his ire directed at the Cardinal.

“I can explain,” squeaked the Cardinal as he jumped to his feet and backpedaled until he hit the wall. “I needed to talk to you and she is your … she was the only way I knew to send you a message.”

“Because she is my … what?” Harry growled, daring the priest to offend him.

“You have taken her as a lover. She is your … concubine. Your channel to the human world. Your doorway.”

“So, You thought to knock on my … door … by abusing one of my whores to see if I answered?”

Early began looking for her knives but this goddess-cursed costume had no place to hide them.

“Yeah, something like that,” the Cardinal said faintly.

“You took her to the killing room. Was it your intent to destroy her?” Harry was being polite but Early could feel his anger boiling just below the surface.

“Hurt her, just a little. To get your attention, you understand. It is a holy place. The veil between heaven and hell is thin there. We thought you would hear us better in a place of magic.”

“Ah, well, that was unfortunate. That magic has been consumed. You will find the place useless to you from here on.” Harry said, not sorry at all.

“And what of my people?”

Early opened her mouth to say something but Harry hit her with his wing again. She turned around and glared at him, her hands clenched into fists.

“Hit me again and you are not going to need that codpiece,” she hissed.

Harry flew a little higher and returned his attention to the Cardinal. “Their souls are mine, now. Their deaths will be a reminder not to touch my toys.”

“Son of a bitch,” Early said. Tired of being insulted, she stomping away from the both of them to stare out the window at the tree-filled skyline. She could see the roof lines of some of the best museums in Paris from here. If Harry had not stopped her they would all be rubble now. Early chewed on her lip, pondering dark thoughts. She unconsciously lifted her hand to brush the hair from her face and froze. Something was growing out of her skull just at the hairline. She looked wildly around and found a mirror on the near wall. Once in front of it, she stared at her reflection, stunned.

Horns. He had given her golden horns. She clapped her hands on her ass, checking to make sure he hadn’t given her a tail to match as she spun around and glared at him.

If he were wise he would not come any closer but he gave her an odd look and floated across the room. She opened her mouth, about to yell when he held up his hand.

“It seems the good Cardinal has a legitimate complaint with the Prince of Darkness, Lord of Shadow, Purveyor of Perpetual Chaos. He wants to know what I did and if I could perhaps put everything back the way it was. I told him that I did not quite understand the issues he had with the gift I had given him and that perhaps he should talk to my familiar so that she could interpret for me.”

Early balled up her fist and pulled it back.

“Now, how would it look, if the devil’s familiar got out of line? What kind of respect would I get if I cannot control my lovers?” Harry said, his eyes sparkling dangerously.

Early said something foul to him and stomped across the room to the Cardinal.

“OK. What do you need changed? You have to be very specific,” she said, unable to keep the annoyance out of her voice. “Lawyer specific.”

“I know I am keeping you two from your … pursuits but I have a legitimate request. The magic of the world has gone astray. We would like to have it put back the way it was.”

“Gone astray? What does that mean? Give me examples,” Early asked. The Cardinal paused to stare at her forehead. “Ignore those. The Dark Lord was trying to be funny.”

The Cardinal tried to smile but it was a ghastly attempt. “Right. Magic. Once, it was easy to control the mind of the masses. One would just dream the dream into the Hive Mind and the people would fall into step, accepting direction happily. It is human nature, in this watery realm of emotions and hormones, that we swim as one, like schools of fish, swarms of bugs, murmurations of birds, herds of bison. One man could lead millions. It made it easy to live on a this planet full of people. It made it easy to grow our numbers to nearly seven billion. It made it easy to feed and clothe and house everyone because we all worked as one. Those of us who controlled it did not have to try very hard.”

“That has been unraveling slowly in the past decade. It was as if the Hive Mind seemed unsure of its path and everyone lost track of who they were and where they belonged in the group. The world fractured. The illness spread like a contagion, but it was easy to track. Easy to quantify. Easy to predict behaviors. But no matter how much magic we threw at it, the Hive Mind would not stay fixed for long. Then recently, within the last year, the train has come off the tracks. Not even minor magics work anymore. Our seduction goes awry. It is almost as it whatever we do bounces off and ricochets around until it settles on unintended targets producing unintended consequences. It is not that we have lost our way. It is as if everyone is at the front of the train trying to steer and there is a bloody battle for control among people who have no talent for leadership and no understanding of the nature of the universe. Crime statistics that were in steady decline, skyrocketed. Traffic accidents doubled in six months, everywhere on the planet. Plagues run rampant. Disagreements spawn minor conflicts that spawn tribal wars that spawn global unrest of unheard of magnitude. Every religion has developed a strange form of insanity, and zealots are crawling out of the wood work. If it were a virus, I would say it has gone pandemic. Could I create a vaccine for it, I would.”

Early nodded and walked back the other side of the room. Harry floated beside her. She studied her new horns in the mirror.

“What was the point of this get up?” she asked.

“I had to shove you into a small amount of space in a short amount of time all the while making a point so that Benninni would leave you alone in the future. Plus, I was anticipating taking it off later.” There was a gleam in his eye that took Early’s breath away. Harry tapped her hot cheek with the tip of one long black nail. “Hey. What should I tell the good Cardinal?”

“This is all your fault, you know,” Early said. “If you had not decided to send your armies against my defenses I would not have done what I did.”

Harry looked at her, afraid to ask but he did anyway. “What did you do, exactly?”

“Sparkly demons and armies farting rainbows. You remember.”

“Yes, but what does the unfortunate state of my armies have to do with the magic in human reality?”

“He is right, the Cardinal. I have been on the fence about the whole human thing ever since I killed the White Elephant Lord and acquired this place. I started out thinking I would have to wipe the slate clean and start over because the job of fixing all that was broken was just so insurmountable but I hated the idea of throwing the baby out with the bath water because there was so much that redeemed humans as a species. Their art, their music, their yearning for the stars. So when it came time to defend this place against the inroads of the High Council and your dark armies, I thought what the hell, go for it, what could it hurt? The worst case scenario would be that they would bomb themselves into extinction, leaving the planet to recover over the next million years or so but it would not be my fault or my decision that killed them.”

There was a pained expression on Harry’s face.

“Babies and bathwater and fences. I got that part. Now, what did you do, exactly?”

“That whole rainbow farts thing. That was not my idea. It was theirs.”

“I am sorry. You lost me. Again. Whose idea was it?”

“The humans. I thought, why not. That is the point of this whole thing, after all, that they cross the veil and enroll in god-school here so that they can learn how to handle power without hurting themselves. But you know, eventually you gotta load the guns and let them feel the recoil.”

Harry squinted down at her, a pained look on his face.

“Why does that sound so ominous? What did you do?”

“I sorta bent time a little bit,” Early said.

Harry looked at her wide eyed

“I … I’m sorry. You will have to explain that for me. I am a little dense.”

“Well, I was thinking that the end of the universe is where we are all going and there, we all achieve what we have set out to do, which, for humans is to become gods. But it was not working, nobody was learning shit around here, nobody was getting any closer to their goal, so I thought why not cut to the chase, start at the end and let them work their way backwards. So I bent time and hot-wired everyone to their ultimate fate.

Harry nodded solemnly and looked around. “Why has this place not been reduced to rubble?”

“Oh, well, because they don’t know it. Nobody believes in magic anymore except little girls under the age of seven.”

Harry looked at her. “Please, dear one, do not tell me that my armies are farting rainbows because you made human children into all-seeing, all knowing creatures of infinite light.”

“Just the girls.”

“Can you undo this?” Harry asked hopefully.

“Why would I want to? I finally found a solution that works,” Early said crossly.

“OK, OK, don’t get your panties in a bunch. I will go talk to the priest.”

Early scowled at him, about to remind him that he had not thought to give her panties.

Harry returned to the Cardinal’s side. He bent his head and said something. Early drew near to hear what was being said.

“Women?” the cardinal said aghast. “The women are in charge now? Why would you do that? They have been oppressed for ten thousand years. If you free them and grant them the power of gods, we will all surely die.”

“Children. I did say that, didn’t I?” Harry asked the room.

“Little girls. My Little Pony and Barbie dolls? Frozen and Dora the Explorer?” shouted the Cardinal. “That is where the magic is going? You cannot be serious.”

“Serious? No. I find this vastly amusing. You will too once you get used to the idea.”

“The fate of the planet hangs upon your vicious sense of humor, Dark Lord. Who will you have to play with once humanity is erased from existence?”

Harry gave the priest his best devil’s glare, his face gone grim and hard eyed. “Truth be told, I was growing bored. The god of this place wanted to wipe the slate clean and start over. I convinced her to try one more time.”

“What am I supposed to do?” the Cardinal whined desperately.

“Hmm, I don’t know,” Harry said impatiently. “If I had a billion little girls rewriting reality I guess I would make damned sure they were happy.”

“Well educated, well fed, safe, protected, nurtured, free,” Early said. Harry pushed her behind him.

“I am sure Cardinal Benninni can figure that part out, my love.”

“The Cardinal couldn’t find his fucking balls in the dark,” snorted Early. That damned wing came down and caught her in the ear again. She swung a fist at his thigh. Harry caught her by her golden girdle and lifted her off the ground.

Harry bowed to the Cardinal. “If you will excuse me. You know women. If you don’t see to their needs on a regular basis, they get a little cantankerous.”

Early swung a clawed hand at him but missed entirely. Harry tossed her up in the air. She squeaked in surprise, flinching as she passed through the ceiling and came down somewhere else. Harry caught her in his arms and smothered her mouth with his to keep her silent. She bit his lip.

The Dark Lord howled, dropping her. She landed on her back in a bed of scarlet moss.

“Where are we?” she asked looking around. It was night here, but the sky was full of light as the sun reflected off the ice rings high overhead. A half dozen moons hung just above the horizon.

“In the Fire Realm. I thought it best in case you got any ideas and decided to burn the place down.”

Early smiled. The gauzy dress turned to ash and drifted away on the breeze. “You got your work cut out for you, big guy. I am feeling very cantankerous.”

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