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Twisted Experience and TCW - View topic - The Majestic Cup Semi-Final: Darkness vs. Dante
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 The Majestic Cup Semi-Final: Darkness vs. Dante 
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Post The Majestic Cup Semi-Final: Darkness vs. Dante
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For the TCW Heavyweight Championship. Winner defends the title against Freya or Izumi in a match for the Majestic Cup.

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Post Re: The Majestic Cup Semi-Final: Darkness vs. Dante
Darkness didn't even turn around as the door burst open, its unimpressive lock yielding easily under the impact of a polished but surprisingly substantial shoe. He could hear and feel the men entering the room, taking up tactical positions, pointing weapons at him. The tension was palpable – but you didn't need to be a Shadow Slayer to figure that out.

He turned around slowly. "Yes?"

The leader of the group, dressed in a black, non-descript suit, with black non-descript shades, black non-descript hair and a black non-descript pistol, didn't seem at all put out by Darkness's nonchalance. He'd probably been told what to expect. "You're Darkness?" he asked in an American accent.

Darkness held out his arms. "Who else could I be? I'm reliably informed that I have a very famous face these days. You're from the US government, I assume."

"That's right," the leader said with a nod. "We're going to need you to come with us," he added, as if it was an afterthought.

"There are five of you. Do you think that's enough?"

"We're not arresting you. This is a polite invitation."

"Then why the guns?"

"We've been briefed. We know what you can do."

"I don't see any particular reason I should go with you. I have no doubt you have reinforcements waiting outside or, more likely, you'll lead me somewhere where you can ambush me. I'm sure your leaders have myriad ways of overcoming my natural advantages – things that can block my Slayer Sense perhaps, or maybe just a few of those MAG suits. They seem like a tool MacDonald would enjoy."

The leader of the group of agents cleared his throat. "We were told to tell you you can bring your weapons."

Darkness's eyebrow slowly rose. "Well..." he said after a few seconds, "that's fair enough then. Lead on."

* * *

Marta Hayes left footprints in the mud as she stalked across the churned-up waste ground that occupied the space between warehouses in this forgotten corner of the world. The rain was sleeting down hard, leaving puddles where the earth was uneven. She paid no attention to her surroundings – at least, not with her usual five senses. She felt no fear, not just because she was one of the most skilled and experienced warriors on the planet, but also because she was flanked by the three men she trusted most in the world. John Doe and Jack Dane looked as stoic as her, but Benedict moved more cautiously, glancing this way and that. Of course: he had no Slayer Sense. It was amazing how soon you began to take it for granted.

Another warehouse loomed ahead of them, a bleak silhouette against the blue-black night sky. There was a brief flash of lightning in the distance, throwing everything into stark relief for just an instant. They all saw the shadows lurking around the entrance and inside the dilapidated building, although it wouldn't have made any difference if they hadn't. Everyone knew who was here. No surprises.

The four of them walked through the huge entrance way into the concrete-floored warehouse. One of the doors was lying on the floor, and the other barely hung from rusted hinges. This was a place of decay: a ruin. Dark shadows flitted around on either side of Marta and she watched them warily with her one good eye. All of the shapes moved with the same fluid grace – there was something predatory there. Something dangerous.

"Welcome," a voice called out from the gloom that permeated the far end of the building. The accent was English – impeccably so.

Marta dropped her hand to her belt, running her fingers across the stock of the crossbow. "Can we dispense with this nonsense? You're making me antsy."

"Of course. I thought you'd appreciate the theatrics."

Marta narrowed her eyes. "Theatrics?"

"Oh you know...given the man you installed as First..."

Her shoulders slumped and she let out the breath she'd only just noticed she was holding. "Is that what this is all about? Put the lights on, Jashith."

There was a sound like snapping fingers, and harsh fluorescent light suddenly flooded the interior of the warehouse. Everyone else blinked in the sudden illumination, but Marta had been squinting to protect against the glare and took the opportunity to look around and take stock of their strategic situation. Even though she had just been reassured that there was no danger, she hadn't completely relaxed yet. Around them, lounging on piles of rotting pallets, leaning against rusting container units and even squatting above their heads on gantries and rafters, were Shadow Slayers. They all had the same wary look in their eyes, that inherent distrust that came with the territory. They all held themselves the same way, like coiled springs, their relaxation ready to convert itself into furious action at any moment – they were panthers waiting to spring. Another thing they had in common was the pale faces from spending too much time fighting at night, and the men were all unshaven, and every single one of them looked exhausted. And the scars. No one in this building boasted an unblemished face any more.

Jashith Kuar was standing at one end of the warehouse. His very black hair was longer than she remembered, and he too looked older and more worn than he ever had before. He was tired, but still proud. Still arrogant. "Commander," he greeted her.

"Paladin Kuar," Marta nodded, "last I heard, your orders put you in Turkey. Has something changed on the Anatolian Front?"

"No. I left enough men to hold our gains there."

"I should hope so. You've come a long way – if I'd known it was you calling this meeting, I'd have offered to make it closer."

"It was good to be moving again. Shadow Slayers aren't supposed to hold territory. It feels wrong to be on the defence."

"I agree, but needs must." Marta approached Kuar, waving off her three companions. John and Jack slunk around towards the sides of the warehouse, keeping close eyes on the other Shadow Slayers that they judged – through personal experience or instinctive sizing-up – to be the biggest threats. Benedict looked lost for a second, not sure which Slayer to follow, but eventually he made his mind up and stepped quickly after Jack.

"So, are you going to explain yourself?" she asked Kuar when they were just a few metres from each other.

One of his brown hands played around the hilt of his sword in a way that would have looked like idle toying to someone who knew him less well. "Yes. But I want you to explain yourself first."

Marta drew herself up slightly. "Explain myself? You forget your place, Paladin. I don't answer to a Slayer of the Fourth Circle. I answer only to The First."

"And that's precisely what I want you to explain."

"The chain of command? Did your Master forget to teach you how the hierarchy of our Order works, Jashith?"

"No. The only part I'm struggling with is the top of the chain. It's him I want you to explain."

"The First?"

"If that's what you want to call him."

"That's what he is. I was there when he swore the oath. It was all done according to the proper traditions, and recognised by a conclave of the correct size. We couldn't do it in Rome, but I'm sure you understand the reasons for that."

"I'm not disputing the legality of his accession – just its appropriateness."

Kuar was turning away as he spoke, avoiding the look she gave him, but he couldn't ignore her as she lunged forward and grabbed his arm before spinning him around to face her. "What is this?" she hissed. "Mutiny? Rebellion? Are you trying to start a civil war?" She tried to keep her voice low, but the huge empty space inside the warehouse made the last word carry, and there was a sudden change in atmosphere. The panthers were tensing their muscles.

Kuar shrugged off her grip. "No need to jump to conclusions, Marta."

"Commander," she said insistently, "you address me by my proper rank. We're not friends any more."

"I suppose not. But I don't want another Slayer War. I just want to start an honest debate."

"There's nothing to debate. You think you're the first one to come to me with these concerns? I know better than anyone that Darkness's raising was controversial. I know he wasn't Slayer-trained, that he was once excommunicated, that he inducted a vampire and a werewolf into our Order, but these are strange times, and you know the prophecies: the old rules were always going to be shattered by these times. We've been cast out from our home, seen two Firsts die in less than a decade and now we're making open war for the first time in centuries. Did you really expect to be led by someone conventional?"

"No, but I expected to be led by someone competent."

She knew she shouldn't rise to it. What was done was done: Darkness was The First now, and there was nothing more to be said about the matter. But she couldn't let him get the last word like that – he'd derive too much satisfaction from it if she didn't shoot him down. "What's that supposed to mean, Kuar?"

"You know what it means. We're fighting a war out there, Commander. I've lost more nights' sleep than I can count, and more good soldiers than I care to. I've blasted holes in things that just kept coming, when the power that drives them should have bled out already. I've seen friends bitten and turned to the Afterdark: men who I fought beside that came for me the very next night. I've killed more Shadowspawn these past two years than in two decades of fighting before that. Now there's worse than vampires too: these Faithless, who can hide in towns and villages and attack us from behind. We can't Sense them, Marta – just think: they could be here right now, listening to every word, and we'd never know."

"Don't exaggerate," she said.

"I'm not. I was supposed to rendezvous with a garrison stationed in southern Konya last month, but they never made it to the meeting place. We tracked them back through the mountains, and found them all dead. Twenty Slayers – they were killed in their sleep, Marta. The Faithless just walked past the sentries and stabbed the rest where they lay. What are we supposed to do against that?"

"This isn't new information. We know the Apocalypse are dangerous, but we also know they can be beaten. They have weaknesses, like any other servant of the Abyss."

"You're right, but that's not my point."

"Then what is your point?"

"That we're fighting and dying out there, Marta. And we can't replenish our losses, because we have no time to recruit any more. We can't go out and find Neophytes because we're trying to maintain strongpoints along the most dangerous fronts. We're fighting like real soldiers, but we have no government to fund us."

"I know all this, Jashith."

He nodded. "I know you do. But does Darkness?"

"What?"

"Just where is The First, Marta? And what's he doing for this war?"

"More than you know."

"Funny, because I thought he was just pissing around on TV, playing at being a wrestler. When's he coming to lead us, Commander?"

* * *

Darkness walked into a spacious, well-furnished office. There were guards outside, but he and the other occupant of the room were alone once the door was closed behind him.

"Should I bow or something?" he asked.

"Nah, this is America, son," President MacDonald said, taking a fat cigar out of his mouth.

"Actually it's China."

"Not here in the embassy," MacDonald said, gesturing around, "this is American soil. So no bowing. Everyone's equal in the land of the free and the home of the brave."

"But some are more equal than others." Darkness regarded the chair on the opposite side of the desk and then pulled off his baldric so he could take a seat. He kept his good hand on the pommel though as he set the sword down next to him.

"You didn't know I was in Beijing, did you?" Darkness had expected a stronger accent but, away from the cameras, MacDonald seemed to lose some of his Southern drawl.

"No," Darkness admitted. "I don't watch much news."

"Diplomatic visit. Trying to drum up support from these damn chinks."

"Support for what?"

"War, Darkness. A great big fuckin' American crusade to the holy land."

"You can't be serious..."

"I'm deadly serious. I campaigned on an anti-Muslim platform. Me, I couldn't give a fuck what God any towelhead prays to – or any American, for that matter – but it's what the voters want in the post 9/11 world. Bush didn't have the balls I do: the balls to pander to the lowest common denominator at every turn."

"And yet you turned me into a villain to get elected."

MacDonald pointed with his cigar, sending a twirl of smoke spinning upwards. "My biggest mistake. I should have embraced your message of religious intolerance from the start. I'd have won in a landslide. But the American people aren't ready for an Antichrist who's fighting for the side of all that is just at the moment. No, that'd trigger a religious schism."

"Isn't that what you're doing with this war?"

"You're a smart one, Darkness," MacDonald chuckled, leaning back in his chair, "which is why I brought you here. You're smart, and you're good and you're strong. People love you. Kids want to be you, dads want to join you, moms want to fuck you."

"Great..."

"Daughters think you're kind of creepy, unless they wear striped tights and too much eye makeup. Then they want to fuck you too."

"Can we stop talking about who wants to fuck me?"

MacDonald grinned. "Sure. Let's talk about what we can do for each other instead."

"I don't want to do anything for you. I find you repellent in every way. I find your warmongering despicable and your mannerisms repulsive. You have no redeeming features. I don't work with men like you – I end them."

"That's the kind of thing I'm talking about!" MacDonald leaned forward. "That kind of rhetoric; that kind of moxy. You're a firebrand, Darkness. And, more than that, you're a hero. I have some very detailed files on you – Novamori was very generous with his information before he went AWOL."

"Do you know who Novamori really was?"

"Lilith," MacDonald answered automatically, without showing any sign that this was dangerous information. "See, I know more than you think, and I only play the good ol' boy for the cameras. You think I became the most powerful man on the planet by being a moron? No, I know who and what you are. I know you're not the enemy, really. I want you on my side, leading this war."

"Why would I help you destroy the Arab world? Why would I help you start World War Three?"

"Because your war is my war, Darkness." He stood up and walked towards the windows. The sun was just starting to set in Beijing, turning the sky a lurid orange in the smog.

"How do you figure that?"

MacDonald took a long drag on his cigar as he looked out across the city. "Armageddon is coming. The Apocalypse. Judgement Day. And I know it's not going to play out like in Revelation. It's going to be a fight – a big fight with guns and tanks and planes and nukes. There's bad guys out there who want to kill people like you, or probably want to kill every human on Earth, and we're gonna have to stop them."

"By killing each other?"

"By playing our hand while it's still the strongest in the game. Start the war early, when they're not ready for it. The whole world goes up in flames, and they'll be drawn in too. Vampires and demons and werewolves will want to get a piece of the action, and they'll be annihilated in the crossfire. And when the smoke clears, I want America to be the side left standing."

"And what, exactly, does that have to do with me?" Darkness asked.

"I want you to fight with us. No: I want you to lead us. You're the Chosen One, the motherfucking Second Coming, and not a day goes by when I don't curse the fact you were born limey. You should be a farm boy from Kansas or something."

"Like Superman?"

"Yep. Or Dr. Manhattan if you like."

"God is real, and he's American?"

"We wish. But I'll settle for an intelligent man who speaks my language. There's a place for you leading my armies, Darkness. You want to beat the Abyss? You need to get the jump on it, and you need a fucking big stick – your Shadow Slayers can't give you that, but America can."

Darkness stood up. "Thanks for the offer, but..."

"Don't dismiss it out of hand, Antichrist," MacDonald said in a low voice, "consider the alternative."

"And what would that be?"

MacDonald turned around. The easy smile was gone, and his face was shadowed, lit only by the dull orange glow of his cigar as he took another puff. "Beasts should be caged. You can come willingly, or you can come in chains. Your call."

Darkness held the President's gaze. "I'll bear that in mind."

* * *

"Glad you could make it."

Llenlleawg pulled his jacket close. "It's cold out here."

Dante looked around as if taking in his surroundings for the first time. The rusted hulks that loomed over them became ghoulish shapes in the dying light, simple pieces of machinery rendered in stark silhouette and transformed into unknowable monstrosities of scrap metal.

"I don't feel the cold," Dante finally said.

"So I hear. I guess you run pretty hot when you're Lucifer's Son."

"Yeah, pretty much." Dante hopped down from the enormous tyre he'd been standing on. "So let's talk. What do you want?"

"What do I want? You're the one who invited me."

"Right. But you're the one who needs to figure out what he's doing with his life."

"I saw what you did to Darkness at the TCW show..."

"You were supposed to. A lot of it was for your benefit."

"Why?"

"So you could see your mentor's mistakes. So you could understand how laws don't apply to people like us."

"They don't?"

Dante laughed. "No, of course not. You least of all. You've only just started to unlock your potential, Llenlleawg – imagine: you're the culmination of two glorious supernatural legacies. A werewolf Shadow Slayer! There's no limit to what you can achieve, given the opportunity."

"There isn't?"

"Of course not. Even now, I know you're experimenting with your Slayer Sense, seeing how it's altered by your lupine senses. Your sense of smell is stronger than ever, isn't it?"

Llenlleawg nodded.

"Tell me, what do I smell like?"

"Heat."

"Heat?"

"Fire. Brimstone. Ashes."

"And what does your Slayer Sense tell you about me?"

Llenlleawg closed his eyes. Then, a split second later, he jerked aside and rolled to the ground. He surged up to his feet and looked around where the wreck of an eighteen-wheeler was now burning merrily. Dante's hand was outstretched.

"You just threw a fireball at me!"

Dante nodded. "You felt it coming. How?"

"I could smell it...and Sense it."

"You could Sense the demon in me, yes?"

Llenlleawg nodded again.

"And smell the fire?"

"It smelt the same."

"Like synaesthesia?"

"Huh?"

"It's a condition in which you smell colours or taste sounds. A word might sound brown or blue to a synaesthesiac, if that makes sense."

"Oh, I get it. Yes. It's like that. Over the past couple of weeks, I've been finding it harder to tell the difference. And I sometimes feel like I can Sense things before they happen."

"How?"

"I don't know. But scent lingers – you smell things that have already happened. The Slayer Sense only works in the present though. I think I'm able to combine them into something more. Maybe it's just experience, like how we can tell when someone is lying without any magical powers or anything."

Dante stepped up to the werewolf and put his hand on his shoulder. "You're a god among insects, Llenlleawg. I need to know the extent of your abilities, and help you to expand on those limits. I can teach you more than Darkness ever could."

"Darkness believes in controlling our abilities. He says the Slayer Sense comes only from discipline."

"Control is all very well, but nothing ever got discovered by being conservative. Sometimes, you have to push the boundaries. Sometimes, you have to be bold."

"Isn't that dangerous?"

"Very," Dante nodded, "but you have to speculate to accumulate, as they say. Darkness won't let you explore what you've just started to become, but I will. I have access to tools and information that you can't even imagine yet. With me as your mentor instead of him, you can finally fulfil your potential."

"I swore an oath," Llenlleawg said quietly.

"Yes you did – an oath to defend the world from the shadow. An oath to fight with every resource at your disposal against the extra-dimensional threat of the Abyss. An oath to oppose with every fibre of your being the encroaching Afterdark. You owe it to that oath to join me, and become what you were born to be. You owe it to Darkness to move past his suffocating lessons but, most of all, you owe it to yourself."

Dante extended his hand.

"Will you join me, Llenlleawg?"

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Post Re: The Majestic Cup Semi-Final: Darkness vs. Dante
The trip back through Beijing felt like it took months. MacDonald's words seemed to have changed the world around him, turning it about one-hundred-and-eighty degrees so now he viewed everything from a dizzying perspective. Darkness did not know fear. Nothing he had ever faced in his life had made him feel the emotion that, he had been told, was so endemic to the human condition. Even as he had watched his home burn, heard the cries of his wife and daughter, he hadn't felt it. Guilt over that had driven him for years, until he had seen with his own eyes the paradox that had created it. No, he knew no fear: fear was just a rumour of a myth that had reached him second-hand. Even facing down the horror of the Abyssal Spawn hadn't managed to conjure up that alien emotion. But now, deep in his gut, he felt something that reminded him of how he imagined fear to be.

Beasts should be caged.

No cage had yet been made that could hold Darkness. But if any man had the twisted imagination and the sheer resources to craft it, it was MacDonald. And the thought turned the pit of Darkness's stomach inside out. He had spent years fighting a war inside his own head; a battle that threatened to turn all his victories into the ashes of defeat, that threatened to turn humanity's greatest weapon against itself. It was a war he had fought and won a dozen times. It was in his nature to walk the line, to always be at risk from falling into the Afterdark. How could he be an effective weapon against the Abyss if he didn't understand what it was? And when you gaze into the Abyss, sometimes...

But this was different. This wasn't the threat of betrayal; this was the threat of slavery. The idea of being turned against his cause without having a say in it, of being induced to fight against everything he believed, sickened him. He silently vowed, as the streets of Beijing raced past the sedan's blacked-out windows, that he would die before he allowed that to happen. But then, would paying that price not amount to the same thing? He had to survive. He had learned that the hard way. His death would save no one.

"You got some balls," someone said.

Darkness turned slowly. It was the agent who had spoken with him in his apartment. "Excuse me?"

"You got some balls," he said again, "you know – guts. Chutzpah. Cajonés."

"Yes, I understand what you mean. I'm English, not stupid. I was wondering why you'd say that."

"Because it's true. I read your brief, but I never thought you'd do what it said you would. I could kill you right now." He flicked open his jacket to punctuate his boast with a flash of his sidearm.

"No you couldn't."

"Sure I could. Bullet to the brain. You're not invincible."

"You wouldn't be able to draw your gun fast enough."

"You don't think so?"

Darkness looked him in the eye. "Why don't you try me?"

The agent held his gaze for a few seconds, then barked a laugh and turned away. "Like I said: you got balls."

"What's your name?" Darkness asked.

"Huh?"

"Your name. I assume you have one."

"I'm Agent Carson."

"What agency are you with?"

"Not one you'd have heard of."

"Tell me, Agent Carson, do you believe in your cause?"

Carson smirked. "I don't have a cause: I have a job."

"Is any job worth this?"

"Worth what?"

"Serving a man like MacDonald. And I'm certain that collecting Antichrists isn't the limit of your distasteful duties. I'm sure you've tortured and killed. I'm sure you've done things that would have caused international incidents if your agency was one I'd have heard of."

"It's a job. Some people have a personal life."

"How do you sleep at night?"

"In a big house with a wife and a sleeping daughter in the next room." Carson smiled again. "Don't you wish you could say the same?"

"Not any more. I used to think I could walk away from what I was, but eventually I realised that we're all the sum of our actions in this world. What can I do but follow the path set out for me? What can I do but do everything in my power to make it possible for men like you to make the choices that they make? The idea of it disgusts me, but I've given up every chance I have of a normal life to allow you to have exactly that. I wonder what kind of world demands that of its heroes?"

Carson considered Darkness for a few seconds. "You talk too much."

"You started the conversation. You said I had balls. You want to know how brave I am? Brave enough to let my own family die to save yours. Brave enough to give up my only chance for happiness so you can have yours. Brave enough to shatter my own code so that you can have the luxury of maintaining your pitiful excuse for one. A good man falls that an evil man might carry on sinning. Does that seem fair to you?"

"The world isn't fair."

"Do you really think that's news to me?" Darkness looked back out of the window. "Do you know what drives me, Agent Carson?"

"I'm not paid enough to think about that kind of thing."

"Of course not, but I'll do you the honour of enlightening you above your pay grade. Once, I was driven by fury. Then I was driven by hope. Then I was driven by vengeance. Then I was driven by duty. Now...now nothing drives me. I have learned that, like you, I am an agent. But while you can stop being an agent at night and go home to your family, I'm stuck in my role. I am a function of this world. I am a necessary evil. I was thrown up, like a remainder in some cosmic sum, to balance the books, and the cosmos does not have any interest in who I might be and what I might want. I am human because a human is needed, but the humanity – the hopes, dreams and fears – of that human do not concern the vast equation at play here. It is only necessary that I am agent capable of making choices, of forming connections, of bringing into play other variables. There is a vast machine at work here, and I am a mere cog in it. I once believed in some kind of moral code, some kind of universal rightness: justice perhaps, or mercy, even love, that I served, but now I think there is just Order. Order that resists Chaos: the second law of thermodynamics being held at bay for just a little while longer. The universe cannot end, because then there would be no universe, as obvious as that sounds. I am an agent, created to oppose entropy. I am human only in the most basic biological sense. If it were possible for me to be born of living steel, with a silicon brain and limbs of molten fire, the universe would have arranged it thus, but humanity was the best tool for this job, apparently. So I was born. I was thrown out by the machine, and I am a machine myself. Von Neumann at work. Maybe I will create new Antichrists of my own? Or new universes... But either way, my beliefs and my feelings about my task are irrelevant. It is not for me to think, except about what I must do next. I seek an objective, and I destroy it. I make the best decision I can in the circumstances, and the universe continues to tick along, or takes one more incremental step towards anarchy. I am not a person, like you. I do not have a life. I just have a job to do. And when you stand in the way of that, you must understand that I have no choice but to destroy you. Please be aware that this is not personal."

Darkness turned to look at Carson who blinked several times then said, "What isn't personal...?"

"Your destruction at my hands. Well...hand."

"What?"

"Oh not now – don't worry. But if you side with the man who pays your wages, who gives you your jobs, eventually I will be forced to destroy you. I have no other way to be. I do not have the luxury of switching off like you. You should be thankful that you have the choice. Before you lies a fork in the road. Down one path lies death, and down the other...less chance of death. At least for now. We all die, after all."

"Even you?" Carson said in a hoarse voice.

"Even me. Pray it is not before the end."

The car stopped. Darkness looked out of the window and then shouldered his baldric. "Ah, we're home."

* * *

"Where the hell have you been?" Gwen demanded the second he stepped through the door.

"I've only been gone for an hour," Darkness replied, looking around in confusion at The Children who were all gathered in his apartment – save one.

"Well it seemed like longer to us," Gawain growled as he paced up and down in the kitchenette, "didn't you get my text?"

"I'm not even completely sure what a text is, Gawain. What's happened?"

"It's Llenlleawg," Tilpin answred, "he's gone."

Darkness had tensed at the mention of the young werewolf's name. "Gone? What do you mean?"

"He's not here," Gwen said.

"Evidently. Have you checked the roof?"

"First place I looked," Revenant said from directly above Darkness's head.

"What about...Freya's room?"

Gawain shook his head. "Not there either."

"Well maybe he just went out somewhere."

"That's just it," Gwen said, "he did go out somewhere. We sent Cai and Perdur to track him."

Darkness turned to the Cai and Perdur, who were standing in one corner of the apartment, looking uncomfortable. "Where did he go?"

Cai glanced sidelong at his friend. "He went to some junkyard," he said, the words coming out like a confession.

"Junkyard?" Darkness's voice was icy calm. "Was it full of abandoned trucks?"

"Yeah," Peredur nodded, "and you'll never guess who else we smelt..."

"Oh, I think I will." Darkness started to turn and walk towards the door.

Gwen looked over at Gawain and shared a significant look with him. "Darkness, have you forgotten?"

"Forgotten what?"

"The TCW show. It's tonight. You're supposed to be defending your belt against Dante."

"I won't be there. And neither will he. The stakes are higher now. I have an objective, and nothing is going to stop me pursuing it."

"Darkness," Gwen said, "this is werewolf business. We neglected Llenlleawg. He's at a very vulnerable time in his life. We should have been looking after him, but we let him forge his own path, and now he's run into the arms of someone dangerous. This happens sometimes: young wolves, they look for packs, for mentors. They want to belong to something bigger than themselves. As his friends – as his family – we're responsible for him. You should stay here, and we should go and find him."

"No," Darkness said, turning around as he reached the door, "I'm going to find him. I'm going to find him and bring him back."

"And then what?" Gawain asked darkly.

"And then nothing. There is only the next objective. I'm going now. You can come, but it will make no difference to my plans."

_________________
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Fri May 14, 2010 9:50 pm
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Post Re: The Majestic Cup Semi-Final: Darkness vs. Dante
It felt as if hour had gone by, but judging by the light, at the most a few minutes had flown by. Llenlleawg Stared at the pale hand that was held out in front of him. He had been so certain a few minutes ago, so certain that he would simply ignore the offer made by the albino and walk away. He had been so certain that his pride would make him go with the man who was his “first”.

Now, he saw something in the outstretched hand that he hadn't seen before. Things had hadn't really ever felt before, it felt good, powerful and above all...

...Honest. He tried to find the reasons to walk away that had been so clear to him a few minutes ago, but now, they seemed to have flown away like scared birds. The feeling he felt in in the place full of derelict vehicles and proof of mankind's fickle nature was so intense he could feel it.

Respect.

Llenlleawg felt how his trust and his dedication seemed to shift. He felt himself torn between two factions, between two extremes. On one hand he had what he already had, he was part of a long tradition of both his kind and of the slayers, he knew what he had. On the other hand the opposing faction offered something he had yearned for for a long time now, respect, trust and maybe even friendship. Darkness treated him like a small, insignificant puppy at times, Dante on the other hand seemed to treat him like an equal, even like a brother of sorts. Normally, the choice should have been easy, go to the side that respects you, but then there was the additional problem of honesty.

Darkness was a man who while he was stern, cold and almost inhuman was to be trusted, Dante on the other hand was the son of the prince of lies. Llenlleawg wanted to trust the man who seemed to respect him but he wasn't sure that he could. He looked into the face of Jason Dante and to his surprise, he saw an amount of compassion there.

“It's hard isn't it?” Dante asked.

Llenlleawg nodded in reply.

Dante walked over to the werewolf and put his hand on his shoulder.

“No decision is ever simple, especially not an important one like this.”

Llenlleawg nodded again.

“Tell you what, think about it. We still have some time before the shit hits the fan, so think about it, ok?”

Again, Llenlleawg nodded in reply.

*****

” He is coming, you know...”

Dante smiled.

“I know, let him come.”

”Nothing wrong with your confidence I can see...”

“Like any good poker player, I know when my hand is better then my opponents.”

”What if he is bluffing?”

“Darkness is one of the worst bluffs I have ever seen. He is in love with his honesty and can't even fathom cheating on her with “sweet Lady Lies”. His definition of hero is noble but tiring.

The voice Dante had been speaking to was silent, but an air of amusement lay over the atmosphere.

“Are you laughing at me?”

”No.”

“Then share the joke. I can need a laugh before Mr. Stonecold serious ruins my day.”

”The joke, Dante is that you always refused to believe me when I said that you and I were alike. But we are, we are like peas in a pod.”

Dante grinned.

“I guess you're right about that...”

The voice fell silent, as the sound of feet entering the junkyard replaced the words of Dante's “companion”. As the feet drew nearer, Dante took off his shades and polished them. With the light of the setting sun reflecting in his eyes, he waited.

The demonic half of his body made his hearing keen and he could count the steps the man who had just entered the junkyard took. As the steps took the man closer and closer, he begun to sneak, taking care to make his steps as quiet as possible. Dante smiled again and put his shades back on. The circular reflective surfaces showed the dying day's last rays perfectly, As he felt the man draw nearer he shifted his attention to what he for the lack of a better word called the Aether and took in the surface thoughts of his guest. He felt determination, a bit anger and disappointment but to his delight also a small fraction of vindictiveness.

“Come on, Darkness...only a few steps more now...come to papa...”

Even before he had come into full view, the words “Where is he?” came flavoured with anger and the Queen's English. Dante's grin grew wider as he replied “Hello, Darkness...my old friend.”

“Friend?” Darkness said as he walked into full view.

The word in Darknes mouth sounded like a acidic poison.

“Friend?” He asked again.

Dante simply smiled.

“Don't insult me Dante...”

“Of course not, how silly of me...I simply forgot that you made the cover and centerfold of “Never forget, never forgive Monthly.” Silly me.”

Darkness' eyes were full of base distrust and disgust.

“Where is he?”

“Where is who?” Dante replied.

“You know who I mean.”

“Ah, yes. Llenlleawg...Not here...”

“I can see that.”

“So glad that the power of sight hasn't left you.” Dante said while tracing the scar across his eye as if he was making some obscure reference that only he himself could understand.

Darkness only gave a angry grunt as retort.

Dante's face grew serious.

“So how is Freya? Is she still mad at me?”

“How would I know?”

“You mean you don't know? Are you trying to tell me she came to her sense and walked off with someone who actually answers her feelings of affection?”

Darkness face didn't change, but Dante felt the slight, slight tremor in Darkness mind.”

“Where...is... Llenlleawg?”

“He was here you know, but you just missed him.”

Without a word, Darkness began to walk towards Dante.

“And what exactly do you think your doing?” Dante asked with a hint of amusement in his voice.

“I am going to find Llenlleawg and I am going to bring him home with me.”

As Darkness was about to pass Dante by, the albino put up his hand and stopped the angry slayer. All hints of amusement was gone from the ghost faced man's features now.

“Get real, Darkness. Llenlleawg isn't your puppy...I would very much recommend you not to put a leach on him again.”

In his state of anger, Darkness gritted his teeth and spat the next few words at Dante.

“Beasts should be caged!”

Dante shook his head.

“No, Monsters should be caged, monsters and Gods, Darkness...”

“Dante...Get...out...of...my...way!”

Dante stared at Darkness and folded his arms across his chest.

“No.”

The word has no sooner left Dante's mouth before Darkness ensure that Dante moved. A right hook to the jaw made Dante stagger back in roughly the same direction his shades had flown.

“Now, will you get out of my way?” Darkness asked.

“No.”

Darkness shrugged as he walked up to Dante to punch him again. But as the pale man turned to face him, Darkness froze. He had stared into Dante's eyes before, eyes of red or of fire...but this time...

Darkness found himself staring into eyes that looked like the magma after a volcanic erruption...no...not magma...Dante's eyes looked like lines of pure fire that shone through cracks...

“What in the name of?” Darkness asked out loud.

“Surprised, Darkness?” Dante said as he turned his eyes on the slayer. The eyes looked like violent heat shining through cracked glass.

“You...your eyes...”

“Seem familiar, don't they, Darkness?!” Dante said with a joyless grin on his lips.

_________________

Updated on January 7th 2007.
"HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools"
- Ambrose Birce, The Devil's Dictionary



Sun May 16, 2010 7:31 pm
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Linda McMahon
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Post Re: The Majestic Cup Semi-Final: Darkness vs. Dante
"Hello, Darkness...my old friend."

"You and I have never been friends."

"What did you do with my ring?"

Darkness glanced backwards over his shoulder. "I never took it. I wouldn't...not from her."

The Bleeder grinned with a sound like a flick-knife opening. "Of course not. It's almost like I planned it."

"You didn't plan anything." Darkness turned back to Dante. "I'm not sure I understand all this."

Dante held open his hands. "What's to understand? He was my first mentor: the man who moulded me into what I am today."

"Man?"

"Generic description," Dante shrugged, "and you take my meaning. No need to be so damn obtuse all the time. Long before you and I got together and started calling ourselves Hellfire, Bleeds and I were running riot across the 411fed. He was the man in white back then, and I was the angry kid waiting to be turned into someone who meant something. Just like Cordazer. Remember him?"

"Vividly. Whatever happened to him?"

"Fuck knows. We got distracted. We forgot we were supposed to care about the little people. That's what this is all about. You're lost, Darkness, lost and on the wrong path. You've strayed. I offered you a crown, and you threw it in my face."

"So you go after Llenlleawg instead? Where is he?"

"A werewolf Shadow Slayer," Bleeder chuckled, still behind Darkness, "old Tiger Khan would be spinning in his grave."

"What do you know about Tiger Khan?" Darkness asked with a turn that was halfway to being a flinch.

"You think I never met your mentor? I've been playing this game longer than you. This is my world you've stepped into. My characters. My toys. You're a newcomer. You're a usurper. And, frankly, you're the one who made this not fun any more."

"I don't have time for this. Where's Llenlleawg?"

"I told you," Dante smirked, "he already left. To think. I give him something you can't, Darkness."

"What's that?"

"A sense of purpose. An opportunity. Meaning. What is the life of a Shadow Slayer but one of thankless service to a nebulous cause? When we first formed the New Hellfire Club and you told me all about your little Order, I thought it was great that you'd come from something like that. A warrior monk, a noble templar, now set free from the bonds of bleak servitude to indulge his true demonic heritage. You had your background, your history, and now you were ready to move on. But you remained as stoic as ever. You were as hard as stone, even then, and I suppose I should have know you'd slip back into your old ways."

"My ways are none of your business. You betrayed me. You turned on me. Whatever we had in the past is gone now. I called you brother, but all you are is an ego given form."

"That's what all demons are," Bleeder interjected, "the ego is all that survives the process."

Darkness turned around fully for the first time and looked at Bleeder in the dying light. He was a darker shadow against the blue-black sky, except for his eyes and his teeth. Like a cartoon character. "Why are you here?"

"Because you are."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"The stars are aligned. You know how it goes. When you and he come together, the fabric of reality gets weak. Hellfire seeps in. We can manifest. We can visit. Men like you are what make our lives worth living. Did you think it was just a coincidence?"

"I came here to find Llenlleawg," Darkness said, turning back to Dante. "I'm responsible for his education, for his training. For his welfare. If he's gone, tell me where he went. I need to speak to him."

"To give him orders?" Dante sneered.

"No..."

"'Beasts should be caged'," Bleeder parroted in an almost perfect imitation of Darkness, his Irish lilt seamlessly transitioning to Darkness's precise English delivery, "you said it before. Why? You must have known it would hurt your case..."

"It was just an expression. Something someone said to me today. Llenlleawg isn't a beast..."

"Aren't I?"

All three men looked up. A new shadow was perched atop one of the rusting hulks, crouching in a half-predatory stance. His yellow eyes gleamed, even in the dark.

"Llenlleawg," Darkness said, "I need to speak to you."

"You've spoken enough, and you've made your feelings clear. You don't want me, and you never did."

"That's not true..."

"You think I'm just a stupid kid."

"No, I don't."

"You think I'm not cut out to be a Shadow Slayer."

"No."

"You don't respect me."

Darkness threw out his arms. "This is ridiculous! You're acting like a petulant teenager!"

"I am a petulant teenager!" Llelleawg bellowed. "Don't you get that? I'm alone! I'm changing! I don't know how to deal with this, and you're acting like a spurned lover! Why do you care that I fucked Freya anyway? It's not like you ever did anything about it."

Darkness pursued his lips and took in a deep breath. "Llenlleawg: I don't pretend to know what you're going through, but I have friends who understand. Gwen told me that they've been neglecting you, and she feels terrible about it. Smell me – you know I'm not lying. We've all been insensitive. You think I can't sympathise?"

"Can you sympathise with anyone, Darkness?" Bleeder asked. "I always thought you had the capacity to love – in fact, my plans hinged on it – but now I'm not so sure. Your humanity was once your greatest strength. Now, I think you've forgotten what it is to be human."

"He's right," said Llenlleawg, "you're less human than I am. You've become a monster."

"Says the werewolf." Darkness jabbed a finger at Bleeder and then at Dante, "Says the demon. Says the son of Lucifer. What's wrong with this picture?"

"You are, Darkness," Dante said calmly. "You've lost your way. And I worked so hard to bring you back from the brink, but you threw away your opportunity. What's left now? An Antichrist who doesn't even care about the world he was born to save. You think you're irreplaceable?"

Darkness shook his head. "Oh, I see what this is now. I should have guessed. I forgot how well I know you. You were always jealous. You always hated that your father cared more about me than you. You always wanted to be the hero."

"Oh, Darkness," Dante smiled, "how little you understand..."

"Really? I don't understand that you always wanted the glory for yourself? I don't understand that you always wished that you were the Antichrist, instead of me? And now, you and your buddy have concocted some half-baked plan to dispose of me and install you in my place? Good luck with that, Jason. Good luck bearing this burned on your pale shoulders. You have no idea, no fucking idea what I've sacrificed, what I've lost, to fulfil this duty. You couldn't even being to understand the depth of my devotion to a destiny that doesn't even care if I live or die, as long as it preserves this status quo. Do you want to be the universe's chew toy? Do you want to be the man who has to destroy everything that he is to complete a task he doesn't even understand? Do you want to carry the weight of the world? Do you want to be the Weapon of Destiny, the Hand of Fate? Because, I'll be honest, brother, I don't think you've got the fucking balls. I don't think you're half the man you need to be to do this thing. So why don't you just leave this fantasy where it belongs: in your Hellfire-addled brain?"

Dante looked into Darkness's eyes. Neither man said a word for long seconds. Darkness watched as the fires that snaked their way through the shattered obsidian of his former friend's pupils flared up and then died and faded to a dull, gaseous blue.

"Sadly, Darkness," Dante finally said, "I have to agree with you."

Darkness couldn't conceal his surprise.

"I couldn't fill your shoes. I'm no Antichrist." The fires lit up again suddenly, and Dante grinned, showing off silvery fangs. He pointed upwards with his glasses. "But him on the other hand...well..."

Darkness stared up at Llenlleawg. The moon had risen – not yet full, but waxing towards it now – and it framed him in a spectral light. He was wearing a long black jacket, and his dark hair framed his strong, pale features like a halo of shadow, moving subtly in an ethereal wind. His eyes were like steel. Why had he never noticed that before?

"You have to admit," Bleeder said, "the resemblance is uncanny."

_________________
- lots and lots of short fiction, written by me, regularly updated.

- it's a space opera novel I wrote.

I have some shit on Kindle too: ,


Sun May 16, 2010 9:20 pm
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Linda McMahon
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Post Re: The Majestic Cup Semi-Final: Darkness vs. Dante
Darkness shook his head. "No."

"Yes," Bleeder said, "search your feelings: you know the truth."

"I have no feelings," Darkness snarled.

"Exactly."

Darkness turned and looked at the Demon. He was much as he remembered him from their last meeting but, was it his imagination, or did he seem a little more worn? A little stooped? His lithe body that always made him look taller than he really was seemed more spare and fragile now. He looked like a vase teetering on a narrow plinth: like crystal about to shatter.

He couldn't see through the games, through the webs within webs, but he knew which spider was at the heart of this trap. "I think you and I should talk about this in private."

"I was hoping you'd say that," Bleeder replied with a nod.

Without preamble, they were somewhere else. The moonlit scrap yard had been replaced by somewhere wholly unfamiliar to Darkness – at least on the surface. But, with his Slayer Sense, he could see more. Like looking through a fish-eye lens, the fabric of this reality warped his abilities. Hellfire; the very stuff of Hell, the psychic substance that covered his blood like oil on water, the key to all powers demonic permeated the very air and turned his mind inside out. They were in Hell, but no part of it he had ever seen.

"My home," Bleeder explained, walking past Darkness. Around them were walls of glass. In fact, everything was made of glass. There were hints of columns and vast, soaring buttresses, of gothic crenulations and wide windows opening onto vast panoramas, but it was impossible to concentrate on any detail because it was entirely transparent, like being inside a diamond. The facets juxtaposed in strange ways, producing reflections and rainbows, so that every step brought a shimmering new view into existence. It was disorientating and weird, but Bleeder showed no signs of discomfort. Darkness walked slowly, treading carefully on the smooth glass floor, trying not to look too hard at the walls. He caught a glimpse through what could have been a window and saw a crystal landscape outside: a dazzling beach and a sea of gleaming light. Even the sky itself seemed to be an unbroken sheet of mirrored glass. There was something odd though: something that made this bizarre place seem even more confusing. Each surface, each object, seemed to have a tiny flaw snaking its way through it so that perfect symmetries were thrown out of juncture and everything seemed to be slightly askew. Was that intentional? A place of remarkable beauty, warped and twisted by the Bleeder's sick sensibilities, its perfection marred almost imperceptibly, but marred nonetheless? Was it an ironic comment of some kind?

"Please, sit." Bleeder was sitting in a chair made of the same crystal as everything else. There was a pedestal in front of him and another identical chair on the other side. Darkness walked over and glanced at the pedestal as he sat down. It took him a second to figure out the shapes but, as he tilted his head slightly they came into focus. It was a chessboard, with a game already in motion. However, the chequered surface and all the pieces were as transparent as everything else. Though there were bishops and rooks and knights and pawns, they were all the same colour.

"How do you tell to whom each piece belongs?"

"We ask them," Bleeder said simply, clasping his hands before him as he leant back in his chair.

"So who's winning?"

"It depends who has what pieces at any given moment."

"Sounds needlessly complicated."

"Yes, I suppose it would. To you. Would you appreciate bluntness?"

"Always."

"Of course." Bleeder flashed his bloodstained grin. "I have been manipulating you for years."

"That doesn't surprise me."

"No, I'm sure it doesn't. You are one of many pieces on the board but, unlike these others," he waved a hand at the chess game, "you play by a different set of rules. You are perhaps the most powerful piece in the game, but also the most predictable. This makes you dangerous."

"Being more predictable makes me dangerous?"

"Yes. Observe." Bleeder held up a hand and two crystal discs appeared in the air above it. Like everything else in the palace, they had the same flaw running through them – on a simple shape it was much easier to see. They spun around for a second before one rested atop the other and both floated down towards the centre of the board.

"Draughts, or checkers, is a more ancient game than chess, and a much simpler one. It lacks the grand strategy that makes chess a game contested in international tournaments, but it has a brutal immediacy that makes it more popular with children and those with less patience. Not that it isn't noble, or worthy or, hell, just plain fun. But it's a different playing field."

"I thought you were being blunt?" Darkness said.

"Bear with me. I don't think the same way you do, which is exactly my point." Bleeder pointed to the two discs now sitting amid the chess pieces. "This is a checkers piece – one which has been crowned. You're familiar with the rules, I assume?"

"Yes."

"A crowned piece can move wherever it wants. It is not bound by the rules of war: it can go backwards or forwards at will. Checkers is different from chess, but it is played on the same board. What happens, I wonder, if we allow a piece like this to play the game too? Let us see."

Even though he had moved the discs with a thought before, he actually leant down and picked it up now. Swiftly, he jumped it over a knight, then a pawn, then a queen, and onwards, tallying an impressive number of scalps.

"The checkers piece is more effective," Darkness said, leaning on his good hand, "it's me, right?"

"Of course," Bleeder said, looking up with a smile. "You play by different rules. Simpler rules. You operate on a more fundamental level than these other pieces. But watch..."

The piece's path brought it to the king on the side of the board nearest Bleeder. It hadn't been moved from its starting place and, as Bleeder took his hand away, he gestured. "No check – the checkers piece cannot take the king from there. But, in the king's turn, it can take the checkers piece. The marvellous thing about chess, the thing that attracted my old nemesis Titanium Insomniac to it, I'm sure, is that no matter what you take, the only thing that is truly relevant is checkmate. A pawn can best a king. I'm sure you remember the business with your tattoos," he added, pointing towards Darkness's shoulder.

"I understand your point – which is something of a first – but I disagree with your conclusions. You're saying that I play by my own rules, and even though those rules are predictable and easily anticipated, they still put my ultimate cause in danger."

"One of the interesting things about the standard checkers rules," Bleeder said, sitting back from the crystal board, "is that if a piece is able to take an enemy it must. Predictable is the word indeed. You win checkers by forcing your opponent's hand. You win chess by thinking five steps ahead. Chess requires intelligence. Checkers requires merely guts. Which is it you think you have in abundance?"

Darkness cracked a smile and shook his head. "This is all very entertaining, but you're not telling me anything new and, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it your machinations that put me where I am today? You said you've been manipulating me for years. Am I to believe that you've been bested at every turn? Why would you want to depose me as Antichrist? Why would you want to take me out of the game at this stage?"

"The game has changed."

"Why?"

"Because of what you did in that basement in Tokyo."

Darkness blinked and then frowned. "How did you know about that?"

"We all know about it, Darkness."

"How?"

Bleeder closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them. The black shattered glass was changed, glowing with an inner light so they looked like Dante's. "Jason and I share a special bond, Darkness. He was my protégé, and his wife the protégé of Ta-Te, who is bound to me by more than you can ever imagine. His father is Lucifer, the founder of a demonic legacy stretching back millennia. His daughter is the heir to more thrones than the one I sit in. We are connected. And you are connected to him, through deeds and through blood. You are brother Infernals: you have fought beside one another time and time again, you have shed and spilt blood for the same causes. You have said before that you are opposite sides of the same coin. White and black, light and...Darkness. You can feel him in your head, can't you?"

"What's your point?"

"You are just beginning to understand your powers as an Infernal and as the Antichrist, Darkness. You have only just started to unlock your infinite potential. Think back to the times in your life when you were at the brink of destruction or ecstasy. Remember the psychic echoes you sent out. Remember when Rl'yeh tormented you in that dungeon in Peru. Remember your night of passion with Lian. Your mind is powerful, and it can do incredible things. But never before have you been so close to the Abyss as you were when you battled that Spawn. I know this, because Dante is tormented by the same visions now, and his connection to me means that I have seen them too, and Ta-Te, and Selenia, and Megan, and Lucifer and all of Hell in one form or another. We're catching the action replay of what you did every time we close our eyes. There is a reason Abyssal Spawn are so dangerous. They offend reality with their existence. They turn this board inside out and rip it to shreds. They defile. They scourge. They consume. Even in death, it has marred us all, and accelerated our fall to the Afterdark."

"Would you rather I'd have let it destroy me?"

"I would rather you'd never been born!" Bleeder roared as he surged to his feet. "I would rather you had never brought this upon us! You see, Darkness, you have the luxury of your alleged will of iron. You have a skill more awful than any I can imagine: you can remove your humanity at will. You can take your emotions and lock them away in a steel box in your mind. You can forget. But I cannot. We cannot. I may be Demon, but I am more human than you, now." He swept his arm across the chessboard, knocking all the pieces over and sending them crashing to the floor with a cacophony of shattering crystal. "You will be the death of us all."

Darkness stood up slowly. "I'm sorry you feel that way," he said mildly. "Was there anything else?"

Bleeder shook his head. "You fool. Remember the Promethean Ring?"

"What about it?"

"Do you know why Ta-Te chose Freya to hold it?"

"No."

"Because she was the only person we knew you would never harm. She was insurance against you taking it for yourself."

"A fat lot of good that did: did you see what happened when your precious protégé had it?"

"Exactly! The Promethean Ring controls the Gates of Hell. It is a conduit to an infinite well of Hellfire, the substance that fuels your demonic powers. No Demon or Infernal should have possession of it. It grants absolute power, and you know better than most what that does. I took your hand to prevent you using it. I manipulated you into letting Freya keep it. I did everything in my power to ensure that it would never be yours. If you were to use it..." Bleeder slumped back down in the chair and tilted his head back so he staring blankly up at the ceiling.

"What makes you think I want to use it?" Darkness asked quietly.

Bleeder brought his chin down to meet Darkness's eyes. "I can't read you. Do you know how much that scares me?"

"Read me?"

"I can't see your thoughts. Not even the barest impression. You're a blank, like a Faithless." Bleeder laughed a cracked, insane laugh. "It's like being blind! Now I know how you must have felt when The Apocalypse captured you."

"I have a soul. I'm not like them."

"I know. But imagine for a second that you've spent years in control of something – a dangerous animal that you've been slowly breaking in. You know there's a well of rage there, but you've spent a long time getting to know the beast. You can read its movements. You can move as one. Then, suddenly, it goes berserk. Its eyes go glassy and it foams at the mouth. It's rabid. Would you ride that animal, or would you put it down?"

"Are you going to kill me then? Because I invite you to try, Bleeder." Darkness held out his arms.

"No, I have a third option. Put you out to pasture. Find a new steed and ride that one to victory instead."

"Llenlleawg."

"It doesn't have to be you, Darkness. There's no law."

"There's destiny."

"Destiny is a strange thing. I've been manipulating you for years, Darkness, but probably not in the way you think. Alongside Bruce and his friends in the Space Time Department, I have charted the course of myriad possible histories. I have seen universes unfold that will never exist. I have witnessed events that are now impossible. You met Cameron Jones, the Worldwalker: you know there are other possible realities. You are not always the Antichrist. You have been chosen, yes, but 'chosen' implies a choice. You were picked by the universe, and you can refuse the call if you wish."

Darkness stood silent for a long moment, his eyes focused far away.

"Tell me," he said finally, "in these other universes, where I was not the Antichrist and the Abyss was still a threat, did we survive?"

Bleeder said nothing.

Darkness nodded slowly. "I see."

"But I saw no future where the werewolf took your place. That is an unknown variable. Ta-Te chose Freya because you loved her. If I think, even for a second, that you no longer have that capacity...the risk is too high. Better to pick another who is more malleable, who has the potential to love her as you did."

"You'll raise Llenlleawg in my place, just like that?"

"Me? No, you will raise him. That's the offer I'm making you. To become his tutor, as more than a Shadow Slayer. Together, you and Dante will forge a new Antichrist. He will guide him along the path to understanding his emergent powers and you will take responsibility for his moral upbringing. If he's half the man you were..."

"NO!" Darkness thundered, slamming his fist down into the chessboard. A crack snaked its way right across the surface.

"You think I'm your enemy? I'm on the same side as you, Darkness. I gave you that sword. I guided you from the very beginning. I am the architect of your fate. I regret it all now, so I'm making recompense. I'm letting you get out of the game."

"What makes you think I want out?"

"Your own words. What did you call yourself? The universe's chew toy? You have come to think of your task as a burden that will destroy you. I'm offering you an opportunity few other men get: turn back the clock, go back to reality. What have you given up for this destiny? A family...friends...how many have died now? John Dane, Ghunan Khan, Shogun, Bedwyr..."

"Enough..."

"No. Your devotion has been admirable, but it has also destroyed you. No other man could have survived that Spawn, let alone killed it. It cost you everything. It may yet cost us all everything. Walk away. Be the bigger man."

"No."

"You won't survive this. You can't. You've already lost. Let Llenlleawg fulfil his destiny."

Darkness held the Bleeder's black gaze. "And go through the same thing?"

"He needn't follow your path."

"But he will, if I allow him to. I did not forge the path I now walk: the universe made it for me. What kind of monster would let another man take it in my place? I walk it alone."

"Then we're all doomed."

"Authority is not given to you to guide my destiny any longer. You are my ally or my enemy. You stand with me, or you will fall by my hand. The time for puppet masters has passed. Attempt to install Llenlleawg in my place, and you will be treated no differently to Cain, or Abbadon."

"You'll kill me?"

"If I have to. There is nothing I would not do – except shirk my duty."

"And what if Llenlleawg joins us? What if he comes willingly? Will you kill him rather than let him take your place?"

Darkness didn't answer. He just kept staring at Bleeder, then turned away and walked back towards the glass room's doorway. He stepped through, and back to Earth.

_________________
- lots and lots of short fiction, written by me, regularly updated.

- it's a space opera novel I wrote.

I have some shit on Kindle too: ,


Sun Jun 06, 2010 3:01 pm
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