A Stitch In Time: The Invitation

MONTREAL, CANADA

THE PRESTWICH ESTATE

 

Adam had always loved the smell of White Diamonds. Estelle wore the fragrance, even today, when she should have been focused on work. A woman was allowed a few indulgences, after all. She carefully, carefully, wrote a list of names in looping cursive. It was important to match the card that she had seen in her Vision, after all.

Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: The Invitation”

A Stitch In Time: Estelle

THE PRESTWICH MANOR

THE GUEST ROOM

 

“Come in, come in. Can I get you a drink?” Estelle swept the group into her guest room, a place of upholstered furniture and carefully organized china and a bar up against the wall, stocked with quality liqueur and expensive glasses of all sizes.

“That would be lovely, ma’am, thank you!” Nat said in a slightly pitched-up voice, beaming eir most winning smile. Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: Estelle”

A Stitch In Time: It’s All in the Execution

FOUR HOURS AGO

 

Lights Show had been thinking hard, and he jumped up with his hand in the air like a schoolboy proud of his answer. He flushed, cleared his throat, and started talking before someone could tease him about his opening.

 

“Let’s go to the field where he’ll be. Let’s bring a stripper pole. Nat will do eir thing, I’ll drop the beats… No one could resist a show like that.”

He punctuated his idea with finger guns and an “Ayyyyyy!”

Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: It’s All in the Execution”

A Stitch In Time: A Just Reward

Estelle sat in the largest, most comfortable chair in the guest room, hands pressed together and fingers steepled.

 

“You may have saved the world.” she finally pronounced, a queen on her throne. “Everyone, everyone, on Earth must thank you.”

“Oh goob. Dat’s fantastig.” Fi mumbled from behind a handkerchief. Apparently, kicking an angel into the back of its own mind had consequences, and in this case, those consequences were periodic nosebleeds. “but I meang. I lib on da wurlb?” Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: A Just Reward”

Recovery: Sin on the Run

 

SOMEWHERE IN MONTREAL

 

The first thing that had scared Sin was the fact that being blasted out of the old broad’s home had nearly killed him. He took out a wall with him, and he was lucky enough to land in some shrubs. Otherwise, there was a very real chance that he would have broken his neck. He was still aching and limping, having cleared the Prestwich’s estates high gates and finding a nice alley to rest in, when the first APB went out: The Legion were after him.


Okay, well, that wasn’t a surprise, or so he was able to reason. He could avoid the Legion, the half blind idiots who barely were around these days.


And then the Freelancers put out their APB.

 

It was becoming increasingly clear that Sin was the most wanted man in the world.


“Shit, shit, shit, shit shit shit…” he muttered over and over again, as he stood up. He’d managed to react quickly enough to not die, and shrubbery, goddamned shrubbery, might have saved him from being dead or a fuckin’ quadriplegic. Oh, and there was his damned arm… hanging at an odd angle. Fuck. He’d called the chain back, and formed the metamorphic slime into a improvised sling to hold his arm while it healed, and booked it to said alley. His head HURT. It was like the mental equivalent of pulling a muscle, and any time he tried to use his TK, his headache got worse and worse.

 

And then the APB’s came in, hearing from the TV store close to his alley. There weren’t enough four letter words to world to describe how fucked he was. Okay. Deep breaths. First things first. Change of clothes. Haircut. Sunglasses and a hat. Bus tickets to one of his sa- which was in Detroit. Fuck. Hokay. Clothes and disguise first… but just going to … rest here a moment. He tried to get his head on straight, but it was pounding. Not… really not good.

 

He tried to stand again, and his vision swam. Just a moment to sit, just a moment to rest. That’s all he needed.

 

His head drooped, and then there was a hand wrenching it up so that he would make eye contact. It took him a moment to process the sudden assault, that it had even happened. His vision blurred, settled, and then… the face of his new acquaintance became clear.

 

There was both good news and bad news:

The good news is that the person who had found him in the alley way was neither Legion, nor was she Freelancer.

 

She was Anathema.

 

Anathema, once known as Hyacinth Mills, was one of the most powerful psychics in the world, and she had been presumed dead decades ago. She had killed Robert and Sandra Fishby – the Oathkeeper’s parents – and nearly killed Alice as well. The Legion had locked down Twin Falls, and took her into custody. She escaped, and then… vanished. People thought she was dead, a few conspiracy theorists insisted she had reformed and was now running a bakery, or something…

 

And yet, here she was.

 

In front of Sin.


And the scariest part of this entire situation, worse than the APBs, worse than the injuries?

Is that she was smiling.

 

Sin knew who she was, of course. The damned woman was a legend among criminals. She’d been the closest of anyone that Sin knew to truly icing Oathkeeper, and had kept ahead of the law for longer than he’d probably been alive. His eyes, unfocused slightly as they were, turned a brilliant green for a moment, before dulling. “Well. Fuck me. Either I got hit a lot harder than I thought, or you’re THE Anathema.” There was a bit of hero worship, maybe just a little. And respect. And a healthy dose of fear.

 

Anathema’s smile widened, and she ran her tongue along her teeth. “Sssssssinner.” Was the first word she hissed out. “You’re a terrible little sinner, aren’t you? Lost and alone in the world? Oh dear, dear, dear.”

He laughed, weakly. He couldn’t help it. Here was the gal that made people quake in their boots, made a rep for herself by murdering the family of the most famous hero of his generation, and kept. ON. GOING. How do you react when you’re talking to a legend? His pride swelled. At least before he bought it, he got to KNOW that she was alive.  His eyes darkened to a deep, deep purple.

 

“Yeah. Picked a fight, wasn’t prepared for. Got cheated, by a fuckin’ hero, of all people.” He laughs again. After trying to murder Estelle, he wouldn’t hold it against her. He got played, she did damn good. Oh, he still try to kill her if he ever saw her again, that’s just principle. But she won that round.  He shrugged, weakly. “Ain’t goin’ back without a fight, though. No, ma’am.” Of course, he could just be hallucinating. He didn’t take mushrooms before the fight, did he? He didn’t think so.

 

“You think I’ll turn you into the Legion or the Freelancers? You think I’m here as your enemy?” Anathema laughed; a hoarse, bitter sound that was creaky from disuse. “I could give you to the mercenary pig dogs, and they’d get your hooks in you in their false social rehabilitation, as if their values mean anything. Or I could give you to the Legion, and they’d parade you in front of a sham of a trial, pretend like their justice means anything. No, no, no. None of that would do. God spoke to me, and His justice is what matters. Now, let me ask you. Why are you such a bitter little sinner?”

Sin looked at her, head tilting just a little. “Why?” He laughs again, taking a deep breath afterwards. “‘cause they’re all fucks. Saying this, doing that. People, that is. Get down to it, everyone’s would be just as bad, as evil as they say I am. I’m just…. enlightened. No reason not to party, to drink, to fuck, to kill, to live it up. I just want… everything, everything that people just deny themselves.”

 

He leaned his head back, laughing weakly. “M’ mom, fuck her rotten corpse, thought that if she lived in denial of everything, prayed to God and followed the fuckin’ Oathkeeper’s example, she’d get to go to heaven. Fuckin’ bitch screamed you’ve got the darkness in you, Blake, but deny the world! DENY IT.” He rolled his eyes. “Tried to carve whatever darkness I had out with a crowbar, said it was the only way. Mom wasn’t all that intelligent, really. So after she came after me, I bashed her skull in.” He shrugs, and then grins, evilly. One of his first good memories. “After that…. realized, whatever. Whatever the fuck was wrong with her, I wasn’t gonna be. Denyin’ sin was bad, so Hell, I’ll embrace it. Heh.”

 

Anathema’s amethyst eyes scan’s Sin’s face as if hunting for truth, and then her smile disappears. She nods grimly. “You are so close to being a man of God, an honest man. You understand that… Fishby is a heretic, a false example sent to test us. You understand that we must take what we want, stomp out opposition. Your language needs work. I do not care for your profanity. And you will be respectful. And in exchange for these small currencies, I will save you from the grasping hands of both Legion and Freelancer. Do you understand?”

Sin blinked, rubbed his ears with his good hand, as if not believing what he was hearing. He took a deep breath. In for a penny, in for a pound. She might be crazy, but she was the only help he was going to get. When she emphasized respectful, he may or may not have let out a little scared meep. Maybe. But then he realized what she was offering, really realizing, and green and purple warred for supremacy in his eyes. “Y-yes. Yes, ma’am. I understand.”

 

“Good.” The word hissed out of her mouth like steam escaping from a valve. She clapped her hands four times. “Attend to me!”

Out of the shadows came four men, each one built like a truck. Their jaws were slack, their eyes glazed over with a dull purple sheen. Anathama smiled, coiling herself around one of them and patting him on the jaw. “Good boys. Don’t worry, sinner. These are my loyal servants, who have fully consented to allowing me to wear them. I think you… will work best independently. Have you ever been to the Underground?”

“The portal group? Yes, ma’am. Though, they’re a bit… unreliable at times. Use ‘em only when I have to.” He nodded nervously, but a little more confidently when he realized that she wasn’t going to brain drain him like her meat puppets. “Expensive, too.”

 

“If you have to pay, you’re not using them right. I will teach you. Boys, carry him.”

And then Anathema, the most dangerous woman in the world, a woman with the Oathkeepers’ sights on her, a woman who was escorting a man who was on every television screen and comm unit, turned and glided into the street as though she had not a care in the world.


And no one did approach. The streets were empty. Why? Had she… Perhaps it was better not to wonder.

 

She eventually turned and tried the door of a local electronics repair shop that advertised FULL REPAIRS ON NOVA, MCGOWAN, AND INFINITI PRODUCTS. She tried the knob, twisting it. The door was locked.

 

“Boys, open it. The Underground cannot hide from us.”

Sin was carried. He was a big dude, but the dudes carrying him were built. He knew guys like this in prison, more muscle than brain usually, but with Anathema riding in their skulls…. scary. And then the streets were empty. His jaw dropped a little, and he looked around. It was a ghost town. The place had been busy as hell not ten minutes ago. What…. oh damn. Just…. damn. He’d hooked up with some real power here. It scared him… and his eyes changed to green. He wanted that kind of power.

 

And now was a chance to help, even a little. His mind was calming, the headache less. “Please, allow me, ma’am.” He reached out with his free hand, and made a twisting motion with his wrist. The lock snapped inside the door, and the door gently came open with a creak. The rest had helped, yeah. Definitely. Only a little headache, now

 

“Ma’am. I like that. Respectful.” Anathema turned to him, balanced between the two goons, and ran a finger under his chin, making eye contact. She smiled. “You can be taught. This way.”


The store was empty, tablets and phones, cords and gadgets, comms and Legion and Freelancer merchants lining the walls. Anathema moves to the register. “Boys… which one of you used to work here? Was it you, ah… you.” She beckoned. “Open this.”

The man obediently moved to the register and punched in the code. The back wall of merchandise spun, revealing a hidden pathway and a staircase heading down, down into the darkness.

 

Sin shook his head, lightly, making sure the TK use doesn’t make his vision swim again. Well, so far, he was healing… ish. “Underground do know their stuff. Ah, I think… I might be good enough to walk, now.” It wouldn’t do to show the Underground, or anyone else, weakness right now.

 

“Let him stand, but if he runs, knock him down and take both of his legs off by force.” Anathema says, stepping into the darkness. A light radiates from her left hand – a silvery glow that shifts into deep purples and blacks, illuminating the halls around her. The staircase loops around, leading downwards, downwards, downwards…

 

And then, there was the Underground. This waystation was built into an old basement.

 

Sin didn’t run. He knew when that would be a bad idea. He followed Anathema, and with her henchmen following him, down, down into the darkness. There were chills up his spine, and mentally, his mind was racing. Okay, a legendary bad lady just saved his weak ass. They’re heading into the Underground. Somehow, she’s keeping both the Legion and Freelancers off of your sorry, TK’d out ass. Check. He didn’t know HOW good a psychic Anathema was, or if she could read his mind. Maybe not, or maybe she was just hiding that power to use as backup. Either way, he couldn’t afford to not be useful to her, not right now. He wouldn’t survive another fight right now. Survival, even Pride bows before it. But Sloth could be useful right now too. His eyes changed to a light brown, and he looked around in the darkness.

 

“Guys, it is one thing to keep me waiting and in the dark. It is a whole different ball game to keep HER waiting. Do you really want to do that?” He shrugged at the people hiding, and watching.

 

“Please,” a female voice said. “We’ll – We’re afraid, the Freelancers -”

“Are not here.” Anathema hissed, stepping forward. The harsh angles and slopes of her face were illuminated by her glowing light. “And I am.”

And then the Paranormal charged Anathema – a man with short cropped dark hair and char marks on his face, an aura of smoke around him.

 

Sin moved as soon as the he recognized the man was charging, tapping the sling, which writhed and launched itself at the smoking man, changing into the heavy spiked chain that managed to do so much damage to Nat earlier. It whipped towards the man’s torso and neck with violent force, intending to wrap and bind and possibly clothesline him.

 

Sin’s chain pulls the Paranormal away from Anathema, and hurls him into the corner of the room – where he explodes. The blast shakes the foundations of the basement.


“Oh, well done.” Anathema breathes. “I believe you just saved my life. And I will reward that appropriately, but first…”

She raises her hands. “Lord, help me -”

And then she begins to drink in the darkness in the room.

 

“Of course… ma’am….” Sin kind of trails off as she starts EATING the darkness, somehow. Ow, his head. Ow, his arm. He tried to hold it close to his torso, ignoring the pain in his head and arm.

 

Anathema holds the darkness in the palm of her hand, and she smiles. “Underground staff, you will perform your jobs, and you will open a portal for three to my destination, or… well, it’ll be clear what happens next.”

The staff immediately scrambled to their posts, the portal began to churn, and Anathema beckoned. “Boys, stay here. Sin, bring the Paranormal now that he’s burned out. Come. Quickly.”

The chain squeezed tight to make sure that the Blast Boy was bound well enough, and lifted into the air. Upside down. Just for that extra cruelty. Blast Boy bobbed behind Sin, as the portal opened. His left eye twitched, but he bites down on the pain. No pain, no gain.

 

Travelling through the Underground was always disorienting. There was a moment of limbo, of floating in nothing.

 

But this time, Sin heard a voice:

 

You know this is wrong. There’s time to turn back…

 

The voice of Estelle Prestwich?

 

???



And then they were at their destination:  Anathema’s home.

 

Sin didn’t know what he expected, but it wasn’t this:  A two story home with an attic and a basement in the suburbs of America.

 

“Final stop, ma’am?” He looked to Anathema, ignoring the equivalent of a burning, stretched and exhausted muscle in his head. The other paranormal floated like a small bobber in a bond behind Sin, the chains grasping him.

 

“You will see where I do my good work eventually. But this is my home. Please, wipe your feet at the door and take off your shoes. I will show you to your bedroom.”

“Yes, ma’am. Is there a spot I can store the, ah, baggage?” He gestured to the floating paranormal behind him, as he removed his shoes carefully, with one hand.

 

“I will see to that. You are injured, and you need to heal. You may use the bedroom upstairs, on the left.”

He nodded, and the man dropped like a sack of potatoes. He padded up to the upstairs bedroom, on the left, adjusting his sling as he went up. He looked out the window before settling on the bed, trying to find where or what city he might be in. Everything hurt. Things might not be looking up, not yet. But at least he had a chance…

 

Maybe a snowball’s chance in hell. Ah well. Better than no chance at all. He sat on the bed, then kicked his feet up, lying down. He was a light sleeper, usually, but dreamland took him quickly then and there, with Sloth changing his eyes to a deep, deep brown.…. and he had nightmares of amethyst eyes, dominating the demons.

 

When he awaoke, it was dark. Sin heard the noises of pots and pans, running water and knife against cutting board. He wasn’t in pain, and his arm was almost healed – still tender, but another day, and he’d be able to use it again. He walked downstairs, cautiously.

 

A woman stood at the counter.

 

The thing is about Nova and McGowan medical tech in every hospital, and Paranormals helping the healing process along, and the (as the Infinity Report once famously called it) Utopia of Tomorrow, is that people aged, but it was with grace. Extended lifespans, staying healthier longer.

 

This woman was old. Old World old. Her cheeks were sunken in, her face lined, her hair stark white. Her eyes had that same purple glaze.

 

“Daughter, your guest is awake.”

“Thank you, mother.” Anathema stood from the chair she was curled up in. “Did you sleep well?”

Sin nodded, hesitantly. “Recharged and almost a ‘undred percent. Arm is still a little tender, another day and I’ll be right as rain. Nothing like a decent amount of sleep to help things along.” He looked at Anathema’s mother, then at Anathema herself.. “Thank… you. For getting me out of there.” With Anathema’s almost insane need for politeness, he figured it couldn’t hurt… and keep him one step away from being hijacked.

 

“You’re welcome.” She glanced at her mother. “Does Mathilda alarm you?”

“No, just… Very domestic. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Ma’am.” Remember the titles. Still not a hundred percent yet.

 

She throws her head back and laughs. “I’m not a monster. I enjoy food and rest and home as much as anyone. While you stay here, you will need a name.”

Sin was flabbergasted. “I assume my rap sheet is out there, so, I can’t use my real name. Codenames are no good either, I assume? Jacob… Marcone, I suppose? If that will work?”

 

“Jacob, then. We are in Twin Falls, Idaho. The city belongs to me. Shop, explore, browse at your leisure. For now? I must plan, and talk to our… Paranormal friend downstairs. I’m sure you understand.”

He nodded, as he does understand. Poor guy. Better him than Sin, though. And… the whole city belonged to her? Christ on a cracker. Did people not notice this kind… of thing…. Yeah, he was in over his head. Nothing he could do, now, though. “Yes ma’am.” He knew a dismissal when he hears one, he’d worked with and against those asshats in the Family for long enough. He exited the house. Time to explore the city.

 

Where There’s Smoke: The Peace of Twin Falls

The odd thing about Twin Falls, Sin realized, is that the city wasn’t really a city at all. It behaved more like an organic being. If he wanted a drink, the people lining the streets would point him towards a bar. If he wanted to fight, someone would oblige and smash a glass. If he wanted to be left alone, he was left alone.


Except these weren’t pod people, or robots, or aliens. They looked like, well, normal people. Time had worn their faces, they bled (Sin had tested that little hypothesis extensively), and the farther you got away from Anathema’s modest house, the more… people-like they acted.

 

The longer you stayed in Twin Falls, the more you realized just how much control Anathema had over the city. It wasn’t a city – it was just an extension of the woman.


And so, you couldn’t help but be a little nervous when she called you to her home for a chat.

 

Sin involuntarily shivered when one of the people just up and told him that Anathema wanted to talk to him. They maybe acted like people. They might have looked like people. But whatever she’d done to them, they weren’t people anymore. Just…. meat suits. The first fight he’d gotten in was fun enough, and won, handily. But then after two, or three,  he realized that they were letting him win. And then they were letting him drink, and eat, and do whatever he wanted. When a cute girl or guy walked across his way, and his thoughts naturally turned towards that darker way, he saw their eyes, and the thoughts fled in the fear of those amethyst eyes. He really, really didn’t want to know Anathema in that way, and knowing that these people didn’t have any choice in the matter…. took all of the fun out of the idea.  And so he didn’t.

 

Half the fun of what he did was knowing that it offended, or made angry, or was just crazy enough that he enjoyed it, and usually other folks enjoyed it with him. This… he was the only one in the city. Him, and all of Anathema. Still. It was power. Just… maybe not the kind he wanted.

 

Sin, however, HAD taken advantage of the city’s moderate wealth. New shoes, new suit, new wallet, new sunglasses, new haircut. He looked the very definition of a man of wealth and taste. Black suit, red tie, very snazzy. Sunglasses that were just the latest fashion. The iPhone 12. Black hair cleaned, styled, and spiked in a crazy way. He’d been healed up, and everything felt better, and his confidence was back. His TK was back. Yeah, he was nervous… but it was a much more even playing field. Oh, and the metamorphic slime, his current ace in the hole, wrapped around his chest underneath the suit. Anyone tackled him like Nat did, they’d be in for a spikey surprise.

 

He knocked gently, twice, on Anathema’s door, polite as can be, deep purple eyes shining and a confident smirk, belying the deep nervousness inside.

 

Mathilda opens the door – that same old woman with the sunken eyes who had been eaten by Anathema from the inside out. You’re beckoned into the living room, and given some ice cold lemonade and cheese tea biscuits. “Thanks, Mathilda, you’re a sweetheart.”

 

It would be pleasant, if not for… well. The entire Twin Falls and Anathema situation.

 

There’s a young man in room. He wasn’t noticeable at first, but he’s in the corner hidden by the door as Sin walked in. He affects a bored attitude, casually caressing the hilt of his sword in a gloved hand. His attention is on Anathema, looking at her through lashes heavy with mascara and with eyes lined with a well practiced dark pencil. The young man is both handsome and fit. Dressed in a silky red shirt that matched scarlet hair that was too bright and too vibrant to be anything dye, he lounged with loose, long limbs in an armchair.

 

Then his eyes flick up to look at Sin. There’s resentment there, under the cosmetics and bored furrow. And a distinct lack of purple in his red eyes.

 

“This is my son.” Anathema says by way of introduction. Her lips are thinned into a sharp line of irritation. “Callister, stop being rude. I taught you manners, didn’t I? Introduce yourself. And straighten your back.”

 

Callister slouches upwards in a strangely graceful movement that reveals his shirt is buttoned only halfway up. His hair is in that specific arrangement that looked like it casually falls that way naturally but was probably the result of hours in front of the mirror. “Apologies, Mother.” He bowed in her direction, then at Sin, a more shallow bow. “Callister Rayne, The Red Knight.”

 

Sin opens his mouth, pauses a second, takes a moment to register that Callister is Anathema’s son. He bites back all the goth snark and the question if he needed to go blog about his emotions soon. He’s never going to like this pretty boy, but, he’s Anathema’s kid. Shit. Well, guess shoving that sword up his ass and bending him until his sword breaks inside his ass isn’t going to happen. Oh well. The little bow of pretentiousness causes another attack of snark to hit, but he swallows it down. It is a struggle, not to start talking in Ye Olde Englishe. “Right. Sin, or Jacob, as my current alias is.” He just… nods at Callister, instead of putting him through the wall.

 

Anathema’s eyes bore into Sin. “I can see your thoughts,” she says simply. “My son may be simple, and not the man of faith I need him to be yet. But if you lay a single finger on him, I will turn you inside out and twist you around until you scream apologies to the sky.”

He was that easy to read? Was it on his face or could she really read his thoughts that well? Shit. He shrugged, and took a sip of that honestly awesome lemonade. Evil lemonade tasted better, who knew? “Of course, ma’am. You are, after all, the boss.” Pride grumbled, wrath spat curses in his head, but greed and envy nodded wisely. Gluttony wanted the cheese tea biscuits. “Did y’ need me for something, ma’am?”

 

“How do you like my city thus far?”

“I’m impressed.” And he was. “You’ve made it yours, in body and soul, ma’am. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but, my eyes are opening every day that I spend here. Though, to be honest, it is a bit… midwestern for me. I’m used to the big cities. No offense meant, ma’am.”

 

“There had better not be any offence meant.” Callister glowered, a dog at the ready.

 

“Down, Callister. He is a worldly man. See what the outside will do to you?” She turns her attention back onto Sin. “The initial flurry of attempting to apprehend you has died down. And the Midnight always needs new converts, new flesh and blood and minds and souls. I send emissaries out to find such troubled people, bring them home unto the flock. You might serve well as such a messenger.”

“Glad to hear it. Tried to change my look up slightly so that I could be of some use on the outside.” New converts. Meaning more people for her to enslave, perhaps. Or spread the word of the Midnight, her source of power, what she worshiped, he guessed. He nodded, thoughtfully. “There’s always folks looking for a new way. Been offended, persecuted, looking for the ‘way’, you know? People are hungry for that kind of thing. To be a part of something bigger. Though, I have to ask. Are you looking for quantity, because we can find that. Or are we looking for quality, like that Paranormal we grabbed on our way here?”

 

“Paranormals are difficult to crack, dangerous. The man in the cellar still insists his Legion is coming to save him. He will not let me in. Not yet. If you bring me Paranormals, make them ones who are short on will and insecure. Bring me Paranormals with cracks that I can exploit. That is the problem, the flaw with my power I have yet to solve. I need their damnable permission.”

Sin nods, thinking. This could work. She needed people short on will, insecure. He remained focus, pride in the forefront. Pride was the best thinker, out of all his sins. “Two ways I think we can go about this, then, ma’am. People nobody will miss, giving them a better life kind of thing. Runaways, orphans, drug addicts, the lowest of low. I know it doesn’t sound appealin’, but they do hear things, the underground of the underworld, as it were. They’ll be the information. Nobody’ll really miss them, and if we do it right, they’ll appear to be better functioning members of society, who’ll also spread th’ word. With them, we can find others. Paranormals who’ve slipped through th’ cracks.

 

Paranormals with no homes, no real place. People ripe for you, ma’am. Because they’ll be part of the Midnight. Part of somethin’…. bigger.” He pauses, thinking.

 

“Either plan will work. But you will need to discuss that with Callister, won’t you? He’ll be accompanying you.”

The kid in the red shirt sneers, flipping his long hair aside. “By God’s grace, it will be a pleasure to work with you.” There were layers in that sentence, some words he meant, some he definitely did not.

 

“You both will need to check in. You’ve been given full access to the Underground. It should be easy for you two to travel, and return home when need be.”

“Of course, mother. I will prove myself to God and to you.”

 

“You got it, ma’am.” He rises, and finishes off his lemonade, and polishes off those damned delicious biscuits. He cracks his neck, and looks at Callister. “You know, you’re lucky. The first place I’d like to visit, you’ll fit right in.” Sin makes a window with his hands, viewing Callister as if a movie producer. “The girls will love you, and the guys will too.”

 

Sin grins evilly, as he puts his hands in his jacket pockets. “If we want to see how each plan might be, we need to go to the lowest place on earth. I practically named myself for it.”

 

Anathema says nothing, but her amethyst eyes shift onto Callister, heavy with expectations.


Callister sniffs disdainfully. “Worldy expectations are beneath me. God has shown me my path.”

 

Sin’s eyes flash gold for a second, and he chuckles. “That, that last line right there.” He looks to Anathema. “That’s the kind of certainty we’re going to need in Vegas.”

 

Where There’s Smoke: Home Away From Home

Las Vegas, Nevada

The Club

 

There were things in Las Vegas that tourists didn’t know about. Places that only the connected, the famous, the infamous, or the extremely wealthy went to. The Club was one of those places. Drinks, low lights, elite clientele, and the illusion of privacy, and the promise of it if you paid enough. The Club catered to everyone, if your price was right. If you asked the right questions in the club, you could get anything you wanted. Sin had been here only once before, on a bender, which had made him fairly wealthy. He’d made ‘friends’ with the owner, a man who shared his particular tastes and excesses, and had given him a VIP membership, in exchange for also keeping the many, many graves out in the desert quiet.

 

And Sin obliged, because he knew he’d need it. And he’d sent word ahead, with the right answers. He needed a thief, and a good one. Someone who was a professional. Not enough of those in these days and ages. And a good amount of whiskey, and something to look at and maybe take home. But now he had to convince Callister to come along, at 3 AM.

 

At their hotel, Sin walked up to the boy’s room, knocked once, politely, then shouted. “Cal, I know the porn is free, but you’re going to go blind if you keep watching it alone in there.”

 

The long limbed young man opened the door. He sneered. “Porn is for the weak. Those who put their faith in God do not need pornogaphy.” He stepped out, closing the door behind him. “Besides, you will not go blind. What is it that you need?”

 

Sin chuckled, and shrugged. “Going to meet a thief for our next stage of the plan. We need cash, a lot of it, to kickstart your mom’s work. I’ve got a decent job, but I can’t finesse it like a professional can. If you can keep it down on the faith and Sodom and Gomorrah, since we’re supposed to be incognito, it’d be helpful to have backup. Just in case.”

 

Callister considered through his red bangs. That vibrant shade of scarlet wasn’t dye as Sin once surmised, but was as red as his lashes. The was a noticeable lack of dark lines around his eyes, and Sin hadn’t seen Callister wear the kohl once they left Twin Falls. In fact, the boy had silently wiped his face clean as soon as their car left the city limits, sullenly tossing the wipes out the window.

 

“As you say. I’ll get changed. I won’t be long.”

 

He went back to his room and returned wearing a white shirt  unbuttoned to the chest and, sweet lord, leather pants, and a collection of belts. There was another collection of buckle bracelets at his wrists. He forwent the guyliner and wore his hair tied back.

 

“I’m ready.”

 

Sin nodded. The leather pants, unbuttoned shirt, and belt collection, as well as the buckle bracelets wouldn’t really draw much attention for Vegas at night. Sin nodded. “Good.” Sin smiled, and the two of them hailed a taxi, and took it to the Strip. After a few minutes, they would get out, and walk, past the lights, past the huge amounts of pornography everywhere, the women and men shouting and drunk and tourists, laughing, crying, swearing. Sin reacted and responded to all of them, with threats, double entendres, mocking laughter, and so on. Callister definitely got more than a few cat calls from all sorts, low whistles.

 

A few minutes later of the walk, and they reached a place where the light of the Strip just seemed to… fade a little. A large, blank looking man, built like a house and a head like a bulldozer, was at the door. Sin made no attempt to engage in any conversation with the man, showing him a small, black, featureless card. The bouncer looked at Sin, then at Callister. “My plus one, for the evening.” The bouncer nodded, and they entered into the Club.

 

Classy debauchery isn’t a combination that most would associate with each other, but the Club could do just that. Every booth was a hint of something depraved, delightful, and delicious, but just not enough to see, covered by thin screens. A maitre’d bowed and showed them to a table, and a woman and a man performed a long, slow dance in the center of the club. Upstairs, there could be heard the wub, wub, boom of a DJ, and the pounding of more… energetic mayhem. They sat, and Sin looked at Callister. “Order whatever you want.” He looked to the Maitre’ D. “We will be waiting for a procurer of fine things and classic items, sir. A whiskey, for myself, neat.” He looked back to Callister.

 

Sin noticed something odd. There were fewer people downstairs than usual, and a lot more noise coming from upstairs. Whatever DJ they brought in must be killing it.

 

Callister sniffed at the attention he got. That was his due, after all. He didn’t bother looking around the club when they got in. Such dens of debauchery were all the same. “I’ll have a beer.” He shrugged, nineteen and indifferent to the types of beer available. He stared at the dancing couple, his expression bored. The dancing couple get a little more…. intimate… oh that’s downright nasty….He heaves a sigh worthy of a man who’s been in many a battle, and muttered under his breath about degenerates unworthy of his mother’s salvation. The little mutter was eaten up by the heavy bass of the club.

 

There is a thumping noise as someone jogs down the stairs. A figure of average height, wearing a deep blue headwrap that covered his bottom jaw. He also had a long coat of the same color, coated in golden designs with thick white fur around the edges and short sleeves. What little could be seen of the face, appeared to be a skull made of ice with deep black chasms for eyes. He was dressed like something straight out of aladdin, probably a performer of some kind. Hell he even had the poofy pants. What really stood out though….was it looked like under that he had some sort of robotic body. Black and opaque, it was designed to look like muscles. A bright neon teal glowing inside, matching a skeleton…except for the ribs. They wrapped around him on the outside. Despite his bright and outrageous appearance, he moved quietly and gracefully, turning to the bar and speaking with the man behind the counter. “Some VIP up there huh?”

 

A maitre’d ghosted up to the side of the skeleton man, as quiet as the dead. The bartender nodded, said, “Some new Para, famous. Cute, too.” The maitre’d whispered quietly in the skeleton’s ‘ear’ as it were, and pointed towards Sin and Callister’s table. As for Sin and Callister, their drinks appear in a clink and a splash. The beer is of high quality, on tap, poured to a perfect amount of head. The whiskey is chilled, but not freezing, and of also high quality.  There is no label nor indication of what kind of whiskey or beer it is, only that when you drink it… it is damned good. Sin looks up, and around, watching the gyrating couple with pink eyes, before they flush back to purple. He takes a sip, and smiles contentedly… though, something was off. He couldn’t quite place it, but his nerves were acting up.

 

Callister tasted his beer. It was probably good but he lacked the palette to appreciate it. Instead, he drank half the glass without pausing to appreciate the taste. Sharp, red eyes caught Sin’s unease. It was in the way his eyes crinkled momentarily. He didn’t trust this new disciple of his mother’s…barely liked the man. But he had instincts that Callister lacked. “What is it. You look jittery.”

 

“Hunch. Something’s off. Could be nothing. Could just be a slow night. But keep your eyes peeled.” Sin said over his glass.

 

Dellen nodded as the words snuck into his ears. “Of course.” There was a plume of smoke and Callister soon found that someone’s arm was reached back behind his shoulders, as their new friend sat in the booth beside them in an extremely relaxed position. “I can tell you for certain things are NOT slow upstairs.” He said casually. “I believe you fellows are in need of an acquisitions specialist?” His touch is cold.Callister would feel hot to his touch. Whiskey SIIIIIP.

 

Callister stiffened, a look of outrage at being touched. Then he saw who was touching him and swore. It was a very naughty swear, something his mother would chastise him for, and which he learned in boarding school.

 

“Get away from me.” There was teeth in those words.

 

Overheard, as a pair of men passed by, one clutching his head. “I swear that kid did something to me. I feel weird and gross.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, she was hot. You just had too much stuff, man. Let’s get you home.”

 

Sin just smirked, and raised a calming hand towards Callister. “Easy, kid. This is our guy.” The kid growled under his breath. He turned to his left a little as the men passed by, quickly, and his eyes narrowed. He shook his head. Business first. “Indeed. I’ve got a job. 70/30 split. I’ve got the information, the lay out, and what should be in the vault. You’re my point man. Estimated value of three hundred million, if we can bargain some of the jewels well enough. Interested?”

 

Dellen yawned, pulling his arm away and placing both hands on the back of his head, the synthetic muscled arms flexing as the soft glow of his bones dimmed. “Let’s see, 3 hundred mil, divided by 100 times 30…..” He did the math quick. “Sounds reasonable depending on what kind of defences we are facing.” He spoke to Sin, disregarding Callister’s biting glare. “Oh wait just a second…you are the guy who has been all over the news.” There was a grin in his voice, but he made sure to say it hushed enough to not draw attention. “Now this WILL be an exciting field trip. I’m in.”

 

A scuffle from upstairs. There’s a bouncer… throwing someone out? That’s something you don’t see every day. The man being ejected complained vociferously as he was being collared out the door. “I just wanted to talk to him! I just wanted to talk!

 

Trailing behind the bouncer and her cargo, an identical bouncer held a wicked-looking knife with a cloth.

 

Sin blinked, then grinned predatorily. “Good man. It’s one of Big Time Tony Moretti’s safe house.”

 

If you wanted a man who could unite every human criminal enterprise, Big Time Tony was the guy who could have done it… until the Legion crippled him, and his enterprise. Now just a shadow of his former self, Big Time still held on to millions, if not billions, in safe houses, banks, and other legitimate businesses, but the will to power for the man was gone.

 

Sin continued, “It’ll be a tough nut to crack, but worth it. Ten guards, a Francettie Safe, and anti-para security systems. But, you’re as good as the Club told me you were…” Sin shrugs. “Shouldn’t be a problem.” He takes out his phone, and checks something under the table. After a moment, he nods, then writes a number on a small napkin. “This is where I’m staying. Two days time, new guard shift goes in. I’ll forward you the specs in an email, if you’ve got it. Good? I’ve gotta check something upstairs.”

 

“That’s the third one today.” Dellen mutters as he see’s the loon getting escorted out. “I really DO need to get an email. Use too many burner phones.” He pockets the napkin into his big coat and pats it there. “Make sure to scrape your shoes on the mat before coming back down. Never know what gets on those floors.”

 

Callister scowled at Sin then turned to Dellen. “Yeah? The wastes of the si-” he bit on his words, remembering to go lightly on the religion. For now. Undercover, like a spy. He could tell a few untruths for mother. “Singularly uncouth, no doubt.What is up there?” He checked his own phone. He didn’t look impressed at the picture. “Right.”

 

Sin’s eyes changed to bright pink, and he grinned wickedly at Dellen. “That’s half the reason I’m going up there. Been a couple of weeks. Cal, if you want, have a few more drinks. I’ll be back in about half an hour. Otherwise, meet me back at the hotel, and we’ll go over the next stage together.” He nods at Dellen. “You know how to get into contact with me, we can go over the specs then earlier if you don’t have email.” Sin starts unbuttoning his jacket and shirt, and loosens his tie, with a dark smile on his face, and he heads upstairs the the madness…. if no one else says anything.

 

As Sin ascends the stairs, he is immediately overwhelmed by the wave of lustful energy and smells. Knots of dancers gyrate together, grinding and moving to the downtempo electronic beat. It only takes a little searching to find what he expected to see: a tiny redhead, bare feet gliding just off the floor, freckled face flushed, exuding raw sexuality and beaming with a broad grin.

 

Sin runs with it. Sin is part of it, as he moves through the crowd, and his demons all come out at once, his eyes blurring into nearly all of the different colors as he just… feels all of them. But mostly lust. A lot of LUST. But he makes his way, smoothly, and he feels that siren call, and rejects it. The Lure is there, and he makes a note of it. He watches it. And gives it the finger. He is no one’s bitch, not ever. But he still needs to make contact, briefly. Not that he cared if this para lived or died, but because er may be the beginning of him getting out from underneath Anathema’s thumb.

 

He gyrates, and moves, and swishes past, enjoying every minute of it… but Pride keeps him focused. His TK moves a slip of paper, one he’d prepared earlier, but didn’t think he was going to have a chance for a long, long while. The slip flies, floats, and flutters…. and finds its way tucked into Nat’s pants. Difficult, but he’s been practicing. And he continues past her, but that one moment… they might lock eyes. And the demons all say hello.

 

The look in the Damselfly’s eyes as they meet Sin’s… delicious fear, heavy shock, a flinch, countless other emotions, all heightened by some kind of drug. Ey claps a hand to eir waist where the paper tucked and ey float away from eir partner for a moment, eyes still fixed on Sin as he continued to weave through the crowd.

 

Ey thumbs open the paper and holds it at hip-level, reading it surreptitiously through a squint.

 

And Sin’s gone, through the crowd, vanishing. She might have hallucinated it.

 

On the scrap of paper reads: “We are Seven. Have information. Seek: *Here, there is a scribble of words, numbers and other things. A cipher.*

 

Clutching the paper, Nat flies up a bit, trying to catch sight of Sin. “Wait! I– I wanted to–“

 

The Sin is in the wind. Already, he’s moving back downstairs, covered in sweat and possibly other things. To Nat, he might have just disappeared, or hallucinated it all…. except for that scrap of paper.

 

——————————————————————————————————————————–

 

Dellen gives Sin a finger gun and makes a shooting noise in affirmation as he leaves, before bamfing across the table from Call. “Singularly uncouth? Absolutely. Not much up there for me but easy pickings.” He pauses for a moment, thinking on his words. “Of the monetary kind.”

 

Callister glared balefully at Dellen. Quite easy, considering his ruby eyes. “I couldn’t imagine any other sort. He empties his glass and ordered another. “Refreshment?” It was more sulky than normal courtesy required, but there it was.

 

“I bet you’re friend up there could imagine all kinds of nasty meanings.” There was a playful chuckle in his voice. “But alas, those kinds of things aren’t really my thing. Not much of one for the pleasures of the flesh.” He turned his head slightly at the glass of whisky left on the table. “Absolutely.” His jaw bone under his headwrap opened just a little too wide and he downed the whole drink, a haunting “Ahhhhh” coming from the nebulous void inside.

 

The look the boy gave Dellan said that he expected no less of him, but ordered another whiskey for the skeletal man anyway. His mouth curled sourly. How was he to do his mother’s bidding if he had to rely on such rejects as Sin and Dellan. How was he to prove his worth to her? Callister snorted. “So.” A short start at small talk. “What’s with the body armour?”

 

“Oh this?” Dellen said, motioning to the opaque synthetic muscle covering most of his skeleton. “It’s to keep most people from freaking out about a walking skeleton made of ice going around. They give me looks like that one you did when I mentioned cum shoes earlier.”

 

It is a great mystery how he achieved this, but Callister somehow managed to look both revolted and bored at the same time. “Nice look,” he yawned. “You come by it naturally or you steal it off someone? Don’t know who’d be making faces at you. Wouldn’t know anyone who’d want to pick a bone with you.”

 

“Heheh you know there was a girl who tried to use that as a pickup line on me? It was terrible.” He sighed, kicking his feet up onto the table and grabbing his new whisky and inserting a straw. Now with no lips one would think he couldn’t do much with it, but somehow he made it look super cool. “This look, however, is my own and fits in pretty well around here. How about you? Fan of bright reds I see.”

 

“Symbolic of the blood I must shed for victory,” he said in a flat tone into his beer. “Symbolic of the fire that must come before the fall, and the brimstone gates to hell that must be unleashed upon the world to bring it to heel. Or whatever. I like the color. Natural eyes and hair.” He drank.

 

“I believe it.” His teeth bit and unbit the straw, tutting his non existent lips somehow at the taste. “Blood and fire huh? If I am honest I don’t have much of either of those. But I can respect it. Good for you.” His voice was only a little bit patronising. “Afraid I don’t know where to find any keys to hell though, else I would nab one for you.”

 

“I’ll kick the gates down myself. I don’t need any key. Faith will be provided when I need it.” He finished his beer. “What is that reprobate doing up there? Am I his babysitter as well? Whatever. Excuse me. I’m heading up.” He stood, much quicker than he intended to, the two quick beers making him a little fuzzy. Then armed with a sneer and resolve, he marched up towards the techno beats.

 

The skull watched him curiously as he left. “I don’t think faith works that way.” He would sigh to himself in a sort of “Just saying” tone as he slurped up the last of his whiskey.

________________________________________________________________________

 

Upstairs, Callister’s nostrils flared as he was assaulted by the sight of writhing bodies, pulsing lights and slathers upon slathers of sin.

 

So this is where Mother’s new favorite had disappeared to. He was not about to look under the piles of bodies for the man, and turned to leave when he saw the lithe figure dancing in the center of the room. He paused, entranced.

 

It was a miracle.

 

He’d lost his sneer.

 

The red-haired waif twisted in the air like sapient, cabled sexuality, some kind of irresistible lure pouring off their body. For the life of him, Callister couldn’t tell whether the dancer was a man or a woman, but they were definitely paranormal– gravity seemed to have no effect on the pixie-like creature.

 

Callister was floored. He wanted to go up to the sprite-like figure, maybe talk to her. Him? About what, he didn’t know. What did you talk to girls about? Or boys?

 

He stared for a long moment then shook himself.

 

He was here to do his mother’s work. Callister turned, and walked back down the stairs.

 

He was about halfway down when someone giggled in his ear. Well, not exactly. Just… above it?

 

“Whatcha got in your pants that you need all those belts for?” The voice was somewhere between a tenor and alto, and Callister caught a faint whiff of sweet, musk-heavy breath. He turned and confirmed what he had already known: the para from the dance floor had followed him.

 

Callister swallowed, turning and looking up. He tried to speak, his voice thick. “Nothign. I, ur. I like the look.” A flush darkened his light brown skin. “I mean. Not nothing. I like the belts.”

 

“I like the belts too,” the para murmured, weaving around Cal’s body like a snake and running a finger across the edge of one of the belts. “You’re like… like the protagonist of an anime or something.”

 

The para looked up at him. Their eyes were powerfully dilated, a thin ring of vibrant green the only iris visible between their pupil and sclera. One could fall into such eyes.

 

And Callister did. Red eyes into green. “N-no, not an anime. I just like this look. Erm.” What do you do? Name? Name! “I’m Callister. What’s your name?”

 

“They call me the Damselfy,” the para purred, slowly floating up to be face-to-face with him, “but you can call me Nat…. Callister.” There was a particular emphasis, there, an implication that Callister was somehow special.

 

Callister swallowed. “Pleased to meet you, Nat. Er…do you want to do something? With me?”

 

“Why do you ask?” Nat’s breath smelled really… good? In an extremely exciting way. “Did you have something in mind?”

 

The pony tailed redhead stared desperately at Nat. “Urh,” he said intelligently. “I…do you want a drink?”

 

Dellen had set a towel down in one of the booths and was watching them with his chin in his hand, saying. “Simply fascinating.” In a sense of awe.

 

“How genteel!” Nat beams, floating sliiightly away from Callister. “I would love to be treated to a drink, thank you Cal. Is Cal all right?”

 

“Er..yeah? I mean, everyone calls me Callister.” He followed after Nat like a puppy, waiting for Nat to sit at the bar before taking his seat. “What would you like to drink?”

 

Nat wheeled in midair, floating just above the barstool. “Sex on the beach,” ey murmured.

 

Dellen bamf’d next to them, holding two of the drinks in question. “Sex on the beach, for the prestigious Callister and his friend.” The ghastly man mimicked a butler’s voice quite well, and moved with the grace of a servant as well.

“Ooh! Skellington man. I liked you in that show.”

 

Callister looked relieved. It was just drinks. He barely noticed Dellen’s presence, only taking the drinks for Nat and him, handing one to Nat.

 

“So. Ur. You like dancing?”

 

Dellen gives a bow at the mention of his showmanship, gave a slight nudge of encouragement for Callister, and then poofed away again to watch from afar. “Oh I MUST see this.”

 

“I’m a professional dancer,” Nat said, pulling back on the seductive demeanor slightly. Slightly. “Minor celebrity for it, as of recently. You’ll have to come to my home club if you’re ever in Colorado. I’ll make sure you get in for free… and I’ll treat you to a dance, too.”

 

“Er. Okay. Colorado. I’ll be there.” Callister obviously had no idea how out of his depth he was. Or what sort of dance awaited him in Colorado. For now, he desperately racked his brain on small talk subjects. “So you don’t work here often?”

 

“Mmm, no, I’m on a little vacation,” the little para tumbled gently through the air, body moving in languid arcs. Ey turned eir drink while tumbling, taking sips through the straw and never spilling a drop. “But I travel all over, so even if you can’t make it to Boulder… you can find me. Want my number, cutie?”

 

“O-okay.” Cal fumbled for his phone.

 

Nat took the phone, entered eir number into it, took a quick selfie to add as the contact portrait, and then kissed the screen and handed it back. Ey leaned forward and whispered into his ear. “Find me.”

 

Then, suddenly, ey was zipping away, giggling to emself, dropping a generous tip in the bartender’s hands, saluting a bouncer, and out the door.

 

Callister could still faintly detect eir scent hanging in the air.

 

The cold hand of a skellington patted Cals shoulder. “Better luck next time sport.” His voice teasing.

 

“Bwuh.” Callister looked at Dellen, back at the door where Nat disappeared, and back at his drink. “Bwuh.” He took a sip. “What? What happend?”

 

“You fell in lust my friend.” The skeleton grinned. “Happens to the best of us. Seem’s you got their number though so….it’s not all for naught.”

 

“That’s good?” The kid looked young and more than a little poleaxed.

 

“Could be. Will have to call her some time to find out. Not for a while though….else you might come off as a bit ‘desperate’. Give it a few days. Maybe their charms will wear off…” Dellens voice made it seem like some sort of challenge to see if he could remain enamoured that long.

 

“Er..okay, yeah. Will do that. Think I’ll head back to my hotel. Night and stuff.” He got off the stool, and wandered away on shaky legs.

 

“Simply fascinating.”

 

Bonding Agents: The Red Knight and the Oathkeeper

A SIDESTREET

NEW YORK CITY

 

“I’m proud of you.”

She had said I’m proud of you.


There had been no hateful invective, no cold stares, no silence. She had put one hand onto his shoulder and said “I’m proud of you.”

And so, Callister found himself slightly out of sorts. There was shock…a sense of accomplishment. He’d finally done something worthy of praise. He’d hoped for this for so long…The acquirement of Smokescreen was the result of no intense planning. There was an opportunity, and he took it. He didn’t even dare to think she would be pleased. He just let himself smile as he left Twin Falls.

 

Gosh, wasn’t it a lovely day out?

 

Were those birds singing?

 

Of course not, this was NYC.

 

Well, he could pretend.

 

His revelry was interrupted by a woman charging into him. There was a blur of motion – blonde hair, grey blouse.

 

If the Oathkeeper was at full strength, if she hadn’t willingly Suppressed herself and breathed in enough toxic gas to kill a human, she would have put him through three walls.

 

As it was, she grabbed his wrists and pushed him back a few steps.

 

You.” she hissed.

 

Callister looked down. The good mood hadn’t dissipated. He was surprised by manhandling, but easily pushed back, bringing his wrists up and around, easily twisting out.

 

He smiled down at her.

 

“Good evening, Alice Fishby. How are you?”

 

The fury in her face turned to surprise. She lifted one hand. A golden gauntlet sparked into existence, and then she breathed in sharply – wrongly – coughed, and the  gauntlet disappeared.

 

“It’s McGOWAN -” she snapped back. “Alice McGOWAN, I’m the Oathkeeper, and you are under arrest.”

“Am I? Do try harder.”

 

He stuck his hands in his pockets and turned to walk away.

 

Callister has had extensive experience in infuriating women.

 

She charged behind him, threw herself around the backs of his legs in a bid to take him down.

“Babe! Is this about what I said about your prom dress?” Callister said aloud for the benefit of the passerbys. He twisted and gripping her shoulders, pushed away. “You looked great, but that bright pink don’t suit nobody.” He got to his feet and jogged away, long legs eating up the pavement.

 

The Oathkeeper made to sprint after him, and then she coughed, sucking in air, and stumbled forward. “This isn’t over!” She screamed down the sidewalk. “I’m going to find you! I’m going to find your mother! I’m going to stop both of you! You can’t run forever!”

Callister did not, in fact, run forever. He stopped at a doorstep a street down, turned and waved at Alice. He went on through.

 

In response to his jaunty little wave, Alice tried to yell more. Instead, she ended up coughing. And coughing. Hideous, hacking coughs. She fell to her knees.

 

Could this day get any better?

Callister merely waited as he leaned against the wall, arms crossed. He’d even taken his phone out.

 

Sure enough, she staggered around the corner soon enough, eyes wild and bloodshot.

 

A thin hooded figure leaned against the wall next to Callister, witnessing the distraught and weak Oathkeeper trying to keep up. “Man. What are you even doing?” He asked in a voice that seemed tired, and frankly kind of creeped out by this public powerplay Callister was doing.

 

Callister didn’t appear surprised. “Hmm? I’m just inviting a lady for a drink.” Indeed, they were beside an entrance to a cafe. “What are you doing?”

 

“Making sure you don’t do something you regret. You don’t just fuck with a Legion-General and get away with it man. Even if she is. Ah. Well.” As he saw her getting closer he teleported to a safe distance again.

 

“I said, “ Alice gasped again as she laid eyes on Callister. “You’re – under – arrest -”

Callister merely entered the cafe and found a seat inside. He was in the midst of ordering a cappuccino and a muffin and he looked expectantly at Alice.

 

Dellen had already positioned himself inside the cafe, a short distance away. He tried not to draw attention to himself. Luckily this was something he had a lot of practice in, as well as eavesdropping.

 

“I hope you – got that order to go,” Alice said, standing over Callister and planting her palms on the table. “Because you’re… under arrest.”

“How will you stop me?” Callister looked genuinely curious.

 

She stared at him. No one had ever asked her that question before. There had never been a point to asking it. The answer had always been obvious.


She changed tactics.


“Tell me where she is.”

His coffee arrived. “Are you sure you don’t want a drink?” He shrugged. “And why should I?”

 

She took a seat (to hide her shaking knees). “She killed my parents. She tried to kill me. She’s a monster. We had her in custody, we can help her, but -”

Can you help her? You? Why would she want your help?” Callister had pulled on a pair of glasses with round red lens.

 

The little bell over the door dinged in the cafe, and a man in sunglasses and a dark suit walked in. He went to the register, all smiles, flirting possibly with the person behind the counter, and ambled over to where Callister and Alice were. The smile dropped to a smirk, and he pushed up his sunglasses slightly. His body language, however, was loose, and ready for a fight, if it came to that. “Callister. Making friends?”

 

Alice’s eyes move onto the man who’s just approached, and then they widen. “You -”

“I am. Would you like coffee? Tea? They do a lovely single origin blend here if you’re after coffee. Take a seat.”

 

He took a sip of his drink.

 

Alice slowly, slowly began to move her hand down to her pocket.

 

“Really? Alice Fishby, Mother assured me that you were a better opponent than that. Sin is a very strong telekinetic and I am here also.”

 

Sin smiled, and nodded at Callister. “I’ll try that single origin blend, haven’t had a decent coffee in ages.” He took a seat, lazily looking at Alice. “Go ahead and try it, but from what I’m looking at right now, it’ll be very unfortunate for you.”

 

Dellen eyeballed, or rather, eyesocketed the fire alarm. He really should stop following Callister around. This was way above the sort of shit he allowed himself to get into.

 

The Oathkeeper froze. The Oathkeeper was afraid. “You can’t threaten me. You -”

Sin mocked a gasp, and looked falsely horrified. “Callister! You weren’t ‘rude’ to the lady, were you?” Then that scary shit eating grin appeared on his face, and behind the sunglasses, Sin’s eyes started burning a bright red.

 

“I am never rude. Mother wouldn’t stand for it. Ah. Did I not introduce myself?” Callister held out his hand. “Callister Rayne.”

 

Dellen let out a quiet sigh. Fire alarm would be a bad idea. Being there in the first place was a bad idea. Just lay low. Stay cool.

 

Alice burst out laughing. “Callister. Callister. She’s still obsessed with me! She murders my parents, she tries to get into my head – it’s been decades, and all she can think about is me! Callister. Alice.” She draws the similar syllables out.

 

Sin nearly spat out his coffee, which came, and is delicious, as he realized this, and desperately tries to hide his laughter. He set the coffee down, coughing, and pounded his chest. The red is gone, changed to a very amused purple in his eyes.

 

Just like that, Callister’s good mood fled. It was replaced with rage. He stood up, flinging the table aside and summoned his red armor.

 

“You will regret those words, Alice Fishby.”

 

She stood, attempting to summon her own armour – for a second, it flickered around her, roared into life for a moment – and then vanished.

 

Running simply wasn’t in her DNA, so she grabbed the cup of coffee from Callister’s place and threw it into his face.

 

The liquid froze in midair, as Sin flicked a finger, sighing. There was a bit of adrenaline when the armor started to manifest, but thank goodness it didn’t. The hot coffee dropped to the floor in a splash.  He moved another hand, and a crushing, invisible grip held Alice in place. “As funny as it was, it was kind of rude. But Cal, we’re going to have to go to a new cafe, now.” He gestured, and all the people around were staring at them, terrified, taking pictures, whispering quietly.

 

“We made a scene. Is this what you wanted, McGowan?”

 

“I want justice!” She screamed, kicking and flailing to the best of her ability. “She’s going to get in your head. She’s going to get in your head and core you out!”

“She is my mother. I will never let you have her.” Ruby red eyes burned. “I will tear down all you have built, and she will stand on your neck as all that she deserves will come to her.”

 

Sin chuckled. It was an evil, just… monstrous thing. Amusement in someone’s pain. He looked around, and the smirk went into a grin. He reached out with his telekinetic power, and cell phones rose up, from those who were filming. They floated around, and filmed Alice McGowan, the Oathkeeper… helpless.

 

“You can’t do this to me. You can’t do this to me -”

 

Sin cleared his throat, and put on his showman’s voice. Someone had been taking notes from Mr. Magic’s shows… “Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls of ALL ages…. I want to show you all what the pursuit of ‘justice’ gets you. Behold, your hero, your champion, the Legion-General Alice McGowan, the Oathkeeper!” He gestures, and the crushing grip squeezes HARD on her.

 

She fell silent, but she refused to scream or show pain. Her head dropped, golden mane of hair falling over her face, and she gritted her teeth and clenched her jaw as hard as she could.

 

“Justice, her justice…. This is all you get from pursuing that kind of thing.” With a devilish smile, Sin gestured to Callister.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Callister held out his hand. The hilt of the sword appeared first, then the long steel blade slowly manifested from base to razor sharp point. A long two handed sword, it was almost as tall as he. Callister snarled from behind his visor, and with a massive swing brought the hilt to her jaw.

 

“Remember your words the next you speak of Mother.”

 

With that, he strode on through the cafe.

 

“Leave her. We have other work.”

 

Sin chuckled. “He goes for the honorable path. Of course.” Sin walks up to her closely. “Just remember this, Alice. We could have killed you. But you’re not my kill, or his. And believe me when I say this, it is going to get a whole lot worse for you.”

 

She brought her head and stared at Sin, eyes full of cold rage. “And you’re a host of demons wearing the skin of a man. Bring her to me, or bring me to her. I’m not afraid.”

And then she spat in his face.

 

Sin blinked. Removed his glasses, as spittle dripped down from them, and wiped his face off. He flicked a hand down, wiping the spit off, and laughed a dry, hollow laugh. “You sound just like my mother.”

 

And every window in the cafe shattered,  a storm of glass ripping through the air towards McGowan in a terrifyingly beautiful tornado around her, slashing and lacerating her flesh and body. He held her like this for about ten seconds, the storm whirling and mixing with blood and hair and flesh.

 

And then he dropped her, the glass, and her body, falling to the floor like yesterday’s trash. Sin grunted, then cleaned his glasses, and followed after Callister.

 

As soon as Sin left, people began to scream. One or two people dialed 911, one woman stayed, shrugging off her jacket to press against Alice’s wounds – a kind gesture, but there simply wasn’t enough surface area for what had been done – and the rest fled into the street.

 

Sin’s phone gave a gentle buzz.

 

Anathema.


“Return home. We need to talk.”

Bonding Agents: Homecoming

The Underground don’t even look at either Sin and Callister anymore. They keep their heads down and get the teleportation working.

 

And before long, they were outside Anathema’s childhood home.

 

Sin arrives, and rubbed his chin. He might have gone too far with this one. Lost his temper. He stood  outside the house, wondering what Anathema was going to do. He hadn’t even really begun the cult, only about a hundred people were now enslaved to Anathema through the Midnight Gathering. Pretentious name, but it got people to show up.

 

Now, he’d stirred things up again. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to go toe to toe with Anathema, especially with Callister here backing her up. Well. If it was time…. He’d go All In.

 

Beside him, Callister shrugged and settled his shoulders. He didn’t seem bothered, and sometime along the way, Callister had lost his sneer around Sin. The boy simmered, however, still stinging from Alice’s words.

 

“She wasn’t right, was she?” Then he bit his tongue. He was never to show that much weakness in front of Sin.

 

Sin looked at Callister. The kid was… well, a kid. Bit of sympathy wouldn’t hurt, but neither would lying to the kid.

 

“I dunno, Cal. Could be your mom never even realized it. It could be that she really is that obsessed with Alice.” He took a breath.

 

“But, just want t’ tell you. That doesn’t matter. You choose who you are, now. You’re old enough to make that kinda decision.” Sin shrugged, and walked up to the door, knocked twice.

 

Mathilda opened the door. Callister paused to kiss his grandmother on the cheek. She silently led them to the parlor, before serving them lemonade and ginger snaps, bowing, and leaving.

 

Anathema swept in shortly afterwards. Her eyes fell on Callister, and she smiled.

 

“My son.” She said, voice warm. “I saw the feed. You were magnificent. You are truly my son.”

Recent doubt fled, surprise almost causing him to smile. “Mother.”


Her amethyst eyes shifted to Sin. “Is she dead?”

“She’ll live. I don’t kill steal. She’s your kill, not mine.” He waited for either the explosion of rage, and the fight of his life, a derisive comment, or praise. He’s not sure which, but he’ll be ready for either. He’s calm, and proud of what he’s done, dark purple eyes matching Anathema’s own amethyst gaze equally and calmly.

 

She smiled. “Good. Good. You both played your part well. It could not have gone any better. Things have… accelerated. We could not predict that. But we will overcome. Good.”

Sin nodded, though inside he was a bit concerned. “The Midnight Gathering group is growing, faster than I’d hoped, but still more slowly than what we’d need, I think. I know Callister did one hell of a job grabbing that Paranormal, Smokescreen, but we’re going to need a lot more muscle if we’re going to war.”

 

“The first boy who attacked me… Paul, I think. A good name. He is converted. He has let me in. He will return home to the Legion. This Smokescreen… She will let me in soon. She is ripe with self hatred. And she will go to the Freelancers.”

“Interesting. With, ah, Paul, in the right place, we could bring down the flying fortress. Or recruit less known folks. Same with Smokescreen…” Sin rubbed his chin, thoughtfully.

 

Callister nodded. A two prong attack. “We need one more, for PHALANX. Surely they will come when they see the Legion in danger.”

 

“That will take time. PHALANX are hard to find, reclusive.” She smiled. “You will find one for me, I am sure of it.”

 

Sin nodded again, thinking. “Extraterrestrials. They deal with…. The machine aliens, usually. Make a ruckus with them, perhaps, and they’ll send some of their boys down to earth. Another question. Can you possess one of those Machine Aliens?” Sin’s mind worked overtime. This was going to be one hell of a war.

 

“Other than that, I’m not sure.”

 

“Machines have nothing for me. I deal with flesh and blood and souls.” Anathema admitted, in a way that suggested that she was not a fan of it. “Callister. My son. I am so proud of you. I have something to ask of you.”

Callister snapped his head up. “Mother, anything.”

 

“You put cracks in the Oathkeeper’s mind. Cracks I can use to enter her. We will continue that. Deliver this card to her bedside.” Anathema produces one, slipping into her son’s hand.

 

Callister took the card and slipped it into his inner jacket pocket. “I will do this.” He looked stunned at the continued praise.

 

“I would speak to Sin alone, please.”

Sin raised an eyebrow. Oh shit.

 

“Of course, Mother.” He leaned in to kiss her cheek goodbye then he turned and left, presumably to join Mathilda in the kitchen.

 

Anathema swept towards Sin. “You are a man of the world.” She said. “Have you considered… settling down?”

Both eyebrows shot way up. This was not going to where he thought it was…. Uhhh… “Settling down, ma’am? Never. That ain’t the life I want t’ live. I’ve seen people with that kind of thing, and I know it isn’t for me. I couldn’t ever do that.”

 

She looks… hurt? “Ah. I meant – I didn’t mean offense, I simply meant – perhaps as – political move – you said this was a war, and…”

Was she hitting on him?

Sin blinks. Wait, she’s wait. Wait, what? All seven demons in Sin’s head just kinda freeze, and Sin’s mind comes to a screeching halt. Pride starts screaming, Lust is in the corner crying, Sloth rolls over, Wrath bangs his head against the wall, Greed and Envy go back to fighting over things, and Gluttony whines about more food and drugs.

 

Pride finally starts making coherent sense. Don’t piss off your boss don’t piss off your boss don’t piss off your boss.

 

“Ah, I’m sorry, ma’am, I…. don’t mean offense to you, either. I just…  Uh.” SPIN SOME BULLSHIT DAMMIT.

 

“I don’t think I could do that kind of thing, that kind of relationship. It ain’t in me. When we win this thing, ma’am, I’ll probably be off stirring up trouble somewhere else. Kinda addicted to it.”


There was a pause, and then she nodded. “It is an open offer. Leave me, now. I need to plan.”

“Yes, ma’am”. Sin nods, and walks out. He doesn’t stop at the door, he doesn’t stop to say later to Callister, he doesn’t stop until he’s far into the plains of Idaho, checks to make sure no one is around, puts his head against the ground, and starts screaming into the dirt.

 

Distant Thunder: What the Devil Wants

Las Vegas Airport, Nevada.

 

It was a quiet, average day at dusk at the Vegas Airport. Lots of people moving around. A businessman conducts a phone call quietly, a homeless man sleeps in a corner, with a change bucket and a sign that asks, “please help!” A married couple dotes over a baby in a baby carriage, waiting for their flight, another, younger couple giggles quietly to themselves as they look at small, inexpensive rings on their hands.

 

And a certain phone, in a certain airport locker begins ringing, playing “Sympathy for the Devil.”

 

Nat’s face was a stony mask as ey peered at the phone. This was it. Be cool. This phone call could save lives, if ey managed not to be a god damn teenager about it.

 

Well. We’ll see.

 

Ey flipped the phone open and held it to eir ear. “Yeah.”

 

“Hey there, kiddo. How’s things?” Sin’s smooth voice was loud and clear, amused and absolutely arrogant. “Thanks for taking my call. Thought you might still be pissed.”

 

“I am,” Nat’s voice was cool, but civil, “but this seemed important.”

 

“Awww, don’t be mad, cutie.” He laughed.

 

He seemed supremely confident for being the most wanted man in the world, one who everyone knew. “Yeah, okay, right to business then? Or do you want to tell me how Callister’s doing? He kinda adores you, know you. Biiiig crush.”

 

“Right to business, please,” Nat monotoned.

 

“Tch, you’re no fun.” He sighs theatrically. “Fine. Good news. I’ve got news on Anathema. I’ve been working with her for a bit. Bad News. She’s still really, really, really, REALLY hates Oathkeeper and company. Pretty sure she’s pissed at you, too. Possibly being a bad influence on Callister. She’s planning something big.”

 

Nat squinted. “That’s… that’s it?” Eir voice was genuinely incredulous. “That’s your intel?”

 

Sin laughed. “No, of course not. I’ve got names, dates, places. Even better, I’ve got location on Anathema. I know her plan, because, hey, I helped develop it. But that’s all you’re getting until I get what I want.”

 

“…and what’s that,” Nat inquired in the same tone of voice one might say ‘i am sorry, solomon swift.’

 

“Full, blanket pardon, that covers anything that I’ve done up until I sign it. A hundred thousand dollars, and an unlimited passport to anywhere I want. Oh and maybe full use of Legion Teleporters without question. I’m flexible on that last one.” He takes another breath. “Oh, and just as an added tidbit, to whet your appetite. I can reverse Anathema’s mind control.”

 

“Yeah, you aren’t getting that last one, I can tell you that right now,” Nat rolled eir eyes. “If Adam Nova can’t use our teleporters—anyway, I’ll… pass along word. Why did you call me? You know I can’t authorize any of this on my own.”

 

“Heh! True enough. And I picked you because out of all the people there, you kinda treated me all right. Did some research. An’ you have an uncanny knack for diplomacy, it seems. And opportunity. Luck was a kind lady to me, seeing you in the Club.” None of those were lies, but it did sound like Sin wasn’t telling em something, other than the plans and such.

 

“I treated you all right because I thought you got a raw deal,” Nat growled. “What Estelle did was fucked up. But you didn’t have to do what you did to Alice.”

 

“What was it you said? I’m scum… hold on…. I’ve got it right here.” There’s the sound of tapping, like at a computer. “Ah, here we are. A fucking worthless piece of trash. Gutter scum. A fetid, rotting asshole.” There’s another laugh, mocking.

 

“I’ll admit, I’ve got a temper. And maybe what I did to Alice was a bit much. Eh.” There’s so much… nonchalance in the recollection that he nearly tore apart a person.. “Maybe they’re right? Maybe you’re right. But you know what? It really doesn’t matter to me, as long as I get what I want. Fun part of playing this game, Nat?

 

Death’s just a bad roll of the die. Sometimes your time is up. Almost was, for Alice, but…. “ He chuckles. “Listen to me, going on about this. Anyway, you know what I want. I’ll call again in a few days, maybe a week or two. Gotta keep being valuable.” He laughs again, wickedly.

 

“Wow,” Nat smiled coldly. “What Alice said about you was spot on. Talk soon.”

 

Click.