Saturday, 8 June 2013
The bar was one of disrepair, and yet not disregard. Deep gashes splattered across wine stains and the stale smell of spilled beer and blood on the bar, yet the velvet-cushioned barstools were rarely empty. The coloured glass of the windows and veneer of grace exuded by the barkeep gave the drinking den an air of a church’s dignity; whilst the vulgar neon lights behind the bar, the portraits of naked men and women, very poor lighting and lingering stink of smoke gave the place a dirty and wholly unholy appeal. This place was a neutral zone. Avante Garde. A grey place in a war of black and white. A place with no 'sides'.
Over the soft jazz of an honest-to-goodness gramophone in the corner, a young woman leaned over the counter towards the barkeep, who was a young man, but his bald head, bowtie and shiny, blue vest seemed to drag him all the way from the 50’s.
“What do you do for fun in this shithole?” the woman asks
“I could give you an orgasm,” the barman states with a smirk.
“I don’t think I have the time,” the woman says bluntly.
“How about a short one, then?” Before she could answer, the man scoops ice from the sink into an old-fashioned scotch glass, flips two bottles from under the cabinet and pours them until the glass fills, then stirs with a metal spoon and slides a cut strawberry onto the edge before placing it before her on a napkin.
“I was thinking more in the realm of danger. I’m looking for someone in particular.”
“Then why don’t you try a sideroom?” says the man, “We don’t host games in this venue. But we also turn a blind eye . . . for your pleasure.” The woman nods and turns.
“Oh ma’m. Your drink,” says the barman.
“I don’t have cash on me,” says the woman.
“I’ll make it on the house,” says the man, “if you tell me your name.”
Beclyn knew that she needed a clear head for the night, but couldn’t resist herself . . .
She steps back to the bar, grabs the glass and slams it like a true alcoholic. Her hair flicks back off of her shoulders, and she finishes the drink in two gulps, slaps the glass on the table and spits two ice-cubes back into the cup with a distinct rattle and clink.
“The name’s Jones,” she says, “Miss Jones.”
With a pure evil smirk, she pinches the strawberry and turns her back to the bar sucking the bittersweet taste of creamy liqueur from her teeth.
Near the far wall, where even less light was available, there was a series of booths, split up by tables and padded doors, allowing a place for the creatures of the dark that it hosted. Chewing on the strawberry, Beclyn approaches the thing sitting in a booth.
The thing looked an awful lot like a man. But it wasn’t. Neither was it a woman. Rather, it was an incubus. A half-bred spawn as many of the demons here were. Beclyn could recognize him by his unashamed curses: glowing eyes; sharp teeth; sharp claws and the like. Things that he would hide outside a neutral zone, but inside this place he freed himself truly, unmasked. But even without this, his odd gestures and movements revealed his demonic nature. Like a wolf among cattle, Beclyn thought, they move like predators.
“Ah, the Interminable Jones . . .” purred the demon, “why do I have the pleasure?” Beclyn’s nose wrinkled in disgust. She’d met this demon before. He was known as Jackal, and was wanted for three counts of rape in the state of Illinois.
“I’m looking for Caviezel,” she said, not looking the thing in the eye,
“Looking for a demon? How sinister . . .”
“Just tell me where he is you goat-fucking piece of -”
“Don’t forget your place, human.” the thing said deeply standing up in front of her, “We are on peaceful ground, here. Unhallowed. So mind your manners.”
“I have business with him,”
“Truly? . . .” the beast sneered, moving so close she could feel his hot breath with each syllable, “What business would a hunter have with a demon on neutral ground?”
“The same as usual,” Beclyn says, “to put him in his place.”
The incubus chuckles,
“I’d like to see that, Miss Jones, I truly would. Tell you what. Caviezel is hosting an . . . auction of sorts. Perhaps you could be my guest of honour.”
“You would do that for a human?” asks Beclyn.
“I do enjoy a good show,” he giggles,
“Won’t you be in trouble if they find out you helped me?”
“Ooh,” the incubus purrs, “Are you worried about poor little me?”
“I just want to know where we stand. I don’t like owing demons favours.”
“No one gets into trouble in Avante Garde unless they ask for it,” he says, eyeing her up and down. “You owe me nothing. Let’s just say I’m helping you in the interest of fair play.”
“Then lead the way.”
The demon curls a coaxing finger to draw her closer and leads the way through the darker side of the room.
They made their way through the shadows, past saints and sinners alike, and found themselves in front of a door. The door was padded like the inside of an asylum, but the material was a red leather like a vulgar brothel. Beside the door stood a golem. A flesh construct, the body had once belonged to a large, black man. The only proof of his nature was his eyes. They had no colour, they were pure white.
“Hello, Mister Nicely,” says the incubus, “could you open the door?”
“Invitation,” boiled the golem’s voice. The demon held up its hand to reveal a small, round piece of metal. At first, Beclyn mistook the glint of metal for a coin, but peering closer, she recognized it clearly as a golden bullet. She didn’t recognize the symbol on it, but it was obviously sigilled. The golem leans forward to see it, then turns and opens the door. Beclyn notices a flash of light around the door jamb as the golem grasped the handle. Obviously the door couldn’t be opened by brute force alone.
“Thank you,” says the incubus, walking past. Beclyn follows, but feels a cold, meaty hand press into her neck to stop her still.
“Invitation,” burns the golem, staring into her face with glowing, empty eyes.
“This little morsel is my plus one,” says the demon, lightly grasping the golem’s shoulder with his claws “So I suggest you let her in before I get Caviezel to tear the fire out of you.”
The golem lets go, but watches Beclyn warily following her with his cold, empty eyes as she follows the demon into a small room. The door slams shut behind them, muffling the sound of the bar outside, and Beclyn was standing over a round, wooden poker table. At the table sat four creatures.
At the far left sat a host, their movements were quite deliberate, as the demon was forced to command their possessed, human puppet – a man in a beige business suit and trousers, with horn-rimmed glasses and a red tie.
Beside them sat Caviezel. As a lesser demon, he didn’t have the power to hide himself: his ash-black skin was cracked and burned; his eyes a glowing yellow, his black widow’s peak hair was slicked back and he wore a charred white shirt and a black tie.
To his left, sat an imp. This little demon was barely a metre tall, his eyes were pure black, his ears a foot long each, he had two little horns and long, skinny limbs. He was so short, he stood on the chair to see the table, and he had a long, thin, spear-tipped tail.
Upon seeing the Hunter, Caviezel jumps to his feet.
“Beclyn!” he screams, his hands bursting into flame.
“I wouldn’t do that . . .” murmurs the incubus, stepping in front of Beclyn. “We’re on neutral ground, friend. Wouldn’t want to piss off Greyfield, would we?”
Caviezel’s hands extinguish, his claws still glowing orange from the heat.
“A hunter? How dare you . . . especially, her.” says Caviezel, in his greasy, quiet whisper of a voice.
“She’s here to play for me,” says Jackal with a devilish grin. He places his invitation, the bullet, onto the table and stands in the corner. Caviezel glances at the bullet, then looks to Beclyn.
“You’re willing to play? For the Peacemaker?”
Beclyn’s breath is caught in her throat. So, he really has the Peacemaker?
“Of course,” she says, smiling as she pulls back a chair and sits down in front of them. Caviezel smiles, his mouth pulling unnaturally wide on his face,
“This will be a fun evening . . .” he says.
“Where’s the gun?” asks Beclyn.
“Be patient, human . . . we are awaiting our final guest.”
The others sit patiently at the table in silence. Finally, the door opens and Beclyn turns to see who is there. A small, young Asian woman steps through the door. She bows to Caviezel, then pulls up a chair to Beclyn’s right.
“It seems everyone is here. Mr Nicely?”
The seam of the doorway glows brightly as it is sealed. The players were all locked in.
Caviezel stands, walks to a locked cabinet hidden in the dark behind him, and with a spark the door opens and he reaches into the dark. He turns back, a large handgun in his claws. He sits back at the table, holding the gun lazily in his hand. Beclyn couldn’t take her eyes off of it. It was larger than necessary, a revolver with a gold-plated cylinder, etched with all manner of twisted markings, like the twisting vines of a mystical plant. The barrel was also marked with these runes, and the wooden handle was covered in ornate, twisting words, which Beclyn knew to be in Latin.
Caviezel placed the gun on its side on the table, with one hand on top of it.
“The Peacemaker. Our only item for this evening,” he says and with a decidedly evil smirk he adds, “the cost: survival. Please, can I see your invitations?”
The host places a golden bullet on the table,
“Fields, I play for me” says the man. The Imp reveals a bullet between it’s little fingers and flicks it onto the table,
“I proxy Sab Nac,” says the imp in a sharp, curt voice.
“I represent myself, I don’t have a human name.” says the Asian woman, placing her bullet on the table. Behind Beclyn, Jackal steps forward and taps the table with a claw where he had already placed the golden bullet.
“Beclyn Jones will play for me,” he says.
Caviezel passes the gun to the host demon, who proceeds to pick up his bullet and load it into the gun. As he passes the gun to the Imp, Jackal leans down to whisper in Beclyn’s ear.
“I forgot to thank you, Jones, for taking my place. It’s rare that a human would play such a dangerous game . . .”
“Russian Roulette?” asks Beclyn. Jackal just chuckles.
The Imp fumbles the gun to put the bullet in the chamber with his slender fingers before placing the gun in front of Beclyn. The gun was odd, not only was it larger than usual, but rather than six chambers for bullets, it had seven. But as Beclyn picks up the bullet, she smirks. This bullet was custom. Designed like a blank to explosively fragment Gold, Iron and Salt, this was a demon-killer. Not exactly safe, but survivable if you weren’t stupid. Beclyn slides her invitation bullet into place, leaving just one space left, and gives the gun back to Caviezel.
“Let’s get started,” she says.
“Not so fast, human,” says Caviezel, tipping back the revolving chamber. He pulls three silver, machined bullets from his trouser pocket and removes two of the golden bullets.
“What are you doing?” asks the Asian woman.
“Since we have a dragon and a human in our midst. Let’s make things a little more interesting . . .”
As Caviezel fills the remaining chambers, Beclyn glances at the Asian woman.
“That’s a little more fair, don’t you think?” says Caviezel clicking the gun closed and placing it on the table, “let’s begin . . .” with a flick, the gun spins around with surprising stability in the centre of the table, like a spun bottle.
Three silver bullets. Four enchanted. Beclyn figured her chances were still good. The metal rumbles against the wood before coming to a stop, pointed directly at the possessed businessman. Beclyn could not but help feel sorry for the man. She cared nothing for the demon, but his host would feel everything that happened to his body, though he had no control. The man with glasses picks up the gun and with a flick, he spins the chamber. It spins with a whir, before stopping with a click. He pulls back the hammer and places the barrel directly to his temple.
“NO!” yells Beclyn,
“Silence!” says the demon, staring her down. He pulls the trigger.
Fire and brain matter explode from the other side of his head, splattering over Caviezel as the host slumps over. Smoke and light pour from the bleeding wound as the demon falls loose and dissolves from the human plane. Beclyn could only stare at the remaining human host. It was a demon bullet, the host could have survived. But so close to the skull the fragments had minced his brain. Both the demon and his host were dead. That image was going to haunt her dreams for a while.
“One down,” say Caviezel, “four to go . . .”
He takes the gun, barrel still smoking, and spin the chamber, before pushing back the dead host, making them fall back onto the floor with a thud. Caviezel, still splattered with the poor businessman’s brain matter, holds the gun towards his temple, then stops and presses it into his chin.
“Hurry up!” screeches the Imp.
“Be silent, proxy!” he barks, very seriously, “I have to do this right . . .”
Caviezel places the gun on the table, and picks it up backwards. Placing the barrel to his forehead, he holds the trigger with his thumb. Using an index finger, he cocks the hammer.
The gun kicks back and a small hole tears into Caviezel’s head, just under his widow’s peak, which starts to bleed a thin stream of dark red. Beclyn's hopes start to rise, until . . .
“AARGH!!” the demon screams, “Damned mortal bullet!”
Caviezel slams the gun on the table in anger and rubs at the horrid "flesh wound" through his forehead.
Thank goodness, thinks Beclyn, just two bullets left for me.
“A survivor . . .” says the Asian lady, “consider yourself lucky.”
“Easy for you to say, reptile” says Caviezel, “I’m the one with a hole in my head.”
the imp picks up the gun with its little fingers, and wipes the small speck of blood from the end of the barrel.
“Would you like a bandage?” the Imp mocks
“I’d much rather see you dead . . . pull the trigger, little devil.”
The Imp grabs the gun handle with its spike-tipped tail wrapped around the trigger. It brings it close to spin the chamber and cock back the hammer with its thin, spindly fingers. Then, with its long tail, it places the barrel to the top of its head.
“Sab Nac protect me . . .”
In a burst of red mist and sparks, the entire creature disappears before our eyes, dissolving into smoke, then its bones crumbling into a pile of ash, with a smoking gun sitting on top of the pile.
The dragon lady carefully picks up the gun by the handle, and blows the smoke away with a cool breath.
“Another dead,” says the Asian woman, the dragon lady. She quickly spins the chamber, cocks the gun, then closes her eyes and puts the gun to her temple. She sits there a moment, quietly waiting. Beclyn notices her lips quivering. No, not quivering. She was whispering. Praying.
Do dragons have gods? Beclyn wondered.
The dragon lady opens her eyes and places the gun on the table in front of Beclyn.
Damn, I forgot about the empty chambers . . . Beclyn scolds herself, so that’s still two demon-killing bullets left, three empty chambers and two regular bullets. Maybe I’ll get lucky.
Beclyn takes the gun. She uses a finger to spin the barrel, then slowly presses the gun to her chin.
“Ah!” she flinches, the hot barrel burning her chin. Stupid girl! If it’s a demon bullet, you shouldn’t put it that close anyway! You’ll die either way if you do that. Even a "blank" is made with gunpowder. . .
Beclyn closes her eyes, and considers praying . . . then suddenly opens her eyes.
“You blew the barrel . . .” she says.
“What?” asks Caviezel.
“Not you . . . her.” says Beclyn, nodding towards the dragon lady. “And one in two is a hell of a chance . . .”
“Stop wasting time,” says the lady, staring at her menacingly.
“Dragons don’t have gods . . .” mutters Beclyn, “they are gods. But you aren’t immune to heat . . . so, you aren’t a fire-breather. What were you muttering under your breath?”
“You won’t talk your way out of this, human. Pull the trigger!”
“Seems a little dangerous,” says Beclyn, Beclyn points the gun at the dragon lady’s head. “what kind of dragon are you, anyway?”
“You are violating the rules!” screams Caviezel,
“Oh no, I think it is her breaking the rules, using magic.” says Beclyn. “It’s cheating when you already know the outcome. I didn’t even think your kind existed . . . I guess I was wrong, luck dragon.”
BANG!The dragon slumps back in her chair, and a thin ribbon of golden light smokes out of the hole in her head.
“I thought as much . . .” Beclyn mutters
“STOP THERE, HUNTER!” screams Caviezel, bursting his hands into flame and pointing them at Jones as he jumps to his feet
“Don’t worry,” says Beclyn, spinning the chamber again, “I plan on playing fair . . .”
Beclyn holds the gun under her chin, careful not to hold it too close.
“One silver bullet, and two demon-killers . . . I like those odds . . .”
Caviezel seems to calm as she holds the barrel of the gun under her chin. His hands extinguish and he sits down slowly with a smirk on his face. Beclyn closes her eyes.
So, is this how she dies? She thinks to herself, If I try to kill Caviezel, I’d have to do it on the first shot, and there’s only two demon bullets in there. I’d have a better chance playing fair. But is this really how I’m going to go . . . sorry, Sam.
“AARGH! SHIT, that STINGS!!” Beclyn grasps the burning graze digging into her chin, but just rubs the salt in deeper, “Fuck!” she slams the gun down on the table. Caviezel slowly chuckles.
“Poor Beclyn . . .” he says, taking the gun, “sucks to get shot with the wrong bullet, don’t it? Then again, with only one demon bullet left . . . I like those odds.”
Caviezel opens his mouth as he spins the barrel. Then bites the barrel between his sharp teeth. He chuckles, then pulls the trigger.
Caviezel slumps back. A ghostly, evil spectre, wreathed in flame, pours from his mouth to dissolve into the air in a puff of smoke.
Good riddance, thinks Beclyn. The room felt almost empty. It was such an odd feeling. So many lives, lost in a brief instant. Of course, the room wasn't as empty as it seemed. Jackal slowly claps his hands behind her.
“Well done. Even I didn’t recognize the lizard.” Beclyn reaches across the table and pries the gun out of Caviezel’s dead fingers.
“Actually, I didn’t,” says Beclyn, “I’m still not sure if luck dragons exist or not . . .”
Jackal cackles fiendishly, as is to be expected of a fiend.
“So you tricked the devil? I’m impressed. But now, I’ll be having my gun . . .”
Jackal holds out his hand.
“Of course. You played in my place, so that means I’m the winner. Hand it over.”
Beclyn points the gun at Jackal. He just laughs.
“Can’t you count, human? One human bullet. I can't be killed with that.”
Beclyn looks at the gun and back at Jackal, then sighs and lowers it.
“That’s what I thought . . .” stepping forward to take the gun.
“I don’t think so,” says Beclyn, quickly flicking open the cylinder, “I give you the gun, you shoot me? I’m not that foolish.” She knocks the final bullet into her hand, then clicks the gun closed. “I don’t want you playing dirty on me.”
“You’ve spent too much time around demons.”
“I’m starting to think so as well . . .” Beclyn holds out the gun, and Jackal carefully takes it.
“That’s a good girl . . . Mr Nicely?”
There’s a flash of light, and the door opens, spilling light, freedom and music into the cramped little room once again. Jackal pushes past the golem, gun in hand, and walks off into the dim nightclub. Beclyn steps out of the door, and sighs as she watches Jackal walk off with the gun. It seems like he'd gotten the better of her this time.
“Yes?” grumbles the tall, black golem.
“Who is your master?”
“That’s what I thought. Mr Nicely, your master is dead.”
The golem slowly glances into the room before turning back.
“So he is.”
“As I understand it, hellfire golems work under contracts, is that right?” asks Beclyn, matter-of-factly.
“ . . . I am listening,” broils the golem.
“I can offer you money, soulfire and access to a great many artefacts, but more than that, enter a contract with me and I will grant you unlimited freedoms to pursue humanity.”
“An ideal proposition . . . and what must I do?”
“I need you to get me my gun back,” Beclyn says, pointing towards the door, the incubus had recently left through. “Do that, and I’ll take your contract.”
The golem pats a hand on Beclyn’s shoulder, sending a burning sensation of pins and needles through her whole body as the contract is signed. Then the tall, black man begins to walk towards the door. Beclyn rubs her shoulder as she watches Mr Nicely leave.
“I have been spending way too much time among demons,” she murmurs to herself. Beclyn smiles as she follows the golem out of the nightclub.