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First pages

Chapter 1


Why is it always raining in this goddamn town?

Fat drops spatter on my faceplate and blur my vision. They run down my neck through the collar of my jacket and soak my shirt. Screw limited visibility. I gun the engine and shoot past columns of gridlocked cars. Immediately, the big machine begins to fishtail. Adrenaline surges through me as I steer into the skid and almost dump the bike before I regain control. Goddamn it. In those few precious seconds, I’ve lost him. Seraph is gone.

I clench my fists in their soggy leather gloves and gun the machine again. I finally spot him. He's driving even more dangerously than I am, off on another one of his missions. He dodges in and out of traffic like a fucking maniac, but I deftly weave through the maze of glistening metal and stay on his tail. I maintain enough distance to be inconspicuous, but he probably knows that I’m here by now.

Seraph shoots through a yellow light, and I nail the gas and run a red. I narrowly slip through the intersection accompanied by the sound of squealing brakes and horns. One guy flips me off and I blow him a kiss as I race away. Apparently, he forgot that women always have the right of way, especially attractive redheads on motorcycles. Like me.

Ahead, Seraph turns into an alleyway behind the Metro Center, the local concert venue. No lights go on when I dredge my memory for who might be playing here tonight. I kill the bike’s engine, and quietly roll into the claustrophobic darkness between buildings. The occasional weak illumination reveals layers of torn posters and gang tags that blend into a kind of urban hieroglyphics symbolizing apathy and decay.

Ahead, in one of the sickly pools of light, I see Seraph get off his bike. My own bike rolls to a stop behind a dumpster as I watch him. He removes the overcoat and slouch-brimmed hat he wears to conceal his work gear. In the misty night air, the skintight black leather suit gleams wetly. Its sensual gleam conceals layers of steel mesh and ballistic cloth. Seraph's hands, sheathed in metal spiked gloves, glide over his body, checking straps and fastenings. Lastly, they come to rest on his helmet, and carefully straighten the black metal faceplate. The front of it, molded with just the slightest outline, suggests the brow and nose of a stern face or maybe an unorthodox crucifix. The unreadable face scans the alleyway. Seraph lifts the seat of the bike, and reaches into a compartment beneath it.

I know what happens next. The thing hidden underneath is one of Seraph's most closely guarded secrets, and that's saying a lot. He has it in his hands now. It looks like a hooded cloak, but it flows through his hands like oily, liquid darkness. He stands there for a long time, motionless. It's whispering to him. I've heard it a few times when I’ve been near Seraph. I couldn’t make out any words, but it scared the shit out of me. I've seen the way it sometimes seems to slip around him, caressing him like a lover. I imagine its cold touch and fight the urge to wrap my arms around myself for warmth. In my years with Seraph, I've encountered a lot of things which still cause me to wake up screaming, but this thing is different. It’s evil. I'm sure that it’s alive, too. I’m not sure what the hell it is, or why Seraph uses it, but I just know it’s wrong. He knows it, too. He silently struggles with it as I watch the dark thing in his hands, his head thrown back. Is it agony or something else? Then it's over. He raises his arms, and the thing flows downward, engulfing him in shadows deeper than those that lurk in the alley.

Seraph closes the compartment and removes a long slender object from the straps that secured it to the side of the bike. He slides his curved sword out of its cloth bag. I always forget its Japanese name, but it probably translates to something like “huge motherfucking sword”. It's way longer than the ones they carry in all the movies though, almost as tall as Seraph himself. He slides it through a hole in the cloak into its harness on his back. I'm always impressed that he manages to draw the damn thing, but that's probably because I can't even chop vegetables without drawing my own blood.

I take a smoke from my jacket pocket and slide it between my lips. I step out from behind the dumpster. Broken glass crunches under my boots. Seraph turns his blank face to me, but says nothing. I light my cigarette, cupping the fragile flame. I exhale the harsh smoke and wait. This is all part of his act. How long has he known that I was here? Did he actually want me to see this?

“Faith,” is all he says. No warmth, no disapproval. Nothing.

Seraph is unpredictable and volatile. Most of the time he's stoic to the point of giving stone a run for its money, but other times, the slightest thing can set him off. Is the anger bubbling just beneath the surface now, resentment at my intrusion or is it something else entirely? He and I never talk about shit like this, but I have a real problem with boundaries. I like to jump up and down on them.

“I guess I'm supposed to pretend that I didn't just see what you'll pretend didn't just happen?” I ask.

“What are you doing here?” Surprisingly, he refuses to take the bait. Maybe I’m being too obvious.

“I thought I'd get a bit of air, maybe catch some music. Who’s headlining tonight?”

“I don't have time for your games, Faith.”

Okay, I was wrong. He’s going to play it cool tonight and not give anything away. The bastard doesn’t even have the decency to ask me why I followed him. Fuck him.

“No time? Haven't you heard? All work and no play make Seraph a dull boy. If you're not careful, you'll wake up one morning and find that the thrill has gone out of being a homicidal vigilante.”

For an uncomfortable period of time, he looks at me. Nothing more. No way to tell what's going on underneath that mask. The only thing that I can see is my own distorted reflection. The pause gets too pregnant and I give in. “Dammit, you can't do everything by yourself. We're supposed to work together.”

“I appreciate your concern, but I don't have time for that either.” Ice.

At this point, the hero is supposed to indulge his sidekick in a neat little expository interlude and bring her up to speed on the nature of the peril facing them. I know it ain't gonna happen. “I'll see you inside, then.” I drop the cigarette and grind it out with the toe of my boot.

I start to walk around him, but he moves in front of me, blocking my path. The aura of violence that surrounds him is almost palpable. I gaze into his mask, the cold surface that I know almost as well as my own face. When he raises his hand, I have to force myself not to flinch. I know that Seraph would never hurt me, but seldom do my mind and body operate on such different levels as when I’m near him. His hand touches my shoulder and glides down to the small of my back, drawing me into an embrace. The metal is cold and hard against my cheek, but the rest of me is anything but. I feel the spikes, buckles and chains, every inch of him, pressed against me. Seraph can never make me feel safe, but what I do feel more than makes up for it.

Without a word, he pulls away. I want to reach out and pull him back, but I would never do that. I bite my tongue and let him go. He draws the cloak around him and glides toward a fire ladder at the back of the auditorium.

That's the other weird thing about the cloak. When he wears it, Seraph’s movements are silent. Well, except when he wants it otherwise. The cloak swallows all the little sounds like footsteps and the creak of leather. All the other night sounds, like the roar of the crowd thronging the entrance of the auditorium, seem deafening in comparison to his silent motion. It's just another thing about the damn cloak that gives me the creeps.

I stand in the darkness for a few moments, all too aware of the vast array of unpleasant smells that you find in your average alley. Seraph reaches the top of the ladder and disappears onto the roof. He's made it clear that he wants to go solo on this one, but I won't accept that. It's my job to be there, the back-up in case things go really wrong. I guess I can’t play unless he gives me his permission. Screw that. God knows there's not much I can do in Seraph's world, but watching his back is one of them. When I couldn't sleep tonight, I knew this was where I was supposed to be. I don’t give a damn whether he thinks he needs me or not.

Getting up the ladder is not quite as easy as Seraph made it look. I’ve never liked heights. I grit my teeth and climb. The rain has stopped. The clouds part and reveal the swollen red moon. It casts an unpleasant hue over everything it touches. A cool breeze blows, which reminds me how cold and soggy my clothes are. I can be stoic too, though. I ignore the chill and scan the shadowy rooftop for Seraph. I finally spot him, crouched in the shadows, looking like a misplaced gargoyle. He peers over the edge, waiting for… I don't know what. I hunker down too and ponder how much more easily a glass of warm milk and some late night infomercials would have solved my insomnia.

The sound of an engine farther up the alley snaps me back to the situation at hand. A few seconds later, a rundown limousine snakes its way through the narrow space. The walls vibrate with the staccato bass and screeching guitars of death metal. The car stops and a door flies open and slams into the brick wall, the crash even louder than the music. The first person to step out of the vehicle is tall and lanky. He has long black hair, shaven on the sides, revealing tribal tattoos. I recognize him after a few moments as Dave Steele, the drummer for Temple, a popular local Goth band. They must be playing here tonight. For some reason, Steele looks pretty damn irate.

“If you're so fucking smart, then where the hell is she?” he yells into the limo. He curses loudly and kicks the side of the vehicle, leaving a large dent.

Someone kills the music blaring from the limo, and two more guys climb out of the car. I’m surprised by the fact that they’re identical twins. I've heard some of Temple's music and I’m marginally familiar with them, but this odd fact had escaped me. Logic tells me that these are likely none other than the lead guitarist and bassist, Azazel and Abaddon. Apparently bad taste in choosing pseudonyms is genetic. They’re both dressed in the same vein, Goth fetish in full effect. Their gear, ink, and piercings are different, but other than that, they’re indistinguishable.

Now that the music is off, I can hear that they sound pissed off also. One twin grabs Steele and shoves him against the wall. The other twin steps between them, physically trying to keep them apart. Seraph is still doing his Zen statue act, but I know that he’s taking all this in.

Azazel (or maybe Abaddon), whichever one shoved Steele, says, “She'll be here, dude. You’ve got her all wrong.” His voice is lower, apparently hoping to cool things down a bit.

“Yeah, I'm sure she will, when she damn well feels like it. I'm sick of her jerking us around. You might buy her fucking sweet and innocent act, but I don't,” Steele replies, working himself into a frenzy. “Fucking bitch. Whatever. All the horny little punks are gonna go home disappointed if they don't get to stare at Jezzie's sweaty bod, so we're screwed.”

With this, Steele storms into the building, leaving the twins in the alley.

“Dave is right about one thing. Ever since Quinn hooked us up with Jezzie, it's kinda like we're her backup band,” one of the twins says to the other with an air of resignation.

“We sold our souls to rock and roll,” the other replies. This seems to have been meant as a joke, but it just hangs awkwardly in the air. The two look at one another. When the silence goes on too long, they join Steele inside.

While I wait for Seraph to make his next move, I wonder why we’re here. Assuming that he did have one of his premonitions, what made him connect it to the Temple gig? I would feel a hell of a lot better if I had some idea of what to expect, but Seraph's not big on sharing information, even when you're invited to the party, which I wasn’t. I’ll have to shake some information loose on this later. Seraph probably won't tell me anything, but perhaps one of the Coven will - as long as I don't actually refer to our little group as the Coven, at least to their faces. They hate that. No one appreciates my razor sharp humor or keen sense of irony.

Seraph climbs back down the ladder and drops to the ground by the limousine. Without warning, he shatters the driver’s window with his fist. He grabs the surprised chauffeur by the throat and drags him halfway out of the car. One good shot to the face and the driver is out. He leaves the limp body hanging out the window, then opens the back door and climbs into the limo.

I carefully follow him down and clamber into the other side of the car. Seraph glances up when I enter, and I'm sure there is a disapproving look under the mask. We rifle through the contents quickly. I'm not sure exactly what we're looking for, but if I find something with that certain clue-like quality, I'll pass it on to the big guy. In the meantime, I just like going through other people's stuff. Seraph himself is dumping shit out left and right. He can be discrete when he wants to, but subtlety is apparently not on tonight's agenda.

We come up with several empty beer bottles, a bunch of CDs, a little wax envelope containing a brown powder that looks suspiciously like heroin, and a skin mag. Now these guys really know how to party. I try not to laugh. What we do not find, is anything of an arcane nature, which is what Seraph is really interested in. He hunts people who practice dark magic, which he’s sensitive to, and they usually require some pretty unusual things to do that, none of which are here. It's too bad the guy slumped unconscious in the front seat had to lose a few teeth for us to find out.

Headlights splash the alley wall, painting them in a harsh, yellow glare. Another car comes up the alley, too fast judging by the crash of the vehicle's undercarriage against the uneven pavement. We take cover behind the dumpster near my bike. A shiny little sports car screeches to stop just inches short of the limo’s bumper. The woman who gets out of the car looks like a model for Goth Monthly. She has long dark hair, and is tall and pale, skinny but with curves in all the right places. I can see her as the inspiration for many dark, but nonetheless wet, dreams.

Jezebel Arcana has arrived.

I'm hoping she doesn't notice the broken window on the limousine or the unconscious driver. She doesn’t. She’s too absorbed with primping herself. She runs her fingers through damp hair before grabbing a pile of clothes from the passenger seat. She hastily rolls them into a ball and throws them into the trunk of the car. From my vantage point, I can see that the small space is full, but I can't make out any of the trunk’s contents. Arcana glances around and then slams the lid shut. She looks at her watch, mumbles something under her breath, then hurries through the stage door.

Taking my cue from Seraph, I wait. Before long he leaves the concealment of the dumpster and begins to examine the car. It's a tiny two seat convertible, so a cursory search reveals that the passenger compartment is empty. Seraph is about to open the trunk when the sound of voices and faint music echoes down the alley. Reluctantly, Seraph abandons his search and moves to the stage door. He tries the knob, but it's locked He gives it a violent twist, and with a sound of gnashing metal, the door opens. When he removes his hand, the metal knob is crushed.

We slip inside and close the door behind us. It's darker in here than outside and it takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust. We're in a corridor crowded with speakers and those mysterious black cases roadies always lug around. A tingle shoots down my back, the thrill mixed with nerves I always get whenever I sneak into someplace I shouldn't be.

Signs stenciled on the wall point the way to various important places. We follow the ones that point to the dressing area, hugging close to the walls, trying to stay in the shadows. If someone wanders down the hall, the chances of a tiny patch of shadow actually hiding me are slim, but I give it a shot anyway.

We locate a grey metal door displaying a Temple poster and a card with “Jezebel Arcana” scrawled on it in red. The poster depicts a serpent entwined with a rose, over a silhouette of the band. I hear muffled voices through the door, so we back off and hide behind a row of lighting rigs. After a few minutes, the door slams open, and the sound spills out. I recognize Steele’s voice, cursing Jezebel out in phrases that scorch even my ears. Jezebel strikes a conciliatory tone, her voice surprisingly sweet – without any trace of the smoky sensuality she sings with – but her words are met with further derision. The drummer angrily stalks out and disappears down the corridor.

I can still hear voices within, but they are low and I can't make them out. The twins appear at the door. Jezebel gives each of them a warm kiss on the cheek, then closes the door behind them. Apparently not everyone is upset with her. I look at Seraph and wonder what he makes of all this, but as usual it's an exercise in futility.

My damn legs are starting to go to sleep from crouching in the dark by the time Jezebel leaves her dressing room. Once she too has vanished down the corridor, Seraph tries the door. It's unlocked, so we slip in. I close the door and lock it behind us, hopefully discouraging any interruptions.

Numerous candles burn around the room, the only source of illumination. Incense smolders in several trays, the smoke merging with that of the candles into a hypnotic haze. The dancing darkness, smoke, and warmth wrap around me. There's something dangerous and sensual in the air. A delicious languor starts to settle over me and I feel a familiar warmth start deep inside. I unzip my jacket, the warm air cool on the hot skin beneath. I reach out for Seraph, seized by an irresistible urge to feel the coolness of the leather that conceals him. As my hand draws near, I can see the darkness of his cloak, and suddenly revulsion overtakes my unusual desire.

Fuck! What was that all about? No time to think about it now, though. Seraph half turns towards me, looking at my outstretched hand. I let it fall by my side. My knees feel weak and sweat coats my skin, but the feeling is not all that unpleasant.

Seraph turns his full attention to me. “What's wrong?”

“N...nothing. Just felt a bit dizzy. All the goddamn fumes in here,” I lie. My pulse races and my breathing sounds too loud in the enclosed space. What the hell was that?

“If you feel unwell, perhaps you should wait in the hall and watch for any trouble.” Seraph is nothing if not pragmatic.

“Nah, I'm good.” His blank mask seems to dissect me, so I quickly search for something to take his attention from me. “Jesus, take a look at those pictures over there!”

A number of glossy pictures taped haphazardly around a makeup mirror provide a welcomed diversion. They show Jezebel and the band kneeling before some kind of demonic-looking statue. There is a cloth laid on the floor in front of them. On it sits a human skull, a scroll, a dagger, and some other occult paraphernalia. Seraph scrutinizes the pictures for a few moments. He picks one and slides it into a concealed pocket. He tears the rest from the wall in anger and holds them to a candle flame. The faces in the pictures begin to blister and warp as the photos melt. Seraph throws the flaming mess to the floor in disgust.

“Poorly researched fakes, but I’ll examine one a little more closely, just in case,” he concludes.

“Possession of cheesy promo pictures isn't a crime. That's their image. They call it marketing.”

“You know how I feel about this, Faith. This is one of the tools they use. You call it marketing, I call it preaching.”

“So I listen to a few Temple discs and all of a sudden I turn into a slavering, demon worshipping cultist?”

“If you glamorize the occult in such a fashion, some are bound to do so. Not you, perhaps, but there are gullible children out there who will certainly be taken in by this. There must be limits”

“So Temple is like the gateway recreational activity to human sacrifice?”

“Why do you continue to joke about this? You know the truth about these things. You ignored my wishes for you to stay away, so why are we debating this? We are here for one reason and one reason only: If we don’t stop this, this city and its ignorant mass of humanity will burn and the monsters will rule over the ashes.”

“Gee, so glad to know you care. I just don't agree with your puritanical bullshit about hiding the truth. Even God says we should have free will. My bible tells me so ...” My sarcastic retort is cut short by a loud crack that scares the hell out of me. I look at Seraph and then at the large indentation in the wall he is now removing his clenched fist from.

“I think this discussion is over,” he grates in a more than usually scary and angry voice.

I'm surprised and more than a little scared by his reaction, but he tends to have that effect on me. Nonetheless, I file the incident away for future reference. Pragmatic as always, Seraph searches the few undisturbed parts of the room.

Just as I decide that this is a complete waste of time, I see a photograph sticking out of the pages of a paperback. The photo is dark and the photography is poor, but in it I can make out a nude woman lying on a black marble slab. Her hands are between her legs and she is clearly pleasuring herself. Her pale, perfect, unmarked body stands out against the dark stone, which is engraved with all too authentic arcane symbols. The woman's features are obscured, but it's easy to imagine Jezebel's face in the blurry shadows, eyes shut tight, lips parted in a sigh of pleasure.There's a man standing in the background, looking away as though he doesn't want to be in the picture. He's wearing a white button down shirt, open to the waist, a loose tie dangling around his neck, and dark dress pants. He's holding a large book in his hands, one which I recognize, one which means that our little Jezebel or whoever is actually in that photo is probably up to her neck in the bad mojo. I consider hiding the photo, pretending that I never saw it, but I know it's no use. I walk over and hand it to Seraph.

While he examines the picture, I peek into the only other door in the room. Beyond is a small bathroom. A small glass-walled shower stall is on the left with a sink next to it and a frighteningly dirty toilet to the right. The smell of disinfectant trying to overcome other, less healthy, odors causes my stomach to churn, so I close the door quickly. By the time I return, the photo has disappeared and Seraph is checking that the hallway is clear.

We locate a ladder that climbs into the rafters and all the lighting rigs. I know from experience that these are all controlled remotely, making it unlikely we'll run into anyone up there. Seraph climbs without hesitation and makes his way through the jungle of metal braces.

I follow slowly. My reluctance grows with each rung I climb. What the hell was I thinking? I hate heights. Climbing the ladder outside wasn’t too bad, but this is insane. At the top, I take a few tentative steps, clutching a support for dear life. The floor is so fucking far down. The crowd is all blurry and out of focus under me and I almost lose my dinner again. I try to take another step, but I can't do it. Oh God, I just can't make myself let go of this support. I turn and look longingly at the ladder, but that's out of reach too. I'm going to have to spend the whole damn night hugging this fucking beam.

Suddenly an arm is holding mine. Seraph has come back. “Let's go,” he says.

I don't know whether to feel grateful or angry or what, so I pick relief. The panic is far from gone, but with him there, it's manageable. Using his arm to steady me, we climb out over the auditorium, and find a good vantage point.

The floor below is a sea of bodies. Tidal waves of bodies pass through the crowd as people fight their way to the front, shoving others aside. The leather, spikes, tattoos, and body piercings give solidity to the chaotic hive mind that rules the mob below. Their voices join, chanting the band's name over and over again until every square inch of the building vibrates with their summoning. Finally, a deafening silence falls over the crowd as the house lights go down.

The tortured opening chords of the first song begin from behind the still-closed black curtains that mask the stage. The cloth sweeps back to reveal a stage transformed into a mausoleum. Red spotlights and strobes dance back and forth across carved stone columns and grotesque statuary. Even knowing that the columns and statues are probably Styrofoam, the effect is powerful. A mist of dry ice haze hides the cables that snake across the floor, and clings to everything it touches, enhancing the illusion. With a deafening flare of ignition, torches spring to life around the stage.

By the time I can see through the spots in my vision, Jezebel has taken the stage. She stands atop a short set of spiral stairs in a corner of the stage. She's dressed to kill in a black leather bustier, laced up the front, leaving her shoulders and midriff bare; skintight leather pants with red lace running up the sides; and knee-high black boots with stiletto heels and gleaming metal spikes. Her ivory skin gleams with sweat beneath the spotlights. As she walks down the steps, she moves like a serpent, slow, sensual, hypnotic. Her left hand caresses a whip coiled at her side. Steele had been right about one thing: this was definitely the stuff of fanboy wet dreams. I could see her showing up in my dreams for that matter.

The guitar builds to a crescendo, and then slows. Jezebel raises the microphone to her purple lips and begins to sing. Her voice is sweet, innocent, lost. Her words flow into and weave through the music. The crowd is silent, spellbound by the dark siren that stands on the stage. Even I'm not immune to the power of her performance. The guitars and drums build, her voice becomes darker, breathless. She sings of love, blood, dark magic, and betrayal as if they are all one and the same, and perhaps in her world they are.

I tear my eyes away to gauge Seraph’s reaction. His body language is not encouraging. His fists clench, every muscle is tight as if he might leap from the rafters at any second and stop the show. I put my hand on his arm. His blank face turns towards me and I shake my head gently. I'm not sure what I'm negating, but I know I'm standing on a precipice, literally and figuratively. He shrugs my hand off and turns away, but the moment of danger seems to have passed.

The show proceeds, each song an act in an intricate story. These guys were frigging amazing. The band played tight, the stage props were over the top without being cheesy, and Jezebel was just fucking breathtaking. Unlike any other show that I had ever been to, the audience actually listened to the songs. This was like the Bolshoi Ballet of Goth rock. Okay, that was kind of stupid, but damn they were good.

One thing did trouble me, though. Seraph's words about preaching come back to me as I observe the progression of the story. Jezebel's heroine starts out as an innocent young girl. Essentially everyone in her life turns on her and she is left with nothing. She's getting ready to kill herself, when some dark nether thing shows up and offers her revenge in return for her soul. Eventually, the girl accepts and does a number on all the people who wronged her. The only problem with the story is that rather than depicting this as tragic, the moment when the girl makes the bargain is the first time that she is shown as being in control of her life. Now I can write that off as just being angsty and dark, but you could easily read much more into it. And I know that Seraph is doing just that.

When the house lights go down once more, everyone stomps their feet again, shouting for an encore. After a few minutes of this, Jezebel's voice rises from the darkness. An organ kicks in with a plaintive note like something too sad for me to think of a simile for. A spotlight flares, illuminating the singer sitting cross-legged in the middle of the stage, a blindfold over her eyes. Robed figures stand just outside the ring of light, like wraiths lurking in the shadows, paying homage to the heroine. This is her coda; she regrets nothing. As she sings of shedding the things that held her back, Jezebel removes the blindfold and stands. The music ends. The robed figures throw themselves to the floor and crawl into the light. I glance at Seraph uncomfortably, only to find that he is already looking at me. We turn away from each other and continue to watch the show in silence.

Other lights come up on stage to reveal something new. In the center of the stage, behind Jezebel now stands a stone altar. There's a black cloth draped over it, and it's inscribed with rather authentic looking occult symbols. The singer takes a place behind the altar and her robed entourage rises and stands around her.

Two of them disappear offstage for a moment, and when they return, they are carrying a bound man between them. He looks like he could've come from the audience, but he could just as easily be another actor. The look on his face scares me a little. Fear is a difficult thing to fake, because you mostly see it through unconscious signals. So, if this guy is acting then he deserves an academy award. Sweat is rolling off his forehead, his eyes are wide and crazed, and he struggles so hard that the two guys almost drop him. He's gagged, but his mouth works furiously, trying to force sound through the cloth.

As they put the guy on the altar, organ music fills the place with an eerie wail. The pseudo cultists begin to chant in what sounds like Latin. I know it’s fake, but it seems a bit too authentic. Is Seraph right about Temple? Are they actually about to perform some kind of ritual right here? They could probably get away with it. Most of the audience would assume it was just part of the show and the rest would brag to their friends tomorrow that they went to an actual satanic ritual. Seraph is on his feet now, and I’m not sure if I want to stop him. I look at the long drop underneath us, but I know even that wouldn't slow him.

First the drummer, then the bassist add their rhythm to the organ and the chanting voices. The chanting goes on for a couple of minutes, building in intensity. Jezebel waves her arms and it's quiet except for the slow heartbeat of the drums. Two of the cultists lift her up onto the altar, so that she stands astride her squirming victim-to-be. She takes up the chant again, and runs her hands up and down the length of his body, not quite touching him, but tracing every contour. She crouches over him, touches her lips to his, and then licks a bead of perspiration from his brow.

She leaps from the altar with a flourish. One of the acolytes produces a long, wavy-bladed dagger from the folds of his robe. He raises it over his head in a ceremonial gesture, and then slowly lowers it until the edge is rests upon the man's throat. The guy's eyes widen and he struggles even harder. Jezebel walks to the edge of the stage, pausing with each step, hips grinding rhythmically with the primal beat, inciting the audience. The crowd stirs from its rapt paralysis and claps and stomps in time with the drums.



About me

John Clark is a software engineer with a writing problem. In the wee hours of the morning, he helps Faith navigate the treacherous streets of Metro as well as her own personal maze of ambiguous moral choices. His ultimate dream is to do a reading and book-signing of "Red Chords".