Chapter 31

I felt like a geek at radio shack. Before me were all the tools I would ever need. Images of resisters and conductors, dozens of different kinds. One's Minos had never showed me, ones I'm not sure she even knew about. With these I could improve my arrays ten times over what they were already. I could make spells that could… forget that last statement. I was definitely more like a redneck in a gun store.

Without thinking I put my fingers together and the images flew into my hands to form one of my usual spells, supped up with the new accessories. I blasted a ball of flame roughly sixteen times stronger than my normal spell into the sky and laughed like a madman, which got me hit again.

"Must you turn everything you see into an explosion?" Asase chided. That motherly tone I had missed for the past eighty years or so ever present in her rich deep voice. "I did not show you my tools so that you could blow up the tabernacle!" she calmed down with visible effort and took another deep breath.

"That being said that was impressive. You managed to use the new resisters to throttle down on the energy of your spell just before release to increase it's power. I hadn't learned to do that until I was a hundred times your age."

"I've been told I learn fast." I offered, even as I crafted another spell array. This one a blast even bigger than the last. A warning glare kept me from using it though. "Min- My last teacher told me it was the human in me. That I'm 'naturally malleable' because I'm made out of mud."

Asase actually blushed. She looked away and stammered a bit when she said. "Yes, well mud-brain is not one of our more endearing terms for your parentage. No more than stone-soul is for our winged brothers."

I didn't comment on the matter. I just looked again to the collection of symbols floating in the earth goddess' hands. Thinking of how useful the new circuits could be, but getting used to a whole new arsenal would be kind of counter productive at this point wouldn't it.

I had a respectable collection of spells at my disposal, ones I had just gotten decently fast at casting. Was it worth it to redo everything Minos and I had built up? It would set everything back so far.

"Your understanding of the rutamentary elements of magic is far beyond your age as well." Asase's praise warmed me deep in my belly, the way only a mother could. "this teacher of yours must have been wonderful to forge you thus far. The speed at which you can form arrays for use is admirable."

"But…" I added, knowing there was more.

"there are better ways to use what you have. Right now you create an array, use the spell and if the situation changes you dissolve it and make another. It's a waste of energy."

That made sense, but what else was I suppose to do in the middle of a battle if a spell wasn't working? Using another spell was the only other option. Minos had had me drill for years to work up the speed I had needed to do just that.

"We're fortunate not to have to start with nothing, but there are many things I would fix. We'll start with learning how to shift your arrays from one spell to another. It takes less power than constructing one from scratch, then we'll show you more of the symbols and tools to make your arrays more efficient."

I felt like I had as a child, weeks before the Christmas pagant in third grade, with the teachers picking apart my costume, mumbling about all the flaws my newly widowed mother hadn't had the patients or nerve to fix.

I wanted to shout, 'my arrays are fine the way they are!' 'there was nothing wrong with the way I was taught!' maybe even go as far as 'have you ever thought there might be a reason I'm so far ahead of all your other students?'

My mother would have killed me if I had said anything at school. I'm not sure what stopped me here. Maybe I knew I needed her help if I was going to survive, but I wish she could just build from the foundation I had, not try to rebuild everything.

As if she heard me thinking she stopped, then tilted her head. Cool brown eyes studied me for a moment and she chuckled lightly to herself. "You can unball your fists child." Oh crap, I did have my fists clenched. "I meant no disrespect. We will start with what you have learned and work from there. I will not work to destroy what your teacher has founded."

So she started asking me questions, questions thank the father I actually knew the answers to. Where does mystical energy come from? What elements come together to form a spell? From there we dived into what I knew about the basics of array dynamics. By the time it was done Asase's brown eyes were wide, and I was exhausted

"You seem better taught than I had imagined. You are well on your way to being a supurb magician, but there are still gaps in your knowledge, as well as flaws in your technique that hold you back."

"such as?" the question had a little more bite to it than I had intended.

"While your knowledge of spells is adequate, your knowledge of the soul is base, far too lacking to truly master many other forms of magic, and as for form, attack and defense is all well and good, but you must know other assets of magic. Other uses for the unseen art."

"Fighting seems to take enough effort." I offered.

"and healing?" she countered undetoured. "will you go into battle knowing nothing of healing? Nothing of breaking wards or casting them yourself, or will your efforts all be focused on maiming or destroying, never capturing?"

"Uh" was all I could manage.

"What of Transformation? One of the most basic of skills, do you not think that will be useful? Or foresight, would you give up the sight you have in the mortal realm to see all with not but your eyes in heaven? Would it not be wise to be able to see your opponent?"

To illustrate she waved her hand over the pool that collected between the rocks before it fell into the creak. The water shimmered, and like so many movies an image appeared in the cool waveless water.

"By the father if you do not relent I will call to Deafen to have him remove you!" Minos' voice echoed from the water. She paced in front of the seat of judgement trying very hard to avoid Damon's daughter.

"And I swear by MY father if you continue to ignore me I will pummel you into oblivion! Minos!" the last word came out a teenage whine. "This is my favorite shirt!" she lifted up the scorched black tank top I had burned to a crisp like it was a sick puppy in desperate need of help.

"It's your only shirt." Minos observed dryly.

"My father gave me that shirt. Minos! You're the only one who can fix it!" I almost laughed. Days ago the two of them had almost been at each other's throats. "Come on, it's all your fault it got burned!"

"I seem to remember you picking a fight with the genie all on your own thank you." My teacher corrected. "Why don't you go find him and pummel him into oblivion?"

"Because I don't have a SHIRT! Minos!" to be fair the red tube top she'd had on under the black tank top didn't look that bad on her, but black was definitely more her color.

"You have other outfits."

"I am not wearing the dress my father made for my presentation as Cherubim down here!" she nearly screamed. "And I am certainly not going back to Ammaria to beg Danyel for my armor!"

"He'd give it to you in a heartbeat. I doubt you'd even have to ask."

"Not you too. He is NOT in love with me! Minos! I just want you to fix my shirt! It was your stupid apprentice who burned it! You owe me!"

"No I don't" there was nothing but finality in the statement. "so if you want the shirt fixed it will cost you. I want your covenant you will leave the Genie alone."

"No."

"Then wear what you have."

Charre whirled on the archdutchess. "All right! I'll leave him be for… a century?"

"Five." Minos countered.

"Two and a half." The angel of wildfire came back swiftly. To answer Minos just waved her casting sign towards the other angel and I watched as the shirt wove itself new. When it was whole the angel gave a snort of laughter. "I would have gone up to three."

I looked away from the image as it faded, laughing to myself two hundred and fifty years of safety from that spitfire of Damon's. I'd kiss Minos if we weren't in such a weird position right then.

Asase's face was taunt when I looked back up at her. I could see her mind wrapping around the fact that it was the angel of the arcane that had taught me, Tio Chan's student, a demon, an angel.

"Maybe we should start with the mending of garments." The joke was forced. She was still processing, and it looked like it could take some time. "No… here." She dropped a long string in my lap. "Weave the string into an approximation of an array. We'll work on how you can unweave it and reconstruct it once you are done. In the meantime Hod is awaiting you for his first history lesson. And Parvati has asked my help in devining how best to teach you to be a son of fire."

"History…Great." I hated history in school. Well I liked the story telling aspect of it, the great deeds and ancient civilizations. Maybe it was going to be more of that, less dates and names.

Asase got up to leave and motioned Hod to come over and take her place. I wasn't even going to get a chance to stretch. The blind poet sat without a word, now sporting a jet black cowboy hat proudly atop his head. The mother goddess gave the two of us a small bow of farewell and walked off.

Hod seemed tired, behind his shades his eyelids drooped, but he still sighed and smiled. "well, can we skip the boring parts?" he offered, I nodded eagerly, but he continued. "The celestial universe is created. the father creates Mondie and Emmanuelle, The other two holy mothers, the seven seraphim, the king, his sorcerer, the three divine blades, and everyone else. Not all that spectacular."

He shifted in his seat of moss until he was comfortable. "I prefer the tales of battle and glory myself. Damon at the head of Amaria's army against a full storm of jinn warriors. That's about four billion jinn by the way. As you can imagine our armies are a bit large. The angels call the same number a choir."

"Storms and choirs." I nodded. "Got it."

"Course," Hod started sadly. Before all that I should explain the way it all started."

"Mining in purgatory. I've heard the story."

I got only a sad chuckle for that one. "That was the spark for sure. But things were never right between the two tribes of our father's children. From the moment we were created we were too different from each other.

"I've heard stories of how the Holy Mothers used to play with the seraphim before the multitudes were born, when it was just the ten of them, they bickered constantly, boys and girls, jinn and angels there were too many walls to hurdle and as we increased in size the bickering became debates between nations. Old grudges became predudice, and despite the father's efforts we continued to dislike the very thought of one another."

He stretched out in a huge yawn and rubbed his eyes. A violent shake of his head sent his great beard flailing around and he looked up my way. "What was I saying?" he quizzed after a moment.

I laughed. "tired?"

No smile in response, just an exasperated sigh. "Cromm Chruach's ghoul kept me up last night." He laughed, leaving the impression there was much more to the story. I waited and was rewarded with another sigh. "She decided to beat me with a rock while I slept." He shrugged as if this was nothing new and I just stared.

"Oh" what was I suppose to say to that?

"well" he rubbed his shoulder, now that he'd reminded himself of the bruises I guessed were there. "the differences between us and the angels…where to start… I suppose at the beginning. We were created from the same black smokeless fire that the father used to create the darkness of space. While the angels were born of light."

"Literally as different as Night and Day." I supplied.

"Not only that, they took offence to us treating their sisters as the mouth of god. Many said it was not a woman's place to speak for our father, that it should be his sons. Then we cast our powers in two, giving the crown to Iblis while the sisters held our spiritual authority. That confused them.

"then our beliefs when it came to the land. Each of us was given dominion over our land, they sought to improve it with their art and towers, to bend the land to what they thought beauty should be. We took it as it was and bent ourselves to yield to the land. We moved with the seasons, became the storms, we lived with the land, not just on it.

"and then there was magic, few of them really understand what it is, just like most of us wouldn't know how to build a house to save our lives. They didn't understand the works of energy. They couldn't grasp what they couldn't see or feel. And their 'art' made them look brutish and stupid to us. We had no respect for each other."

"I honestly don't know which way is better." Sure people in my time had overdone it a little, but there was something to be said for a house, a farm, the art of a sculpture, the beauty of a cathedral.

"Understanding this is important, whether you take our side or theirs, knowing what your enemy is like, what he believes in, what drives him is important. If you learn nothing else from this learn that. No villain thinks himself evil. Tio Chan believes he is bringing his people a new home.

"he thinks of himself as an elder, he thinks he deserves what he think he needs. He sees himself as a patriot, a warrior standing up to a tyrant father who crushed his people for standing up for their beliefs. Lucifer sees himself as a disposed of rag. He thinks that god loves the humans more than angels or jinn. He tried to overthrow heaven to keep your people from being created.

"If you meet them face to face they will hardly seem like the monsters many portray them as, but that is where the danger lies. That is why you must know the history of what has been done, to decide what must be done."

I rubbed my temple. I didn't want to meet the devil, either one of them. Out loud I muttered. "That's a lot of history."

"Well then, lets continue." He smiled pulled a piece of parchment from his belt and layed it out in from of him. Written on it were a list of names and titles "The biggest flaw with the angels system is their rankings. Jinn do not label people. Beyond the holy mothers and the king, we have no ranks, no social order. These are things the angel invented, and passed on to humans."

He looked down past the shades he had and for the first time I wondered who was giving him the duds from the future. "They start out with Emmanuelle, the eldest of all of us. He is their Metatron, the 'voice of god' under that are the archangels, or the seraphim, whichever their going by these days."

"They're both." Asase corrected from a distance. "Seraphim is their social status, Archangel was the title given to them when the father gave them their lands to rule over, and teach to."

"Yeah, well under them are the cherubim. You fought Charre so you've met at least one. I believe you've met at least one of the seventy thrones as well." Minos. So that was what they had meant. "In all the cherubim number twelve Charre, Azreal the wrath of god, Danyel the sword of god, Alun the angel of lightning, Uziel the strength of god."

He paused for a moment, cleared his throat. "I hate to admit it but Mephistopheles the angel of secrets and Beelzebub the angel of shadows were once counted among them as well. They apprenticed with the morning star before his fall. They fell with him I'm afraid.

"That leaves five." I pointed out when it looked like he wouldn't continue.

"Yes well, Gabriel's second apprentice Ezekiel took the rank shortly before the war. And then there is the ghost, Emmanuelle's apprentices. They are a sight. Identical to any who look at them, but so different. They also go by the name the 'four winds of heaven' Zepherial the western wind, Notosiel, the northern wind, Superniel, the eastern wind, and Aqualoriel, the southern wind of heaven. They are the emissaries of the Metatron."

Identical quadruplet angels, now that would be something to see. "Who was the cherubim's leader?" I asked. The question earned me a disapproving glare, but I couldn't help being curios.

"By rank the Ghost were the leaders, but Charre has forever held an unofficial power over them as the first to apprentice to an archangel. She is also by far the best fighter. It could take two or three of the other cherubim to subdue her when she lost her temper, which happened often when her father was not there to rein her in."

Why is it I kept hearing about how strong these people where after we were done beating each other senseless? This is the kind of stuff I should have known from the word go. You know 'hey don't make this chick mad, unless you have an archangel handy to take her down.' Now I had two lunatic demons wanting to use my head like a piñata

"After them as I said are the thrones," Hod continued "the dominions, the powers, the authorities the principalities, and finally the last tier the aniphim. Their ranking is very important to them many would still die for the archdemon, simply because he was there Seraphim, their prince."

"Who are the other Archangels?" I remembered several but I wanted to make sure.

"Emmanuelle, ruler of the kingdom of Crystylle is the eldest. Lucifer ruled Vesious before his fall. Now Azreal rules in his stead. Ammaria was watched over by Damon, the defiant one, and while the father saw fit to place Danyel over them in his absence, many Ammarians scorn his leadership.

"Juperi has been Gabriel's since before I was born. Luumes was Puriel the fire of god's but now rests with Uziel. Micheal rules wisely and justly over Mercea. And the last land, Satuere, is held by the youngest Raphael."

"And here in Geth-" I stopped myself. "Here in hell?"

That question took some time to be answered, but I needed to know, so Hod turned to look towards the west where Parvati took me out every day to train. I could imagine what was going through his head. Images of how it once was held against what the demons had done to their home. Now that I had seen it I felt some of his pain.

"Minos rules limbo, and claims the souls of the righteous unbaptized." His voice was low, a hissing curse as he spoke. He hated her, and I couldn't blame him for it. "Tempeca is held by Mephistopheles, and populated by the lustful. Ironic since the Demon of lust Azmodeous rules Hiear, the land of gluttony.

"Morge, the land of greed is Baal's territory. The circle of Wrath is held by Deafen, third of the devil's apprentices, but everyone knows Charre is the power there. Damon's legion settled there after the war, and her word is all that stands between order and rebellion. The dragon just pretends he doesn't know this. So far she has seen fit to settle with unofficial power, waiting for the day she hopes her father will come to take all of hell.

"Pagon, where the heretics go belongs to the harlot Ishtar. Dis, the circle of violence is Beelzebub's. Malabolgia, the circle of fraud is the fallen archangel Puriel's, while Lucifer claims the frozen land of Judecca for himself. The circle of traitors, they rightly call it."

Somehow the second list made my stomach crawl and twist with every new name. The very thought that I could one day have to stand face to face with the devil terrified me. Limbo had been bad enough. I don't think I'd want to go any farther, not if I could help it.

Minos had seemed harmless, but she was one of them, one of the archdukes of hell, one of the nine rulers of the fallen. I had seen her beat one of her sisters into a bloody pulp, I had seen her cast off human souls like trash, no dealing them out like poker chips was a better way to put it. Why couldn't I bring myself to hate her?

"You are deep in thought." I jumped. Parvati had snuck up behind me to check my progress with the mother goddess in tow. silken hands spread over my shoulders and began a gentle massage, soothing out the aches the love goddess had given me hours earlier.

"I was just thinking," I admitted. "I may be the only one who actually likes Minos and Damon. They don't seem very popular. Huh, I can sure pick my friends can't I?"

"I have never met either personally." The love goddess told me softly. I'm pretty sure she shrugged. I liked that about Parvati she wouldn't tell me not to befriend them, she'd share her experience and leave the choice to me, so unlike the darker skinned woman behind her who scowled at the very mention of my teacher's name.

"I avoided Paradise altogether," she continued "but they always seemed to have a close circle. Damon's only 'friend' always seemed to be his daughter."

"How did that happen anyway?" I quizzed. "He doesn't exactly seem the marrying type."

Asase laughed merrily at the statement, her distasteful scowl forgotten. I could almost hear her tell herself that that was the understatement of the year, instead she explained, "Charre was chosen as his apprentice. The first of the apprentices as Hod said. There are many tales. One said he found her wrestling against ten older angels and was impressed with her spirit. Another that he saw her, lonely, on the street and took her under wing. Some even dare to say she perused him.

"But however it began Damon taught the child, and in what seemed like moments to all, we watched as Damon, the defiant one, the tiger, kneel before the father and beg." That I couldn't imagine. "He said, 'for all your love of the child, I would match it with mine own, I ask thee father, that she were mine to teach, to love, to care for and nurture.' The very next instant the Archdemon became Heaven's second parent, after the father himself."

Asase's telling of it made me wonder. These guys had seen it all. They'd seen Damon in his prime, Charre as a child. I was so out of my league it wasn't even funny. "She adores him more than any child has ever loved a parent." She continued. "Even after the war, when asked by the father why she had joined Lucifer's army, her answer was simple. 'Damon has been more of a father to me than thou shall ever be.' She actually told our father he had no right to judge her! She had fallen for following her parent."

Gutsy little twerp, I had to give her that. Now if I could just convince her that the noises my face made when she hit it weren't as amusing as she thought, we might actually become friends.

"Not bad." She picked up the knot I had been working on. "This would be extremely efficient, I'd dare say more powerful than any I'd hope you would have to use." I didn't tell her I hadn't finished yet, or that I'd used stronger arrays in resent past. They were just more complex than I wanted to deal with at the moment. "You have a good head for arrays."

I'd only been here a few days and already I'd fallen into the routine they had set out for me. Every day began well before the others had woken up so I could run through some of the exercises I had gotten into the habit of doing with Minos, then Hands training with Parvati, history lessons with Hod, followed by lessons in array dynamics with the mother goddess.

Amataresu, who I'd remembered had been or would be the Japanese sun goddess, had yet to figure out how to teach me to be a good cultured genie, so after Asase I'd rotate through the other lessons until I'd pass out or until Cromm Chruach decided whether the two of us would play twenty questions or not.

I don't know if it was the fact that he seemed to only teach me at his conviniance, or the side conversations we'd have about rock bands or the game of lots that wonder of wonders, I was actually winning, but I looked forward to the time I got to spend with the death god, even if I still couldn't keep from flinching around him.

"Since that Traitor seems to have taught you well in this we'll move to lessons I had not expected to teach you for centuries." I couldn't help but look back and see the beaming prideful smile she cast down to me. I kept telling myself that 'that traitor' had taught brought me this far. Not her. Whatever these people thought of Minos I couldn't just abandon her to please any one of them.

It was now or never, I told myself. So I rose and turned, meeting a wilting smile with a stern glare and flare of power. "Don't call her that!" I commanded. The hurt shaken look I got shook me but I repeated. "Minos was my teacher. I will not sit here and listen to you people talk about her like that!"

The mother goddess looked confused at first, then the hurt deepened, but slowly I saw pride slide back into her expression. "Loyalty is a tether my child. Are you certain you wish to connect yourself to a creature such as-"

I cut her short right there. I grabbed her wrist and let all my power flood into the tabernacle, watching with satisfaction as her eyes flew wide as saucers, the next moment she was pulling away as my aura had burned her.

"I may not be older than the stars, but I have lived and trained with the Archdutchess. And I tell you now, it pains her to be without what she left behind to fight with her people. I'm sorry if her choice offended you but I don't like bigotry or hatred, especially when it's aimed at my friends!" each word brought more power as my anger rose.

'I think he's certain Asase." A cool calm voice laughed from behind us, and I felt an icy cold shoot through my power. It felt like it grabbed something inside of me and turned it black, I fell to my knees and watched the others fall as well. Inside that black shriveled whatever it had been crumbled and disappeared, leaving me empty, and the cancerous ice swelled to take more of me.

"Cromm Chruach!" Asase clutched her stomach as she cried. Her eyes filled with sheer terror.

I fell to my face, memory of the gentle tune of led Zepllelin's stairway to heaven springing to mind as I felt a cold numbness crawl up my fingers and toes. I remember thinking funny what you think of when you're dying

"Since you're so certain sport, let me tell you this." He was sitting on his rock, his emotioneless expression aimed at us. If he was mad I couldn't tell, I only saw a black abyss where a soul would be behind those crimson eyes. Only nothingness where emotion should have ruled, and that nothingness was sucking the life out of me!

"This is a temple, and these are my friends." He explained calmly, his monotone voice accented by the fact that he was still as stone, as cold as the grave. "Never threaten them again." As suddenly as it began I felt my insides warm again. Life spread and replace what had whithered under Cromm's power

"And Asase, Hod, he's right. Bigotry has no place here. Grudges and hate belong out there in that horror outside. Where you'll be if you insist on acting like children." He stood and walked off, the magnitude of the impression he had made seemed lost to him, or maybe just beneath his notice. "It is hell after all." His last words rang in my ears.

" 'little genie on your butt,'

Asked the frightened little nut

'what's the cause of this dreadful rut'

The genie answered 'tis a cut'

'it festers boils and seeks to rot

And repels all the spells I bought

Of all the wars that I have faught

To die from knick well who'd have thought'"

The insane cackle that came from the little girl was as unnerving as Cromm Chruach's cold stare. The stupid poem and mad cackle were the first things I heard from Cromm Chruach's ghoul. The young blond in the frilly blue dress was gone now. She looked maybe seven now, with short brown hair and sunken tired eyes that jerked this way and that.

"Not now Alice." Asase demanded. "Go play with Cheeky."

"Cheeky thinks me mad, do you think me mad Regoth'rezia? Because I am you know. Everyone Is mad, you were mad and now you're not. Pity pity, little bitty little bitty bits of string, string to tie a noose." Her eyes drifted back to the left then darted back to me. "Hello, I'm Alice."

I backed away, but kept my eyes locked on her the way you would watch a wildcat. Those eyes. I had seen so many eyes since I had been born again, from Kellars red cat like eyes to, Cromm Chruach's red pools of hollow death, none of them scared me as much as hers.

They were broken. That's the only way to describe them. What should have been an almost perfect circle of blue looked like shattered stained glass someone had hurried to put back together, not quite getting everything to fit. In several places sheer white patches shone where pieces were missing, while other places the blue jutted out of the circles they had once been.

And behind those eyes, just as she had said… madness. "Cheshire is mad," she continued, inching closer. She leaned in and whispered the rest like a secret." He stalks and prowls like silent death, but once was more than that. He was Cheshire the cat, the ripper and render and AHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

She howled and clawed at her face, pulling from me like I had suddenly become a monster. She thrashed and all the jinn darted away from her. "NO! NO! leave me alone! I'll kill you all! I'll burn you in your sleep! I'll drink my tea from your bones! LEAVE ME ALONE!"

That's when I ran for it. Cromm Chruach was heading back at a sprint, that hollow cold now almost an invisible blizzard. He grabbed the girl even as she sprang for me, butcher's knife in hand, and wrestled her to the ground.

"Cheshire." She whimpered now. "Cheshire."

Amataresu slowly, quietly grabbed my arm and pulled. I let her lead me away from the now sobbing ghoul, still never taking my eyes off of the two of them.. when they were out of sight , moreover out of my hearing I let loose the breath I hadn't known I'd been holding.

With it gone I started to shake. Four minutes. It had taken four minutes to go from quiet contemplation, to red hot anger, to sheer terror, then relief, back to sheer terror. And what was I feeling now? Confused mostly, fear, relief, but pity too. I don't know why exactly, but pity stabbed through my heart.

"Stay away from Alice." She son goddess stated. As if I needed to be told that now. "She does not like us."

"Us as in?" I offered, fishing for more.

"Us as in Jinn. It is not my tale to tell. Just know that she is broken. Very broken, very deeply. She is insane, more mad than I have yet to see in the mortal world or in ours. More mad than even the souls of hell reach in time. Stay away."

"An insane ghoul?" yeah that was great. "She's insane AND omnipotent? Wonderful!"

The sun goddess only looked away, and I knew I wasn't getting more from her today. "I believe your lessons are done for the day." She tried to smile, but the morning's events had worn her spirit. "What did you learn?"

Amataresu started walking down to the meadow that bordered the tabernacle, and I followed. I could use the natural beauty to calm my nerves. "politics." I state dryly, and no magic. I had come here to learn magic. Not get world events. What is wrong with her? I mean really?"

"She died." Amataresu, spoke softly, not like she was revieling a secret, but like she could hide the words from herself, like if she spoke quiet enough she would have to hear them. "She died and was tortured and she broke, she broke down deep, in a place we can't heal. And it was jinn who did it to her."

"But-"

"You will get no more of it from me!" she snapped. "I asked Cromm Chruach once, and he was drunk enough to answer. It gave me nightmares child. What our kind did to her gave me, one who's life shadows the universe nightmares. What is the truth worth to you boy?"

"Shutup." The one word was quiet, almost broken. The blonde death god limped into the clearing and waved the young oriental goddess away. "It's time for my training." He said in his cold voice. "And that is the first question I promised him."

"Cromm-"

"Shutup." That one sounded tired, weak. Cromm sat down as the sun goddess left and looked anywhere but me. "She's Alice Carroll. The daughter of Louis Carroll. You know who that is?"

Duh! "Alice in wonderland. Carroll didn't have a daughter."

"She's his bastard. The daughter of a trist. That's not important, what is important is her mom got sick and died. Then Alice killed herself."

Ok. I sat down. This was not going to be a pretty story. I could see it in his eyes. Pain, heartache, and … guilt. It was eating him alive. "I don't need to know." I decided all at once.

Cromm Chruach didn't say much at all for a while. He just sat there looking at the ground. "Why did you chose this side Jason of the lamp? What ill will do you owe Tio Chan? You heard how Hod described him. You have little reason to condemn him on our words. So why side with us?"

"I-" I didn't know. Alcland was as nutty as a fruitcake, there was no telling what his master had been like. And Damon and Minos seemed all right, even with the reputations they had earned.

"Do you want to know what I was doing when my king was killed child?" no. I most assuredly did not. "I was feeding grapes to some fat Greek cow. I couldn't live with myself after that. I was his protector, a divine blade, so I saught out the one responcible for his death."

"Tio Chan."

"I wanted to die, but I wanted him to hurt. I wanted him to lose everything that meant anything to him, ad all of that I found when I discovered one of his plans." I didn't like where this was going. The look in his eyes had changed. It as on a cliff on the edge on sanity. "it took hundreds of years, but I found out what he wanted to do with Alice. She hadn't even been born yet. Choosing her was random, but I found the plans."

He wrung his hands and looked away back to where the Ghoul quietly sobbed. "he was having trouble making the new homeland you see. Making pocket worlds is easy, working with stuff already there, but creation, true creation, only the father knows how to work magic like that.

"Tio Chan was getting close, but all that he made was pitiful and only half real, and all of it crumbled. His plan was simple, he needed more mater, more energy, and the most infinite source of energy in the universe…"

"An eternal soul."

"He told his men to find a young suicide and barter the soul from Lucifer. We put her in one of the crumbling worlds and…" he swallowed bile. "they tortured her. Physically, mentally, spiritually, they took her through the place you call Wonderland for hundreds of years and tore her apart."

I almost puked myself. "Why?"

"To get her to commit suicide again, to get her to destroy her soul. I was… I was suppose to be her only friend, her confidant, and her betrayer. I soothed her and then handed her over to the others so many times. But she never stopped falling for it. No matter how many times I turned on her… and all to find and kill that cursed…"

He was shaking now. "I can see it." I should have stayed quiet, but it just came out. "when you have nothing else even an inconstant friend is better than none."

"I don't deserve even that. I needed a disguise- no listen. This is important. I needed a way to look Tio Chan in the eyes and not let him see I was struggling. So I cast a spell to separate my doubts, my morality from the rest of me. I became as two faced as my 'character' the Cheshire cat."

He raked his nails across his face and groaned. "in the end she gave up. We drove her to, I drove her to cut the bonds of her chaktras and end it all. By then she was so broken, so twisted by the torture there was almost nothing left of the little girl I had known. Tio Chan gathered us all to watch his 'moment of triumph' and I… I snapped. The parts of me I had been pushing aside tore from my body and split me in two. I commanded my ghoul, Cat, to consume the child. You see, when a ghoul kills, the soul of the victim consumes them. They become who they hunt."

"Cat… became Alice?"

"And I was struck down by myself of all people. I had gotten all of my expieriences, all of the skill, but only a portion of my power. It was all I could do to grab my shame and run away with her. As for the other me, I'm told he took my first name and rose quickly in the Dark Faction."

"Do I want to know-"

"I thought you would want to know why I like you Jason of the lamp." There was wry humor in his voice now. He laughed and a chill ran up my spine. It was a laugh I had heard somewhere before, as a single touch of a hand sent tital waves of pain through my body. A laugh I hard while death crept up beside me in my first real battle. "I like you because you Jason of the Lamp, are the man who killed me."

. "No."

Crimson eyes bore deep into mine, eyes that with a simple narrowing of the pupil would have been the exact shade of Halicon, genie of the medallion.