A/N: Hopefully, you've all had a happy holiday this year, or are having one right now that hasn't finished yet. But, for me, Christmas has a special meaning. Every year, I have to hang the Christmas lights. In other words, I have to avoid getting myself killed. This year the ladder must have banged my shins a hundred times, and I was forced stand on the very top of it (not one of the rungs, the top!) and drive a nail backhanded into the side of my roof. I honestly thought I wasn't going to make it this year...but somehow I did.
I no longer question if there is a God.
Anyway, here's the next round. Enjoy.
"Poor thing…they took your life, and now another has stolen your heart." – Zatailah
Tydannoth could see the girl's vibrant blue eyes close for a second, and then open again.
A smile crept upon the girl's face.
She still hadn't answered. She still hadn't told Tydannoth who she was. But her spectral wings became clearer and more striking; the pure ebony that was the calling card of the Reapers. Her hair and eyes were the only color visible on her body; she was otherwise clad completely in black.
Still standing up straight, the girl lowered her head slightly, eyes still locked on Tydannoth's own. Her smile grew, wider and wider.
The vikalu was still puzzled. Why won't she tell me who she is?
The red-headed girl started to bend her knees, while stretching her arms outward and forward.
What is she doing? Tydannoth still wondered.
The girl paused, and looked downward for a moment. Then, her eyes again found Tydannoth's.
Oh no…what is she going to do to me?
The girl in black loudly exhaled. And inhaled, slowly.
Then she lunged at Tydannoth.
She barreled into the doctor, crashing into Tydannoth's abdomen with her black-clad shoulders. Her arms wrapped around Tydannoth, squeezing her in a powerful embrace.
Caught off guard, Tydannoth desperately grasped with her hands at the Reaper's nervous pathways, trying to take control of them. She could not get a firm hold; the force of the tackle sent the both of them barreling into a stack of boxes near the back of the room. Mercedes cowered in the furthest corner as Tydannoth struggled to defend herself.
She knew that the Reaper could destroy her body with a touch. She knew that such an outcome would send her back to Hell. Frantically, she convulsed violently to try and break the Reaper's grip, to no avail. She was holding on too tight. The two of them could both feel themselves losing their balance.
Mercedes could see the two of them, wings and all, struggling against one another. Silently, her fear of the second demon turned to excitement. Please, she hoped, let this demon kill my tormentor!
With a crash, Tydannoth, the Reaper, and the stack of boxes fell to the floor. Tydannoth desperately tried to wriggle free of the Reaper's grasp, still with no success. The two of them rolled amongst the boxes until coming to rest; Tydannoth on her back and the Reaper on top, still holding on.
Panic took hold of the vikalu's consciousness. The Reaper was clearly here to kill her. This body was insufficient to fight back; Tydannoth would have to manifest her true form. Her mind struggled to focus on summoning the power her body stored, performing the mental commands to pull her power of creation from the depths of her being.
And then the Reaper let go.
Still on top of Tydannoth's body, the Reaper released her death grip on the Lifegiver, and stared into her eyes again. She was still smiling as wide as she could, as her mouth opened to speak.
"Tydannoth! I can't believe it's you!" the Reaper exclaimed, with a voice that sounded of pure joy.
Completely dumbstruck, Tydannoth stared upwards at her assailant.
"What?" the prostrate vikalu said.
"It's me! It's me!"
Another second passed. Tydannoth's expression was still vacant, completely unable to comprehend the situation. Mercedes' prayer hung in the balance, as the black-winged demon stopped wrestling with Tydannoth. And lastly, the two of them stared at the red headed girl's face, along with its expression; a look of happiness not unlike a child on Christmas Day.
"It's me!" the Reaper excitedly repeated herself. "Zatailah!"
Immediately, Zatailah grabbed Tydannoth's body again and squeezed as hard as she could.
As the Name of the fellow demon embracing her echoed throughout her skull, a chill coursed down Tydannoth's spine, faster than a snowstorm. She remembered.
The Mistress of Silence was a legend among demonkind. No being in the known cosmos could match her prowess, savagery, or brutality.
But she had a special relationship with her. With what she knew about the Reaper in mind, Tydannoth was not surprised. This is exactly what she would do.
And after remembering, she wished Zatailah would settle down.
"Zatailah…" the Lifegiver began, struggling to speak. "Please let me go."
Without wasting a second, Zatailah's display of affection ceased. The black-clad Reaper immediately sprung to her feet with an unnatural grace, as Tydannoth slowly picked herself up off the floor. She banged her shoulder blade a bit in the fall. Sitting upward, she reached back to try and ease the pain a bit.
Tydannoth struggled to find the right words. Zatailah was a special case; one doesn't talk to her as if she were anyone else. After a moment, Tydannoth was still at a loss for words, but she had to say something. Finally, the Lifegiver decided to wing it.
"Be careful, Zatailah," she began, rising to a knee. "Squeezing really hard hurts the human you're doing it to, and so does falling over," she finished, finally standing up.
Instantly, Zatailah pounced on her again. Her arms took hold of Tydannoth's body as her face still held its brilliant smile.
The Lifegiver noticed that this time, she wasn't squeezing, and keeping her balance.
Tydannoth smiled slightly upon noticing that. For all of her faults, Zatailah was always a good listener.
"Umm, excuse me?"
The two demons turned their heads to meet the source of the voice. Still in a clinch with her fellow demon, Zatailah spoke up.
Mercedes echoed the same sentiment:
"Could somebody tell me what's going on?" the young girl wondered, as her surprise at this turn of events overriding her fear.
"Sure," Tydannoth replied. "Mercedes, this is Zatailah…"
Tydannoth stopped herself, as she had to use the right words.
While she was thinking, Zatailah again began nuzzling against her body again, as if she were a teddy bear.
"It's okay…" the Lifegiver hesitantly explained, "…she's my…umm…best friend!"
Again and again, the cycle continued. It was the blessing of life and the curse of death.
It is more complex than that, the young Reaper thought to herself as she slowly trudged towards her destination, with her scythe slung across her back. She was right; it could also be called the curse of life and the blessing of death.
Once again, someone, somewhere, had committed an error.
Zatailah was certain that is was never the fault of the other angels. They spent all of their time working and creating, trying to make the world the best it could possibly be.
But, they knew so little about it. After all, that was why the enigsu were created; to learn, comprehend, and master the mysteries of this universe. Of course, they were wellsprings of wisdom, if you could ever find one to talk to.
Of course, Zatailah never found one. In fact, none would even look at her with anything but contempt.
Even the other nulkaru hated her. And that stung most of all.
Why? She thought. WHY does no one in this world want me to exist?
The kammaru couldn't stand her, but that wasn't abnormal. They knew their station was above the others, and they refused to "dirty" themselves with their lessers.
The creating races…the vikalu who gave the world life, the tessavu who gave the world shape, the enigsu who gave the world understanding, and the sysammaru who gave the world its soul…they all cringed at the sight of her.
That wasn't unusual either. Zatailah could actually understand that; a Reaper coming to see you meant you had failed. Failure meant frustration, and that frustration was taken out on her.
But why didn't the other Reapers like her either?
Of course, Reapers were already the lowest being in existence. Their purpose was to remove that which wasn't wanted, and place it back into the…
Zatailah immediately stopped herself. She, like all of the other Reapers, was terrified of the place where the mistakes went. Not only would she never speak its Name, she didn't dare to even think it either.
"Nothing," she said aloud to no one, referring to that horrible place, before returning to her thoughts.
A lot of Reapers disliked their positions as well. But that was how the Creator made them, and the Creator's words were law. Station was determined by race first, then time of creation second. They who were created first were superior. They who were created last were the lesser.
Zatailah was the third-to-last created of the lowest race.
The second-to-last had been careless when dealing with that which was Nothing. While she was nearby, preparing to dispose of something, it reached out and attached itself to her wings. As a result, she was taken in and consumed by it, and was now no more. She was not the only Reaper who met this fate, although only Reapers had any of this danger. They were created so the other races would not be exposed to it.
The last had lacked the strength Zatailah had. Instead of living an existence doomed to be hated and mistreated by every being in Creation, he flung himself into Nothing.
And now, the other Reapers were whispering…how long until Zatailah would be next?
Most Reapers only had contact with one another. As the other races refused to deal with them, they had formed their own community, sharing stories of the wonders they've seen, and of the horrors they carried the flaws to.
Oreiros was the first Reaper. He was the one above the rest of them. He was caring and kind, no doubt about that. But others below him were not so. They oppressed those below them.
And now, Zatailah was below them all.
Determined not to feel sorrow, she tried to calm herself.
Those problems are not with you now, the youngest living Reaper told herself. Now you are free to be awed.
This was undoubtedly Zatailah's favorite part of her existence, travelling to collect a flaw. In the meantime, she could see everything she wasn't here to carry away, and admire its splendor.
Zatailah's favorite place was a waterfall. It was a small one, nestled on a few rocks that shelter it from the front of the cliff it was on, so you had to look for it to find it. But, once there, she loved watching the water travel to the end. As it did, it transformed itself from clear to white, so any creature nearby could be aware of its motion. It trickled, ran against, fell upon, bounced off of, and otherwise interacted with the rocks below in everyway imaginable. It was amazing to watch, and the water never stopped flowing. She still did not know why it never stopped. She had never had enough time to follow the waterfall's water upstream to find its source. She always had work to do, so there was only precious little time to enjoy it.
Fortunately, where she was going now could take her by it. It would be on "the way back", as she would pass by it on the way from returning the flaw to the nearest portal to where Nothing resided.
The Reaper resolved to pick up the flaw as quickly as she could, and try to make time to go to her favorite place.
Although, she always tried to work as fast as she could. There was less time for the creators of her cargo to scream at her that way.
Tydannoth did not take breaks. There was no time. The faster she could finish, the more time she could be spend watching it inherit its world.
But she'd hit a wall. Try as she might, she couldn't make it work.
Zahir-ka and Sytarriel's changes kept coming. They just didn't stop, trying to make their particular piece of musculature more streamlined and efficient. But, while they came, Tydannoth had to keep replacing the kinetics system. Even worse, she had to redesign it every time.
She'd been working for Creator-knows how long on the latest version, and had just begun to test it. Almost immediately, the motor control system buckled from strain, and ruptured then and there.
Now, she knew a Reaper was coming. There was no way one wouldn't. But, none ever came for Zahir-ka and Sytarriel's constantly changing designs. Therefore, they must still be correct.
So she was at fault, not them.
The vikalu's eyes lowered in silent surrender; she must consult with the enigsu. There was just no other way around it. She'd literally tried everything she could think of. But, taking a moment to ask for help, loathsome to her as it was, could be helpful.
A sound coming from behind her interrupted the Lifegiver's thoughts. She turned to look, and her heart sank at what she saw.
It was the heel, blade, and point of a Reaper's scythe.
Saddened, she stepped away from her work to allow it to approach it. The sooner this was over with, the better.
The Reaper's monochromatic eyes peeked out from under its pure white hair, making eye contact with Tydannoth's own, her face a saddened visage. But, before the Lifegiver could even react, the Reaper turned away, focusing on the erroneous system between them.
She worked silently but swiftly, using a smaller tool that resembled her scythe to dig out the offending piece of anatomy. Tydannoth's first instinct was to warn her not to damage anything else, but she restrained herself. She hadn't ever heard of an incident where a Reaper caused any damage beyond what it was supposed to do.
Patiently, the Lifegiver started to admire the way the Reaper worked. Judging by its face, maybe she deserved a break too.
Tydannoth thought about speaking to her. She had never spoken to a Reaper before, as she always silently watched as they proved to her how her latest creation was not in the Creator's plan.
It seemed dangerous. You never knew what a Reaper might be thinking, or what it might do. She'd known that for as long as she could remember. On the other hand, why not? What was it going to do? Surely it would not dare to harm one of the highest-born of the creating races.
"Hello," the Lifegiver said.
Zatailah jumped in surprise.
Could the Lifegiver actually have spoken to her? Really? None of the creating races ever did that, unless they were angry. She didn't sound angry. Why wouldn't she be angry though…she was here to destroy her work, was she not?
Slowly, Zatailah stopped digging with her sickles, and looked up to the Livegiver.
Her eyes were a brilliant purple. They reminded of her of some flowers that grew by her favorite waterfall.
The Reaper's mind was still racing…was this a trap? Is the Lifegiver feigning kindness to give here an even deeper insult?
Or was she genuinely saying hello?
Still indecisive, Zatailah's mouth opened slightly as she decided what to do.
After all…scary as talking to one of the creating races was, it was nowhere near as bad as facing Nothing. How bad could it be?
"Hello," the Reaper replied.
"How are you today?" the other angel said, quickly and amicably.
Zatailah was caught completely off guard. This had honestly never happened before.
What should she do? It could still be a trap.
Then again, that likelihood was decreasing quickly. One word was suspicious, but two sentences? Maybe this time was different.
Maybe this time the other angel she was dealing with would not turn her away.
"Very well. I love travelling and seeing the world," the white-haired Reaper answered.
"Really?" the green-haired Lifegiver replied. "What is your favorite thing to see?"
At this point, Zatailah was sold. All her prayers had been answered, right here, right now.
The two of them spoke with one another for quite some time. Afterward, neither of them could say how much time they had spent together.
Mercedes' first feelings toward the red-haired, black winged girl were of mistrust. She'd figured that a friend of the demon Tydannoth was no friend of hers. For a moment, she had cheered for her, hoping that she would slay her infernal benefactor.
Now she was just confused.
Tydannoth was finally able to get Zatailah to stop being friendly as only she could, which wasn't surprising. Most Reapers weren't socially apt, but this one? Zatailah seemed to define the term "awkward", along with "violent", "savage", and "insane".
"What's going on?" Mercedes asked, as Tydannoth dusted herself off as Zatailah sat to the side, still smiling as if she'd won the lottery. In fact, Mercedes hadn't seen anyone that happy, anywhere.
Tydannoth's hair chopsticks had fallen out, and she was replacing them in her hair as she explained. "Zatailah, meet Mercedes. Mercedes, Zatailah."
The blue eyes of the girl dressed in black turned to meet those of Mercedes. When she looked into them, they…well, they kind of felt…relaxed. Mercedes couldn't think of another way to put it.
"I like your eyes," Zatailah observed. "Green is a pretty color."
That surprised Mercedes.
"My eyes are brown," she replied.
"No they're not, they're…" was Zatailah's response, before she paused.
Mercedes' fear was returning rapidly as this girl came even closer, she paused right in front of her face. In fact, she could feel a small gust from the girl's breathing. It made Mercedes completely petrified, unable to even think.
"It's okay, Mercedes, she won't hurt you," Tydannoth said, trying to calm her fears. Unfortunately, people like Mercedes don't respond well to demons telling them not to be afraid. Her heart was pumping so fast, it felt as if there was a snare drum in her chest.
"Oh, they're just marks."
At that, Zatailah retreated away from Mercedes. Her fear subsided, only slightly. Zatailah turned to Tydannoth.
"Your mark looks great on her eyes. Everything you make is just…beautiful."
Tydannoth hadn't intended anything of the sort when she "gave" Mercedes' the sight all angels possess. In fact, doing so was kind of like replacing an engine part of a car.
Then again, Zatailah never said anything bad about Tydannoth, ever. It was a small positive aspect of having a slaughterer like you.
"Thank you," Tydannoth answered. Before she could continue, Zatailah turned to Mercedes again.
"I'm sorry. I thought your eyes were green, but then my friend told me that they're brown."
"Your friend?" Tydannoth interrupted.
"Yeah. Her name's Sarah. Want to talk to her?"
"I'd love to," the doctor answered, "but I don't think that's possible."
"Sure it is," Zatailah answered. "She's right here."
Tydannoth's eyes each grew wider than a quarter. How?
"But…" Tydannoth begin, stammering slightly. "But, how is that possible?"
"She's still here. She's letting me share her body with her."
Tydannoth's psyche was overwhelmed with two feelings.
One was interest. How could one of her kind share space with an intact human soul? That's not supposed to happen. In fact, she'd heard the stories back when she was still in the darkness. No one had ever spoken of inhabiting a body that still had a soul in it. And it wasn't for lack of trying; plenty of demons had tried to piece together how it could be possible, but failed. If it could be done, they didn't know how.
The other was sadness. She really did feel great sorrow for the tragedy that was Larisa Hatfield. Someone who gave so much for others, and could not handle the mistreatment she got in return. Now she was lost. Gone forever. Even with a Reaper standing in front of her, one of those who have power over Death, she knew. Just like they all of the creating races knew.
When you die, you do not come back.
Shaking herself out her feelings, Tydannoth got back on track. If there's a human being in there, I have to speak with her.
"Please," Tydannoth finally said. "I'd be honored."
Mercedes watched all this, absorbing what she was seeing. First, there was another demon in this girl. Second, the actual girl was still in there! She wondered what that could mean. Does the demon control the girl?
Or, even weirder, does the girl control the demon?
Zatailah walked backwards a bit, and came to a stop, leaning up against one of the small room's walls.
Personally, she was ecstatic…no, that wasn't good enough. She was ECSTATIC! After all this time, after so, so long, she'd found the one angel that didn't turn her away. And combined with meeting Sarah, who was an even better friend than her?
The youngest remaining Reaper couldn't have been happier.
But, first thing's first. Zatailah could tell that Sarah was equally interested in Tydannoth. In fact, it was only fair. Isn't that what one does when two friends are around? Introduce them?
Go ahead, Sarah. Say hello.
All right, the true master of their shared consciousness replied. Give me control again, Zatailah.
Neither Tydannoth nor Mercedes noticed the change externally. The girl just blinked a couple times, as if acting normally. But, they could see the girl's wings, and both saw them fade into the less vivid image they were when the girl arrived.
She stuck her hand out towards Tydannoth.
"Someone stepped on my forehead, I think."
"You think?" Juliette wondered. "Umm…wouldn't you know if something like that had actually happened? Seems like something you'd notice."
Dexter was privately seething at the aggressiveness of this chick. For crying out loud, you'd think she'd have the tact to wait for the date he was on to finally shrivel up and die before making such a move.
The two of them were still in the waiting room, with Dexter doing his best to ignore Juliette and throw himself into the baseball game he'd found on the TV.
The plan wasn't going too well. Baseball didn't really interest him much. And the thing he was trying to ignore was quite willing to do anything to get his attention.
"I don't know. It happens fast, I couldn't see," Dexter dispassionately said.
At this point, Dexter had given up all hope of this particular day ending well. And to think he had actually contemplated what he was supposed to do at the end. Were you supposed to kiss at the end of the second date or the third? Dexter could never remember such things.
"But still…to get a battle scar like that? You must've made your enemy really fear you," Juliette continued, still not letting up. Dexter could feel like this would end about the same time poverty and world hunger would. Something needed to be done.
"Listen…Juliette, right?" the man said, turning to the girl at his side for the first time.
As for her, she'd finally made a breakthrough. Just a little while longer and he'd be hers. The trick was to act interested in them. That way they keep talking. Eventually, either she'd go in for the kill or the guy in question would hang himself. Either way, Juliette usually won exchanges like these.
"Don't take this the wrong way…but I'm on a date with Sarah today. Not you."
Dexter turned back toward the TV, trying to make the point as clear as possible: not you, not now, and probably not ever.
As Dexter looked away from her, Juliette was quietly cultivating rage. Didn't this guy know who she was? There's an angel here, just down the hallway, talking to your other angel girlfriend right now, and she's going to save the world. I'm going to help. What the hell are you doing, just sitting here, acting as if you don't know who you're involved with?
Silently, a thought crossed Juliette's mind. An idea was beginning to form, and she liked it better and better with each passing second. She wasn't the type to give up easily, certainly not recently. And she'd decided a little while ago that this man here was going to see things her way.
Oh yeah, she thought to herself, as a smile grew from ear to ear. Just you wait, Dexter.
Just you wait.
They talked about the old times. Curiously, neither Tydannoth, Sarah, Zatailah, nor even Mercedes for that matter, could come up with how it came to be called the "Garden of Eden." The two demons insisted that there wasn't really a particular name for the specific place there the Allfather and Allmother lived, although it was certainly the most important place in the world. Wherever they went, a hidden chorus of angels was sure to follow; their pain at being unable to meet their creations conflicting with their wonder at seeing how the two of them existed in the world they had created.
They talked about the current times. Tydannoth told Sarah the sad story of Larisa Hatfield. About how the woman just couldn't fathom how the fate she received was deserved.
Sarah told Tydannoth about herself. In fact, they'd found some common ground on the subject: the two of them both hated mathematics. Sarah, try as she might, just couldn't make sense of the higher-end subject. In her words, calculus was "having her for lunch". Tydannoth agreed. When Larisa was in college, she refused to take it. Plenty of mathematics classes were required for her doctorate, but fortunately she didn't have to go as far as Sarah had. And, after hearing some of the horror stories Sarah had of her current professor, Tydannoth was silently grateful. The woman whose death freed her from her prison was at least spared some suffering.
Throughout this conversation, Tydannoth was avoiding the main issue. And, this issue was a large one. Even worse, Sarah didn't seem to know.
The Mistress of Silence was a monster. Is a monster. No creature was more savage, more brutal, and more murderous than the being inhabiting the body of a girl named Sarah. She terrorized angel and demon alike, as the only thing that could stop her rampage was when there was nothing else nearby to destroy. Her comrades soon learned to flee as the battle wound down, whether they were winning or losing. Because, if they were victorious, Zatailah would that victory into a Pyrrhic one when she ran out of faithful forces to feast on.
But…she had an odd quirk. It was the one of two reasons their demonic masters had not simply put her to death.
The other reason was that no one was willing to challenge her in combat.
No one could explain the quirk. Even the wisest enigsu had been unable to comprehend it. After all, it made no sense. Zatailah was completely insane, and a terror to everything and everyone in the vicinity.
Except when Tydannoth was around.
When this particular Lifegiver was nearby, Zatailah seemed to regain a semblance of self-control. Still, no one dared insult her nor show her anything but reverence. But be that as it may, when Tydannoth was on hand, Zatailah's rage subsided. She could stop, consider, think, and speak.
But Zatailah has resided in this girl for some time now, the Lifegiver thought. I was not around her, nor aware of her. She couldn't have been aware of me. So, how could she control herself?
Sarah and Mercedes had been speaking for a while, but Tydannoth wasn't paying attention. Mercedes had said something about acts of sin, and Sarah had said something about "being sorry". But, she paid the two girls no mind. She had to solve this puzzle.
Zatailah being loose threatened everyone. This whole city was now in danger…maybe the entire world…if she returned to her old self. But she hadn't yet, and she'd been here long enough to do so. Why hadn't she killed yet?
The two girls continued chatting as Tydannoth continued to think.
Perhaps Zatailah was planning something. Maybe she was waiting for something to happen…no, she thought. Zatailah was always a follower. She never was one to strategize or plan.
But there had to be something that was holding her back. Was there something she wanted?
"…trust me," Sarah said as Tydannoth began to once again pay attention. "You can't judge anyone by the acts of their kin, race, or whatever. You have to give everyone you meet a fair chance."
Mercedes paused, but replied. "I understand. But, it is more difficult to do that than you can imagine."
"Excuse me," Tydannoth interrupted, turning to Sarah. "I have a question for Zatailah."
"Go ahead," Sarah said. "She can hear you."
It felt a little odd to be using a human as a messenger to speak to an angel. Tydannoth had never done that before. Usually, she just invoked his or her Name. She hadn't ever asked Juliette, or even Lajuti, to do that.
"Now that you're free, Zatailah…what is it that you want to do?"
The red-haired girl in front of her simply smiled.
"Well, we both know that…"
Zatailah has told Sarah of her desire, Tydannoth noted. Clearly the two of them have become close.
"…She wants her own body. She wants to go out and see the world you other angels built. And, she doesn't want to tie up mine."
Tydannoth smiled, trying to appear friendly. "That's very noble of her."
"I don't know why," Sarah added. "I'd be willing to do whatever she wanted."
Tydannoth looked to the side as she thought about Sarah's answer.
"Well, I'd love to help," the Lifegiver began, "but I don't see how we can separate the two of you. We cannot move human souls that are unwilling, nor force one out of its body."
Although Tydannoth's answer was a little morbid, Sarah didn't seem to mind.
"That's not a problem. Zatailah can do it."
"What?" Tydannoth demanded, stunned at this revelation. "How is that possible?"
"Good question. Hold on," Sarah answered.
The girl stared blankly at Tydannoth for a moment, as if nothing was amiss.
"It's very simple," the girl continued. "Where a vikalu has power over that which is living, we nulkaru have power over that which is dead. When a creature dies, it leaves your realm and enters mine."
Mercedes was a little uneasy at this. She certainly felt uncomfortable speaking with an angel…or in this case, demon of death.
Tydannoth was even more uncomfortable. She was a Lifegiver. She wanted nothing to do with dead things.
"A body can house a soul," Zatailah continued. "That's what it was designed for, wasn't it?"
"Yes," Tydannoth answered. That was true.
"When a body dies, it loses the soul inside, but not its capacity to store another. There are a few caveats, but by and large, I myself could become the possessing soul."
"That's not possible," Tydannoth replied unhappily. "A body is bound to its soul. The soul's anchored inside the body by the heart. That's why it leaves when the heart ceased to function. A different heart can be used to anchor the same soul to its body, but if the heart is in place, you cannot force your way in. I do not know how you ended up in Sarah, but I can't see how we could duplicate that process again."
"I guess you're right," Zatailah dejectedly answered. She looked down to the floor, distraught.
"Wait," Mercedes spoke up, finally participating in a conversation with Tydannoth. "Don't they get the hearts for heart transplants from freshly dead people?"
At that, Zatailah excitedly turned to Tydannoth.
Tydannoth nodded. The facility for that was downstairs.
Dexter and Juliette did not have many things in common. But, there were two things they were sharing now. The first was a sense of victory. Both of them had felt that they had won. Dexter was quite happy with himself that his stern message he issued to the girl next to him had sunk in. As for Juliette, she had discovered a hidden store of patience. She'd call Tydannoth shortly. No sense in breaking up whatever they were doing in there too soon.
The second thing they shared was a mutual silence.
Certainly enjoying it, Dexter threw himself into watching the game on television. Normally, he could be bothered with a San Diego Padres game here or there, and would root against one of their division rivals every so often. As for the two teams playing right now, he wouldn't even care. But, the circumstances sometimes call for drastic measures. The man in the red shirt was watching intently. He even paid attention to the commercials. After thinking about it, he probably could go for a Big Mac later tonight.
Juliette's eyes were pointed in the general direction of the TV, but she certainly wasn't watching it. Her mind was working overtime now, refining her rapidly-forming plan. While doing so, she'd subconsciously taken out the scalpel she carried with her, the same one her celestial patron had given her last week.
Placing it between the middle and ring fingers in her left hand, she began to twirl it between her fingers. Back and forth, back and forth.
The rapid movement of the scalpel next to him had drawn Dexter's eyes. It was moving fast, but he could still see the surgical tool for what it was.
Juliette had caught him looking at it.
"It's a scalpel."
Dexter turned to face Juliette. "I see that…why do you have it?"
"Oh, it was a gift from a friend," the ponytailed blonde began. "It helps me deal with stress."
Dexter considered responding for a moment, until his better judgment prevailed. One thing he certainly didn't want to do was talk to her anymore. With a modest nod, he turned back to watching the game. Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox manager, was on the screen yelling at the umpire about something. Dexter missed what had just happened.
Juliette just kept twirling the scalpel. What Dexter didn't know was that even though the scalpel was intended to help Juliette with her nervousness, she didn't really have that condition anymore.
These days, she took out her scalpel when she was excited.
With every step they took, Tydannoth seemed to come up with another reason as to why this was a bad idea.
Yet, the three of them (or four, depending on how you counted) rode the elevator down to the ground floor, and made for their destination.
O.R. 2 was just outside the emergency room. Larisa never worked in there, and hoped she never would. The other surgeons at Thornton called it the "Chop Shop".
The waiting list for human organ transplants was miles long. Many patients with ailments that required a transplant just weren't going to get them. And, unfortunately, they couldn't just rip a replacement out of someone else.
But, if a patient died in the E.R. or near the hospital, and if they carried the organ donor sticker on their driver's license, they'd pay a visit to Operating Room 2 before they went for the crematorium, or the mortician's. They kept it open for that purpose, because when there was a fresh cadaver that still had something that could save the life of another, there was no time to lose. One optimistic surgeon referred it as the "Salvation Army Kettle". Here, people performed the last act of charity they ever would.
As for Tydannoth, she wouldn't go near the place.
It terrified her. Noble as organ donation was, you had to be dead to give up most of important parts. And that was the worst part.
Seeing something dead brought back all of the old memories.
Humans weren't supposed to die. They were supposed to live free of the fear of death, which every angel, even the Reapers, shared. Now, all of them, no exceptions, will all end up dead.
While Tydannoth led the way, Zatailah and Mercedes spoke to one another.
"Zatailah," the younger girl began solemnly. "What happens when you die?"
It was a legitimate question. In truth, Mercedes was not out of order for asking it.
But Zatailah refused to answer it. Because, the truth was just too horrible.
Now, there were stories. Stories of the few Reapers who tried to save all they could. They set up a world just outside this one, where they could recover as many souls as they can, preventing them from meeting a much worse fate. They'd told her because she was a Reaper, and all of them had a right to know. But, Zatailah didn't believe it. She thought those stories were just that.
So, she gave the answer she always gave, when confronted with this question.
"One day, everyone will know what it means to die," the Reaper began, unwavering in her stride. "Until then, pray that day is not today."
Mercedes was a little scared at that.
Tydannoth actually shook as she heard it.
"One more thing," Mercedes started again, trying to touch on a lighter subject. "How'd you meet Dexter?"
The girl dressed in black actually froze, stopping in the middle of the hall. Even Tydannoth looked back, wondering what was amiss.
"This is Sarah again," she said, resuming her pace. "Zatailah's kind of out of it."
"Why?" Mercedes asked with a curious tone. "What's wrong with him?"
"Nothing," was Sarah's answer. "It's Zatailah. She's…well…"
Both Mercedes and Tydannoth waited patiently for Sarah to finish.
"Let's just say she really likes Dexter."
The two who listened understood the meaning. But, neither of them thought that was possible.
"Really?" Mercedes asked. "You mean she's in love with him?"
Tydannoth didn't look back, but her eyes widened in surprise. Zatailah…the monster…loves someone?!
Sarah giggled. "Don't say that out loud. You're making her nervous!"
Mercedes was surprised; in a pleasant way…it sounded like this demon of death had a schoolgirl crush.
Tydannoth was thinking of something different.
Zatailah couldn't be trusted to stay calm on her own, and most other people just infuriated her more. In fact, on multiple occasions she'd had to be sequestered as her rages got further and further out of control.
But, she knew that Zatailah had a way of bonding with people. Maybe she'd done so with Sarah, and perhaps this 'Dexter' fellow. She'd done so with her, and as a result, she was able to be kept in check. It was as if she was so desperate for a friend, she latched onto the first person who showed her anything resembling friendship.
And…she'd said hello to her when she came to collect her pressurized motor kinetics design.
As she turned the last corner to O.R. 2, Tydannoth secretly pondered the consequences of being kind to this sad little girl. Because she had done so, she was stuck with a murderous psychopath, who she's still not rid of, even after escaping from Hell.
But, had she not…perhaps this killer would never be able to control herself.
"We're here," Tydannoth said, as she approached the door. She could hear the noise coming from a nearby operating room. It was a Saturday after all, and this was the biggest day of the week for people getting hurt. But, after a quick peek through the window, the Chop Shop was unoccupied.
"Go ahead," she began, speaking to Sarah. "See if there's a suitable cadaver in the storage drawers on the rear wall. Maybe they haven't been picked up by a mortician yet."
Tydannoth stood to the side. She didn't open the door.
"Aren't you going to watch?" Sarah wondered.
"No. And stay out here Mercedes," she said, turning to the black-haired girl. "I need to talk to you."
Mercedes had been genuinely interested in Zatailah. She was different than Tydannoth…nicer, it seemed. She certainly wanted to talk to her more.
But now, her cruel master had ordered her to wait outside.
Remembering the night she brought Tydannoth her portrait, she silently complied. She didn't want to feel that pain again.
Sarah entered the door slowly, closing it behind her. She felt to her left for the light switch. Finally finding it, she flicked it on.
She'd seen images of morgues and places like this on television before, but this room didn't look like what she had expected.
There was a large, man-sized table in the center, with a few wheeled carts containing drawers, which she assumed contained the tools and the supplies. Lots of other medical stuff was to be found in this room as well. She could see a rubber glove box on the wall, a small supply of syringes, and a cabinet to the right labeled "Clean Scrubs".
To the other side, she could see the wall, the wall with the storage drawers.
It reminded her of a bank. It looked just like one, an entire wall filled with metal compartments. The only difference was the size of them. Bank deposit boxes were smaller than this. It didn't need to be large to store any valuables someone would put there.
Then again, these containers had something that someone had considered valuable, once.
Sarah couldn't reach the ones at the top. So, she started with the first drawer she could reach. She placed her hand on the handle, but hesitated.
This was weird, and that was an understatement. Here she was, about to mess around with dead bodies. That in itself wasn't a big deal. Considering the friend that shared her body with her, the fear of death wasn't really something that she suffered from.
Instead, she was worried about something more.
What if whoever was inside was still watching over their body? More importantly, what if he or she got mad?
Do not worry about that, her friend's voice echoed from within her.
"Why not?" she said out loud, uninterested in the fact that there was no one else around.
I have heard stories of "ghosts"…lost spirits of the dead. But they are just stories. I have seen nothing of the sort.
Sarah doubted again for a moment, as she remembered something.
She'd seen two people earlier today, riding in the car on the way here. They were fighting. But, when she looked again, they had disappeared without a trace. She was sure it wasn't a hallucination.
I cannot explain it either, but I can assure you that ghosts do not exist.
Satisfied, Sarah gave the drawer a hefty pull.
Out rolled a slab of metal, with a body on it. The body was covered in a yellow blanket, with one exception: two thin, grayed feet stuck out from under the blanket.
The first thing Sarah noticed was the smell. She'd expected something putrid, but it wasn't that bad. Then again, it wasn't that good either. Resolving to breathe through her mouth, Sarah plugged her nose with her left hand.
Also, tied to the left big toe, was a toe tag.
Sarah moved forward to examine it. It read:
F, 5'9", 17YO
What does that mean? She heard.
"The 04-19-2008 part looks like a date of death. That was Thursday, two days ago. F must mean female, and the 5'9" is her height. I don't know what the rest of it means, though."
Well, can you find it?
Unable to immediately supply an answer, Sarah's eyes found something else that may be of use. There was a clipboard hanging to the side.
Walking over to grab it, still trying to cope with the smell, Sarah slowly made her way to the clipboard's hanging place. She took it into her hand and began to read.
The first page described one Charlie Price, a 67 year old man who happened to be six-foot-five. Looking at the size of the body on the slab, the body clearly wasn't Charlie.
The second one seemed to find the mark.
It described one Carmelita Calavera. 17 years old. Blood type O+. There was a part that said "autopsy reveals cause of death: hemorrhaging from shotgun blast to chest". The "organ donor" segment was checked in the "yes" box. Below that, the page listed a small summary: "Collected Heart, two lungs, one kidney. Scheduled for cremation, no known next of kin."
"I guess her heart's been removed, and no one will miss her," Sarah observed out loud.
All right then, may I take a look at this Carmelita Calavera?
Silently, Sarah replied.
Of course you may. Don't do anything mean.
As her consciousness once again regained its connection with Sarah's body, the Reaper looked down at the blanket covering a very poor soul.
She reached for the top, opposite the feet. She grabbed the top of the blanket, and pulled it, to reveal the poor girl's face.
Underneath the blanket was the quiet, peaceful face of a girl now passed on.
It retained some of its skin color, but most of her face had grayed. In fact, some places Carmelita's face had taken on a purple hue. But most interesting was her mouth.
Some of the skin had been completely sheered off, on the left side of her jaw. Zatailah could see all the way to the back teeth, "molars" she believed they were called. She could see even up to where the lower jaw met with the rest of the skull, the gap between curving upward. Compared to the relatively unscathed other side of her head, it appeared as if Carmelita's face was in a fiendish half-smile of a skull.
Her eyes were closed.
"Sarah, I am going to do something you may find disconcerting."
"I'm going to find out how she died."
You can do that?
"Yes. All Reapers can find the cause of death. It allows us to check if whatever caused the death was unnatural and needed to be addressed."
"Watch," Zatailah said, as she placed her hand on Carmelita's still face. With it, she opened the girl's eyelids.
She still retained a deep brown color in her irises, almost black. They aimed blankly ahead.
Zatailah positioned her own head right above those dead eyes. Using her hands to firmly grip Carmelita's head, she looked deep into the vacant stare of the cadaver.
Together, Zatailah and Sarah saw it all.
Lita checked her watch. It read 3:17 AM.
She hated the night shift. It was her second of two jobs, the other being a part-time helper at a child care center. At least over there, she got to deal with kids, and she liked kids.
Here, at this ratty convenience store, she never saw any.
The store was empty, as it usually was. She took this time to do the mopping she had to do once a day. She'd set up the little yellow plastic sign, which was store policy, but she thought it was dumb. After all, there needs to be someone in the store to slip on the floor.
Slowly, she counted the days until she could finally quit this damn job. Unfortunately, she'd just started her first "semester" at community college, if one could call it that. She could barely afford the measly two classes she took, even with the two jobs. On top of that, she was afforded roughly six hours a day to herself during the week, and some of that time needed to be spent sleeping.
She sometimes did that while working, but got caught once on the security cameras, which was the source of a good reaming from her boss. So now, she just stayed tired, slowly mopping. At least, until she couldn't stand it anymore.
There still were a couple aisles to go, but she felt like giving herself a break. She left the bucket and mop to the side, and as she made for the counter where a chair awaited her, she grabbed a magazine from the rack to read for a while.
As she sat down, she heard the bell on the door ring. She looked up.
Two men had entered the store, walking straight towards the counter.
One carried a shotgun. The other carried a pistol. They both were wearing ski masks.
The two of them wasted no time. Pointing their weapons at Lita, they demanded all of the money she had.
Petrified, Lita told them that the safe was time-locked. She couldn't open it.
Angry, the one with the shotgun demanded the contents of the register.
Hands shaking, Lita opened the register and handed them the money. As she did so, she pushed the button below the counter with her free hand.
The man with the pistol saw it.
He screamed in anger. He warned his friend that Lita had called the cops.
The man with the shotgun didn't even give it a second thought. He fired at Lita's head.
She dodged as best she could, but the shot ripped into the skin on the side of her mouth. Going into shock, she fell to the floor.
But, this man was thorough.
As she lay on the floor, he put another shell into her chest.
Lita couldn't even feel anything. The pain had seemed to have gone away, replaced with nothing but numbness.
The last thing she heard was the bell on the door as the robbers ran out.
Instantly, the familiar environs of the operating room returned as the flashback ended.
"Poor thing…" Zatailah said, as the two of them regained their senses. "They took your life, and now another has stolen your heart."
Sarah found other words to say.
You may have years,
You may have hours,
But sooner or later,
You'll be pushing up flowers.
"This one will do."
Are you sure? Sarah wondered. Shouldn't we ask her permission or something?
"Lita has passed on, Sarah. She's gone. We could not contact her if we tried."
And it was the truth. Upon hearing one's Name, she knew if someone had passed from this world to hers. Carmelita "Lita" Calavera had certainly made that transition.
Zatailah…hold on a moment.
"What is the problem?" the demon wondered.
Sarah was taking her time, considering the severity of making this separation.
The being currently borrowing her body was a monster. They both agreed on that. She had personally destroyed nearly everything she had come across. Was it really, truly safe to allow her to roam free in this world?
"Sarah," Zatailah began, hearing the thought. "I will not take another undeserving life again. I promise."
Sarah took the time to feel Zatailah's psyche as she examined that statement's veracity.
After a moment, Sarah had decided.
With Sarah and Zatailah inside the operating room, Mercedes and Tydannoth were alone in the hallway.
Almost immediately, Mercedes' defenses were up. She first though about running away, but that wouldn't work. She remembered how the demon simply took control of her body, making her move like a puppet.
Subconsciously, while she had thought about running, her hand felt the hard object in her pocket. Her father's straight razor was there. Since first grabbing it, she didn't go anywhere without it.
"Mercedes," Larisa began, looking downwards to the short girl. "There's something I need to tell you."
Mercedes' eyes were narrow as she prepared to listen to whatever blasphemy she was going to say now. To be honest, the girl was getting quite tired of this. She may have been tricked into selling her soul to a demon, but she was starting to consider going down fighting as an option. To continue with this madness was becoming unconscionable.
"I'm sorry, Mercedes," Tydannoth said somberly.
The girl's expression changed. She certainly hadn't expected that. But still, two words from a demon weren't exactly enough to sway her.
"Sorry for what?" Mercedes scowled.
A thought crossed Mercedes' mind; the demon seemed genuine. She quickly dismissed it thereafter. How could a demon ever feel remorse? That was stupid.
"Of course you are. So sorry that you're going around taking slaves on a daily basis. Spare me," the girl replied, looking away in anger.
"Listen to me," Tydannoth began, still sounding sincere. "I know what I did that night at my house. And, I know it was wrong. Very wrong. I brought you along with Sarah to apologize."
Mercedes glanced at Tydannoth's back, looking at her wings. She could still see the ebony veins that permeated the otherwise white wings. Thus, Mercedes wasn't buying it.
"You have got to be kidding me. You took over my body. You poisoned me with that gas. You nearly killed me, and on top of that, you ripped out a part of my soul. If you are sorry, fine, but do not expect me to forgive you."
"Listen," the raven-haired doctor continued. "I know that I've made a few mistakes. I'm sorry, I really am. But can't you see what I'm doing? I'm saving lives here; I'm giving people a second chance."
The girl was still unmoved. "If by 'second chance', you mean 'finding more souls to consume', I agree. I see the marks. You're just grabbing any injured person you see, and offer to heal them. That's it. After that, you couldn't care less. All you want is their power. After that, they're just pawns to you."
"That's not true!" Tydannoth proclaimed, as she tried to defend herself. But, Mercedes cut her off.
"Yeah, right. What have you done for me after giving me my sight, other than bring me pain and suffering?"
Mercedes looked into the demon's eyes, daring her to answer. She did not.
"Exactly," the girl continued. "I'm nothing to you. You might as well kill me right here. Take your fill and be done with it…I'll gladly go to Hell if it mans I don't have to stare at a deceiver like you anymore."
She actually meant that. She was trying to bait the demon, trying to push her into anger.
But it didn't seem to be working.
"Would you like to know why I did not reach out to you, Mercedes?"
"Very well," the demon began. "It's simple. When you met me at my house, I told you the truth. I did not tell a single lie. And yet, because what I said didn't fit into your worldview, you didn't listen to me."
"You're a demon. Why should I?"
"Because every demon was an angel once, Mercedes. No exceptions."
"Do you honestly expect me to believe your lies now?"
Tydannoth was starting to get annoyed. Mercedes could tell, and she was smiling on the inside.
"I will not claim to have been right to do what I did to you that night. But, I helped make you. I helped create you, from the very beginning. I do care for you, Mercedes. I just wish you'd give me the second chance I gave you with your sight."
"Second chance my ass," Mercedes said. "I'm just a chess piece to you."
"Is that so? Seems to me that the day after you met me in that hospital room, you produced one of the finest works of art I've ever seen. And, that's saying a lot, you know."
Mercedes remembered that painting. It was unusual in that she planned it much less than her other works. It was as if her brush was guided.
"I know what's going on," the demon spoke again. "I can tell that my form is changing, and that isn't good. But, very recently, someone thought that I was beautiful."
Silently, Mercedes conceded that point. The night she'd met Tydannoth at her house, she was a foul demon of the worst kind. In her patient's bed in this very hospital, she appeared as an angel, truly one of God's creatures.
But a demon's a demon.
"I now know what my purpose here is," the Lifegiver continued. "I know what to do now. Sharing this world, this very city with me, are two of the worst beings in the history of creation. One is dangerous, but misunderstood. The other is a vile betrayer, which I will rid the world of."
Mercedes remembered. There were two of them in that bookstore. One was Sarah, the girl in the room next to them right now. The other was that tall man.
And his wings didn't have any of the foul black stripes.
"You call the demon in this room here 'the worst being in the world'. Twenty minutes ago, you said she was your best friend. Which is it?"
"It is complicated," Tydannoth said with a sneer. She didn't appreciate Mercedes picking out two phrases uttered in different circumstances, and using them against her. "But still. She is dangerous. And, even worse, she's…"
Tydannoth stopped talking in mid-sentence.
Ever since escaping from Hell, Tydannoth had resolved to right the wrong her foolish kin had inflicted on this world, and its inheritor, humankind. Pride, foolishness, ignorance, and mismanagement had all led to the sorry state of affairs of the world today. Where the ones who had ruled before her were fools, she was in charge now. So, making the correct decision was her responsibility. Therefore, the weight of all major decisions rested on her head.
"What's your problem now?" Mercedes sarcastically asked, but Tydannoth paid her no mind.
Zatailah was not her friend. Tydannoth had talked to her, once. That was it. It was unusual that she now seemed to adore her, but she wasn't responsible for that. But, right now, she's trying to gain freedom of action in this world. How she crossed over and landed in a body with its soul still intact, she did not know. But, to allow a being as dangerous as her to roam free was imprudent. In fact, that was quite an understatement. Letting Zatailah separate from Sarah would be downright idiotic.
"I'm sorry, Mercedes. We'll continue this later. Right now, I have to stop this."
Tydannoth stepped forward to the closed door, and placed her hand on the doorknob. She took a moment to steady herself.
Inside that room were the corpses of dead humans. That were something she considered both the greatest tragedy and the greatest abomination in the history of creation.
But inside, something extremely dangerous was taking place. And, as the caretaker of humanity, she had to stop it. There was no other choice.
Steeling her nerves, Tydannoth turned the knob and entered the room. She could see the red-haired girl standing over a cadaver on a slab, with the blanket folded back, exposing its head.
"I apologize," she proclaimed, "but I just can't allow this."
At precisely that moment, three things happened.
First, Sarah turned to face Tydannoth.
Second, on the slab she was behind, the body on it sat up. It looked at her as well. Only its head was visible, the rest covered by a blanket. Its hair was tattered and black, and her skin was a foul blend of purple and gray. Worst of all, to Tydannoth's horror, some of her skin was missing. The demon could see the cadaver's jawbone, smiling its death's head smile.
And, in unison, the girl and the corpse spoke.
"Allow what?" they said.
It turned out to be a pretty interesting ball game.
The White Sox had pulled ahead in the top of the seventh, and added another run in the eighth. That two-run lead held until the bottom of the ninth, but things went bad from there. With only one out, the A's had put a run across, and had runners on second and third. The broadcast showed the White Sox closer's stats, and he seemed pretty good. But now, he didn't look like much. The pitching coach had walked out to the mound to see if the two of them could get out of this mess.
As the conversation on the television began, Juliette stood up. Dexter paid no attention.
It was time, she'd waited long enough. Now, she'd teach this guy a thing or two about pride.
Juliette dialed Tydannoth's number.
"It…it…already happened?!" Tydannoth exclaimed in disbelief.
Slowly, the skull-faced cadaver sat up. The blanket sagged a bit, but Sarah was quick to keep it covering her body. Tydannoth was subconsciously thankful; one thing she never wanted to see was a cadaver's chest.
"Yes, it is done," it said, with a slightly raspy voice, although it seemed fairly normal. The still-flesh part of its mouth forming a smile to match that of its bony opposite side.
"…How?" the Lifegiver wondered. She was still bewildered by all of this.
"It was easy," a softer voice answered, Sarah's. "She asked me to cast her out of my body. Since this one was suitable and nearby, she inhabited it."
It made sense, Tydannoth thought. She hadn't believed the Reaper (or was it Sarah?) when she said she could transfer her being into another body. Now, it wasn't unheard of for a Demon to possess an inanimate object, but such cases were rare. Usually that meant the body the demon had already occupied was destroyed, and it was forced out, and landed in something close by. But, the object had to be special; a demon couldn't just possess anything. It had to have significance, either to humans or the demon itself.
And, if that was the case, how hard could it be for a Reaper to do something similar with a dead body? Especially Zatailah? After all, how many of her kin had she consumed the essences of? Tydannoth couldn't remember how many.
"That's amazing," Mercedes spoke up, as Tydannoth could feel a sorrow developing inside.
Now, she had truly cursed the world.
The monster was loose. It could destroy everything.
As the Mercedes began to chatter with the other two, Tydannoth felt a vibration emanating from her pocket.
Shortly thereafter, she could hear her phone ringing.
Zatailah's head immediately turned, staring at the device with curiosity. Mercedes and Sarah turned as well, so the three of them were staring at the doctor.
"Hello?" Tydannoth said.
"What is that?" Zatailah asked, turning to Sarah as she did so.
"It's a cell phone. You've seen me use one, remember?"
"She watched you do things?" Mercedes interjected, wanting to find out more.
Sarah began to answer but Tydannoth ignored that conversation.
"Larisa? It's me," the voice from the receiver said, and Tydannoth most certainly recognized it.
"What's up, Juliette?" Tydannoth said, dejectedly. A mad fiend was sitting up on a slab a few feet from her, chatting with the other girls. What a fine mess this was…
"There's a guy up here. Name's Dexter. Tall, big, red shirt, black pants. You should come up and meet him. You know, give him your blessing."
Instantly, Tydannoth got a brilliant idea.
Zatailah had feelings for this "Dexter", and he was upstairs. Alone with Juliette.
And wouldn't this be a great way to keep the Mistress of Silence on a leash, if she could hold power over someone she cared about?
"I'll be right up, Juliette…"
She had expected to say goodbye, but Juliette interrupted her.
"Larisa…until then…can I play with him a little while? Let me catch him. I'll bring him to you."
"Sure. Have fun. Bye," she said absentmindedly, ending the call. She was more happy that she'd found a solution to her problem. Turning to the others, Tydannoth spoke up.
"I have to go upstairs to check something. I shouldn't be long. Sarah, do me a favor?"
"Yes?" the red-haired girl answered.
"Don't let anyone leave until I get back. We'll have to make Zatailah look a little more…alive. We'll do that when I get back, 'kay? In the meantime, I'm sure the three of you could find plenty to talk about."
Mercedes smiled as Zatailah sat up, throwing her stiff, lifeless legs over the side of the slab. She'd gotten the hint from Sarah, and still held the blanket over her chest.
"Okay, we'll wait here," Sarah said. Most certainly they could find a way to pass the time.
Satisfied, Tydannoth walked out, closing the door behind her. As she did, she put in a call to a nurse's station on the fourth floor. Right now, she'd made sure that everyone working on that floor today was, well, sympathetic to her cause.
"Hello? Yes, it's me. Time to save the world. There's a man in the waiting room in my office, who needs to be dealt with. Red shirt, black pants…"
The A's batter tossed his bat towards the home dugout and trotted to first base. Now, the bases were loaded and the White Sox closer was sweating bullets. It was starting to get interesting.
The big man heard that familiar voice, and turned to see the annoying brat still standing there. Juliette's eyes met his. She had a smile on her face that looked like the cat that just ate the canary.
"I think it's time we got to know one another."
Irritated as hell, Dexter stood up.
"All right, I said it once, and I'll say it again…"
Juliette surprised him with a sucker punch to the gut.
Dexter didn't fall, but the force of the blow staggered him backward, forcing him to change his stance to catch himself from falling. As he did, he then started to feel it.
This girl looked small and skinny, but damn, this bitch could throw a punch!
Standing off and out of her reach, Dexter seethed.
"Are you fucking kidding me?"
"Nope," the ponytailed girl said, still smiling that wolf smile. "I'm going to beat the hell out of you."
Upon saying that, she changed her stance, holding her hands up in a ready stance. In fact, it kind of reminded Dexter of that time he'd gone to see Dave in an amateur MMA fight once.
"I don't hit girls, but if you push me…"
Juliette lunged at him, charging straight ahead. Dexter braced himself, expecting her to crash into him. But, she stopped on a dime, right in front of him. Surprising the big man, Juliette let loose a heavy right cross, straight to Dexter's jaw. He staggered back again, sideways this time, as the pain wracked his mouth. For fuck's sake, this chick is strong!
Now, Dexter may not have been refined, but there was a line. And she'd crossed it.
Dexter closed in, rearing back to fire a haymaker of a right.
Juliette saw it coming miles away. She'd seen this at the gym countless times. She dodged around as Dexter's right arm flew by. With the reflexes of a cat, she took hold of it, and squeezed it towards her body. Just like she practiced, she threw all of her weight downward, straight to the floor.
Flummoxed, Dexter was powerless to stop Juliette using his own momentum to crash the two of them to the floor. His elbow landed on the hard tile with a crash.
Before he could react, Juliette pivoted and placed her leg under Dexter's arm as a fulcrum, then used it to wrench Dexter's arm in a textbook hold.
Pain seared through Dexter's arm. It hurt like hell. If this were a fight, he'd be tapping out, it hurt so badly. But it wasn't. In fact, she may very well break his arm off, right here and now.
But, unbeknownst to the girl, Dexter was practiced at thinking while he was hurting. He'd remembered a piece of advice Dave gave him once about this very subject: never fight against a hold. Try to roll with it.
With his entire body working in concert, Dexter completely rolled over the top of Juliette, freeing his arm and catching her by surprise.
Running on adrenaline, Dexter ignored the pain in his arm and reached for Juliette. In rugby, doing anything other than rolling away when you were on the ground was illegal. But hey…sometimes you've got to bend the rules a bit to get the ball. Dexter knew how to do this.
Before Juliette could react, the big man's hands grasped around her head. Quickly twisting, they forced her face downward, making her stare at the tile floor.
And then Dexter slammed down.
He heard the sound. It was a light "crick". Kind of like crushing an empty soda can.
"AAHH!" Juliette wailed as her own hands raced to her face, clutching her nose.
Dexter backed off, and stood up. As he did so, he could feel just how much his arm hurt. Nothing was broken, but it was damn close. It was throbbing in pain.
"You're insane," he said, clutching his bad arm with his other, breathing heavily.
Juliette stood up.
Her nose was a wreck. Blood was flowing like water from a faucet. With the sound it made, they both knew that it was quite broken.
But, even despite that, the crazy girl was still smiling.
"Had enough?" Dexter wondered.
Juliette waited, because she was starting to feel it.
The pain began to subside. The cartilage of her nose began to shift and reform, reassembling itself. And, she could feel the blood on her upper lip flow upward, back to where it came.
Dexter watched in horror. She was healing right in front of his eyes!
"Nope," she said, as the rest of the blood had re-entered her nose. "You can't hurt me. But, I can hurt you, can't I? Ready to go again?"
With that, Juliette took a step forward.
Dexter had just seen someone with some pretty good fighting skills get her nose broken, and now she'd somehow shaken it right off. She was coming at him again.
He found himself taking a step back.
"What's the matter, big man?" the girl cooed in a mocking tone. "Afraid?"
Dexter felt the back of his feet run into something; the front of a chair. Immediately, he maneuvered around it, putting it between the two of them. His hands shook as he readied to defend himself.
"That's okay," the girl said, with the look of a killer in her eyes. She took another step towards Dexter, and reached into her purse on the center table. Her hand wasn't in there a second as she pulled it out.
And with it, the gleaming knife she kept from the mugger.
Dexter was already unsure about his fight, and now he was really scared. This bitch was going to do a lot more than the cut he had now above his eye.
"Don't worry," Juliette said, still smiling that sadistic smile. "You're not getting out of here. Even if I don't stop you, they will."
As Juliette said that, she nodded to the side. Dexter turned to look, and saw them.
Two big men were running this way, coming down one of the two hallways.
"Now…be mine!" Juliette yelled, as she lunged with the knife at Dexter.
The big man backed off, dodging the blow as Juliette ran into the chair he was standing behind. With her off-balance and the other two men fast approaching, he knew what to do.
Dexter bolted down the other hallway.
Frantically, Dexter tried to remember the way to the elevators. He failed, as he was frantically sprinting down the hallway as hard as he could.
Fortunately, he got a little help. There was a sign at one of the junctions with a mirror above it saying "Elevator", with a little arrow pointing right. He almost missed the turn, banging his left shoulder into the far wall as he rounded the corner. He could hear the two men and the one girl chasing behind him, yelling at him to stop.
He could see the elevator bank now.
As he did so, panic gripped him. If he pushed the button, he'd have to wait, and he'd be caught…
"Ding", the elevator sounded, as the little light above the far left car lit up. Someone was getting off here.
Today was his lucky day. Dexter made for that car as fast as he could, and rounded the corner, ready to throw the passenger out and slam the "door close" button.
He stopped cold.
Inside was what looked like a woman. With wings. Black wings. Blazing red eyes. Pallid, sickly skin. Pale orange hair. A green mist, hovering all around her. A pair of arms crossed over her chest.
And another pair of arms, holding each other behind her back.
With a smile just as cruel as Juliette's, it spoke.
Completely terrified, Dexter's mind just stopped thinking about anything else but running away. He sprinted further down the corridors, away from the unstoppable girl and the monster in the elevator, as fast as his terrified legs could carry him.
Tydannoth just waited as two men ran right by. That was nice to see. Although, she knew that there were about ten men and women on this floor who answered her call. They were probably sealing off the exits.
Tydannoth watched as Juliette ran past the open door as well, with the mugger's knife in her right hand.