Seeing the crucifix in his hand, Jiren squeezed it tight. He reflected on the horrible night his brother was killed.

No, I don't want to remember! But it was all he could think about.

Suddenly a sudden sharp pain forced him to retract his grip. Opening his hand, he saw Amber's necklace covered in blood. The sharpest point of the crucifix had poked through his skin.

But he left it there and watched it drown in blood. It was symbolic of just how much he hated God for what he took away from him.

Once the ache of the wound became unsettling, he plucked it out. I can't give it back to her like this, she'd kill me. I better wash it.

He rose from his bed. The bathroom was just down the hall so his parents wouldn't see his hand or Amber's necklace covered in blood. They'd freak anyway.

He turned the handle to his bedroom door, when his window panels suddenly burst open, exposing his room to the wildness of the weather outside. Rain drenched his floor instantly.

The wind must have forced them open, he thought. I must not have tighten the latch properly. It is pretty worn out and rusty and doesn't lock that well.

He went to close them, but stopped half way, when, illuminated by light outside, escaping the defoliation of the storm, a small, wobbly, dark featureless mass drifted into his room under its own volition.

He moved away from it, but it followed him systematically, until it cornered him next to his bed, and he fell backwards to the floor.

Then he watched it permutate and transform, and a familiar human shape began to emerge. It sprouted arms, legs, a torso, and a head.

When its inception was complete, it stood erect with its hands on its hips in god-like fashion, its face blanketed by darkness. An almost sinister smile crept across its face, shown by perfect, pure white teeth illuminated by an inner glow. From its form, it had the appearance of a male, late teenager or a young adult in his twenties.

It leaned over and peered deep Jiren's his eyes. Jiren could now see its face. It spoke English to him. "Greetings Jiren Hume. I am Loki. I heard your call."

"What call?"

Loki smirked.

Loki had jet black hair with a blaze of white up the middle. He looked like a skunk. His skin was white, but he wore all black attire. With a closer look, buttons ran down the front, fashioned at the collar.

"For revenge of course," said Loki. "I was finally able to come. In my line of work, I'm quite busy. I can't get to everyone. But your voice was louder than anyone else's, so I just had to come."

"I never. . . Wha. . .what do you. . .want?"

"I told you, I heeded your call. I'm here to save your life, too."

Eying Loki disdainfully, Jiren rose to his feet. Loki straightened incredulously. "I'm an atheist. I don't believe."

"And yet you hold a religious symbol in your hand, and a bloody one at that. Please, every human being on this planet believes in gods. They either deny it or are too ignorant to know what they want to believe so they believe in some sort of deity to try to explain their existence. Everyone needs something to believe in, even a factitious deity. Or am I stepping on sensitive ground? Just because you say you're an atheist, doesn't mean you don't believe. But enough with this spittle."

Jiren looked at the necklace. The bloody crucifix dangled from his closed fist. He looked back. "It's not mine! It's my girlfriend's. She left it here."

Loki snorted a smirk. "It doesn't matter, I'm not a guardian angel. And even if I was, there would nothing I could do for you spiritually, of course. You've pretty much filled your heart with hate. I'm here to offer you a proposition. Refuse it if you wish, but hear me out before you decide. But I doubt you'll refuse it. No one ever has."

Unable to think of anything to say, Jiren said nothing.

But then said, "What are saying? You're here to offer me something? What for? I don't know who you are, and I haven't done anything for such gratuity."

"Oh, but you have Jiren Hume. You've suffered seven long years with revenge in your heart. You've thought about suicide most times than you can count from depression, but you haven't told your parents."

"Hey! How do you know all this?"

"I'm reading your mind. Anger is a powerful emotion, but it also clouds the mind's defenses, opening it up for anyone who has the power of telepathy, for which I have. I know all your secrets."

"Stay out of my head! Some things are private!"

Loki smirked. "I know. Some secrets should remain hidden and taken to the grave. Your journal in your desk over there hides a lot but you fear people will read it so doesn't hone your deepest emotions. Pitty. What a horror novel your emotions would make. Even Stephen King, one of your favorite novelists, would be scared spitless of some of your thoughts. Okay, down to business. Here is what I offer."

Loki cupped his hands together and within them materialized a digital camera. "I know photography is a passion of yours, so I wanted to use something that you'd be familiar with it. And want to use. It's the latest model on the market. Well, the prototype is. This version won't be on the shelves until next year."

Jiren looked upon it with absolute adulation. "How did you get your hands on it?"

Loki handed it to him, and Jiren examined it thoroughly.

"I can see you like it," said Loki. "It's yours if you accept my offer. Let's call it part of the bargain."

Jiren was lost in admiration of the camera. He kept up to date with all the journalist magazines and the latest camera models. He could recite every feature this camera offered. But there was no need. If Loki could read his mind, he already knew.

"Do you know how much a camera like this would cost?"

"More than I could ever afford," Jiren replied. "The Nexus Z950 is the best digital camera on the market. Photogs swear by it. If I had a camera like this, I'd be the envy of my classmates."

"Then take it, it's yours."


Eyes wide with euphoria, Jiren clutched the camera excitedly in his hands. But then a sudden reality set in and he handed it back.

Sitting on his bed, he sighed deeply. "What would I say if people asked where I got the camera? This can't be real. I have to be dreaming. You're not real. I must have fallen asleep after Amber left."

"This is no dream, Jiren. I'm very real. I get this reaction a lot. Most people I deal with are either reluctant or mystified that a being like me exists."

"Well, whatever you are - go away!"

"You have a very cynical attitude, Jiren. I'm here to help."

"No one can help me. I'm dying. How would you feel?"

"What type of cancer do you have?

"An inoperative form of lung cancer. It just came on suddenly. I don't smoke and neither does any of my family."

"That's very rare at your age, but not uncommon with the unfortunate nature that afflicts humans every day. Every one is genetically predisposed to develop cancer. It's built into your DNA. However, most never develop it at a young age. You're just an unlucky one. And with this planet's environmental conditions, it's no wonder half the population hasn't died off yet." Loki haphazardly tossed the camera back at Jiren, and Jiren fumbled to catch it. "I can help you. Now, do you want to hear my proposal or not?"

Jiren nodded. From the insistent tone of Loki, he didn't think he had an alternative. "What's your offer?" he said.

Holding the camera in his hands, he watched Loki cross the room to his bedroom window. Despite the storm, the supernatural entity gazed out pensively. "Like you, I'm also dying. I need certain energy to survive. I propose a exchange. If you help me collect this energy, then I'll cure your cancer."

"What sort of energy?"

"It can only be found in the human world."

Hesitate, Jiren asked, "Are you talking about human souls?"

Loki turned back smartly. "Smart, aren't you. Correct."

"I've seen enough horror movies with this sort of lame plot. A demon comes to Earth to take souls from the living for Lucifer."

"Yeah, I've seen a couple of those movies myself. But like your so-called God of Heaven and Earth, Lucifer doesn't exist either. It's all a figment of you human's deluded imaginations started long ago by a superstitious cult. If you can't explain something, make something up. That was the philosophy of your ancients. And it still stands today."

An acute flash of lightning silhouetted Loki's body in such a way that it momentarily blackened his features, leaving only a pair of disembodied, glowing red eyes.

Jiren gasped. He took two steps back. "You are a demon!"

Loki curled a smile. "Relax, I'm not a demon. At one point my species was vast, existing inter-dimensionally. Now I'm the last of my kind. I need the corporal existence of you humans to regenerate my powers and to stay alive."

"Why can't you collect souls yourself? You obviously have the ability. Why do you need my help?"

"Because we both have needs, and if you accept my offer, then we'll both get what we want. So, do we have a deal? If you don't accept, it won't be a problem for me. I'll just go onto the next person. And you'll die a horrible, agonizing death. Your choice."

Strangely interested, Jiren looked at the camera, then back at Loki. "How does the camera work into the deal?"

Loki smiled. "It's the instrument in which the energy will be extracted from its human host. When you take a picture of a person their soul will be bereft onto the memory card. When it's full, I'll take it. However, the camera will remain yours in the end."

"And how will you cure my cancer?"

"With every soul your collect I'll shrink your cancer until it's completely gone. Does that sound like an equitable exchange?"

"Souls are fictitious like religion," said Jiren.

"Good boy. But it's what you human's call life energy. Like I said, if you don't understand anything you place a label on something to explain it. Cultures all around the planet have different names for the Soul. But if you say Soul, most people instantly understand what you're referring to. So, it stuck."

Jiren had a question, but before he could ask it, he began to cough. He covered his mouth with a hand; he did it more for politeness than necessity. Pressure in his chest mounted as a coughing spasm continued, and he sucked in air intermittingly between coughs. His throat burned with every attempt. But the more air he tried to inhale the harder it was to retain it.

"Here, let me help you. Call it a good will gesture."

Loki pulled up Jiren's shirt and placed an open palm directly on his upper chest. "Relax. This won't hurt a bit, I think."

But before Jiren could stop him, an intense incandescent white light enveloped his entire upper body radiated from Loki's hand. The light was blinding. Suddenly the pressure in his chest expelled like air released from a balloon, and he could breath normally again.

Removing his hand, the light faced. Loki took a step back and smiled. Jiren felt his chest and a mild warmth quickly cooled. "W-what did you do?"

"Call it a treatment, but your cancer will return without more. I have the ability to regenerate cells and cure disease. I could cure your cancer completely right now, but that wouldn't be prudent for me. My offer still stands. So, after experiencing my power. . .do we have a deal?"

Survival overrode everything. Jiren wanted to live. He wanted a life. He never called out for help, not to his knowledge. But this super being, or demi-god, had come to his rescue when he needed him most. He'd deal with the consequences later. "If it means I don't have to die, I'll do whatever you ask, Loki." He held the camera with both hands, smiling.

Loki smiled smartly. "I knew you wouldn't refuse me. Let's begin."