Once, in a time before time, All was One. Everything existed in equilibrium. Then, a division arose. Two primary forces emerged: Fire and Light. As is the nature of such things, they fought for dominion.

Their war…


This is their story.

And ours.


Damned if You Do, Part 1

My Boyfriend is a Demon

On a ledge high over the city of Denver, Colorado, the ground suddenly came alive with a bright ring of fire, fire in a peculiarly intricate series of patterns. Curiously, it didn't seem to burn anything, but grew in brightness, and two figures seemed to rise up out of the ground, to stand within the twisting, tornado-like inferno, ignoring the fire and heat completely. The fire, as though sensing it was no longer needed, sank back into the earth, with the edges of where it had been still flickering, almost as though grumbling at its cavalier dismissal, and the two figures looked around, turning their attention to the city below. At first glance, one might not have seen all that different about them...until they spotted the reddish black horns sprouting from their foreheads.

The older of the pair's horns curved upward about four inches. The boy's were around two and a half inches, both of them looking to be razor sharp. Each horn was black in coloration, edged by a deep red.

They were wearing matching red uniforms, pants underneath tunics, with wide black leather belts and boots. Both had what appeared to be a full length cape fastened around their necks, reaching almost to the ground, capes that fluttered only slightly, despite the strong wind at this height. And each of them carried tridents as long as they were tall.

For a long time, they simply stood there, in silence, high on the mountain, watching the lights of the city down below. Finally, the younger of the two, a dark-haired boy of an apparent sixteen years of age, spoke up. "Uncle Darien, I don't see why we felt the need to come here." A sneer curled his lips. "These primitives are of no use to us."

"There you only betray your ignorance, young David. It matters not about a world's social or technological prowess. This world is teeming with life, with souls, with emotions, with potential, and is one of our most prized croplands. Properly tended, it always yields a magnificent harvest.

"And that is why we must periodically come up here, to the mortal realm, to check on it, to see if there are any threats to the humans, and others, here, who provide us with such bounty. Threats that, alone, they cannot handle." He turned a hard look at his companion. "They should have already taught you that, in the Academy. Perhaps I need to examine their curriculum?"

"Ah, no, Uncle. I...spoke without thinking." His gulp was audible. If Uncle Darian did examine those files, he'd probably come across some…reports of incidents David would really rather he didn't come across. "I shall have to learn to...think before I speak." He put his hands together and made a brief bow of respect.

"That is always wise policy, youngling," said the one addressed as Darian. The one he called "David" didn't see the slight, knowing smile that barely made its way across his uncle's aristocratic features. Let the boy think he still had some secrets. It would be good for his measure. "Now. Let us make our way down to the city. I've appointments to keep with some important people. I doubt they'll like the lateness of the hour, but, whether or not they like it, they must still be kept. By both of us.

"Let us go." The two of them stood for the briefest of seconds, then the black capes they were wearing, seemingly of their own will, flipped up over them, and they disappeared from view.

Shelley DeLong was not having a good night. Well, except since night before last.

She would have to run out of shampoo, and not remember any of it until it was nearly bedtime. Well, she should be able to sneak out, as usual after dark, rush into the nearby "Square X", grab what she needed, and rush out. Her mother would be worried if she knew she was gone, so...Standard Operating Procedure: she wouldn't know. The streets of Denver were just not safe anymore. She tried to take the shortcut across town to the subway, when, of course, she just hadda run into them, again.

The gang consisted mostly of high school dropout, boys who'd never see the advantage in such a sissy thing as school. Who needs it? There was too much fun to be had! Most of them (she suspected) lived with their mom's, and probably would for as long as they could get away with it. "Well, said the leader, "look what we have here again. Our little princess. Did you miss us?"

"Like a boil on my nose did I miss you! Now get outta my way. I gotta get home."

The leader bowed magnanimously, even courtly. Wonder what video game he learned that from. "But of course. We'll walk you home. Won't it be grand, having you own private body guards? You'll be the envy of every girl at school. " One of the gangers in the back sniggered. "But there is one teeny tiny little charge for our services….." And so it began.

He pressed her up against the way, forcing his face on hers in a most unwelcome manner. Geez, guy, brush your teeth once in a while, why don'cha? "See, this way, you're not out any money, just a little….time. That's all." And he was already positioning himself between her legs, with the others in his gang hanging on to her arms, one of them with his hands on her breasts. They'd already put a not-so-clean-handkerchief around her face. This way, they could all have a turn…she felt two of them trying to get a grip on her jeans…

And suddenly, there was a sound that was not a sound, that somehow reminded her of a maritime bell tolling far, far underwater. The leader's eyes rolled up into the top of his head, and he dropped to the ground. The same thing happened to the others, at the same time. It was as though they were puppets whose strings had been cut.

She leaned back, gasping with relief, and immediately pulled and zipped her pants back up. She pulled her shirt as together as she could; they'd ripped some buttons off. That….had been close. If…

Say, what had happened, anyway? She looked around, a bit fearfully, fully expecting them to come back to life any second, like the guy in those movies did.

There was a figure standing at the entrance to the alley. He was only a silhouette against the lights of the nighttime city, but even as such he exuded an aura of confidence, as though he were someone accustomed to command, to authority. He was in the nickel and dime range short of six feet tall and seemed to be holding something long and three-pointed in his hand, with what more or less resembled a strange-looking night-black cape hung from his shoulders. Well, of course, she thought with a certain degree of not-entirely sane hilarity in her mind. Didn't all superheroes wear capes? Well, all the best ones did. "Are you alright, Miss?" His voice was a little deeper than she expected, but not by much.

"Uh, y-yeah, I think so." Then she started. It was like somebody had thrown a rock that bounced off the inside of her skull and came out her ear. "Did...did you do...that?"

"Indeed I did."

"Then, uhm, w-who are you?" What are you?

The figure shifted slightly, to let her get out of the alley. She cast a nervous glance back at her would-be rapists, fearful of them yet. Whoever, whatever this guy was, he couldn't possibly be worse.

As she came out in to the lights of Denver, however, she looked up at his face.

He had horns on his forehead.

"Are...are those...horns?" The first thing that went through her mind was, cosplayer. But...cosplayers don't usually go about knocking out a bunch of thugs.

"My name is David BenDarian, and I'm a demon from Hell."

To say that Shelley was shocked would have been a vast understatement. She just stood there, with cars passing by, their headlights glowing in the soft gloaming, and felt her face, mostly to make sure she was awake. "A, a demon. A demon. You're a real demon? From Hell, you say?" Not for one minute did she believe it...except she had seen him knock out—she guessed they were still alive—seven punks…

...and he had some very realistic-looking horns on his head. The things had a certain look to their appearance, a certain solidness that practically shouted out, "authentic!" Try as she might, she couldn't see any sort of wire that would hold them on. Curious, she leaned forward for a closer look. No wires.

He leaned back, slightly, as though offended by her nearness. "I assure you, they're quite real."

"And you're a demon."


"From Hell, you said."

"Again, yes."

"THE Hell?"

"I was unaware," he said, "that there was more than one."

She crossed her arms. "I don't believe you."

He shrugged. "Your choice." And turned to walk away.

"Wait!" she said, running to catch up with him. Anyway, she definitely needed to get away from that alley.

He turned. "Yes?"

"Prove you're a demon."

He raised an eyebrow. She was reminded of Mr. Spock on that old show. "Why?"

"Because...because I won't believe you until you do."

The eyebrow went further upward. "And I should care because?" Out of the corner of her eye and mind, it vaguely registered that he was carrying something in his right hand, like that wizard guy, Gandalf, in The Lord of the Rings. But right now, the horns commanded her full attention.

The horns, and what he'd called himself.

He might or might not be a demon, but he was certainly as irritating as she imagined a demon might be. "You brought it up."

He thought for a moment. "That is true. I did, didn't I? Very well. How do you want me to prove it?" The traffic was its usual self, but there were no pedestrians in this part of town, partly, she knew, due to the very presence of the bipedal predators she'd just escaped from.

"I don't know. What do demons do? Shoot fire? Do that."

Without another word, he pointed a finger to the ground to one side. A bright sliver of reddish-white flame shot from it, hitting the asphalt and making it bubble.

But she was still not convinced. "You've got a flamethrower hidden up your sleeve."

He rolled his eyes. "I weary of this conversation. It really doesn't matter to me whether you believe me or not." Again, he turned to go.

"Wait!" Once again, he turned around, clearly exasperated. "Yes?"

"Uhm." Truth was, she was uneasy walking around this area of town alone. She didn't really know how she'd gotten to this part of town. Must've taken a wrong turn somewhere.

And a guy armed with a flamethrower—demon or not—did offer a certain degree of safety. Not that she'd ever admit that, of course. "Where are you headed?"

He started walking again. She followed him, and he adjusted his speed to allow her to keep up with him. "Nowhere in particular. I'm in town with my uncle, and he has some business to take care of. I simply thought I'd see the sights."

"Demons go sightseeing?"

"This one did. Now, I'll be-*"

Just now, in better light, she happened to notice what he was carrying. "You've...you're carrying a, a...what is that thing? A pitchfork?" She drew back slightly; the thing looked sharp.

"No," he said, with the air of one talking to a congenital idiot. Actually, she reflected, congenital idiots probably got spoken to better. "It's a trident. See?" He held it up. It was as long as he was tall—which was quite tall, for a boy of his apparent age—and gleamed golden in the lights of downtown Denver. Her mind trying to categorize it, somehow she was reminded of a long handled, abbreviated candelabra, one with only..."Three tines. Tri-dent. Understand?"

She'd about had enough. "You know, whether or not you're a demon, I couldn't say. But you've got to be the most aggravating person I've ever met!"

"Thank you. That's the nicest thing anybody's said to me all day."

Okay, that was enough. Shelley'd been told she had a temper; this had unlocked it. She shook her head in sheer anger. "Look, I don't know what your problem is, but, but I'm not the one who, who...who peed in your cornflakes!"

He stopped, and turned to her, surprise spreading across his features (which, she thought to herself, weren't too shabby. Nope, not too shabby at all). Too late it occurred to her that pissing off a dude with a flamethrower probably wasn't exactly the best tactical move in the history of the world.

He stared at her for a moment…

...and then burst out into great peals of laughter. Of course, that only made her all the more angry.

Finally, after a good five minutes, he calmed down, actually wiping his eyes. "Okay, now that I confess I didn't see coming. You don't know how long it's been since I've laughed like that. Just for that, I'll see you get home safely."

"Oh?" Her arms hadn't uncrossed yet. "What makes you think I want or need your help?"

He made a show of looking back along the way they'd just come. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear you occasionally make poor choices about your vector homeward, every now and then."

That did it. Rescuer or not, she never wanted to see this clown again. "Fine!" she shouted. What few pedestrians there were, and even a few people zipping along inside their cars, turned to look. "You go that way…" she indicated the direction he'd started walking in about three times now, "...and I'll go this way!" She pointed toward the direction she'd just come from.

"Hm," he said, a nasty smile on his face, "I didn't know you were so fond of your assailants, that you'd not hesitate to go running right back to them. Perhaps I should have left well enough alone?"

Well, okay, poor decision. Right then, she was too mad to care. "Alright! I'll go this way, and you go the other!"

"I'll go," he began, "whichever way I choose to go, human!" He didn't raise his voice, but it seemed to carry more. "And I choose to go this way." He pointed, with his pitchfork (trident, she corrected herself) down the way they'd come from.

"Fine!" And she stomped off in the indicated direction. At maybe one hundred pounds soaking wet, it wasn't easy for Shelley DeLong to stomp, but she managed.

But...he had saved her. She turned around. "Wait," she began. He was already nearly twenty-five yards away.

He turned, exasperation on his features. "What is it this time?" Was he never going to get away from the stupid human female?

She'd had time to think. "Well, you did" save me "help me out. I, I guess the least I can do is buy you dinner."

For a brief moment, it looked like he would turn and storm off in his "chosen" direction, but….

"Very well. It shall be as you wish. Where do you propose to do this 'buying' of this 'dinner'?" Anything to get rid of the stupid female.

There was a McDonald's a block over. As they were waiting in line—and as David was clearly trying to make sense of the ever-shifting menu (did they have Big Macs in Hell?)—someone put a rough hand on his back and made as though to push past him.

There was an ear-splitting kerack! as what looked like a miniature bolt of lightning traveled from the back of his head down to his waist. The man was picked up and tossed nearly the length of the lobby, where he lay groaning. David didn't look as though he was even aware of the incident.

"Alright, hold it!" Shelly groaned, inwardly, herself; there just hadda be an undercover cop in the place.

The one who called himself "David BenDarian" turned, and fixed the officer, who'd drawn his weapon, with a calm, controlled look. He clearly wasn't the least intimidated. Again that raised eyebrow. Shelley tensed; something told her that what was about to go down wouldn't be any fun whatsoever. "Officer. Perhaps you are pointing that weapon of yours in the wrong direction through some sort of mistake. Yes, that must be it. I am certain I could easily be persuaded that to be the case…" Now his voice hardened, "providing you point it in some other direction. Immediately."

"Everybody, just hold it!" said the officer, trying to cover both the cosplayer and the still-unconscious man's friends, who were reaching under their jackets, probably not, he thought, to offer the strange dude in red some bubble gum. "Everybody calm down," he said, speaking to both parties, in an effort to avoid escalation. It didn't look like he was going to succeed.

"Officer," said David, in a voice that could have chilled water, "Perhaps you didn't hear me. I told you I'd overlook your...indiscretion provided you pointed that weapon of yours somewhere besides at me. Are you suffering from sudden suicidal ideation? I'm certain there are any number of excellent clinics for the treatment of that." Meanwhile, everyone around them was heading for cover, or just out of the restaurant in general. Last thing they needed was to get in the middle of a firefight.

Officer Alvarez was already calling in for backup. Between the gangers and the crazy guy in red (and how had he done that, anyway? Build a taser system into his costume? That'd actually be kinda cool), he knew he was gonna need it. "Shots fired," he mumbled into the cell; even though there hadn't been yet, he was sure that was coming.

He was right. The zapped guy's friends had finished pulling their pieces and one opened up on him, while the others, with cries of "Die, fucker!" joined in, firing at the guy in red, the thunder of their guns deafening everybody still in the place. Alvarez ducked, taking cover, but something very strange happened.

Not one of the shots hit home. Instead, they just stopped, the bullets hovering in mid-air, spinning in place. The officer hadn't shot back, figuring he'd only make matters worse if he tried, and, in any case, when you're in the midst of firefight, the second rule of survival, right behind stay down, is don't run out of ammo. Even though he had extra clips handy, it still took a split second to ram one home…

But none of the shots hit. In fact, Red Dude didn't seem to be aware of the friends of Zapped Guy, but instead fixed his gaze on Alvarez exclusively. Something about the way he did that made him even more nervous than the firefight around him.

A firefight which didn't last long, as Zapped Guy's buddies began to realize that, not only were they not affecting their target, they weren't even getting his attention. A couple of them eyed the bullets spinning in empty space. "Aw, man, naw. It's that Q guy."

"Shattup. That's TV. 'S Gotta be a trick." He raised his own gun again, to fire an equally ineffective secondary barrage, the sound of the gunfire rattling the windows.

Still the Red Dude's creepy gaze was focused on Alvarez. "Officer?" He hadn't raised his voice the entire time. But now, he raised the three pointed thing he was carrying, pointing it at him, and, for some reason, Alvarez found himself very afraid to hear Red Dude's next words…

But the pretty dark-haired girl he was obviously with jumped in front of him, apparently unaware of what was happening. What was she doing?! he thought. She ought to be taking cover! He made as though to try to get to her, to shove her down behind something. "No, wait, look, stop!" Even though he still hadn't fired, she acted like the only two combatants in the restaurant were Red Dude and Alvarez. "Look, David, c'mon, let's just go somewhere else." She looked around. The gangers had finally stopped, mouths practically hanging open. It was one thing to be in a gunfight with someone. It was another thing altogether to be completely and totally ignored to death during.

The girl took his arm, began pulling him towards the door. "C'mon. Let's go down the walk."

But the one she addressed as "David" turned and looked around him. "I rather like this place. It has a nice ambience to it."

She pulled him in closer, whispering fiercely, "They got a Taco Bell just a block over. Don't demons like tacos?"

"I don't know. I've never had one."

"Well, then, there you go. New experiences. You did say you wanted to see the sights, that's a sight, so come on…" She was practically dragging him out the doorway, where they vanished into the night.

Officer Alvarez found himself letting out a breath he hadn't even been aware he was holding. He was shaking. The approaching sirens and lights failed to relieve him at all.

Down the walkway: "Sheesh. Did'ja have go'wen do all that? You almost gave me a heart attack!" She was holding onto his arm, mostly to make sure he didn't wander off. The guy was an ambulatory disaster.

"It is considered extremely...disrespectful...to touch a demon without permission. It is a serious breach of common courtesy. And treated as such."

"Yeah, but I mean...oh, never mind. Look, just...say, what are you gonna do about that, that thingy of yours?" He couldn't just walk around town with it.

He looked at her with an amused expression on his face. "My 'thingy'?" For a minute she thought he was going to make an off-color joke, but then his face settled back to its normal, half-bored, half-annoyed look. He looked at the trident in his hand, and did something, Shelley couldn't tell what. It was as though he thumbed a catch or switch she couldn't see. The trident tines drew in, becoming one with the shaft, which itself shrank to a three-quarter inch thick cylinder. He then snapped it into a hard plastic holster affixed to his left thigh. The whole process had taken less than a second. "Satisfied?"

"You mean, you could'a done that all along? Why didn't you?"

"Why should I?"


Taco Bell: "Sir, you will immediately take back that highly disrespectful comment you made to this young lady!"

"Yeah? You wanna try'n make me?"

"As a matter of fact..." Fwwooooosshh!



Wendy's: "No, I will not 'freeze,' Officer. Would you like to burn?"


Raising Cane's: "C-c-come on, David, w-while nobody's looking."


Sonic: "Pardon me, Miss, but I believe you've made a mistake on our order. This dipping condiment you brought us isn't blood at all; it's some sort of vegetable paste."


It was getting really late, and Shelley knew she'd have to get home and / or report in. Either one involved letting her mom know she'd sneaked out (again). She'd probably be grounded for all Eternity. Again.

They'd found a Burger King David hadn't yet gotten around to destroying, and Shelley plunked him down in a seat, as far away from the other patrons as she could, whispering to him to don't say a word, don't make a move, just sit here an' wait. Okay?

He'd looked puzzled, but nodded, looking around, while she went to the front and placed their order. It was a sight. The local news station on the big screen TV overhead was busy reporting a rash of recent disturbances at various eating establishments in their vicinity. Evidently, this was not a safe location for his new friend to be after dark; he'd best be seeing about getting her back home. And trying to figure out how best to phrase it all to Uncle Darian.

The truth was, David BenDarian virtually idolized his uncle. Darian BenDarian was one of the most successful, if not the most successful, most powerful, most influential demons in the entire annals of Hell. Considering that Hell's archives stretched back to times before the creation of what humans called "the universe," that was saying quite a lot.

It was even rumored that he'd once held the line against their most ancient and powerful of foes, the angels of Heaven. That was the stuff of sheer legend.

She came back with their food: chicken strips for her, Whopper for him, and their respective drinks. Too late it occurred to her that she hadn't even asked him what sort of cold drink he liked. She shrugged and just got him a regular Coke. Learn to deal, David, she sighed, inwardly. Learn to deal. "Say," she said, around her first bite of her onion rings, "you know, I haven't even asked, but, can you, like, eat? Like humans do?" This evening had cured her of thinking of him as human. She still didn't know about the "demon" part, but he sure wasn't Joe Blow, from down the street. More like Joe Blow-Things-Up.

He'd unwrapped his burger and was cautiously inspecting it. "I see no reason why not. It isn't our primary means of sustenance, but it will make an interesting treat." He was still looking over his burger, having not taken it out of the wrapping yet. She wondered if something was wrong. ('Course, with that "blood" thing, back at Sonic...she still hadn't decided if he'd been serious or not.) He picked the burger up and examined the bottom of the wrapper.

"Say, what do you eat, anyway?"


"'Scuze me?"

"Emotions. The souls of all sapient creatures radiate emotions. To us, that is food and drink. We don't need it to live, but it does add to the, I believe the term is, 'spice of life' for us."

"So you drain people's souls for emotions?"

He sighed. "A common misconception. We do not 'drain' anyone of anything. Souls radiate emotions. Normally, these emotions simply dissipate into the void, but we can gather them in, make them part of us, of our being. In much the same way you are making that substance," he gestured to her chicken strips, "a part of you."

"Oh. Huh. So….can you, like, possess people? Like in the movies?"

"Of course not, that's fiction. We can own them, in a manner of speaking, however; that's a different matter. But the person would have to give him or herself to one of us, freely, and knowingly, knowing who we are and what they are doing. Only then, could that person's essence, their soul, as you call it, be encased in what I suppose you'd call a 'force globe,' and returned with us, to Hell."

She shook her head. From the way he talked about it, it sounded like a good thing, but…go to Hell? How could that be good? But just then her phone chimed. The caller ID said, "Mom." She put her hand to her head. "Oh, God…" The night had just taken a turn for the worst, "...look, David, I gotta take this call, 'kay? Just...just hang on and don't do anything." And she rushed into the ladies' room to take it in as much privacy as she could. Sat down on the toilet seat.


"Since you're answering this call, I at least know you're alive." Uh oh. Mom was already to that stage. "And I've not yet gotten any ransom demands, so I suppose that's another point in your favor. What was it this time? Meet some friends downtown that, oh, hey, Mom, I totally forgot to tell you about?"

She gave a nervous chuckle. Yeah, this was bad. "Mom, you're gonna laugh, but-*"

"Oh, I seriously doubt that."

"Yeah, well, uhm, it, it was, was I forgot something at the store, an' hadda go out and get it. I really thought I'd be back in just a few minutes, well, I got a little sidetracked-" No point in going into the details, "-and ran into this guy who, who helped me, uhm, get my, my…oh, my god!"

"Shelley? Shelley? What's happening? Talk to me, girl!"

The only reason Shelley wasn't face-palming with both hands was, she needed one to hold the phone. In all the confusion... "I totally lost my shampoo! Aaaaahh!"

"Shelley?" David's voice came from outside the door to the ladies' room. "Are you alright? Something seems to be disturbing you immensely." And she remembered how David had said that he-his sort, demons (and she guessed, why not?)-could sense and absorb emotions.

She quickly got up, pulling her clothes up, hoping against hope he wouldn't just come barging in. But he was such a loose cannon, she didn't know what he was gonna do. "Yeah, David, I'm fine, I'm coming right out! Jus' chill a minute. Or, or, you know, whatever you do. Don't come in here!"

"Shelley? Child? Where are you and what's going on? Who are you talking to? Who is 'David'? Are you sure you're alright?" And Shelley could almost see her sitting at her laptop, with the GPS locator. "Do I need to call anyone?" Meaning the police, or, knowing her, the entire armed military might of the United States.

"No, honestly, mom! I'm fine! I'm just, er, in the bathroom here and was gettin' up, you know. My uh friend outside, I guess, he heard me talking or something, an' was worried. He's not a bad guy, jus' a little hot-headed, ifyouknowwhatImean…."

"Oh, really? Then, since you seem to've spent the bulk of the evening out with him, I'm certain you'd have no objection to bringing him home with you? Like right this very minute?"

Yep. Things just kept getting better and better.


Outside the restroom door. "Sorry, David, that was my mom. I, er, kinda went out on an unauthorized mission tonight, 'n' now I gotta go straight home. Oh, 'N' mom wants ta meet you, too. I mean, I let slip that you'd, y'know, helped me out, 'n' all, so…"

He shrugged and swished that black cape of his to one side, and she saw that he had drawn his trident. What, was he planning on rescuing her from the toilet? Well, God knew she'd seen stranger things this evening. And it was kinda in keeping with this whole "gallant knight" megadrama thing he seemed to have goin,'...

(Actually, the "gallant knight" thing was...kinda thrilling, in a "Twilight Zone" sort of way.)

"Hey, you didn't eat your burger? Didn't you like it?"

"I don't know," he said, uncertainly, as they walked out the side entrance onto the sidewalk. He checked out the burger, still in its wrapper, again, a puzzled look on his face. "How…exactly how do you eat one of these things?"


The DeLong residence: "You sure about this?"

"Of course. Why would I not be?"

"You've never met my mom."

"And she has never met me."

She shot him a nervous look as they entered through the gate. "Now, David. Please. Be on your best manners here. My mom's...she can be a little intense, sometimes, is, I guess, the best way to put it." God knows I know all about that; she's already run off three boyfriends in rapid succession. And right now, she's already pissed off enough.

They went up to the door. "I will be," he said, "on my best behavior." That was, after all, one of the 57 Laws of Power, the book that guided demon behavior.

The door opened, and white light shone out from the room behind. "Well! So good of you to return home! And here I was almost about to get worried. I mean, silly of me, right? It is still the same week, after all."

"Uh, y-yeah, mom, about that-*"

Shelley's mom turned to David, still standing there with his trident in his left hand. "And you would be this 'David' I've heard of? What is that in your hand?" Trying to get a better look with eyes not quite adjusted to the night.

"Yes, Ma'am." He made a short bow, hand to his breast, in a very courtly sort of way. "I am David BenDarian, and this is my trident."

"Ah. I see. Aaaand...does the trident have a name?" Shelley just hung her head. Maybe they'd survive this evening. Maybe.

"Why, no, ma'am." He looked inquisitively at Shelley. "Is it customary, here in this world, to name one's weapons of war?"

"That's a weapon?!"

Shelley spoke up hastily. "Look, guys, why don't we move this indoors? C'mon, Mom, let's not just stand out here all night!" Before her mother could say anything about "no weapons in the house," she turned to David and hissed, "Do that thing you did when you put it up."

He immediately shrank it and clipped it back into his holster. Shelley sighed in relief; she hadn't thought of it before, but having the thing "put up" was a huge step towards calming her mother. The difference, she guessed, between holding your gun in your hand, and holstering it.

Yes, in fact, now that she thought about it, just exactly like that.

"Well." Ms. DeLong ushered them into the living room, still clearly checking David out. Most boys were made a bit uncomfortable by such scrutiny; he didn't seem to notice. "So. You're...David?"

"Yes, ma'am." Silence. Looking him over, Mrs. DeLong took in his garb, his strange-looking cape...and his horns. "So you're a...cosplayer? Who are you supposed to be?"

"I don't know what a 'cosplayer' is, but I'm fairly certain I'm not one. I am supposed to be myself."

"Then…you're not seriously saying...those...things...on your head are...real?" She was close enough to see that they didn't look fake. Nor, try as she might, could she see any place where they could be pasted or glued somehow to his skin. It was like they just...grew through. Somehow.

Except that was clearly impossible.

Wasn't it?

April DeLong felt the need for a change of venue. There was no point in being uncivilized about all this, at least not in front of the boy. The boy might be Planter's grade nuts, but at least he was polite, and appeared to be sober. Nor was he displaying any underwear, either his or anyone else's. "Won't you step this way? It's a little late for coffee, but I've some mineral water you might find to your liking."

Shelley didn't exactly lead the way; it would be more accurate to say she marched, head down, in front of her firing squad. Just any second now, and the boom would be lowered.

Maybe mom would wait until after David left, at least. She did have some small shards of pride left. Being told off, shouted at, grounded, TV, internet privileges revoked, and whatever else her mom could think up right in front of her da-* of David would be unbearable.

Soon they were all seated comfortably in the main living room. Shelley noticed the TV was off, for once. Well, yeah. This was an interrogation and execution all in one, after all. "So how did you meet my daughter?"

"Uh, mom? It's like this-*"

Her mom put up a finger. "I'd like to hear it from Mr. BenDarian, here, if you don't mind." Her attention hadn't wavered.

Okay, but you're sooo gonna regret that. She'd already seen her mom checking out David's horns. I guess I should'a coached him.

"My uncle and I are demons from Hell. He has some business holdings in this city he needed to attend to, and I came along. My presence by his side, at this time, was not required; so I took it upon myself to walk around and see the sights."

"I see. Demons from Hell, huh?" Well, there goes sober. She glanced at her daughter. Girl, where do you keep finding them? Hang around asylums or something? However, this one wasn't quite as bad as the last one. "Just walking around, were you? How did you bump into Shelley?" Shelley started sweating.

"Some young men were being most discourteous towards her." He shrugged, sipping at his mineral water. Shelley had to admit, he really had it down pat: there was no "brag" at all in his voice. He might as well have been describing the weather. "I took it upon myself to correct them. They should see the error of their ways." There was an odd glint to his eye, a strange look to his face that sent chills up Shelley's spine.

And…"discourteous," huh? She saw her mom's face as she registered that little factoid. Hoo boy. Now she was in for it.

'I see. And where did you say all this took place?"

He gestured with his thumb in the direction they'd come. "A few kilometers down that way." He frowned into his mineral water. "It is perhaps a good thing I happened along when I did. That area we just came from seems rather unstable, socially; I wonder that your authorities have not taken action before now. I myself witnessed several instances of extremely disrespectful behavior." He turned to a miserable Shelley, who looked up, startled. "Though I know it is not my place to say so, I would recommend you limit your time in that area, especially when night falls." A sip of water. "No doubt matters will improve once your authorities begin enforcing simple rules of courtesy." There he went again. Evidently, demons were really into this "courtesy" thing.

'Course, considering the kind of "discourtesy" he'd rescued her from, maybe he had a point.

She was musing on the notion of an actual demon from Hell having some good ideas about how the human world should be run (on the other hand, why not?), when she heard her mother ask the One Question she'd hoped would somehow get swept up under the carpet: "Demon, you say? I suppose you know I'll need a little more evidence before I can accept your word on that."

Please, please, David, don't do anything stupid!

But he was looking at Shelley's mom with an unusual intensity. It wasn't exactly a stare; Ms. DeLong, who often got mistaken for her daughter's sister, got her share of those from males of all ages without any help whatsoever. No, he was looking at...at her head, of all things, his gaze seemingly focused on some point just inside her cranium. "Such pain," he muttered. "How do you stand it?" And Shelley saw something she'd never seen before, and had frankly never thought she'd see, not in a zillion zillion years.

Her mom's face slipped, ever so slightly. Her expression of studied amusement became...slightly less so.

And it seemed as though she became...there was no other word for it...nervous. "I, I don't know what you m-*…" But she got no further.

Suddenly, David was instantly on his feet, looking around over their heads, as though looking outside the house. Like the guys in movies who have X-ray vision or some sense beyond normal sight, it was clear his attention was focused on something outside.

Shelley and her mom both drew back at his sudden movement, with Shelley wondering what the heck was going on. Where had this come from?

David was looking around, his head tracking something it looked like only he could sense. He glanced out the front window, looking around. Before either of them could really do little more than look surprised, he immediately went over to Shelley, and stood just in front of her. "Shelley." Here he paused just a moment, to gesture with his forehead towards her mom. He spoke with an intensity unlike anything she'd heard him use yet. "And Ms. DeLong. This is vitally important. I...have to go see about...something. I want, no, I need the two of you to stay here and stay indoors." He drew his trident, and April DeLong stepped back, her innate fear of weapons resurfacing. She was about to demand he put it up, when he continued, speaking rapidly. "I'll place the strongest wards I can around this house, but stay indoors until I return. Both of you. I don't care what you think of me, whether you believe I'm a demon from Hell or a clown from a circus, but it is absolutely vital that you both remain indoors until I give you the all-clear. There is…" He glanced back out the window down the street, "...well, it's dangerous, let's just say. I'll be back as soon as I can." And with that, before either of them could say a word, that strange cape he was wearing seemed to flip over him of its own accord…

...and he just disappeared out from under their gaze.

Shelley ran to the window in time to catch him pointing his trident at the ground in front of her house. Rather than fire, intense bluish-white light seemed to emanate from it, pouring onto the ground, weaving and interweaving itself into an incredibly complex pattern that encircled the entire dwelling. For a brief moment, it was too bright to look at…

...and then, just as they both drew back, covering their eyes, the light suddenly faded, leaving only the concrete sidewalk and grass behind. And David was nowhere to be seen.

Shelley and her mom just looked at each other.


David ran, dodging in and out of the nighttime traffic, leaping over cars, occasionally bounding across the tops of them, making rapid headway towards the center of the disturbance he'd sense. Traffic stopped and horns honked in his wake. As he ran, he sent out a signal to Uncle Darian. It was not exactly telepathy, but so close as to make no difference. {{Uncle Darian!}}

{{I hear you, boy. And I know you better than to think this is anything other than the urgent summons it is.}}

{{Too right, Uncle. Do you remember what you said about "threats the humans alone could not handle"?}}

{{Yes. I take it you've sensed something of that nature?}}

{{Yes. Yes, I have.}}

To be continued