Part of Apex of Creation
Hover over Spanish terms or phrases to see their English translations.
In the space of a heartbeat, I was connected to every damned wretch in the realm. I wasn’t so much connected to their pain and suffering - which although immense, registered only dimly in the back of my mind. I was connected to their energy, their emotions, their very essence. They fed me, they fueled my desires, and it was delicious. For a moment, I was lost in the sheer pleasure of the connection to so much power.
I opened my eyes. At the far end of the room, Lucifer lay in a broken heap. He was saying - no - muttering something. And then, with a heavy groan, space twisted itself around him, and he was gone.
I had accomplished what nobody else in the history of time had been able to manage. I had overthrown Lucifer, and claimed the throne of Hell as my own. Lucifer, for all his tactical brilliance, had been stalling and biding his time for far too long. Now, with me in charge, it was time to bring Hell forward into the modern age.
No more would we lurk in the shadows, whispering soft temptations into the ears of the foolish and slinking away when ignored. No, now we would bring the full strength of demonic power to bear on the souls of man.
I took a deep breath.
The doors of the throne room were flung inwards as the armorer burst in. His eyes went wide as he saw me sitting in Lucifer’s seat, and realized what I had done.
I grinned at seeing his shock. “Bring me the inventory of the armory.” I ordered. “The war is on.”
Solve for z:
∫ 5x4+2xz dx = x2+x5+C
“This next one looks like it’s supposed to be a power rule problem, but the coefficients don’t line up.” I had gotten one question ahead of Emily.
She finished jotting down the answer to the problem she was on, then flipped the page in her book to look at the the question. “Looks like power rule to me; they just wrote the terms in a different order on the right-hand side of the equation. Z equals one.”
“Oh. Derp. Yeah, that makes sense.” I scribbled down the solution. Integrate the left hand side, cancel like terms, and the only thing left over is…
xz = x
“Yup, z is one.”
“I think it’s one of those problems that’s supposed to be a a little bit of a curveball.” Emily continued. “You know, getting students to see through problems that aren’t quite presented the way you would expect them to be shown.”
I nodded. “I hate trick questions.”
“I know.” Emily smiled at me. “But hey, at least I was able to do something for you by solving the problem.”
I was momentarily taken aback. “Oh come on, Emily, I don’t want you to feel like that.”
“I dunno, James, you’ve done so much just by busting my dad, and, hell, I know this sounds super sad, but just being my friend and not being an asshole.”
I set my pencil down and ran a hand through my hair. “Stop that. I might have angel magic or whatever it’s supposed to be called, but that doesn’t mean you owe me anything. Hell, you literally stole the Scroll of the Apocalypse out from under Satan’s nose! If anything, I owe you for taking care of my problem!”
Emily twitched as she recalled Lucifer’s mental assault. “Yeah, but that’s a problem that I created initially, by not realizing I had the scroll in my stack of stuff, so…”
“No, that was a problem that Alocer created initially, because he’s an asshole, and I never should have made friends with him in the first place. Not your fault.”
Emily frowned and wrinkled her forehead in that adorab- “I know, like, intellectually, that it wasn’t my fault, but still…”
“Emily,” I whispered, raising an eyebrow. “You just took out a handful of gang thugs, and that’s what you’re worried about?”
“Well, I was only able to do that because you froze them. ”
“Seriously, you don’t owe me anything. If anything, that was teamwork.”
“Yeah, but you did all the fancy magic work.”
I rubbed my eyes. “Oh God, this is going to be awkward.” I could feel my face starting to turn red. “Look, Emily. I enjoy hanging out with you. You’re smart, you’re funny, you’ve been a friend to me as well, like, I’ve never had a girlfriend before, and I don’t want us to just be constantly keeping an accounting of what each of us has done for the other. Can we just be, like, normal?”
Emily looked confused. “You’re forgetting that my idea of Normal is very, very fucked up.”
“Ok, not normal, that was bad phrasing. But like, I dunno, a team? Right? I’m not super into sports but I’m pretty sure that teammates don’t keep, like, a detailed log of who’s passed the ball to whom.”
“I don’t see the connection.”
“Um, okay, hang on… Right. Keeping track of favors - that’s something that business people do. And politicians and drug cartels. Not friends.”
“Friends just… help each other, whenever. Because it’s the right thing to do.”
Emily was silent.
I continued. “And besides, the idea that you somehow owe me something… that just makes me uncomfortable. It’s not what friends do, especially not… you know. Boyfriends and girlfriends.”
Emily squirmed in her seat. “But how do people make sure they’re not being taken advantage of, without keeping track?”
I shrugged. “If two people trust each other, they don’t. And besides, if it weren’t for you, I’d probably be spending the semester as a loner nerd.”
“No! I mean, you’re prickly sometimes but you’re nice…”
“...and you’re patient with me. I appreciate that.”
“And you keep me from flying off the rails at something unexpected.” I replied, pointing to the trick math problem. “See? Teamwork.”
Emily shook her head. “It’s gonna take me a long time to figure out how to be normal, like most people, instead of just… I dunno. Faking it.”
“That’s the secret, Emily. Most people? Most people are not normal. Most people are messed up, one way or another, and all these people just keep it together long enough to get through the day.”
Emily’s look changed from confusion to curiosity. “What makes you say that?”
“My uncle did psych evals for the state police. He saw a lot of fucked up shit, and it had an effect on him. Nice guy, fantastic uncle, but five years ago or so he got into a nasty cycle of depression. He was always helping other people get the help they needed for their own problems, but then he ended up needing to get help himself…”
“Wow… I’m sorry.”
“He’s doing better now, but he had to leave the force. Anyways, the point is, we’re all messed up in a different way - and my uncle knew that better than just about anyone. You just gotta take it one day at a time. And in my experience, coffee and a good friend seem to help a lot with that.”
Emily’s eyes flitted to her coffee cup. I picked up mine and held it out.
“To being messed up?”
Emily couldn’t help but grin as she picked up her own coffee. “To being messed up.”
I rolled awake with a groan. My mouth felt like it had been stuffed full of cottonballs, and a distant jackhammering felt like it was splitting my skull wide open.
I held my head in my hands, glancing at the empty bottle on the nightstand.
When would this madness end? The ghost call from the hotel, the hallucination in the dorm, and now an impossible gang fight.
There was something going on, some bigger picture, some evil web of insanity. I’d initially thought that Nigel Butler’s kiddie porn ring was the dark force behind everything, but somehow, that felt all wrong.
My head hurt too much to think about much else. I got up, and stumbled towards the kitchen. A shot of whiskey eased the pain, and then I could think properly.
There was definitely some hidden web of mystery at play behind everything. And somehow, James Butler and Emily Exosia - no, hang on a second, that’s not right - James Exosia and Emily Butler were at the center of it all. I was sure of it.
The only problem was, I couldn’t find a goddamned thing on either of them. Both James and Emily were, by all accounts, squeaky clean.
Yet they had - somehow - taken down Emily’s perv of a dad, switched places before my own eyes, and put four gang enforcers in the hospital.
I needed more information. Lucas wasn’t the place to go, no, he had lied to me. I called up Officer Jackson.
She picked up on the fifth ring. “Good morning, Darren.”
“What’s the status of the victims from the gang attack?” I asked.
I heard her shuffle some papers around. She must be in the station. “Last I heard, the hospital was going to try to discharge two of them today. We don’t have them in booking yet, so I’d assume they’re still at the hospital. You going to talk to them?”
“I was thinking about it. Trying to figure out what happened with the missing video segments. If nothing else, at least get their statements.”
“Yeah, the video thing is annoying.” Jackson paused. “Hey, Darren, sorry if it’s too much to ask, but are you ok? You left kind of suddenly the other day.”
It was my turn to hesitate. “Yeah. Had a brain fart.”
“...alright. Just checking. Hey, could you let me know what you get from the hospital. If it’s connected to Nigel Butler at all, I’ll need to forward it up to the feds.”
It was time to get out of the house. This case was strange as shit but I needed to get to the bottom of it.
One heavy jacket and another shot of whiskey for warmth, and I was on my way to the hospital.
The drive took a little longer than normal, thanks to idiot drivers who didn’t seem to realize that the roads were no longer a slip-n-slide.
I flashed my badge at the front desk, and promptly got pointed to the rooms where the four victims were being held. Unfortunately, nobody at the hospital had been able to get a positive ID on any of them.
I aimed to change that.
I found the first room, where the occupant was watching some show in a language I couldn’t understand. Probably Spanish. I walked in and unplugged the TV.
“The fuck you doing hombre?”
“I’m here for a chat.” I explained to the man in the bed. His arms were in casts, one leg was in a splint, and the other leg was ankle-cuffed to the bed.
“You’re policia, aren’t you?” he asked.
“¡Hijo de puta!”
“I’ll pretend that was something nice.” I said, as I took out my notepad. “So. Let’s start with your name.”
I sat down on his bed. “Well, hombre, we will identify you one way or another. You can either tell me who you are now, or you can stay locked up until we ID you anyways.”
He glared at me, but didn’t say anything. Time to bluff.
“We got fingerprints off all the weapons; it’s only a matter of time before they match someth-”
“Thank you, Tomás.” I wrote his name down. “Now, would you like to tell me what happened Monday morning?”
“You want information. I want immunity, and witness protection. I’ve had enough of this shit, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as a maldito lisiado.” Tomás looked pointedly at his casts and splints. “I ain’t never gonna be back to normal.”
Well, that could be an easy break. “Deal” I said, hoping that the poor sap wouldn’t know that my word meant jackshit in this situation.
For once in this goddamn mess of an investigation, I got lucky.
“Now, I ain’t gonna rat out mis amigos. But we get a phone call from el jefe, the boss. He says we need to take care of a girl that’s been causing problems. She’s been sneaking around, getting in the way. So we gotta… convince… her to stop. He sends us picture, says she might be found in campus.”
“Was this the girl?” I asked, pulling up a picture of Emily Butler.
“Sí, señor. She making trouble for you too?
“I can’t say.”
“Sí, sí, por supuesto. We find her, it takes us a few days, but we find her. But, she’s always with a boy. ¿Su novio? I don’t know. But then she goes through an alley. We get out of the van, to go have a little friendly chat with her, you know?”
“A friendly chat, riiiight.” I let the sarcasm drip heavily from my voice.
“So we walk up to her and the boyfriend. Now, señor, this gonna sound muy loco - but before we can say anything, they disappear. Like ghosts. And the only thing I know is, everything hurts. Todo duele como hijo de puta y luego que sé, estoy aquí.”
“Um…” I said, trying to process his words. “English?”
“Lo siento. Everything hurts like a motherfucker, and next thing, I am here.” Tomás used his face to gesture at his injuries.
“Um, go back a second.” I said. “You said they disappeared?”
“It sounds crazy but, sí. I must be forgetting what happened.”
Oh. Fucking hell.
This chapter was written with the support of my Hybrid patron:
- Olli Erinko