• The involuntary nap had done Flynn more harm than good. Surrendering to his subconscious after such a vicious confrontation with his mutant self had given his own demon free reign over his thoughts. It had pelted him endlessly with nightmare after horrific nightmare, exacting its revenge to be sure he would wake with a pounding headache and an uneasy grip on reality. Although it was common for the parasite to slash all hopes of a peaceful sleep, these dreams were particularly nasty. It went beyond the usual grotesque and bloody deaths of his friends, and past any physical harm done to himself. This time, he was the root of those painful screams and the catalyst of the torture. Worst of all, he was the murderous monster that had enjoyed every minute of it.

    Flynn struggled to shake the grief and remorse creeping into his chest. It wasn't real. It wouldn't be real, and he'd make sure of that. This door would eventually lead him back to the OPS gang, alive and well. He'd be demon-free, and then he and Robin could --

    Her terrified cry tore into his head, bursting from the deepest part of his mind and crushing his heart with a fiery bite.

    Perhaps it was best to avoid that train of thought.

    There was a heavy creak as Flynn groggily forced open the door once hidden by a bewitched mirror. He needed to get out of the room, regardless of where else this door would be taking him. The welcomed scent of new air drifted into the chamber. Breathing the fresh atmosphere was nice. It helped to flush out the feeling of sulfur in his lungs.

    A soft firelight flickered beyond the threshold. A wave of warmth immediately enveloped Flynn as he stepped through, quelling the nagging anxiety swimming through his gut.

    This room was much different than the last. Its walls were adorned with elaborate frescoes equal in beauty to the stained glass of the previous area. Lined against the plaster was a row of antique braziers, illuminating the room with a pleasant orange glow. Long carpets woven in fine silk covered the glossy floor and stretched along the length of the room. On either side of the carpets, thick marble pillars rose majestically to the ceiling.

    An elegant iron gate barred another larger doorway on the opposite side of the room. Just in front of the dark corridor stood a proud angel that immediately demanded Flynn's attention. All too soon, his snug bubble of comfort had been completely shredded.

    The grand alabaster statue towered in its glory on a pedestal before the gate, like a guardian protecting its charge. The creature's great wings were folded delicately behind it, its arms outstretched from its stone robe in a welcoming gesture. Its right digits were gently clasped around a golden chalice that gleamed powerfully, and its left palm was tilted to the side as if inviting for a handshake.

    It was expertly crafted and beautiful at first glance, but upon further inspection, a distracting incompleteness grabbed Flynn by the throat. The angelic figure had a gaping hole carved through its chest, over top of where the rocky heart should have been. As he advanced on the statue, Flynn saw that the extended hand was not only missing its index finger, but it looked like it had been left out completely rather than broken off. The face was the most disconcerting feature, however, as its eyes were replaced with hollow pits that stared endlessly down at him. In its forehead lay another empty hole, and any traces of a mouth were altogether disregarded.

    The homey feel of the antechamber had vanished. Flynn was reminded by the sculpture looming above him that he may have passed test number one, but there could be more awaiting him in this new area. He could not let his guard down, assuming he was safe. Not yet.

    Not a second after Flynn had finished processing these thoughts, a heavy object crashed into him from behind with a dramatic slap of irony. His knees buckled in shock, driving him face-first into an overlooked tome at the base of the angel.

    All at once, the gears began to crank away at full speed. Having his nose crammed into the book gave him an opportunity to at least register a scent for him to process as his body reacted to the collision. By the time he flipped onto his back, he had already recognized the musty scent as the Grimoire of Turiel, jumping into the picture again to make everything more difficult.

    The fallen weight straddled Flynn's midsection. He took hold of the tiny arms furiously grabbing at him, locking the thing in a firm grip to keep it still. With surprising ease, he lifted it to its feet as he rose to a sitting position. A confused frown formed on his lips. He found himself face-to-face with a small child.


    Verdelet had already tucked herself behind one of the room's massive pillars when the man cruised in from the door next to her own. She stood calmly, both feet planted on the rough ceiling, watching and waiting to plan her next move.

    Human, a voice whispered in her mind.

    Yes, we know. We can smell it loud and clear, hissed another.

    "Both, keep it down. This one is trying to pay attention," Verdelet scolded quietly.

    A third voice giggled. Hehe, Noble started it! it teased.

    The small female-looking dhampir rolled her eyes. "Great. All three are awake. Hush, Mr. Todd," she added before he could speak again.

    Waiting a beat to ensure her orders were obeyed, she began to watch again. The human was now in front of the statue, looking up at the angel with a wary expression. He didn't seem very threatening. Just another weakling of the race that plagued the world. His status as an enemy would be resolved with little effort. Perfect.

    I suggest you destroy it now before it has a chance to see us, said the second voice.

    Noble disagreed. Oh, Vicious, but what fun would it be to end it so soon?

    "This one doesn't know what it has to accomplish yet."

    That's right, Verdie! We might need the abomination. Keep it around for awhile longer, if only to enjoy the game.

    "Mr. Todd is always so smart."

    With the decision made, Verdelet leapt from the ceiling, reversing the gravity around her in midair to send herself hurling into the human.


    The tiny girl was less than adorable. Her bitter glare stabbed at him from cloudy gray eyes, deep set into her pale face. Black bangs hung over her brow, giving the eyes a slight shadowed look. Silvery strands were woven finely through the remainder of her hair, which just barely grazed the floor behind her, and was covered with a small nightcap.

    Flynn found the rest of her apparel to be preposterous, as it seemed far too bulky to allow room to work. Her thin arms were suspended roughly above her, poking out from slits in the elbows of a large, untied straitjacket. A checkered blanket was wrapped over her petite shoulders, falling to the ground with her hair. Baggy black pants draped around her legs, so long that they crumpled into a pile of fabric at her feet. The enormous clothes were nothing compared to the array of glass bells dotting every inch of her pants, jingling with every move she made.

    It's even uglier up close. What are you waiting for? Kill it
    , Vicious whispered.

    Verdelet ignored the voice, trying to concentrate on her attack. It didn't seem to be working, as the human just sat with a dumbfounded stare.

    Oh my, it's uneffected by the Evil Eye? Are you sure it's a mere human, darling? Mr. Todd chimed.

    Obviously not. Even the best of the useless race could not stand up to her psychic onslaught. The fear should be permeating his every thought by now. Why did he not cower under the nightmares?

    Inhale, Vicious simply commanded. Verdelet did so.

    "Ah. It is something more," the girl hissed. Her foggy eyes narrowed.

    "Excuse me?" Flynn asked.

    She seemed to be taken aback by his speech. "It is not human. This one smells demon. In here," she said, her voice croaking in a disturbing rush of air. The girl's hands clapped over either side of Flynn's head. He shuddered and stood to break her grasp.

    "You caught me. I'm Flynn," he said nonchalantly, extending a hand to greet her. This kid was strange, but he'd seen worse. "You don't seem too human either. What's your name?"

    The girl pondered for a moment. Then, the bottom corner of the checkered cloak was thrown upwards, billowing in front of her for a moment. A second passed, and the cloak flopped back down to its position at her back. The girl was now just short of eye level with Flynn, and appeared to have aged more than a few years.

    "Verdelet," she answered, "This one is far from human." There was an awkward pause. Rejected, Flynn closed his fist and returned it to his side. She wasn't big on manners, apparently.

    You gave it your name? Vicious spat from her mind, We are not here to make friends.

    "Well, um, can I ask why you're here?" Flynn started before Verdelet could respond to the voice.

    Hm. Might as well tell it. Maybe you could ask the same, Noble purred.

    Verdelet nodded. She looked to the statue's feet and pointed to the book opened on the floor.

    "You too, huh?" Flynn sighed. That wasn't a good sign. He knelt down to read the words scrawled elegantly on the page. "One of you two mortals must sign the scroll in blood and place it in the statue's forehead. That mortal will be removed from my domain but will come to no further harm. The other child of Adam may continue through the gate," he read.

    "I surrender my free will to Turiel," Verdelet continued from the opposite page. "Enemies, then? Unless it plans to sign now and save time."

    Before Flynn could respond, she had her hands around his throat. Her fingernails extended to form long, razor-sharp claws that pressed against his skin.

    Flynn froze. "Whoa, hey," he stuttered, "No need to jump to violence. Can't we talk this out like civilized people?"

    "What is there to discuss?"

    Good point. He didn't plan on giving up that easily. Judging from how quickly she attacked, he assumed his opponent felt the same. Chatting wouldn't do them much good.

    He thought for a moment. "What do you plan to wish for?"

    The claws faltered. Ah, a soft spot. "None of its concern," Verdelet hissed in his ear.

    "I'll show you mine, you show me yours?"

    Make something up. We could use this to our advantage, but we can't tell it the truth, Vicious warned.

    "This one wishes to..." What should she say? "...to be more powerful. Not strong enough."

    How typical. But, it will do, said Noble.

    Mr. Todd sighed. If only that were the real motivation.

    Flynn frowned. "Right. Well, a deal's a deal. The demon that you so kindly pointed out is lodged into my brain and won't leave."

    The girl furrowed her brow. "And?" she said, not seeing an issue.

    "And I want it out."

    Maybe it is just a pitiful human. I thought we might have an interesting duel for a moment there. Darn, Noble complained.

    "Why would it want to destroy such power?" Verdelet pondered. She dropped her claws, reverting them back to their original state. She was thoroughly intrigued now. Humans were indeed vile creatures, but their simplicity boggled her mind.

    "Otherwise it will destroy me, which kind of takes the fun out of things."

    This information is not worth the bantering. Make your move, Vicious demanded.

    "But..." she sulked. She was curious.


    Vicious is right. Now, while it's distracted, Noble agreed.

    I'm interested too, dear, but we can't afford to waste such time! Tally ho! added Mr. Todd.

    Verdelet stuck out her bottom lip in a pout. "Even Mr. Todd thinks we should? It seems this one must obey, then."

    "What?" Flynn raised an eyebrow. "Are you talking to yourself?"

    With a musical chime of bells, the girl brought up her leg and threw it back down in his direction. Flynn panicked, skirting out of the way before her foot could connect. Instead, it met the hard marble with unbelievable force. The stone cracked, leaving a good-sized dent where he had been standing. He gulped, imagining the headache that blow would've caused.

    Verdelet charged him again, this time with her claws flared out in front of her like a cat. He managed to barely avoid the long daggers, but was stopped in his tracks by the anvil thrown into the side of his skull.

    At least, it felt like an anvil. Verdelet's kick drove Flynn into the floor. He grunted in pain as his body hit the hard marble. His vision blurred over and his limbs felt strangely heavy as he struggled to stand. Before he could fumble to the nearest pillar for support, he felt an iron grip around his neck that hoisted him into a sluggish standing position. It released, and he toppled over again.

    Oh, Verdie, it looks like you hit it too hard. Now it'll never be able to sign, Mr. Todd complained, although delighted with just how fragile this human was.

    "Oops," she glowered and pondered about what to do next.

    "Man, why does everything keep aiming for my head?" Flynn moaned. He had managed to sit upright, but his cranium still ached from the blow. He blinked, trying to realign his sight.

    Vicious protested. You're kidding. It should be unconscious.

    "It is not as weak as we thought."

    Perhaps not, but let us waste no more time. Make it sign before we get any further surprises. Noble's tone was more stern now.

    Flynn had scooted a few feet backwards to slump himself against a stone column. "If you're talking about me, then you don't know the half of it. But, if you could be a doll and hold off until I regain my balance, that would be appreciated," he mumbled, eyes closed, with his head leaned back.

    It trusts you too much, Noble said.

    Yes, punish it for such mistakes, said Vicious slyly. Mr. Todd giggled with excitement.

    There was a rustling of fabric, accompanied by the soft ringing of small bells. Flynn opened his eyes to see Verdelet standing above him, hitching her arms under his shoulders to drag him towards the Grimoire. Too weak to resist, his head sagged against her disappointingly-flat chest. May as well let her assume she had won while the undamaged part of his mind churned over a new plan.

    Flynn's body flopped down over the tome. Without hesitation, Verdelet snatched up the extravagant quill laid next to the book and plunged the sharp tip deep into his palm. He winced, but bit his tongue to avoid crying out.

    "Write," the girl snapped. She gave him a rough nudge with her knee.

    Damn, he thought as he gentled removed the feather from his hand. Was that really necessary? He flexed his fingers, clenching his teeth as a fresh shock of pain shot up his arm before they met to form a fist. That hand would be out of commission for awhile.

    An instant before he touched the pen to the parchment, Flynn resolved to return the favor. "You know," he started, glancing up at Verdelet, "I've made a decision." He idly tapped the tip against the yellowed page.

    Verdelet let out an exasperated sigh. "Has it now?"

    Flynn nodded. "Yep. I've decided that my wish is more important than yours." He met her suspicious glare with a devious grin, and then drove the quill into her arm.

    The girl's expression quickly shifted from impatience to shock. Blood began to trickle from the wound in a thin stream, dripping to the floor. Flynn jerked the pen away and hastily scratched his opponent's name onto the paper. Verdelet's eyes lit up with horror.

    "No! No, those are not the rules! It cannot do this! No!" she screeched furiously.

    All at once, her friends began to panic. Stop it! Destroy it! Do something! they barked.

    Suddenly, the book lit up in a burst of light. Flynn felt an unseen punch jab into his gut. He flew backwards, slamming into a fresco on the opposite wall.

    That is cheating, a thunderous voice echoed in his mind. Perhaps this would be more difficult than he thought. Time for a Plan B.

    A cloud of smoke erupted from his vest pocket as it met the wall. s**t, and there goes a smoke bomb. As if we haven't been down this road before, he mused. Flynn stood, using the wall for support, and listened.

    Sure enough, he heard the faint tinkling of glass near the center of the room.

    You worthless fool! How could you have let him get the best of you! Vicious raged from within Verdelet's subconscious.

    "This... this one is sorry. It was caught off-guard. It will not happen again," she stammered.

    Noble snorted. Silence, imbecile! Use this smoke to your advantage. Hide, and make your attack.

    Best to forget the fun, Verdie. Beat it within an inch of its life to avoid future mistakes, yes?

    She nodded in compliance, squinting into the mist to track her prey. Where was that foul creature?

    There was a metallic wrench behind her head. The c**k of a gun, accompanied by an arrogant human snicker.

    Vicious sighed hopelessly. Well, you found him. Nice going.

    Arms wrapped around her, one ensnaring her throat and another snaking under her own to position the firearm directly under her chin. The human eased her against his chest, slowly, cautiously. He was expecting her to resist.

    She did. At the behest of the voices, Verdelet tried to squirm away unsuccessfully. Flynn tightened his hold and dug the barrel into the soft spot under her jaw. "Don't even think about it," he cooed, breathing into her ear.

    "It cheats," Verdelet growled.

    "It does what it needs to. Power versus life? I think I win, darling."

    "So little, it knows." Her tone was somber.

    Flynn laughed lightly. "Maybe so," he said, "but I know I'm done with instant gratification."


    "Glad we can agree. Now then, ready to sign?" He motioned to the nearby book.

    There are other options. I suggest you pick one and follow through.

    Agreed. And after it signs and begs for mercy, kill it.

    Hm, yes, that would indeed be suitable revenge. Let it know pain.

    Verdelet grimaced. She had had enough of the voices. Preparing to deflect a barrage of protests, she nodded solemnly and let the human lead her towards the statue. Sure enough, the voices began to cry in a mess of undecipherable rage.

    "This one cannot be killed by this machine," Verdelet added as she bent to grasp the quill. Flynn let go of her slender body, but kept the gun directed firmly at the base of her skull.

    He had figured as much. It was never that easy. "I doubt it would've felt very good. And, a bullet to the brain is enough to at least serve as a momentary inconvenience."

    "True enough," she agreed and dipped the tip of the pen into the blood dribbles on her arm.

    Flynn was still curious. "Why are you signing, if I really pose that little of a threat to you?"

    Despite the angry buzzing in her head, Verdelet elegantly scrawled her name over top of the faded impostor. Even she wasn't sure why she had gone through with it. "Maybe because it..." she paused in thought, "Flynn. Flynn does need it more."

    A weight lifted from his chest as she signed. There, it was done. "Thank you, Verdelet. I'm sorry that it had to come to this." He lowered the gun, dropping it back into his vest, and offered her a hand.

    She took it shyly and let him help her up. "This one lied about its wish."


    "It lied. This one doesn't want power. It wants to see a friend again."

    Flynn's heart plummeted. Oh, God, maybe his wish was not more vital. Though her voice was sad, she rolled the parchment between her hands and hopped up to the statue's pedestal, slipping the document into its forehead.

    "Good luck to get rid of the demon," she smiled, gliding past him to return to her own door. "Maybe this one will rid itself of its own inhabitants." With that, she slipped back to her reality as discretely as she had come.

    The iron grille began to crank itself open, leaving room for Flynn to move on to whatever the next task would be. How many others sought this wish? And, just how far were they willing to go for it?

    More importantly, how far was he willing to go?

    An uncomfortable feeling crept into his stomach. This wasn't like him. He had overcome the demon for the time being, seeing as he hadn't needed it to defeat whatever that girl was. Even so, he felt the same lack of emotion that haunted him when the demon essence was coursing through his veins.

    Perhaps, to be rid of the monster, he would have to first embrace it.