A Bridge Between Worlds - Chapter 9

A Bridge Between Worlds - Chapter 9

A Bridge Between Worlds Ch. 09

“What have we got?” Melody asked.

“Bad news from Japan,” Nadir replied.  “Kimiko and Hiro are nowhere to be found.  I do not believe they are dead, as I would have sensed something of that sort, but beyond that, I do not know of their status.”

“Do you think this has some connection to Edward?” Selena inquired.

“That is the only logical explanation that we can see,” Ardashir answered.  “This occurrence is no coincidence.”

Sighing, Melody said, “Ok, I’ll go to Hrio’s office in Japan.  Maybe I can find something there that’ll tell us what’s happening.”

“I will go with you,” Nadir chimed in, tying his long hair back into a ponytail.  “Kimiko is a member of my tribe, and I will not rest until they are brought home safe.”

“Please, be careful you two,” Selena said.

“No worries, we’ll be fine,” Melody replied.

*****

“Have at me!”

Gripping his sword in one hand, Mike followed Michael’s instructions and lunged for him, attacking him at range with the precision of an Olympic fencer.  But Michael was no amateur, and parried the strike with ease.  Mike couldn’t help but marvel at his skills; he was wielding a two-handed claymore sword with one hand, twirling it effortlessly between his fingers.

“You… are something else,” Mike panted.

“Do not forget, I am known as The Protector; the fiercest of God’s warriors and the leader of His mighty armies.  My power is equal to that of Lucifer’s and exceeded only by the Son and the Father.”

“So it’s not a fair fight,” Mike smirked.

Michael laughed.  “You underestimate the Armor of God, and even more so, you underestimate yourself.”

“What do you mean?” Mike asked.

Michael chuckled as he thought of the best way to explain the armor’s power to Mike.  “Think of it this way.  When you were a child, who was your favorite comic book superhero?”

Confused by his question, Mike answered, “Well, I was always a big fan of Green Lantern.”

“Why?”

“His power was limited only by his will.  Anything he could imagine, he could do.”

“Precisely,” Michael grinned.  “The armor responds to you just as Green Lantern’s power ring does in his stories.  If you can will it to be so, it will be so.  Your power is limitless, if you can only conceive of it.”

“Hmm, ok so for example…”

Mike began to focus his efforts on his muscles.  Lunging forward into a powerful, overhead strike, Michael managed to block his attack, but not without being driven to the ground from the sheer strength behind Mike’s blow.  The Archangel soon stood and dusted himself off.

“Most impressive, my friend.  What else can you conceive of?”

After focusing again on his muscles, Mike soon began to sprint around the training arena faster than the eye could see.  He first attacked Michael once per pass, essentially jousting at the speed of sound.  After three passes, Mike then planted his feet next to Michael and began slashing with his sword.  The strikes were so fast that Michael was unable to defend with his weapon, and was forced to shield himself with his indestructible wings.

“Well done, though I am hardly surprised,” Michael said as he caught his breath.  “It is no small feat to pass the trials the armor gave you, and the willpower required to do so is now manifesting itself in your natural abilities with God’s ultimate weapon.  But you have still merely scratched the surface of what you are capable of with it in your hands.”

Glancing down at the armor he now wore, Mike asked, “There’s more?”

“Indeed.  Now, I trust that you are well aware of the specific parts to the Armor of God mentioned in the scriptures, yes?”

“Yeah, let’s see… the Boots of Peace, Belt of Truth, Breastplate of Righteousness, Helmet of Salvation, and Sword of the Spirit,” he said, touching each part as he named them.

“Indeed.  However, do you not notice something?  Is not one of the parts of the armor missing?”

Face-palming, Mike said in realization, “The Shield of Faith!”

Michael continued, “Rather than craft a physical shield, Jesus suggested we instead tie it to the spiritual power innate within the armor.  Do you see those dark circles scattered across the armor?”

Inspecting himself, Mike found the spots Michael was mentioning.  He counted four on each hand at the knuckles, plus one on the tops of the wrists and one on each palm.

“I assume you mean these?”

“Verily.  These spots are capable of emitting raw, spiritual energy that can be used for numerous purposes.  As with all other aspects of the armor, the only limit to their power is your own will.  Thus, even though you do not possess a physical shield, the Shield of Faith can be summoned from either arm you wish at a moment’s notice.  You need only will it to be so.”

Without warning, Michael’s wings became rigid and pointed themselves at Mike, firing off a pair of razor-sharp feathers.  Mike, relying only on instinct, raised up his left arm in protection, summoning up a glowing, blue shield as he did so, causing the feathers to fall harmlessly to the ground.

“Woah…”

“Most impressive,” Michael replied.  “But that is only the beginning, my friend.”

*****

“Well, here we are,” Melody said as they arrived at the reception area of Hiro’s workroom.

“Nothing… seems out of place.  It appears that they are closed,” Nadir observed.

“There’s gotta be some clue here as to what happened to them.  Let’s keep looking.”

Melody checked the reception desk, thinking she might be able to find something useful on Kimiko’s work computer, but had no luck.  Nadir used his powers to trace Kimiko’s most recent movements in the area, but found that she had not been in the room in over twenty-four hours.  As they were about to give up in frustration, Melody noticed something odd.

“Huh, look at that.  The entrance to Hiro’s workroom looks to be guarded by some sort of computer system,” she said, pointing at a screen attached to the wall.  “When we were here before, it was just a keypad.”

Melody approached the monitor, inspecting it.  It seemed at first to be non-operational, but soon powered up as she came close to it.  After a few flashing messages indicating that it was indeed a security system, the screen changed to show Melody’s face.

“Hmm… the monitor must have a camera in it,” she mused.

As she continued to examine it, the camera began to project a grid of light onto her face, seemingly analyzing her.  Though she expected nothing would come of it, she stood still until the computer finished its scan.

Identity confirmed: Melody Braxton.  Access granted.

With a click, the door to Hiro’s workroom unlocked, granting them entry.

“Wow, wasn’t expecting that,” Melody said.

“You think Hiro changed the security systems of purpose?” Nadir asked.

“Got to be.  Hiro is ever aware of his surroundings; some would go so far as to say paranoid.  Everything he does is calculated and with a specific purpose.  If his computer recognized me, it’s because Hiro wanted me to come in here.”

Now inside his workroom, they began to search the various tables scattered throughout the large room for any indications of what may have happened.  There were no signs of a struggle, and Nadir found no trace of Kimiko’s energies, at least not from the last twenty-four hours.  However, upon reaching Hiro’s large computer at the back of the room, Nadir picked up on something.

“Melody, look here.”

She watched as Nadir flooded a spot next to the computer chair with magical energy, illuminating it in a yellow light.

“What is that?” Melody asked.

“Concentrated magical energy, specifically from Kimiko.  She was in this spot not even three hours ago.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense.  There was no trace of her energy anywhere else in the room.  Why would she have been only in this spot?”

“I am… unsure.  However, the amount and concentration of energy is more than would be accumulated from her merely standing still here for an extended period of time.  Kimiko flooded this spot with her power on purpose, doing so in such a way that we would be able to trace it,” Nadir observed.

“That must mean… there’s something here she wants us to see!” Melody realized.

Almost as soon as she finished speaking, a button on Hiro’s computer began to flash, beckoning to be touched.  Melody pressed the button, activating the computer.  After it powered up for a few moments, a recorded video of Hiro began to play on the monitor.

“Hello, Mike and Melody.  If you are seeing this message, it means that something has happened to either Kimiko or me.  I am sure you are wondering why you were allowed entry into my workroom.  You are well aware of my careful nature when it comes to my security and privacy, particularly in regards to the magical world.  The revelation of your existence has caused me to reevaluate what steps are necessary to ensure Kimiko’s safety into the future.  I have always feared that some magical creature would appear to threaten us in some way, and thus have never been the trusting kind.  However, I trust both of you implicitly.  I cannot say for sure what may have happened to us in the time since this recording, but Kimiko has been given specific instructions to leave you a trail of some kind should anything happen to us.  She said that you would know what that meant.  Mike, Melody, I know that you will not let us down.”

“Wow, seems his paranoia has some merit,” Melody said.

“Indeed.  Still, if Edward is in fact connected to all this, I am having difficulty reconciling these events,” Nadir replied.  “After all, his power is far greater than that of Kimiko’s.  What possible need could he have of her?”

Melody pondered for several minutes before offering, “What if… what if it’s not about Kimiko?”

“How do you mean?”

“You said it yourself, Edward has no need for Kimiko’s power.  But he might need Hiro’s genius and technological prowess.  What do you think?”

Nodding, Nadir said, “It is as good a theory as we have at this point.  Now, what next?”

“Didn’t Hiro’s message say that Kimiko would leave clues of some kind as to what may have happened?  We should probably look for those.”

“Ah, yes!  Well done, Melody,” Nadir replied.  He began to reexamine the area of concentrated magic Kimiko had apparently left behind.  “It seems she wants us to concentrate on this spot.  Or perhaps she was standing here and unable to move, resulting in this being all she was able to leave for us.”

“Definitely possible with Edward’s power.  Hey, wait a sec…” Melody said, staring at the glowing magical residue on the floor.  “This… almost looks like it’s trying to form a picture of something, doesn’t it?”

“Now that you mention it, I believe it does,” Nadir said.

Melody drew her scimitar and began to carve the outline of the spot on the floor.  It was wider than if Kimiko had simply been standing, and rather strangely shaped.

“Whatever she was doing, it was definitely on purpose.  This is way too intricate to be an accident… there, done,” Melody said.

“Interesting… what does this look like to you?”

“I don’t know… it’s long, got a couple of feet, and two… what are those?  Sails?  Could it be a ship of some kind?”

“I doubt it,” Nadir replied.  “If it were a ship, the rest would look far more like a boat, I would wager.  It almost looks like one of those things… those special bridges humans build to span great distances.  What are those called again?”

“Oh!  A suspension bridge!” Melody answered.

“Yes, that is what it appears to be.  A suspension bridge.”

“You know, I think you may be right.”

“What would such a drawing signify?”

“I don’t know… maybe it’s a clue as to where Edward is taking them?” Melody pondered.  “Let’s see… we know Edward’s end game is this ‘Great Cataclysm’ mentioned by Persephone.  Something large-scale that would kill countless innocent lives.  Not only would that grant him the powers of the Antichrist, but also it would position Edward to become a powerful world leader in the aftermath of such a disaster.”

“But what does a suspension bridge have to do with all of that?” Nadir asked.

Melody’s eyes went wide in horror as she put the pieces together.  “It means… Kimiko is telling us where Edward plans to strike.  The most famous suspension bridge in the world, even after two centuries, still stands in San Francisco, California.  The Golden Gate Bridge.  San Francisco is one of the largest and most heavily populated cities in the world, not to mention a symbol of American power.  An attack against it would not only kill the requisite innocents Edward needs, but it would also be a highly visible tragedy, making it all the easier for him to seize power in the aftermath.”

Nadir was speechless at Melody’s summation of her thoughts.  “Would he… really do such a thing?”

“No doubt in my mind.  He’s a complete psychopath.”

“Then we haven’t much time…”

*****

“Sloppy!  Predictable!”

Mike assaulted Michael again and again, using the enhanced strength and speed he had begun to perfect through the armor.  Yet nothing managed to penetrate his defenses.  Mike could tell that he was now not holding back, refusing to go easy on him even for a moment.

“Weak!” Michael shouted, blocking another of Mike’s blows with his shield.  “You have at your disposal one of the ultimate powers the universe has ever known, yet you have not the creativity to use the full strength it possesses.  Such techniques will not best me, and they will not best the Antichrist!”

“Well then, how ‘bout this?”

Mike back flipped away from Michael before leaping high into the air, aiming to land full-force on top of Michael.  The archangel managed to evade his attack, but was still thrown to the ground by the sheer force of his blow as it cracked the floor of the arena.

“Still… not good enough.”

Dammit!  Guess I’ll have to get more creative, but how?  Let’s see… Michael said that the armor’s power is only limited by my imagination.  Let’s find out just how much imagination I’ve got.

Mike racked his brain, combing through his memories throughout his life that might assist him in this fight.  Coming upon a few that he felt would be useful, he concentrated his efforts on the armor, summoning up the raw spiritual energy from within that Michael had mentioned to him.  Focusing the energy into his sword hand, Mike managed to charge the Sword of the Spirit with this energy, illuminating it in a bright blue light.

“Most interesting…” Michael remarked.

“What can I say?  I’m a Star Wars nerd at heart,” Mike replied with a smirk.

Mike resumed his assault, swinging his sword with pinpoint accuracy.  First striking at Michael’s legs, his blows were deflected by his wings, however Mike could still tell that the force of the attack was much greater than before, causing Michael to stumble backwards a bit.  He next targeted Michael in an overhead slash and was met by his shield.  Mike’s sword glanced off the surface of the shield, but left a singed slash mark behind.  Finally, he began a furious frontal assault on Michael, attacking him from every direction.  Michael dropped his shield and gripped his claymore with both hands to better respond, blocking and counterattacking when he could.  Still, the speed and precision of Mike’s attacks made it difficult for Michael to do much more than keep up in those moments.

“Most… impressive… but now it’s time… for your final test!”

As their swords locked between them, Michael threw Mike back with a blast of wind from his wings, landing him on his back.  With a moment of breathing room, Michael now began to glow with an ethereal light as he drew more power from within himself.  Mike watched in awe as Michael began to transform himself with this power.  Gone was the polite, suited man he had first met, replaced with this being of immense strength.  It seemed as if the light of God Himself radiated from Michael, so intense that his leather armor had been discarded.  As he finished his transformation, he now stood before Mike, completely nude and without weapons or armor, yet more fearsome than ever.

“Woah… now this is what I think of when I hear the word ‘Archangel’.  Just… incredible,” Mike marveled.

“Indeed,” Michael replied, his calm yet powerful voice echoing throughout the entire area.  “You now stand before my perfect warrior form.  Though you have no hope of defeating me whilst I am this form, you can manage to hold me at bay, with the proper use of the armor, of course.  Now, prepare yourself!”

As Michael extended his wings, Mike could tell that they were far larger than before, spanning more than fifteen feet.  Taking flight into the air surrounding the open arena, Michael accelerated to a blinding speed, assaulting Mike with a barrage of his missile-like feathers.  Mike summoned his shield and began defending where he was able to while evading where he was not, but soon realized that he would be a sitting duck on the ground.  Rolling away from another of Michael’s projectiles, Mike sprinted across the arena, trying to build up enough speed and concentration.  At last, as he neared the edge of the arena, Mike leapt high into the air, taking flight at the same speed as Michael.

“Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” he cried in exhilaration.

“Be wary that your confidence does not turn to cockiness,” Michael warned.

Michael started for him, charging a large amount of energy in each of his hands.  Before Mike could think to retaliate, Michael engaged him in fisticuffs, attacking him with his energy-encompassed hands.  Mike gasped in surprise as he was hit by the first couple of blows, but managed to block the next three with his shield.  With a moment’s respite, Mike took off at top speed, trying to come up with a strategy to equal Michael’s immense power.  However, Michael was swiftly catching up to him, even at Mike’s top speed.  Unsure of why he could not fly faster, Mike suddenly had a realization.

“Oh, the sword!  Duh!  Holding it makes me less aerodynamic.”

Mike looped around to reverse directions, throwing Michael off just enough to give him time to speed up.  Sheathing his sword in the scabbard on his back, Mike now found that his top speed was far easier to reach.  Still, Michael remained in hot pursuit, peppering the air around him with energy blasts and feather missiles.  As he began to approach Mike once more, Mike decided this time to go on the offensive.  Focusing his efforts on his hands, he cloaked his fists in blue energy, just as Michael had done before.  When Michael was near enough, Mike slowed his speed, putting himself in Michael’s face, much to the archangel’s surprise.

The pair engaged in another bout of fisticuffs, being much more evenly matched this time with Mike using a similar energy technique as Michael.  As they traded punches in midair, Mike continued to allow the armor to enhance his strength, speed, and reaction time.  For a while, he felt quite good that he was managing to go toe-to-toe with the most powerful angel in all of Heaven.  But that feeling was shattered when Michael’s eyes began to glow with increasing intensity.  The surge of power Mike could feel from him was incredible, almost as much as when he had first transformed.  Managing to grab Mike’s wrist with one hand, Michael struck back before he could retaliate, blasting him square in the chest with a bolt of lightning from his off hand.  Mike fell to the ground like a stone, his chest smoking from the impact of the lightning, landing with a loud thud.  Picking himself up from the crater he had created, Mike was still amazed that through all of this, the armor had held up brilliantly, never tarnishing or allowing him to feel any pain.  Still, Mike knew well that he would have to come up with something big if this fight was going to turn out how he needed it to.

Holy shit, he’s strong, and now he’s using LIGHTNING?!  There’s got to be a way to counter that.  Let me think… Melody mentioned that her training allowed her to control the element of water.  Maybe the armor can allow me to control the elements too?

Rolling to the side as he dodged another volley of feathers, Mike broke into a sprint and took to the air once more.  He quickly retaliated with a blast of his own energy, managing to graze Michael’s wing in the process.  Despite the hit, his wing smoked only for a few moments, healing itself back to full strength.

Knew it couldn’t be that easy…

“THAT was unwise!” Michael boomed.

“Oh crap…”

Mike brought up his shield, defending against a furious assault of projectiles from the Archangel, blocking and evading as quickly as he could.  As he did so, Michael closed the distance between them, again managing to grab hold of Mike by the wrists.  Michael again began charging an enormous amount of power within him, just as he had before.  This time, however, Mike was ready.

Ok, here it comes.  Just got to… counter it… somehow… come on, come on, come on!

As Michael’s eyes began to glow, he again unleashed a bolt of lightning into Mike, one even more powerful than the first one.  But as soon as he unleashed his attack, Mike managed to tap into the power of the element of earth, changing his entire body into solid rock.  As a result, the lightning passed harmlessly through him, being grounded out by his new molecular composition.

“Haha!  It worked!” Mike shouted.

“Incredible…” Michael marveled.

Before Michael could strike back, Mike forced his wrists free of his grip and punched him in the gut several times, stunning Michael and giving Mike the separation he needed.  As Michael recovered, Mike changed his body back to normal before concentrating on the element of water.  After a few moments, he unleashed a torrent of water from his hands, blasting Michael and soaking his wings.  This slowed him down for a moment, but the Archangel only needed a few seconds to flap his wings a high speed to dry them.

“You must do better than that,” he warned.

“Oh, I plan to.”

Michael again charged for Mike, who managed to evade by turning intangible through the armor.  As Michael passed through him, Mike turned to face him and summoned up a small tornado around Michael, tossing him higher into the air for several seconds before he managed to break free.  Mike could tell that Michael was growing frustrated with these delay tactics as the archangel charged once more.  This time, he left his backside exposed, allowing Mike to attack his wings again, freezing them with a blast of ice.

As Michael paused in midair, trying desperately to thaw his wings out, Mike focused all of his efforts on combining more than one element at a time.  Just as Michael managed to shed the sheet of ice on his wings, Mike engulfed him in a swirling vortex of wind and fire.  Michael was not able to break out of this as easily as he was the tornado from earlier, almost burning himself in an attempt to escape.  He continued to struggle with the fiery tornado before he finally managed to dispel it with several powerful flaps of his wings.  However, just as soon as he broke free, Michael heard movement from above him.

“Take this!” Mike screamed, plunging his sword towards Michael.

It was all Michael could do to block the attack with his wings at the last instant, however this delivered Mike’s trump card all the same.  As soon as his wings made contact with Mike’s blade, Michael felt an intense surge of electricity flow through his body.  In the time Michael had been struggling with the flaming tornado, Mike had managed not only to tap into the power of lightning, but also to charge that power into his own sword, allowing for a powerful, concentrated attack.  Michael attempted to recover, but Mike’s attack was too much, weakening the Archangel more with each passing moment.  Having had enough, Michael released himself from Mike’s blade and fell to the arena floor, exhausted and depleted of energy.  As he opened his eyes, Mike stood over him, sword in hand.

“Yield,” Michael breathed.  “Verily, thou art worthy of the Armor of God.”

Smiling, Mike sheathed his sword on his back and extended his hand, helping Michael to his feet.  As he stood, Michael’s form changed back to his modest, suited form that Mike had first met, hiding his true power once more.

“I’m assuming you were still holding back some, right?” Mike asked.

“But of course.  I did not wish to obliterate you, after all, merely test you.  If I had wanted to destroy you, nothing you could do would stop me.  Still, that was most impressive, managing to tap into every element so quickly, even combining them as you did.  That creativity will serve you well in your battle to stop the Antichrist.”

“So is it just that simple?” Mike asked.  “Use the armor to stop Edward?”

“Not so much,” came a voice behind them.

“Lord Jesus, good to see you.  I can say with honesty that Mike is more than capable of using the armor’s full power,” Michael said.

“Like we ever had doubts,” he replied with a sly grin.  “But to answer your question, Mike, the armor will allow you to combat him, but not destroy him.”

“So what’s the endgame if it won’t allow me to destroy him?”

Jesus chuckled.  “The goal in all this has never been to destroy Edward.  He’s protected by Lucifer, after all; outright destroying him, while not impossible, would be unproductive, as it would likely wipe out most of Earth’s population in the process.  No, the target is not Edward himself, but his connection to Lucifer.”

“I don’t understand,” Mike said.

“As Jesus explained before, Lucifer’s attempts to house his power inside of Edward have created a special bond between the two of them,” Michael began.  “As long as this bond remains intact, Edward will steadily progress towards becoming the Antichrist, the human form of Lucifer.  However, if we disrupt this bond, Lucifer will no longer be able to use Edward for his purposes.  Even if he were to attempt to bond with another potential Antichrist, he would have to start the entire process over from the beginning.”

“Ok, so I’m trying to separate Edward from Lucifer’s power, preventing him from drawing on it, is that right?”

“Precisely,” Michael replied.

“But there are still some complications,” Jesus said.  “The armor will have to be at maximum power for it to be capable of severing their connection.  That charging process can take about ten minutes or so.  In additon, while the armor is charging, the sheer amount of power it takes in will cause residual damage to everything in the immediate vicinity other than the wearer.  This means that you will need to get Edward alone before we can even begin charging the armor to prevent innocent bystanders from being caught in the crossfire.”

Sighing, Mike replied, “Ok, guess I’ll have to think on how to do that.  Where do we stand on his progress towards absorbing Lucifer’s full power?”

“As far as we can tell, he still sits at roughly the same power level as when you and Melody first encountered him.  This, I believe, supports our theory that he’s planning something big to try and get him the rest of the way,” Jesus answered.

“So I’ve got to get him one-on-one before it gets to that point.”

“Indeed,” Michael replied.  “Now that you have passed my tests and proved your capabilities with the Armor of God, we can send you back to Earth to rejoin your wife in this struggle.  Are you prepared?”

Nodding, Mike said, “I am.”

“Awesome,” Jesus replied happily.  “Don’t forget: even on Earth, the armor will allow you a constant line of communication to Michael and Myself.  If you need anything, we’re here for you.  Good luck, Mike.”

*****

“Selena!  We’re back!” Melody said.

“Melody!  Were you able to find anything in Japan?”

“We were.  As you feared, it seems that Edward has captured Hiro and Kimiko.  Where are the other council members?” Nadir said.

“This way.”

Selena led the way up to Farzan’s personal chambers.  Upon arriving, Melody was puzzled at finding Salim, Ardashir, and Farzan each sitting on the floor, apparently in a deep trance of some kind.

“Are… they ok?” Melody asked Selena, afraid to disturb them.

“Oh, they are fine,” she replied with a smile.  “What they are doing is attempting to become one with their respective elements.  In doing so, they may be able to discern Edward’s location, if he is in contact with one of those elements.  It is a difficult feat, but they are more than capable.”

“I believe we should wake them,” Nadir said.  “We have information that may be helpful to their efforts.”

“Of course.”  Selena clapped her hands twice, snapping the three men back to reality.

“Ah, welcome back, my friends,” Farzan said.  “Were you successful?”

“Somewhat,” Nadir replied.  “We believe that Hiro and Kimiko have been captured by Edward, but for what reason we are still unsure.  However, Kimiko did leave behind a clue to try and help us find them.  I understand that you are attempting to track Edward by becoming one with the elements.  Try focusing your efforts on the area of San Francisco, California.”

“San Francisco?  Why there?” Ardashir asked.

Melody shook her head.  “No time to go into detail.  Just trust us when we say that’s where we think Edward has taken them.”

As the kings slipped back into their trances, Nadir joined them, attempting to find any trace of Edward, Kimiko, or Hiro.  After about five minutes of silence, Ardashir began to breathe rather heavily.  He held his hands out in front of him, reaching as if he was searching for something specific.

“I believe… I have found him,” the elderly man whispered.

“Really?  Where?!” Melody said.

“Shh, be calm,” Selena whispered to her.  “This is a delicate process.”

“Oh, sorry,” Melody said, quieting down.

“Hmm… most interesting,” Ardashir said, continuing to reach out.  “Ah, there you are.  You thought you were hiding, didn’t you?”  The Council of Four returned to reality, each looking towards Ardashir.  “I have found him,” he said.  “Edward Baldwin is currently not in San Francisco, but rather is sheltered beneath the city, about two-thousand feet underground.”

“Underground?  What would he be doing down there?” Salim wondered.

“It’s got to have something to do with whatever he’s planning,” Melody said, her fear growing in her voice.  “Regardless, it doesn’t matter at this point.  How soon can we get there?”

“I’ll lead the way,” Ardashir replied.

*****

“Come on, Hiro, chop chop!  We haven’t got all day!” Edward sneered.

“Fucking bastard,” Hiro muttered under his breath.

“What was that?” he said.  “I’d watch that tongue of yours, boy.  We wouldn’t want some… unlucky accident to befall poor Kimiko here, now would we?”

Edward relaxed on a plush sofa in the underground cavern, supervising Hiro as he worked and keeping a tight grip on the chain attached to Kimiko’s neck.  Glancing back and forth between the two of them, Edward couldn’t help but admire Kimiko’s exquisite form.  Though he usually preferred his girls more curvaceous than she was, Kimiko was still possessed incredible proportions.  Her skin was the perfect shade of peach, and her hair, though tussled from struggling against him, was still a soft, silky texture.

Yes, she’s quite nice, I must say.  Her tits aren’t anything special though… but that face… very lovely.  I’ll have to have a go at her once this is all said and done.

“Are you quite finished yet?” Edward called down to Hiro.

“Almost done.”

Hiro continued to labor on the machine in front of him.  Edward had managed to create the basic shell and parts for it himself with his powers, but needed someone with the technological know-how to actually bring it into operation.  Hiro knew damn well what the finished product was capable of, and longed to find a way to sabotage it.  But with Edward holding Kimiko hostage, as well as reading Hiro’s thoughts to ensure his full cooperation, there was nothing he could do at this point to slow him.  Installing the final parts, he tested them out to confirm that the connections were secure.

“There.  It’s finished,” he said with resignation.

“Excellent!” Edward replied with glee.  “Now then, I have some important work to do.  You two just sit tight; I’ll be back for you later.”

“Listen, Baldwin.  I’ve done what you asked-”

With a snap of his fingers, Edward silenced Hiro, causing both him and Kimiko to disappear in a burst of flame, sending them to a holding cell deeper within the cavern.  Now alone, Edward marveled at the incredible piece of technology that Hiro had helped to assemble.

“Magnificent… a thing of beauty, wouldn’t you agree Master?”

Indeed.  It will serve our purposes brilliantly.

“Far be it from me to question you, Master, but would it not be easier to take command of this realm more directly?  After all, throughout their entire history, the one thing humans have understood… is brute force.”

Oh, ye of little faith.  You shall realize very shortly that my instructions to you shall not only give us dominion over the Earth physically, but spiritually as well.  All of these pathetic followers of an archaic deity, they will have nowhere that they can hide.  All shall know me as their savior, and you as my prophet, or they shall know the true meaning of fear…

“Of course, Master.  Please forgive my question.  I simply wished to confirm that this is the best course of action.”

Indeed it is.  Now, enough delaying; begin charging the weapon.

“At once.”

*****

“Are we sure this is it?” Melody asked.

“I am positive,” Ardashir said.  “Not only has my connection with the element of earth confirmed Edward’s presence below us, but also we cannot descend through ordinary means; it seems Edward has erected another barrier beneath the ground here to shield himself.  The only question that remains is, how do we get through?”

Melody, Selena, and the Council of Four pondered this question for several minutes.  They stood in the center of downtown San Francisco, concealed magically so as not to draw attention from passersby.  Despite every idea they came up with, each method they used to try and penetrate Edward’s barrier met with disappointment; everything they were capable of bounced off.

“It is no use,” Selena said.  “His power is not of this world.  It is beyond us.”

Before they were able to come up with any further ideas, the group was startled by a sudden tremor shaking the ground.  It started small at first, so small that the native San Franciscans hardly even noticed.  However, after it continued for several seconds, growing with intensity and strength all the while, it became evident that this was no ordinary earthquake.

“Something’s not right here,” Melody said.  “Ardashir, can you trace the epicenter of the tremors?”

After steadying himself, Ardashir placed his hands on the ground, feeling every subtle movement of the rocks beneath them.  “Oh dear… it is right below us!”

Soon the ground began to crack around them, opening up a fissure in the city streets.  The fissure grew deeper and deeper, until it was impossible to see the bottom.

“Wait a minute… this is it!  We can get down there this way!” Melody shouted in realization.

“Perfect!” Farzan agreed.  “Everyone, ready your weapons.  We must presume that Edward is anticipating some sort of retaliation.”

Arming themselves, the group dove into the chasm before them, falling as fast as they were able.  As they neared the bottom, Nadir whipped up a gust of wind to slow their descent for a safe landing.  Now in a spacious underground cavern, Melody noticed how similar it felt to the abandoned junction station she and Mike had first encountered Edward in.  Aside from the lack of train tracks, the rooms were identical, right down to the torches lining the walls.

In the center of the room stood a machine of some kind.  The base was a wide cylinder, maybe ten feet in diameter and five feet tall, and on top of the base sat a dish of some sort.  Upon further inspection, it became clear that this machine was the epicenter of the tremors San Francisco was experiencing.  As Melody approached to try and shut it down, an invisible force flung her back, landing her square on her ass.

“Ow!” she yelped.

“You pathetic gnats should realize by now that I’ve planned for every contingency,” Edward said with a laugh, appearing from a nearby tunnel.

“You bastard!” Melody shouted, leaping for Edward.

Before she could even come close to him, the entire group found themselves trapped within an enormous flaming pillar.  The fire was so intense that even Salim had to keep his distance to keep from being burned.

“So this is your endgame, Edward?  Kill thousands of innocent people under the guise of an earthquake?” Selena spat at him.

“That is part of it, yes, but the true beauty of my master’s plan is so much greater than that,” Edward began to gloat.  “As you can see, this sonic agitator device is generating the longest and most powerful earthquake San Francisco has ever experienced.  When it’s all said and done, the entire city will be reduced to rubble, giving me the required kills to absorb my master’s full power.  Ah, but that is merely the beginning, my friends.

“This is not only about killing as many innocent people as possible.  This is also about creating a void in this world, one that will cause the survivors to cry out in desperation for leadership and guidance.  You may or may not be aware, but the President of the United States is currently in San Francisco, hosting a summit of all of the world’s greatest leaders.  The British Prime Minister, the various leaders of the European Union, even the fledgling Pan-Asian Alliance leaders, all are present in the city above us.  They will soon be dead.  In the midst of such a tragedy, the entire world will be in mourning, and in need of a great leader to unite all nations under one banner, so that humanity may rise from the ashes of this tragedy.  I, of course, will be that man.”

“You disgust me,” Melody seethed.

Laughing, Edward summoned up a flaming cloud, displaying the carnage that was taking place above them.  “Look at it.  It’s glorious.  Not only the destruction and death, but also… the humans.  Humanity tries to portray itself as civilized, God-fearing, and intelligent, but when faced with such a tragedy as this, they are exposed as the animals they truly are.  This is what God created them to be; this is their natural instinct.  This is why… you humans are meant to serve the almighty Lucifer.”

Melody couldn’t stand the images she was seeing.  In the midst of the earthquake, several street gangs had taken the opportunity to loot the local shops and businesses.  A few of their members even began to chase several of the girls and women caught in the carnage, attempting to rape them.  The police, for all of their efforts, had enormous trouble helping those in danger from the earthquake as well as those in danger from the looters.

“Like I said… glorious,” Edward said, seeing the pain in her eyes.

Wiping the tears from her face, Melody managed to reply, “No.  You’re wrong.  We humans may not be perfect, but we are more than what you want to reduce us to.  We still possess a spirit of kindness.  We still try to be the best we can, no matter how many times we fail.  We still have the power to choose our own path in life.  If you don’t believe me, look for yourself.”

Looking at the images of San Francisco, Edward couldn’t believe his eyes.  The leaders of the street gang had turned on the lower members of their gang.  Young men who had always described themselves as gang-bangers began aiding people in trouble, freeing a shop owner trapped under a pile of rubble, helping a young mother pull her child out of a storm drain the boy had fallen into.  Despite all his efforts, Edward watched as the worst situation imaginable brought out the best that humanity had to offer.

“How sweet… if only their efforts weren’t futile,” he hissed.  “They are only delaying the inevitable.”  Turning to his group of captives, Edward said, “I don’t know what you hoped to accomplish by coming here today, but you must realize by now that your lives are over.  Such foolishness… siding with a pathetic god that does not even claim you as one of his creations?  Out of mercy, I offer a single chance to the five of you,” he said to Selena and the Council of Four.  “Pledge your allegiance to Lucifer and his will, and your lives will be spared.  Refuse… and your execution shall commence.”

The Jinn did not even need to confer.  Speaking for them all, Selena replied, “Our allegiance is to all humanity.  Their safety and wellbeing has always been our primary concern.  Your silver tongue cannot fool us; your evil intentions are clear.  We would rather die than serve with a monster such as you.”

Sighing in understanding, Edward said, “So be it.”

With a wave of his hand, Edward separated Melody from the group, pulling her into a separate pillar of fire.  “For you, my dear, I have something far worse than death in store.  You shall bear witness to the coming of the mighty Lucifer, and will watch as all mankind declares him to be their lord and savior.  As for your friends…”

Edward snapped his fingers once, causing the flaming pillar to begin to close in around Selena and the Council.  They clustered together in the center, trying to push back with every ounce of magic they could muster, but to no avail; the flames only grew hotter by the second.  One-by-one, they fell to their knees, beginning to collapse from the sheer intensity of the heat.

“No… no…” Melody mewed, watching in horror as her friends began to be engulfed.

Tears began to stream down her cheek, but still she refused to look away; if her friends were to die, she would watch their final act of courage without fear or regret.  As it seemed like their deaths were imminent, and the group had become little more than shadows within the flaming column, a loud crack of thunder boomed through the cavern, and a bolt of lightning struck from the hole leading to the surface.  Every occupant of the cavern was blinded by the sheer brilliance of the lightning bolt.  When she opened her eyes, Melody knew what her eyes saw, but could hardly manage to form the words from her lips.

“M… Mike?”

Smirking, he replied, “Who were you expecting?  Superman?”

With his witticism, she knew full and well it was really her husband.  “Mike!  Selena is trapped in there, she needs your help!” she shouted, pointing to the flaming pillar.

Drawing his sword from his back, Mike ran directly for the pillar, beginning to charge his sword with an enormous amount of energy.  As he began to approach, a shout came from the other side of the cavern.

“Not so fast!”

Edward tried to stop his momentum, erecting a flaming wall between Mike and pillar.  Mike was undeterred, lowering his head and charging straight through the wall without even breaking a sweat.  Arriving at the pillar, he swung his sword, firing off a disc of blue light that landed inside the base of the flames.  The disc began to glow before firing off a torrent of water straight upward, dousing the flames and freeing Selena and the Council.  Mike approached and extended his hand, helping a coughing Selena to her feet.

“You alright?” he asked.

“Took you… long enough…” she replied.

“Hey, I gotta make an entrance!”

Edward approached the group, laughing and applauding sarcastically.  “Well done, well done indeed.  A noble and valiant effort, to be sure.  Not that it matters; there is nothing you can do to stop what I’ve set in motion.”

Smiling right back at him, Mike replied, “We’ll see about that.”

From behind him, Farzan said, “We need a plan of attack.  The Council may be able to contain that machine, if you can buy us some time with Edward.  Selena, you must find Hiro and Kimiko.  Get them to safety.”

“I will,” she replied.  “Be careful, my love.”

“Of course,” Farzan said, kissing her sweetly.

As Selena ran down a nearby passage to look for Hiro and Kimiko, Mike turned to Farzan with a sly look in his eye.

“My love?”

“Later,” Farzan replied with a chuckle.

*****

Hiro sat on the floor of the dark cage, his head hung low.  He could feel the tremors being created by the machine he had helped to assemble, and knew innocent people were dying because of him.  Thoughts of doubt and guilt began to creep into his mind.  If only he’d anticipated better.  If only he had been stronger and able to refuse Edward.  If only…

“Hiro?  Are you ok?” Kimiko asked, sitting beside him on the ground.

Words escaped him; he could only shake his head no in reply.  Feeling his distress, Kimiko wrapped her arms around his neck and laid her head on his shoulder.

“Hiro, you must not blame yourself.  None of this is your fault.”

“I helped him, Kimiko!” he exploded in anger and frustration.  “I helped that bastard, and now people are dying because of me!”

Kimiko was undeterred.  Placing her hand on his chin, she turned him to face her and asked, “Then why did you do what you did?”

Hiro trembled, replying, “Because… I love you.  I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I had let him harm you.”

“And I love you.  Master, you can do no wrong by me; you have made the right choice as far as I am concerned.”

“I’m sure others would disagree with you…”

Sighing, Kimiko said, “There is nothing you can say that will make you believe me in this moment.  Still, that does not change my feelings for you.”  As her face began to move closer to his, she continued, “You are my perfect man.  I do not weep for what Edward forced you to do.  I marvel at your resolve to ensure my safety above all.  No matter what happens to us, nothing will cause me to love you any less than I always have.”

Hiro was breathless at hearing her words of devotion.  Gazing into her large brown eyes, he felt his guilt and shame begin to recede for the moment.  Though Kimiko was dirty, naked, and her silky black hair in a tousled mess, she had never looked more beautiful in all his life.  Overcome with emotion, tears began to stream down his face as he moved closer to her.  After what seemed like an eternity, he met her lips with his own.  Hiro savored their kiss more than he normally did, tasting the slight almond flavor of her supple lips.  Kimiko returned his affections, throwing her body into his to lay Hiro on his back.

Breaking from him, Kimiko said, “I’m sorry.  I know you love my submissive nature, but in this moment, I find that I have never desired you more than I do right now.  I must have you.  I… I do not know what Edward plans to do to us.  He may be on his way to finish us off right now.  I just feel that I must show you, one final time, how much you mean to me.”

Kimiko ran her hands down Hiro’s chest, tracing the outline of the Japanese character on his t-shirt.  Arriving at his jeans, she kissed his belly button as she lowered the zipper.  His erect, six-inch cock was soon exposed, as Hiro had developed a habit of going commando since meeting Kimiko.  After pulling his pants off of his legs, Kimiko brought him to full attention with a few gentle strokes, kissing his tip a couple of times for good measure.  She crawled her way up to straddle him, lying on his chest to bring them face-to-face.  Hiro’s cock began to twitch at feeling Kimiko’s firm and perky B-cup breasts graze across his chest, her hard nipples poking him through his shirt.

Still pressing her chest firmly against his, Kimiko guided her sopping wet entrance to his cock, grinding against his length to get him lubricated.  She soon sat up and held his cock straight up with one hand, positioning herself to take him into her.  Hiro caressed her hips and breasts with his hands, savoring every moment of their time together.  Her warm face, gorgeous breasts, soft skin, everything about her was perfect, right down to the small tuft of black hair marking the top of her pussy.

Hiro smiled as Kimiko descended onto his cock, her tight womanhood milking him for everything he was worth.  She kept her pace moderate and steady at first, savoring every bit of him just as he did with her.  Soon, their passions and emotions began to boil over.  Hiro sat up straight and wrapped her in his arms, exploring her stomach and breasts with his tongue as she continued to fuck him.  Kimiko began to squeal with delight as he flicked her nipples in his mouth, her cries of ecstasy echoing through the cavern.

Kimiko continued gliding along his shaft, running her hands through Hiro’s hair all the while.  Cupping his face in her hands, she tilted his head up and kissed his lips, probing his mouth with her tongue as they made love.  He responded with a playful smack on her ass, eliciting a muffled yelp from Kimiko as they kissed.

“Oh!  Oh yes, spank my ass, Master.  You know I love that.”

“You mean this?” Hiro asked with a grin, beginning to slap her butt cheeks, alternating between each hand to keep her primed.

“Yes, yes!  Just like that!”

Kimiko’s movements soon became more labored and passionate.  She pushed Hiro back down onto his back and began riding his cock at top speed, her magnificent breasts jiggling all the while.  Hiro helped the process by grabbing her hips and thrusting upward as best as he was able, keeping time with her pace.  Normally, he could go for hours at a time, but Hiro didn’t want that today; he only wanted to love her, to join with her for what could be the last time.

The couple soon felt their orgasms building, resulting in Kimiko shifting to quicker, shorter strokes, jacking his cock with her pussy.  Hiro’s eyes rolled back into his head at the sensation, knowing he would not be able to hold back for more than a few seconds.  Still, he managed to keep his eyes open, not averting his gaze from Kimiko’s for even a moment.

“I love you… Kimiko.”

“I love you too,” she replied with a smile.  “Now, I think it is time you show me how much you love me.  I know what you need, and what you need is to cum inside my tight little pussy.”

Slipping past the point of no return, Hiro groaned, “If… you insist,”

Leaning forward while continuing her milking of his cock, she whispered into his ear, “I do insist.”

That did it; Hiro could stand no more.  With a guttural moan, his long-awaited orgasm erupted, spewing rope after rope of cum into Kimiko’s awaiting pussy.  She squealed and panted in bliss as her orgasm began, triggered by Hiro’s explosion within her.  The pair savored every second of their dual climax, their hands gripping each other as they rode out the last waves of pleasure.  Finally, Kimiko collapsed, lying on Hiro’s chest as she caught her breath.  They said nothing, but simply smiled at each other, kissing tenderly for quite some time.

Their bliss was soon interrupted by the sound of their cell door being kicked open.  On instinct, Hiro rolled Kimiko onto her back and attempted to shield her with his body, anticipating that Edward was there to finish them off.  However, he was surprised to hear a sweet, feminine laugh behind him.

“How very romantic.”

Turning, he saw that a tall, gorgeous woman with raven hair and mocha skin had joined them.

“Selena?  Is that you?” Kimiko asked.

“Indeed it is.  I know you two are having a moment, but if you are agreeable, I am here to rescue you,” she said with a giggle.

“How did you get in?  I thought Edward’s cell was impenetrable,” Hiro asked.

“Let us say that Edward is a bit preoccupied right now, and has had to divert his power away from the two of you,” Selena replied.  “Still, we haven’t much time; I’m getting you two out of here, right now.”

*****

Before Edward had time to react, Mike was barreling straight for him, sword at the ready.  Edward barely managed to draw his katana in time to defend against Mike’s furious melee, blocking his first several strikes.  As their blades locked, Mike took advantage of the opportunity by blasting Edward in the face with a shot of spiritual energy from his left hand, throwing him back against the wall of the cavern.  This broke his concentration enough to cause the flaming barrier still trapping Melody to begin to falter, the fire flickering and growing less intense.  With a moment’s concentration, Melody managed to extinguish the last of the flames with a few swipes of her scimitar.  She readied her weapon and rushed to her husband’s side to aid him.

“Glad you could make it, baby,” she said with a grin.

“You kiddin’ me?  I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

In the meantime, the four King Jinn had gathered around the sonic agitator, attempting to find some way to shut it down.  Though Mike and Melody were distracting Edward, he still had enough power diverted to protect the machine, preventing the kings from gaining access to it, even with their most powerful magic.

“This is hopeless!” Salim moaned, striking with his flaming spear.

“We cannot give up!  There is too much at stake!” Farzan replied.

“If we cannot penetrate Edward’s protections, could we do something about the sound waves the machine is emitting?” Nadir wondered.

“Of course!” Ardashir exclaimed.  “If we cannot stop this weapon, we can at least contain its effects!”

“Alright then, Nadir, you are with me.  Salim, Ardashir, keep us covered,” Farzan said.

Salim and Ardashir stood on either side of the weapon, facing outward and preparing to fend off any attack on Farzan and Nadir.  As they approached the ceiling of the cavern, it became obvious that Edward had cast some manner of protection on the cavern walls itself, preventing the entire room from collapsing as the weapon fired sonic waves through the hole in the ceiling.  The two kings prepared themselves, as what they were about to attempt would take an enormous amount of magic and willpower.

“Nadir, I will go first and attempt to slow the sound waves to a manageable level.  Once I’ve done that, can you handle the rest?” Farzan asked.

“It will be my pleasure.”

After charging his power for several seconds, Farzan transformed the column of sound waves into an area of dense water, extending from the dish of the weapon and up into the hole in the ceiling.  He strained with the sheer power of the machine, but after a minute or two managed to keep the water consistent enough that the sound waves had slowed considerably.  Further, the waves were beginning to lose momentum early in their journey, resulting in a dramatic weakening of the tremors in San Francisco.  Still, the weapon continued to fire, and Farzan knew he had only bought them a moment’s respite.

“Nadir, it is your turn!” he shouted.

“Alright, charging now!”

As Nadir began to ready his power, Edward broke off from his bout with the Braxtons in time to notice the large column of water extending through the roof of the cavern.

“What the bloody hell?” he seethed, trying to figure out what their plan was.

Melody attempted to reengage with him, but was tossed aside as Edward took to the air in an attempt to stop Farzan and Nadir.  But as he drew close, Ardashir conjured up an enormous stalagmite to block his path.  Still, Edward remained undeterred, and summoned up enough strength to plow through the rock with his bare hands.

“Is that the best you can do, you senile old man?!” he shouted.

“You will NOT speak to King Ardashir in such a manner!” Salim roared.

Salim immediately charged a large amount of magic in his spear, clenching it tightly in his fists.  At first Edward was prepared for a frontal assault from him, but Salim instead pressed the spearhead against his chest.  Upon doing so, the Chinese dragon tattoo that wrapped around his torso began to glow in a bright orange light.  Edward thought it may have only been an illusion, but he could have sworn that he saw the dragon blink.

“I only bring my pet out to play on special occasions.  You should feel honored, Baldwin,” Salim called out.

As he finished speaking, the dragon burst into flames, coming to life and jumping off of Salim’s body.  The enormous flaming serpent took flight, targeting Edward with an intense stream of fire.  Edward was forced to retreat, and attempted to circle around the room to take on Farzan and Nadir from a different angle, but the dragon followed him all the while, encircling the two kings to ensure their protection.

“That’s it, I’ve had enough!” Edward seethed in rage.  “Time to fight fire with fire!”

Edward’s eyes began to glow with an intense red light as he prepared for his attack.  Taking in a deep breath, he exhaled an enormous fireball as big as the dragon itself.  The creature took a direct hit, roaring in pain as the flames around it began to disperse.  Flying forward with his katana in hand, Edward pierced the throat of the dragon, causing him to disappear from view, reappearing on Salim’s chest as a harmless tattoo once more.

“Now you’re mine!”

Edward careened towards Farzan and Nadir, preparing to take them out once and for all.  But just as he was about to reach them, a sharp object sliced him on the leg, causing him to yelp in pain.  Turning around, he saw that Mike had thrown his sword, grazing his thigh before it became lodged in the ceiling.

“Nice trick,” Edward said with a chuckle.  “Bet ya can’t bloody do it again!”

“Challenge accepted!” Mike shot back.

Mike’s sword began to glow bright blue, shaking and grinding against the rock it was lodged in.  After a moment, the sword flew out of the ceiling, again flying straight towards Edward.  He managed to defend with his katana this time, but was driven back nonetheless, back flipping in midair as he blocked the sword.  Turning as it passed him, he now saw that Mike was controlling the weapon’s every movement, as it was circling around again for another pass.  Beginning to fly at high speed to put some distance between him and the sword, Edward took off in the opposite direction.  Still, Mike maneuvered his weapon with skill, continuing to track Edward’s every movement.  Having had enough, Edward again decided to fight fire with fire, flinging his own sword towards Mike’s, causing the two blades to clash in the air in a complete deadlock.

“Sorry, love.  Looks like a stalemate,” he scoffed down to his rival.

“NOW!” Farzan shouted.

Nadir released an enormous amount of magic from his staff, having been given the time he needed to prepare.  As he waved his weapon, the column of water containing the sonic blasts disappeared, seemingly turning to nothing but air.  Mike and Melody were confused as to what he had done, and Edward began to laugh at his apparent victory.

“That’s it?!  That’s all you got?  Pitiful!” he gloated.

Floating up to meet Farzan and Nadir, he happened to pass through the area directly above the weapon.  Though Edward was now confident of his success, he began to notice that something was not right; he had to rely on his powers to keep from suffocating in this area.  As he exited, he racked his brain to try and figure out what had happened.

“What is wrong, Baldwin?” Farzan asked.  “Is your feeble mind unable to comprehend how we have shut down your efforts?”

“It really is rather simple,” Nadir agreed.  “First, Farzan lowered the strength of your machine’s sonic blasts by forcing them to travel through an area of dense water, reducing the amount of damage they were capable of doing.  In their weakened state, it was child’s play for me to stop them altogether by turning the space they traveled through into a complete vacuum.”

“Fucking arsehole…” Edward seethed.

“Oh, don’t forget!” Mike called from the ground.  “You know that sword of yours, the one locked with mine?  Well, it’s about to win its fight.”

Snapping his fingers, Mike’s sword disappeared, reappearing in its scabbard on his back.  Edward’s katana, on the other hand, continued on its original trajectory, thrusting itself almost straight down.  Before Edward could stop it, the sword had already landed on the cavern floor, stabbing the sonic agitator clean through and rendering it inoperable.  The sonic blasts came to a halt, and the tremors in San Francisco above finally ceased their destruction.

“No…” Edward whispered in disbelief.

The King Jinn gathered together once more, joining Mike and Melody on the ground and expecting Edward’s eventual retaliation.  Though the four rulers were apprehensive and anticipating the worst, Mike’s quiet confidence seemed to radiate from his very being, quieting their minds and preparing them for anything.

“You do realize how much I hate having my carefully laid plans disrupted,” Edward sneered, landing on the ground.

“Still as cocky as ever,” Mike mused.  “Yeah, you had every reason to be cocky at our first meeting; you were clearly out of our league.  But now, I think you know you’ve met your better.  I can take anything you can throw at me, and dish it right back, and I think that scares you.  For the first time in your miserable life, you, Edward Baldwin, are afraid.”

Picking up his sword, Edward was about to charge forward and take them out before they could do any more damage to his plans.  But his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming from the passage to his left.  As he turned his eyes, he saw Selena emerge from the passage, Hiro and Kimiko in tow.  Seeing his prisoners freed was the last straw; Edward was now pissed beyond belief.

“Such an inconsiderate girl,” he growled at Selena.  “You took something that belongs to me.  I’ll have you know that I was very much looking forward to spending some quality time with that girl you have there.  Looks like I should teach you a lesson… in RESPECT!”

In the blink of an eye, Edward hurled his katana at Selena, intending to stab her in the chest with it.  His throw was so fast that Mike could not react to it in time, even with the assistance of the Armor of God.  Farzan, however, had anticipated Edward’s actions from the moment Selena emerged with his prisoners.  Mustering every last ounce of speed he had, it was all he could do to race to Selena’s side and push her out of the way before the katana could harm her, face-planting her on the ground.

“Gah!  Holy shit!” she gasped, her body now trembling with adrenaline.  “You are quite something else my… love?”

Looking up, Selena was horrified at the sight before her.  Her beloved Farzan stood in stunned silence, Edward’s katana having run him through directly in the heart.  He struggled to speak, but as his mouth moved, only blood flowed from it.  The sword flew from his chest and back into Edward’s hand, and Farzan hit the floor hard.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” Selena cried, rushing to her husband’s side.

“Baldwin!  Get back here!” Mike screamed, charging straight for Edward.

Facing his adversary, Edward defended a furious onslaught from Mike, being forced to give ground, yet still defending against his sword strikes with ease.  Laughing entire time, he at last somersaulted backwards, disappearing in a burst of flame.  As he vanished from view, the only trace of him that remained was his sinister laugh, still echoing through the cavern.

“Farzan… oh my dear Farzan, please hold on,” Selena pleaded, cradling his head in her lap.  “We will get you out of here, the waters of our home will heal you.  Just please… do not give up…”

Despite her reassurances, every effort she made to try and teleport them back to the Palace of the Water Jinn failed; the entire cavern still seemed to be protected by Edward’s power.  As she was about to scoop him into her arms and carry him to safety, Farzan stopped her, and placed a hand softly on her cheek.  Feeling his life force fading, she allowed him to draw her face close, kissing his lips with every ounce of love she had to give.

“My… love,” he choked out.  “Our people… look… to you… now…”

Wearing his signature smile, Farzan exhaled his final breath, his arms falling limp to the ground.  Finally still, the pendant he wore around his neck began to glow with a faint blue light.  It soon vanished, reappearing around Selena’s neck, symbolizing her new rank as ultimate ruler of the Water Jinn.

“No…” she whispered in disbelief.  “You… cannot die.  You cannot!  I love you!  You have done what no other was capable of and shown me the happiness I thought was gone from my life!  Do not show me such love only to abandon me!  Please!”

“Selena…”

A strong hand held her on her shoulder as she wept on her husband’s body, gripping him with every muscle in her body.  After several moments, the hand tried to help her stand, but she resisted, throwing herself back at Farzan and refusing to let him go.  As the individual continued, she turned and attempted to punch the person, only to find herself locked in the arms of Mike Braxton, hugging her with everything he had.

“I’m sorry, Selena,” he whispered to her.  “He’s gone.”

Staring into his eyes, tears streamed down her cheeks as she spoke.  “Please!  God has granted you ultimate power, so you must use it!  Bring him back; do not allow this to happen!  Mike, I beg of you!”

He brushed her hair out of her face, a sad look in his eyes.  “I… can’t.  Selena, it’s true that God has blessed me with incredible power with this armor, but no human has any power over death itself.  If I could, believe me when I say that I would, no hesitation.  I’m so sorry.”

Selena’s lips quivered in realization as it finally set in that Farzan could not be revived by any power or magic available to them.  Collapsing to her knees, she wept for what felt like years, all while her friends gathered around her and laid their hands on her in support.  Despite all the magic they possessed, it was all they could do…

*****

You will explain how this happened!

“It is regrettable, Master, but-”

Not regrettable.  PATHETIC!  You had everything prepared, yet still managed to fail me in the most embarrassing way IMAGINABLE!

“That is not my fault!  Neither of us could have foreseen that damned armor!  This is clearly the work of Jesus!”

Of course it is the work of Jesus!  What do you take him for?  A FOOL?!

“No, never would I do such a thing.  I realize that this is a setback, but I wish to impress upon you, Master, that the day was still not a complete waste.”

Yes, yes, you managed to kill one of those magical creatures.  I hardly think it will matter in the long run.

“Far more than that, mighty Lucifer, I followed one of your greatest commandments.”

And that is?

“Strike for the heart.”

Hmm… you have learned much since I first revealed myself to you.

“Indeed, Master.  Though they have won a temporary victory, their spirit and faith is shattered.  I doubt they will ever be able to fight as one again, certainly not like they did today.”

I believe you still underestimate them… but we have more urgent matters.  You are still short of the requirements to absorb my full power.

“Quite true, but as I said before, the day was not a complete waste.  The weapon still managed to kill hundreds of humans.  I am closer now than I ever have been before, and it would not take much to allow your full power to take hold.”

What are you saying, Baldwin?

“The time is now.  We must mount a full-scale attack on San Francisco.  Most of its citizens that survived the earthquakes remain trapped in the center of the city, making them easy targets.  In addition, the world leaders were unable to escape.  Do you not see, Master?  Everything we hoped to accomplish with the weapon can still be achieved!  All I need… is to command your army.”

What?!  You wish my forces to obey the command of a HUMAN?!

“Please, give me command of the terrible beasts.  Their power will be more than enough to give rise to the Antichrist, as well as cause the world to cry out for a wise leader to help them rise from such a tragedy.  It is perfect, do you not agree?”

Hmm… very well.  Prepare a sacrifice with which to summon the beasts.  I give you my elite battalion, and the armor to lead them with.  Wear the helmet at all times, so that you may conceal your true identity.  After all, the world would not so willingly accept the leader of this attack as their new ruler in its aftermath.

“Of course, Master.  It will be done.”

Be wary, Baldwin, for if you fail me again, I tell you truly that my patience will have run dry.

“Master, by this time tomorrow… all the Earth shall bow before Lucifer’s power.  This I swear.”

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