A Bridge Between Worlds - Chapter 10

A Bridge Between Worlds - Chapter 10

A Bridge Between Worlds Ch. 10

Word soon spread to the four tribes of the Jinn, bringing news of the death of King Farzan.  In the Palace of the Water Jinn, all the leaders of all the tribes had gathered together to bid farewell to their fallen friend.  The courtyard was filled to capacity, and many additional spectators lined the walls and parapets of the palace.  With all eyes on the funeral procession making its way to the central tower, the crowd fell silent as Salim, Nadir, Ardashir, and Mike escorted Farzan to the front as his pallbearers.  As they arrived, they placed his shrouded body on the platform in front of the staging area.  After shaking hands with the kings, Mike joined his wife to the side as Salim stepped up to the podium.

“King Farzan the Wise, more was he than simply a great ruler,” Salim said, beginning his eulogy.  “He genuinely loved his people with all of his heart, and the people of all the tribes of the Jinn as well.  He cared for each individual as if they were his own family, from his most trusted advisors, all the way down to the simplest of servant genies.  All were beloved by him.

“Far more than that, Farzan was the most loyal friend the world has ever known.  I remember, over four thousand years ago, the moment I learned that my father, King Mohammed, had been killed in the Sorcery Wars.  I was, understandably, beside myself with grief.  Yet, I had no true opportunity to mourn my father’s passing, as the mantle of King had passed to me, and my people required strong leadership so that my father’s sacrifice would not be in vain.  I did the best that I was able to, but I was not ready for the power that had been thrust upon me.  I was too young, too naïve.

“Enter King Farzan.  This man who, if faced with the most terrifying dragon history had ever seen, would simply smile back at it.  He had decided to take me under his wing.  He was under no compulsion to do so, yet nothing brought him greater happiness than helping me to understand and anticipate the needs of my people during those trying times.  We worked together, trained together, lead together, and laughed together.  Though we had differences in regards to various philosophical topics, none of this could ever break the bond we had built together.  I am honored to have known him, as my best friend.

“Make no mistake, my friends, that the entity who has murdered our beloved King Farzan still lives, and still seeks to do more harm.  But we cannot, we shall not give in to fear!  Our world now faces the greatest threat it has ever seen, one that seeks to destroy it from the inside out, and subjugate Humanity to its will.  If we give in to fear… we betray Farzan’s memory.  If we give in to hate, we betray Farzan’s memory.  I have heard the rumblings from some of you that this fight is not our own, that the humans must deal with this problem themselves.  But I say to you today, if we retreat into ourselves out of fear… then everything Farzan fought and died for will be in vain.  That is not something I will allow.  The world needs us, my friends.  Humanity needs us.  Farzan understood this better than any of us.  Therefore, we must follow his wise leadership, one last time.”

As Salim stepped down from the podium, the crowd erupted in thunderous applause, beginning to chant Farzan’s name.  Salim moved over to the pyre holding Farzan’s body and removed the shroud covering his remains.  He then took his place at one of the corners of the pyre, with Nadir, Ardashir, and Selena standing at the other corners.  Each illuminated their hands in magical energy and lit each corner in fires of red, green, yellow, and blue, each representing the four tribes of the Jinn.  As the flames moved towards his body and began to mix in the center, their combined powers caused the fire to begin to glow white, appearing to purify Farzan’s body.  The fire came to life, leaping forth from the pyre and encircling the brass pillar in the center of the courtyard as they traveled towards the night sky.  At last, as the pillar was engulfed, the four rulers lifted their hands skyward and sent the fire into the heavens, scattering Farzan’s remains across the Rub’ al Khali.  Once the flames were gone, all were amazed to see that the central pillar had been transformed into an enormous brass statue of King Farzan, his radiant smile shining for the entire world to see.

“Goodbye… my love,” Selena whispered, shedding a single tear.

*****

Hiro sat in his temporary quarters, Kimiko at his side, stroking his shoulders gently.  Though her efforts from earlier had begun to alleviate his guilt and shame from helping Edward’s plan, the death of King Farzan had only served to bring those feelings back stronger than ever.  He blamed himself for all of this suffering, for all those that now felt pain and fear due to his involvement.  A quiet knock soon came at his door, but he paid it no mind.  After a moment, Kimiko stood and went to answer it.

“Hiro?” a sweet voice asked.

Looking up, he replied, “Melody?  What are you doing here?”

“I came to check on you.  I’m… worried about you.  About some of the things Kimiko has told me you’re feeling.”

Again hanging his head, he said, “Oh, it’s nothing, just the fact that I helped the Antichrist.  No big deal.”

Sitting on a soft cushion as Kimiko rejoined Hiro on the bed, Melody said, “Hiro, you need to realize that this wasn’t your fault.  Edward did those things, not you.”

“I enabled him.”

“Yes, you did, because he forced you to.”

“I could have been stronger!” Hiro shouted in anger.  “I… what should I have done?  Sacrificed Kimiko and myself to save thousands?  I wish that I had been… strong enough to do that.  But I wasn’t.  I’m a weak, spineless, pathetic excuse for a man!  And now, to top it all off, a King Jinn has died because of me!”

“King Farzan chose to put himself in harm’s way.  He did so because he knew he was one of the few with the power to stand against Edward, and he did so of his own accord.  Edward is to blame for his death, not you,” she reassured him.

“You don’t get it.  People say I’m smart, that I’m a genius.  But I couldn’t come up with some way to sabotage his plans,” Hiro continued.

“Because he was reading your thoughts,” Melody reminded him.  “It wouldn’t have mattered how intelligent a person he had captured, Edward would have known the instant they tried anything to circumvent his will.”

“I still should have done something.  I still should have found a way to stop him, even if it was to give someone else the opening they needed.”

Melody flashed her signature megawatt smile.  “You did.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, Hiro… have you already forgotten?” Melody asked with a giggle.  “You knew that you and Kimiko might become targets one day, so you had a contingency plan ready.  You instructed her to leave a trail for Mike and me to follow in the event that something ever happened to the two of you.  That’s exactly what led us to Edward, allowing us to stop his plans.  You did that, Hiro.  You.”

“Me?”

Leaning forward, Melody’s face turned rather serious.  “Hiro, listen to me.  Mike and I know probably better than anyone about unwinnable situations.  Every person, whether they realize it or not, will at some point be faced with a problem where there is no clean way out of it, no right answer.  No matter what choice we make in such a situation, something bad still happens.  You faced such a situation with Edward.  Mike faced such a situation within his own heart when he first released me from my vessel.”

“What do you mean?” Hiro asked, his mood beginning to brighten a bit.

“When Mike first released me, I was exactly what you’d expect from a servant genie: kind, warm, and completely subservient.  My only desire was my master’s happiness.  While many individuals like such a relationship, Mike felt quite different.  He recognized that, no matter how it was presented, our relationship was still one of a master and a slave.  This violated one of the principle tenants of his conscience and his faith: enslaving an intelligent, living being is wrong, no matter the situation.  I’m sure you’re aware of how religious Mike is in his personal life, so I doubt this surprises you.  As such, his first question was to ask if he was able to grant me my freedom.  This conversation went just as it does for almost every master and genie servant.”

Hiro nodded in understanding.  “The only freedom that can be granted is from one particular master, not from servitude altogether.”

“Precisely.  For most masters, this is the end of the conversation, and they end up keeping their genies, some out of selfishness, but others out of a desire to ensure that their genies do not end up in the hands of a cruel master.  But for Mike, this alone was not enough.  He still refused to view me as a slave, no matter what my instincts told me.  The only thing he wanted me to be was his companion and equal partner.  His wish was for me to gain free will, as much as was possible for me to gain.  If I wished to serve him and give him the greatest happiness, as I always have, then I was to be his equal in all things.”

“It sounds like he made the perfect choice,” Hiro mused.

“Actually… he didn’t, which is the point I’m trying to make.  Mike was in a situation where he could not avoid doing some kind of harm.  If he frees me to absolve himself from participating in my enslavement, he potentially dooms me to a life of pain and hardship at the hands of a cruel master, not to mention the evils that a man like Edward Baldwin would have done with my powers at his command.  But in keeping me, Mike became a willing and knowing participant in my enslavement.  Even with the free will he wished for me, that participation still existed, and that weighed on his mind throughout his entire life.  In his heart of hearts, he believes he still did wrong, even by choosing the lesser of two evils.

“Forgive me for rambling, Hiro, but my point is this.  It is a good thing to feel guilt for participating in a horrible act, even when you had no real alternative.  Guilt means that you have a heart and a conscience, but you should never feel shame.  You did not choose the situation; Edward forced you into it.  He is the shameful one, and the one guilty of the greatest evil.  But you aided him only to save a loved one.  You have already begged Kimiko for forgiveness for your actions, and asking for forgiveness is exactly what has already absolved you of your guilt.”

“You know this?” Hiro asked, surprised.

“Of course!” Melody said with a grin.  “I do have a personal friendship with the Son of God Himself.  I get how He operates.”

“Huh… a genuine desire to be forgiven… it really is that simple?”

“I know, I felt kinda dumb the first time I realized it too,” Melody said with a wink.

As the trio erupted in laughter, Hiro’s mind was put at ease.  He knew he had a long road of recovery ahead, but he knew at least that the worst was over.  A part of him wanted to try to join the fight against Edward, but deep down he knew that would not ease his conscience.  Instead, he resolved to move to San Francisco once it was safe to leave the Palace of the Water Jinn, devoting his life to helping all those affected by the tragedy he had participated in.  He would do good, live humbly, and above all, he would cherish every moment with Kimiko.  If he could accomplish that, perhaps even he could one day be saved.

*****

“Mike, I must thank you for acting as a pallbearer tonight.  That should have been my place, but I am in no condition for such a role,” Selena said.

“It was my pleasure.  Any strength I can lend, I’m happy to,” Mike replied.

“We will need much of it,” she muttered.

The pair walked in silence for a few minutes, neither knowing what to say to the other.  Soon, Mike spoke the only words he could think of.

“We will stop him, Selena.”

“That is not my concern at this point,” she replied.

“What do you mean?”

We are not the ones tasked with killing Edward Baldwin.  I am.”

Mike sighed.  He had been afraid of this.  “Selena, I promise you that Edward will be stopped, but he cannot be beaten by a blind act of revenge.”

“He murdered my husband!” Selena spat.  “There is only one response to that!  You may be God’s champion, but you know NOTHING of our laws!”

“Perhaps not,” he said quietly.  “But may I share with you a saying we humans have on revenge?”

“Very well.”

“Before setting out on a vendetta, one must first dig two graves.”

Snorting, Selena replied, “Do you think you can scare me?”

“Not trying to scare you.  Just telling you the truth.”

“I have every expectation that I will die in this, but I shall take Edward Baldwin down with me,” she seethed in anger.

“And what if that’s exactly what he wants?”

“What… do you mean?”

“You heard his laughs as he ran away from the battle.  He intended to kill you, but he knows damn well the potential impact of Farzan’s death on us.  He’s counting on a splintered response bent on vengeance, rather than victory,” Mike replied.  “If you go after him alone, you play right into his hand.  No, if we want to prevent the End of Days, we must surprise him.  We have to respond with resolve, honor, and unity, just as Salim said out there.  Nothing else will give us any chance of success.”

Selena pondered his words for several moments, working to comprehend everything he had told her.  Her heart began to soften the slightest bit, knowing that Mike was correct.  Despite this, she still desired to watch the life leave Edward’s eyes, her hand clutching his throat as he drew his final breath.  As she was about to reply, the pair was thrown off balance by a sudden rumbling in the palace.

“What was that?!” Mike asked, bracing himself against the wall.

“I don’t know, be we had best find out…”

*****

“Ah, there she is…”

Edward glided through the night sky, approaching the Palace of the Water Jinn.  Though Persephone’s powers had been removed from her, he could still sense her presence in the high prison tower to the east.  Landing just below the window, he gripped the sill and peaked into the prison.

There’s Persephone.  Only one guard?  It’s like they want me to break her out…

Chuckling to himself, he summoned up a mass of concentrated energy in his palm, detonating it into the brass wall of the palace.  The entire structure rumbled from his entry; he would have to be swift to accomplish a clean extraction.  Stepping into the room, he saw the solitary guard on his back, bruised but still breathing.  Noticing the intruder, the guard attempted to reach for his scimitar.

“Please, don’t get up,” Edward said, stabbing the guard in the chest before he could reach his sword.

Looking up from the rubble of her shattered prison cell, Persephone couldn’t believe her eyes.  “Master!  You’ve returned!  Oh, I knew you would return for me, I just knew it!  These swine tried to turn me against you, but they are blind to your true potential, Master.”

“It is a blessing to see you again, Persephone.  Now that we are reunited, my master’s vision can be realized.  Are you ready?”

“More than ever,” she replied longingly.

“MURDERER!” came a shout from the entrance of the room.

Turning, Edward was now faced with Selena and Mike, both readying their weapons.  Mike was his usual calm and collected self, but Selena had a look of pure rage on her face, just as he had hoped for.

“What’s wrong, love?  Did I hurt your boyfriend?” he taunted.

“Allow me to show you!”

“Wait, Selena!  Don’t!” Mike cautioned her.

Selena charged straight for Edward, attacking him with every sword technique she had ever learned.  He just laughed off her effort, evading and blocking with ease and kicking her to the ground after a few attempts.

“You really miss him, don’t ya?  Want to see him again?” Edward asked.

As a sinister smile engulfed his face.  Selena closed her eyes, bracing herself for impact, but was surprised to hear Edward’s blade strike against something hard.  Opening her eyes, she saw Mike between her and Edward, blocking his sword with a glowing blue shield.

“No,” Mike said.  “Not her.  Not today.  You have done more than enough evil, and I won’t stand for any more of it.”

Chuckling, Edward replied, “Ah, just as well, then.  I’ve got a date with destiny!”

Disengaging from Mike, Edward scooped Persephone up in his arms and took flight into the night sky, flying across the desert at top speed.  Selena picked herself up and fired off several blasts of energy in his direction, hitting nothing but air.

“COWARD!  COME BACK AND FACE ME!” she roared.

“Save it, Selena.  He’s gone,” Mike replied.

“We must go after him!”

I’m going after him; I’m the only one with a chance of keeping up,” Mike corrected her.  “I’ll track him down, and relay the location to Melody once I know where he’s headed.  In the meantime, get the Council together and ready your forces.  I have a feeling we may need them.”

“Very well,” Selena replied, watching as Mike took to the air.

*****

Edward and Persephone flew at top speed over the Pacific Ocean, the sun beginning to rise in the distance.  They had flown throughout the night, and were nearing the western coast of the United States of America.  Using the Golden Gate Bridge as a guide, Edward spied his destination: Alcatraz Island.  Over a century ago, it had been used as a prison for the worst criminals imaginable.  However, it’s troubled history resulted in it being shut down and turned into a museum, at least until World War III.  At that time, the island was gutted and transformed into a state-of-the-art training facility for the U.S. Marine Corps.  The troops that came out of their training on Alcatraz were considered some of the most feared and efficient warriors in the nation, resulting in the opposing Russian effort to bomb Alcatraz, leveling the island to nothing but a patch of dirt.

“Yes, this will do nicely,” Edward said as he landed on the deserted island.  “Alright, my dear, down you go.”

Persephone steadied herself on her feet, kissing Edward sweetly on the cheek.  “My hero,” she swooned.

“Persephone, do you still love me?” Edward asked.

“Without end, Master.”

“And do you still wish to serve me to the fullest extent of your abilities, even in your powerless state?”

“With every fiber of my being, Master.”

“Good,” Edward replied with a smile.  “Persephone, all the pieces are in place for our final gambit.  The great Lucifer has granted me access to enormous power, the power to command his forces, and the most terrifying creatures of Hell in the process.”

“That is wonderful!” she beamed.

“Indeed it is.  However, in order to access this power, Lucifer first requires… a sacrifice.”

“What sort of sacrifice, Master?”

“A… willing sacrifice.  The summoning will only be successful if the tribute gives their entire mind, body, and soul over to Lucifer.  Persephone… I want you to have this great honor.”

“Me?” she said, gasping in surprise.

“Yes.  It will of course mean that our time together is at an end.  But it will also be the catalyst that brings about the grand and glorious age we have dreamed of for the Earth.  What do you say, darling?”

Persephone didn’t even need a moment to consider.  “It would be my greatest pleasure, Master Edward.”

“Splendid!”

In these moments, Edward loved how he had managed to groom Persephone into the obedient, subservient woman she was.  It made decisions like this one all the easier.  Of course he would miss her beauty and feminine charms, but they were nothing compared to what his master would reward him with for his victory.

Persephone stood in the center of the island, awaiting her instructions.  In the meantime, Edward began using his katana to carve some symbols in the dirt.  Three large circles surrounded Persephone, placed at the points of a triangle, and within each circle was a rough drawing of a strange creature.  The first was a winged animal of some sort, the second a large serpent, and the third appearing to be a bull or steer.  As he finished the symbols, Edward looked up to the sky in the distance, feeling a powerful presence approaching.

“Looks like Mike is coming to crash our little party,” he mused.  “Too bad he’s far too late.  Are you ready, my dear?”

“I am.  Master, I thank you for having me as your servant all these many years.  Nothing has made me happier than doing your bidding and aiding you in accomplishing the will of the great Lucifer.  I know not whether we will see each other again, but I take comfort in knowing the wondrous things this world will accomplish with you as its leader.”

Smiling, Edward stood on a large rock overlooking the clearing in which Persephone stood.  Concentrating his full power on each of the symbols, he began to recite an incantation.

“From the depths of Hell, I call to thee, beasts of land, sea, and sky.  Commanded by the prophet of Lucifer, your master now am I.  My willing servant do I offer, a tribute to your mighty power.  Gladly, she gives her existence, bringing you life in her final hour.”

As he spoke, the ground surrounding Persephone’s feet began to crack, opening up around her.  Soon, searing hot flames began to form from the fissures, beginning to engulf Persephone’s body.  Through it all, she smiled, happy to be aiding her master one final time.  At last, the ground around her erupted forth, a mighty blast of flame swallowing her whole.  Despite her willingness, the pain she felt was unbearable; she was being burned alive before her descent into Hell.  Unable to bear the pain any longer, Persephone let loose a bloodcurdling scream and was drug through the hole in the ground, disappearing from view altogether.

“Obey me now, and hear my plea, we shall rule o’er these lands.  With your mighty wings, jaws, and horns, I shall reshape this world with my hands.  Soon, all Mankind will bow to us, worshipping my lord with their cries.  Come forth now, terrible beasts… Ziz, Leviathan, Behemoth, RISE!!!”

*****

Melody, can you hear me?

Sure can, Mike.  What’s up?

I think I’ve tracked Edward down.  He’s back in San Francisco, near… Alcatraz Island?  Wonder what he wants there?

No clue, but it can’t be good.  I’ll alert Selena.  We need to get the armies mobilized over there as fast as we can.  If Edward’s in San Francisco, it can only mean that he plans on finishing what he started.

Got it.  I’ll try to slow him down as best I can.  I’ll keep you posted.

As Mike neared the Golden Gate Bridge, a sudden explosion of power coming from Alcatraz Island stunned him.  Catching his breath, Mike was terrified at seeing three bright lights glowing from the island, one red, one yellow, and one blue.  Knowing that this had to be connected to Edward, he rocketed towards the tiny island at top speed, soon approaching from the sky.

“Baldwin!” he shouted, hovering over his adversary.

“Mike, good to see you!” Edward shouted with a pleasant smile.  “I was beginning to worry that you wouldn’t show… not that it matters.  The seal has been broken, and nothing can stop what is to come, not even you.”

“Seal?  What the hell are you talking about?”

“Hell is precisely what I am talking about,” he grinned.  “Watch.”

Mike now saw that the glowing lights were being emitted from three symbols Edward had drawn on the ground.  Before he could even try to comprehend what was happening, each symbol exploded, their light temporarily blinding him.  After rubbing his eyes, Mike was able to see once more, yet began to hope that what he saw was an illusion.  Before him were three terrifying monsters: a bird-like creature with the lower body of a lion, a long serpent, and an angry bull, each one as large as a house.

“Are you familiar with the terrible beasts of Jewish folklore, my friend?” Edward sneered.

“Matter of fact, I am,” Mike replied.  “You’re saying these are Ziz of the air, Leviathan of the seas, and Behemoth of the land?”

“I am indeed.  My master has granted me control over them, as well as his elite battalion of soldiers.  I am close… so close to fulfilling his vision and absorbing his power.  Today, I shall command his armies in glorious victory!”

As he spoke, hundreds of demonic warriors began to emerge from the large hole in the center of the island.  They ranged from foot soldiers with swords and shields, to snipers with spears and crossbows, and even to huge bruisers with clubs the size of school busses.  Every one of them had black, scaly skin that seemed to be scorched by the fires of Hell itself, save for their eyes, which burned with bright red flames.  As for Edward, his typical black dress shirt and pants began to burst into flames, engulfing everything but his face.  When the fires had receded, he now wore a set of ornate, black armor.  It appeared to be almost identical to Mike’s Armor of God, though with a stylized 666 emblem on the breastplate.  Finally, Edward placed on his head a horned helmet, covering his face and giving him a similar appearance to the Behemoth that stood behind him.

“Powerful as you may be, Champion of God, you cannot hope to stand against Lucifer’s mightiest warriors,” Edward jeered.  “Run away now, while you still can.”

“Sorry, not my style,” Mike replied with a smirk.

In a flash, Mike drew his sword and dove into the army before him, hacking and slashing at everything that moved.  The demons were strong, but could not withstand the sheer power of the Armor of God; they melted the moment they were hit by any one of Mike’s attacks.  As Mike continued his offensive, Edward strolled from the field of battle towards the beasts.

“Go!  The time is now!” he commanded them.  “Take as many lives as you are able to in the name of Lucifer!”

With a deafening roar, the beasts began making their way towards the remains of San Francisco.  Leviathan dove beneath the waters of the San Francisco Bay, gliding towards the shoreline.  Ziz took flight, latching onto Behemoth with its lion-like paws to carry it over the waters to the city.  Edward followed the trio, readying his sword to begin working his way towards becoming the Antichrist.

“Ah shit!” Mike cursed, seeing Edward getting away.

Fending off a few more soldiers, it was clear to him that their sheer numbers would soon begin to overwhelm his valiant efforts.  Leaping into the sky, he took off after Edward and the three beasts.

Melody, you there?

I’m here.  We’re making preparations; the armies should be ready to move out in twenty minutes or so.

Forget that.  Get anyone you can over here NOW!  San Francisco’s in serious trouble over here.

On it, just hang in there, baby!

By this time, Mike was nearing the shore.  Though he had lost sight of Edward, the sight of Leviathan emerging from the waters surrounding Fisherman’s Wharf captured his attention.  As it hissed and flailed about, the innocent bystanders on land ran for their lives, trying to find a safe place to hide.  A nearby police officer attempted to help direct them to safety, but was soon targeted by the beast, catching the man by the leg with its long, snake-like tongue.  The poor officer screamed in terror, trying in desperation to break free, but to no avail.  His nightstick had no effect on the monster, and he had dropped his service firearm in the chaos of the earthquakes from the previous day.

“Hang on!” Mike shouted, flying straight for them.

As the creature was about to toss the man into his mouth, Mike flew straight through the tongue, slicing off the tip with his sword.  Circling around, he then caught the officer, flying him to shore as Leviathan roared in pain.  Managing to stay out of sight of the beast, Mike landed with the officer in a nearby alleyway.

“You ok?”

“Wha… what the fuck… is that THING?!” the man stammered.

“No time to explain, officer,” Mike said.  “Right now, what you need to know is that something big is about to go down in this city, and a lot of people are going to die unless we act fast.  Do you know where more police are located?”

“Uh, yeah… some of my buddies are trapped in a bank about a block over from here.  Bunch of rubble is blockin’ the doors.”

“Show me.”

As they ran through the back alleys to avoid the gaze of Leviathan, Mike asked, “What’s your name, if I may ask?”

“Sargent Bob Riley.  You?”

“Mike Braxton.  Good to know you, Bob.”

“You too.  Ok, this is it.”

Arriving at a Wells Fargo, the front doors had collapsed just as Bob had described, trapping the civilians inside.  For Mike, of course, clearing the rubble was simple, allowing the pair entry.  Once inside the lobby, a group of police officers perked up.

“Riley!  You’re alive!”

“Yeah, thanks to this guy,” he replied, gesturing to Mike.  “Gentlemen, let me be frank.  Some serious shit is goin’ on right now.  Some kinda sea monster just attacked Fisherman’s Wharf, and a lot of people are gonna get hurt.  We gotta mobilize and get as many civilians to safety as we can.  Anyone hurt in here?”

“No, we’re all fine.  A few civilians are hiding in the vault, the rest of the building is empty,” replied a large black man.  “Captain Carl Winters.  Thank you for helping my Sargent, young man.”

“My pleasure.  Mike Braxton.”

“Mike!”

Turning around, Mike saw the unmistakable red wine hair of his wife.  “Melody, thank God you got here!”

Greeting her with a hug, Mike turned back to the officers.  “This is my wife, Melody.  She’s going to help y’all coordinate and get people to safety.  Don’t underestimate her; she’s basically as strong as I am.  Get as many citizens out of here as you can, she’ll cover you.  Understand?”

Though the men were having difficulty comprehending everything that was happening, they all nodded in agreement.

“What about you?” Melody asked.

“I’m going after Edward.  Where’s the Council of Four?”

“Should be arriving with the armies any second now.”

“Alright, I’ll meet up with them.  I love you, Melody.”

“I love you too.  Be careful.”

The couple shared a tender kiss before Mike left, prompting a chorus of whistles and cheers from the group of cops.  Mike saluted the men before exiting the building and taking to the sky once more.

Jesus, are you seeing all of this? Mike asked.

Sure am.  Edward’s not playing around.

And we can’t charge up the armor in a crowded city like this.  We need a way to lure him to a secluded location… any ideas?

Not at the moment.  Michael and I will think on that.  Let us know if you come up with anything.

Will do.

From his aerial vantage point, Mike could now see the three beasts spread across the city.  Leviathan was still ravaging the shore, destroying cars and buildings with every swipe of his massive tail.  Ziz was circling the city, scouting for potential victims, but seemed to be more cautious than the other beasts.  Behemoth had found the famed Steeps, bounding up and down the sloped roads with reckless abandon and goring any vehicle that dared to get in its way.

“Mike!  Over here!”

“Selena, there you are!”

Flying over to a nearby rooftop, Mike saw that the Council of Four had arrived, clad in battle armor and ready to assist however they could.

“What is the situation?” Salim asked.

“Ok, long story short, Edward released the three monsters tearing the city apart.  Priority one is getting as many people to safety as possible; Melody’s working on that.  The four of you need to find a way to shut down these beasts somehow.  As for me, I still have to track down Edward, and… oh shit.”

As he spoke, Mike saw Alcatraz Island in the distance.  The demonic army that he had left on the island had begun to ride towards the city, some on flaming chariots drawn by horses as black as the soldiers, while others rode on strange flying creatures resembling Pterodactyls.  As they approached San Francisco, Mike knew their time was short.

“Ok… that army you see there is straight from Hell itself, just like these monsters.  They’re strong, but not like Edward; they rely on their sheer numbers to try and overpower enemies.  Any thoughts on how to handle them?” Mike asked.

Ardashir chuckled.  “Why not fight an army… with an army?”

Above them, a portal of some sort opened in the sky, pouring out the soldiers from all four tribes of the Jinn.  Each one landed on a nearby rooftop, gathering with their units to prepare the plan of attack.  Mike was blown away by the sheer size of their forces, totaling over four thousand.

“Umm… that’ll work,” Mike replied.

“Good.  In addition, I have analyzed the strength of the beasts,” Ardashir said.  “They are strong, yes, but not as powerful as Edward would have you believe.  They have not one brain among them, relying on fear and intimidation to accomplish their goals.  A King Jinn, Selena included, would surely be a match for them.  I shall engage with Behemoth down there.”

“Flight is my specialty, so leave Ziz to me,” Nadir agreed.

“And I will handle Leviathan,” Selena said.

Chuckling, Mike said, “You guys are makin’ my job easy.  Just… ya know, don’t get killed or anything.  Stay in contact.  Here, take these.”  Holding out his hand, Mike used the armor to conjure up a set of earpiece microphones, allowing him to communicate with the Council of Four during the battle.

“We will,” Selena replied.  “King Salim, the armies are at your command while we do battle with these monsters.  Can you handle Lucifer’s soldiers?”

Gripping his spear, Salim grinned and said, “By day’s end, they will be crying at our feet.”

Smiling, Selena said to Mike, “Go.  Find Edward.  We can take care of this.”

“Alright then, I’m off.”

*****

Can all this… really be happening?

Samuel Bradley stood at the window, looking out from the top floor of the office building.  He was President of the United States, arguably the most powerful man on the planet, yet was at a complete loss as to what was happening and what to do about it.  Yesterday had started well enough, meeting with the world leaders that had traveled to San Francisco for this energy summit, discussing the best technological strategies to secure the future for their citizens.  They all were in excellent spirits, working through their differences and disagreements with grace and understanding.  It was more than he could have ever hoped for.

Better still, Sam’s wife, Chloe, had surprised him by coming to see him during their break.  He had thought she was home recovering from a recent surgery, but she had made his Secret Service agents hide her to surprise him at just the right time.  That, of course, was when disaster struck.  The largest earthquake California had ever experienced struck that afternoon, wrecking the city and killing hundreds of innocent people.  The building they were meeting in was strong enough to withstand the tremors, but parts of it had still collapsed, blocking every possible exit and stranding them on the top floor until help arrived.  Every other leader present could at least take solace in knowing that their loved ones were safe at home, but not Sam.  And now, to make matters worse, the world itself seemed to be coming to an end.  Looking out the window, he at first swore the monsters he was seeing had to be a horrible nightmare, but soon realized that there was no waking from this.

“Sam?”

“Uh, yes?” he replied, snapping back to reality.

“Dear, it won’t do any good to keep watching… that,” Chloe said, her smooth, sultry voice providing a calming effect.

Sighing, Sam said, “I know… I know…”

“Come on, handsome.  Let’s take a walk,” she smiled, grabbing his arm like he was her prom date.

Though the President and First Lady were in their early forties, it was no secret that they were still as hot for each other as when they were twenty-something newlyweds.  The tabloids had, on more than one occasion, caught Chloe grabbing Sam’s ass just as he was about to go on stage for a press conference.

The pair strolled across the large conference room, Sam speaking to the various world leaders and representatives lining the walls.  He stopped for a few moments to chat with the British Prime Minister, a close personal friend of his in addition to a fellow leader, and offered a few words of encouragement.  As they approached the door to the adjoining hallway, a large Secret Service agent stood guard at the door, eying them with intent.

“John, I appreciate your dedication,” Sam said to him, “but we both know that this floor is empty save for the people in this room and your men in the hallways.  My wife and I just need a change of scenery.”

John stood stone-faced for several long moments before opening the door for them.  “Ten minutes, Mr. President, then I come looking for you,” he cautioned.

“Thanks,” Sam replied.

Exiting the conference room, the couple passed a trio of agents as they walked, waving in acknowledgement to them.  The men nodded in reply, keeping a close watch on the pair the entire time.  As they turned a corner and left their sight, Chloe threw a look over her shoulder to ensure that they were alone before grabbing her husband’s arm and flinging him into a nearby office, locking the door behind her as she followed him.

“Chloe, this is hot and all, but not really the right time,” Sam protested.

“Don’t care,” she said with a naughty grin, pushing him to sit in the rolling desk chair in the disheveled office.

“Honey, seriousl-”

She silenced him with a passionate kiss on the lips, her tongue wrapping its way around his.  Chloe refused to hold back in all matters of sex, but in particular now, with the world coming to pieces before their eyes.  She intended to savor everything the man she loved had to give.

“You say something, Mr. President?” she purred as their lips parted.

Sam drew a sharp breath in; she knew damn well how sexy he found it when she started calling him “Mr. President.”  Hell, everything about her just oozed with pure sexiness.  Her luxurious chocolate brown hair was stunning in any scenario, whether it flowed down her shoulders for a night at the opera or was messed up and rumpled first thing in the morning.  Today, she had it done up in a tight, sexy bun, with just a strand or two free to outline her pretty face.  She wore a bit of faint eye shadow, but no other makeup to speak of, not that she needed it.  Even with the traces of dirt on her cheeks from yesterday’s quake, her lightly tanned white skin was still as gorgeous as ever.

“You’re evil,” he replied.

“And you love it,” she shot back.

Standing back up tall, Chloe straightened her black pencil skirt a bit before kneeling down in front of him.  She then unbuttoned her silky turquoise blouse, slowly revealing her lacy black bra.

“Little surprise I had planned for you yesterday,” she said.  “Figured I can still put it to good use.”

“But Chloe, we can’t-”

“I know, doctor’s orders.”

Unbeknownst to all but their most trusted friends and family members, Chloe had struggled for years with infertility.  Sometimes, Chloe wondered who had it worse: herself, or her sister, who had two children, but miscarried three times before their youngest was born.  Five days prior to Sam’s trip to San Francisco, he and Chloe had undergone IVF treatments, their third attempt.  The doctor ordered Chloe to have no sexual activity for a week, ensuring that nothing was disturbed from the procedure.  Having gone through this long and expensive process twice before, both had decided that this was their last chance; if it didn’t work this time, they would never be getting pregnant.

“Sam, just because the doctor ordered me not to have sex doesn’t mean I can’t spoil my wonderful husband,” Chloe said with a grin.  Lowering the zipper of his suit pants, she gently guided his hardening cock out from his boxers, brushing her fingertips along its length.

“But if someone hears us?”

“Um, we’re married.  Besides, I think the world knows how hot I am for you, so it’s not like this is an earth-shattering secret.”

Before he could protest further, Chloe wrapped her left hand around the base of his eight-inch cock, pumping him with the slightest amount of pressure.  The sight of her engagement ring traveling up and down his length was quite a stunning visual for Sam.

“Good God… you’re insatiable, woman.”

“Some things never change, Mr. President.”

Having now brought him up to full attention, Chloe parted her full lips and began to take his cock into her mouth.  She started slow, going only about two inches down before returning to the tip.  On the next circuit, she increased her path by an inch, and then another, and then another.  Her agonizing pace was driving Sam bonkers, keeping him aroused yet never putting him in danger of cumming too soon.  He ran his fingers through her thick hair, brushing a strand out of her face as she sucked him.  But the second she felt a slight bit of pressure on the back of her head, Chloe slapped his hand away.

“Nuh uh, you naughty boy.  I’m the one in control here.”

“Tease.”

“Oh, you want me to stop teasing you, Mr. President?  You want me to actually try and get you off?” she cooed.

“Holy shit, again with the ‘Mr. President’ bit…”

Jacking his cock with her hand, she replied, “Never gonna get old.”

Continuing her strokes at the base of his cock, Chloe resumed her sucking as well, keeping her mouth near his head.  Her motions were shorter and more precise, building his arousal to intense levels.  Sam gripped the armrests of his chair in a death grip; it was all he could do to try and stave off his explosion a little longer, but Chloe was on to him.

“You need to cum, Mr. President,” Chloe urged him.  “You need to cum in your wife’s mouth, and she’s going to swallow every last drop of you.  After all, we can’t have your cum get all over the place, showing the whole world just how much of a dirty… naughty… girl… I am.”

“Holy shit… holy shit… holy, holy, holy, hoOOOLY FUCK!!!”

Sam’s orgasm arrived in full force, seeming to shake his entire body in the process.  His cock shot spurt after spurt of hot, thick cum, coating his wife’s mouth and throat with his seed.  Chloe moaned in pleasure all the while, swallowing his seed and milking his engorged manhood for every last drop, until she was at last satisfied with her efforts.  Having spoiled her husband, she placed his cock back inside his pants and zipped him up, patting his groin for good measure.

“Just remember, you owe me Mr. President.”

Sam chuckled.  “That I do.”

Glancing around the office in his post-orgasm afterglow, Sam noticed something strange approaching the windows of the office.  As it drew closer, it appeared to be a person of some sort, wearing black armor and a helmet in the shape of a bull.  Soon, he realized that the figure wasn’t slowing down one bit.

“Chloe, get down!” he shouted, diving on top of her just as the windows shattered.  Shards of glass peppered the room, but neither occupant was hurt thanks to Sam’s quick thinking.

“Mr. President, what an honor,” came a muffled voice from within the helmet.

“Wha… what do you want?” Sam asked, his voice trembling in fear.

“The world, Mr. President.  I want the world.”

*****

Melody hacked and slashed with her scimitar, wounding several opposing soldiers in her frenzied attack.  Noticing a group of about ten or so approaching, she froze the ground and made the ice branch upwards, freezing their feet to the concrete.  One soldier from before had risen for another round, readying his sword to attack, only to find himself pinned to the wall courtesy of a barrage of icicle spikes flung in his direction.

“Ok, you’re clear!” Melody shouted.

A group of police officers emerged from the building behind her, escorting several dozen civilians down the street.  The officers had gotten word of a group of EMTs that had set up shop less than a block away, and were working to get the wounded to their location as fast as possible.  Captain Winters stood next to Melody, directing his men as they went.  As the last group of civilians was crossing the street, another of the soldiers recovered enough to attack.  Winters drew his service pistol as the creature advanced, firing three shots into the chest, but the soldier shrugged them off, continuing towards him.  He fired another two shots at the head, both of which struck the soldier’s scaly flesh.  The creature roared in pain, yet the bullets had left no mark or visible injury of any kind.  Just as Winters braced himself for the attack, Melody leaped between them, slicing the soldier’s forearms off with her scimitar.

“You ok Captain?”

“Yeah, I think so,” he said, panting.

“Save your bullets,” Melody advised.  “You’re better served to try and stay out of sight.”

“Got it.  At least we got the civilians to the shelter in time.”

“Yep, now you get in there yourself and stand guard.  They need you.”

“Will do.  How do we reach you if we need help?”

“Get on the radio,” Melody replied.  “I’ll be able to listen in.”  Seeing another group of soldiers approaching, she shouted, “Get in there, I’ll hold them!”

Captain Winters slammed the doors shut, barricading them from the inside as he did so.  Meanwhile, Melody fended off another frontal assault, this one far better coordinated than the last several she had faced.  She surmised that these things were learning her tendencies and were trying to adapt their strategies.  Encasing her scimitar in a jagged sheet of ice, she swung for the closest three soldiers, breaking their weapons in half as she attacked.  While they fell, another trio advanced, causing her to slip back into a defensive stance.  She managed to parry their attacks and drop the three, but was becoming surrounded by a growing number of soldiers.  Before she could develop a strategy to beat them, a loud cry came from the skies above her.

“YAHHHHH!”

The nearest soldier was impaled on a flaming spear, his remains crushed by the arrival of King Salim.

“You look like you could use some help,” he said with a wink.

“Eh, I had it under control,” Melody replied.

“Clearly.”

At once, the pair drew their weapons and tore into the group of soldiers.  Melody was as deadly as ever with her scimitar, but Salim was downright fearsome in his fighting style.  Not only did he destroy anything that came near his spear, but he also incorporated a wide variety of martial arts techniques, evading attackers with a series of somersaults and stunning others with bone-crushing kicks and punches.  Once the group was down, the pair noticed that a large brute was approaching them, his massive club at the ready.

“My forces need some backup on the other side of the wharf.  Why don’t you go assist them?”

“What?!” Melody asked.  “Leave you alone to fight this… THING?!”

Snorting, Salim replied, “Please, this will be nothing.”

Melody eyed him for several seconds before responding, “Ok, just promise you’ll call if you need me.”

“Of course.”

Staring down the massive brute, Salim began to formulate his strategy in his mind, as he had learned long ago to not rely on his offensive fighting style when facing a superior physical foe.  Though strong, Salim doubted that this creature was very intelligent, and would be unable to adapt to a well-thought-out plan of attack.  As the brute charged, Salim readied his weapon.

“First, evade his blows to discover his attack style,” Salim said to himself.

The first three swings of the club were telegraphed, allowing Salim to jump out of the way with ease.

“Interesting, he prefers a horizontal swing rather than a vertical.  Next, gain leverage and disorient the foe.”

Evading another attack, Salim leaped over the brute’s head, punching him on either side of the face as he passed.  The beast staggered for a moment in turning to face Salim once more.

“Now, I must take out his primary support to defeat him.”

As the brute attacked this time, Salim evaded low, ducking under the club and rolling between the legs of his attacker, sweeping his feet with his spear as he passed.  The brute stumbled once again, turning to try and strike Salim with a wild, uncontrolled sideswipe.

“And finally, use the foe’s momentum to place him in position for the killing blow.  Prediction: victory.”

Leaping on top of the brute’s club, Salim latched onto the creature’s arm, directing the momentum of the attack to keep going in the same direction.  This threw the brute off balance, dizzying him out and landing him on his stomach.  Now standing on his foe’s back, Salim raised his spear and plunged it into the base of the brute’s head for the kill.

“All too easy,” Salim mused, preparing to engage his next challengers.

Elsewhere, Ardashir had his hands full with Behemoth, trying to be the immovable object to the beast’s unstoppable force.  As their strengths were quite even, Ardashir’s level of success was dependent upon whether the beast was charging uphill or downhill.  He had managed to hold him off for a while, but the seasoned veteran knew he would need something more to allow him to win this fight.

“Alright, let us see if Behemoth can handle this!”

Slamming his shield into the ground, Ardashir transformed the rubble surrounding the monster into thick, soft sand.  Behemoth struggled as its hooves began to sink, his momentum slowing to a crawl.  Ardashir then took the opportunity to summon up a pile of large boulders, dropping each one onto the beast as hard as he was able in an attempt to crush it.  But with each blow, the monster only seemed to grow angrier; the more its anger grew, the less Ardashir’s sand trap seemed to affect it.  As it broke free, Ardashir readied his shield, attempting to stand firm against Behemoth’s wild charge.  The beast drove him back several dozen yards, but the old man kept his footing, refusing to yield to the creature.

In the skies above San Francisco, Ziz flew at high speeds, swooping down to the ground every so often to target a potential victim.  Nadir was in hot pursuit, doing everything he could to get civilians out of the beast’s path.  Ziz soon realized that it was being tracked, and took off through the city, flying low and weaving between the buildings and skyscrapers.  Nadir managed to keep up all the while, having honed his flying skills for centuries in the harsh conditions of the Rub’ al Khali.  As Ziz approached the Transamerica building, it took a mighty flap of its wings to fly straight up, its paws scraping the side of the building as it ascended.  Nadir was ready for this, adjusting the angle of his flight path to intercept the monstrosity.  Just as Ziz cleared the top of the building, Nadir caught up to it, latching himself around the creature’s neck with his staff while charging an enormous amount of magic.

“Hurricane force!” Nadir shouted.

As he spoke, he summoned up a devastating gale-force wind, isolating it only to the air surrounding Ziz.  The beast screeched and struggled, being thrown every which way by the storm.  Nadir held on for as long as he could, but was soon thrown off by the beast’s thrashing.  Unable to keep the winds blowing any longer, Nadir ended his attack.  Regaining his senses, he saw that Ziz, though shaken, was far from beaten, as it had already resumed its attacks on the streets of San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Selena had caught up with Leviathan out in the waters of the San Francisco Bay.  She tried everything she could think of to slow it down, but the monster was dead set on staying near shore where the civilians were.  Concentrating her magic, Selena summoned up an enormous wave from the bay, causing it to crash on top of Leviathan.  Though the beast was unfazed, she kept control of the wave, using it to scoop the creature up and sweep it out into the middle of the bay.  Now staring the monster down, it roared in her face in pure rage.

“Ugh, someone needs a breath mint,” she muttered.

Unleashing an enormous amount of power from her blade, Selena began to freeze the waters around the beast.  Leviathan struggled, its movements being slowed by the icy conditions, but managed to disrupt her strategy by slamming its head down from above onto the ice, shattering it and tossing Selena back.  She was dunked underwater for a moment, taking to the air to get some distance between herself and Leviathan.

“Mike, can you hear me?  This isn’t looking good over here,” Selena said.

“For me as well,” Nadir agreed.

“And I,” said Ardashir.  “For all our efforts, we seem only to be able to match the beasts, not beat them.”

“Shit… there’s got to be some way to take them out,” Mike cursed.

Mike, I have an idea!

Melody?  Whatcha got?

Well, remember the Pokémon games?  Think about it, you’d never fight a water type with another water type, right?  Your attacks wouldn’t do enough damage.

Of course!  Melody, you’re a fucking genius!

Yeah, I know.

“Ok, listen up,” Mike said to the Jinn.  “You’ve been trying to fight these monsters with their natural elements, earth, air, and water.  That’s why you can only equal them in strength.  To beat them, you’re gonna have to switch up your strategies.”

After conferring for a moment, the three agreed upon their plan of attack.  They began by teleporting, switching places with one another, Selena to the sky, Nadir to the ground, and Ardashir to the water.  Once there, Selena struck first, slowing Ziz down with a torrent of water blasted directly on its wings.  With its movements slowed to a crawl, Selena then delivered every ounce of power she could muster, managing to freeze the monster into a solid block of ice.

At the same time, Nadir whipped up his Hurricane Force attack once more, this time unleashing it on Behemoth.  The beast tried to keep its footing, but was soon swept up in the whirling winds, tossing him into the air.  Now in complete control of Behemoth, Nadir took careful aim, launching the monster into the sky headfirst.  His target was the flying beast that Selena had just frozen.  Hitting the block of ice dead center with Behemoth’s indestructible horns, the ice shattered into thousands of pieces, and Ziz along with it, ridding the world of the flying monstrosity.

Continuing on the trajectory Nadir had sent it on, Behemoth roared helplessly as it flew over the city, crashing down in the San Francisco Bay.  Though it attempted to swim for a few moments, the beast of the land could not keep its head above the water, drowning beneath the waves.  With only one monster remaining, Ardashir stood on the edge of the Fisherman’s Wharf pier, staring down Leviathan.  The beast at first charged to try and obliterate the wooden dock on which Ardashir stood, but was blocked by a wall of stalagmites as it approached.  Backing off, Leviathan tried to assault the pier in a different location, but was again blocked by the stalagmites.

Ardashir could tell that the beast was growing frustrated, attempting to break through the rocks with its powerful tail.  It had some modest success at first, but this was merely a distraction so that Ardashir could ready his trump card.  Charging every last bit of power he had within his shield, the grizzled old king focused his efforts on the area surrounding Leviathan, releasing his attack just as the monster was about to break through to him.  Leviathan roared in surprise as a giant slab of stone rose from the waters, beaching the beast in the middle of the bay.  Ardashir watched as the creature struggled, attempting to slip back into the water, but all for naught.  King Ardashir was prepared with more rocks rising up from every direction, building them up all around Leviathan until the creature was encased in a cocoon of stone.  The beast’s terrifying roars were heard from within, but grew quieter as Ardashir began to constrict the rocks, collapsing them in on themselves.  With a final cry of pain, Leviathan fell silent, and Ardashir allowed the rocks to sink it to the bottom of the bay.

“And that… is that,” Ardashir muttered, sighing in exhaustion.

“Brilliantly done,” Mike marveled.

With the beasts slain, all the Jinn focused their efforts on thinning out the numbers of Lucifer’s army.  Though they had managed to catch a couple dozen civilians in the crossfire, the overall casualty count was rather low, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the police officers Melody had rescued.  They used their knowledge of the inner workings of the city streets to keep their citizens away from the fighting as they escorted them to safer locations.  By this time, the first of the rescuers had managed to break through the rubble surrounding the city and were beginning to evacuate the wounded.  Mike couldn’t help but beam with happiness; despite the grim nature of these circumstances, they had managed to put together a winning strategy and beat back the most powerful forces Edward could possibly send against them.

“Just one matter of business left…”

It was at that moment that Mike heard a loud crash, not from below him, but from above.  Looking around, he saw a tall office building a few blocks over with a broken window on the top floor.  Though it was fleeting, he managed to get a glimpse of Edward flying through the window before he disappeared.

“Alright, time to finish this.”

*****

“Wha… what do you want?”

“The world, Mr. President.  I want the world.”

“Ok, that’s all well and good, but you must be aware that, as powerful as I am, I have no authority to grant you, or anyone else for that matter, the entire world.”

Just then, the Secret Service agent from earlier kicked in the door to the office.  “Mr. President?” he asked, assessing the situation.  Seeing the armored figure standing before the President, he immediately drew his handgun from within his coat.  “Freeze!”

“Only if you… burn…” Edward said.

He launched a fireball from his sword, striking the agent square in the chest.  The man screamed in pain as he burst into flames, disintegrating in an instant.  As his cries were silenced, all that remained was a small pile of ashes.  Lowering his weapon, the stylized 666 on Edward’s armor began to glow with a flaming orange light.

Perfect, it seems I am merely one kill away…

“Now then, to business, Mr. President,” Edward replied from within his helmet.  “I doubt you could comprehend everything that is at play here today, but all you need to know is this: I am the man who is destined to rule this world for all time.  My conquest of Earth is almost complete.  All that remains to be done… is take a life.”

“You sicken me,” Sam spat at him.

“Ah, but you haven’t even heard the best part, Mr. President.  I’ve decided to give you the honor… of choosing whose life I take.  For example, I could spare you, taking your beautiful wife in your place… but then, I’d be taking two lives for the price of one.”

“Two lives?” Sam inquired.  “You don’t mean?”

“Why yes, I do.  She is carrying a child, a daughter, if I’m not mistaken.  And I can take both of them out of this world in an instant, on your word of course.”

“No!” Sam shouted, attempting to punch this mysterious man, but was blown to the ground by an invisible force.

“Sam!” Chloe gasped, kneeling at her husband’s side.

“Now then, your other option, Mr. President, is for me to take your life, sparing your wife and daughter.  Of course, once I rule this world, I shall make both of them my slaves, and what lovely slaves they shall be.”

Standing defiantly, Chloe said, “Shut it, you bastard.  You’ll never lay a hand on me, or my daughter!  I’m deciding for my husband; kill me, right here, right now!”

Edward stood in silence for a few moments, before raising his hand, slapping Chloe across the face and landing her on the floor in a crumpled heap.

“I really do not like these modern independent women.  So insolent and disrespectful… very well, you’ve lost your opportunity; I’ve made my decision.  Mr. President, you will die now, and you will die knowing that I will make sure to teach your wife… her proper place.”

Raising his katana overhead, Edward prepared to strike down the President and claim Lucifer’s power in doing so.  Chloe whimpered from the floor, helpless to do anything to help her husband, tears streaming down her cheeks.  Putting on as brave a face as he could, Samuel Bradley braced himself for the end, praying to God that somehow, someway, a glimmer of hope could come from these terrible circumstances.  Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes as Edward prepared to plunge his sword into Sam’s chest.

“Baldwin!” Mike roared, crashing through the broken window and tackling Edward to the ground.

Picking himself up from the floor, Edward sighed, saying, “You… are one persistent nuisance.”

“You can’t win, Baldwin,” Mike warned him.  “We took out your little pets, and your army is being contained.  It’s over.”

“Over?  You pathetic fool… I am one death away from my destiny!  It matters not what you and your pitiful friends do today; nothing can stop me now!  I shall strike this man down, and take my rightful place as ruler of this world!”

Shit, shit, shit… one kill away?  There’s got to be a way to stop him… got to be something I can do.  Not only will he become the Antichrist, but he’ll also kill the most powerful man on Earth in the process.  That’s exactly what he wants, cocky little glory hound… wait, that’s it!

“Why settle for him?” Mike asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, sure he’s the President of the United States, a good, honorable man, and perhaps the most famous person on Earth.  But in the end, he’s still just like every other human: no match for you, and nothing more than a lamb for slaughter,” Mike said, trying to tap into Edward’s ego.  “But you have the unique opportunity to not only become the Antichrist, but also a living legend.”

Pausing for a few moments, Edward replied, “Go on.”

“What could be more legendary that becoming the Antichrist by facing God’s Champion in single combat.  Fight me, one-on-one, and a victory will allow your name to live for eternity on Earth, in Heaven, and in Hell.”

“Do you take me for a fool?  I am well aware that you cannot be killed; you’re already dead.  Now, please excuse me,” he said, turning his attentions back to Sam.

“What if… I give that up?” Mike asked.

Mike, what are you doing? Jesus asked.

Forgive me, but it’s the only way to get him alone, and the only way to be able to charge the armor without harming any civilians.

I admire your courage, but do you realize what you are agreeing to?  What you could be condemning yourself to?

I do…

“What are you saying?” Edward asked.

“If you will agree to face me on Alcatraz Island, one-on-one, no running away… then I will agree to give up my Heavenly protections.”

Stepping towards Mike, Edward pushed his face into his rival’s, sneering, “If I kill you, then you will join my master in Hell, to face eternal suffering at his hand.  You will know nothing but pain, you will watch as I subjugate the Earth to my will, and you will never see your beloved Melody again.  You are saying that you will agree to this… just to face me alone?”

Mike stared into Edward’s helmet, replying, “To save this family from you?  You bet your ass.”

“Very well.”

Edward extended his hand for Mike, who shook it in agreement.  In an instant, the pair disappeared from view, leaving Sam and Chloe alone once more.  Sam could do nothing but cradle his wife in his arms, still unsure of what they had witnessed between the two armored men.  Praying to God for any sign, all the answers seemed to escape him.

0