[This story was originally written in the forums, where the original copy can still be found.]

He had been running for days. Whenever he slowed even the least bit, a firefight ensued. Badly wounded and finally pinned down in an abandoned house, he took time to mend a shot to the leg when the shooting died down.

"Heh, the price we pay for knowing too mu--urgh!"

He yanked the slug out, throwing it in a nearby vase.

His hand flared up violently, and he struck the wound with searing flames. It cauterised the wound, but made no apparent burns. He recalled his lessons at the old Arc Cane Institute of Magick in his hometown.

"As you know, there are eight types of magick which exist in this realm", an intelligent looking professor stated. "Water, Ice, Lightning, Fire, Wind, Earth, Heal, and Curse. What you may not know is that every one of you is imbued with one, or in rare cases two or three of these elements, unless you're one of the 25% of the world's population with no magick ability. You need not worry since you've all been screened and ..."

His reminiscing was cut short by a bolt ripping through the wall. A tall woman clad in a yellow and black suit appeared through the hole.

"Vincent!" She shouted as she drew a whip which grew alive with electricity. "Return the tome, and your death will be quick and painless."

"Heh, haven't yoo learned Maria? Pain is good!" He directed a wave of flame at her and ascended another floor.

He thought back to the briefing he and his comrades received before embarking on the mission

"Tango unit, your job is to steal the Tome of 10 magicks from the Thanox complex. Be warned, if you two don't get to the rendevous point in time, you'll have to make it to this abandoned crack den thirty miles south where we'll get you backup. Tanner, Vince, try not to make too much of a mess."

Vince, jumped out a window onto a ledge in the back, putting a few fiery rounds into some mages standing guard. He climbed a lattice to the roof, and silently observed his surroundings. A massive group of goons were positioned surrounding the house, taking cover behind large black vans. Many were entering the house, and some were investigating the shots fired in the back.

"Dammit Tanner, why did you have to stay back and fight him?!!"

A chopper sounded in the distance, closing in fast, and it distracted the majority of the enemies in the area.

"Heh, late as usual." He then launched a hail of flaming gunfire unto the vans, sprawling guards out amid the combusting vehicles. He took cover behind the chimney as the helicopter slowly positioned itself over and swung down a ladder. He climbed aboard, and as they started to depart the scene, an RPG ripped into the aircraft.

It lost altitude, and crashed somewhere in the ghetto of Neo Columbus...

[Woo, that was long for me. Anyway, darker styled modern, magick (I like this spelling) guns swords whatever. I don't want this to be ruined like the search so a bit of warning- if you are new to RP or have been told you suck at it, don't try any major plot alterations.]

Vince's eyes opened to roaring flames. The chopper had been utterly devastated, its frame torn asunder. He pulled himself out of the fire, knowing that they would catch up soon. Aside from some rather nasty cuts and bruises, and his previous wounds, he was fine. His alignment did come with its advantages. There was no time to see if anyone else survived. He had a job to do. Stumbling from the searing wreckage, a gathering of tramps had herded around the crash. Most were drawn to it in their daze of drug induced trance, others just saw it as a way to pass the time, regardless of the danger.

"What's wrong with you guys," one of the particularly scraggy homeless men yelled, "shootin' up an' blowin' up our streets? Why can't you just..." The urchin rambled on, but Vince was focused on the van pulling up at the end of the alley. Grabbing the man and pulling him in front of him, a rain of bullets eliminated the crowd as a problem. Casting the man to the pavement, a barrier of flame rose, preventing their entry while Vince made his escape. He had to go, fast, as far away as possible. As he dashed through the urban disaster, he sparked trails of fire in false paths to fool the hounding Thanox goons, hopefully. He had to put as much distance between them and the book as possible, and he had to get out of there. This task was always made more difficult when his feet were bound, of course. He never saw it coming, but he could never forget the sound. Just a crack was heard, and he was flat on the ground.

"I liked this suit," Maria stated, dragging Vince closer to her, snared and bound in her whip, "you know that." Her hand began to crackle, sending a slowly building current through the whip. "Give me the book." Her eyes gleamed with evil. "Now."

"Book?" he falsely asked. "What book would that beAAAHR!" She had spiked her voltage to show that she meant business.

"I can drag this out all day, Vince," told she. "Days, even. And I'd love to. Or, if you are a good little boy, I can make it much faster." He studied his current means of escape, but his options began to run low as more black vehicles swarmed around the exits to the corridor in which he was trapped, locking him in. Or, at least, so they thought.

"Aw, now c'mon, doll face," Vince smooth talked, aiming to buy some time for himself. "You know I wouldn't want to cause you any trouble." He tried to focus on her, but his concentration was on the barricade of automobiles. "If I had the book, you know I would give it to you." He flashed a charming smile to bait her in. He witnessed her eyes swell with realization, just the moment he wanted.

"You mean you-" Her words were drowned out by the huge eruption at the alley's entry. A single spark was all it took to set off a cascade of exploding vans. The force shot down the narrow way, hurtling Maria far over Vince. Using a precision flame, the whip was snapped from around his ankles, and he resumed his run into the night.

Meanwhile, far back at the crash site, where masses of bullet riddled hobos and addicts lay, a body stirred. The angry, outspoken, grumpy man rose to his knees as bullets rolled from his back. Reaching his grimy fingers into his aged coat, he felt the Tome, safe and sound.

"I swear, Vince," he spoke to himself, "what would you do without me covering your tracks?" He knew their little swap would not fool the Thanox agents for long and made haste.

Music blaring in his Impreza, Jules roared down what was left of the road. "Maria, that *drum set solo starts up* dumping me for that *screamo yells* job. Just pizzes me off!"

At this time, the reckless boy just realized that he had gone off the road and towards some sort of burning wreckage. Rolling the steering wheel with both hands like he was falling off a rope, the rash young man ends up broadsiding an old man and sending an object through his window.

Jumping out of the car, Jules makes his way to the old man and shoots a brillant light at him. Immediately the the guy stirs. "What the hel, were you doing you sonova-"the elder's voice goes up two octaves as Jules removes his foot from the man's groin.

"Subaru's and stones may break your bones, but I healed you. However, no one can heal the dent in my car and the broken window, I'm just going to have to deal with it, as you are with your new problem."

As the man falls to the ground for the second time in the past few seconds, Jules gets back in his car and hastily leaves. After a long while later he pulls over and begins to remove the glass from the back seat. "Hello, what's this? A book? Must have been that geezer's back there." Tome in hand, about ready to toss it out, the boy glances at it again. The book seems to be ancient, but shows no sign of wear and tear, not even from the impact with the window. Elaborate designs fill the covers and binding. "On second thought, you might be interesting, or at least fetch a good price. Going to want to give you another look through someplace more private."

Meanwhile, Vincent darted through the shadows to the backup rendezvous point, once there he would wait for twenty hours or until the mission was deemed a success, or the man with the book came for help. There was no need for both of them to be seen together, they'd just make a bigger target.

Several goons and a man outfitted in dark purple combat fatigues dashed through a narrow alleyway, as flames in front of them cut off to the left. They turned into a small playground, enclosed on all sides but the alley by tall low income housing complexes. The four agents walked out into the chamber, searching for the fugitive. The large purple clad agent squatted down to inspect the newly singed grass beneath a jungle gym. A swingset's chain rattled in the shadows of a distand corner.

"He is still in dah area men! Look in dumpsters, anyvere! He is in dis alcove!" He raised a radio to his face, "Maria, get Sasha and head down to the playground betveen the Cather projects, the tome is in he.. DERE! Shoot it dammit!"

A dumpster in the far corner of the niche began smoking hevily. The troops roaming the scene opened fire with submachine guns, peppering it with bullet holes. As they stopped firing, the leader slid over to the container, exhibiting his ice mastery.

"What?!" He yelled as there was no evidence of a body in it. As he backed away, embers slowly floated from above, and he looked up to see a weakening fire escape topple down. It was met by a large icy shell as he shielded himself and a nearby agent from the burning shards.

Vincent leaped from the structure, only to hit the pavement hard on a patch of black ice. The purple agent swiftly lifted him by his collar and began choking him against a wall. His quickly escaping breath crystalized as his torso began to cling to the bricks. He was beginning to search Vince with his free hand when he spoke in his thick Russian accent.

"You thought you could get vid of Gunter that easily, Vincent? Not in dis lifetime...Vere is it?!" His grip loosened as he panicked. When unable to find the Tome Gunter slammed him onto the ice, skidding to some yellow high heels.

"Vere is vat, hon?" Maria mocked holding up a familiar book.

Vince's eyes widened. "What, HOW?!"

A younger woman in a Brown suit approached, and threw down a healers limp figure next to Vincent.

"Quite a weak fighter, but he kept healing any wounds we gave him. I finally just knocked Jules over the head with some rocks, and she zapped him unconscious. But you can't expect much from a healer alone."

"Oh, Sasha, you're such a bitch." Maria remarked. "I'd love to keep having these encounters Vinchenzo, but you've become quite the thorn in my employers side, and him I'm doing just out of spite!" The whip snaked around the two downed men, and rapid shocks began to pulse into them.

Before she could finish them off, the walls surrounding them seemed to bend outward, and write impossibly. Maria looked up at them and gazed in awe, stopping the current. A purple haze began to collect and the sky disappeared leaving only a void. Through a wall where the alley had been, the aged man walked. He cast aside his coat revealing a metallic armor, easily bendable, but it appeared hard as steel.

"Samael" Vincent managed to hoarsely speak as he staggered up holding the incapacitated Jules.

He cast a hand to the jungle gym and swingset, which both erupted from the ground and became a mess of twisted metal, he molded it from afar until it looked like a spider, with chains whipping from where the madibles would have been. It crashed over Maria, and violently thrashed her to the side, the Tome falling to his feet.

"I think we'd best leave now." Samael declared, and the three left through the newly reopend alley, book in hand. The three entered a blue van with Samael driving them out of range of any agents left looking in other alleys. "That power.." J whispered inaudibly

Meanwhile a batterd trio stood gasping over a heap of scrap metal. The walls had returned to normal, and any effect of the old man had ceased. As Gunter stepped over a lesser body, Sasha radioed in.

"They've escaped with the Tome, we must regroup and decide the next course of action."

A small group of remaining minor soldiers assisted Maria up.

"Dammit, how did they enlist the aid of Ever?!"

The forceful swaying of Jules head awoke him from his physically induced slumber.

"Ow ow ow what the hell?" the healer cursed as he was slapped back into consciousness. He quickly realized he was laying down in the back of a van with total strangers and immediately panicked. Vince held him down as he tried to escape with what little strength he had left. Getting your chest encased in ice after a long night of action does not bode well for the body. However, his benign powers proving to be of little value in tough situations once again.

"Whoa, now, Jules," the pyromaniac soothed with a croaking voice, "calm down now. We're the not the enemy." The young man was startled.

"H-how do you know my name? Have you been following me? Cataloguing me? Oh, man, you're with the government, aren't you? I'm part of some project, aren't I?" In his paranoid stammer, he proddled off the first delusional thoughts that popped into his racing mind. Another slap for good measure quieted him down.

"Look, I already explained it," Vince repeated, "we're the good guys. But, right now," he added with a scowl. "I'm not much above being a bad guy right now. We're not following you, and the government has no interest in keeping tabs on you, and I regret that you have been dragged into all this. I only know your name because I overhead Maria say it."

"Maria," Jules uttered beneath his breath, "that stone cold bitch." After fuming over his "fond" memories of the woman, he focused in back to the situation at hand. "So, the government isn't interesting in studying my freaky powers?"

"Freaky powers?" The elderly driver chuckled. "Kid, most of the world has these 'freaky powers', it's simple a matter of knowing you do and the extent honed." Jules stared at the man as though he had encountered him before, and his familiarity was soon realized.

"Hey, you're that bum I hit with my car," he blurted out. "And that's the book I stole from you." Samael turned a cocked eye at the odd man in their little envoy. "Well, I didn't mean to steal it. It just was stolen... by accident." An awkward air built up in the fast moving vehicle. "Um, yeah, so... sorry about the whole running-you-over thing."

"What? That! It was nothing," the scrungy geezer assured. "I've lived through far worse in my time." Vince laughed.

"Isn't that the part of your problem, Ever?" Vincent jested his associate. Despite needing his eyes to stay glued to the slum streets that he was wildly steering the van down, Samael shot daggers at Vince through the rear view mirror, swelling an unsightly pimple on his face. "Yeah, I pretty much was asking for that." With all that happened in such a short time, the last thing Jules needed was inside nicknames and peculiar happenings. The young agent sighed. "I guess you deserve some explanation for all of these. Allow me introduce myself. I am Agent Vincent of the-"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold up," demanded Ever. "What do you think you're doing? He's a civilian, not an agent!"

"'In times of extreme circumstance, a civilian may be recruited as a temporary agent in an assignment assuming a particular and necessary service can be supplied by said civilian.' Besides, in all fairness, neither are you."

"Oh, and what possible task could this healer offer- oh, right... healing," Ever came to realize as he looked at Vincent barely being able to hold himself up right.

"Not only that, but someone seems to have some more personal information on Maria. Now, if you wouldn't mind," Vince requested, "I'd like to even be able to explain everything else." Eager for some knowledge of what exactly was taking place, Jules was quick to begin healing the agent. Vince explained everything. Roughly, but everything none the less. A crash course in the Magicks, elements, his mission to retrieve the tome, all of which either severely overwhelmed the young man or was too much for him to even comprehend.

"... okay," Jules asserted, "... okay. I... I think I get it all. You screwed up bad and now need me to patch up bullets holes."

"Hey, I like this kid," Samael changed his mind. "He's right on the money!"

"Shut up, Ever," Vince grunted. A new question popped into Jules head.

"Why is he called 'Ever', exactly? I thought his name was Sam?" Vincent ran his hand through his hair, wondering not if but how to tell it.

"As you are aligned with the powers of Heal," Vince explained, "Samael is aligned with Curse."

"I am Cursed," the driver clarified.

"Well, yeah," the Flame Slinger agreed. "His magick came through a rather unorthodox means, and it carries a very heavy price. You may not have noticed it when you hit him with your car, but he was in no danger of dying, even if you had left him with his injuries. You see, he's effectively immortal and doomed to an eternity of misfortune." It was all true, too. Samael carried not a curse of life but of undying. He knew countless deaths, but none would take his life. Never ending pain and torment was a worse fate than an end. He had hopes that the Tome would help in finally ending this plague, and ending him.

"But, but doesn't that mean-"

"Yeah, it sure does, little buddy," Ever concurred. "Not even time shall claim my soul. I've been around for a long, long time."

"No, that's not what I was going to ask," he conflicted, but then paused to study the suit of metal donned by the older, grizzled gent, making an estimation to his age. He would have asked but had more pressing matters to discuss. "If Samael is a walking magnet for disaster, then why are we transporting this oh-so-important book in a fast moving vehicle with him?"


"I don't like him anymore," Samael commented as one of the van's tires blew out, causing them to lose control and smash into a wall, demolishing only the driver's corner in the vehicle. "I'm okay," he shouted, "of course."

…As the Thanox gang headed back to their headquarters.

“…Ah, now I see why you vanted to get vid of that Jules kid” Gunter commented to Maria.

“Yeah, that idiot was becoming a major pain!” Maria said. “Always trying to kiss up to me, complimenting me for my ‘excellent busts’--”

“How come you always get all the attention from the boys?!” Sasha blurted out.

“Shut up, Sasha!” Maria snapped back.

“Enough! For now ve should find out vat Ever is doing vit that group” Gunter said.

“Yeah, how the hell did they get him to side with them?” Sasha asked.

“…He must be planning on using the Tome to reverse his curse.” Maria remarked. “The Tome was said to contain powers unheard of in this world.”

“And how does he expect to use it? Not even we, the Thanox, with all our might and technology and magic, could open that damn thing!” Sasha exclaimed.

“Still, it is possible for Ever to find a way.” Maria replied. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter much. We can locate them any time.” She smiled evilly. “They don’t know about the secret device I have hidden inside Jules. Hehehehehehehe…”

Meanwhile, the good guy trio was running on foot again, heading towards the backup rendezvous point.

“…They don’t seem to be following us anymore.” Jules observed.

“Of course! They never expected Ever to be with us, so we’ve got the edge on them!” Vincent replied.

“What? Is he really that good and powerful and all?” Jules asked skeptically.

“Oh brother.” Samael groaned. “Want me to show you?”

“Hey, wait!” Jules yelled.

“Now is not the time, Ever!” Vincent shouted. “We have to hurry up and get out of this place before we run into any more troubles!”

They ran without talking for another minute. Then Jules thought of something.

“Hey.” Jules said. “There was a burning wreck back where we ran from, right?”

“Yeah.” Samael replied. “What about it?”

“Well,” Jules began. “Don’t you think it’s a bit strange that nobody has come to investigate? Surely many people would have seen or heard it—“


The trio quickly found themselves surround by police officers aiming guns at them.

“Way to go for jinxing our luck, Jules” Ever muttered.

"Wait, I thought you were the one that caused bad luck?" Jules questioned the elder.

"Well, you're not helping!" Vincent snapped back. Done with the petty squabble, he turned his attention to the more pressing matter at hands. There were about ten officers before them, no telling how many behind, no cars, and no badges. "Wait, no badges?" realized the pyromancer. "These guys are tins!" he laughed, relaxing his arms and continuing with his escape.

"Shut up and freeze!" threatened one of the officers.

"Uh-huh, and what are you going to do about it?" mocked the mage, drawing closer to the challenging officer. "Which frequency were you listening to on your little police scanner? Was it copper? Silver?"

"I said shut up!" he screamed, fumbling his weapon from the sweat that increased on the grip.

"Oh, it wasn't gold, was it?" he said with a sneer. "We aren't that popular, are we?" The Fire Slinger reached out to the officer's gun and plucked it from him without a fight and held it up to his side. "If the golds were called in on us," he explained, "then you know just what we are capable of. What sort of chance do you really think some dress-ups like you stand?" The cool, metal surface of the pistol rapidly changed to a brilliant orange and then into a puddle. The trembling overwhelmed the policeman who collapsed to his knees before Vincent, whimpering, his fearful eyes never leaving that fiery gaze.

"Anyone else want some?" Rolling his eyes over the wall of officers, none dare step forward. "That's what I thought. C'mon, let's go."

"Not so fast," a voice rose up from behind. Few of the cowardice parted to make room in the alley for another officer, slim in build and slightly stooped from dragging a waraxe twice his own size. "When my men say freeze, they mean it. We are reserving our citizens' rights to detain all of you until the higher grade officers arrive." He pulled forth the axe, digging a rivet in the ground, and set it straight for his tired arm to rest on. "Or else."

"Or else what?" dared Vincent, who could hear the officers behind him scrambling away upon his remark. "Y'know, that threat would mean a lot more if I actually believed you could hurt us with that thing," he said, gesturing to the axe.

A sly smile cracked along the captain's face as he fed a lone finger through a leather thong fitted at the end of the handle. With a gentle tug up, the entire weapon lifted from the ground and now swayed slowly in the air back and forth. Through with his little demonstration, he just as effortlessly swung his arm back at a full arch before he launched the axe spiraling toward. Too narrow was the alley to accomodate the weapon's breadth; it simply plowed through the brick with little slowing.

Samael lept before the group and swatted at the whirling devastation with an armored bracer, which did little for protecting him but enough to send the blade skidding upward.

"Magick," Ever cursed, rising up from the ground. "Bleedin' power of levitation. The kid's an aeromancer and prob'ly doesn't even know it."

"Either way," Vincent stated, stepping forward, "he doesn't have his little toy no-" Jules plowed him to the ground alongside Ever as the axe boomeranged back, whizzing just over their heads. The captain did not flinch from its returning speed but thrust his hand forward and caught it at a dead stop.

"Careful now. You might have a healer with you now," warned Jules, "but that won't mean much if you're in pieces." Vince through the healer from off top of him and returned to his feet, drawing out his favorite gun, emblazened with the word "Firebrand" on the barrel. A continuous stream of fiery bullets assaulted the captain, but each deflected from a rapidly spinning shield made from his blade, which was maintained until his ammo came to an end. Caught off guard by his still-living target, he patted himself down for another clip, only to find none.

"Didn't you grab any ammo from the van?" Ever badgered. Vince chose not to respond.

"Well, won't this prove to be an interesting fight?" said the captain, grasping firm the pommel of his waraxe.

Elsewhere, the Thanox trio tore through the quarters belonging to Maria.

"Vere is dat device?" shouted Gunter, whose head was buried inside some sort of apperature.

"It has got to be somewhere," Maria thought aloud while taking a momentary rest on her work chair. "I made that tracking device so long ago."

Sasha popped her head up from behind the station and, after adjusting her crooked glasses, spoke up. "Is this one it?"

Maria casted a haphazard glance from the corner of her eye in Sasha's direction. "No, that's a generator... of.... something," she informed, contorting her face as though it would help her to remember better.

A frustrated Sasha threw the device down, certain that her "friend" would have another one lying somewhere in the mess, and started off to another corner of the room. "How is it that you have so much free time? You have more machines here than things I could even think to use machines for, but you still have an, ahem, 'active' social life."

"It's a gift," she bragged, stretching back in her chair, showing off another one of her gifts. "I'm a tinker; this is what I do."

"Da, my pet," agreed Gunter. "The brains and the beaooty. Some girls get it all."

"I bet she's gets a lot of things," muttered a bitter Sasha under her breath, but no one caught on. Ready to kick a small scrap strewn on the floor, she stopped when she realized the piece of junk had a screen and antennae attached to his. "Hey guys," she spoke, resuming an audible tone, "is this thing it?"

Maria blew a stray lock of hair from her face in order to see what incorrect item Sasha had recovered this time. She surged up to a stance quickly and stopped. "Gunter," she squeaked. He lowered his head from out a removed ceiling panel with a similar expression, something very uncharacteristic for him.

Sasha was bewildered by the reaction. She feared to move at the thoughts of what she might trigger the machine to do. "Guys...." she whispered slowly, "what did I just pick up?" They gave no response, but only remained all the more still.

Before she could eek out another word, a hand clasped over her mouth. Another finely gloved pressed her to the body of the individual who now stood behind her. "Shhh, little Sasha," the man hushed in too calm a tone for the situation, leaning over her left shoulder to come into her vision. "Don't scream now," he ordered, still in the low, calm tone as before. "You know how much I do enjoy it when you scream, and then I might do something awful." She stood frozen, too afraid to even show it, never leaving her eyes from the man's pale, angular face. He removed the white glove from over her mouth but still held her tight to his gaunt, sickly frame with his other fist, securely holding the end of a cane.

"Who let you in, freak?" Maria sternly demanded of the guest.

"Some of the guards," he quickly dismissed, never shifting his sight's from the terrified young woman he held captive. "The ones that are still living. The others did not want to have me, if you could imagine," he toyed, with a sadistic grin cut into his face. "I guess they saw something that changed their minds." Sasha now emitted a slight, shrill squeak, incapable of allowing herself to do anything else as the intruder stood, now caressing her cheek, giving no heed to his hosts.

Maria scowled. Even in a situation as creepy as this, she could not stand Sasha getting more attention than herself, even if it was a fatal attraction. "It has not even been an hour, apothecary. How did you find out so fast?"

"I have my ways," he sighed, tilting his head to appreciate woman who had turned as pale as he. "I heard it was the Tome of Ten. You never told me that you had Tome Ten." For the first time, he raised his eyes from beneath the brim of his hat, focused on Maria. "I could be very angry about that," he grumbled, "but then you nice people would not tell me where I could find it."

The cryomancer furrowed his brows at the audacity shown by the man, but he knew there was little other choice. "Ve have a trace on him. Ve offer da same deals as before. Ve give da location, and you return vhat is rightfully ours." He thought a little moment about their previous dealings. "Dis time, vould you be so kind as to return da tome still opened after you are done vit it?"

"Find out how to open it yourselves," he attacked. "If just everyone knew what was written on those pages, our little encounters like this would be so much less fun." As she felt the apothecary's grip loosen for an instant, Sasha broke away, tripping into Gunter, wiping off her face as much as possible -- mostly from disgust, but a legitimate fear of mortality also played its part.

The man in the white suit only smiled all the more. He tapped the device once held by Sasha -- the tracker -- to his hat and took his leave, much to the group's relief.

"Why," cried Sasha, "why do we have to work with that man?"

"It is not like we get a choice in the matter," scoffed Maria. "Just be glad we aren't on the other side," she said, with a ounce of pity to her voice.

"He cannot be trusted," announced the man clad in purple, "and because he has our tracker, ve must follow him now. Let us see vhere dey vant to take dis book..."

The alley walls lay in shambles. The tins had all long since fled. Vincent's arms were set ablaze, he breathed heavily. Jules rested at the sidelines; he had been exhausted all too much this battle and never fought once. Ever managed the best he could in his current situation -- only one arm which was holding onto the detached one so the pyromaniac could weld it back on.

The captain, on the other hand, still stood tall with nary a scatch or singe to be seen.

"According to the citizens' rights," declared the captain, "I am allowed to use lethal force if so provoked. I wanted the Law to handle this properly, but..."

"You mean he wasn't trying to kill us before?" a shocked Jules huffed.

He took his arm back -- all the way -- bearing the axe up in a whirlwind whose force could be felt filling the ruined alleyway. Two, stern eyes pierced from below his flowing, messed hair in the wind. Then, he fell.

The wind ceased. The waraxe came to the ground with a heavy thud, embedding itself a good part in. Behind him stood an unfamiliar, gaunt man. He looked up to the three from beneath the white brim of his top, dropping a pristine glove he bit onto the middle finger of from his mouth and onto the other still-gloved hand, which rest atop a dazzling cane.

"Oh, dear me," addressed the man clad in a red-and-white pinstripe suit-coat, "was he the wrong one? Well, there are not many more left me, so that should make things easier."

"Oh crap, it's the Candyman," simply stated Ever.

"Candyman?" Jules exclaimed. "More of your nicknames? What is his real name?"

Samael looked side to side. "The... Candyman," he reiterated. "I've been around for a while, and I've never heard him called anything else."

"He's supposed to be a hydromancer," Vince sternly stated, tranfixing a very intent gaze on the new opponent.

"Water?" laughed Jules, whose mood was the lightest at the moment. "That is, like, the worst of the magicks!" Then it struck him. "What, what do you mean supposed to be?" Neither of them answered. In fact, they did nothing but stand. The Candyman, meanwhile, condensed orbs from the sky to circle behind him. He felt that he needed to say something. "Shouldn't... we do something?"

"We are going to try and live," Vince told him. "If you want to die, go ahead." He shot a mean look behind him, careful not to take too much attention away from what stood before him. "Just wait. Expect anything."

The apothecary said nothing more. The spheres behind him had grown to a span in diameter. He reached out with his exposed hand and lazily let the orbs pass through his fingers. From the ripples, the translucence gave way to a dark, murky contaminant that infected the entire space in a short moment. As the final one left his reach, his eyes burst open in a cool, aquatic aura. The waters gatled forward in an instant, leaving little time for reaction from Jules, who could not see the attacking coming through Vince, who once stood before him. Only one of the bullets struck, but it was enough; the healer was down, and he was not getting up.

The Candyman tried to assess the situation, adjusting his spectacles in the distance. He did know that one was down, which meant he needed to try again. That was an opportunity Vince did not wish to give him. The Fire Slinger hurtled himself toward the foe, sweeping his arms widely from the ground, summoning an explosive burning force that was reduced to no more than steam on the suddenly appearing wall of water.

The wall melted away, and there stood the Candyman still, but without the trademark grin. He felt on the middle of his suit, where now a hole was. He reached in two of his fingers into his chest to retreive a small pebble Vincent had rocketed from the alley floor at him, still hot with ash; it was his hopes that the aquatic defenses could not stop that part of his attack, and he was right.

"Oh my," the apothecary stated, casting the stone back to the floor whence it came, "look what you have gone and done. I cannot be out in this suit; 'tis ruined." He tipped his hat to his opponents and turned away, taking a steady pace down the alley.

"Good thinking," congratulated Ever, "but that won't work again." His eyes followed Vince as he made his way over to their fallen comrade. "Who's gonna heal our healer?"

"He'll be fine," Vincent told. "Healers like him are resistant to poisons and the like, and can recover a lot faster than we could... or recover at all, this case," he said, looking aside to the dead captain. "He can finish recovering at the rendevous point."

Meanwhile, not too far away…

“OK, so Jules the healer is down, and the other two aren’t in good shape.” Maria announced to the other two, coming back from peeking around the corner.

“Great! This can be the perfect chance to swipe the Tome!” Sasha exclaimed.

“Vait.” Gunter said. “They still are powerful, and have Ever.”

“Well, then what should we do?!” Sasha asked.

“…Hmm.” Maria thought. “I think I might have a plan…that other guy…”


“Leave me alone! I need time to plan this out to our favor. Let’s see… How about we have someone else do the dirty work for us other than…him.”

Maria then took out a cell phone and made a call…

Meanwhile, a little farther away…

“So, they don’t trust me again.” the apothecary said to himself, smiling. “But, they don’t know what’s in store for them… hehehehe…” With that, he vanished with a puff of smoke.

Now, back with the protagonist trio…

Vincent and Ever “ran” as fast as they could towards the rendezvous point with their wounds and while carrying Jules. They were beginning to see the outskirts of Neo Columbus.

“Finally.” Vincent gasped. “And no more distractions.”

“We should stay on our guard.” Ever said. “It’s probably very early in the morning, and many things happen in the dark—“


The pair found themselves facing a mugger pointing a gun at them.

“Good grief…” Vincent muttered. Then he quickly took up the gun away from the mugger and had it pointing at him within a second. In another second, the mugger was on the ground unconscious.

“That was kinda stupid…” Vincent said.

“Hey, plenty of people aren’t careful about their surroundings when they’re scared out of their wits.” Samael replied, looking at the corner into which the mugger had run out of fright. “Let’s hurry.”

"I'll carry this with me." Vincent said, glancing at the plucked gun. "We may need it."

The trio continued towards the rendezvous point and reached the outskirts of Neo Columbus. Within another 20 minutes, the rendezvous point was in sight, a clearing in a forest with a yew tree in the middle.

“Finally!” Vincent gasped. “We can finally rest—“


The trio was again surrounded by police who came out of the forest towards the clearing. However, this time they seemed to mean more business, with body armor, AK-47s, rocket launchers…

“What the hell?!” Samael exclaimed. “Why won’t you people leave us alone?!?”


“Attempted terrorism?” Vincent muttered to himself. “Some things aren’t adding up. How did the police find us again so quickly? And attempted terrorism…? And this looks like an ambush.” Then, shouting out aloud, “How did you find out where we were so quickly, huh?”


“That means someone anonymously tipped off the police” Vincent said to Ever. “But who…”


The pair assessed the situation. With their healer still down, and surrounded by heavily-equipped police, the situation looked grim.

A man dressed in black stood on a cieling overlooking the dark alleyways. A rogue pyro and aeromancer, he had managed to gain skills enough to create several rather fun spells.

He looked over to where several policemen where confronting a small group. He sighed. "Well, you have to help people out..." He jumped from the rooftop, and caught himself with his aeromancer powers. He walked around, and walked up to one of the policemen, and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Excuse me officer," he tried to say, but the officer, frightened, discharged his weapon suddenly. Fortunately, the group dropped to the ground, and were silently crawling away.

The police force turned to face him.


The man laughed, and slowly walked around the corner.

A bullet passed by his ear as he did so, but the man laughed harder. He carefully muttered to himself a spell, and let loose a fireball, combining his pyro and aeromancer abilities. The policemen yelled and screamed as they were concumed by the firey inferno. The man laughed, and dissapeared into the shadows.

He had interfered with the police, but who would talk? His plans were steadily falling into place. His manipulations of things would continue until those around him realised they were not acting under their own plans, but his. He walked into the alley shadows and dissapeared.

The sudden commotion, while unknown in origin to the wounded band of the 10's Tome, was appreciated none the less. The distraction allowed them good time to take care of business. The brash group of Silvers had seemed out for trouble, showing off their guns to anyone who looked suspicious. No one would miss them, and Vince had no problem disposing of them. Filling vigilantes with well placed holes from the mugger's arm, he leveled half of the troop, conserving his strength and magic. Turning about to finish the rest, he was confounded by no one left standing.

"Samael, where," Vincent began to question, cranking his head about to make sure none remained on foot, "where are all the Silvers?"

"Oh, that. Well, you see," Ever started to explain, but then Vincent lowered his gaze at the street plastered in ruptured bodies.

"No, no, I'd prefer not to know," the pyromancer decided. The elder glanced around the area. The "park", as he remembered them being called, was nothing more than blighted trees that had not born leaves since last there were seasons in a year. The tall standing tree, centered among the ring of death, stood like a pillar, its many branches having rotted and fell over time.

"Strange," spoke Ever to himself, "why would crack addicts meet here?"

"Because, Samael, no one likes to come here," Vincent expounded as he approached the rendezvous spot. "These sights of lost things are too depressing." They were not sinking his spirit, of course, for he did not believe it could be dragged down any more. Between crashing in a helicopter, being attacked more times than he cared to count, and running into the Candyman, their loss of time had forced them to the alternative location. The only thing he wanted to see through that door was back up and, if all went well, Tanner. He turned the knob and...

... nothing. The cursed then was jammed. He threw his body against it with no results. Frustrated, he pounded on the portal furiously, then finally noticing small crystalline fragments spilling from the cracks.

"We're under attack," cried out Vince, turning only to find Ever already engaged with the enemy. Rolling out of the way just in time, Gunter crashed down onto his former position, shattering a cone of ice. Lighting his own hands aflame, he lunged at his foe.

Ever had his hands busy with the girls. Currently, he struggled with Maria, who had his remaining arm ensnared in her whip, surging with power. Overconfident, she blew a kiss at her most recent boy friend, as far as anyone else knew, as thanks to letting them know where to go. Gritting his teeth, Samael bite hard into the whip while Maria mocked him, knocking her to the ground with the recoil. Sliding in front of the unconscious healer, whom he was depending on to reattach his arm, Ever brandished a cane that not many had paid heed to earlier. It was simple, wooden, and knotted. It really wasn't worth noting. Its disguise had served him well over the ages.

Rapping the cane on the earth, he chanted some verses of the Church's Latin. The walking stick began to gleam, and Ever held it aloft for the final incantation. A white beam shone down upon him, but quickly faded black as he drove the cane into the ground below him, making a deep impression of a shining, black rood. The overwhelming black light forced any who gazed upon to shield their eyes or risk going blind. At its pass, the tattered old man had vanished. In his place stood a proud, strong priest in gleaming robe of silver, laden with ornament roods. Clasp within his iron mitt hands was a great war hammer. It was one of the only rules he kept when he was under the cloth, oddly enough.

"What sort of magick is this?" blurted Maria as she scuttled back on her hands.

"White," grimly replied Sasha as she pushed up her glasses, standing her ground. White magic was the only kind allowed by the Church. It was not inherited like the magicks they wielded. White magic had to be granted or bestowed, but, in Samael's case, it was abused. Raising her hand, the earth vomited forth a rusted hook launched onto to a winding chain, caught in her dainty hand. Swinging around the gaff, she hurled it at the cleric, who deflected it with a mighty swing of his maul. Almost facing end at her own device, the girl managed to duck, able to bring the chain around in a wide, sweeping blow. The hook had picked up some of the previously discarded officers but moved with just as much ease. Raising an arm, the one he had lost, not restored, but temporarily regrown, the links spun about, wrapping around his unholy bracer. The flesh was dried as the blood was drunk by his ungodly armor, and the sinister aura about the Ever grew bolder. The chain began to pull itself tighter around his arm. Not in a way that would crush his limb but that would drag Sasha to him. Her heels dug trenches in the soil in spite her commanding it to support her. With a devilish smile through his beaver, he snapped his arm back, throwing the geomancer to him. Pulling back his great hammer for a grand strike, spires of rock covered his weapon, preventing the assault as the young lady twirled around him, untangling her chain. Exploding the stones with a single thought of rage, he charged after the wee one.

Maria, under none's watch, slinked on by Jules, who laid defenseless in the middle of the path. Her lips fiendishly curled as she drew ever nearer. A tap on her shoulders from some unnamed aeromancer soaring above her was met with a mighty zap, hurtling his charged body off beyond her care.

"Well, well, Jules," she whispered to the healer. "I don't really think we'll need you anymore. But, hey, it was fun while it lasted, right?" She raised a surging hand, aimed at his heart. "Yeah, who am I kidding?" Before she could discharge, a fissure ripped its way between her and the body, unleveling the earth, rising Jules high above her. "Sasha, you dolt," she accused, "watch where you're... aim... ing?" As she adverted her sight to Sasha, no where near the fault's origin. Her eyes bounced to Ever, leaning over his mallet, smashed into the ground. With an angered huff, steam vented from his grilled face guard as he charged. A wild hook sped in front of him, not latching onto his body. She knew she did not have the strength to slow him down. It planted itself into the earth, and Sasha pulled. A chunk of dirt was slowly brought up, the incline for Ever getting steeper. He may have been strong, he may have been empowered, but the armor donned beneath his robes was very, very heavy. The slab had been brought vertical by the time he reached the edge, and he only reached it with the ends of his fingers. With just a slight tug, Sasha brought the entire land mass down onto Ever, hopefully keeping him out of their way long enough to do the deed.

"Now then, where was I?" Maria mocked spoke as Sasha constructed a stairway through the risen earth to carry her to Jules. "Oh, that's right. I was killing you." Raising both hands to the sky, bolts of lightning met them, building up a sphere of raw energy. The great light caught the attention of Vincent, but he was too busy to do anything about it as Gunter was presently attempting to add more holes to his body than were anatomically accepted with a large icicle. When the ball of thunder had grown to more than necessary for an overkill, Maria let out an unnerving cackle. A thundering streak tore through the flesh and blood flowed. And then, she screamed.

Red gushed over her body, drenching her suit in her own essence. Her hands, crackling with the fast fading electricity, tumbled past her field of vision, seen faintly through the veil of crimson. She stood motionless of Jules body, her stumps that were arms still held high.

"I sure dun know who that bugger is," said an unfamiliar voice, "but I'm sure I dun wanna see him dyin'." Gazes turned to battered man perched high in the giant, dead tree's branches. His dark blue suit frayed and filled with bullet holes, splattered in blood, some his, some not. A loosened tie hung against his green shirt, equally as mangled. His sleeves were rolled up, and anywhere flesh was exposed showed signs of multiple bruises and scratches from a most spectacular battle. The wind blew through his long, blonde hair, matted with sweat and blood, covering the dark, busted shades that hid his eyes. Lifting a hand slowly, it quirkily pointed to the cracked spectacles. "Look familiar, Vince?" The despair in the fire slinger's face was washed away. "And you said I couldn't take those guys on my own. Somebody owns me a brew." With a swipe of his hand, a terrible sound built up, as before, and shredded across the risen incline, cleaving off the ledge that supported Maria, still frozen from shock. As Sasha prepared to counter, he waved his other hand, dropping a rain of blades that severed her chain in several places. "Looks like you guys have been having fun without me," he noted, snapping his fingers and softening the earth that encased Ever. The old man rose through the mud, while not happy or clean, but freed and still alive, and back to his more familiar form. He could have washed him off, but why? "Looks like I have some lost time to make up for." Leaning forward, he let gravity carry him from the branch as he descended into the battlefield, whipping the double barreled shotgun from his back.

[Psst, he's Water & Wind if you can't tell. And if he wasn't suppose to be, Uh-oh! Spagetti-Os!]

With the two girls out of the way, Ever and the man who had helped him ganged up on Gunter. Realizing that he was outnumbered and overpowered, Gunter broke off from Vincent and managed to roll towards his two hurt allies while avoiding shotgun blasts.

“Damn.” Gunter muttered. “And ven ve thought things vere going to be easy…”

“Well, well, look what has happened while I was away.” said a voice familiar to Vincent, Ever, and the three Thanox agents.

The apothecary appeared from out of the shadows away from everyone else. He had his confident grin on as before, and he was wearing a brand new suit.

“Crap. Not the Candyman again.” Ever groaned.

“Don’t worry, we’ve got more help this time.” Vincent said.

“So, I get to meet the Candyman in person for the first time.” the other man announced, smiling.

The three Thanox agents, momentarily forgotten, moved themselves aside. But the Candyman quickly addressed them.

“You three should have left this to the professionals.” he said.

Although irritated at his remark, the three were in no shape to respond. The Candyman returned to analyze his new situation, just as a new member entered the scene. The aeromancer that Maria some time ago had zapped away had returned. He came towards the protagonist group and stood together with them.

“Guess I’ll help you guys out again.” the new aeromancer dressed in black said.

“Wait, you were the one who helped us out with the police?” Vincent asked.

The man nodded in response, and turned his attention to his new foe. The apothecary showed the faintest look of surprise and irritation at having a new enemy to battle, but shrugged it off and said,

“This should be interesting. It’s about time that I exercised my powers against some WORTHY foes.”

And with that, he held out his hand and began summoning his powers.

“OK everyone, be careful! We can beat him, but he’s still strong!” Vincent announced to his new group.

“Yes. I’m ready this time.” Ever announced, stepping forward to the frontlines.

With the opposing sides facing each other, and the three Thanox agents watching the scene from the sidelines, nobody noticed the missing person.


Jules ran as fast as he could after regaining consciousness only a minute ago. He looked at his hands just to make sure, and reassured himself that he really was carrying the Tome. While running, Jules recalled his quick conversation with Samael.

“Jules, you’re awake!” Samael had said. “There’s no time to dawdle, we’re about to fight the Candyman again and I don’t know how the situation is going to turn out.”

“…unnnhhh…” Jules had replied, getting on his feet.

“Jules, I need you to do this for me. Take the Tome and head to the town northeast of here.” Samael said, giving him the Tome and using the stars to point to the horizon behind Jules. “In the town, you will find a friend of mine living in a red-roofed house. He has studied ancient artifacts throughout his lifetime, so he may know something about the Tome.”

“Why are you sending me out like this?” Jules had questioned.

“…You seem to be the least susceptible out of our group, and no one so far has noticed that you are awake.” Ever had replied. “I don’t know how this situation will turn out, and I need you to guard the Tome and get it away from here. That house will be our next rendezvous point. Go, now!”

“…But…” Jules began, but was quickly pushed on his way.

Before rejoining his allies for the upcoming fight, Samael turned back and had said,

“Jules…I’m trusting you.”

Back to the present, Jules ran through the alleys. Upon turning one corner, he found a dead drug addict laying on the ground and a bicycle nearby. The bicycle still seemed to be in good condition. Jules thanked his good luck, took up the bicycle, and began riding on it with one hand and with the other clutching the Tome towards his next destination, while wondering how the situation he had left behind will turn out…

The man turned around, taking his eyes off the Candyman. The Candyman profited from this to send a bolt flying towards the man's back. The man smiled, and used his aeromancer powers to send it flying around him.

He motioned to one of the group.



The man was cut off by the sound of a helicopter overhead. The man in black smiled. He turned his attention back to the Candyman.

"It seems we are both after the same artefact. Unfortunately, I cannot kill you right now. I have more pressing matters to attend to."

With those words, the man created a wall of fire five feet thick between himself and the Candyman.

"Who are you," asked one of the people he had saved.

"I am the Keeper."

"The Keeper? The keeper of What?"

The man turned and glared at the man.

"That book contains knowledge that is mine. It is the reason i am not in...." He suddenly gasped, and his eyes flared, "RUN!"



The man seemed to change, and the group started running. As soon as they were gone, beams of Black light burst from the man. His eyes began to glow, and his skin darkened, turning to the darkest black.

His eyes turned towards where he knew the book was. He leapt and used the winds to move swiftly. His heart pumped with bloodlust. He needed to rid himself of its Good. Then he could return to this world fully and return to his true form, that of Ishmael, angel of Darkness.

[Ishmael is what you would call "possesed". He somehow managed to have himself fused with the soul of Ishmael, and the only way to purge himself of that soul is through use of the Tome. However, being fused with Ishmael gives him formidable advantages.]

Lengths of scripture billowed in the summoned winds. Three pairs of majestic, cygnus wings wrapped taut spread from the angelic body that soared in their presence. Beneath black shroud, the unknowable angelic face of darkness lie, hidden from the mortals lest it be their end.

"I..." the celestial hissed, "have returned!" The long arms of its robes flapped in the air as it stretched its reach. The creature surveyed its surroundings as though just waking from a deep sleep.

Then it saw the Candyman.

He only smiled, never bothering to run with the others nor so much as to look up at the angel, nevertheless just as commanding. Ishmael dove to the jagged, bloodsoaked ground, nearly prostrating itself kneeling before the apothecary, as if to beg for forgiveness. And its existance.

"Did I give you permission?" asked he in white.

"The tome..." it rambled, beginning to slant its gaze upward. "It can cure usssssss..."

"Ground," Candyman commanded, and again, the fallen's face was flat. "Do you even know what is contained in the tome?" He was answered by silence. The apothecary tilted his head, adjusting his spectacles with a most disgusted expression. "Why do you wretched things even strive for what you cannot even begin to understand. Fi! To be rid of them all if it would not be such a terrible bother for me to do," he trailed on. Turning his attentions to the cowering angel, he continued his belittlement. "Stay out of my way if you so wish, and wish if to live."

An abyssmal growl echoed from the creature. From the folds of its robes, it began to summon a blade of shadows, but just as Ishmael raised its brow enough to peek at its foe, he was already holding a small vial. It reeled back, shielded itself from the very site of the liquid held within.

"Remember what happened last time, friend," the Candyman mocked while returning the container to a hidden pocket inside his jacket. "And do tell your other self to play nice," he gave as a final command, before turning and setting off after the others. "There is still fun to be had with my new toys."

"Hu-hurry," shivered Maria, whose limbs were bandaged by the only means Gunter knew. Crude, yes, but the ice did prevent the blood from flowing. They had known many battles, and being successful did not always mean winning. Without arms -- or any useful part of them, at least -- a hasty retreat to base was the best they could do. All hope was not abandoned for their side; Sasha alone was left to track the tome. She would receive her allies' aid once Maria could make a quick recovery from her quarters.

Jules had not made a terrible amount of progress. Even with his natural magick, his wounds were not yet healed, and his mind far worse off. The recent events were too much for the teen to handle. The ancient's words were lost to him; he could barely remember where he was let alone where he was to go. He was still not entirely sure if he was even sane -- none of it seemed real. He wanted it all to be over. He wanted to curl up in a ball and wake from this nightmare.

They had already been lured into a deserted part of Neo-Columbus, but he went deeper, running from any sign of life and movement that his blurred eyes could tell. His vision cleared, and he slowly spoke the letters sparsely labeling the building which before he stood.

"Library." The least inhabited area of all the city. He hugged tightly the tome and raced up the stairs...

Vince crashed against the dimly light stone wall, releasing a hail of bullets

"Dammit," Tanner screamed while holding an almost burnt out cigarette in his lips, kicking down a door, "you gotta learn to aim better, Vince."

"Like I'll run out?" he laughed, blowing away the guards that appeared behind the busted door. "I got enough to last me days." Looking behind his partner, Tanner whipped his shotgun from its holster on his back, exploding the heads of some fast approaching guards. "If I do, it'll be your fault. I wanted this to go nice and clean, but you had to shoot somebody."

"He was askin' for it," Tanner defended, channeling some currents to a fine tuned blade that collapsed the stair well the two had entered, crushing the goons ascending to face them. He did the same once they had gone up a few flights. They would expect them to try and get down, but they were assuming the duo had a logical and well founded plan. Racing up a few more flights, a small woman stood in their path.

"Well, hello, boys," greeted the brown clad woman sweetly. "I've been expecting yo- oof!" The door she was previously standing next to was cast quickly open, as a muscle-bound man and voluptuous woman entered.

"Hah," the bald man scoffed, "we found you! Give us back the Tome!"

"Hey," complained Sasha, rubbing the lump on her head, "I had them."

"Shove it," he ordered, not even bothering to look at Sasha as he spoke. "I have my orders." He cracked his knuckles in anticipation. "Which one of you wants to go first?" Narrowing his eyes, Tanner carelessly tossed the Tome into the hands of Vince while he cracked his neck.

"Tanner, what are you-"

"I've got this one," he assured Vince. "What? You don't think I can take him?" He smiled madly. "Tell you what, if I do, you owe me a round at the pub." Snapping his fingers, spinning blades carved out the wall.

"Don't be a hero," Vince order his partner through clenched teeth, but it was too late. He was catapulted through the just-cut opening on a gale, riding the stone slab. He was not sure how smooth the landing would be, but at least the Tome was safer out there than in the head quarters.

"Damn you, you smug ass," the large man cursed. "Maria, follow him. Make sure he doesn't get away." Planting her lips on the back of his bald, shiny head, she blew a kiss to Tanner and returned the way she came. "You go with her, too, bitch. And try to keep up."

"Hey," fumed Sasha at the insult, "now, you listen hereeee!" Uncaring for her words, the giant picked up the girl with a single hand and tossed her into the hallway. Landing hard on her backside, she shot a mean eye at her superior. Dragging her eyes over, they met with Tanner's. He quickly winked at her, only getting an eye roll in return. The Blade Master studied his foe, noting his advantage in size among other things. One thing about him stood out above the rest, however, to Tanner at least.

"Nice shades," he complimented. "Mind if I take them?"

"Over my dead body," the oaf threatened.

"Thanks, I dinna wanna take 'em without your permission." Quickly retrieving his firearm, he blew a deep hole in the man's chest. Thinking the battle to be over, he was astounded that it repaired itself before his very eyes. Tanner then noticed his earring of the Staff of Asclepius. "Ooooh, you're Doc, ain't ya?"

"'Fraid so," he disappointed, brushing off the pellets that were pushed to the skin on his chest.

"So you're a pretty well trained healer, I take it. Yeah, this is gonna take a while..." Springing into action, Tanner waved his hands about at a variety of angles, sending out unseen razors that tore into Doc's flesh, that quickly healed. The battle was waged like this for hours, little ever being accomplished.

"Nothing will work, fool. You cannot harm me!" Tanner eventually grew to weak to continue combat. The colossus gained the upper hand, smashing his oversized fists into his chest, shattering ribs. The mammoth mocked his victim's failure with an uproar of laughter, throwing back his neck, to drag out his humiliation. His victim lied bruised and pummeled on the cold hard floor, exhausted. An idea quickly came to the agent and he flung a rivet of water that lashed deep into his neck, slicing his juggler.

"What was that suppose to be? You could try no harder in this, your dying breath? The world will be better off when you're rot!" Taking a step forward, the doctor suddenly began to feel light headed. He looked down to see that the water was still bound to him. In fact, it was coming from him. Establishing a connection with his blood stream, Tanner was now draining his body dry. He may be able to heal wounds, but that ability does little for this massive of blood loss. Before he could get a last word, Doc fell flat on his face, smashing his sun glasses. Stooping down, Tanner swiped the specs. A little disappointed in their condition, he still donned them. Not leaving anything to chance, he sent a cascade of cuts through the fallen man, slicing him into pieces before kicking and scattering them throughout the stairwell.

It was hard for him to believe it all happened days ago. Much like Vince, his days were filled with persistent skirmishes and frequent hiding. Word never got around to the main office as to which one actually had the Tome.

This was all divulged as Tanner and Vince exchanged stories from the past few days, their long time friendship outweighing the mission at hand. Ever, having cleaned most of the clumped mud from his garb and face, although it truly did not make much of a difference on him, grew impatient. Pacing, he approached the angel of Darkness. It growled as he approached.

"Oh, yeah, I'm real afraid of you."

"Godslayer," it hissed with a most vengeful ire, pulling the blade of shadows from out its robe's sleeve. Ever did not halt his approach. The angel knew it would be pointless and withdrew the blade.

"So, how's the big G doin'? Still pissed at me, I assume," Samael babbled, wasting time while the two agents caught up.

"Greatly," it briefly answered.

"So, how are the gang doin'?" he inquired. "You know, Michael? Gabriel? ... Satan?" A low rumble grew from the angel. Ever only laughed. Bored with the heavenly figure already, he returned to Tango unit. "Can we get going? I just know that Jules will screw this up."

"But I thought you trusted him, Sam?" Vince questioned the elder while in the middle of re-enacting one of his fights on Tanner. Twisting out of the mock fight, his partner began to walk in an direction in which they saw nothing. He, however, say Sasha. Currently, she was banging a tracker, the same one the Thanox trio used to find the rendezvous point, attempting to get it to work. Rather odd how they came about it...

"Well, how was I to know that the original tracker was there," Maria defended herself. "I don't really just say, 'Hey, I should look between them'."

"Yeah, Gunter, don't blame her," Sasha supported her. "Enough other people check there for her."

Sasha smiled at the memory. She received a nasty jolt for it, but it was well worth it for the look on Gunter's face.

"So, what are you up to, hun?" Sasha turned about with a large rock half raised behind her, prepared for a strike. She stopped when she saw it to only be Tanner. "Aw, what? No hug."

"Go away, you pest," she wishfully asked, returning to her tinkering.

"You know, I killed him for you," he said, slowly stepping closer. "I guess you could say that the doc is out." He chuckled at his entirely unfunny comment.

"Oh, and what? You expect me to just throw myself at you just because you iced someone who was a minor annoyance to me?"

"Well, it would be nic-... ow" A craggy formation rose up from beneath his legs, striking straight up. "No point this time?" he asked, still in a falsetto voice. "You must be softening up," he squeaked, wiping away a tear. Whether it came from touched emotions or the, erm, rock was hard to determine. Not even bothering to look at him, she ran off, chasing a blip on the tracker. Smiling, Tanner tried his best not to keel over.

With a loud clash, Jules stumbled through the doors of the Library. Delirious, he only managed a few steps before crashing into a stack of books. He was not sure for how long he had been laying, but when his eyes opened, an elderly lady was peering down at him, her head cocked at ninety degrees. Too tired to be alarmed, he merely sat up.

"Oh my," she croaked, "what brings a youngun like you to this place?"

"Book," he whispered. "The ... the book." She let out a chuckle that sounded more like a cough.

"My dear, this place is all about books."

"I have ... the book." He held out the mysterious tome to the librarian. Its tattered yet fancy binding caught the old woman's eye. "Is... the roof red?"

"Uh... sure, honey, sure." Snatching the tome, she attempted to read its wondrous contents, only finding that it would not open. "Why... why won't this book open?"

"It opens," Jules stated, still not fully aware of his surroundings. "I opened it before. Taking the book back, he effortlessly parted the pages. Amazing, the woman went to peek at its text only to have it slam shut on its own. Confused, and a little scared, she scuttled backwards.

"Why don't you get some sleep, child," she offered, rubbing her eyes in disbelief. "Apparently its been a long night for all of us..."

"What do you mean you don't got them?" Maria shrilled as she and Gunter broke through the headquarter doors.

"I-I-I just dought," Gunter stuttered in panic at the anger in the maddened maiden's voice, "dat you vould have-"

"What? What did you think, Gunter?" Maria demanded to know. "That I would have carried my own hands?" The dodged dodge some rubble in the entrance of the battle ravaged main hall, fast approaching what once was the front desk. "Tanner will pay for this!" Maria screamed, startling the evil receptionist. "And I believe I have just the thing back in my office," she said in a much lower tone, looking at her bloody stumps, wondering the malignant possibilities.

"Is da doctor in?" Gunter quickly inquired the now recovering secretary.

"You mean Doc? Oh, I'm sorry, there was an incident with the intruders," she began to explain. "I'm afraid the doctor is-"

"In." A voice boomed from the shadows as a large, bald man stepped into what little area of the room received light. He was only wearing pants, and they were badly shredded. His exposed chest bore several linear scars ringing around his body. "The doctor is in."

A restless healer tossed and turned, pulling the sheets over his head, and finally getting up to reassure himself of his


"Okay," Jules thought, "I'm stuck in this musty s***hole of a library. I've been able to get rid of Maria for a while, and I doubt they could have followed me with that battle going on. And besides, what the hell could be in this book?"

He grasped it, and brought it to the window for a closer look. The arcane tome seemed to glisten in the moonlight, almost becoming metallic. Entranced in a swirling silver light deep in its surface, he was jarred by the sound of a car door slamming. Jules peeked out to see a fuming geomancer looking at a small device.

"S***, no time for this now. That must've been some kind of tracking device, but where did they pla..." His eyes sunk back, and he remembered an... intimate moment with Maria. He grappled with words great enough to describe his ander and disgust, "That nasty bi....How in the hell did sh... I knew she was lying! It'll enhance the experience my as..." Jules was enraged at his own word choice, but knew that action must be taken. An idea came to him, and he hoped he could move fast enough.

Sasha walked up to the large doors, and looked back to the tracker, the small blip was moving quickly somewhere in the structure. One pillar splintered the wood, and Sasha ran into the building. She wandered into the cavernous main hall following the trail of the blip. He was somewhere in this huge room, and he was closing in quickly. Sasha pivoted and sent a mass of rock into a rustling behind her. The librarian was dashed across the far wall, there was a whimper and then silence. Jules took his opportunity. Sprinting on the towering book cases, Sasha began sending them into the air around him. He charged ahead, leaping across passages when a column threw his next platform down. Blinded by an avalanche of books, Sasha began to send shockwaves through the foundation, compromising the stability of the antiquated building. Just as the roof collapsed inward, Jules dove through a near window, barely grabbing a fire escape on the next building.

He struggled to pull himself up the railing, and escaped onto the rooftop, where he was met with a maniacal laughter. A familiar cane grazes Jules cheek as he tries to duck out of the way.

"Damn, I missed." The Candyman mocked as Jules began to stagger. "What? Oh thats right, the whole venom deal." He approached Jules, who fell back. Grabbing at Jules's jacket, the Candyman tore it off, and pulled the small protrusion out. His jaw dropped, but he quickly set back to his usual frame of mind, and he looked back to the teen.

"Hehehe..." Jules laughed, choking on his words a bit, "I didn't know you were so into erotic fiction."

The Candyman's grin ceased for a moment, but he resumed it as he tossed the crimson book away. "Listen to me boy, I've been happy, and I'll remain happy if you don't want to die. There is a book in that rubble if I am not mistaken, and I will have it. Tell me where it is or no amount of your own medicine will save you."

He removed his right glove in the same manner as before, but much slower. The Candyman traced a finger down Jules's forehead to his chin which quickly became discolored and singed. It was temporarily numb, but Jules felt the searing pain flash into his face. As the Candyman withdrew Jules sunk his nails into his own forehead, roliing in pain. He cursed bitterly, but the pain slowed and he lay on the ground sweating, with a scar running down the middle of his head.

"Had enough yet?" The apothecary asked playfully. The pain he inflicted more than made up for the anger of being decieved.

"Damn, S%^#!" Jules screamed. "Alright, alright you've got it. I can show you where I hid it.

The hydromancer replaced his glove, and grabbed the young man by the back of his collar. Despite his gaunt figure he was able to handle him roughly as he pounced off the rooftop onto a brick pillar still standing among the ruin.

"Point to it." He commanded to the slumping boy. A finger was raised into the collapsed magick reference section. Another large leap into it where the Candyman ordered Jules to find it. The healer sifted through the volumes until he came upon an unadorned rather tattered unadorned book.

"For me? I can't...." the deranged one paused, "Do you take me for an IDIOT?" The glove was removed and he smacked Jules, sending him rolling back a few feet. The cheek glowed red, then a morbid grey, then back to a slightly pale normal skin color. Only pain was intended in the blow. "I've seen the tome before! Now eee..." An aquatic knife cut through his shoulder and suit, and was absorbed into it. "Pity...not again..." he said as he looked at his jacket. A red stain began to soak in at the point of impact

Tanner was ready for several more strikes before halted him. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. Your friend seems to need medical attention, and I wouldn't want him to receive an extra dose of my happy medicine." Tanner returned the blades to his sleeve. "Now then, if you'll excuse me I must see a man about a supposedly indestructible suit!" He tossed a ball of putrid water to Tanner, who had to roll to avoid it. When his eyes returned the man was gone.

"The touch," tanner muttered under his breath looking at Jules scar. "Where's the tome kid?"

"Don't call me kid. And where does everyone hide the books they don't want others to find?" He returned to his feet, exhausted from the rapid attacks. He walked over to his previous guest room and pulled the tome out from under the mattress, throwing it at Tanner.

Moments earlier Vince and Ever puffed trying to follow the direction they thought Tanner took.

"Dammit!" Vince remarked, "Tanner gets to follow her on a motorcycle, not noticing there wasn't another vehicle around for miles!"

Ever stopped, leaning on a streetlight to catch his breath. "This isn't the way he took. We had to have lost him some intersection earlier."

The wind picked up, and the lights in the area seemed to become brighter. Soon it was apparent that they were several times more brilliant than seconds earlier, and the entire row of them burst in an instant. A crack of electricity shook the air behind them, and they saw the beautiful face of Maria, shrouded in a large robe. Not much farther back was Doc and Gunter.

"Should ve help her out boss?" The russian asked.

"No," his new specs glinted from the arcing energy, "I want to see what they're capable of first."

Maria cast the cloak back, showing a much more revealing shirt and short skirt. Despite that, Vince's and Ever's gazes locked onto her new arms. She took a running start and bounded into the air, only to smash a titanium fist into the pavement and allow bolts to shoot out wildly. It was not a precise attack, but more of a demonstration.

"Hey boys, want to feel a woman's new touch?" Vince cringed slightly from her comfort, Ever merely pulled out a rod...

"Vincent, where your friend? I was going to kill you three" she glanced at Ever, "two," she quickly looks around for her meddlsome ex,"he isn't here either-so he could see just what he has done to me."

"I don't suppose that you'd let us go and just tell him-"Vince started, but abruptly ceased talking as a fist full of titanium came flying his way. The pyromancer hit the dirt and scooped up a handful of gravel which he flung at the metal clad mistress. Like lightning, Maria's arms moved infront of her rapidly, deflecting the miniture meatorites in random directions, at which point everyone hit the dirt.

"Maria, vatch vat you are do-ving!" crabbed Gunter as he put out the fire in his trousers with a chill.

Recovering quickly, Ever turned to Vincent. "Seems like she can still move her arms, but I doubt that she can still shoot electricity like her old better ones." Catching on, Vince continued to throw stones at Maria, who felt the need to show of and blast them out of the sky. "Hey try this one!" encouraged Ever after he threw his rod. Nonchalantly, Maria blasted it, even more so when it kept on coming. She blocked it with her arms which conducted the power surged back into her, taking her out. "Feedback is a bitch ain't it?"

"I told you it vas a bad idea." Gunter snapped at Doc. "Let's get this dealt vith ourselves." The mountain of a man stampeded towards the duo....

"So why do you want this book?" Questioned Jules to Tanner as they walked away from the rubble.

"Well, the orginization that Vincent and I work for wanted it."

"Why? I mean what did the Thanox plan to do with the book?"

Tanner adjusted his "borrowed" shades. "Not entirely sure."

"-and what does your organization plan to do with it?"

"Not too sure either."

Jules stops walking. Rubbing his new scar. "Then give me the book. Who is to say that your organization doesn't have the same intentions as Thanox and just want to beat them to it? Worse comes to worse I could destroy it I have I figured out just what it said."

Tanner laughed. "Even if I did, you couldn't open it-"

"Why not, I did it before," he takes the book from Tanner and begins to open it "See! I-MOVE!" Jules tackles Tanner out of the growing shadow which is quickly replaced with a large rock that had exploded from the forsaken rubble.

"What in the name of hel?" started Tanner, as the boulder cracked open to reveal the unconscious Sasha. "How she worked that little trick, i'd certainly like to know, looks like flying a plane without any windows." Jules begins to put down the book to go heal her when Tanner grabs him. "What are you doing? Don't get the book close to her."

"She is in bad shape, I know that she is a cold bitch, but she is only following orders as a pawn in this, this, what is this anyway?" Try as he may, Jules could not free himself from Tanner's calm but firm grip, at least in the state he was in at the moment.

"I'm not going to let you get close to her with the book, she might be tricking us. If you are gonna do anything, hand over the book and I'll wait further away. What's the problem?"

"No."Jules replied, eyes firm.

"I don't believe this, is happening. Jules! What are you getting at?"

Never faulting in his resilience, Jules waited for the perfect oppurtunity to get to Sasha. He watched Tanner closes, and as soon as the maniac's eyes blinked, he unleashed a quick elbow to the gut with all his might -- which, in reality, was not much at all -- and took off running after a quick stumble to the ground. Tanner just looked up, gripping his stomach, grinning devilishly.

The healer crashed into the debris, tripping over odd parts of roof and wall, next to the earthern witch. Her suit was in tatters, more red than anything else. He smoothed a mess of matted hair from her forehead calmingly and held her hand in his, as he was on the rebound although far out of his league.

"Hey," he whispered. She stirred. From beneath cracked lenses, Sasha's eyes quivered. She turned, finding it was Jules stooping over her.

"What are you doing?" she squeaked, slightly unsettled by this turn of events.

"Don't worry," Jules assured, "I am here to help." A gentle glow surrounded his hand as he hovered it above Sasha's many wounds.

"You... you would heal me?" she managed, still weakly. "Even after everything we have done to you?" Her eyes filled with water; a lone, rolling tear that escaped from beneath her glasses cleared a path of dust and grime from off a swarthy cheek.

"What did you think I was going to do?" Jules responded. "You're hurt too badly." Sasha stared straight up at the healer, lightly swaying her head from side to side.

"Not nearly as hurt as you are going to be." A column of stone sped over the prone geomancer, crushing Jules into a nearby pile. Letting out a wincing giggle that hurt as she did (but would have hurt her more if she didn't), she lifted up on a rising wall of earth. She lerched forward when under her own power again, still no where close to her full strength, loosing the broken spectacles from her head. No longer hidden was an intent look of malice that burned in her eyes focused on her attempted aid.

"Tanner," wheezed Jules whose chest could hardly move. It did not matter, for his ally was already well off on his way. He was left alone with the stone-hearted Sasha, and all he could do was keep himself from dying to live for more suffering at her hands. "You really are a cold bitch." While feigning a kiss the healer's way, she took a few, shaky steps toward Jules and slipped her hand into the narrow crag. When she emerged, she was holding the tome.

"Dumb kid," she demeened, exitting from the rubbled hole. "Next time, just stick to healing yourself." Before leaving entirely, she glanced back at Jules over her shoulder. Touching two fingers between, she formed a crystalline band over her eyes. "Gotta run, hun. Thanks for the gift, tho'," she teased, filled with a new sense of confidence at all the attention she had been receiving recently.

A partially remaining column was entirely destroyed in one fell punch. Vince had been able to dodge the fist, but not the icy shards that exploded from the pillar. Ever had his hand busy fending off the even larger opponent, which was proving quite trying for the cursed one as his powers were not yet back in full from his earlier, miraculous display. Doc single-handedly lifted the ancient by his waist and hoisted him into the air; he would have been crushed if not for the armor he donned. Although it would soon prove useless, a well placed shot tore through the massive limb, flinching the giant enough to release Ever to a round landing.

Vin spun the chamber of his revolver; his rounds dwindled, and Firebrand faired no better. Holstering his pistol and stashing his newly acquired weapon true to its origins -- at his pant waist -- Vince took to his magickal training, which was proving a dead-match against the frost giant. The Fireslinger would erupt in a ball of flame, consuming all but what hid behind a sub-zero defense just as Gunter's most chilling assaults were reduced to a steamy gust against his searing shield.

Maria was still out of the game; the match of immortals proved a most frivolous fight. Witts were the pyromancer's best weapon in this battle. He scorched a path behind Ever met with an onslaught of icicle missiles as it the wall of flame traveled. Pressed to the limit of the burning barrier, Ever only looked up to the half-cocked grin that grew of the Doc's face as he raised both fists above. A tortured seeming overcomed the ancient; the whites of his eyes widened. His back arched. He screamed into the night. The pinpoint glow in the middle of the armor of Samael that at first puzzled Doc completing the crush exploded into a torrent of flame. His eyes grew back soon enough to catch a glimpse of a kneeling Vincent, poised for attack, through a closing hole in Ever's body.

"Did you have to do that?" croaked Ever, clutching his abdomen.

"Probably not," is all he had to say for himself.

Realizing that he had been chasing a fiery phantasm, an angered Gunter, returned his attentions to his charred comrade. Vin more than anticipated this charge, growing a sphere of flame in a hidden palm behind his back. It all went awry when his arm was restricted from throwing the spell by a chain that snaked around him. Ever rammed his shoulder into the approaching foe, still in too much pain to do much else. With Gunter taken care of for the moment, Vince turned to find the foe he more than expected -- Sasha.

"Three against two?" he posed. "That's not very fair."

"Shut up and die." She ripped the chain back with the strength of stone; the mage tangled at the business end nearly dislocated his shoulder but instead escaped with a only a face full of rubble. With a commanding rise of her free hand, a large slab of sheet rock flipped up and crashed down toward the fiery gunman. He rolled from out under the attack, back onto his feet, and into a run around the girl. Her attacks where just not fast enough, always striking just in his wake.

He built up temperature, trying to melt off the chain, but with the unfortunate side-effect of molten metal on his skin. Fortunately for him, the links soon burst apart in an orangish dust.

"About time you got here, Tanner," Vince noted to his ally, recognizing his friend's magick.

"What, you dinna think I'd miss out on this fun, didja?" he cackled in response. Sasha sent over a stern stare for the damage done to her weapon. "Dig the new specs," he noticed with a sly smirk.

Ever, limping away from the persuing Gunter, was confronted by the already regenerated Doc. With one hand, he crushed Ever's head, who retaliated by exploding his platemail into an array of metallic spires, piercing the brute multiple times through. Doc flung Ever aside, screaming as the spikes tore from his flesh, rolling the ancient to the feet of his allies. When he recovered to his feet, three and three stood in ranks on either side of the field. Then, the rain started.

"You take the Doc," Tanner told Vince. "I havna a chance to rumble with Frosty yet." He pumped his Winchester and went off at Gunter. A double blast was quick to seperate the cryomancer from his group. With a wave of his hand, the rain was transformed into a cascade of daggers. After first blood, Gunter built his drenched suit into a freezing armor. He swung at Tanner an icy gauntlet, connecting but doing little to phase his deranged assailant. He just smiled through the blow and forced his hand up, whirling a puddle to drill up at Gunter.

Ever still felt like crap, but that was not any different from usual. He swatted Sasha aside with his cane, shattering the solid defenses summoned by the girl. She looked back with fury from the ground, ripping wide a pit beneath Ever's feet. He saved himself from the fall for a time by thrusting his cane into the earth, which the witch was quick to compromise. Content with her enemy's defeat, she turned back to the one remaining, just a little too soon.

A swirl of debris rose from the open grave in a billowing, black cloud. Loose pages of lost books clumped together in the wet air, eventually forming two large, flat masses. All sorts of crumbled construction formed the frame of a twisted avian that surged from the pit carrying Ever by his one arm. He was released and fell to a float over the mouth of the abyss which now bubbled over with a pool of hot pitch, spilling out to the geomancer's feet. The froth burst off into a tiny, tarry swarm that attacked the woman in droves. She felt their searing bite as their bodies melted on her skin, unable to stop the entire droves they attacked in.

Vince twice tilted his head, cracking his neck for the battle ahead. He refused to believe any foe unstoppable; he just needed to find a weakness, the one part Doc could not heal. He began with a blazing round square into his chest, but it did little to slow the giant's advance. A flurry of percision shots took of his arm, but it grew back soon enough to deliver a cruel pounding to the pyromancer. Vin lept over the Doc, planting the final three rounds of the mugger's gun into his foe's brain and spine; his failure was apparent when the five, small, metal clanks on the rubbled floor could be heard over the rain. A bear hug squeezed the breath and a burning defense from out of Vincent. The doctor's grip did not loosen, but the disappearing flesh made room enough for him to slip out only to be buffeted by the now exposed bone in Doc's arms.

He sprawled out onto the ground. The rain washed clear his face as he looked back up from the mud to meet a crushing boot. Even blinded, Vince let loose the power of his explosive pistol, enough to shatter Doc's hip. He stumbled off-balance, attempting to grapple with the leg that was healing lame. Doc just tore it from the socket; a new one would be better. Vince opened the pistol to run a swift count of his ammo. Swift it was with only one bullet left. He knew he would pay dearly for it later, but saw little other choice now.

"Hey Doc," he called out, never loosing that smug ring to his voice, "tell me, can ya come back if there is nothing left of you to come back from?" He threw a super-heated revolver into the doctor's face; it was the best use it had now. While Doc rubbed gunmetal from his eye sockets, Vince took to his feet and ran his hands down his black coat, opening four pocket's down its length. "Fuel to the fire," he muttered, throwing up two revolvers. "Weapons of war," next passed his lips as he produced two, brilliant carbuncles from the next set of pockets that steamed in the rainfall. He crossed his arms, uttering "Irony of justice," pushing aside the chamber of each gun, showing themselves to be empty; it was not conventional ammo he ever used for them, but rather the gems that slid into the apperatures with ease.

Finally, he brought up trusted Firebrand between the other two weapons that seemed to suspend themselves in air. His eyes burst open, flowing with a red energy. "Father of Law," he chanted. A pentagram traced the ground surrounding him, raising an emblazened wall around him. It parted and was readily absorbed into his sidearms. A burning bridge connected the three weapons, growing a final flame vertically from the center gun. Doc cleared his vision soon enough to see his fate, standing amid a pillar of light cast down from parted clouds.

He squeezed the trigger. From the center of the burning crux, Firebrand grew an energetic sphere to each branch. A brilliant beam launched out, wide enough to consume the whole girth of the Doc. The display had undoubtably attracted the attentions of the other combatants, but all there was to be seen now was white. When the flash died down, only Vincent was seen, surrounded with three guns, lying in a swath that fumed in the rain.

"Our vendetta can wait," growled Sasha, still covered in pitch that the rain refused to remove. "We've got what we came for." What she really meant is that they stood no chance.

"You don't have the book," challenged Ever, who tried to tell himself that Jules was trustworthy enough to keep it safe, but a revealing by the witch confirmed what he already knew.

"I knew that Jules couldn't be trusted," scoffed Tanner, "so I guess it is a gud thing I swiped it from him." A disbelieved Sasha grew a blank expression as she looked to the tome in her possession; its authenticity was revealed as the cover easily swung open.

"Why did you have to tell them that?" attacked Ever.

"Can't let'cha get us inta all da trouble," responded the ally with a wink. Ever showed his approval of his reasoning with a harsh stare. Behind him, Gunter charged in for a grapple, but Tanner just flicked his wrist backwards, sending the Russian back in a stormy gale. The contentment at such an easy defeat was soon lost on the combination wizard, who began to choke on his own breath. He soon collapsed, with no apparent reason in sight, yet.

Beating rain struck out a distant shape that could easily be determined as a man in a top hat. A sickly wisp of vapor trailed from the tear in his otherwise impeccable suit. With his opposite hand, Canydman clutched close the fabric that now turned in color.

"Do you see what happens when you ruin my garments?" questioned the apothecary, approaching the fallen Tanner. He pressed a shoe, that kept its pure shine despite the rainy conditions, against the fallen's body, causing the maniac to moan a slight. "Where is the fun if the fight is out of them before they even see me?"

"What are you doing back?" asked Sasha, hopeful that she was free of him for at least the moment.

"You should already know the answer to that, doll," Candyman responded with his typical smile. "The tome is far too powerful for me to abandon now." He bent over to retreive the tome from Tanner. He held the tome close to his face and adjusted his spectacles, grinning even more. The apothecary cast down the tome to a patch of ground he turned dry with hardly a thought. Reaching into his suit, he produced a small, red vial. Before opening it, he eyed to each of his sides to ensure that neither side made any move; although nonlethal, Tanner was enough of an example to keep them at bay. The only one who stirred was Jules, freed from his prison by the softening rain and now tending the badly injured Vince.

"It all ends here." He slanted the vial over the resting tome. Its contents poured carefully onto the cover, spreading out evenly to coat the book in a layer of red. His face contorted as he tried to contain his maddened bliss, but he gave in, filling the dark sky with his laughter. When his returned his attentions to the tome, it turned volatile; flames lept from out of it. The whole thing smouldered into a black, ashen pile.

Jules gulped. Surely, Candyman would realized that he had been duped again at such a reaction to the potion. Jules knew neither Sasha nor Tanner could be trusted with the tome, and so left a fake himself for Tanner to switch. Now, his farce was exposed.

"And it is done," echoed the Candyman, standing vigil over the destroyed book. He tipped his hat with his free glove and set out away from the others, who did not know how to react.

"You... you destroyed it?" Jules spoke up, making himself known to the others. "But... you're not good. You're evil." The Candyman stopped long enough to respond, although he did not bother to even look back.

"Child, I do not know good and evil," the apothecary narrated, "just what I want to do and what I have to do." Then, he started his departure once more.

"Joo vere supposed to recover da Tome for us," an incited Gunter called out.

"It is still there," the Candyman called back while motioning his hand back in response, never breaking his steady pace. "Have at it."

"Candyman," a delirious Vince mumbled, "he destroyed the Tome?"

"No," whispered Jules in a low voice. "I have the real one right...


"You're foolishness surpasses the point of amusement," Candyman stated, pivoting around while his feet remained flat on the ground. "It nears disgust." After all of the deceit and lies and book switching, Jules had ruined it all by risking the Candyman's hearing ability. The white dressed man advanced on Jules with single filed steps. "I would have been satisfied in the Tomes destruction alone," he explained while he lifted up a hand. Tanner, having strained himself to aim his shotgun found the trigger to be dysfunctional as the chambers became dampened. "But, now, I 'twill mean nothing more to me if you are erased as well." Above his head, a bubble began to swell in size, filling with waters. Jules was petrified as the fiend came closer. Samael feared this man, one without fear of death. What hope could anyone else have against such a foe. The answer was apparently some.

"Ever, what are you doing?" cried Vince as a weakened and sore Samael hobbled in between the apothecary and his prey. "You can't-"

"Can't," Ever agreed, "but will, Vince. Now get the hell out of here." Throughout their insightful conversation, the ancient never took his barely opened eyes off the smiling man. He had faith in Jules, and it seemed as though he delivered. Despite his incompetencies, Samael knew he was worth protecting. What did he have to fear from the Candyman, anyway? His touch was death, thus fate would never allow such an outcome. He ran the gambit of countless years of suffering, but with his arm now far past the point of reattachment and hole through his body, pain could not get far worse. Vince and Tanner, healed by Jules, took to foot, getting as far away from the area as possibly. Those in Thanox followed closely, not wanting the Candyman or the agents with the Tome.

"You must really hate yourself," the gaunt man informed. "Do you really want it to end like this?"

"I just want it to end," the old man returned, grasping his cane with his only arm. Resting his own cane against his shoulder, the Candyman saluted his opponent with a tip of his hat before he brought him misery. Lifting his staff into the orb that had continued to grow above him, it segmented into a multitude of smaller spheres. Uniformly orbiting his body, they passed by the rip in his suit a number of times, turning solid black at the first revolution as they absorbed his lethal essence. The dark beads raced from their circular path to Ever who tossed his arm, the lost one, at the speeding balls, seeing it fester and burn to nothing but sickly bone. Raising his hand, a purple haze drifted into the battlefield. Beams from the razed building twitched, bending and forming into a shambling mass. He had no time for aesthetics and sent the inorganic creation at the hatted man. The mess of metal enveloped the tiny man, closing up its many openings before spinning wildly to bore itself into the earth. The ground itself seemed to turn putrid in color as the Candyman jetted forth from the soil on a stream of water. Ever was hoping that would buy him a little more time than it did. He still needed more time. Too soon had he taken heavenly power in his body. His mortal frame could not take the strain of the sheer power just yet. It would be a long before he could summon that might again. Days was the least amount of time he had waited before. He feared if he did not wait, something may happen, something worse than death.

"That parlor trick was not as amazing as I've heard your capable of, Samael," Candyman mocked, still up high, as a wisp of droplets made his suit pristine once more. "Is something the matter? Do you need a nap before we continue?" A grumble was the most he could incite from the old man. "So be it." The peak of his boost met, the slim man crashed down to Ever with his walking stick raised.

"How do you think he's faring?" question Tanner as he jogged a slow pace, still not fully recovered.

"I'd assume well," responded Vince, struggling with his steps the same. "We have yet to see the Candy-" Before his words could finish, a body was hurtled overhead, crashing into a building that did stand much further down at the end of the street, now just rubble. The debris shattered as an elderly man broke from the pieces. Another body flew overhead, in a soaring bound, garbed in shining white. Trailing him were several tainted globes of water. As the barrage was unloaded, Ever held out his hand, erecting a wall of mist. As the balls passed through, their course became lost, causing them to crash into buildings at random. Taking a sip from bottle already at his hand and half drained, the apothecary sped forward, planting a gloved fist into Samael's chin, rocketing him to roof of some deprecated structure. Knowing that he would not want them to stay by the battle, they deflected their course, still pursued by those of Thanox. Jules, being dragged by the two agents in order to keep up with their fleet movements, lazily lifted his head. His eyes caught the rising peak of something he felt strangely drawn towards.

"Guys," Jules uttered, vaguely pointing a finger, "there. Let us go this way."

"What? What's there?" Tanner questioned. "Do you know this place?" Jules never answered but hastened his step, surpassing the two well trained operatives with a new found energy. The building he led them to stood apart from the others, not physically but in appearance. High points stood on its top rather than a flat roof. Its windows were tall and thin. Amidst the many colors stood portraits of men long since passed. Following his heart, he climbed the cluttered stairs to the large doors that parted before him, eagerly accepting his entry. Vince and Tanner, who had grown more than a few paces behind, failed to breech the stairway. In full sprint, they both felt as though they were slammed into a solid wall.

"What the hell was that?" Tanner demanded after they had been thrown back by some force, rubbing his sore nose. Vince examined the situation, slowly reaching out his hand. The air shimmered before it, forming an invisible barrier that pushed against him with the more force he applied. His eyes raised, first to the landing at the top of the stairs where Jules stood inside a large chambers with a man in robes. The elder gave both of the agents a stern stare through the narrowing part in the doors as the closed.

"A Collar," Vince pondered, "Was that man a Collar?" His answer came as his eyes drew higher. A great rood stood on the center peak of the building, shining like a beacon among the human wasteland.

"Vince," Tanner spoke up, "what is this place?"

"A haven for the innocent," the Father answered Jules, whom had asked the same question. "You need not have any worries while here, young one. We are quite safe. Those two sinners shall not bother you within these walls."

"Two sinners?" Jules thought. "No, sir! Those two were not chasing me, they are-" his words never did reach the priest's ears as he mind was consumed with thoughts of ire.

"Those sinners, bring their war to our streets, ruining our neighborhood," he grumbled. Catching himself in a Deadly Sin, he turned to one of just many roods hung on the wall and performed a quick prayer for penitence. "Their devilry will not bother us within the sanctuary, young one, do not fret. We are shielded by the great one from their wicked ways." The boy was a slightly puzzled as to what the Collar meant until entering the ceremonial room. Its ceiling stretched high as the room was enormous and empty. The chanting that occurred reverberated throughout. Fifty woman dressed in full, black dresses that covered them from head to foot kneeled in a circle about a standing figure of old, course wood arranged with two beams crossing each other. In there hands were loops of string adorned with wooden beads. Their words were not in unison but rather each one slightly off set from the other. More of the black gowned woman walked about the church floor, returning from or heading to various tasks. Some would approach the circle, immediately replacing any who had finished their way through the many beads. From out the circle pulsed an aura, white and pure.

"You see, my lamb," the Father continued, "we are watched over. Only the innocent are allowed within these walls, only the things of goodness. Not even their devil's magick can pierce these walls. You are safe, now. Safe from everything."

"Safe," Jules spoke, unsure if he knew what the word meant anymore. A smile grew on his face. He pressed the Tome firmly against his body. He would be safe here. Everything would be safe here.

"It's no safe here!" screamed Tanner as the Thanox Corporation thugs caught up with them.

"I don't think that needed pointed out," declared Vince, lighting his hands on fire only to see their flame fade away. He turned he head slightly back, looking at the church, and scowled.

"That's not what I meant," Tanner explained, further expounding his statement with a skybound point of his hand. A battered figure crashed down from the sky, being ridden by the gaunt man. He struck Ever in his sealed wound, smashing him between his heels and the shimmering protective dome of the Sanctuary. Flipping off the badly beaten ancient, the gent stuck a perfect landing in the cleared out location, as none wished to be in the contaminating presence.

"What have we here?" The Candyman wondered, raising a gloved finger to his smiling chin in wonder. "Some unseen force?" Samael, wailing in pain, slid from the spectral barrier, his back smoking. Struggling, he turned his head about to gaze upon the holy building only to have his eyes stricken. Blood poured from his face as he clasped his wound. "What's the matter?" the apothecary mocked. "Your old friend isn't glad to see you?" Grabbing what little hair was on his head, he lifted Ever from the ground with a single hand. "Now then, if you'd be a good boy and stay still," he begged, "I can give you your medicine." His spare hand returning from inside his jacket, it carried out a long, slender dagger. No, it was no dagger, it was a vial, thin and conical. It was topped by a strange figure, almost like a locust. Busting the bottom of the vial over Ever's head, for the most precious contents within was given no lid, he whispered a cryptic message. "Abaddon sends his regard." With that, he drove the broken glass deep into where Samael should have had an arm and the eternal one let loose a most ungodly wail of pain as the hellish venom set to work. He felt the sin of ages burn in his flesh, his mind and body writhed in torment. Ever screamed until his lungs grew to weary to carry them, but the pain was still there and growing worse. The distantly spaced onlookers now uncovered their ears to see the Candyman dropping Ever to wipe a tear from his eye. "That was beautiful."

"Samael! What's wrong with him? What's happened?" Tanner, in panic, grabbed and violently shook Vince, expecting answers he knew he could not be given. Vince cast worried eye at his fallen ally, contorting in pain unimaginable.

"I don't think there's anything we can do," he grimly brought into realization. "If his touch would have sufficed, Candyman would have utilized that over some potion. If a healer could not save someone from his bane, what chance would one stand against something so carefully sealed?" Tanner did not wish to accept it although he knew it to be true. There was nothing that could save Ever from the pain. "At least he succeeded. He held off the Candyman long enough to get the Tome safe."

"Safe?" the striped man overheard with his sharp ears. Looking at the church, he nodded. Rapping his cane on nothing, he encountered physical resistance. "Ah, yes, yes. A holy wall. That would be quite a 'safe' place to hide something of such value from one such as myself." Running his finger down his cane, he thrust his fist into the wall of force. From within the building a woman could be heard screaming.

"What happened?" Jules asked, dashing into the main room. The Collar was tending on of the woman of the circle who had fainted suddenly.

"I... I don't know," he admitted. "She just-" Another nun was overcome by the evil of their attacker and collapsed. Quickly, the woman postponed their chores of the compound to replace the rapidly dwindling numbers.

"This was more fun than I could have ever thought," Candyman thought aloud with glee as he merely tapped the boundary with a single finger to incapacitate one of the wall's builders, his fingertip being met with an unsurpassable amount of resistance from the barrier. As he disposed of nuns, he felt something weakly at his pant leg. Still persisting in his removal of prayers, he looked down to see Samael blindly grabbing at his pant leg. Not even finding him worthy enough of his words, he swatted away the hand with his cane, returning to his business.

"We canna let this happen," insisted the Blade Master, enraged by own their futility.

"What do you suggest we do? We cannot even get close to that ... that abomination without him affecting us," the Fireslinger reminded. A gathering storm stood herald to their doom. Candyman let loose a wicked laughter as the shining barrier began to falter.

"'Twon't be much longer now," the apothecary stated.

"stop." Barely, the Candyman did not even think he had heard the command. Angrily, he went to see who had the audacity or foolishness to confront him. He did not have time to see much as a quivering hand clutched around his head, pressing a rod against it, crushing his hat and breaking the brim over his eyes. What he did see, shortly, was an old man barely able to stand, blood dripping from every orifice on his face, his skin peeling. Frantically clawing at his arm, he repeatedly asked how it could. Never answering, Samael lifted the Candyman from the ground, only to drop him and lift him again. He carried out this process a few times, words barely escaping his lips. Feeding the pain, his voice rose higher, defying the toxin's work. His voice rang clear as he lifted the gaunt gent over his body and into a shaft of blackening light.

"... he can't," Vince whispered, recognizing the origin of the words, then raising his voice to a scream. "No! You can't!" It was already too late, however, as the incantation had already begun and the cane already began to glow. The heaven's roared with disapproval as lightning clashed in the sky. The poison seeping from the Candyman made little difference on Ever in his present state. Nothing mattered to him right now. He saw no consequences to his actions. He only saw the one result, the end. Gurgling blood from his red stained lips, the final words were spoken.

Grant me now, this final hour.

Give to me that I may smite.

Unto me, the greatest power.

Unto me, your heavenly might.

A grand stroke of lightning illuminated the black shrouded surroundings as it cast down the shadow of the Church's rood over Samael as he drove down his fist, as he had done with the just the cane before, holding his stick and the Candyman's head, into the center of the shadow, erupting the earth as the shade seemed to gain mass, pressing down the ground. A shockwave tore through the city. The whole city. Windows shattered, the foundation of buildings was shook as the weaker ones gave way, and, the old organ in the church unleashed a most striking cord as the air was forced through its pipes. A deep scar of the black cross stained the ground, much deeper than before. The Candyman laid almost still, twitching a little, from within this hole. Ever remained kneeling by him, his hand still grasping still onto his head and the now war hammer. He, however, was motionless.

"... Samael?" Vince advanced a few steps, still making sure to stay away from the toxins. Smiling, Ever stood up and approached his allies, with abnormal ease. He looked back at the Church, wondering why, after all the had to done to them and all they had done unto him, that he would again fight by its side.

"Had you worried there for a bit," he spoke, his attention back off from the Church, "did I?" They paid no heed to him or his words, still staring at the apothecary.

"Samael!" Tanner cried out louder than his partner, a look of concern in his eyes. "He... he canna die, right?" The ancient was growing both confused and angered at their words.

"Tanner, I'm-" turning back to where he had struck the apothecary. He still remained there, kneeling, his body at least. Standing next to him, to both of them, was a dark, hooded figure.

"I... I thought he couldn't," Vince responded, not sure of what he was looking at. "Death was forbidden to claim his soul." The hooded figure, who seemingly escaped the sight of the two, shook his head as he drifted backwards into the darkness.

"No? ..." he whispered. "No, it can't be..." The scar in the earth trembled as the two bodies were swallowed within it, leaving only his hammer, Rood Smite, Wrath of God. "No," the word passed through his lips again.


Jules stood stunned inside the church. About 50 some women were scattered around unconscious, with only about 30 left praying at the figure powering the aura. He looked at the Collar who was attempting to tend to all the fallen women, as if asking for his interpretation of the incident.

“…There must have been an immense source of evil attacking the barrier” the Collar explained after thinking while working. “Only such immense power would be capable of doing this much damage.”

“So this place isn’t completely safe, then?” Jules asked, distraught.

“Not true. We can replenish our forces indefinitely and withstand any evil attack.” With this, the Collar began chanting some incantations. Moments later, a grand white light shined above all in the church. Then it split into many little pieces and each one pulsed into each of the unconscious women. One by one, all of them regained consciousness and immediately set back to work, either at the aura or at other tasks. Jules was dumbstruck upon witnessing this.

“Is this…healing magick?” he questioned.

“No, innocent one. This is white magick, the kind bestowed by the Church.” The Collar explained.

“Huh? I thought there were only 8 types of magick: Water, Ice, Lightning, Fire, Wind, Earth, Heal, and Curse…” Jules trailed off.

“Yes, those are the inherited magicks, the magicks that people are affiliated with upon birth into this world.” the Collar said. “But white magick is a bestowed type of magick.”

“Bestowed? How?” Jules asked.

“It is a secret” the Collar merely stated. “I must get back to work now. You are safe here, my lamb.” With that, the Collar left Jules to himself.

“Safe…” Jules repeated to himself. He looked at the Tome. Safety, to him, became a miracle. Since he had gotten involved with the whole business with the Tome, Jules had lost his sense of security. He had been knocked around so much that he didn’t know if he was going to pull through. But now, he could rest at peace. Nobody could pester him for the Tome inside the Church’s doors.

But what about his companions? Vince and Tanner couldn’t enter the Church because they were “sinners”. They couldn’t obtain the same peace that he had obtained. They were out there, in the line of fire from enemies.

(Oh well.) Jules thought. (They can handle themselves like they did before in sticky situations. And besides, if nobody can get to the Tome, then there won’t be a power struggle anymore.)

As much as he tried to console himself that staying in the Church was the right thing to do, a nagging thought lurked in the back of his mind. Ever was still relying on him to help break him from his curse. Jules remembered from his previous conversation with Ever his apparent trust in him.

“Jules…I’m trusting you.” That was what he had said before sending him off. Jules felt uncomfortable with himself, not knowing what was going on outside. They had only been acquainted with each other for a short time, and he already had trust in him from there? Jules could not bear the thought of leaving him behind to suffer. And yet, staying in the Church, while providing protection for himself and the Tome, left Ever out there, still depending on him.

“So…” Jules muttered to himself, “…it comes down to this decision. Should I just stay here and save myself? Or go outside into harm’s way to help my friends?”

Friends. That was the term Jules used. Upon realizing this, Jules realized that he was looking for friends in the three: Vincent, Samael, and Tanner. They had helped him out of trouble, and he was grateful. But was he going to leave them all?

“No.” Jules made up his mind. “I’m going back. Back to Vincent, Ever, and Tanner!”

With that, Jules approached the large doors of the Church…

Meanwhile, during Jules’ pondering, Vincent and Tanner were still staring at the spot where Ever was swallowed into the earth in disbelief. Their focus on that spot left them unprepared for what came next.

“Don’t move!” Sasha ordered as she summoned up an earth blade and Gunter an ice one, directed at both of them.

“Crap!” Tanner exclaimed.

“You people really are cold-hearted.” said Vincent bitterly.

“Shut up!” Sasha snapped. “We still want the Tome, so…” she trailed off.

The whole group heard from very far off, the sounds of police sirens mingling with helicopters.

“Looks like they’re getting careless.” Vincent commented. “Before, they’d ambush us.”

Rain started to fall hard as the squad cars raced to the next siting of the magick caster disturbance, but they stopped prematurely due to a woman in yellow standing in the middle of the street. "This is the bronze divison, we have you surrounded, you are under arrest for disrupting an investigation and J walking, put your hands in the air."

Uncaring, Maria complied, water soaking her top and skirt. She watched the streets flood from the sudden deluge. The first cop to touch her was blown back by the sudden surge, startling the entire police, and before they could react, the electricity hit them from every direction: the pool at their feet, their damp clothes, the rain itself. Nothing, not even the choppers were high or dry enough to escape the immense voltage as their flight systems burned out, sending the pilots and crew into a spiral of death. All the while Maria laughed as the squad convulsed. After the screams had drained from the long arm of the law all the sirens had popped and lights had fried their fuses, she walked in the direction the police where intially headed, leaving the steaming bodies and squad cars still, silent and dead in the middle of the pouring rain.

Standing outside of the holy barrier, the four elementists had started to flee, but paused as the rain and the sound of explosions carried to their ears, followed by an abrupt silence. "What the Hel?" commented Tanner who looked back at the origin of the silenced sirens. Maybe someone just blew up the last doughnut shop!" Tanner and Vince started laughing.

"Vy are they lauving?" Gunter stares at the two and turns to Sasha. "You don't suppose that they have a new agent on their side do you?"

"Speaking of which, where is Maria? If it is, should we try to take them out and then the third together or regroup at base?"

The Collar walked in front of the door, blocking Jules from leaving. "Not planning on leaving are you? You are safe here, my child, the evils of the world cannot harm you." Jules started to back away from the door, seeing the reason in the father's voice. Unnoticingly he tripped over a step, falling backwards and knocking the wind out of him. As he felt the pain, it seemed like a fog cleared, and Jules remembered that he had to get to Vincent and Tanner. "Are you ok my lamb?" asked the collar as the fog moved back in maybe you should lie down. Jules thought it was a good idea, but something seemed to be unright. After situated, he tried to activate his healing powers again. The fog lifted and he remembered his duty, but as soon as the collar walked by, the fog would return, to strong to fight and forcing him to forget about his power problem all together. However he did still have the tome, which he figured it was finally the time to open.

Jules sat down, got ready, and proceeded to open the Tome. Right at the moment when he opened it, it felt as though an immense power erupted from the pages. He felt as though the fog was completely eradicated upon opening the Tome. Jules still had the reflexes to quickly close the Tome, but he noticed an apparent impact on his surroundings. All of the women suddenly seemed distracted from their tasks. Jules noticed this situation quickly catching the Collar’s attention. He just managed to hide the Tome away as the Collar glanced in his direction. Then he proceeded to get the women back to their work. With the Collar’s back to him and his mind totally cleared, Jules saw his perfect opportunity to slip towards the front doors and, hopefully, open them and get out quickly from this now not-so-comforting place before he was caught.

Unknown to Jules, the Tome had an external impact as well. The four people who were still relatively near the Church saw its aura suddenly brighten almost to the point of blindness, and then begin to dissipate. With this event added on to the slew of recent bizarre happenings, they stood dumbfounded, not caring that two were enemies of the other two.

It was Vincent who first broke the ice.

“So,” he started, turning towards Tanner, “would this be a good time to see if we can get Jules out of there?”

Vince’s question snapped Tanner out of his stupor, and he replied,

“Sure. Nothin’s not worth a try.”

Their conversation caught the attention of Gunter and Sasha, who separated from them and consulted with each other, Sasha asking Gunter,

“What should we do?”

“Let’s let them bring the Tome out. Then ve can ambush them and get out of here” Gunter replied. “They are both still veak, so ve can take them out quickly.”

With that, the two Thanox agents moved into nearby shadows as Vincent and Tanner approached the Church.

"Funny that we had them at knife's edge and then come up with the plan of ambushing them from not there," Sasha grumbled.

"I dought you had a better plan in mind," Gunter snapped at his sassy underling from their shadowy position. Upon realizing the pointlessness of their retreat, the two pounced back upon the two agents.

"I never expected this," Ever told himself, as no one else was able to hear the thoughts of a disembodied spirit. "I thought living was bad, but to see all that I cannot change? That I cannot help? Truly, this is the more sinister punishment." The bodies of the Thanox members passed through him with no result. He was nothing to the physical world now. With longing eyes, he wished he could do something for his comrades, but, alas, he was powerless. They gained on the inattentive Vince and Tanner, but a tremble through the earth halted their advancement.

"Vat da-?" A thick hand tore through the blasted and battle scarred earth. It was too soon for Doc to have fully regrown after his incineration, so its origin was rather unexpected. Ripping out from the ground, the whole tired body was lifted out. Silver hair hung around a balding head, dusted and dirty from the soil. With rigid pulls of his muscles, the elder rose from sunken grave, reclaiming the war hammer.

"... Ever?" Vince questioned, startled by the loud outburst from the resurfacing of the man. In slow gait, the body of Samael approached the church with jagged steps. Not the smallest attention was given to any other present. Only the place of worship was in his sight. "Samael!" cried out Vince in another attempt to contact his thought dead companion as he dashed to him. Without outstretching an arm, the old man threw the younger aside with the unbalanced, rough movements in his steps.

"You fool," Ever whispered, "that's not me." He witnessed himself, his old self, staggering to the Church. His skin a sickly shade of grey, a tongue loosely hanging from his mouth, dripping a glowing, bright green saliva. Lifting his only arm high, the maul smashed into the already fading barrier around the sanctuary, utterly decimating it. Shards of fading holy wall rocketed from the resulting shock wave, passing through the concrete walls of the surrounding buildings but slicing though those unfortunate and unfit enough to be caught in their path. Screams poured out from within the holy structure, not screams of fainting as before but of the last breaths taken by the poor women.

"Vince," Tanner noted, "Something tells me that's ... not ... Ever. Who could have done this?" He asked this despite already knowing the answer. From the same hole in the ground carved by the resurrected Samael arose a slim figure, perfectly straight and proper. He did not claw or drag himself higher, he merely as lifted up. Within his gloved hand he clasped a vial, now empty, that still had the remnants of its bright green fluid clinging to its walls.

"My, my," spoke the Candyman, tossing the empty bottle aside, "that certainly was a walk through hell."

The Collar turned to Jules, fallen from the shock of Ever's attack.

"What are you doing?" interrogated the priest, seeing the healer at the doors. It was only a moment before he would have escaped.

"Did you feel that?" the boy attempted to change the subject. "What was that?"

"Our barrier... it has fallen," stated the priest. "I must work to reinstate it; our few powers will be enough to stave them off until he arrives." With that, he tended to one of the women, lying motionless in the now dim ring. Jules, still impacted from the wall's fall, did not realize the words as the Collar spoke them.

"'He'? 'He' who?" he asked, picking himself from off the ground. Cowardice took over his newly cleared mind; whatever was happening outside suddenly sounded like something Jules wanted nothing to do with.

"A friend, a fellow innocent," informed the Collar. "Try as I might, we cannot keep safe forever. He was going to bring a new source for our protection."

"Things are crazy out there..." wandered Jules' mind, staring blankly at the doors. Slowly creeping with a slight sense of guilt, he decided to make himself useful and aid a nun while his magicks would still function. He could still not piece together what it was about this priest that bothered him, so he remained altogether cautious. "Father, will your friend be okay?" wondered he. "Without any protection?"

"He must be 'okay', son," laughed the Collar, moving onto another of the fallen women after the previous had resumed the prayer. "It is His will." Jules tried to understand what it was this priest was trying to tell him, but could not rationalize it. He stooped to the stony floor, his palm brimming with a gentle aura, but the nun unconsious beneath him remained still. Dismissing his magick, he now knelt to touch her, a touch cold as death.

"Father!" he exclaimed, beginning to shake the woman violently. "She is badly hurt! She may be dead!" He panicked. His healing abilities could only do so much; they had already failed on her. The collar did not change his pace or give any visible notice to the boy. He simply tended to another one of the black-dressed women and advanced to the next in the chain.

Jules could not be nearly so calm. He pulled back the long, concealing veil from the nun's face, not exactly knowing what he planned to do. Whatever it was, his unthought of plans were halted by a sudden stench that wafted by. His clenched, tearing eyes delayed the discovery of a parched, wrinkled, mummified face peeking from out the long, black garb. Shock overcame the healer; he dared not to move.

The Collar was not phased by any of this. Just as the others, he sat next to the woman. After a short chant, a sudden breath of life shot into the poor woman. The eyes filled with a dazzling white, and dead lips pushed out a dusty air Jules could recognize as a simple plea.

"Let me die." Jules jumped back, still transfixing his gaze to what once was a corpse. The priest just lowered the shroud and set her back to her task and moving on to his next one.

"She was dead," finally mumbled the ghost-white healer.

"Of course she was," answered the Collar. "They all are. They can do no evil now." He looked up to the boy, setting yet another nun up for her endless task. "They are perfect batteries of innocence, and far more agreeable like this," he went on. "They are much like you, save purer."

"I am nothing like them!" vehementhly denied Jules. He retreated, pressing himself against a pew. "Who are you? What is this?" assulted Jules repeated. "This is not white magick; this is... is... is... just sick!"

"Of course it is White," assured the Collar, unusually pleasant for the current predicament. "All magick derived from the Most High is good." He went on. "We all make sacrifices. Keeping them from Him is quite difficult for me," the Collar said, with some reflection. "Once my friend arrives, they can all rest; there will be no need for them to pray for our safety." Jules only looked onward, his eyes begging for the mad priest's ramblings to be explained.

"Son, we shall all be safe," he told. "The whole world."

Jules did not dwell long on this.

"You want to use this barrier," the healer attempted to reason, "across the entire world?" The priest nodded. "But, I saw what happened to my friends. If you were to..."

"Sinners," the priest harshly snapped. "It is of no concern what happens to them; they await a far worse fate in the next life." Jules stared onward into the Collar's face, contorted in rage.

"You could not actually... protect the entire world, could you?"

"But we could," replied the priest, whose expression returned to normal. "A great power has been unleashed upon the world. The sinners shalt not have it; the book will be delivered to us this day. We alone shall-"

"Book?" interrupted an increasingly worried Jules. The focus drew too much attention, which the healer tried to distract from with a quick question. "I mean, you don't know any of this will happen." As secretive as possible, he attempted to conceal the Tome even further from the father's eye. "I expected to be home today, wasting away the night. How can you say-"

"Those of earth are not meant to know the future," sternly stated the Collar. "Those of heaven, however..." Jules stood in awe.

"You mean... Him?"

"No," the priest shook his head. "A servant of His. An angel." This piqued Jules' attention. "Of sorts," muttered the Collar as a hasty addition. The thoughts flooded in.

"Father," started he. "Which angel exactly promised you the Tome?"

The lone man turned his head, taking in the whole of the devastation. Summoning a sudden gale, he took himself to the only clue, the only thing left amid the destruction. With searing fingertips, his arm thrust down, burning his grasp deep into the object. With a sudden jerk up, the pinkish mass was held level to the mage's view.

"I can wait," he told in a commanding tone. And, as soon as the Doc's lungs regenerated, the screams began. A carefree bolt smouldering his still exposed face put a quick end to that. "Speak only what and when I tell you," ordered the hyrid wizard, raising an eyebrow to the skull of the giant.

"Now, where did they go?"

The Keeper had lost the trail of the party some time ago. Few things could harm his other half, let alone fill it with fear, so avoidance of the Candyman seemed a wise choice. Coppers and Silvers were on constant patrol with the recent catastrophes and reports of entire squads being burned away, hindering his path little but proving a great nuisance. The rain literally made for difficult tracks. The Keeper wondered about any of it at all.

"You said we would have the Tome," he spoke into his spirit. "We don't."

"I am aware," hissed Ishmael. "We should have had the Tome by now," it lied. It only knew that the Tome would be in the Church at this time. It did not know that this was indeed the case. "Wait! I sense something." The Keeper stopped at his symbiote's request. "A Church... is there a Church?" The man looked at the deathly skyline.

"Yes," he returned, seeing the crux from afar. "Of what importance is that? We only need the book to seperate us."

"True, but it must be read within that Church," it again lied. The contents of the Tome were the darkest of black magicks; no matter how twisted, white magick was still its enemy. The spell would be ruined at so much as the book openning; rather, its power would be drawn with covers closed, still more than enough to complete his dark designs. "Once complete, we shall be seperated at last," hissed the spirit within.

This, it spoke true.

"Perhaps, the Tome is nearby that Church then. If the spell to free us is in fact to be cast at midnight, it cannot be far from it." With a mighty bound, the aeromancer flew toward the steeple.

Before the Collar could answer Jules’ question, another shock, from Ever’s second attack, ripped through the reforming barrier and sent the women down into stillness again. The Collar broke off from conversation with Jules to hasten the recovery of the barrier. Jules, left by himself again but not wishing to go near the doors, tried to sort out the panicky thoughts flooding through his mind. Not only were the people outside the Church trying to get at the Tome, but now the Church itself was involved as well, with an angel?!

After a few moments, Jules began to think more about getting the Tome away from the Church. However, the front doors were dangerous enough from the recent attacks. He began to look around quickly for another means of escape, a window perhaps, or something. At the same moment, Jules began wondering about what he should do with the Tome if he couldn’t escape.

Meanwhile, outside, the four agents motionlessly watched Samael in the work of decimating the barrier, with the Candyman walking up next to him.

“Heh heh heh.” the Candyman voiced to himself while watching the scene, apparently unconcerned about the four spectators. “Even a reforming barrier cannot hold off forever.” He grinned.

The Candyman stopped next to Ever and looked at him, as if waiting for his third strike and the opportunity to pass through the barrier once it was broken again.

The Thanox agents were so absorbed into the scene that it took a few tries to finally catch Sasha’s and Gunter’s attention. Maria came up behind them, seeing what they saw, and asked in a small voice, “Both of you…what is going on?”

The other two remained speechless, leaving Maria to grasp what was happening.

“No…” Ever whispered to himself. “Is there any way I can stop this? Stop this destruction?”

Then, Ever noticed the aeromancer, from his high vantage point, approaching the Church from far away.

“This…can’t be happening.” Tanner said, his voice starting to become shaky.

Vince, unable to continue watching at that moment and witnessing their helplessness against the Candyman’s actions, turned his eyes to the dark sky.

“Man.” Vince said. “What I’d do for some help about now…”

"Help you say?" called out an all too familiar voice. "Vhy, Vincent, you vere never one for accepting assistance."

"Yeah, he was always one for assisting himself," Maria implied. Half alarmed at their appearance but still in dismay at the worlds end, the duo only feignedly drew their weapons.

"What do ya two want?" Tanner growled. "Isn't there enough goin' on already?"

"That is exactly it, child," Gunter sighed. "This is not vhat vas suppose to happen. Thanox needs the book, not this church."

"Wait," Vince stopped the giant in the middle of his sentence, "you can't possibly be suggesting-"

"An alliance?" questioned a third familiar voice as a woman donning a crystalline visor approached. "Oh, how cliche is that? The sworn enemies unite to crush a common foe?"

"Ya guys had us at knife's edge not that long ago," Tanner reminded with a mark still left on his neck. "Now we're suppose to be all buddy-buddy? 'Tisn't that bad!" At his words, a great, winged figure soared overhead, diving into the church as the force field buckled around his approach to accept him. "Oh, shaeti, 'tis the end of the world as we know it."

"Oh, brave warrior, save me," blandly rambled Maria unaffectionately holding out her arms. Tanner still took the invitation, taking quite a nasty shock from her damaged, mechanical appendages.

"Still worth it," he coolly spoke, smoothing down his frizzed hair.

"It's all nice and good that you're willing to play the part of the hero when someone is making you look bad at being bad," Vince grumbled, annoyed at Tanner's antics, "but just how does anyone expect to stop anything if that wall is absorbing all our magic powe-" A great sound drowned out his words at Ever, or his body, took the last strike on the heavenly barrier. The blow glistened with the damnation he carried within himself. The shield was not just cracked as before but actually swallowed by darkness, dissolving into mere fading twinkles of light. The crux at the steeples's peak cracked before shattering into pieces that littered the once hallow grounds. It was not just gone, it was broken from its divine source. White magic of such magnitude required holy land to serve as a conduit. Ever saw the end of this. Curious, Vince held up his finger to witness it ablaze.

"Rock on."

The Candyman tossed Ever aside, allowing the corpse to slap the mud, discarded from Candyman's possesion. None of the newly formed team had time or reason to tend to him, as they raced after Candyman who seemed to glide up the large stairway entering the church. He gracefully opened and closed the doors behind him, which Vince made into splintering cinders as the group ascended. Finally reaching the summit of the staircase. Candyman stepped around shards of stained glass littering the floor. He saw an inverted cross hanging above a descending staircase opened only moments ago...

The collar turned his gaze upwards from the conversation with Jules, sensing a white aura approaching quickly.

"Come child! Our destiny awaits," He shouted hurriedly as he yanked Jules to a side of the room. At the precise moment they were under the cover of a large mounted rood, the plate glass dome shattered beneath a man draped in dark clothes. Ethereal wings shielded him from crashing glass daggers. Raising his eyes to meet the two, the angel walked to them.

"Welcome to my humble abode." The collar greeted with a grimace. "If you're done with the dramatics, may we progress with the business at hand?"

"Excellent idea." A voice reverberated from the split angel.

The collar then turned to Jules, extending a hand. "The book if you please."

Jules's eyes widened, at which the collar scoffed, and began to chuckle.

"Don't think I don't realize you've been carrying that treasure for a while. I had enough information to have a hunch when you entered, but you just had to open it in here. You had to expose my church's "workers" to the divinity in that book. Yet a dichotomy is present within it. The book would be an asset to the sinners had they been able to keep it from us.

And dichotomy is a concept that continues to manifest itself tonight!" The collar knocked a stunned Jules to the floor and easily relieved him of the book. He then gripped the giant rood and began to rotate it. Straining to turn it, he commanded the angel.

"Assist me oh heavenly one! You will receive your payment sooner that way!"

The split angel easily turned the cross alone, inverting it. A clicking noise was heard inside the wall, and a section of the floor descended to allow passage.

"There are many things we must hide from him you see. The ends justify the means however, and we are far lesser evils than your collegues. Proceed into the ruined shrine with us boy, and see history be made!"

Jules attempted to grab at the tome, but felt the angel's grip tear him back only feet away. Willingly or not, Jules would assist them.

A bit later and outside, pergatory was beginning to get to Ever.

"Damn it all, why even follow them in? I have no influence. Trapped in this realm I am useless to their fight! The apothecary has procured too much power, but what does he know about that book that should influence his actions. He's no mercenary, so what business does he have in..." Ever stopped. He felt a presence he missed dearly. In all his time he ached for it. Blissfully lifted up, Ever's cares drifted away. He was among divinity, and flowing away. Suddenly he was jerked back into pergatory.

"Wha...?" He ached again, and was confused of the sensation.

"You broke the rules." Ever thought, or at least he thought he thought it. But he felt the touch, and knew he hadn't meant to think it.

"Is it really?"


"I...I apologize!"

"That will not be sufficient. You broke the rules, and now you must become indentured to me."

"But, I thought."

"No punishment is permanent if the crime isn't. You may repent. Feel my gift, but be warned, the curse is lifted."

Ever regained consciousness. Knowing exactly what he must do, his stained wings lifted him from the ground.

Slightly earlier and inside, Jules was dragged into the putrid hole. Demonic armor lined a hallway leading to a single room. Candles line a pentagram inscribed into the stone floor.

Jules looked on remarking, "Heh, I thought the pentagram was only a symbol adopted by satanists from pagans. Funny what you think of in dire times."

"It may have been adopted by satanists, but that does not mean the morningstar did not accept it!" The collar rebuked.

The angel was weary of his surroundings. While he was doing a thing for good, calling upon Lucifer was not something he had agreed upon.

"This does not bode well. While our actions may end up justified, seeking the aid of the unholy one is something I'm not sure may be forgiven." The split angel said.

"Oh spirit," the Collar returned, "we are tricking him. He will see this as an opportunity to control the mortal world. You see, this spell nessecitates the use of not only white but also black magick. Only the truely pure may deal with the devil in this manner and gain our goal."

The angel was still on edge, but saw no other way to achieve his desire. He was actually tricking Satan, doing a good thing as he was fighting a bad demon. This could be justified he decided.

"Yes, you are correct I suppose."

"Of cour..." He was interrupted when a rumbling began from above, signifying the collapse of the barrier. "Hmph! We must make haste, BOY, read from the book now!"

Jules resisted, but the angel and collar had means through which to make him...

"Dammit they are beginning!" Candyman cursed, rushing to the opening. A hooked chain caught his ankle though, sending him to the floor. He attempted to break free but he was preoccupied with defending against a flurry of knives called upon him. "Fools! You do not realize the gravity of this situation. Release me or you'll kill us all!"

"You mean you intend to keall us, is dat vat you mean?" An ice spike grazed his pant leg, and destroyed the chaing freeing him.

"I do not have time to explain myself idiots, only that I am the least of your worries if you don't follow me into that passageway."

"Hyeah. Like we gunna listen to you, we've seen yur evils Candyman, and as soon as we go into that hallway we gunna get dusted. I'm suprised at yur lack of fight." Tanner shouted.

It became increasingly difficult for Candyman to fend them off as he attempted to go to the shrine. Almost as difficult as explaining his intentions to them.

"You haven't seen evil yet!" Candyman flared ready to contaminate the lot of them because of frustration. "You will though if you contin..."

A familiar figure flapped through the open ceiling, drawing the awe of all. The crimson capped wings carried him into the middle of the scuffle.

"Cease this!" Ever's newly rejuvenated voice boomed. He looked several hundered years younger, with a slightly faded brown beard and less folds on his face. The group's collective mouths gaped as he continued. "There is no time to explain, and even less to waste. Just proceed into the ruined shrine so this may end!"

The group nodded, following as he and the surprised Candyman raced ahead into the decayed monastery. Without more than a few steps into the room, the demonic armor sprang to attack them. The restored Ever merely wiped them away with his hammer. Vincent grabbed a sword from a fallen suit, and caught up to Ever, wheezing.

"Dammit man! What the hell is going on? You're alive and apparently with the red armor and wings some sort of angel." He paused to demolish a suit attacking from the side. "You were cursed forever!"

Ever did not shift his eyes or even acknowledge the questions except for stating, "Nothing is forever." He continued bashing the hell suits until they were at the gateway to the dark sanctuary. A surreal sight was before them. A large black mass of liquid floated over the pentagram. It was shifting to and from a solid mass of unknown material. The collar faced back at them from a pedastal before the sight. His eyes were slashed, both leaking blood and juices. Then the group detected a slight whimper in a corner of the room. Their eyes happened upon a bloodied Jules, curled up in tattered rags.

"I didn't want to...." He weakly stated, and passed out.

"Your friend put up quite a fight!" The collar cackled insanely, "But in the end we got what we wanted with minimal loss." His hands raked his dead eyes, and wiped the running fluids from his face. "I sense something different in here, a white aura stronger than my spirit friend." The collar looked in Ever's direction, whom wasted no time in crushing him with the war hammer.

"Nooooooooooo!" Cursed the split angel, whom descended too late to assist the collar. "You fools! Only he could stop the morningstar from coming!" Ever obliterated the half angel.

"What does he mean?" Vince asked Ever, whom answered angrily as he attempted to seal the hovering blob. "He means, that Satan is coming through this portal to consume Earth and humanity thanks to the Tome."

Ever's efforts proved futile, and the ground began to shake. The Blob was pulsating more rapidly, and two red orbs could be seen flashing in the center. Tanner's ever-present cigarette fell from his lip, and Gunter looked on in terror. Both Maria and Sasha gripped each other and let out an ear ringing scream. Sweat dripped from Vincent's brow as Ever's leverage on the ground began to give way.

"Well, this is it." Vincent's grip on the dark sword tightened, and he launched into a full sprint. Pushing off of the ground, he catapulted himself airborne at the pedastal and tome. Stabbing fiercely, he sunk the blade screeching into the pages of the book.

"NO!" Ever roared as Vincent was suspended holding the sword. The gelatinous blob began to writhe and fell to the ground, but the red orbs remained. Time stood still as Vincent's blade cracked the tome, and the orbs shot into his chest.

The sword shattered across the room and Vincent remained in midair. His body gurgled and cracked while the others watched in terror. Falling into a lump on the ground, Vince rose again grimacing. His eyes glowed black with white pupils as he inspected his hands, body and surroundings. He then opened his mouth, but the noise which eminated from his maw was not that of any human. A terrible shrieking roar tore the building asunder. As the bricks began to collapse, he rose to the pedistal and spoke.


End (Continued in Aftermath)

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