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Hellbender Take Two Archives

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September 11, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 39 - Cooperation
Posted by Frank J. at 04:32 PM

PREVIOUS

He was almost there; Ronove could feel it. A few more tests, and he knew he'd have the solution. Then once again the rules of the game would change, and they would be that much closer to freedom.

Ronove heard a noise. He recognized it as the fake clearing the throat sound humans would sometimes make as a signal to give them attention. It had a higher pitch to it, so it likely came from a female. Ronove turned around and confirmed there was a female human standing behind him on the entrance to the lab. She wore the staff uniform of his people, but the face of this one was unfamiliar. "I don't know you."

She made the loud, repetitive noise Ronove knew to be laughter. "That's because your looking with those crappy eyes you made."

Ronove was busy and did not want to waste time on whatever this was. Two of his people were assisting him in the lab -- men much larger than the woman -- so he turned to them and said, "Deal with her so I may work."

As they approached the woman, she lifted a hand towards them and said, "Abrakadabra-alakazam!" The two men fell to the floor. She looked to Ronove. "Come on, Ronove. Venture out of that bag of meat you made for a moment and gain some perspective."

There was no need. He now knew who this was. "They call you Elza now, I believe."

"The humans need to call me something." She walked around the lab, fiddling with random objects. "So why waste all that time making such a horrible excuse for a body when you could just possess a perfectly nice body like me? It's much easier now that we don't have that nasty Jesus to kick us out."

Ronove really didn't have time for this. "So you're embracing the human's fairytales?"

"It makes us more interesting." The edges of her mouth curled up, making the human facial expression of happiness or bemusement. "Evil demons fighting against the power that created the universe -- that's much more entertaining a notion than whatever narrative you made up for yourself... that you're some interdimensional alien or something."

"I'm not interested in stories. So how did you get your human body in here?"

She made the laughter sound again. "Oh, I am part of a little invasion force that's infiltrated your lab. You should hear gunfire and explosions soon."

This was why the others never dealt with Elza anymore. "I am doing important work here--"

"Oh, get over yourself. You get too concerned about what's happening in this world... like anything here matters. You really need to venture out of that little body of yours and get a look at the big picture once again. Everything in this universe is just so small and insignificant." She walked over to the cube in its current glass case. "Like the infinite barrier that used to imprison us. Here's it's just a little, metal--" Here eyes widened, an expression of surprise. "Hey, someone put cute little bunnies on it. That's neat."

"It didn't imprison us."

"Whatever you like to tell yourself, Ronove. I know Asmod is hoping he can use it in his silly little war. Speaking of which, I have something that you, me, and Mr. I'm Too Good for a Three-Dimensional Existence can all work on together."

"Loch?"

"Yes." Elza reached into the case and pulled out the cube. "He's watching intently right now, wondering if he has anything to fear from the cube and its bunniness."

"I believe he's at war with me."

"No, Serpine is at war with Asmod -- none of us really care about that. Let them have their pointless little battle."

Circumstances seemed to have left Ronove no choice but to work with Elza. He just wished Asmod had a better handle on things to keep him from these distractions, but apparently his pure science going uninterrupted was too much to ask. "What's your game, Elza?"

"I'm here to help you, Ronove. I was thinking that the power of three gods combined should be enough to finally defeat one malnourished, imprisoned idiot."

Ronove really wished he had a better option than going along with this idiocy. "Don't belittle the work I'm doing. This could be a breakthrough equivalent to the War. How do you propose to help?"

"I've been watching your work, and I happen to have the missing element you need along with me." Elza turned here eyes to something unseen. "So, Loch, rumor has it you are so restrained by the other you actually have a human doing your bidding. How would you like to actually get your hands dirty, causing suffering to a human like you have never had the freedom to do before?"

The room darkened. Even limited to human senses, Ronove could feel the cold pleasure Loch was emanating. Figuring most of his experiments here were ruined, Ronove let himself move beyond his body and see the current situation as it truly was. He knew Elza had her motives, but she told the truth. The stage was now set. Ronove may not have had the controlled scientific study he wanted, but at least now he would his result: The complete destruction of human being.

NEXT

Rating: 2.4/5 (6 votes cast)

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September 09, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 38 - Choosing Sides
Posted by Frank J. at 04:23 PM

PREVIOUS

Bryce and Lulu, hands still cuffed behind their backs, were led out of the transport to a landing platform atop the research center where a half dozen Protectors -- or at least people in Protector uniforms -- were waiting for the new arrivals.

"They're all fakes! Shoot them! Shoot them now!" Lulu yelled.

"Darius is here," one of them said, ignoring Lulu.

"We knew that," Lara responded.

Colette and her men looked surprised. "We?"

"You know your part in this; let us handle ours." Lara walked over to Bryce and Lulu but looked to the guards behind them. "Take Ronove new test subjects to their room."

"So what are you doing with us?" Bryce asked.

"Fun stuff, I assure you," Lara said with mild annoyance.

"Seriously, what the hell are you doing with them?" Colette asked.

"I don't answer to you anymore, Colette." Lara looked at Charlene. "You know your job?"

"It'll get done." Charlene turned to Bryce and Lulu. "Just don't be stupid. Your one advantage in the end is that no one really cares whether in the end you're alive or dead."

Lulu spat at her. "Don't even talk to us, you downward facing dog!"

Charlene headed inside with some of the Amazons in disguise. Bryce and Lulu were led to another entrance by two Amazons, one dressed as a Protector and another as staff. The area seemed empty and, they were soon led into what looked like an examination room. "Sit down and be quiet," they were ordered.

Bryce and Lulu complied, taking two small chairs at the back of the room.

The tall one in the Protector uniform took of the skull-like mask. "What's with these stupid helmets?"

"They're supposed to be intimidating," the other Amazon answered.

"Also, it conceals your ugly face!" Lulu turned to Bryce. "Zing! I got her good. Didn't I?"


The tall one walked over and punched Lulu in the gut, knocking her to the ground. "I thought I told you to stay quiet, you stupid skank."

"I thought that was just a boilerplate threat since we're hostages!" Lulu got back to her chair. "I didn't know you meant it seriously!" Lulu started crying. "And you didn't have to call me names! That's just being mean for no reason!"

The woman sighed. "How long are we supposed to wait here?"

"They'll give us a signal when we can move them further in without risk of notice," the other answered.

"You're my boyfriend today," Lulu whispered to Bryce. "You have to beat her up for being mean to me."

"I'm not your boyfriend, Tri-Lu... and I don't beat up women."

Lulu rolled her eyes. "So you're only for emotionally harming them?"

Bryce scoffed. "I don't respond to cheap shots like that."

"What are you two talking about?" the mean woman asked.

Lulu stood up. "We're plotting to kill you." She walked over to the enemy. "And it's going to be such a good plot, there will be nothing you can do to stop it!"

Bryce got up too. "Lu, let's not do this."

"You don't want to mess with me!" Lulu, her hands still cuffed behind her back, stood up threateningly to their two guards. "I'm very Asian! I could use all manner of kung fu on you!"

"You two better..." The mean woman was interrupted by Lulu's forehead slamming into her face. The other Amazon rushed to help, but Bryce slipped his hand out of the loosed cuffs and grabbed her in a chokehold. He held her tight until she went unconscious and gently brought her to the ground. Bryce then looked towards Lulu to see she had also removed her cuffs and was busy slamming a head repeatedly into a table.

"That doesn't look like kung fu." Bryce began finally removing the shiny Serpine uniform he had on.

"She wasn't worth kung fu." Lulu tossed the body to the ground. "So how long is yours going to be out?"

Bryce shrugged. "I really don't the science behind choking people." He finished getting off his uniform and straightened the suit he had on underneath.

"You could have just snapped her neck." Lulu started removing her uniform too.

"Is it really as simple as they make it look on TV?" Bryce took a pistol off the unconscious woman and placed it in the holster under his shirt jacket. "You just twist the head really hard or something and 'snap' the guy's dead?"

"I dunno. Ask Charlene." Lulu fixed the skirt of the business suit she had on and took a pair of glasses out of the breast pocket.

"I'm afraid she'd get overzealous in the instructions." Bryce took a transmitter out of his pocket and placed it in his ear. "The puppies got hugs."

"Any response?" Lulu took a pistol off of her victim.

"She's probably not in a position to talk... and you don't get to come up with code phrases anymore."

"Someone had to take charge and do it." Lulu hit a small button on the side of her glasses. "I think I know where we are. Just follow me."

They headed towards the exit to see that Colette was standing there watching. "You guys really like people underestimating you, don't you?"

"Glad you're here," Lulu said. "There was a big accident and--"

"I don't care what you care what you did to Elza's idiots. I'll probably kill a few myself before the day is over."

Bryce contemplated whether he could reach for his gun in a casual manner. "Uh... aren't they your allies."

Colette shrugged. "It's getting hard to keep track these days." She inspected the woman at Bryce's feet. "This one isn't dead." Colette picked the woman up by her neck with one hand, snapped it, and tossed the body aside without the slightest effort.

"Yes, a lot of duplicity going about. It's a shame." Bryce smiled, acting best he could that he hadn't seen anything at all that might be considered quite disturbing.

"I think we're up to like quinplicity at this point." Lulu turned to Colette with fierce determination on her face. "Anyhoo, you can try and kill us if you want, but people usually find that's a lot more trouble than it's worth. And if you're angry about me kicking you out a window, I just want you to know that was done totally in jest."

She chuckled. "I'm not here to kill you. Here's the situation, Hellbender, there's a huge conflict brewing, and Dammon's decided it's time to pick sides."

"So... you're picking Asmod or Serpine's side?" Bryce asked.

"Actually, we think they're both really just bystanders in this conflict." Collete said. "The side we're picking is yours."

Lulu gave her the thumbs up. "Smart choice." She then turned to Bryce and whispered, "We count as a side?"

NEXT

Rating: 3.1/5 (7 votes cast)

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August 15, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 37 - Action
Posted by Frank J. at 04:00 PM

PREVIOUS

Doug was ready to give up, but he didn't know how to give up. Nothing he did seemed to make a difference. He kept changing his mind from thinking he was naïve to ever believe his friends were coming for him to horrified at the thought of his friends ending up in this place. He wanted to burn this whole place down, but he feared Ronove was right and that wouldn't make a difference. The misery would always be out there, waiting for him.

Doug thought he heard a sound from the toilet. If it was Chimezie about to tell him to keep up his spirits and that God would answers their prayers soon, Doug was not in the mood. "I don't want to talk right now. It was pretty bad today."

"Did they do it to you too?" Chimezie asked. His voice sounded weak.

"Make it sound like they were torturing someone else?"

"It was Talia," Chimezie said between sobs. "She got here only a little before you and doesn't speak any English. They made we watch, but I was gagged so I couldn't say anything to her."

"You sure it wasn't some trick?"

"Yes!" Chimezie shouted, sounding a little angry.

Doug remembered that Ronove had referred to his experiment on Doug as a "control" case, so maybe it was different for the others.

"I can't take this anymore," Chimezie cried. "I keep praying for an end to this, but nothing ever comes. Maybe the demons won. Maybe He can't hear us anymore."

Doug thought of the barrier, and how Ronove said it blocked them from whatever power may have once been out there. They were truly alone.

Of course, Doug was used to being alone when bigger powers trampled on him. That was life for him. Maybe it wasn't for Chimezie, though, and this was even harder for him. Then again, Doug thought, maybe Chimezie was just another trick trying to break him.

"I've gotten fired from every job I've ever had," Doug said. "Including the real simple ones that even the monkeys can't screw up. Now, I got these giant powers beyond understanding trying to break me. Seems a bit excessive, doesn't it? Do you know why they are doing it, though?"

"No. I do not understand."

"They're doing it because they're afraid of me. They're afraid of us." Doug didn't really believe that, but he wanted to take action, and this was it. "You tell Talia, you tell anyone else you can, that if they want to be a part of Hellbender, they can."

"What does that mean?"

"It means that though they may treat us as worthless losers, together we're... we're... we're losers together. And we're getting out of here. Now."

"Are your friends coming to rescue you?"

"Yeah," Doug said, trying not to hesitate, "but we got to get things ready on our side."

"How?"

"Just leave that to me. Just spread the word. We're Hellbender and we're together."

"I still don't..."

"Just tell everyone!"

Doug stood up and stared at the solid metal door to his cell. Ronove may have been right that Doug's existence was pointless and destined to end in misery, but Doug assured himself that he was too stupid to understand Ronove's arguments to know that for sure. So he ran at full force into the door.

He painfully bounced off of it onto the floor. Doug wished he had a better plan, but he figured there had to be more intelligent people than him imprisoned here and they would have already tried all the smart ideas. His first attempt didn't even rattle the door in the slightest, his full force not even rewarded by a slight vibration. That just meant he would have to hit it even harder. And if that didn't work, he could always try the brick wall.

Doug stood up to prepare for another run, but the door made a noise. He thought maybe he had scared it, but in fact it was being opened. On the other side stood Darius backed by numerous protectors with rifles. They seemed much more moveable than the door or the wall. And, in fact, they were as Darius merely stepped out of the way when Doug charged at him, causing Doug to stumble into a wall out in the hallway.

"And what the hell are you trying to do?" Darius asked.

Doug let himself lay on the ground for a moment to catch his breath. "I don't know." But he seemed to be making progress.

"Well, if you can stop being stupid for a moment, we're going to get you out of here."

Doug picked himself off the ground and met Darius eye to eye. "No deal."

PREVIOUS

Rating: 2.8/5 (12 votes cast)

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August 13, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 36 - Through the Darkness
Posted by Frank J. at 04:07 PM

PREVIOUS

"You better hope I never get these cuffs off, or I will kill each and every one of you."

Charlene sighed. "Lulu, shut up."

The transport they were on had made a landing. In the back with them were Lara and three other devotees of Elza, some wearing Protector uniforms and the others what looked like medical garb. Bryce was pretty certain they were in a caravan, though, and thus there would be more of them at the destination. "So have you been working for these psychos the whole time?" Bryce asked Lara.

"Let's just say my resume is complicated."

"So what do you gals have planned for us? Is it weird sexual things? If so, I'm game, and I'm sure Lulu will keep an open mind."

"Bryce, you can shut up too," Charlene said.

Lulu glared at Charlene. "I always knew something like this would happen because you're a stuck up bitch, and that's why I kept telling the others we needed to one day just drive you out into the middle of the woods and leave you there. Doug was against it though, because he's stupid."

"I was ambivalent on the issue," Bryce said.

"We've been playing a kids game for a very long time," Charlene answered. "I decided to grow up."

"Then why are you still so short?" Lulu retorted.

"Hello, ladies," a rough looking man said as he entered the transport. He was followed by two other men wearing Protector uniforms.

This wasn't something Bryce had planned for. "I have to say, you are some ugly looking women."

Colette entered after them having traded her evening gown for something more combat worthy. She looked at the handcuffed Lulu and Bryce and then Charlene. Finally, she turned to Lara. "What the hell are they doing here?"

Lulu smiled. "Hey! You got your hand back!"

"Are you guys working together?" Bryce asked. "Since we technically work for Dammon too, we're all on the same side. No reason for us to be cuffed, then."

"Yes. Get my cuffs off so I can give everyone a hug," Lulu said.

The transport began to take off. Colette looked to Lara again. "Will you explain to me why we don't just toss these idiots out the door as soon as we reach altitude?"

Lara shrugged. "Because that would be violent, and we're all pacifists."

Colette looked at Charlene. "And she's on your side now?"

"She's a filthy, mudblood traitor!" Lulu shouted.

"Your group was never organized enough to be betrayed." Colette said. "So, do you have any idea what they're keeping you alive for?"

"I'm sticking with my guess of weird sex stuff," Bryce answered. "You know how murderous lesbians are."

Lara looked offended. "Who said we're lesbians? Just because a group of women get together for violent purposes doesn't mean they're lesbians. If a group of men get together for military purposes, do you assume they're homosexuals?"

"Well... uh..."

"Don't fall for her lesbian mind tricks," Lulu whispered to Bryce.

"Prepare for flying over the wasteland," the driver said.

"And how do we prepare for that?" Lara asked.

"Just don't freak out, I guess," the driver answered.

Bryce looked out a window and could see the black of the wasteland. It was his understanding that there was a specific high-altitude path through the wasteland that allowed access to Ronove's lab. Bryce hoped the Amazons knew what they were doing, as the darkness swirled as if preparing to consume them. "So how does one break apart reality?"

"I hear every time you try to divide by zero on a pocket calculator, you break apart a piece of reality," Lulu said.

Lara moved to look out the window. "You know, I've never actually heard of anyone actually being killed in the wastelands."

"That's because the creatures inside of it rip you from reality so it's like you never existed," Lulu explained.

Colette scoffed. "And where did you hear that?"

"I read it in a science magazine," Lulu replied. "I also hear that pi equals exactly three in there, and if you even look at a circle while in the wasteland, your head will explode."

"This is a real professional operation, huh?" one of the men griped.

"This certainly wasn't my planning," Bryce said. "I can just tell this is going to be a big disaster." In fact, he was going to make certain of that. He looked again out the window at the swirling darkness waiting to annihilate anything it touched, and he smiled.

NEXT

Rating: 2.5/5 (14 votes cast)

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August 11, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 35 - Please
Posted by Frank J. at 04:02 PM

PREVIOUS

Concentrate. You have to be smarter than you are to get through this. People are--

Doug was distracted by something interesting. He was being led to a lab again by men much larger than himself, but when he got there he saw that Ronove was occupied talking to someone familiar looking. It was Darius, and he had with him black-garbed Protectors holding rifles -- the first guns he had recalled seeing in this place.

"I am not interested in Amsod's conflicts with the others," Ronove said, seeming quite displeased while appearing emotionless as ever.

"Yet they are interested in what you are doing here, especially so for the cube." Darius motioned towards the thing which was in a glass container. "We are quite certain that Serpine has tasked Loch to attack us and get it."

"Do they have any idea what it is?" Doug asked.

Darius quietly approached Doug and looked him over. He then turned back to Ronove. "And what again is the purpose of this human?"

"If nothing else, he's an interesting test subject." Ronove went back to work at a computer. "Keep your forces here if you must, but be careful with those guns. Death will adversely affect my experiments. Being a unnatural reflection of a human, your presence alone is throwing off my instrumentation. And if Loch does come, let me try and deal with him before you do anything rash. Please go now."

Darius started to leave with his soldier, but Doug called out to him, "Do you know they're torturing innocent people here?"

Darius stopped to take one more glance at Doug before continuing on his way.

"So you don't care?" No one seemed to Doug to care around here. "Jerk."

"Strap him to the table," Ronove ordered, his attention still on his computer.

The two men escorting Doug took off his handcuffs and strapped him to an examination table.

"That is all," Ronove said, and the men left.

"So what now?" Doug asked. Some device popped up next to his head and began to make a humming noise. He didn't think he felt anything. "So, should my soul be dying now or what?"

Ronove walked behind the table, out of Doug's view. "You are all so impatient."

Doug could see the cube from his position and tried to reach out with his soul to do something... except once again he had no idea how to do that or what exactly he'd be doing. "I think you need to turn it up, because I don't feel anything this time."

Doug noticed a different sound. He first thought it was something Ronove was doing, but it was muffled as if from a different room. Slowly, Doug realized what the sound was: It was a woman weeping softly. "Who is that?"

"Who is what?"

The sobbing turned to a weak cry. "...please stop..."

"What are you doing to her?" Doug yelled as he tested his binds.

"Oh; that. I know you like to think you're special, but do I have other tests going on," Ronove said. "Just ignore it; it's no one you know."

"...please..." The voice became more urgent, and the crying louder.

"Whatever you're doing to her, stop it!" Doug screamed. The woman continued to cry, sounding not in pain but certainly in intense misery. Ronove gave no response.

"...just stop... please..." She sounded like she was barely hanging on but had no energy left for anything but sobbing.

"You said you want to destroy my soul, you coward!" Doug struggled to free himself, but he was strapped in so tight he could barely squirm. "Stop doing it to her and do it to me!"

Ronove remained silent.

"...please... I can't.... please..."

Doug had very little energy from his captivity, but he struggled with all the might he could muster. "I swear I'll... I'll..."

Ronove finally walked in front of Doug. "What could you possibly do to me?"

"I saw you!" Doug yelled. "You're nothing compared to me."

"...stop... please..."

"Is that so." Ronove hobbled over to a console and turned a dial.

The woman's sobbing became a cry. "PLEASE STOP IT!"

Doug just stared on in horror.

Ronove turned back to him. "If you're so powerful, then stop me."

Doug couldn't move. He couldn't do anything. There was only one thing left he knew of to try. "Please, God... Jesus -- if you exist -- please stop this!"

Ronove turned the knob again. The crying became even louder, and the pleas turned to hysterical gibberish. "I don't think that did the trick, Doug."

Doug could barely see through his tears. "I WILL GET YOU FOR THIS! I WILL FIGURE OUT HOW TO HURT YOU!"

Ronove turned the knob back, and the woman's cry faded to its original light sobbing. "These physical ears can only take so much of that." Ronove limped over to Doug. "Would you like me to explain what I'm doing to her? I'm merely making her experience what it's like for the human soul and body to become disjoined. The misery you heard is exactly what all the billion of humans who died before you are experiencing as we speak... except no one hears their pleas."

"...please... enough..."

Doug was crying now too. "You made your point. I can't do anything. Now stop it... please."

"Fine." Ronove walked over and banged his fist against the wall. "That's enough, dear. You did a very good job."

"Thank you, sir," the woman answer, a slight laugh at the end of her answer.

Doug's mind almost shut down for a moment trying to comprehend.

"One of my employee's is aspiring to be an actress," Ronove said. "Do you think she has a future, Doug?"

The despair was once again replaced with rage.

"You tortured yourself in your inability to help her, and now I'm guessing your imagining the violence you could do to her. Am I right?"

He was, but Doug didn't answer. He was too defeated.

Ronove walked over to the cube. "You saw this for what it really is the other day, didn't you?" He now came near Doug. "When you talk to your religious friend again, you tell him of that infinite barrier... that void. You tell him of where everyone's pleas disappear into."

Doug couldn't even muster anger at Ronove anymore. "Why?"

"I won't claim to know the answer to that. What I do know for certain is that if you want any escape from this, I am your only hope. Perhaps you'll understand enough to give me your gratitude before the end." Ronove walked back to his computer and pushed a button. The device near Doug's head ceased its hum. "You were a control case, but I think I got some quite useful data." He looked to Doug, and the corners of his mouth slowly stretched out into an unworldly smile. "Now I know exactly how to proceed."

NEXT

Rating: 3.5/5 (11 votes cast)

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July 07, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 34 - Disguise
Posted by Frank J. at 05:05 PM

PREVIOUS

"Nice kitty."

Bryce kept his distance. "I don't think it's a kitty, Tri-Lu."

The creature cocked its head sideways to get a better look at the three of them. "I don't know what he is." Lulu slowly reached towards it. "But I have to call him something, so I'm calling him a kitty."

Charlene pulled Lulu back. "Let's not feed the kitty."

Lulu wasn't sure if it was a genetically engineered giant lizard or a resurrected dinosaur, but it stood more than fifteen feet tall and had wings for arms. Mounted on its back were some guns and what looked like a rocket launcher. It was unrestrained and seemed unconcerned with all the people moving about the base. "I don't think it will eat us," Lulu said. "It's probably only allowed to eat a special diet of tofu and fresh baby badgers."

Charlene stared at the creature with a mixture of concern and disgust. "So it will rip us apart with its teeth but not digest us is what you're saying?"

"I doubt he even has teeth. I'm going to name him Mr. Muffin." Lulu reached for the lizard again, and the Mr. Muffin opened it mouth revealing inch long blades. Lulu yanked back her hand. "Okay, I guess he does have teeth. Bad Mr. Muffin! You scared me!"

Bryce tried to get a better look of the equipment on Mr. Muffin's back. "So are people supposed to ride it?"

"It's idiotic," Charlene exclaimed, and then backed a few steps away. "There's no advantage to this over a jet fighter."

"It's called style, Char." Lulu pirouetted. "Everyone else can go around in their boring fighter planes and stupid uniforms while Serpine's people fly around on giant lizard looking like golden knights." Lulu loved the uniforms they stole at Stan's direction. They had normal material underneath, but on top had golden metal plates making it look like they were wearing armor. Plus, her breastplate was molded for her feminine physique. "And isn't it nice to have a uniform that's functional while still emphasizing one's femininity?"

"Mine isn't emphasizing my femininity." Bryce looked down at his flat breastplate. "Wish I had metal boobs."

"So what are you planning on putting in there?" Lulu knocked on Charlene's chest piece.

She smacked Lulu roughly on the back of the head. "Don't touch me."

"Ow! You be nice or I'll shoot you with my laser gun!" The rifles they got were shiny, smooth, golden things that looked more fancy than the regular cartridge firing rifles they were underneath. Lulu aimed her gun up at an imaginary target. "Pew! Pew!" Lulu noticed the confused looks on her compatriots. "That's the sound a laser gun makes. You guys should study science more."

"These guns are idiotic," Charlene said. "These uniforms are idiotic. The giant lizard weapon is idiotic. Serpine's whole military is idiotic. She is a nut."

"She could be worse." Bryce looked up at the blackness blocking the sky above them that was Loch's chariot.

There were creatures flying around the craft, and they didn't seem as nice as Lulu's new kitty friend. "Yeah, glad he's on the side we're pretending to be on."

"Where are your helmets?"

Lulu turned around to see a six-foot tall woman looking at them scornfully. Her metal uniform covered the important bits and pretty much nothing else. "Um... I guess they're still back in the truck that we stole the uniforms from."

"Get ready for the assault or I'll rip your little head off!" The woman stormed off.

Charlene looked quite stunned. "Did we just get ordered around by a woman in a metal bikini?"

Bryce nodded. "That was awesome."

"She must be one of the Hollow," Lulu said. "When your whole body isn't real, you don't have to worry about practicality in your outfits. Must be pretty cool." She turned back to the lizard. "You should have bit the mean woman and defended your mommy, Mr. Muffin!"

Charlene smacked Lulu on the head again. "You aren't the rocket launching lizard's mommy. Can we get to this?" She walked off towards a nearby building and Bryce and Lulu followed.

Lulu rubbed the back of her head. "Maybe I should have gotten the helmet."

"There were stupid looking," Bryce said.

"They'd be neat if they had horns like a Viking helmet."

"Will you two shut up?" Charlene approached the door to one of the hangars and looked around briefly to make sure no one was watching them. "After we do this, let's not ever see each other ever again."

They entered and inside there were a number of unattended transport vehicles. "These look normal," Bryce said. "Shouldn't they be pulled by pegasi or something?"

"You'd think." Charlene opened the door of one and checked inside. "Serpine's military is just too idiotic to live. I really hope everyone here gets killed in the attack."

Bryce checked out the driver seat. "I hope everyone on both sides gets killed."

"Except for us," Lulu said. "And Doug."

"Of course not us or Doug," Bryce answered. "I like living, and this is all kinda pointless if Doug gets killed."

"Nothing is pointless if you learn something," Lulu corrected him.

"So what have you been learning?"

Lulu turned around to see six soldiers entering the hangar. "Hey, guys. We were just checking out the..." She noticed they were all women and had some smug little smiles on their faces. "Oh crap. Not you guys again."

"Hello, Hellbender," one of the Amazons said, she having remembered the helmet with her disguise. "Ends up Elza has use for you. You should be honored."

"And we totally are," Lulu replied. "It's just were on a tight schedule right now, so as much as we'd like to help you guys, why don't we-- KILL THEM!" Lulu fired her rifle at the six, but nothing happened. They stood watching in amusement as each trigger pull caused nothing more to happen than a little clicking noise. Lulu saw that Bryce was now beside her, having no more luck with his rifle. Lulu stopped pulling the trigger and took careful aim at one the Amazons. "Pew! Pew!"

Lulu looked behind her to see that Charlene hadn't even raised her weapon. Instead she stared at Lulu and Bryce with a grave expression. "Um... Char," Bryce said to her, "we're having a little weapon trouble. You want to help us out?"

"I... I disarmed them." Charlene moved away from them.

Lulu looked again to the smiles of their enemies and back to Charlene. "What's going on?"

Charlene slowly walked over to stand with the Amazons. "I'm sorry, guys, but things have gotten bigger than the four of us."

NEXT

Rating: 2.6/5 (10 votes cast)

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June 30, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 33 - Faith
Posted by Frank J. at 05:08 PM

PREVIOUS

"Chi-something, you there?"

"I am here, Doug." Came a voice from his cell's toilet. "It's Chimezie."

"Chimezie." Doug tried to repeat.

"Close enough."

"I was talking with some woman through here earlier... but she didn't seem to speak English. She was crying. I don't think she understood me."

"I'm sure you helped her just by talking to her," Chimezie said. "They seem to have mainly taken immigrants -- people who will not be noticed to be missing. I came here from Africa."

"I thought that place was all dead."

"Not all of it." Chimezie paused for a moment. "Things are very bad there, but the Transcendents -- the Demons -- had no interest in it. Still, I came here looking to be part of the civilized world. All I found was evil, though." He was silent again. "I should never have left my home."

"No. Someone has got to stop this, and it might as well be us. I got good news on that. I..." Doug thought a moment how best to express things. "Um... I like saw into another realm when Ronove tried to destroy my soul. I could see it wasn't working, and I saw him and he's like nothing... at least wherever I was I was the more powerful one. And I saw the barrier linked to the cube. Even he was intimidated by it. If we could somehow trap them behind it, we'd be free of them for good."

"How would we do that?"

Doug thought for a while. "I guess I don't know. Still, it seems like progress."

"Yes it does. It is what I pray for. Most here are losing faith, though. Ronove's experiments are hard on many. He seems to be trying to study how things in this world can affect the soul such as trauma or physically affecting the brain." His voice trailed off for a moment. "We all live through it, though."

Doug got the message. None of this should go on even a day longer. "I don't know what to do, Chimezie. I saw outside, and I don't even know how my friends will get here. I guess we really have to work on our own plan... except I'm not really good at that sort of thing."

"We must have faith in God. All things are possible through Him."

Doug wondered how long Chimezie had been here asking God to help him, but didn't want to burst the guy's bubble. "I want to believe in stuff like that, but I remember how as a kid I believed in Santa Claus, but I still never got any presents."

"God is real, Doug."

"Then He better do something about all this soon. There's a lot of crap in this world, and if He really has the power, then He should take care of it."

"We must take action," Chimezie said. "And when we have faith, God will help us."

Stuck in a small dark cell, Doug wasn't really sure of any action he could take. He knew there was something he could do -- he saw it -- but he had no idea how. And he had no idea how to figure out how to do it either.

"Do you want me to tell you about Jesus, Doug?"

"Not really." He really didn't want to clutter his head with any other hard to grasp concepts. "He fought evil, right?"

"Yes, and He cast out demons."

"Okay, you can go ahead and tell me about him... but first get away from the toilet for a sec and stop listening."

"Why?"

"I have to pee."

NEXT

Rating: 2.8/5 (12 votes cast)

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June 23, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 32 - Alliance
Posted by Frank J. at 05:02 PM

PREVIOUS

Colette looked over the images from the warehouse. They didn't tell her much other than that the killer liked to be messy.

She felt a hand on her shoulder. "Seems a bit excessive, doesn't it?"

Colette looked to Dammon. "So was it the work of Loch?"

"In a way." He sat on Colette's desk and took a sip from his brandy.

"The fact that everyone is after those three idiots proves to me that they all must be grasping at straws on this issue. So, does it change anything now that he has them?"

Dammon shrugged. "I wasn't even sure what we were doing with them in the first place."

Colette stared at him. "Then why did you task them with retrieving the cube?"

"Wasn't my idea." He took another sip of his drink.

"Then whose was it?"

Dammon looked towards the door. "Dear, you can come in."

Into the office walked Lara in one of her usual business suits. "Hey, Colette."

Colette shot to her feet. "You can't be serious!"

Lara sighed. "You're ascended, Colette. You're supposed to be above petty grudges. And really, you're such a bitch anyone else would have humiliated you thusly if given the opportunity."

"And those would be your last words."

Colette started towards Lara, but Dammon gently put his hand out in front of her. "If we had more time, I'd throw down some mud and let you settle this like ladies. I'm just going to have to ask you to listen instead. Lara works for Elza... who I've had a secret alliance with for some time."

Colette backed off but kept an eye on Lara. "I thought she took the cube from Elza's people and gave it to Asmod."

"Don't ask me to explain things," Lara said. "All I know is that now we don't want either Asmod or Serpine to have permanent ownership of the device."

Colette looked to Dammon. "Elza is playing us."

Lara smiled. "I'd almost guarantee it. And Dammon is trying to play Elza as he does all the other Trans. Duplicity is pretty much how the world goes 'round these days."

Dammon led Colette back to her chair. "The obvious lack of trust aside, the fact is Elza has her people planted all over, and I have plenty of contact and resources. Together, we can mount an effort to get into Ronove's lab and retrieve the cube."

"And then what?"

Dammon sipped his drink. "That's between me and Elza."

"And no one still has any idea what the cube does?"

"I'm guessing nothing," Dammon said. "Everyone wants it, though, so that makes it valuable and dangerous. So, I'll need you to get some of your best men, and you'll be working with Lara and her group."

Colette looked at Lara. "Will your girls play well with others, Miss Skinner?"

Lara shrugged. "As long as your men won't rape and murder them. They're not fond of that."

Colette was still a moment away from ripping Lara's head off so as just not see that smug little smile anymore. "I'll make a note of that."

Dammon patted Lara on the shoulder. "Lara, could you give me a moment to talk to my employee?"

"Sure. I'll give you two a moment to plot behind my back." Lara left the room.

Dammon took Colette by her hand, the one that had been recently severed. "I can trust you can rise above a lust for vengeance over the ephemeral things of this world?"

"Of course. I know I have failed you recently, but--"

Dammon put his fingers to her lips. "A learning experience. You're stronger for it, and I know I can trust you for this task. Yes, it seems foolish to put any trust into Elza or her followers, but she is an annoyance, not a threat. There is one out there, though, worth fearing... much more than either Asmod or Serpine upsetting the balance of power."

"Who? And why haven't I heard of him before?"

Dammon paused thoughtfully for a moment. "We liked to think he had no more interest in this world, but I'm afraid we were wrong."
"And he is involved with the cube?"

"I am guessing he is involved in a number of things lately."

Colette thought she saw fear in Dammon's face, but dismissed the thought. "And what does he want?"

Dammon finished off his drink. "You know children stories where the villain seems to be evil for simply the sake of evil. This is him. He will not rest until anything with sentience is in eternal torment."

Now Colette was scared. "So what do we do about him?"

"We educate ourselves." Dammon looked her in the eyes. "This remains only between you and me, but I do not care about the cube. I have a completely different mission for you."

NEXT

Rating: 3.2/5 (11 votes cast)

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June 11, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 31 - Seeing Clearly
Posted by Frank J. at 05:06 PM

PREVIOUS

Doug didn't feel the slightest bit of pain, but he was in agony. He thought about struggling to be free, but moving was no help. There was no escaping misery. What was tearing him apart was existence itself.

His ears were ringing, and he realized it was because he was screaming at the tops of his lungs. His throat started to hurt, and at least that was a distraction.

_Get a hold of yourself, Doug. People are counting on you._ He forced his eyes open. There was machinery around him, humming. They were causing these feelings in him. _If I could shut it off and find the cube..._ He tried to look around, but couldn't see anything.

_No. I'm going about this wrong. It isn't in this world I'm being hurt in._ Doug concentrated best he could and tried to feel the agony more clearly. He needed to find where the pain was.

There were hooks digging into him, tearing him apart from all directions. The assault was so vicious, he couldn't understand how he could last even a moment of it. All around were jagged things brutally hacking away. He wanted to turn from it, but he forced himself look down at the damage to him.

There wasn't any. His body was solid and impenetrable, like a rock, and the attacks didn't even scratch him. It was like fishhooks trying to cut into a piece of steel. There was nothing here he needed to fear.

He now looked beyond it all and saw a massive barrier to which there appeared no end. It was a void and yet it was solid. Nothing could go beyond it. It was the contents of the cube. He knew it. But he didn't know what he could do with it.

He wasn't alone. There was another presence there looking at the barrier. The being seemed so powerful, larger than planets, its footsteps like earthquakes. But then Doug looked at himself again. He was massive, solid, and invincible. He took another look at the being and saw he was looking down on it. As big as it was, next to himself it was small, pitiful. It was scared.

Doug was back in the lab. The machinery was off, and he noticed the foul smell of Ronove. "I think that's enough for today," Doug heard him say. "Take him back to his cell."

"Are you sure?" Doug called out. "It seems like you were so close to destroying my soul. Wouldn't want to quit now."

The machinery moved away, and Doug could see Ronove standing next to him, staring at him with those black goggles. "The goal today was merely to gather some data so as to understand how to destroy you more fully, human."

Doug smiled at him. "I saw you. I saw what you really are."

"Your delusions won't offer you hope for much longer." Ronove motioned to the guards. They unstrapped Doug and lifted him up.

"I saw you," Doug said. "I'm not scared of you. Can you say the same about me?"

Ronove was expressionless as usual, but Doug could feel him laughing. It was a nervous laugh.

* * * *

"So you're the Devil?" Lulu sat in the passenger seat next to Stan.

"It's a simple way of explaining myself, and thus how I described myself to your friend."

Bryce sat down in the rear with Charlene. He was ready to relax, but he could see in the alertness in Charlene's eyes that she wasn't of the same opinion. Bryce looked to their driver. "You're not really the Devil like in Biblical mythology, though? Right?"

"Let's just say it is my habit to rebel against the prevailing power over this world." He put the vehicle on autopilot and turned to face Bryce. "Once it was a single force, now it is the ones you call the Transcendents."

"Well, thanks for the rescue, buddy." Lulu slapped him on the back. "I think the Bible had you all wrong. You seem nice."

He smiled. "It's my pleasure. As the character you met demonstrated quite well, some of the scarier things in this world still are humans."

"So why did you do this when you only appeared to Doug in his dreams?" Charlene asked, an accusation seemingly lying underneath her words. "Why not rescue him since you seem to be the cause of his situation?"

His smile faded somewhat, but didn't disappear. "I don't think you people hold any position to demand me to explain myself. To make this simple, I'll help you rescue your friend. I ask nothing of you. I do admit I have my own ulterior motives, but they're mine and they don't concern you. Sounds like a fair enough deal, wouldn't you say?"

"So you're powerful, like the Trans?" Bryce asked.

"Quite. I know you feel quite powerless next to the likes of Dammon and Loch, but I can keep the playing field more even."

"Can you get us our three million back?" Bryce doubted it, but he felt he should at least ask.

Stan laughed. "I can make sure you don't starve. If money is all you desire, though, I can find you path towards that once you free Doug. If I may give a friendly suggestion, though, I think you three should spend some time figuring out what it is in this world you really do want."

Lulu giggled and threw her arm around Stan. "He's like an omnipotent guidance counselor. I like him. Let's make him an honorary member of Hellbender."

"So are you really powerful?" Charlene demanded. "Can you read our thoughts and such?"

He smiled broadly. "Don't worry, dear; I'm not going to reveal your deep, dark secrets to everyone."

Charlene's face turned white. "I don't..."

Lulu yanked on Stan's jacket. "Come on! Tell us the deep dark secrets! But not Bryce's; those are probably icky."

"Enough fooling around," Bryce said. "You might as well tell us what the plan is as once again it doesn't look like we have much choice in the matter."

Stan's face turned quite serious. "I'm not going to let you pretend that. Dammon's efforts to bankrupt you may have been perfect, but banks are imperfect. Bryce, if you check your finances, you'll find ten thousand still in one of your accounts."

Bryce was quick to check that. He scanned the accounts he set up, and there was the money waiting in one of them. "It's true."

"It's not much," Stan continued, "but enough to keep you three going until you can establish yourselves somewhere else. I can take you three wherever you want, and I guarantee no more 'huge forces beyond imagination' will be after you. You will be able to live relatively peaceful lives... as much as they were before all this."

Charlene still looked at Stan with visible suspicion. "Do you think that's going to happen?"

He smiled. "No. I think you three have already made up your minds."

Lulu punched him playfully in the shoulder. "So what's next, prince of darkness?"

"Ironically, we will be going where 'Death' was going to take you -- to Loch."

NEXT

Rating: 4.0/5 (12 votes cast)

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June 02, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 30 - Escape
Posted by Frank J. at 03:05 PM

PREVIOUS

"We're going to let you outside for a little bit," the orderly told Doug as he cuffed him.

"That sounds nice." Doug had seen a few other humans in this building who were working for Ronove, apparently assistant scientists or guards dressed as orderlies. They all looked at Doug like he was less than human -- if they looked at him at all. He was pretty used to that throughout his life, though.

Doug realized in a moment he was being led up to the roof. "So, do you have a basketball hoop?"

The orderly ignored him. Doug remembered he should be paying attention to everything so he could plot his escape and get an idea where the other prisoners were being held. It was all just hallways and doorways and stairs, though.

They reached the exit to the roof, and the sunlight blinded Doug for a moment when he came outside. When his eyes adjusted, he saw darkness.

He looked all around, and it was nothing but grays fading into complete black. The building was surrounded by the wasteland, but he figured he wasn't actually in it as he wasn't being ripped apart by things beyond comprehension. Doug looked up to see a patch of blue sky with the sun directly above him. His eyes had to adjust again as he looked back to the constant darkness of the wasteland which seemed to eat up the light. He thought he saw things flying though it, but it seemed still again when his eyes adjusted... except he kept thinking he saw things out of the corner of his eye. There was the silhouette of what appeared to be a mountain as far out as his eyes would allow him to see, and it appeared to be moving.

"The world ends outside this place."

Doug turned around to see Ronove standing on the roof.

"So we might work together..." He limped towards Doug. "I wanted you to know that my work is the only escape from here."

Doug had no idea how he could get out of here with the place surrounded by the wasteland, but then again they got him here somehow in one piece. "You think I'll want to help you destroy my soul?"

"I think you will eventually come to the conclusion that non-existence is the best possible outcome for you." Ronove stared out to the darkness around them. "Out there, you'll find an infinitely worse fate. When the rules of this universe breakdown, it obviously will not do well for your physical shell. But for your existence beyond this dimension, its existence is not easily ended... though you will pray to your imaginary gods for all eternity for release."

It sounded quite horrible, but it also made Doug wonder how pleasant Ronove's existence was. "I don't see a basketball hoop up here, so we might as well go back inside because I'm getting bored."

"You still have the illusion you can fight reality." Ronove motioned for the orderly to bring Doug back inside. "I'll help you understand. And when you do, you will consider me your savior for destroying you."

* * * *

"So is that Loch out there?" Lulu picked up a chair as a weapon.

Charlene looked visibly agitated from not having gun... not that a gun would make much of a difference. "That does look like the attacks Elza's people described."

"Well, won't the unstoppable god of pain and suffering be surprised when he tries to open that door and finds a table blocking it." Bryce took his suit jacket off the back of a chair and put it back on.

"Preparing to die?" Charlene asked.

"No. I'm sure Lulu will be able to knock him out with that chair." He adjusted his tie, but didn't see any mirror around the room to check his hair.

There was a knock at the door.

Lulu slowly set down the chair and whispered, "Let's pretend we're not here."

"Either be polite and open the door," said a man's voice from the outside, "or I will find a more violent way to get to you three."

"Are you Loch?" Lulu asked.

"If I am, it won't help you to not do what I tell you."

"I guess he has a point." Bryce walked over to move the table and Lulu helped. Charlene stayed back, looking like she was still trying to come with a plan for attack.

Bryce opened the door and outside stood a man dressed in what looked like to be a black special forces outfit. His face was hidden behind a mask with only an opening for his very scary but quite human eyes. There was a very odd looking rifle in one hand which he pointed at them. "Other side of the room."

Bryce, Lulu, and Charlene stood at the opposite wall, as far away from the man as possible. "And who are you?" Charlene demanded.

"I am Death. I strike where certain rules don't allow Loch to go."

"You’re his disciple?" Lulu said.

He put his finger to where his lips would be. "Shh. That's a secret."

Death may have been a scary man, but he was just a man and thus not enough to scare Bryce very much. "From the looks out there, you're not very efficient in your killing, Death."

He shrugged. "People expect unimaginable horrors from Loch, but when he tasked me to act on his behalf, I had to come up with something actual to do to people. Exploding them from the inside was my best idea." He patted his gun. "It took a few tries to get the tech just right."

"So now are you going to explode us since you told us all that?" Lulu asked. "It could just be a secret between us. We'll all have a nice chuckle when we read in the news that Loch ripped a bunch of people apart."

"I don't care what you people do or say. I was given this job to get who Loch is not allowed to reach, but you three have no such protections so I'll leave you for him. What I care about is your connection with this cube that all the Transcendents seem to want."

"Well, we do know all about it." Lulu idle unbuttoned the top of her shirt while she talked. "Including the mystery of the bunnies. If you want cube help, you'll love us." She smiled at him and tossed her hair a bit.

Death laughed. "I was already planning on having my way with you two women, and I don't think you're going to like it any. Still, it will be a happy memory compared to what Loch might do to you in. Now, come on. I know you three probably think you can take me, but know I was slaughtering people back when you were wee babes. I maybe even killed your parents."

"Then you'd be pretty old," Charlene said defiantly.

"You'd think." He set down his gun. "I can already tell this isn't going to go down without you all trying at least something... and I wouldn't want it any other way." He pulled out a large blade. "I promise not to cut any of you in any way fatal, but none of you are going very pretty after this."

Hand to hand combat wasn't really Bryce's thing, and neither was it Lulu's. Charlene trained for this sort of thing, but was just too small to be very effective. Still, Death was probably underestimating them, and that was always their advantage. Bryce made quick eye contact with the other two. They were ready.

A vehicle crashed down between the three and Death, showering them with debris. Through the dust, they could see an opened door facing them. "Get in!" a voice shouted from inside.

The three were inside within a second, and the vehicle pulled back up. There was an explosion outside that shook the thing, but Charlene quickly closed the door and they seemed safe and in the air.

"Before you start worry about it, this is not a quid pro quo," the man piloting the vehicle said. "What you want is what I want, so helping you helps me."

Bryce slowly moved closer to the man. He did not think they knew him, but there was something vaguely familiar to him. "So... who are you?"

He turned around and offered his hand to Bryce. "I'm a friend of a friend. You can call me Stan."

NEXT

Rating: 3.2/5 (11 votes cast)

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May 28, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 29 - Hope
Posted by Frank J. at 05:02 PM

PREVIOUS

"Is someone in the toilet?" The toilet didn't have regular plumbing, and just seemed to Doug to be a hole like an outhouse.

"No. I am in another cell. I found I can sometimes talk to the others through the toilet."

The voice had a bit of an accent. "Others? Is that weirdo trying to destroy the souls of other people too?"

"Ronove is very evil. I think there are maybe a dozen of us he does experiments on."

"Last Children like me?"

"Yes. It is hard to talk with each other, but I try to find ways. We must not give up hope. My name is Chimezie."

"That's a weird name." One Doug didn't think he'd be able to remember. "I'm Doug."

"Why were you shouting earlier?"

"I'm just tired of the Devil bothering me."

"That is good to hear. Too many are accepting of the Devil."

Now the toilet had Doug's full attention. "The Devil talks to other people?"

"He tries to infect all minds."

"Then why did I get singled out and brought here? He just came to be in a dream, started talking to me about how there is this power out there that watches over me, and --"

"Wait. The Devil told you about God?" Chi-something sounded confused.

"Yeah. Like what the people used to believe in. The dead people."

There was a brief pause. "I'm not sure we're talking about the same Devil. He is very evil."

"Well, this one seems like just more of a big jerk. I thought he was helpful at first, trying to say its actually possible to fight the Trans. Now I got captured and brought here just for listening to him. Why were you sent here?"

"Not for talking to the Devil. I was imprisoned for talking about Jesus."

Doug had heard the name before, but mainly as an exclamation. "That's some religious guy, right?"

"He is God's son. He gave his life on our behalf."

Though it was nice to have someone to talk to, but the feeling of nausea from the smell of the toilet wasn't helping the feeling of general unease from whatever Ronove did to him. "No offense, but I don't really believe in all that. If God is so powerful and whatnot, then He should do something about the Trans. Someone needs to kick their ass if they're locking people up and doing weird experiments to them."

"I pray every day for justice. I know my prayers will be answered. Nothing is impossible for God."

Doug wished he could just shut off his doubts and believe. "The creepy guy says prayers don't work anymore."

"He doesn't know what he talks about!" Chi-something answered quite sharply.

"Probably not... but I don't know anything either. I'm just hope my friends come rescue me soon."

"You have friends who would have the courage to come here?"

Doug thought about that for a bit. He knew they all got annoyed about him a lot, but he still could just not imagine them just leaving him. "Yeah. We're all we have."

"God must have really blessed you to give you such friends, then."

As horrible as things were now, they reminded of him of before he and three other kids formed they're own little group to belong to -- back when he had no one to turn to. He didn't know of prayer back then, but it still felt like a prayer had been answered. "Well, if they're coming for me, I guess I shouldn't give up my soul without a fight."

"I know you will not, Doug! I will keep you in my prayers, and I will tell the other about you. You are not alone here."

"Thanks... um... toilet-guy."

"Chimezie."

Doug tried to say that a couple of times in his head, but he lost grip of it pretty quickly. "I need to come up with a nickname for you."

* * * *

"So we're all in agreement that if we end up with millions again and once again Doug is captured, screw him?"

Lulu sighed. "That's not helpful, Bryce." Bryce, Charlene, and Lulu were in small room in one of Dammon's warehouses looking over the information Dammon had on Ronove's research lab. He had given them a basic plan to get in that relied on no one paying very good attention to regular security practices, and the three only had the rest of the day to come up with any ideas that might increase their chance of survival.

"Don't waste time," Brock said threateningly. He was one of Dammon's men who had more muscle than the three of them put together and pretty much said everything threateningly. "This is going down tomorrow no matter what, and don't think we're not well prepared for the likely possibility of you three failing."

"We could use our time better if we're left alone!" Charlene snapped at him. "You don't look like much of a strategic mind, so I don't see what you plan to contribute by hanging around us."

Brock backhanded Charlene, knocking her into a table. "I guess that is about all I'm good for." He left the room and closed to door.

Bryce walked over to help Charlene back up. "This is why we don't insult people larger than us."

"She's just as tired of all this crap as the rest of us." Lulu pounded her head against the keyboard. "Maybe we're looking at this wrong. If we're quite certain we're going to die in the next day or so, what do you want to do?"

"Kill as many assholes as possible," Bryce said. "Starting with everyone in the near vicinity." He turned to Charlene. "Happen to keep any guns on you we can use as a start towards a shooting spree?"

Charlene rubbed the bruise on her cheek. "I lost perspective for a moment. Let's not do anything stupid."

"But anything stupid is what we're best at," Lulu whined. "I just came up with five new stupid idea in like the past minute. One of them requires a gorilla costume that's at least semi-realistic looking."

A man started screaming outside the room, but the scream was soon cut off sharply and replaced by much more liquidy noise. There were more screams, but none of them lasted very long.

"Well, that's a promising." Bryce looked around the room for something to use as a weapon, but decided he didn't really care that much.

They all stood still for a second staring at the entrance to the room. Either they went out to see what it was or they stood there waiting for it to come to them. It was an easy choice.

Charlene threw open the door. Bryce then scrambled to close the door while his mind worked on repressing what he just saw.

"That was quite a lot of blood out there," Lulu commented.

"Not as disturbing as the chunkier stuff." Bryce moved a table in front of the door. "Things just keep getting better, don't they?"

NEXT

Rating: 3.1/5 (7 votes cast)

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May 14, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 28 - Reality
Posted by Frank J. at 05:04 PM

PREVIOUS

"You must be pretty special to work so closely with someone like Dammon."

Lulu jerked Bryce away from the smiling, buxom secretary. "We don't have time for that."

Bryce straightened his new suit jacket as he followed Lulu and Charlene into Dammon's office. Charlene wore a pants suit and even Lulu dressed up for the occasion, though she adjusted her business suit's skirt a little higher.

Dammon had a large office with a magnificent view of the city. Apparently Dammon kept offices in about every major city. While most things he was involved in were "illegal," the other Transcendents never took actions against him directly. Dammon was standing by his desk when Bryce and the others entered. He appeared to be a handsome young man in an expensive suit, and he smiled at them somewhat mischievously. "Hellbender!" he called to them like they were old friends. "Have a seat."

They did as told, and he had three nice leather chairs facing his desk. "We don't want to waste your time sir," Charlene said, "but we believe--"

"I don't know how you plan on conducting this," Dammon interrupted as he walked towards the computer on his desk that a being like him had no use for other than aesthetics, "but my records say that it's the pretty Asian woman that's in charge."

Lulu sat up straight, trying to look as serious as possible. "What we're here for--"

"Sorry to interrupt again," Dammon said, "but we're not really in a rush. Can I offer you guys some drinks before we get to business?"

Bryce looked to the other two, but neither seemed to be in quick to answer. "Sure... what do you recommend?"

"There's a bottle of brandy and some glasses right next to you. Quite good."

Bryce had not noticed the table to his right. He went ahead and poured himself a drink.

Dammon walked over to the bar near his desk and looked at Charlene. "And what would lovely lady number one like?"

"I'm good. Thank you."

He looked to Lulu. "And lovely lady number two?"

"I'll have a Cosmopolitan... but I want the lime separate and not mixed with the drink."

"I can handle that." Dammon turned to mix the drink and Bryce took a sip of the brandy. It was quite good. In not too long, Dammon had a Cosmopolitan in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other. He handed the Cosmopolitan to Lulu. "Limes are right next to you." And there was a little bowl of limes on a table next to Lulu which Bryce had also not noticed before. Dammon gave the wine to Charlene. "And here is what you wanted."

Charlene accepted the glass. "If you knew what I wanted, why did you ask?"

Dammon headed back to the bar to pour a brown liquid from a decanter into a glass. "I don't need to ask any of you anything to get whatever information I want, but I choose to because you find it less disconcerting." His face turned somewhat menacing. "Maybe you should consider indulging me."

"Ignore her." Lulu squeezed the lime into her drink. "She's already been a bitch to people for so long, I guess she decided to do it to Transcendents for a change." She took a sip. "This is really good."

Dammon sat down at his desk. "Thanks. I used to bartend professionally."

Lulu nodded. "I used to be an astronaut."

Dammon chuckled. "Well, you three have had quite an interesting time lately as I understand. You recently became decently wealthy by doing a job for Asmod... not through my organization."

"Is that a problem?" Bryce asked, sounding as innocent as possible -- as if that would fool him.

Dammon shrugged. "It's not the best thing... in my opinion. And then you killed some of my people, extorted twenty five thousand from one of my disciples, and cut off her hand."

Bryce took a big gulp of his brandy. "Well... not in that order."

"That was really between Colette and us," Lulu said. "If you want the twenty five thousand back--"

"I didn't say that." Dammon paused to sip his drink. "I'm just going over where we stand in relation to each other."

"I think where we stand is that you're an infinitely powerful being while we're simple humans," Charlene said.

Dammon laughed. "It's a skill to tell someone he's infinitely powerful in a patronizing tone."

Lulu smiled nervously. "Again, ignore her. Circumstances have been a bit frustrating to us. What we want to do is find if there is anything we can do about a friend who we believe is being held by Ronove."

"Sure. You can go after him or you can forget him. That's the sort of advice I give for free." He looked at Charlene. "I'm quite benevolent, you know."

"Well, is there some sort of quid pro quo we could work out for a bit more help?" Bryce asked.

"You're wondering what you can do for me." Dammon looked quite amused with himself. "I think you know what that is."

"So, will you help us get back our friend if we bring you back the cube?" Charlene said.

"Well, the cube would be nice to have." Dammon swirled around his drink in its glass. "If there's too much of a power imbalance, it's bad for me. Ronove's research is all about tilting things in Asmod's favor, so I'd rather him not have the cube if it really is of any value." He looked up at the three. "I know what you're thinking, but I'm not like Elza. She's trying to create chaos by interfering. I'm trying to keep a balance. You people really won't enjoy it if any of the Transcendents succeeds too much." He sipped his drink. "And I enjoy humanity too much to see it ended."

Bryce was already pouring himself another drink. "Would it really be possible to get in there and grab the cube and our friend without Ronove stopping us?"

"It would be difficult... but not impossible," Dammon said. "Ronove's lab is not easily accessed, but I think you can overcome that yourself. As for Ronove, he's a very focused individual so things could be done without him knowing if timed properly. While I simply have taken a form that looks human to you, Ronove actually created himself a human body -- cell by cell, vein by vein -- and is limited in perception when in it... which is almost all the time."

Charlene looked to finally relax and drink her wine. "So it sounds like we can do this."

Dammon smiled. "I'm not so sure. We're still talking about breaking into a heavily guarded facility even when we factor out the Transcendent. It's hugely risky, and it's not the sort of thing a bunch of loser who finally made it big are going to risk everything over because of a sentimental attachment to a childhood friend."

Bryce's phone beeped an alert. He thought he had remembered to turn it off.

"Go ahead and check it," Dammon said.

Bryce took his phone out of his pocket. He had been a number of messages. Each one indicated that one of his bank accounts had been closed. "No!"

Dammon sipped his drink. "Yes."

"What?" both Lulu and Charlene asked.

Bryce was panicking. He noticed he was on his feet but didn't remember standing up. "All our money. He took it."

"When you tried to hide your money in multiple bank accounts, who were you trying to hide it from?" Dammon laughed. "Not from an infinite being, I hope, because then you were just wasting your time."

Bryce felt he was about to lose himself, and he struggled to keep some calm. "This isn't right. That was our money, and it didn't have anything to do with you."

"I like you humans and your concepts of 'right and wrong.' You even make whole belief systems based on it. In reality, though, there is only what one can and can't do. I showed you what I can do; now I'll tell you what you can do."

"THAT WAS OURS!!!" Before Bryce's sense could protest, he was charging Dammon, about to leap over the desk at him.

Bryce was in darkness, lying down against solid rock. Lulu and Charlene were next to him, looking as bewildered as him. Fire then burst around them, the flames stories high. The heat felt like it was about to melt the flesh from Bryce face.

And then Dammon rose before them -- not his human form, but something closer to his real form. At his full height, he was far taller than any skyscraper Bryce had ever seen with eyes that stared down with full contempt for the pathetic things lying before him.

And then Bryce was back in the office, lying on the ground next to the shocked Lulu and Charlene, Charlene glass of wine now staining the carpet.

"Familiarity breed contempt." Dammon was looking as cordial as ever. "I look human, and eventually people consider me as human. That's fine most of the time, but every so often I need to remind people exactly what I am. Now, as Bryce mentioned, you are all penniless. You have no money and nowhere to go. That makes you once again the 'desperate losers' as you described yourself to Colette. You're going to go get that cube for me because you have absolutely no other option in this life than to do so. While you're at it, you can get that friend of your -- or not; whatever works for you. If you come back successfully, then we can work out further business arrangements and see about getting you some of that money back. Are we clear?"

Bryce was now equal parts scared and angry. Lulu was the first to get off the floor. "We'll need some money to do this."

"Of course." Dammon stood up from his desk. "On your way out, talk to my administrative assistant and she'll get you expense forms. I already have a plan for you three to follow, but if you want to do it your own way, I'll trust your judgment -- or successful lack thereof. I think we're done for now."

Charlene helped Bryce to his feet and the three left the office. "Why do we even try?" Bryce asked them. "I'm sorry I dragged any of you into this."

"It's not your fault," Charlene said. "No matter what we do, it's all rigged for failure. It was just as dumb when I was trying to conform with society."

"But we just keep going in circles." Bryce pounded a nearby wall. "The best we can hope for is things to be only as sucky as they always were. What's the point?"

"I don't know." Lulu smiled weakly. "Let's go ask Doug. Maybe he knows."

NEXT

Rating: 3.2/5 (9 votes cast)

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May 12, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 27 - Parting Shots
Posted by Frank J. at 05:51 PM

PREVIOUS

Doug's lunge at the Devil was unsuccessful, and he instead collided with the wall and fell to the ground.

"You can't tackle me," Stan said. "I'm just a hallucination."

"No you're not!" Doug shouted up at the blurry image of Stan. "I've had hallucinations before, and they don't tell you they're hallucinations!"

"Well, then I'm as much a hallucination as previously I was a dream. You are under quite a bit of drugs and duress, so hallucinations are likely. Thus, it didn't seem intrusive for me to appear now instead of waiting for you to go asleep."

Doug sat up and leaned against a wall. "I don't know what you're trying to hide from. They know I've been talking to you and that's why I'm here."

"See. Even with the small amount of overt meddling, I've affected things. That's why I usually never try to be this direct."

Doug misery was slowly being replaced by anger. "What do you want?"

"As I've said, I see the possible futures. I no longer see many paths left to you succeeding. You haven't quite grasped things as I hoped you would, and time is running out."

"You mean before Ronove destroys my soul?" Doug said dryly.

The Devil laughed. "I don't think he'll destroy it in the way he hopes, but you won't be the better for it."

"And I guess humanity is doomed because I failed... doing whatever the hell it was I was supposed to do."

"You're not taking this very seriously anymore, are you?"

Doug stood up, and he had to stop himself from trying to grab Stan again. "I think you're full of crap. I think Ronove is full of crap. I don't think any of you 'powerful' beings know what the hell you're doing. I just wished you'd all leave me alone!"

"I'm afraid to tell you that wishing isn't going to make it happen, kid."

"Go away!" Doug screamed.

"Are you going to figure this out on your own?"

"I'm not on my own. My friends are still out there."

"And rich too. If you think they're going to risk all that for the noble cause of saving their team mascot, realize they are only human."

"I said go away!" Doug plopped back down on the ground, sitting against a wall.

"Fine. I'll find someone else. I thought you were the best chance, but I've been wrong before. I would wish you good luck, but it would be pretentious to pretend I care about your fate when it's divorced from mine. Have fun with eternity; things only get worse from here on."

"OUT!" Doug screamed again, only to realize he was yelling at nothing.

"Are you okay?" a new voice said, echoing and distant.

"Who's there?" Doug called out.

"I heard you shouting."

Doug followed the voice to the toilet in his little cell. "Hello?"

NEXT

Rating: 2.7/5 (10 votes cast)

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May 09, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 26 - Empty
Posted by Frank J. at 04:03 PM

PREVIOUS

Bryce sat on his hotel room's balcony overlooking the ocean. He was in his bathrobe and had a glass of champagne in hand. "This is the life we deserve."

Lulu, also in a bathrobe, walked next to Bryce and downed a glass of champagne in one gulp. "You don't find the view a bit distracting." It was a beautiful blue sky over the water, but if was blotted by a bit of darkness off to one corner. More wasteland, which had taken over much of the sea. "Hell, it's symbolic almost."

His eyes did keep darting to that darkness, and his thoughts went with it. "I'm sure the Trans will fix what they screwed up one day."

Lulu tossed her glass off the balcony. "I don't think any people will be left to see that."

Lulu hadn't exactly been her light-hearted self. Bryce wanted to get away from her, but he really didn't want to be alone either. He felt awful about Doug, but the simple fact was there was nothing they could do about him. They just had to give it time and they'd be able to move on and enjoy their success.

"I'm going to get dressed; you should too. We shouldn't leave Charlene alone." Lulu headed back in the room.

Bryce took one last look at the darkness in the distance. It alternately looked empty and filled with things writhing inside it. He headed back in the room and sat on the bed while Lulu got dressed. "I hate being around Charlene."

"She hates being around us." Lulu threw on jeans and a t-shirt. "She always has, but that's never stopped us from being there for each other before."

"Fine, but then we start living like we're successes." He sipped his champagne. It was a little too dry for a morning drink. "We're rich; we can do whatever we want. If you could do anything, Lulu, what would you do? I know you've thought about it all the times we've been struggling."

Lulu's face turned uncharacteristically serious. "I want to have a baby."

Bryce groaned. "Why don't you jump off that balcony if you're going be like this."

"Hey! You asked!" Lulu shouted while putting her hair back in pigtails.

"You'd make a horrible mother, Lulu."

She started to tear up. "I'd be a different person if being a mother were a possibility."

Bryce was starting to think Charlene might be the more pleasant one to be around. He'd really wanted to be around a guy friend right now, but the only friend he really had was--

Bryce tried to shake the thought out of his head. "You can't be a different person. You are who you are. I am who I am. We're horrible people -- just less horrible than everyone else. I can live with that."

Lulu had already dried her eyes. "I know what you want more than anything else. It's the same as Charlene."

Bryce didn't want to hear it, but he knew there was no stopping her. "What's that?"

Lulu headed to the bathroom to put on her makeup. "Respect. Can't buy that either -- at least not any you'll believe in."

Bryce rolled his eyes. "Very trite. And you don't want respect, Tri-Lu?"

"Obviously not; I just slept with you again."

That stung a little, even though it shouldn't have. "I was just trying to comfort you. I didn't enjoy it any."

Lulu was busy with her eyelashes. "Ever wonder what's the underlying cause of your serial misogyny?"

"No, because that's a made up word."

There was a knock at the door. More of a pounding, actually. Bryce then realized he was still in his bathrobe with Lulu in the room and instantly felt he should cover that up, but he decided he just didn't care. He walked over and let Charlene in. She was in a tank top and sweat pants and looked like she had been working out all morning -- as if the tiny thing could put on any muscle mass. She made a quick glance at Bryce and Lulu who had stepped out of the bathroom, then looked like she just decided to ignore it. "I've been thinking, and I'm not going to give up on Doug without at least trying something."

Bryce sighed. "You have fun with that, then."

"It's not necessarily impossible for us to do something about him." Charlene looked determined, and Bryce knew there wasn't any stopping her when she was like that.

"What do you want to do, Charlene?"

"There's someone we should at least try talking to before we can conclude nothing can be done."

It didn't take Bryce long to figure out who she meant. "That's a horrible idea. Why don't we all just jump off the balcony if we're going to have ideas like this?"

Lulu flicked him in the back of his ear. "Why don't we just throw you off the balcony and do this ourselves."

Bryce laughed. "Because you can't do this yourselves. You're two women. Women are useless. Weaker and dumber than men and you can't even make up for it by having children anymore." He picked up his phone and tried to figure out who to dial for this one. "How's that for misogyny?"

* * * *

Doug wanted out. He wanted to claw his way out of this universe if possible. He was quite certain Ronove had not succeeded in destroying his soul, but he wish he had if that meant an end.

Doug wasn't sure where he was now. It was probably a dark cell he had been tossed into, but he didn't pay much attention. This physical world meant nothing. It was the other one he wanted to escape. He lay on the ground in a ball, trying to figure out how to flee things he couldn't even understand.

"You've probably figured it out yourself," someone standing over him said, "but death is not an escape from the torment. Quite the opposite, perhaps."

He knew that voice. Doug regained enough of his senses to stand up and look at Stan face to face. And then he tackled him.

* * * *

Dammon sat in his office smoking a cigar and drinking a glass of cognac. He so enjoyed the pleasures of this world, but he knew that to best enjoy them required restraint -- and restraint was hard when he could summon anything he wanted in an instant. But pleasure was worth the work, so he relaxed some now and then he would handle some business before enjoying this world some more. With the whole "bunny cube" mess and the movements of the various nations on that issue, he was going to have to do something about it to keep his own position of power.

Fun time was over, as one of his women came in with the business, dressed in proper business attire as he demanded professionalism during work hours. He could remember what she looked like under it anyway. He only had the most beautiful women in his employment, as why would he waste his time with any others. "We have word that the group Hellbender wants to see you."

Dammon chuckled. "Excellent. Set up a meeting for them this afternoon." He had been looking forward to meeting them. There was no reason he couldn't also enjoy business.

NEXT

Rating: 2.8/5 (7 votes cast)

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May 06, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 25 - Looking Beyond
Posted by Frank J. at 05:18 PM

PREVIOUS

As usual, Doug had no idea what was going on.

He seemed to be strapped to a table. There was odd machinery all around him humming as it went about its unknown purpose. The hum eventually ceased, the machinery moved away, and table repositioned itself so now that Doug was held upright.

"You're awake." In the room was a bald man in a lab coat, his eyes concealed behind dark goggles. His face was pot marked, and he approached Doug in an awkward gait.

"What's going on?" Doug asked, his voice a bit slurred. He felt like he must have been drugged as he was a bit dizzy and had trouble focusing.

The man approached a computer console. "I'm checking your multi-dimensional signature," he said in a complete monotone. "It looks the same as that for any of the Last Children." He looked at Doug. "I've heard things about you, though, and needed to check."

There was something quite odd to this man, though Doug couldn't put his finger on what it was. He looked human -- certainly not perfect like the Hallowed -- but there was an inhuman quality to him as well. It was if the man's existence just perturbed Doug, much like the cube.

The cube! Doug saw it on a pedestal, some more machinery around it. Though his arms were strapped tight to the table, he still felt like he could reach out and touch the cube.

There was a loud beeping, and the man lurched over to the cube and pressed some buttons on the equipment. "So, Doug, do you have any idea what is inside this object?"

Doug was about to answer, but he got caught up again in how odd the man is. It wasn't his voice. It wasn't his appearance. It was something odd to just his existence, as far as Doug could understand. "You're one of the Transcendents."

"Interesting you would conclude that." He walked back over to Doug, looking at him with his expressionless face and hidden eyes. "It is correct, though. I am called Ronove. I created myself this human body -- not a simple thing -- because I find operating out of the rules of this universe can affect my experiments. We are not natural to this world, and you can see the wastelands as evidence of that. Our mere presence in this manner has caused the universe to break down in places -- but at least it seems to no longer be a growing problem."

"You do experiments?"

"This universe is a point of reference to all the others. I find to understand all there is and how it connects, I need to observe things from this universe." He walked back to the cube. "Take this device. It is a small, insignificant looking thing here, but it appears to be something quite immense anchored to the three spatial and one temporal dimension you are quite used to." He touched it. "Do you why there are rodents drawn into its sides?"

"I think Lulu put them there because the cube scared her." It surprised Doug how quickly he volunteered the information. He felt a bit out of control of himself.

"So that is unimportant -- as I thought. Now, Doug, once again I ask, what do you think is in this?"

"The barrier that kept you out of this world." Doug said, hearing that idea for the first time as he said it. It seemed to make sense, though.

"That is the theory." Ronove hobbled close to Doug. He really looked quite uncomfortable in his human body. "Now who told you of this?"

"Stan. He said he is the Devil." Doug couldn't stop himself from speaking, but he wasn't sure he wanted to stop. "He told me about you all. That you're demons. You're evil... but I think I knew that already."

"Yes, that sound like him -- the Outsider as we know him. It's interesting how he fits himself into your old mythology, because much like the Devil of the Bible, he means ill for us all -- human and otherwise."

"I don't trust him, but I don't think he's lied to me."

Ronove slowly walked over to another computer console. "The Outsider made the cube. He is quite wily, so I doubt it will be easy to determine whether the device is truly powerful or merely a distraction he made for his own purposes. What I think I can conclude is that you are not the Outsider taken human form as Asmod suspected. It seems more to the Outsider's character that he would manipulate a human to his purposes. What is different is how overt he has been in that -- to come out and even identify himself in his own way."

Doug's table began to move placing him horizontal once again. "What are you going to do to me?"

"I will not try to understand what the Outsider's plans were for you." Ronove walked over and stood above Doug. He smelled horrible; Doug suspected he didn't take particularly good care of his body. "As far as I'm concerned," Ronove continued, "there is nothing more I can learn about him from you, so I might as well go ahead and use you to learn other things. You might be interested to know that some of that biblical mythology has basis in fact. The human soul can be a somewhat powerful thing, and prayers can help focus it." Ronove walked out of view and it sounded like he was working some equipment. "It's more the visualization than the plea to the concept of a supreme being, but the effects on probability are measurable from a certain dimensional perspective. Our altering of this world's barrier have changed all that, though." He walked back to Doug and looked down on him with a certain smug satisfaction though his expression was an empty as always. "I can now say with scientific certainty that your prayers are futile."

The table moved so now Doug was enclosed within a tube. It was dark, but he could see a number of glowing probes. He struggled to get out, but he had no energy to fight. "What are you doing?!"

"Though your souls have no power, they still are impediments to us," Ronove said from somewhere outside the tube. "I'm trying to figure out how to destroy those impediments."

"You're going to destroy my soul?" Doug got a small burst of energy for struggling, but it was of no use. "What happens to me if you do that?"

"Hopefully we'll find out very soon." Though Ronove's voice was still completely monotone, Doug could somehow sense a laugh following that statement. "Do not worry, though; this won't hurt." The probes began to glow brighter. "Pain is something your mind can comprehend. This should be much worse than pain."

NEXT

Rating: 1.9/5 (9 votes cast)

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May 01, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 24 - Indulgence
Posted by Frank J. at 05:09 PM

PREVIOUS

With a warm bubble bath, scented candles, some light music playing, and a new book, Lara was quite ready for a relaxed evening in her hotel suite, but the phone rang. She set her book aside and fumbled for her phone, accidentally dropping it into the tub. She wiped the suds off and didn't recognize the caller it identified, but she still knew who it was, "Hello?"

"Hi, Lara, it's Elza."

Lara wasn't quite used to one of the immortal Transcendents calling her on the phone like a regular person, but Elza never followed expectations. "Oh, hi. Just relaxing a bit. Asmod's people have the bunny cube and the Doug." She laughed. "With such power in their hands, they might be unstoppable."

"Good. Things are moving along nicely."

"What exactly was the point of all that?" Lara dared to ask.

"If I don't tell you that, then whatever happens I can claim to be exactly as I planned." She laughed a bit. "Anyway, there's a lot of people running around involved with this; best everyone just knows only her own part."

Lara settled back into the tub. "Well the whole train thing was certainly a surprise. I think you nearly broke that simpleton's brain."

"Things have barely started to get rough for him, I assure you."

A lot seemed to be being laid on someone so useless, but Lara had trouble feeling sorry for someone who made so little of himself. "So what should I do with the millions?"

"I don't care. That's ultimately inconsequential. Spend it if you feel like it. Just make sure you're ready to help our other operative if needed."

"Will do. Any idea on the time frame for this next step?"

"That, right now, is up to external forces."

* * * *

Loch felt pain. It was about the only thing in this universe he cared about; all else he hated. He even refused to take any sort of physical, three-dimensional form and limit himself a puerile way. Still, he was required to have at least something to identify himself within this world, so he made his craft with which he could hover over the humans. He crafted it of darkness and created nearly formless creatures to populate it. His goal was to give the humans nothing solid they could hold on to in their mind's eye. With nothing to grasp, when humans would think of Loch they would think of whatever they feared most.

Fear was a more subtle pleasure than pain, but that was about all he had lately. It had been a while since he was last given a human to play with, to test how many of its nerve endings he could activate before its mind collapsed on itself. He had gotten better at keeping the mind awake no matter what physical trauma he would induce, but it would always break in the end. Then the vegetable would be sent back to the rest of the humans, and then they would try to imagine what were the tortures that would cause such a thing. And then there would be the fear.

The fear had begun fade, though, as the humans realized just how much the rules of the other Transcendents restrained his grasp. So he took extraordinary measures -- one's that he himself detested -- to let the humans know he can still reach them. Torn limbs and blood was less mysterious than he would have liked, but it served its purpose. He could see the fear of him rising again.

Now Serpine had given Loch a new mission. He never cared for her and her proclivity to take human form or her ambitions with this world, but she knew at least how to give Loch what he needed for enjoyment. The mission he was given was once again to get some device -- though Loch could still not understand how anything physical in this world could have any importance to them -- but this time she knew where it was. Loch would need to lead a physical army once again because of the limits on him, but Serpine guaranteed him that this conflict would involve humans under no protection from any Transcendent. They had severed their ties with their rulers, and thus they would be Loch's to do with as he pleased.

Had Loch a mouth, he would smile.

NEXT

Rating: 2.7/5 (8 votes cast)

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April 28, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 23 - Life Sucks
Posted by Frank J. at 05:03 PM

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Lulu never actually expected to be rich. It was just a fun fantasy to hold onto until things blew up in their face and they moved on to the next ultimately doomed scheme. She'd figured that what her life would be until their luck completely ran out. It wasn't much of a life, but it seemed to her to be a million times better than to try and conform to the insane world they lived in.

Bryce had been quiet on the gratuitously flying train trip back to Avaro as he was quickly spreading the money into multiple accounts before some imagined other would try and steal it. Lulu spent her time trying to get in contact with Charlene or Doug. When that didn't work, she even tried to get in contact with Lara but was sent directly to her voice mail.

"I wish Lara wasn't rich too," she told Bryce as they exited the train.

Bryce didn't even acknowledge her as he was still busy securing their finances on his handheld computer.

Lulu quickly headed out to the train station lobby and looked around. There she spotted Charlene staring back at her, her eyes red like she'd been crying. Don't jump to conclusion, Lulu told herself. Maybe she's sad because she saw Lara gruesomely decapitated. Maybe she even has video of it!

Bryce was the first to speak. "Where's Doug?"

Charlene looked defeated. "They took him."

"Who? Why?" Lulu asked.

"Darius. It was insane. Elza's people somehow ambushed us on the train and just started killing everyone. Lara and I just tried to protect ourselves until the train made its emergency landing, but Doug went charging off to help everyone else. Then the train ripped in two and I thought for sure he was dead. But apparently Darius had been following us -- I think Lara had been informing him this whole time -- and he found Doug safe on the ground with the cube. They took him along with it. They think he knows something about it -- I guess that's what Lara told them. Darius said he'd pay us extra for the 'inconvenience.' He then dropped me off here to wait for you." She was quiet for a moment. "There was nothing I could do."

Bryce laughed. "Five hundred thousand extra for Doug? What a bunch of idiots. It shouldn't take them more than a few minutes to realize he knows nothing, and then they'll dump him back out on the street. They'll probably want that money back, but they're not getting it."

"They're taking him to Ronove!" Charlene shouted.

Ronove was a Transcendent allied with Asmod who seemed to have little concern with the warring over territory and people. He instead stayed secluded in his lab from which many stories emerged though Asmod's government never gave any official acknowledgement of what happened there. "If they're going to dissect Doug's brain," Lulu said, "that's a huge waste for a number of reasons."

"Don't be silly," Bryce said. "No one knows what goes on at that lab. I guarantee you every rumor we've heard about it is completely made up."

Charlene looked quite worried. "You ever hear of anyone being involved with an experiment there and being seen again?"

Bryce scoffed. "This is just stupid speculation and..." He stopped, apparently not knowing where he was going with that thought. His expression turned serious. "I guess I might as well be the asshole and point out that it's pretty trivial to figure out how to split three million three ways."

Charlene punched Bryce in the face.

"Super." Bryce clutched the bruise on his cheek. "Did you get that out of your system? Now let's look at reality: There is nothing we can do. Were we somehow able to get anywhere near that lab, you can't sneak past a Transcendent. You can't fool someone who can read minds -- who doesn't even exist by our rules. The only thing we can do is hope he decides Doug isn't worth his precious time. Are you going to argue with that?"

Charlene looked like she was tearing up. "So we go on like nothing happened?"

"That's all we can do!" Bryce shouted. He quickly regained his composure. "Let's get out of this city... but let's not take the train. We'll get some nice hotel rooms somewhere, sort out the finances, and then soon we won't have to see each other anymore because we'll be able to afford friends we can stand."

Lulu felt she should say something. "I think we should hunt down and kill Lara in honor of Doug."

Bryce sighed. "We're too rich for that crap, Tri-Lu."

She started to walk off with Bryce but noticed Charlene wasn't following. "You're both cowards."

Lulu didn't mind being called a coward; she knew she was cute and thus didn't care what people thought about her bravery. Bryce was another matter.

He marched right up to Charlene and stood over her. Bryce wasn't a very big man, but Charlene was a particularly small woman. "Doug adored you, and you were nothing but a bitch to him. Don't act like you care more just because of your guilt."

"I thought 'Hellbender' was about us sticking up for each other!"

They looked ready to trade blows, so Lulu took a deep breath and slowly pulled Bryce away as she stepped in between the two. "It was a game, Charlene. Now its over."

Charlene started crying, and Lulu couldn't help but cry too as they hugged her. Bryce just stood by silently. They were rich now, but she still felt powerless. Lulu just wished there was something in life that didn't suck.

Charlene eventually got a hold of herself and Lulu dried her tears as well. "So do you think some powerful entity was really talking to Doug?" Lulu asked. "Because it's really mean to drag someone like him into an interdimensional conflict. Doug can't even figure out the map at the mall. I can't think of any reason someone would involve him in something this big except to be mindlessly cruel."

Bryce shrugged. "I guess you can't be so insignificant that one day the universe won't decide to reach out and crush you."

NEXT

Rating: 2.8/5 (8 votes cast)

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April 25, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 22 - Priorities
Posted by Frank J. at 04:06 PM

PREVIOUS

Doug was quite familiar with concussions and thus was certain he had one. He felt both dizzy and tired and wanted nothing more than to just lay where he was. He was also hurting all over and pretty sure he was bleeding, but not so much he felt a desperate need to do something about it. Still, he heard others moaning around him and footsteps nearby and knew he couldn't just hope things turned out all right.

Doug felt around for one of his weapons, and screamed as a foot stomped down on his hand. "There you are," said a female voice.

He looked up to see another woman completely covered in body armor, a rifle slung over her shoulder. "What do you want?"

"A spectacle." She grabbed Doug and dragged him out of the car. Doug struggled to his feet, but she kicked him and sent him slamming into a wall, something striking him in the small of the back before he fell to the ground. The train appeared to have crashed in an abandoned part of town. Most cities had whole sections that had become ghost towns due to the huge decrease in population from the War.

"Haven't you killed enough?"

"For now." She punched Doug in the face and then rifled through his coat until she pulled out the cube. "I want you to open this."

Doug slowly stood up. "Even if I knew how, I wouldn't just because you psychos want me to."

"Even if in it is the secret to fighting the Transcendents?"

Doug let go of his anger long enough to become curious. "Do you know what's in it?"

"We know why we want it. We're fighting against the Trans."

"But you work for Elza."

She laughed. "Well, not against all the Trans then."

"But why kill all these people?"

She held the cube close to Doug's face. He didn't feel the depression and despair as much as he did before but he still moved away from it. "If only you knew how small a matter that was," she said, "you wouldn't even give it a moment's thought."

Doug pushed backed into the wall and felt the object in the small of his back again. Now he remembered what that was. "I guess I shouldn't think too much about this, then." He pulled out his snub-nose revolver and shot the soldier in the face. He wasn't sure the bullet penetrated the helmet, but she did go down. No one, under any conditions, likes being shot in the face. Picking up the cube, he was about to head back for the train when he saw a group of people walk towards him. His vision was blurry, but he could see all were in black except for the one at front.

The leader made a motion, and the gun was knocked out of Doug's hand like it had been hit by a strong gust of wind. "We're not here to hurt you," the man said. Doug could finally see who it was: Darius backed by a dozen Protectors. "Luckily, Asmod was able to convince Viath of the importance of getting the cube back in proper hands, so he allowed my people passage here. Looks like we were just in time." He walked over to Doug and took the cube from Doug's hand and looked it over. "How did it get bunnies on it?"

A part of Doug felt he should snatch the cube back, but he had no idea what he'd be trying to do to fight these people. Plus, there were more important things on mind. "You have your cube. I need help finding my friends now."

"If you mean Charlene Marshal, she already with us and she's fine. My understanding is your two other associates are far enough away from this that there is no risk to them. Now, for discretion's sake, we need to be out of here before Viath's people arrive to clean up this mess."

Some Protectors roughly led Doug away with Darius. They soon came to a large transport. They pushed Doug inside where he saw Charlene and Lara seated next to each other. Charlene immediately embraced Doug, tears in here eyes. "I thought you were dead!"

He patted her on the back. "I'm okay. So what's going on?"

"Did you get the cube?" Lara asked.

Darius entered and shut the door. "That he did."

Doug let go of Charlene and turned to Darius. "So it's all good then? We get paid and can go our separate ways?"

Darius looked a moment at the cube in his hand and then at Doug. "I'm afraid our deal has changed."

* * * *

"Anything new?" It was perfunctory question, as Lulu had laid her head on Bryce's shoulder and could see the screen as well as he could.

"Nothing new." They then had to wait to catch a train back to Avaro. It was now approaching evening and the sun was beginning to set, and all they knew of their friends was that there was a terrorist attack on the train resulting in an unspecified number of deaths.

The handheld computer beeped, indicating a new message. Lulu sat up. "Maybe that's them!"

"Maybe." Bryce checked the message, and it was perhaps the most shocking piece of news he had ever received.

"What is it?" Lulu asked with concern. She then glimpsed at the screen. "Holy flipping ninjas!"

The message was from his bank. Three million had been deposited into his account. Bryce slowly regained his composure. "I guess we did it."

"Go team Hellbender!" Lulu weakly pumped her fist in the air. "That must mean Charlene and Doug are okay if they got the cube and delivered it."

"But if they aren't okay, then that just means we get their shares. Good new either way," Bryce joked weakly. He checked his account again just to make sure it was no mistake. It wasn't. He was rich. The world was as it should be. The other details were unimportant. Still, one thing nagged at him. "That's five hundred thousand more than we agreed to. I wonder what that's for?"

NEXT

Rating: 2.7/5 (8 votes cast)

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April 23, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 21 - Violence
Posted by Frank J. at 05:07 PM

PREVIOUS

"Why is this train flying?" Lulu pointed out the window. "There's plenty of room down there for tracks. It's only flying because it seems high-tech, and everyone want everything to be 'high-tech' whether it serves a purpose or not."

Bryce sighed and sat down. "I don't care, Tri-Lu. Should we check around the train once more?"

Lulu didn't answer and kept staring out the window with an odd expression. Bryce heard gasps and then looked out the window as well. He could see in the distance the other train and it looked like parts of it were exploding. "I guess we have the wrong train."

"I'm not sure you can call the non-exploding train the 'wrong' one," Lulu answered.

The other train looked like it was descending. "You can when you have millions invested in the exploding one."

"I hope Charlene and Doug are okay." She turned and faced Bryce. "I don't care if Lara is okay."

"I figured." Bryce looked around the car. "You think this thing has an emergency brake?"

"It might if it were on the ground."

* * * *

For a moment, Doug could only stare in disbelief. The four women with Handler began shooting and stabbing the passengers while Handler just watched and smiled. People pleading for their lives were struck down, and then the horrifying realization hit Doug that this was going to keep happening unless he did something.

He ripped the sword from the hidden sheath on his back and cut through one of the Amazons just as she was about to shoot another passenger. Blood splashed on his face but his mind was racing from too much adrenal to care. The others kept killing, not paying Doug any attention. He stabbed one who was armed with a short sword and then remembered his gun.

He tossed his sword to his left and hand and drew his gun to Handler's head who looked back at him with amusement. "You seem to be taking this personally."

"You're insane!" Doug screamed at her. The two other remaining Amazons paused to watch, allowing those left alive time to flee, but Doug could hear gunfire both in front of him and behind him on the train.

Handler still looked at him as if this were all some big joke. "If sanity is defined as having an accurate perception of reality, then we're the only sane ones on this train."

"Stop this or I will kill you!"

She laughed. "You should threaten people with things they're afraid of, dear." The other two laughed as well as began to leave the car.

The mixture of confusion and rage was a bit much for Doug's brain. He couldn't remember much of what happened next, but his ears were ringing from gunfire when he walked into another car. There were men and women huddled on the floor there, not having anywhere to flee for safety. "Don't kill us!" one yelled at him.

"I'm with Hellbender; I'm here to help. Stay here." Doug wrested control of himself again. He couldn't quite understand what was going on and why, but he was able to break it down into something simple he could understand: He had to kill all the bad people.

A bullet broke the glass to the door to the next car. Doug charged forward. Some vehicle had crashed through the side of the train and was lodged into it. He saw someone in full body armor armed with a rifle standing among dead bodies. "Are you Doug?" she asked.

"Yes." Doug fired at her, but the bullets only knocked her back slightly as she fired back wildly. Doug dived to the ground and heard more gunfire though no bullets struck anywhere near him. He looked up to see Charlene standing over the soldier fire down. "Charlene!"

She looked at him. "What the hell is happening here?"

Doug got himself off the ground. "I don't know! They're after me or something! Where's Bryce and Lulu?"

Charlene reloaded. "They're on the other train."

He saw Lara enter the car, and he ran over and placed his sword to her neck. "You're behind this! This was a setup!"

"How does that make any sense?" Lara shouted back angrily.

Charlene pulled Doug away. "I don't trust her either, but she just helped me fight off a couple armed gunmen so let's keep things in perspective. What we need right now is to get out of here." She looked at the transport lodged in the wall. "Maybe this vehicle still works."

Lara shook her head. "Too risky. The train is going for an emergency landing. The best bet is defending this position until we're on the ground and can make a getaway." She looked to Doug. "Do you have the cube?"

Doug felt an odd lump in his jacket. He didn't remember pocketing it but figure he must have during the initial commotion. He felt like just chucking it out the hole in the wall. More gunfire snapped him back to the matter at hand. "They're going to kill everyone if we don't stop them."

"Maybe we weren't the only ones smart enough to ride the train armed," Lara said. "To be honest, I don't really see why we should care either way."

Charlene grabbed his arm and looked him in the eyes. "We need to worry about ourselves right now. We don't know how many there are or how well they're armed. Defending this position is the smart thing to do."

Doug thought he heard more screaming. "How many times did we need help and there was no one there?"

"Yes, Doug. So what do we owe any of these people?"

He didn't know how to argue with that, but he knew he was right. He pulled off Charlene's grip. "I'm going."

"If you're going to run off and get killed, at least give us the cube," Lara said.

"Go to hell." Doug exited the car towards the sound of gunfire. He was back in the car filled with people who had fled from both directions. He glanced back to see if Charlene was following him, but he was alone again. "Everyone go back a car!" he yelled to the people there. "There's two women there who will keep you safe." Doug marched forward.

An explosion shook the train and knocked him to the ground. He looked back to see they were ripped apart from Charlene's car. They were also plummeting quite quickly. He didn't remember much after that.

NEXT

Rating: 2.8/5 (8 votes cast)

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April 21, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 20 - Solo
Posted by Frank J. at 05:08 PM

PREVIOUS

"They are moving the cube now," Lulu's said through Doug's earpiece. "They are walking it to the train station. We're heading there now but you're the only two guaranteed to be there in time."

"Crap," Bryce uttered as he rushed out the Chinese restaurant.

Doug was holding their bag of food they just paid for. "What about the food?"

"Forget the food!" Charlene screamed.

Doug dropped the bag and ran out the door after Bryce. "Should we try and slow them down?" Bryce asked.

"Negative," Lara responded. "We don't want to spook them and get a shootout in public. We need to tail them to somewhere more private. Let's just find out what train they are taking and get on it."

Doug had caught up to Bryce who had slowed to a more inconspicuous pace as they neared the train station. "Tailing them could be a problem," Bryce said. "Handler could recognize me."

"Have the idiot do it," Lara stated. "You can get on the train when we find which one it is."

"The bug on Handler is getting... well, buggy all of a sudden," Lulu said. "We can't rely on it getting the info for us. All we need is Doug to make sure we know whether it's the Northbound or the Southbound... and he better not screw it up or we'll strangle him."

Doug and Bryce reached the train station. "How many are we looking for?" Bryce asked.

"It sounds like they are in a group... five or six maybe," Lulu said. "They should be there soon."

Doug and Bryce looked around. "Over there." Doug tapped Bryce on the shoulder and pointed to a group of five women, Handler at the back carrying a metal case.

"I'm getting out of sight," Bryce whispered. "Buy tickets, and follow them onto the train."

It seemed simple enough to Doug. His first problem, though, was when he used a console to buy tickets and it asked for which train and "both" wasn't an option. He went through the process twice to buy tickets for each and entered the boarding area. Doug got as close as he could to both platforms without committing to either. He then waited for Handler and her group and thought he should look like he was reading something to be inconspicuous. He pulled out the Chinese menu he had in his pocket and looked through it. At this point, Doug was too nervous for anything to look appetizing.

Handler and her group came in. Doug glanced up at them once and then watched them in his periphery as he stared at the menu. They went for the Northbound train. Doug waited a few moments after they passed by him. "Northbound," he whispered into the receiver at his collar.

Doug walked onto the platform and saw the car they entered. He entered one car behind it. "Did you hear me? They're on the Northbound train and so am I."

There was no response.

"Guys?"

Again, no response.

"Guys!?"

A few people in the car were no staring at Doug. Still, there was no response.

"Oh, come on!" he cried and pulled out his phone. No signal. "Crap!" Doug turned to a man near him reading the news. "Could you check if your phone is getting a signal?"

The man pretended not to hear him.

"Jerk."

* * * *

"Doug? Doug? Doug!!!" Bryce looked up to see Charlene, Lulu, and Lara running towards him. "What the hell happened to him?"

"Maybe there is interference in there," Lulu suggested.

"You didn't see which train they got on?" Charlene asked.

"No. I couldn't see from here. I actually thought this was something Doug would not screw up." Bryce nervously ran his hand through his hair as he looked at the clock. "They both leave in about a minute. I guess we can run up and check--"

"No time." Lara bought tickets off a console. "We'll just split up."

They all grabbed the tickets and ran to the boarding area. "Stupid gratuitously flying trains," Lulu growled.

* * * *

The train began to move, and Doug felt nauseous. He decided to sit down a moment and collect himself. It was now all up to him, but the money concerned him less that the thought of screwing everything up for his friends.

The train had moved vertically until it was completely above the city. Doug took a glance out the window at the streets below. There was no turning back.

You just have to grab a metal briefcase from five women and get away, Doug told himself. No big deal. You can do this. He started to worry that others might be meeting them at the next stop. He thought about just grabbing the case as soon as they got off and boarding whatever train was leaving the soonest, but they'd probably be able to follow him on if he didn't time it just right. Still, it was the best idea he had.

He looked towards the entrance to the next car over where Handler and her group were. Doug thought about going over there to try and keep an eye on them, but there was nothing he could do now. He decided it was best to just sit where he was and try to relax while seeing if he could get in contact with the rest of Hellbender.

Handler and the four other women walked into his car. Doug tried not to look at them, but he glanced up once to see Handler was staring right at him. He went back to looking at his shoes, but Handler walked over to him and stood over him while Doug pretended not to notice.

She held a small device in her hand. Suddenly there was a high-pitched squeal in Doug's radio that caused him to jump to his feet while yanking out the earbud. Doug stared at Handler who smiled back him. "Hello, Doug."

"Um... who's Doug," he said in a quivering voice.

Handler laid her case down on a nearby seat and opened it. She pulled out the cube and tossed it to Doug. He caught it and immediately felt the sense of dread the device exuded. "We know you know something about the cube," Handler said, "and we want your help with it."

Doug looked around. Most everyone else in the car was pretending not to notice anything was going on. Jerks. He then looked at Handler's friends who were all smiling like this was all some big joke. "I really don't know anything... like at all."

Handler laughed. "You don't give yourself enough credit. Now why don't you sit down and relax while we kill everyone on this train."

Now people were paying attention. Doug thought maybe he misheard something. "Huh?"

There was a loud crash and the train jerked as if something struck it. Doug was knocked to floor by the force. He then heard gunfire and screaming in other parts of the train as the four women with Handler pulled out short swords and guns. He looked up at Handler in horror. "What the--"

"Haven't you heard? We're psychotic," she laughed. "This is just something we do."

NEXT

Rating: 2.7/5 (9 votes cast)

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April 17, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 19 - Surprise
Posted by Frank J. at 05:07 PM

PREVIOUS

Doug did not see the Devil the next couple nights either. He actually had a number of questions now, not least of which was whether they could trust Lara. Still, he figured the Devil probably wouldn't have given him a straight answer anyway.

After their confrontation, he mainly avoided Lara and she him. He got a bit worried the couple times their schedules put her and Charlene alone together, but he knew Charlene could take care of her self. Doug did get a brief amount of time alone with Charlene when they went to get a couple more arms from a weapons dealer. Charlene got Doug a machine pistol capable of three-round burst (though Charlene told him not use that function). He still kept his sword with him though, having found a long, thin pack he could strap to his back that at least kept the sword somewhat inconspicuous. He knew it was useless compared to the gun, but it still made him feel safer to have it since it was a familiar weapon.

The bug on Handler's glasses kept working, which made it seem less necessary to keep a stakeout by the research building. They had a decent amount of time to plan for snatching the cube on Thursday, though they hadn't picked up the exact details how it was going to be moved and where. Still, both Lara and Charlene planned for a number of different scenarios, pretty much all of them involving a certain amount of violence.

"You ever wonder if killing these people to get the cube is wrong?" Doug asked Bryce as walked through the city. It was Wednesday afternoon, and it was their job to pick up lunch for everyone. Doug was out voted on nachos, so they were picking up some Chinese.

"Not really," Bryce answered. "I guess you can make an argument that killing them without any direct provocation is somewhat wrong... but I'd say that would be thousands of dollars wrong, not millions of dollars wrong. You have to remember the stakes here and weigh it against that."

"And everyone involved with Elza is like really evil, right?"

Bryce shrugged. "Seems that way... plus I don't think there is anyone left in this world who doesn't deserve a bullet in the head for something. Can we talk about something more pleasant? Morality isn't really my thing; it's almost a superstition."

It was about the time for the lunch rush, and the streets were pretty crowded. "Um... I do have something to ask you about. Any advice on how... maybe... um... me and Charlene..."

Bryce sighed. "Why do you even keep trying with her? She's the most horribly unpleasant person in the world. Plus... I'm pretty sure she's got the hots for Lara."

Doug glared at Bryce. "No she doesn't."

"You can't tell me you've never suspected she's a lesbian."

"You have no proof of that!"

"You have no proof she's a heterosexual." Bryce chuckled. "I guess it's hard to tell a dateless lesbian from a dateless hetero."

"You're just upset because she's never given in to any of your advances."

Bryce scoffed. "I've never even tried with her... at least not in any serious way. Anyway, Doug, if you really want to try and get somewhere with her, you need to surprise her. You are a horribly predictable person, to the point that when you're trying to be surprising its usually in a predictable way."

Doug thought for a moment. "I think I have an idea..."

"It's flowers, isn't it?" Bryce asked.

Doug nodded.

"See? Predictable. If you want to get anywhere, Doug, you need to be a whole new person."

* * * *

Lulu was beginning to severely hate Handler. Lulu had inadvertently positioned herself as the "electronics person," and thus it was always her job to monitor their equipment. So basically her whole day involved Handler droning on in the background. When Handler was talking about research, it wasn't so bad, but Handler had an extremely boring personal life and seemed to like telling all her co-workers about it. Lulu was starting to get a fantasy of gunning down Handler while screaming, "No one cares about your cat!"

Luckily, Handler was currently quietly researching which gave Lulu a chance to read while Lara and Charlene were in the next room over plotting their move tomorrow. It was a trashy romance novel that she had pilfered from Lara. It wasn't quite her cup of tea, but she though she'd give it a try.

"Julia, what are you doing here?"

Lulu dropped the book and shot to attention.

"We have to move it right now."

"Guys!" Lulu yelled as she pounded on the wall.

"What's happened?" Handler asked.

Lara and Charlene both barged into the room, each equipped for action. "What is it?" Charlene asked.

"Shhh!" Lulu answered.

"Our group in Sholt were killed," Julia said.

"All of them?"

"It's hard to say. They were ripped completely apart. Reportedly it's just one big mess."

"Loch?" Handler's voice was noticeably scared.

"It would seem to be. We can't tell if anyone talked first, but he might be heading this direction now. We need to get out of here."

"Where?"

"I don't even know yet," Julia said. "A group is waiting outside to escort you to the train station. Just grab the cube and let's go."

There was the sound of some fumbling. "Okay. Let's go."

"Dammit!" Lara was already heading out the door. "Hopefully we can get to the train station before them."

Lulu grabbed her gun and followed Charlene. "Otherwise it's up to Bryce... and Doug."

NEXT

Rating: 2.4/5 (9 votes cast)

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April 15, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 18 - Threat
Posted by Frank J. at 05:06 PM

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"Morning, Doug." Doug opened his eyes to see Bryce was already dressed.

The second bed in the room had been used. "Lara kick you out last night?"

"She likes her space or something."

Doug sat up in bed. "You trust her?"

Bryce checked the chamber of his pistol and put it in his shoulder holster. "Doug, I don't even trust you, and I'm quite certain you're not even capable of any significant deception. I made sure she set things up with Darius that no matter what, half the money goes into the account I set up when the job is done. If she kills us all when we have the cube, she won't get a penny more."

"Something isn't right, though; I just know it."

"Unless you have a less vague concern, things go as planned." He seemed hesitant for a moment. "Anyway, did you see the Devil again?"

"You think there is something to that?"

Bryce shrugged. "The world is crazy; anything is possible."

Doug thought for a moment. Usually it was hard to remember what he had dreamt about after he woke up. "Actually, I think I dreamt about the three women who attacked me in the bathroom."

Bryce smiled. "Fun dream?"

"No. It was exactly the same with them beating me up, but instead of them just running away in the end, one of them pulled out a knife and stabbed me in the throat."

"Well... that doesn't help us." Bryce put on a light jacket, concealing his holster. "If you see the Devil again, tell me everything he says." Bryce headed for the door. "Anyway, shower and get ready, buddy; today is our day to get rich."

* * * *

They didn't want to go into this situation blind, but speed was important knowing that forces way out of their league were looking for the cube as well. Charlene was able to get out early enough to spy Handler heading into the research lab. The others then quickly got together some resources which included renting a van while Lulu hunted down surveillance equipment. That wasn't something sold just anywhere, but she knew where to look to find what they needed -- though it wasn't cheap. Lara was also splitting costs with them on equipment, but it still was becoming quite apparent that if Hellbender didn't succeed, they weren't going to have much left to fall back on.

Luckily, Handler went out for lunch, and then it was Bryce's turn. He followed her into a nearby deli while Lara and Charlene waited across the seat in a coffee shop and Doug helped (more watched) Lulu set up the receiving equipment back at the hotel. The bug they gave to Bryce was only about the size of a pinhead, and it seemed a simple task to get it on the target which is why they were a little worried when a half-hour past and they hadn't heard from him. Doug and Lulu finally got word that Bryce finally emerged from the deli and gave a thumbs up.

Lulu turned on the receiver and recording equipment. She and Doug could hear voices. "Well, it's working I guess," Lulu said. She then got a call from Bryce and answered it. "What took you so long? Were you trying to get it on her panties?"

"I can't rush myself, or I'll come off as phony. Also, I wanted to make sure to put it somewhere she'll have it for a while. I got it on her glasses. She has very pretty eyes, actually. Also, I have her phone number if that helps us."

"Did she seem evil and plotting?" Lulu asked.

"Not really. She's actually a very interesting woman to talk to if you care about extra spatial dimensions."

"Well, if this lead is a dead end, we're going to trick Lara into an alleyway and beat her up."

"Let's not plot against each other just yet," Bryce said. "That's not conductive to teamwork."

As it came to the end of the day, Bryce and Charlene waited outside the research center in the van in case something came up where they need to act quickly while Doug, Lulu, and Lara waited back at the hotel listening in. Doug wanted to be on the stakeout with Charlene, but she nixed that.

They had been listening all day, but so far nothing Handler said Doug could identify as of interest other than when she told a co-worker about the cute guy she met at lunch. "What's a vector? She talks a lot about vectors." Doug was busy cleaning the blade of his katana with oil as described in the katana care manual.

Lulu was seated near the receiver, trying to stay awake. "It's a mathematical term, Doug; you don't care about it."

"What kind of sword is that?" Lara asked, seated on the bed.

"A Musashi XL." The blade didn't seem to have picked up any debris from when it cut Colette and still looked to be in perfect condition.

Lara chuckled. "Isn't that a Wal-Mart brand?"

"A Wal-Mart exclusive, and it cuts great." Doug had owned one for a while, though presumably his previous one was destroyed along with Shride.

"And you plan to make use of it?"

"When we fought Colette, bullets hardly slowed her, but this stopped her." He carefully wiped down the blade one last time with a cloth, removing the excess oil.

"Not going to be of use here, though," Lara said. "Reportedly, Elza has never ascended any of her followers."

Doug sheathed his sword. "Hmm... wonder why that is." Since Elza was such a thorn in the sides of the other Trans, that did make her of particular interest to Doug.

"So how are you guys planning on spending your money?" Lulu asked. "First thing, new shoes... and I think a purse. And then a big tropical vacation."

"Can I come?" Doug said.

"Sure, if you don't get in the way."

"Well, I was thinking of getting a big entertainment systems for playing videogames," he stated, "but I guess I need a place to put it. I hope we know where we're going after this."

"I'm going to get a nice apartment in the city -- I haven't figured out which city yet -- you can go where you want, Doug." Lulu looked at Lara. "What about you? 2.5 million is a lot for one girl to spend... and I assume its tax free."

Lara looked slightly startled by the question. "Um... I'd invest it. I'm not going to waste it all on frivolities."

Lulu rolled her eyes. "Yes, but you'll splurge at least a little. Are you saying you haven't thought about anything you plan to buy? A few new outfits at least?"

Lara appeared cross. "We're not friends, Ms. Lui; how about my plans are just none of your business."

"Maybe you could put the money towards a debitchification," Lulu muttered as she stood up. "I'm going to grab some sodas. Want anything?"

"I'm fine," Lara said.

"Wasn't asking you." Lulu looked to Doug.

"I'll have a Mountain Dew."

She left the room, and Doug looked to Lara who stared back at him. He stood up and held his sheathed sword at his side. "I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but I keep getting this feeling you're up to something... and if you harm any of my friends..." He took a deep breath. "I'll kill you."

Lara chuckled. "That wasn't very convincing."

"Well... it's still true."

Lara stood up and her smile faded. Though Doug was certainly bigger, Lara was actually quite a bit physically intimidating for a woman. "I know, but what if this is all about harming you? Then what will you do?"

"Huh?"

A powerful right hook struck Doug in his cheek and he fell over. The blow opened up a bruise he already had, and blood flowed down the side of his face. Lara stood over him with a disgusted expression.

Doug pressed against the wound to stop the bleeding. "What are you doing?"

"So I guess I can hurt you all I want and you won't do anything other than stare up at me like a kicked puppy. Even you recognize how worthless you are and that you're hardly worth defending." Lara bent over him. "I know you'd come after me if something happened to your friends, because they're all you have and, with them gone, you'd have nothing left but an impotent attempt at revenge. I'm one of the Last Children like you, Doug, and have been treated like worthless crap all my life because of whatever wrong it was that had them slaughter our parents. For most of us, it's an unfair treatment, but then there's you. They can look at you and feel justified. I saw the file Asmod's government had on you, and then I met you. Someone like you has no right threatening me; you are too worthless to even talk to me. And if you cross me, I know exactly what I'll do to you. I'll tie you up and make you watch as I break Charlene's arms and legs and take a knife and--"

Doug rose quickly at her with an uppercut. She got her arms in front of it, but the force still knocked her over into a chair. She laughed. "Now I believe you'll kill me."

"Um... am I interrupting something?" Lulu was standing at the door holding the drinks.

Lara got off the floor and sat back on the bed. "I was just trying to figure out how to explain something to your stupid friend."

"We use puppets." Lulu kept a suspicious eye on Lara as she walked over to Doug. "They didn't have Mountain Dew. I got you a bottle of water."

"Aww... I hate water."

"Don't complain; it's free water."

Doug grudgingly took it. "So's a rainy day."

"Guys, it looks like about everyone has left by now," Charlene said over the radio. "We haven't seen Handler, though; is she still in there?"

Lulu turned up the receiver and could hear the same ambient noises from Handler's lab. "Yeah, she's still there."

"Doris, are we free to talk about it?" a female voice said.

"Wait, we have something," Lulu said. Lara and Doug came close.

"I've only been able to study it a little so far without raising suspicion, but it's a fascinating object," Handler said. "Despite it's small size in the first three dimensions, it is in fact quite immense. Its extradimensional connections are similar to a person, but bigger and more powerful. This could be the key to the downfall of the other Transcendents, Julia."

"We can hope," the woman apparently named Julia answered. "So... any idea why there are rabbits on it?"

Lulu giggled.

"I can't be certain. It almost looks like it was just scratched in there with a crude tool," Handler replied.

"It was a pocket knife," Lulu said. "It's not like I used a sharpened rock."

Lara glared at her. "Shut up."

"It's been decided we need to move it," Julia said.

"Where?"

"They haven't told me, just that we're moving it Thursday. We'll find out more instructions then."

"Three days." Lara smiled. "They'll walk it out, and we kill them and take it. Simple."

NEXT

Rating: 2.3/5 (11 votes cast)

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April 11, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 17 - Facade
Posted by Frank J. at 04:01 PM

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"As civilization moves into its next phase of existence," Doug read aloud from a pamphlet while seated on the floor, "it is of increasing importance who leads humankind into its next and final evolution. Ironically, being freed from the animinalistic handicap of childbirth and childrearing, women are being further made into second-class citizens despite the empty words of equality. The fact is that all the current leaders including the Transcendents -- no matter what forms they take -- have integrated primitive masculine instincts into their societies. This has to be stopped now, before these out-dated impulses are imprinted into us for all eternity."

"Makes sense; I wonder if they have a newsletter I can subscribe to?" Lulu was sitting near Doug with an odd pad over her eyes. Lara gave it to her to help clear up her black eyes. After the train ride (which Doug quite enjoyed as it was actually relaxing), they crossed over the Viathian border to the city of Avaro. There, Lara recommended a hotel -- not too expensive not too cheap -- where they rented three rooms. They were now meeting in one of them, where Lara shared the information she had on the followers of Elza, including recruitment pamphlets. They seemed hard to track down, as Lara was convinced that Elza's people were made up of many groups only loosely connected.

"You think they would have taken the cube here?" Charlene asked Lara. She was seated in a chair by the bed and also looking over some of the pamphlets. "I've heard more of their attacks on Asmod's territory lately."

"Viath's territories haven't seen much conflict in a while," Lara said, "and one pattern I've noticed with Elza's people is they tend to attack wherever things get too peaceful." She was seated on the bed next to Bryce who was looking on her quite fondly. Doug had never seen Bryce tricked by a woman before, and wasn't sure how he'd react.

Charlene tossed a pamphlet onto the bed. "How much thought do you think they put into these attacks? Most of them seem just random and poorly planned."

"My theory is that the mindless terrorism and the arch-feminism is all a front," Lara answered. "I think they're up to something big and Elza is taking pains to get people to underestimate them."

"That's some commitment to pretending to be incompetent," Charlene said. "The last two attacks they did on military installation had a lot more deaths on their side."

Lara shrugged. "Just a theory based on my observations. Of course, Elza claims to know the secret to immortality, so perhaps they have reason not to fear death."

"Maybe we should just behead Bryce as an offering to join up," Lulu suggested.

"What about me?" Doug asked.

"No one cares about you." Lulu took the pad off her face. "Do I still look like a raccoon?"

"Washing off the whiskers might help," Bryce said.

"But I want to look like a kitty-cat."

Lara held up a handheld computer to Doug. On screen was a woman. "Do you recognize her?"

Doug looked at her a moment. "She was one of the women who beat me up in that bathroom!" He had been too scared to go again until they had gotten back to the apartment. It was very painful.

"She was one of Colette's hired goons," Lara said, "and I had some suspicions about her which were confirmed when she went missing today." She stared a moment at Doug. "Interesting they left you alive. That's certainly not how they operate. Do you actually know something about the cube?"

Bryce laughed. "Doug doesn't even know how many sides a cube has."

"Yes I do! It's six... right?" Bryce gave Doug his "Shut up!" look, and Doug took the hint. "Or does a cube have eight sides? I don't remember."

"Don't take this the wrong way," Lara said, "but I'm banking on all of you actually being a lot smarter than you seem."

Lulu put the pad back over her eyes. "Were going to be such friends when this is all over."

Charlene pointed to the woman on the screen. "So is she our lead?"

Lara smiled. "I can do better. When she went missing, I went to her apartment, and she forgot her phone. There was a message on it from a Doris Handler. I looked her up, and she's a research scientist in an interdimensional studies lab in this city. I think that's where they took the cube."

"They're going to secretly study it?" Bryce asked.

"Maybe they're trying to open it," Doug suggested.

Lara stared at him with curiosity. "Why do you say that?"

"Because, of..." Bryce was giving Doug a look again. "I don't know. I was just guessing."

Charlene had a great amount of suspicion in her eyes. "So let me get this straight. All in one morning, you negotiated this job with Darius, decided to warn us so as to set up Colette, investigated a missing employee, and then tracked us down to help you. You're quite a busy girl."

Lara appeared angry. "It wasn't exactly like that. I've been at this sort of thing a lot longer than you amateurs, and I know how to seize an opportunity quickly. What exactly are you implying, Ms. Marshal?"

"We just have so many reasons to trust you." Charlene's hand rubbed one of the bruised cuts on her face.

"Girls, let's calm down." Bryce put his hand on Lara's shoulder. "We have a great opportunity here, and Lara is a very lovely and talented woman and it's quite a boon for us to get to work with her."

"She's awesome," Lulu said, still holding the pad on her eyes. "I'm thinking of having a lesbian relationship with her right now."

Lara stood up. "Anyway, let's get some sleep and then try and find out what Handler knows tomorrow. We need to move as quickly as possible because we don't want to still be around when Loch gets up to speed."

Lara began to leave, but Bryce walked up to her before she reached the door. "Lara, I feel like I have need to apologize to you," he said in the nervous, sincere voice Doug often heard him use when trying to get into bed again with a woman who had found out what a cad he was. "If I could talk to you privately..."

"Bryce, I've known you were a weasel from when I first met you. I was bored and felt like having sex, so I pretended I fell for your act. I then tricked you and your friends into raiding a military base, so no apology needed."

Bryce looked disappointed, but soon perked up. "Well, if you're bored now... I could tell you about how I shot Colette multiple times. It's a great story."

Lara laughed, and then motioned for Bryce to follow as she left the room. He quickly complied. Lulu took the pad off her face and looked towards the door with disbelief. "What a slut. I think Bryce is out of his league, though."

"We're all out of our league right now," Charlene said. "Something just seems off. Let's keep our eyes open."

Doug took a deep breath. "If you're not doing anything now, Charlene..."

"Doug, this is our room. Get out."

Lulu chuckled. "You both could do better."

Doug slowly got up and headed out. "Wait." Charlene walked over and handed him a snub-nose revolver. "Five shots. Double-action only. Can be a back up when we get you something better. These are dangerous people, so try not to get yourself killed too quickly if something happens."

"I have a pretty good record of not getting killed." Doug put the gun in his pocket. "This could all work out you know. We could be rich when this all over, and frankly I think we deserve it."

Charlene laughed. "I really can't see that happening, but I guess we have to try."

Doug honestly didn't see it happening either. Somehow, he knew something horrible was going to happen. He also knew there was nothing he could do other than try and be prepared for it.

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Rating: 2.6/5 (8 votes cast)

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April 09, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 16 - Birds in a Bush
Posted by Frank J. at 05:21 PM

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Bryce eyes brightened up on sight of Lara. "Hello, doll-face!" He sat down next to her.

Lulu said in a monotone voice, "Oh, hi, Lara; you're our best friend" and sat down at the table as well. Charlene kept a cautious eye on Lara as she sat but didn't say anything.

Doug, as usual, was confused. "You had us beat up!" Doug yelled, pointing an accusing finger at Lara.

She chuckled. "There's that dry wit again."

Charlene yanked Doug down into a chair and shushed him.

Darius sat as well, and his expression over the outburst seemed to be resting somewhere between confusion and unconcern. "I need something done, and I don't want Dammon involved. Ms. Skinner here agreed to help and recommend you four. What I'm looking for is a special device. It looks like a metal cube; I understood you four know of it."

"Oh yes. The 'bunny cube' as people call it," Bryce said. "We know all about it." He looked to Doug. "What was it you were saying about it?"

Doug stopped searching the menu for nachos to look up. "Oh... um... the cube is supposed to have a key inside to lock something. The Trans fear it for some reason. That's what I've heard."

Darius looked very surprised. "Heard from who?"

Doug realized this was trouble, so he turned to Bryce. Bryce was better at lying. "It's just the word out there," Bryce said. "A lot of rumors are already flying around as it is an odd little thing."

Darius didn't look very convinced. "So, I need it, and I need it quickly. I know Elza's people have it, and I expect not just Dammon will be after it, but Loch as well. Thus I'm willing to pay quite handsomely for it considering the risk."

"Hellbender doesn't come cheap," Lulu lied, twitching her painted on whiskers.

"Ms. Skinner negotiated five million, and that seems fair."

Bryce was the first to recover from the shock. "Seems fair."

"I hope we're agreed then." Darius stood up. "Ms. Skinner already has all the details. This lunch is on my account; feel free to order whatever you want, and I hope I'll see you all again soon."

As Darius left, Doug quickly reached for the menu again. "Free food! Awesome! Do you think it's too early for beer?" He scanned through the menu for a moment. "Wait. Did he say 'million'?"

Lara smiled. "I'm guessing we have some talking to do."

Charlene was not amused. "I was thinking other things than talking."

"I was too," Bryce said, "but probably not the same things as her. If we all have a chance to get rich, isn't that worth making up and being friends?"

"Yes, it was kind of mean what I did to all of you," Lara said, "but that's the price you pay for having Bryce as a friend. I then helped you put that bitch Colette in her place, though, and I was quite impressed by your entrepreneurial spirit. I found out that Asmod's government was going to pay heavily for the cube but knew that was something I couldn't handle myself, and since Colette tasked me to hunt you guys down I quickly arranged this."

"If I didn't look cute as a raccoon," Lulu stated, "I'd slit your throat right now. I don't really trust working with you."

"And what do we need you for, anyway?" Charlene asked Lara.

"I have the contact with Darius," Lara replied, "and I've been studying the Elza problem and am best equipped to find out where her people brought the cube. In fact, since I brought this opportunity to you and have all the knowledge, I'm going to need fifty percent."

Lulu stood up. "I need to go to the bathroom. Charlene, do you need to go to bathroom? Doug and Bryce, do you need to go too?"

Lara sighed. "I'll go to the bathroom." She stood up and walked off.

Lulu sat back down. "I wrote a poem about my feelings about her:

"I don't like her
She's a bitch.
Let's beat her up
And throw her in a ditch!"

Bryce shrugged. "Your meter is off."

"Your meter's off!"

"We have plenty of money for now," Charlene said. "Lets just get out of here. She could turn on us at any point... not to mention you people aren't really skilled enough to be taking on this sort of operation. We're doing pretty well right now considering our past history, so let's not get greedy. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush."

"We're not talking about two in the bush!" Bryce shouted. "We're talking about... um..." He looked to Lulu. "How much more than twenty five grand are we talking?"

"Eighty-seven point six times as much."

"We're talking eighty-seven point six..." Bryce paused. "That doesn't sound right." He thought it out. "We're talking one hundred birds in the bush, and the bush is only guarded by incompetent Amazons. Didn't you say they're not even very good at fighting?"

"I didn't say you guys were better," Charlene answered.

"Are we really talking about getting millions of dollars?" Doug asked. "That's a lot of money."

"See! One of us has his priorities straight," Bryce said. "We can do this, and if we do it quickly, then we don't have to worry about running into Dammon's people or... Loch."

Doug shuddered. "If he's around, I'm out of this. I don't want millions that bad."

"And are we agreeing to fifty percent?" Charlene asked.

"Here's what I say we do," Lulu stated. "We agree to give her fifty percent, but when the job is done, we say to Lara, 'Here's your share!' and punch her in the face and run away."

"Maybe we can argue her down a little," Bryce said, "but I'm sure we can set up accounts ahead of time so no one can screw the other."

"You won't want that," Lulu commented.

Doug looked around. "When is the waiter coming?"

Lara returned and took her seat. "So..."

Bryce stared at her with his intense business face. "We want sixty percent."

"Fifty it is," she said. "We better get out of here pretty soon. We'll take the train."

Lulu pounded the table. "It's not a train."

"Excuse me?"

"It doesn't follow a track. You can't just call it a train because it sorta looks like one."

"It's a number of segments -- independent vehicles -- that move together in a line, i.e., a train," Lara said. "You'd have a case if they called it a flying railroad."

Lulu looked like she was about to reply, but nothing came out. Instead she leaned back in her chair and muttered, "Bitch."

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Rating: 2.6/5 (8 votes cast)

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April 07, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 15 - Take the Money and Run
Posted by Frank J. at 05:04 PM

"So are we taking the train?" Doug asked.

"No!" Lulu said quite emphatically. "Because it's not a train. It's a flying segmented transport."

Bryce rolled his eyes. "Whatever. They call it a train."

"I don't care what they call it!" Lulu shouted. "It's either a train or it isn't. It doesn't follow a track -- it flies -- ergo it is not a train."

"It follows a virtual track set in its programming," Bryce countered, "which is about the same thing."

"That's the dumbest thing I ever heard! You're now dumber than Doug for saying that! You can buy us tickets, but don't you dare tell them you're buying the tickets for their train because they don't have one!"

Doug walked over to Charlene. "So are we taking the train?"

Charlene kept scanning the people around them in what Doug thought was the train station. "Colette's people are going to be looking for us here. I think its best we find another means of transport even if it's slower."

Doug and his friends wasted no time in preparing to flee now that they had some money. They first stopped at a thrift shop to get some new, more inconspicuous clothing (Lulu's outfit could hardly be described as "cute" and barely emphasized her chest at all -- though she still kept her face paint). Since Doug was already pretty non-descript in his t-shirt and jeans, he got a brown fedora and some sunglasses to hide his identity. He was also going to get a duster, but decided it was too hot out for that. Doug did get a duffle bag to conceal his sword in.

Charlene continued to appear quite concerned as she looked around the train station. "We have some powerful enemies this time, Doug; we have to take this seriously. It's only luck some of us haven't been killed by now, but luck isn't going to hold up against this big a threat."

"I don't know; we always seem to do alright in the end." Doug smiled. "Maybe it's like there is someone watching out for us."

"You're an idiot." Charlene walked over to Bryce and Lulu. "This is a bad idea. We shouldn't take the train."

"It's not a train!" Lulu shouted. "It's a--"

Charlene smacked Lulu in her raccoon face and looked to Bryce. "My plan worked with Colette, so why don't you follow my lead again in getting out of here?"

"First of all, it wasn't your plan," Bryce said. "It was our plan. Also, that involved standing and fighting -- which is your expertise -- while this involves fleeing -- which is more my expertise. They're not going to attack us in broad daylight on a public transport. I kept the sum low enough that Colette can't justify some huge pursuit of us; she'll probably mainly keep quiet about it to avoid the humiliation. This is the quickest way to get to the Viathian border." Taroth and Viath were practically allies and the border was supposed to be easy to cross. According to Bryce, Dammon's people had had some trouble in Viath's land, making it harder for them to operate there and a safe place for Hellbender.

Charlene sighed. "Fine. But all of you keep alert."

"Can I have a gun?" Doug asked.

"I'll give you one of mine, but not while we're in a public area." Charlene looked around some more. "There's a man in a suit who seems to be looking our way."

Bryce watched the crowds. "Who?"

"Are you talking about the one waving at us and walking our way?" Lulu asked.

They all tensed as a very important looking man came towards them. "Are you Hellbender?"

"Who is asking?" Lulu responded.

"We're Hellbender," Bryce said. He then shook the man's hand. "You're Robert Darius, aren't you?"

"Yes, but I'm trying to keep a low profile."

Charlene had not calmed down any. "How did you find us?"

"Let's discuss this out of the public's view," Darius said. "I know about your trouble with one of Dammon's people, and am quite impressed by your handling of it. I can assure your safety for now, though. I know a nice restaurant near here; I'll treat you to lunch and we can discuss a business proposal."

"Sounds good," Bryce said, though he was the only one who seemed certain of that.

Darius led them out of the train station and down the street, but Charlene lagged a bit behind and whispered to the others. "There is something very weird about this."

"For one thing, it's a bit too early for lunch," Lulu added.

"So who is this guy?" Doug asked.

"A very important person in Asmod's government," Bryce said. "He's a Hollow one and a good path to the lucrative government contracts we should be pursuing."

"And do you think he knows who we are since were until recently Asmod's citizens?" Charlene whispered.

Bryce scoffed. "He's way too important to know about the slave labor."

Doug looked to Darius who was walking a couple yards ahead of him. "Being one of the Hallowed, do you think he has like super hearing and can hear what we're saying now?"

Bryce looked startled by the suggestions, and all of them now quietly followed Darius until they reached the restaurant that looked fancier than any place Doug had eaten before. "One of your associates is meeting us here," Darius said as they walked inside.

"Any friend of ours is a friend of ours," Lulu said, looking as confused as the rest.

Darius led them to a table. Seated there was Lara who smiled as they approached. "Hey, buddies."

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Rating: 2.5/5 (6 votes cast)

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April 04, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 14 - Cornered Rats
Posted by Frank J. at 04:04 PM

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"That's a bad trade." Doug had just claimed one of Bryce's knights using a rook, and Bryce moved a bishop to take the rook.

"The horses move weird," Doug said. "I just want them off the board so I don't have to keep track of them." Apparently a policy of Taroth's Republic was to make more cerebral activities available to the Last Children in an effort to improve them. Thus Bryce has found a complete chess set in the apartment building they were squatting in and decided to sit in their room and play a game with Doug while they waited for opportunity to knock.

"So, did the Prince of Darkness visit you again in your dreams?" Bryce asked.

"You mean Stan? Yeah, I'm starting to doubt how much he really knows." Doug stared at the board for a moment. "He gave me homework, though."

"He is evil."

"I'm supposed to look for weaknesses in the Hallowed and the Trans."

Bryce thought a moment. "Well, the Hollow ones are basically just powerful slaves to their masters. As for the Trans, they're just way too powerful to even notice people like us. That's a weakness I like to exploit."

"So, if there was something more powerful than the Trans, what do you think are the chances it would care about us?" Doug moved one of his pawns forward a space.

"That's stupid, and you're stupid for even thinking it." Bryce claimed the pawn with a rook. "You keep leaving your pawns unprotected; you're not going to have any defenses left soon."

Doug chuckled. He then moved his queen to claim Bryce's king. "I win!"

"Huh? I was in check? You can't do that!"

"What do you mean?"

Bryce looked quite cross. "When one of your pieces threatens my king, you have to tell me."

Doug scoffed. "Then you'd just move it."

"That's the rules, idiot! Since you violated them, I win."

"Whatever. You're always changing the rules of any game we play so you win."

Opportunity did not knock this time. Instead, it kicked down the door. Colette entered the apartment in a dress that looked a bit too fancy to wear for door-kicking. The three large men with guns in hand accompanying her looked quite ready to kick things, though.

Bryce turned in his seat to face Colette. "You say you want to stay under Taroth's radar, but guess who is going to end up paying for that door."

Colette looked at Bryce like she was gazing upon a large cockroach. "We decided we want the bunny cube."

"Well, that's a problem," Bryce said. "After you were so rude to us, we found a much more polite buyer for that particular item."

Colette bent over Bryce, looking to be about a second from ripping him apart. "Who?"

Bryce was a bit too distracted from Colette bending over him to answer.

"Stop staring down my dress!"

"What? I'm not staring very far down it; just to the boobs."

She grabbed him by the throat. "I'd rip your head off if I didn't think your friend here is too dumb to help me. Now, you're going to answer me, or I will dismember your friends in front of you." She looked around. "Where are the two girls?"

"Out doing girl stuff," Bryce coughed.

"When Charlene gets mad, she likes to have a pedicure," Doug said. "You made her mad last night, so I'm guessing that what's she's doing."

Colette pointed at Doug. "Shut up!" She looked at Bryce. "Who has the cube?"

"I'd be violating our buyer confidentiality policy to tell you."

Colette let him go and backed away a step. "Kill the stupid one," she ordered her men.

"You're stupid!" Doug yelled.

Her thugs started to advance on Doug. "Wait!" Bryce called out. "I have something of interest to you. You don’t have all the equipment from the truck we stole; we took some out for our own use when we first got here."

"I don't care about anything other than that stupid cube right now."

"This is good, though," Bryce continued. "One thing we have is a very nice, high powered rifle. It has a scope and everything. I think it would be useful to you. Three thousand."

"You're not getting any money, Child," Colette said. "About the only thing you're going to be able to bargain for soon is how painfully we kill you."

Bryce's phone beeped. He looked down at it on his belt. "Text message from Lulu. Says she found some good muffins downtown."

"Can you tell her to get me one?" Doug asked.

"Now I'm ripping your arm off," Colette said and advanced on Bryce.

Bryce quickly pulled a small electronic device from his shirt pocket. "I think you'll be interested in this, though... more so than even the cube."

"I told you--"

Bryce put on his used car salesman smile. "It's a remote detonator; very high-tech. Only ten thousand, and it's yours."

"I don't care--"

"It's really a bargain."

"I don't want it!"

"Fine. Then you're walking home." Bryce hit a button on it, and there was a loud explosion outside causing the thugs to turn around. Then there was the sound of breaking glass as bullets flew in through the window in rapid succession killing the three thugs. Bryce pulled out a gun and fired repeatedly into Colette. The bullet wounds seemed to spark as the bullets ripped through her but only seemed to stun her slightly as she reached for Bryce.

Now it what time for Doug to do what he had been preparing for. He quickly quickly drew his katana as he leapt to his feet and proceeded to cut off Colette's hand in one quick motion. She fell to the ground, finally looking like she was in pain. Where the arm was cut, Doug couldn't see a wound. He couldn't see anything. Actually, it gave him an odd feeling to even try and perceive, so he tried not to look and instead focus on Colette's face against which he placed his blade.

"Do you know what we're going to do to you?" Colette spat at them. "You little--"

Bryce shot her again. "Yes yes. Generic threats. We've heard them before." Bryce's expression was very dark; actually quite scary for someone who usually was never physically intimidation. "You were right last night when you labeled us desperate losers, which I think would mean a bit more caution when dealing with us. I don't know where you get off thinking you are anywhere near the most threatening person we've ever had the displeasure of dealing with. Now, I understand that cutting you to pieces won't kill you, but I'm guessing you won't like it... and who knows how long you'll be in that condition before Dammon decides to put you back together. I say it's worth twenty five thousand to you to avoid that." He took out a small handheld computer and tossed it to her. "Our account information is there. It's an insignificant sum to you and a big sum to us -- desperate losers that we are -- so everyone wins."

"You can't extort Dammon. You will--"

"We're extorting you. Keep that straight. I'll understand that Dammon won't like damage to his property, but he should have been a bit more careful with his things, then." He turned to Doug. "I'm done talking to her; you can go ahead and cut off her ears."

"You don't need her to smell anything either, right?"

"Fine." Colette took the computer with her remaining hand and entered in the information. "You better spend it very quickly if you wish to enjoy it."

Bryce picked up the computer and checked the account. "It was a pleasure finally doing business with you Colette."

"So where is the cube?"

"Elza's girls have it," Bryce said. "If you want us to retrieve it, we'll have to demand a payment for that job up front given your previous history."

Colette stood up, Doug still keeping his sword on her. "Can I go now?"

"Yes. We have no more use for you."

Lulu came in through the broken door, stepping over the dead bodies. She had painted on a black nose and whiskers to go with her two black eyes. "Someone parked a flaming wreck out front." She turned to see Colette. "Oh, hey, you. Hope you keep Hellbender in mind for your future mercenary needs." Lulu pulled out a gun, shot Colette in the face, and kicked her hard, sending Colette out what remained of the shattered window.

"That was a little excessive," Doug commented.

Lulu shrugged. "Well, we were done with her, right?"

Doug glanced out the window. "So she'll survive that?"

"In a way," Bryce said, "and she will be really pissed." He picked up the walkie-talkie that was hidden under a pillow on the bed and said into, "Nice shooting, Charlene."

"Any idea why Lara gave us the heads up on this?" she asked in response.

"Women are crazy; I don't try to figure them out."

Lulu leaned out the window and looked down to the street. "Oh, she's getting up." She then screamed at the top of her lungs, "DON'T MESS WITH HELLBENDER, BITCH!" She turned to Bryce. "So we better be a few hundred miles away from here by the end of the day, or we're like super extra dead, right?"

"Yeah, we're pretty much on the run again -- but this time with money."

"And you don't think Dammon is going to hunt us down?" Charlene asked over the radio.

"We're too insignificant to care about and taken too little money to worry over." Bryce smiled. "That's why we're awesome."

"Insignificant but awesome!" Lulu pumped her fist in the air. "Go team Hellbender!"

Doug sheathed his sword and put the sheath in his belt. He wasn't happy about killing people, but he had to admit it was pretty awesome when he cut off Colette's hand (which seemed to have disappeared as he couldn't seen any evidence of it in the room). Also, now they had enough money that he not only could get nachos whenever he wanted, he could get guacamole on them even if that cost extra. It was a good feeling. Still, something nagged at him. "Anyone wonder what exactly everyone wants that cube for?"

"No."

Rating: 2.9/5 (5 votes cast)

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April 02, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 13 - Perception of Power
Posted by Frank J. at 05:03 PM

PREVIOUS

"Hello, Doug."

Doug was once again seated in darkness with the Devil across from him. "Oh. Hey, Stan." He looked around a bit. "Do we always have to meet here?"

"No distractions; I prefer it that way."

"Okay. So, you heard what happened?"

The Devil smiled. "I am nearly omniscient. I am privy to every thought that any human has ever had."

"Really? You like know everything?" A thought struck him. "Like, do you know what dinosaurs actually looked like?"

"Anything in this universe that doesn't involve humanity is of no concern to me."

"Oh." Another, better thought struck Doug. "So do you know who my parents were?"

The Devil's face turned serious. "They died for a cause they believe in, like many many others have throughout history. There is nothing I can tell you about them that will be of any help to you."

"Still, I'd like to know."

"I'm here to help you help yourself, Doug; I'm not here for your whims."

For the first time, Doug was growing a bit tired of the Devil. "I don't know what you want from me. Right now, me and my friends barely have money to eat, so I'm not sure how I'm going to fight powerful armies and gods, if that's what you're expecting."

"It's not what I'm expecting; it's what I know is possible. I can't see the future with certainty -- not with free will interfering -- but I can see the possible futures. Each time you make a choice in life, those possible futures narrow down. I still see one where you lead the way to righting this world, and I will do my best to help you make the choices to make it your present."

"Can't you just tell me what to do?"

The Devil smiled. "No. I'm afraid that wouldn't work."

Doug sighed. "You know, for someone claiming to be so powerful, it doesn't seem like you can do very much."

"I'll give you a little piece of information: Being nearly infinitely powerful is just as close to infinitely powerful as it is to powerless. The good news is that these 'gods' you fear aren't measurably more powerful than you... from a certain perspective."

"What perspective would that be?"

"That of the Being of truly infinite power."

Doug wasn't quite as ready to be roped in again. "The god my parents worshipped... the super powerful guy I've seen even less from."

The Devil smiled. "I'm glad to see the skepticism, but the works of the one true God are visible to all but those who wish to be blind to them."

"I don't even know what that means. Anyway, we don't have the cube anymore -- which I guess you know -- so if that was needed to somehow fight the Transcendents, well... that's not happening."

"For the time being, it's good enough that you know the cube is out there; events are already in motion because of it." The Devil was quiet for a moment, seeming to be in thought. "Let me try and give you some useful advice, though. You focus too much on where you are weak and where your opponents are strong. Try to think of where you are strong."

That was a hard one. "I'm okay with a sword."

"That's something. Also, those you fear: Where are they weak?"

"Well, with the Hallowed..." Doug thought about it. "Well, all I've ever met are kinda jerks, so I guess people don't like them. I guess that's a weakness."

"It's a start. And what of their masters, the Transcendents?"

"I've only really ever seen them from a far... and I guess that's just a projection of them..." Doug was thinking his hardest, but not much was coming. "They're at war with each other, so I guess they don't get along very well... I don't see how that helps me, though."

"It's enough for now that you at least begin to deconstruct how powerful you believe them to be," the Devil said. "Until we meet again, why don't you continue to look for their weaknesses."

"I really don't think I'm the person for this."

The Devil looked quite serious again. "It doesn't matter what you think, Doug. As I say, I can see many possible futures, and in all of them you will come into conflict with the Transcendents. The only variable is whether you are prepared or not."

This finally seemed like some new information the Devil had given Doug, but somehow Doug already knew it.

* * * *

Colette sat in the back office of the warehouse perusing the lists of recent acquirements and deciding where to move them for various uses and black markets. It was basically accounting and her favorite part of the job as it didn't require interaction with any people. Not needing sleep, she had been busy at it throughout the night while most of her men slept. She loved the quiet.

Colette felt some hands caress her, and she slowly turned around, "Dammon, I am honored with your presence."

Dammon always took the human form of an attractive man. His features were young, but his eyes were very wise. He enjoyed the physical pleasures of the world more than the power struggles of his kin, and thus seemed to have more of a like of humanity than Colette who was eager to know more of what lay beyond this universe's dimensions. "This is but a quick visit to see if you've noticed anything out of the ordinary as of late."

"Why? What's been happening?"

He paced a bit as if in thought -- a very convincing imitation of being an actual human. "I've noticed some erratic behavior among the other Transcendents. I think there is more behind the attack on Shride than Serpine trying to display her power. Have you heard anything about this?"

Colette remembered the idiots from the other day, and hesitated to mention them... but, having thought of them, Dammon probably already knew. "Some Children today tried to sell me some cube with bunnies on it claiming it was something Serpine, Asmod, and Elza were all after."

"Bunnies?" He pretended to be thinking again. "It was a small metal cube?"

"Yes. It looked metal... nothing much to it other than the bunnies. The Children seemed to think there was something special to it that should have been obvious."

Dammon looked her in the eyes quite intensely. "Do you have it?"

"I didn't see any point to it. Those Children just seemed to have stumbled upon it and were hoping it was valuable... but it appeared worthless."

"Go get it. Immediately. Others might be after it, but we need it first."

"But what--" Colette realized she wasn't talking to anything. She didn't see him disappear; it was just like he was never there in the first place. She had her instructions, so there was nothing left to discuss.

Colette walked out of the office to see some of her men playing a card game while others were still resting. She quickly spotted Lara who was sitting on a crate reading a book. She despised Lara, but she was useful. Of course, that was the best she could say of any of them. "Those idiot Children from last night; you know where they are?"

"Yes; it's in the report I gave you on them. They're just squatting in an apartment building if they haven't moved on yet."

"You four." She pointed to four of her men playing cards. "Take me to them."

One of her female employees ran into the warehouse, her face pale white. "Craig and... Raul... they were... I found them..."

It took a lot of temperance for Colette not to kill someone every few minutes. "Spit it out!"

"They're ripped apart! There's blood everywhere by the dock! I..." She paused for a moment, and turned to her side and threw up.

Loch. This was how he communicated, and this was simply a warning not to get in his way. She didn't understand how he did it, though, as agreements between the Transcendents should have made it impossible for him to directly touch any of Dammon's people. Colette was a little unnerved, but Dammon wasn't going to accept excuses. Humans were panicky things, though, and she knew she'd have to diffuse this to avoid a mutiny. All the people there looked scared... except for Lara who had gone back to reading her book. "I did that," Colette told them. "I had my reasons."

"Why?" the woman asked, looking quite scared and befuddled.

"I don't have time to explain myself. Now get back to whatever the hell you're supposed to be doing or you're next." She walked past the woman to exit the warehouse. "Now, I believe some of us were going somewhere. Have your guns ready."

NEXT

Rating: 2.1/5 (9 votes cast)

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March 31, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 12 - Recovery
Posted by Frank J. at 05:09 PM

PREVIOUS

As they stumbled back towards their apartment, the sparse streetlights of Theed didn't allow Doug to see too clearly the battered conditions of his friends. A couple of times he tried to help Charlene when she stumbled, but she quickly shrugged him off. So onward they went, walking beside each other but not with each other, none saying a word until Doug felt he absolutely had to say something to break the silence. "Did you see how I got the sword on that one guy before he drew his gun? That was pretty good."

"Yes, Doug. That was a brilliant display of basic competency." Charlene didn't even look at him. He thought she could be a little nicer since he did draw the sword to keep the guy from shooting her.

"I think that's where things started to go wrong," Bryce said.

Charlene stopped. "Are actually going to argue this wasn't entirely the fault of your idiocy?"

"Hey, I wasn't the one with the brilliant idea that, when I'm surrounded by a bunch of armed thugs, I should punch one of them in the nose!"

"She was a clearly useless person, and I have a least enough self-respect not take insults from such!" Charlene shouted. "You really think being a meek beggar was the way to get respect from that scum?"

"Why don't we just compromise and say you both were idiots," Lulu suggested.

Charlene looked about ready to hit her. "Why did you draw bunnies on it Lulu?!"

Lulu rolled her eyes. "Oh right; that was the problem."

"It didn't help." Bryce added.

Doug didn't like seeing his friends fight, but at least none of them were blaming him for anything. "I think I see a bus station just a little ways away. Do we still have enough money to take the bus?"

"We're not so financially desperate we can't ride the bus." Bryce marched onwards and the other followed. He took a glance at Doug. "How come you look better than the rest of us?"

"I've gotten beaten up so many times, I guess I just know how best to take it."

"Well, that's a sad good analogy for us," Charlene said. "We've gotten beaten up so many times, it's become a skill."

"And I notice you look worse than the rest of us," Bryce commented. "I'm guessing you thought it was a bright idea to fight back."

Lulu glanced at him. "How much product do you use in your hair?"

Though Bryce's face was quite beaten, he didn't seem to have one hair out of place. Lulu's hair was quite a mess, though. "Appearances are important, so I spend time on mine." He checked his clothing. "I'm going to need a new suit again."

"Frankly, the whole beating was a bit disorganized." Lulu wrapped her arms around her chest. "Also, I'm all for equal rights stuff, but I still think it would have been more polite to have the women beat up the women and the men beat up the men. The order was to beat me, not to grope me."

"Those two women who felt slighted by the fact that I gave each of them my time were a bit immature during their physical attack on me," Bryce said. "They especially got angry when they found out I was wearing a cup."

"Why were you wearing a cup?" Lulu asked.

"Because I don't like getting hit in the crotch."

"Because he probably knew what happened was a possibility from all his screwing around," Charlene said.

Lulu giggled. "His screwing screwed us."

Doug laughed. "It is kinda funny how Bryce thought he was using Lara but she was using him."

"That's not what happened!" Bryce shouted.

"None of this is funny!" Charlene yelled. "Bryce's idiocy has left us in a foreign city with no money!"

"Some money," Bryce corrected her. "A little money."

Doug patted the sack hanging off his belt. "And we still got the cube."

They reached the bus station. According to a sign on it, they had twenty minutes to the next bus.

"I thought for sure Colette could have told that the cube was important," Bryce said. "We're all in agreement that there is something quite weird about it."

It still creeped Doug out, even concealed in its bag. "The Devil told me that one of Hallowed wouldn't feel anything weird holding it, because they always feel that miserable."

Bryce looked angry. "That's some important information you kept from us. If Satan tells you anything useful like that in the future, pass it on."

"He said his name is Stan, actually," Doug said.

"Did Stan mention anyone else we could maybe pawn it off to for a few bucks?" Lulu asked.

"Shut up, please!" Charlene looked like she was about to cry. "You thought being unappreciated servants of the government was awful, but I don't think being insulted and humiliated by criminals is quite an improvement in our lives. I'm not going anywhere else with that stupid cube and beg for money. If we're going to be criminals ourselves, let's at least be good ones! Lulu was right; you could tell from how Colette's men attacked us that they don't work well as a team. With a little bit of planning -- real planning -- we could do quite some damage to those people and that arrogant bitch Colette."

Bryce looked quite hesitant. "There's no money in revenge. You attach a business plan to that, then maybe."

"I like Charlene's idea," Lulu said. "I say we go back there, cut Colette's head off, and write on the walls in her blood, 'This is what you get for being mean.'"

"She doesn't have any blood. She's one of the Hollow ones." Bryce chuckled. "In fact, you could say she quite literally a heartless bitch."

"No. She's not literally a heartless bitch," Lulu corrected. "Because she's not literally a female dog."

"She is literally a spiteful and overbearing woman," Bryce countered, "which is an accepted definition for 'bitch.'"

"Actually, as she'll tell you herself, she's not literally a woman."

"If you two don't shut up," Charlene shouted. "I will literally rip your heads off and shove them up your asses."

Lulu whispered to Bryce. "Charlene properly use the word 'literally,' though she did so for the purpose of hyperbole."

Charlene smacked Lulu. "Anyway, if there are no objections -- and even if there are -- I'm taking over Hellbender. If we're going to be a group of losers, let's at least be dangerous ones."

"I really don't want to kill a bunch of people if that's the plan," Doug stated.

"As usual, Doug, your opinion doesn't matter," Charlene said.

"Fine." He noticed a convenience store nearby. "I'll be back in a sec; I need to pee."

"Careful not to fall in," Lulu called out as he walked away. She turned to the others. "Do I have a black eye?"

"You have two," Charlene replied.

"Dammit."

When Doug entered the store, he turned to the clerk to ask him if he could use the restroom, but saw it was some sort of electronic entity. Another job stealing robot. Doug weaved by a couple patrons to the back where the men's room was. It was decently clean, and Doug had to admit that some robots were pretty good at their jobs. Frankly, he liked them better than monkeys.

Doug went to a urinal, but as he unzipped he heard others enter. He turned to see three women. For a moment, he though he might have accidentally entered the wrong restroom, but he realized he was at a urinal which he was quite sure women's rooms didn't have. The three women stood behind Doug, and he kept looking back at them. "Uh... I think you're in the wrong restroom. Don't feel bad; it's happened to me before."

They continued to stand there and stare at him.

"Also, it's kinda hard for me to go with you guys standing there like that."

Once again, they didn't react.

"Um... I think I'll use a stall." Doug zipped up and started to walk away, but one of the women grabbed him by the shoulder.

"We want the bunny cube."

Frankly, a part of Doug really wanted to get rid of the cube. Still, it was about all he and his friends had left, and he was curious to find out its secrets.

Doug turned to face them. "Well, you can't have it."

* * * *

"You probably can't tell from looking at me, but I got beat up again."

Doug stumbled back to his three friends at the bus station. Bryce looked him over with a little concern. "We were wondering what took you so long... the bunny cube!"

"Yeah; they took it," Doug admitted. "I think they were more of those Amazons. I tried to stop them, though."

"Did you try drawing you sword and killing them?" Charlene asked.

Doug frowned. "That seems a bit extreme."

"You should feel lucky those psychos didn't slit your throat, then."

"Where did they go?" Bryce asked.

"Who cares?" Charlene said. "If Elza's stupid minions want it, I say let them have it. No more trying to get money in realms we hardly understand."

"Still, at least this proves it was worth something." Bryce straightened his ripped tie. "Just like I said."

Lulu shrugged. "I just hope they appreciate the bunnies."

NEXT

Rating: 2.7/5 (12 votes cast)

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March 28, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 11 - Trash
Posted by Frank J. at 04:08 PM

PREVIOUS

Bryce quickly recovered, his shocked expression quickly becoming one of simple confusion. "Excuse me?"

"Armin Corbert." Colette was quite visibly enjoying Bryce's discomfort. "That was the name assigned to you as a nameless war orphan, wasn't it?"

Bryce laughed nervously. "That's my slave name; I go by Bryce Worthington."

"I don't care what you call yourself." Lara walked over and handed a handheld computer to Colette who took a look at. Now a couple dozen of Colette's thug were standing around to watch the spectacle. "We're very much an international organization, so I was able to access the files on you four from Asmod's government. You were raised at the same orphanage, and the fact that you're all still together is both touching and pathetic." She paused a moment to read some more. "I see you change jobs quite a lot, Armin. I'm guessing that was some sort of scam where you avoided doing actual work. Now, Doug Na's work history seems more consistent with the typical worthless Child."

"That's not actually my last name; it's more of a typo," Doug said. "They somehow messed up and didn't give me a last name as a kid, and then once I had to fill in a form and they told me to put "N/A" for my last name, but I though they were telling me how to spell my new last name--"

"Thanks. I'll wait for the official autobiography. I think I understand quite well now why you were given an IQ test three different times to look for mental retardation."

"They were all negative!" Doug asserted. "It says that there, right?"

"Next we have the ridiculously named Lulu Lui," Colette continued. "Whose only value is plain for anyone to see."

"I kinda like my name," Lulu said. "Lui is more of a Chinese name, though, and I'm pretty sure I have Japanese ancestry."

"Finally, there is Charlene Marshall." Colette took a look at her and laughed. "The little warrior, and perhaps the most pathetic of you four in that her record shows that she actually tried to be a member of useful society. How did that work out, girl?"

Charlene looked enraged. "We get it. We're the Last Children; completely worthless and not worth the time of someone as exalted as yourself. Still, we brought you useful weaponry, so why don't you just give us what it's worth and we'll be on our way, never to offend your sight again."

In the blink of an eye, Colette was on Charlene and holding her up by her neck. "Hey!" Doug shouted as he tried to draw his sword on her, but Colette swung out her arm. It felt to Doug like he was struck by a bat, and fell hard against the floor.

Colette threw Charlene into some crates. "Don't tell me what I should do."

Lulu helped Charlene back to her feet while Doug got himself standing again. Bryce still looked like nothing had happened. "Obviously, we've offended you, and for that I apologize, but--"

"But I don't think you quite understand," Colette interrupted. "Taroth allows Dammon to keep a base in this city so long as we keep things quiet. For that, I can't just have any Child wandering in here thinking he can play big shot gangster. You four haven't even followed the most basic channels for this line of work."

"Oh, we have our registration form." Lulu pulled out a piece of paper.

"I prefer if you submit electronically." She looked back to Bryce. "So the question is how this Child found out enough about our organization to even attempt this. So, I ask my female employees which one of you was dumb enough to sleep with this idiot? Don't think I won't find out on my own, and you can guess what will happen to you then."

Grudgingly, two women raised their hands -- neither of whom were Lara. They first looked at each other with shock and then at Bryce with anger. "You weasel!" Lara just stood back laughing.

Now Bryce was sweating a bit. "I do have an explanation--"

"Here's the deal," Colette interrupted. "It's actually kinda impressive that you stole that weaponry, and it is of value to me. Why don't I take it as payment for letting you live, and if I have any jobs in the future that are best suited to desperate losers -- and that happens from time to time -- I'll look you four up. Deal?"

"How about you let us live plus five thousand," Lulu countered.

"Three thousand, but I kill you and donate it to a charity in your name."

Lulu looked confused. "Charity?"

Colette sighed. "Money people give to help poor people. It's something from before your time."

"Isn't the government supposed to handle that?" Bryce asked.

"Just never mind."

"I know," Lulu said, "how about four thousand, and you only kill one of us."

Colette frowned. "I'm no longer amused by you four. Get out."

"Wait. We have something else that might be of value." Bryce motioned to Doug. Doug took the cube out of its sack, and he held it out as steadily as he could though touching it made him feel cold and miserable.

Colette was unimpressed. "And what is that supposed to be?"

"It's what Asmod was trying to hide. It's what Serpine sent Loch to retrieve. It's what Elza's minions were going to steal until we got it first." Bryce paused dramatically. "And now, we offer it to you."

Colette now looked somewhat intrigued. She snatched it from Doug's hand and looked it over. "Why does it have drawings of rabbits scratched into its side?"

Bryce gave a very quick angry glance to Lulu and then looked back at Colette. "We're not quite sure of the purpose of its symbols, but I bet you can sense what a powerful artifact it is."

"It's a metal cube with poorly drawn bunnies on it." She tossed it to Bryce who fumbled with it like a hot potato until he passed it on to Doug who quickly put it back in its sack.

"Maybe you should ask Dammon about it," Bryce suggested. "I'm sure he'll know of its significance."

"Yes, that sounds exactly like the sort of thing I should bother an all-powerful being about. Well, if I find myself in need of a bunny cube, I'll know where to find you."

Lulu whispered to Charlene. "I told you that's what it's called."

"You've now wasted more of my time than that stolen military equipment bought you," Colette told them. She turned to her people. "Before you send them on their way, beat the crap out of them."

NEXT

Rating: 3.0/5 (11 votes cast)

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March 27, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 10 - Respect
Posted by Frank J. at 05:13 PM

PREVIOUS

Doug gripped the handle of his sword with his left hand. "So, do I look intimidating enough?"

"You have nacho cheese on your face," Charlene said.

"How much?"

Ahead of them was a warehouse by some docks where they could see a number of people and vehicles out front. "So are we just walking up there?" Charlene asked.

Lulu checked her pigtails. "Sorry, but I couldn't get us a horse drawn chariot."

Charlene's hand moved over where one of her guns was hidden under her jacket. "We do not look like violent criminals, and they're going to see right through us."

"Being intimidating is all about attitude," Lulu said. "Your bitchy attitude actually works for this situation."

"This is a quick business transaction; let's not over think it." Bryce had the same confidence he always had before things blew up in their faces. "All this worrying is going to lead to stress ulcers. Let's just do this."

"Go Team Hellbender!" Lulu shouted as she marched forward. "Fear is for cowards!"

As they approached the warehouse, they came near a number of large, obviously armed men, each of whom looked like they could easily kill the four of them. Lulu walked right up to one who was a head higher and had more than hundred pounds on her. "We're here to see Colette, and we don't abide dilly-dallying."

The thug looked somewhere between annoyed and amused. "I don't know who the hell you are talking about."

"Don't play dumb with me, stupid. Tell her Hellbender is here and we have business to discuss."

"What if instead I just gut you like a fish."

Lulu stood on her tiptoes in a vain attempt to meet him eye to eye. "If you do that, then my friends will avenge my death..." She pointed to the three behind her, and Doug waved hi. "...then neither of us will be very happy."

"What the hell is this, Rick?" Two attractive young women walked up to the group.

"These guys claim to be here to see Colette," Rick answered. "Do you even think it's worth bothering her to see if that's true, Grace?"

Bryce walked up next to Lulu, and Charlene motioned to Doug to stay close behind. It looked to him that Charlene was ready for a battle, which was a bit disconcerting. Bryce looked unconcerned, but Bryce had a skill of looking unconcerned no matter what was going on. "Colette will be upset if you turn us away," Bryce told Rick and then smiled to the two women. "I'll be especially upset."

Grace smiled slightly and turned to the women next to her. "Why don't you see if Colette is expecting anyone." The woman walked off, and Grace turned back to Bryce and his group. "So who are you all supposed to be?"

"We're Hellbender," Lulu said. "Who are you supposed to be?"

She smiled smugly. "I'm under the employ of Dammon." She looked to Charlene and laughed a bit. "I hope you're not looking to get hired, as he expects a certain level of quality in his women."

Charlene faced tensed over so slightly into a greater frown. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means the women here have appearance standards, little boy."

Doug was afraid Charlene was going to get even madder, but she actually seemed to calm slightly. "Well, beauty isn't just physical appearance; it's also personality."

Grace laughed. "Then you better have one hell of personality, little--"

Charlene's fist hammered Grace in the nose. Grace fell back clutching the injury, blood dripping down her face. Charlene brushed off her fist. "See; if you had nicer personality, you'd be a lot prettier right now."

It looked like Rick was about to go for gun, so Doug quickly drew his sword and putting it to the large man's neck. A number of others around drew guns and pointed them at Doug, though.

"I like her; she's a pip." Out of the warehouse walked a beautiful redheaded woman in a black evening gown. She looked almost too perfect, and there was something creepy to the slight smile she had. "Guns down, people."

The thugs all lowered their guns. Doug slowly returned his sword to its sheath. Grace, still clutching her bloody nose, looked outrage. "Look what she did! We should--"

"Go clean yourself up," Colette commanded.

"But--"

"Now!"

Grace took one last angry glance at Charlene and then ran off.

Colette walked up to Charlene. "She did have a point, though. Most of the women I hire out as bodyguards are basically eye-candy, so Grace is now pretty much useless to me until she heals up."

"You're not much of feminists, are you?" Lulu commented.

Colette laughed. "Not really a woman anymore. I've transcended my more animal existence, so I don't see why I shouldn't be honest about things." She looked back at Charlene. "Anyway, the point is you just cost me by disabling one of my employees. Not a good way to start with me."

"She brought that on herself," Charlene said. "I don't know what she expected to happen by disrespecting me like that."

"Fine. Fair enough. Come on; I hear we have business to discuss." Colette turned to walk back into the warehouse.

Bryce quickly ran up to her. "That we do. I must comment though, you say you're not a woman, but the form you take is--"

"Please don't bother; I don't nor ever will have the slightest interest in you."

Inside the warehouse were more armed men and women and tons of crates stacked to the ceiling. If it was all contraband, it was quite a lot of it.

"Anyway, in the confusion of the destruction of Shride," Bryce said, doing his best to ignore the previous slight, "we obtained some military equipment that might be of interest to your organization."

"Was it in a vehicle like this one?" They turned to see that in one of the rows of crates sat the truck they had fled Shride in. Next to it stood Lara, smiling quite smugly.

"I know exactly who you are and what you did..." Colette patted Bryce on the back, apparently with enough force to knock him off balance. "...Armin."

Bryce's face went white.

Charlene once again tensed in preparation for battle. "Crap."

NEXT

Rating: 2.1/5 (11 votes cast)

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March 24, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 9 - Contact
Posted by Frank J. at 05:09 PM

PREVIOUS

When Bryce and Lulu returned, Bryce was wearing a brand new suit and Lulu once again looked like she was dressed for high school. She now had on a small pink jacket, giving her some place to conceal a gun. The outfit she had obtained for Charlene was jeans, a biker jacket with metal studs, and a t-shirt with kittens on it. Doug merely got new pair of jeans and just wore t-shirt he already has on advertising the video game Death Legion 6 (which was no where near as good as Death Legion 5: The Reckoning). They also had a katana for Doug, which he thought was cool but figured the reason they gave him that is because they didn't trust him with a gun. He didn't think of himself as irresponsible; he just had some bad luck with firearms that was apparently much more memorable than the countless time he didn't fire his gun without mean to.

Prepared as they were ever going to be, they headed out, it once again being Doug's job to carry the weird cube in its cloth sack -- something he quite hated. He kept worrying it was going to do weird things to his soul, but he had no one of knowing if his soul was normal or not anyway. They were soon out of the slums into a somewhat nicer part of the city, and Doug realized a sword not only made him feel less prepared for any attack, but also made him more conspicuous. "Everyone will think you're so awesome, you don't even need a gun," Lulu assured him.

"No one is that stupid except maybe Doug himself," Charlene countered.

Bryce led them to the third floor of a decent apartment building. "Best behavior, people. This is a good contact into the upper levels of Dammon's criminal enterprise, so we need to look professional."

Charlene glanced at Doug and Lulu. "I don't think that's going to happen."

"So is this who you were sleeping with to get all your criminal underworld info?" Lulu asked Bryce.

"Tri-Lu! That's none of your business!" Bryce knocked on the door. An attractive, tall blond woman answered the door. She was wearing a black pants suit sans jacket, a shoulder holster over her white dress shirt. She smiled. "Bryce, glad to see you made it out of Shride in one piece."

"In crisis there is opportunity." Bryce motioned to the other three. "Lara, these are my associates I told you about."

She took a glance at them and seemed to suppress a laugh. "I imagined them different. Come on in." She led them into her apartment. It was neat but quite Spartan as well to the point it looked like it could have been decorated by a bachelor. Lara looked over Doug for a moment. "You any good with that sword?"

"I'm adequate."

"He's fought the Hallowed before," Bryce said.

Lara smiled, once again looking like there was a laugh just slightly below the surface. "So did you guys have much trouble getting out of that city in the middle of an attack?" Lara asked.

"Of course not." Lulu folded her arms and stared at Lara menacingly. "We're Team Hellbender. We're badass mercenaries."

"Hellbender? I like the name. Where did you get it from?"

"When I was eight, I saw in a book there was a type of salamander called a hellbender," Doug said, "and I thought that was cool."

"A salamander?"

"It's like a lizard... but wetter."

Lara laughed. "I know what a salamander is. Why did you name your group after a salamander?"

Doug thought for a moment. "Because it had a cool name."

Bryce stepped in front of Doug. "Ignore him; he's got a dry sense of humor that not everyone gets. So, do you think you'll be able to get us in to see Colette? I'm sure someone could use the arms we've acquired. Plus, we have something of special interest to her."

Lara giggled. "Ooh! Sounds important." Lara put on her suit jacket. "Anyway, I don't think it should be a problem getting you in to see her. You'll need to show up separately from me, though. I'd rather her not know my relations. Like you guys, I'm one of the Last Children, and any supposed lapse in judgment will be heavily scrutinized."

Bryce nodded. "Of course."

"You have spot on your shirt." Charlene point to a little red dot on Lara's collar.

Lara looked down and quickly spotted it. "Crap." She blushed a bit as she looked back up at her company. "You shoot people in the head so many times, you think you get used to the way things are going to fly everywhere, but it can still surprise you. I'll need to change." She disappeared into her bedroom.

Doug was now more than a little concerned. "When you lie to women and sleep with them, they usually end up so mad they want to kill you. Isn't really bad idea to do that to a woman who is actually is good at killing?"

Bryce scoffed. "She's a professional; she's not going to let girly emotions get the better of her."

"You all know that Bryce has no idea what he's getting us into and this is going to end very poorly, right?" Charlene stated.

"Of course it's going to be a disaster, Charlene," Lulu said, "but unlike you, we like to pretend otherwise. It's called optimism; it makes people more pleasant to be around."

Bryce did not look amused. "Stealing the merchandise was the hard part, and that's done. I don't know why you think selling it will be a problem; that's such a simple thing." He turned to Doug. "How does selling work?"

"Um... you give someone something, and he gives you money."

Bryce turned back to the women. "See? It's so simple, even Doug understands it."

Lara emerged from her bedroom, a new shirt under her suit jacket. "I have some work to do, but I'll see you tonight." She lead them all out her front door, locked it, and handed Bryce a piece of paper. "Here's where you'll need to be. Remember: Colette is above all a business woman, so don't waste her time or she'll rip your head off."

"Like for real?" Doug asked.

Lara just smiled and walked off down the hallway.

Doug turned to his friends. "She's not actually going to rip our heads off, right?"

"I give us about a fifty percent chance of being shot or beaten to death," Charlene said.

"Cool. I don't want my head ripped off."

NEXT

Rating: 2.4/5 (12 votes cast)

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March 20, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 8 - More Than Pathetic
Posted by Frank J. at 05:34 PM

PREVIOUS

"It's pretty plain looking." Bryce stared down at the metal cube. "I would expect something important to the Trans to be quite garish."

"I could put stencils of bunnies on it," Lulu suggested.

"So what is it?" Charlene nudged it with her foot.

"It's the bunny cube... or at least it will be when I'm done with it."

"I just hope who were selling the arms to will know what it is and pay us accordingly," Bryce said. "She's a disciple of Dammon... quite important."

"And when you play dice with it, you always win... because you always roll bunnies!"

"So we're just going to waltz in, hold up the cube, and say, 'Do you know what this is and want to pay us for it?'?" Charlene asked.

Bryce chuckled. "We're not going to do that, Charlene. For one thing, I'm not holding it up because that thing is weird and I'm not touching it."

"Everyone wins with the bunny cube!"

"It has a key in it." Doug finally pulled himself off the floor on which he was sleeping of the small, abandoned apartment.

Charlene gave him a dirty look. "Great job keeping guard last night, by the way."

"I was sleepy! Anyway, I saw the Devil again and he said there's a key in there."

Charlene looked confused. "You saw who?"

"Apparently Doug is being visited in his sleep by the personification of evil from biblical mythology," Bryce explained.

Charlene turned to Doug. "You haven't been reading that crap, have you?"

"What crap?" Doug realized he could have just said, "No," since he couldn't even remember the last time he read anything.

"Religious mythology, because you're just the kind of idiot that would fall for that sort of thing."

That stung a bit, but Doug felt there was some truth to it. "I didn't read anything. I just had some stupid dreams. Forget it."

Charlene sat on the room's one bed. She had taken off her uniform's jacket, but still looked quite military in the pants and tank top. "So are there any plans to get at least a change of clothes, or is a truck full of weaponry hidden in the desert pretty much all we have right now?"

"I keep telling you not to worry." Bryce checked his tie in the room's one dingy mirror. "Hey, what ever happened to my suit jacket?"

"I'm afraid I misplaced during one of the gunfights." Charlene checked the chamber of a pistol. "So what are we doing now?"

"I have some funds tucked away." Bryce tried to fix his hair with a comb. "I'll need a new suit, and Lulu can get you some new clothes while we're out."

Lulu was busy working at something on the ground. "Children sizes are hard to find these days."

"Lulu, if you get me something idiotic, i.e., something you would wear, I will hurt you. Do you understand that?"

Lulu didn't look up from her work. "Blah blah blah."

"This will all be sorted out soon," Bryce said. "As soon as we're ready, we'll be meeting up with a friend of mine who should be able to get us in to see Colette, Dammon's head honcho here. We'll sell the arms to her and have plenty of money until we get our next job. We have a new life; be happy."

Charlene did not look ready to be happy. "You understand that if people hire us as mercenaries, they'll actually be expecting us to do those jobs. You're not going to be able to BS your way through everything."

Bryce chuckled. "You put too much weight on your weapons skills, dear. This isn't going to be all about combat, and we all bring valuable skills to the table. I'm good dealing with people. Lulu has tech experience."

"And Doug?"

"Well, Doug..." Bryce thought for a moment. "...is good at carrying stuff. In fact, had I entrusted him to carry my expensive suit jacket, I'm quite sure I'd still have it. Also, he can throw a good punch when needed. He knocked out some guy for me just last week."

Doug knuckles were still swollen from that. "What was that all about, anyway?"

Bryce gave Doug a sharp look. "As I said then, it's none of your business."

Doug turned to Charlene. "And if you remember, I got an 'Adequate' score on my swordsmanship in my military training."

"And exactly what use is that?"

Doug knew the answer to that one as he had thought about it many times. "Guns aren't very effective against the Hallowed, but you can defeat them by cutting them apart."

Charlene laughed. "Except that one of the Hallowed could probably just tear you apart with his mind."

"See, Doug is useful. Since Colette is one of the Hollow, if something goes wrong it can be Doug's job to run up and give her a good punch and then cut her to pieces... if she doesn't kill him with her mind."

Doug shook his head. "I don't like the idea of hitting a woman."

Bryce shrugged. "Fine. Doug is completely useless. But we need four people for our mercenary group, but I'm sure just three of us being skilled is enough for any job. You ready to go, Tri-Lu?"

"Yeah." She got up from her hidden work and looked to Charlene and Doug. "You two be sweet while we're gone and guard the mysterious bunny cube."

"We're not calling it that!" Charlene shouted.

"Yes we are!" Lulu screamed back. She stormed out with Bryce giving a final wave before following.

There was a moment's quiet, and Doug decided to sit down on the bed next to Charlene. "You know, it's been a while since it's just been us two--"

Charlene sighed. "How many times do I have to tell you that I absolutely no interest in you, Doug? You’re a pathetic loser, and if you ever had the will to stand up to Bryce, maybe he and Lulu wouldn't feel so empowered to drag me into this crap."

"You'd rather have been left back in Stride? We're supposed to stick together, Charlene."

"Says who?"

Doug just thought that was the understanding they had since they were kids. "What else do we have than each other? The world hates us. They slaughtered our parents for stuff I don't even understand, and somehow we're the bad guys."

"And the answer to that is to be petty criminals?"

The answer, Doug thought, was to fight back. He just wished Stan's words were true that that was even possible -- that there was some power greater than the Trans. He looked towards the cube, now back in its cloth sack and lying on the ground.

"If that thing is actually something the governments want," Charlene said, "then we better get rid of it quick one way or another. If Elza's people we fought at the armory survived, they're probably right now trying to find out who and where we are. Who knows who else is trying to track it down."

It was a scary thought, but if the Transcendents really did fear the contents of the cube, then Doug wanted to know what was in there.

NEXT

Rating: 3.0/5 (10 votes cast)

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March 19, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 7 - Nothing to Fear
Posted by Frank J. at 05:06 PM

PREVIOUS

"Would you like to know what you found, Doug?"

Doug was once again seated in darkness with nothing visible but a man sitting across from him. "Crap! Did I fall asleep? I was supposed to keep watch. It's a really bad neighborhood Bryce brought us to -- well, I guess not much worse than where I'm used to living, but if we could break into this building to steal a room, then anybody could break in. Someone right now could be about to slit my throat and steal my stuff... except I don't have anything now except for that weird cube... which I kinda wish someone would take because it creeps me out. I mean, it just really creeps me out for some reason, and then we went near the wastelands which also creep me out and then to some apartment in the slums of some city I don't know with creepy people around -- I'm just very creeped out right now." Doug looked around as if to try and see out of his dream. "I really hope no one is about to slit my throat."

"Don't worry; you're fine for now," the Devil said, and Doug did stop worrying a bit, because the Devil always seemed to know what he was talking about and was easy to trust. "It was busy day and you need sleep, anyway. And before you get rid of that cube, I think you should try to understand what it is."

"Is it complicated? I'm guessing it's complicated. I was thinking if this is something important to the Trans and they're like already powerful enough to blow up mountains with their minds, then it has to be like super-duper powerful. Then again, I was thinking how I don't understand anything about those guys and thus something interesting to them might not mean much to me."

"I'd say it's somewhere in between, Doug. The demons seek it not out of power but out of fear."

"They're scared of it too?"

"For different reasons. It's not something in there that fills you with dread; it's what it lacks."

Doug thought about that. "It's filled with emptiness?"

"Something like that. Now, one of the damned -- the Hallowed as you call them -- the humans who have submitted their souls to the demons in exchange for immortality and power -- they would sense nothing were they to hold it. For that awful feeling you felt when you touched it is what they feel all the time."

Doug frowned. "That's horrible."

The Devil laughed. "Your sympathy is misplaced; they made their choices."

"Well, at least I know the more powerful people are these days; the crankier they seem." This was some interesting information, but he remembered how his friends told him to be more skeptical. "So... um... Mr. Devil..."

"You can call me 'Stan' for simplicity."

"Okay. Stan... do you have any ID that proves you're the Devil?"

"I'm not going to be able to prove it to you, Doug. You'll just have to see whether the things I say seem true or not and decide using that whether to trust me." The Devil chuckled slightly. "It will be matter of faith in the end."

"Okay... I guess that's reasonable."

"Back to point, the cube you found was made to prevent the contents from ever falling into the hands of a human. The mechanism to open it is located a spatial dimension you can't even perceive."

"And they don't want someone like me to have what's in there?"

"No. I doubt anyone would know what to do with its contents, but nonetheless the demons fear a human possessing it in case it might empower you against them."

"So what is in it?"

"A key."

Doug grimaced. He was hoping for something more interesting, like a jewel that would give him superpowers to fight evil. "What's it unlock?"

"Wrong question, Doug. You should ask what it locks."

NEXT

Rating: 2.1/5 (8 votes cast)

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March 18, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 6 - Concerns of the Gods
Posted by Frank J. at 06:40 PM

PREVIOUS

Asmod was at his throne as always. He never moved from it. He never needed to. He was everywhere, and his throne room only was for the convenience of the human mind in needing to believe a being had to occupy a physical space. It was the same as when people would look upwards to pray to the god of old; Asmod simply granted his subject a place to look to.

Robert Darius was still bound to physical form but had transcended the animal existence of being human. He still held the appearance of a man, but he certainly was quite more than one now. His devotion to Asmod had paid off with no longer being attached to a mere mortal form. Thus Darius had no need to have physical proximity to Asmod's avatar in three-dimensional space to communicate with his ruler, yet he still did so as was custom. "I assume there is no need to tell you this, but the device was stolen."

Asmod did not limit himself to a purely human form as he felt it limited the perception of him in the human mind. His face was a dispassionate gold mask which titled ever so slightly as if to face Darius. "I am aware." His voice echoed throughout the room while still not being overbearing. "I am also aware it was not Serpine or Loch who obtained it."

"They were certainly after it, though. I believe the attack on Shride was merely to cover that that fact."

"The loss of one city is of no concern. I need to know where the device is."

It was of some curiosity what made this device so important as to concern Asmod himself, but Darius knew Asmod would tell him what he needed to know. "To know so precisely where we were keeping it points to an inside job. I'm afraid the followers of Elza have infiltrated us again, and it appears they have your device."

"We cannot let that be."

Elza was of a great annoyance to Asmod, as Darius assumed she was to all Transcendents. While they tried to build something from this world, it seemed Elza treated it all as a game and used her fanatics to no other end than hindering everyone else. Further complicating things, she had no country, and her followers were hidden all over the world. Her current game was using propaganda to recruit fanatical terrorists, but she was a constantly changing threat. "I'll need some leeway to deal with her people. Most likely, those responsible are now beyond your borders."

"Do what you can, but don't go through Dammon. I don't need anyone else involved in this."

This was an even greater curiosity. They often went to Dammon for things that went beyond current treaties with the other Transcendents, so it meant something that Asmod didn't want him to know of the device... whatever it was.

"I can see your thoughts, Darius. The truth is, even I am not sure of what threat the device may be -- if any. It needs to be obtained and studied. It was but good chance we found it first, and now that we know of its existence, we need to possess it until the truth of it known. Also, we need to make sure no other Transcendent knows about it... if possible."

"I understand. Obtaining the device will be my only priority."

"Beware that Serpine will most likely task Loch with obtaining it as well."

Darius shivered. "Loch himself could not be let loose in such a way, could he?"

"Most likely not, but he is treacherous. Be wary of him."

"I will." Darius turned to leave.

"One more thing."

"Yes, lord?"

"There could possibly be another being at play here."

"What do you mean?"

"Someone powerful like us Transcendents... but not one of us. If you detect his involvement, I need to know."

At this point, Darius hoped Asmod could see all the questions in his mind. "Is this a great danger?"

"It is a concern. There are too many coincidences as of late, and when strings are being pulled, he is always the one pulling them. We thought he had no interest in this world, but if he is back, that is something we all need to know."

NEXT

Rating: 2.9/5 (9 votes cast)

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March 17, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 5 - New Life
Posted by Frank J. at 05:07 PM

PREVIOUS

There were screams of panic as the grenade clinked back against the floor, but Doug didn't look back as he followed his friends in a mad dash for one of the trucks. Charlene quickly took the lead, shooting one of the Amazons and grabbing her rifle without even stopping. Just as they reached the nearest vehicle, the grenade exploded. Doug could hear it pelting the surrounding with shrapnel, but he didn't feel any hit him as he scrambled into the truck.

The truck lurched upwards as the vehicle began to come under fire. Doug turned to see that Bryce was in the driver's seat while Lulu was in the passenger seat ducking and covering her head. Charlene was in back among the metal crates with Doug, and she returned fire out the loading hatch as she hit the button to close it. The chorus of metallic ricochets against the vehicle's hull died down as it rose into the air.

Lulu finally uncovered her head and looked out the windshield. "Looks like my plan worked! Yay me! I saved us all! Go Team Hellbender!"

"Throwing a grenade in the air is not a plan!" Charlene yelled.

"You're not a plan!"

Charlene growled. "What now?"

Bryce jerked the truck around and accelerated it forward. "We take a leisurely drive through a war zone where everyone is far too busy to bother with us. Then we're headed to Theed where we have a buyer for whatever it is we have in here."

A voice came over the vehicle's radio. "You do not have permission to take off."

Lulu grabbed the receiver. "Guess what? You have permission to suck it!"

Bryce laughed. "This sure got a bit bumpy when Lulu was discovered and those crazy girls got involved, but overall the plan worked out pretty well."

"Where was this plan you people keep referring to?" Charlene demanded.

"The plan was to get into the armory and grab a vehicle full of military weaponry," Bryce explained. "Which we did."

"That's not a plan! That's a statement of what you want a plan to do!"

"Well... it worked."

Lulu took off her uniform jacket under which she had a pink t-shirt a couple sizes too small. "Really, who made you queen of what constitutes a plan, Charlene?"

"Right now we're heading for a foreign country in an opposing military vehicle with three of us in uniforms of a nation their at war with," Charlene said. "If this is a plan, it's a crappy one."

"Well I had the foresight to wear something under mine." Lulu pulled off her pants under which was a skirt that if were any shorter would be a frilly belt. "Bet little miss prepared for anything didn't think of that one."

"I hate all of you! I really do!"

"Hey, you got to kill someone today, Charlene; you should be elated."

Doug finally took off his helmet since they seemed to be in the clear and looked out a gun port on the side of the truck. The whole city was now in flames. He hoped everyone got out okay... except for the job-stealing monkeys. "I guess it's just good we're not stuck back there." He saw something the size of a small city floating in the air. It seemed to pull in darkness around it, and Doug could not see it clear enough other than to know it was intimidating and evil looking. "That is awesome."

Bryce looked around out the windshield. "What? What's awesome?"

"This thing floating behind us."

Charlene pushed Doug out of the way and took a look and turned white. "It's Loch's flagship."

"That's trouble." Doug found another gun port and looked at the giant, flying craft. For a moment, it was like his vision zoomed in until he saw something clearly standing on the craft staring back at him. He couldn't even see anything that he could identify as eyes, but he knew something was looking right at him. Doug stumbled back and fell against a crate. "Dude!"

"I'm sure Loch has more important things on his divine mind than one meager truck," Bryce said, his voice cracking slightly. "Anyway, if he wanted us, he could just pull us out of the sky. Not like there's anything we could do about it. If there's no objections, I'm going to take us near the wasteland to limit the chance of running into anyway else."

"I don't like going near the wasteland." Doug tried to shake his previous experience from his head. "It's weird and scary."

"As usual, your objection doesn't count, Doug."

Charlene continued to watch out the gun port. "The really destroyed the whole city, didn't they."

"Just be thankful we got you out of there, Charlene," Lulu said. "It wasn't a unanimous vote."

"This whole attack was such a pointless display of power," Bryce stated with disgust. "I'm sure Asmod will eventually respond in kind. It looks like none of the Trans ever get a real advantage over the others. That's while we'll always have plenty of opportunity as mercenaries."

"We're going to be mercenaries?" That sounded cool, but Doug really didn't like getting shot at.

Lulu pulled a piece of paper out of the waistband of her skirt. "I have the form to make us official, self-employed criminals."

Satisfied they were far enough away from Loch, Charlene stopped watching outside and turned her disbelief to Lulu. "Official criminals?"

"There's criminal and there is criminal, Charlene." Bryce put the vehicle on autopilot and turned to face everyone. "Don't worry, though; I'm well versed in the criminal underworld to get us started. We'll sell whatever we have here and use it as seed money to establish our base of operations for our very own mercenary group. No longer will we be unappreciated tools of corrupt governments and gods. We will now work only to benefit ourselves."

Doug thought it did sound a bit exciting. "We're going to call our mercenary group Hellbender, right?" He was always proud of that name since he thought of it himself back when they were kids.

"Better to fail together than fail alone!" Lulu shouted.

Charlene sighed. "I made up that slogan to make fun of our stupid group. Just because we played together as kids, I don't know why you think that means I still want to be a part of your idiotic plans."

"If you're going to be a bitch as usual, we don't need you," Lulu said.

"I'm the only one of you who actually has any combat skill!" Charlene shouted.

"Yeah, we'll get killed pretty quick without Charlene," Doug said. "Maybe she should be in charge."

"Charlene is not going to be in charge; she's mean." Lulu stood up and put her hands on her hips. "I'm in charge."

Charlene laughed. "Says who?"

"It really is best that Lulu is in charge," Bryce said. "Asian women are very underrepresented in crime, so having her as our leader will be a big hiring advantage. In fact, we really have a great group as is for government contracts. We're at least half-female, which is a must. We have a token white male--" He pointed to himself. "--which they're actually starting to crack down on if you're missing. And then Doug... well... who know what the hell he is? We can just list him as whatever minority is particularly 'in' at the moment. Right now, I think we'll put him down as half-black, half-Hispanic."

"I really think I am Hispanic," Doug said. "I really really like nachos."

Charlene once again looked dumbfounded "People hiring criminals really care about all that?"

"Again, just because it's the criminal underworld doesn't mean it lacks all civility," Bryce explained. "And espionage jobs for the various governments are the most lucrative, and they'll always make sure to follow quotas."

"And you really think people are going to be dumb enough hire us?"

"We're the Last Children -- we're unaffiliated. When two governments have a cold war going between them, we're the sort they'll hire for deniability."

"It going to be a lot of fun," Lulu said, "and it should involve violence, so even you should like it, Charlene."

Charlene sighed and seemed to resign herself to her fate. "So do these grand plans involve a place for us to sleep tonight?"

Bryce turned back to the vehicle controls. "You worry too much."

"How about a TV for playing videogames?" Doug asked. "I was planning on playing videogames today... before everything got blown up."

"Soon, we'll have whatever we want." Bryce tossed Doug a pen and notebook. "For now, why don't you see if you can inventory what's in here so we can idea what kind of haul we have to sell."

Doug wasn't much of a weapons expert, so he hoped everything was labeled. He pried open one crate which had what looked like grenade launchers inside. "Cool." He wrote down "3 probably grenade launchers" in the notebook and noticed something else inside with them. It was a small cloth sack with an object about the size of an apple inside. Doug reached in to grab it, but immediately pulled back his hand in shock as what was inside was colder than ice. The object fell to the ground and rolled out of the sack. It was a smooth metal cube and it scared Doug worse than anything he had ever seen. He rubbed his hand and tried to regain his composure, but he was become overwhelmed with feeling that they were doomed. "Bryce, you know that important artifact you told the Protectors you had to secure?"

"Of course. I never forget my lies; that's an important part of lying."

"I think I found it."

NEXT

Rating: 2.9/5 (7 votes cast)

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March 14, 2008
A Story , Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 4 - Girl Power
Posted by Frank J. at 06:34 PM

PREVIOUS

Lulu grabbed Bryce's gun and put it to his head. "Grab his gun," she ordered Charlene.

Doug happily handed over his gun to Charlene who put it to Doug's head.

"Who are you?" one of the armed women asked.

"We don't have time for this!" Lulu ushered Bryce inside while Charlene and Doug followed. "Somehow Asmod's people almost found out about us. Now we have two of their officials. I'm sure they'll be of use."

"You think they knows what it looks like?" another woman inquired.

"Yes, I'm sure they knows what... it... looks like," Lulu said. "That's why they're of use to us."

It was a large room with high ceilings with an open hangar door through which vehicles landed. There were trucks on the ground being loaded by six more armed women, some dressed in the military uniforms of Asmod and others in more casual attire. There were also numerous dead bodies on the ground and not a small amount of blood. "Who are they?" asked a woman who appeared to be in charge and was wearing an officer's uniform with a bit blood splattered on it.

"They're the other inside group we had," explained one of the women escorting Doug's group. "I guess they got found out, but we have two government officials here who should help us find the device."

The leader looked suspiciously at Lulu and Charlene and then turned to Bryce. "So where is it?"

He pointed to a group of identical crates. "It was one of those. I could tell you which one exactly if you hadn't moved them around."

She punched Bryce, sending him staggering back a bit. "We need to just grab what we can and get out of here," the leader told everyone. "Serpine's forces will be here soon, and they'll be look for the device as well."

Lulu turned to Charlene and whispered. "I thought they were with Serpine. Any idea who they are?"

"I'm pretty sure they're Elza's psychos."

Lulu looked surprised. "The Amazons? Like the man-hating killers?"

"Yeah."

"I thought they were just made up to make fun of feminists."

"They're real and they are very violent," Charlene said. "The only thing is I heard that, as much as they like fighting, they're not actually that good at it."

Lulu frowned. "That's kinda sad. They look like they try so hard."

"Let's just get some plan quick to get out of here before we run into someone who isn't a moron and knows to kill us."

"What are you two chattering about?" the leader demanded.

Lulu shrugged. "The usual... how much we hate the patriarchy."

The leader noticeably gripped her rifle tighter. "And what were your names?"

"I'm Charmin and she's Roscoe, but you can call me Pippy."

"I know him!" a short blond haired woman shouted as she pointed at Bryce. Doug braced himself, because he knew this wasn't going to be good.

"So what? I'm a popular guy."

The woman looked quite angry, and Doug took a few steps away from Bryce as she came near. "He's not a government official. He's one of the Last!"

Bryce scoffed. "I'm not some zealot's son."

"You used me! All the time you were dating me, you were sleeping with my best friend!"

Bryce looked confused. "I'm missing your point."

"You said you loved me!"

Bryce rolled his eyes. "Well I thought it was pretty obvious from context I only said that to sleep with you."

She placed the barrel of her gun against Bryce's temple, but Lulu stepped in. "Calm down. Okay, obviously these two are useless, so we should just kill them... but not this way. Can I have one of your grenades?" Before the woman could answer, Lulu took a grenade off her belt. "Watch this." She pulled the pin and then exclaimed "Weee!" as she threw it straight up in the air. "RUN!"

NEXT

Rating: 3.4/5 (7 votes cast)

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March 13, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 3 - Confusion
Posted by Frank J. at 05:02 PM

PREVIOUS

"Take her gun!" Bryce ordered Doug. Doug took the pistol from Lulu's holster and held it dubiously.

"What's going on?" one of the Protectors demanded, the group keeping guns on them both.

"The enemy has some sort of conspiracy involving the armory," Bryce explained, "and I was hoping this imposter would lead me to it. I guess you all screwed up that plan."

"You're too late!" Lulu said with as much menace as she could as she kept her hands behind her head. "You're all going to die here!" She added an evil laugh, but Doug judged it a bit forced.

"What do we care about the armory?" a Protector asked. "We're abandoning this whole place and the letting the stupid Children fight for it."

"Hey!" Charlene exclaimed.

"Shut up, you," Bryce told her sharply, and then turned back to the soldiers. "I can't tell you much about it, but there is an artifact of great importance to Asmod in the armory that unfortunately it seems the enemy has found out about. We need to secure it before leaving. Come on, there's no time to waste."

Bryce started leading Lulu away at gunpoint. "Come guard," he told Doug and then struggled to get his suit jacket off while keeping his gun on Lulu. He tossed the jacket to Charlene. "Carry that for me, Child."

The Protectors followed as well. "So the enemy might already be in the armory?" one asked.

"Could be. Be prepared for a gunfight," Bryce said.

"Loch will eat your blood!" Lulu shouted. She then whispered to Bryce, "You don't think Chen mentioned you?"

"I doubt she would so readily admit she was duped by one of us Last."

"And what exactly are we doing when we get to the armory?" Charlene asked quietly.

"We'll figure it out when we get there. No worries."

Doug still had the pistol in his hand and wasn't sure what to do with it. He had a bad record with guns from the brief time the government conscripted the Last Children in the military, so he wanted to put it away but didn't seem to have a holster. He tried shoving it in his pants pocket but it was too big, so he turned to Charlene. "You want to carry the gun and I can carry the coat?"

"Can't you even pretend to be competent for even a couple minutes?" Charlene shot back under her breath and turned away.

Doug thought of telling her he had been pretending competence for more than ten minutes already, but then he remembered he wasn't supposed to talk.

They soon reached the armory and stopped by the entrance. "The enemy doesn't know we're on to them yet," Bryce told the six soldiers. "Let's try to head in quietly and get a look of things. Are you prepared?"

"We can handle it. You have her?"

Bryce patted Lulu on the head. "The little floozy isn't going to be a problem."

"You're going to die," Lulu added.

The six Protectors slowly made their way in. Bryce turned to his group. "Any ideas for what to do next?"

"The loading dock is just inside." Charlene said. "I think we should just grab a vehicle and get the hell out of here before they wise up and shoot us all."

"I'm for that," Lulu said, her hand still behind her head. "My arms are starting to get tired; I don't want to be a prisoner anymore."

"Fine," Bryce said. "Maybe we'll get lucky and they've already loaded one of the trucks up for the evacuation. Let's just--"

Automatic gunfire erupted from inside. Two Protectors ran out returning fire, one clutching a bloody wound at his side. "They've taken it over!" He shouted to Bryce. "They've already killed everyone in there! I think they have the artifact!"

It took a moment for Bryce to get over the shock. "Well... that's... not good."

More gunfire tore down the two soldiers, and then four angry looking women emerged from the entrance pointing rifles at Doug, Bryce, Lulu, and Charlene. Doug decided to break the no talking rule. "Dude."

NEXT

Rating: 2.4/5 (7 votes cast)

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March 12, 2008
A Story , Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 2 - No Choice
Posted by Frank J. at 06:06 PM

PREVIOUS

"So I had a weird dream last night--"

"I'm going to stop you right there, Doug." Bryce was busying flying the vehicle and making sure they took a path near the least explosions. "That doesn't sound like the beginning of a statement either of us are going to care about."

"But it wasn't like a dream. It was just the Devil talking to me and he said--"

"The Devil?" Lulu asked. "Like with horns and a pitchfork?"

"No, he looked like a regular person."

"So how did you know he was the Devil?" Bryce said.

"Did you ask for ID?" Lulu added.

Bryce scoffed. "Doug wouldn't know what proper ID would look like."

"Yeah," Lulu admitted, "and I bet IDs are very easy to forge in dreams."

"Lucky for us, they're also easy to forge in real life."

"You guys are making fun of me, aren't you?" Doug said. "You know, I was perfectly happy not committing treason today."

"Calm down. We're just about there." Bryce slowed the vehicle and began a descent. "It going to mainly be on you, Tri-Lu, since you have the real ID."

She held up Chen's badge with photo. "I really don't think I look too much like her; I'm much cuter. Hopefully they'll just be looking at my chest."

"I never look at anything else."

A bit panicked, Doug raised and waived his hand. "What am I supposed to do again?"

"Follow us. Not talk." The vehicle came to a rest, and Protectors -- presumably real ones with guns -- converged on it.

Lulu got out and flashed her ID. "As you can see by my close resemblance to this photo, I'm Major Chen. We have business here and we need to be quick about it."

"The base is being evacuated soon," one of the Protectors warned.

"We know," Bryce said. He got out of the vehicle as well, and Doug decide to follow and stay behind him. "That's why we need to a quick inventory of the armory."

"And who are you?"

"I'm with the government." Bryce flashed some ID quickly. "As you can tell from the gunfire, we don't have a lot of time for stupid questions. We're heading to the armory; you can follow if you want."

"But..." one of the Protectors started to say, but Bryce and Lulu were already walking away with Doug quickly following. The Protectors stood back watching for a moment, but soon went back to more pressing matters as gunshot and explosions grew near.

"So far so good," Bryce remarked.

Lulu giggled. "I like ordering people around. I'm going to do that more to the next people we encounter. How do I tell if I outrank them?"

"We can ask Charlene when we find her." They were outside in the main part of the base, and most people were running around quite purposely. Bryce kept scanning the people around them. "I forget where the armory is anyway, so we probably need her. Think she has her phone on her?"

Doug spotted a petite young woman walking nearby in fatigues and carrying a tray of coffee. He was about to shout out, but then he remembered his no talking directives. Instead, he tapped Bryce on the shoulder and pointed towards her.

"Good work, my mute manservant." They headed towards her, Lulu reaching her first.

"Give me my half-caf, puke!" Lulu shouted.

Charlene turned around to do a quick salute, but her face changed to shock when she saw Bryce and Lulu. "What the hell are you doing here? Where did you get that uniform, Lulu?" Doug stumbled a bit as he caught up to them. "Is that Doug?"

Bryce laughed. "They have you doing coffee runs while the city is about to be burned to the ground? I guess sucking up to the Hollow ones really got you the respect you wanted."

Lulu looked over Charlene's uniform. "They make you wear that baggy thing? And do you even have a gun?"

"They've trained me with one and I will be issuing me one today so I can be a part of this defense."

"They are already evacuating, you nitwit," Bryce said. "Asmod's forces are going to arm some of the Last who are dumb enough to stay fighting to give them more time to escape."

"Won't it be fun being one of them?" Lulu exclaimed. "Yay dying for people who hate and despise you!"

Charlene's expression was a mix of anger and hesitancy. "You don't know that."

"Come on, Charlene, you've been training to be the tiniest soldier for how long now?" Bryce asked. "And what do they have you doing?" He knocked the coffee from her hands. "Stop working so hard to be a pawn, okay? This place is going down, and it's best we find our own way out."

"So I'm better off with you losers? Is that my choice?"

"You don't have a choice; that's the point." Bryce said. "We don't like each other--"

"I like all of you," Doug interrupted.

"...and we all especially hate Doug," Bryce continued, "but there's no use pretending we have anyone else to turn to. We're earth's Last Children; the world hates us."

"They say we can all be no more than liars and thieves, so we respond by being liars and thieves?" Charlene asked.

Bryce smiled. "Yeah, it's a vicious cycle; what are you going to do?"

"Anyway, we just brutally murdered Major Chen and left your DNA all over the crime scene," Lulu told Charlene. "So you don't have any choice but to go with us."

Bryce gave Lulu a look.

"I'm just trying to speed things up. This uniform is itchy."

"You really a part of this, Doug?" Charlene inquired.

He shrugged. "I just found out about this like an hour ago and I'm still not quite sure what's happening. I really think you should come with us, though, because it is looking pretty bad. I don't want to die here if that's what's happening. I especially don't want to get tortured by Loch... I don't want that happening to you either."

Charlene looked in pain pushing down so much anger. "If things go wrong, I'll kill you before they can. So what are we doing?"

"Just take us to the armory and act like everything is fine," Bryce said. There was an explosion nearby. "Well... not fine, but no worse or no better than everyone else thinks it is."

Charlene motioned them to follow. "Go team Hellbender!" Lulu yelled, getting an audible sigh from Charlene.

"Stop right there!"

They spun around to see five Protectors running towards them. One of them pointed at Lulu. "You're not Major Chen."

"But I have an ID an everything," she whined.

"Which Chen just reported was stolen."

Bryce rolled his eyes. "There goes that plan." The Protectors were quick with their guns, but Bryce was quicker, pulling out his revolver and putting it to Lulu's head. "Hands up!"

NEXT

Rating: 2.5/5 (10 votes cast)

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March 11, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Chapter 1 - Creating Opportunity
Posted by Frank J. at 05:01 PM

PREVIOUS

"We're going to steal arms from the military."

Bryce Worthington said it as if it was some genius idea, but Doug didn't quite see the appeal. He looked to Lulu Lui, but she seemed okay with the concept. Then again, she was wearing a military officer's uniform for some reason. He turned back to Bryce. "Isn't that treason?"

Bryce scoffed. "Come on; everyone does it. It's like the jaywalking of treason. You ever jaywalked, Doug?"

"Yeah, but I got yelled at."

"Well... if that's the worse that happens, then I think we'll have come out pretty well."

"Would an officer wear this much eye shadow?" Lulu checked out her face and uniform in a mirror. She wore it quite well, but pigtails wasn't the most authoritative of hair styles. "Eh, what do I care what other officers do; I'm my own person."

"Where did you get that uniform?" Doug asked. Bryce was in a new suit, but Doug knew there was no point in asking him about it.

"I decided to join the military, and they thought I was so cute they went ahead and made me a Major."

"So why does your nametag say 'Chen'?"

"When they made me a Major, they decided to give me a name more officiery."

Doug looked around the room. It had a very nice view of the city. "And whose apartment is this?"

"Doug, what's with all the questions?" Bryce took on an angry tone. "You're unemployed, so it's not like you have anything better to do than help us rob this military base. Didn't you just get replaced at your factory job by a monkey again?"

"Isn't that like the fourth time you've been replaced by a highly trained monkey?" Lulu asked Doug.

"Third," Bryce corrected. "The monkey that replaced him in his packing job was only marginally trained."

"I hate monkeys!" Doug shouted. "I'm always getting replaced by monkeys or robots! They keep taking the jobs of honest humans like me and it's not right!"

"I wonder what would happen if they made a robot monkey." Lulu said.

"Then he'd totally be screwed," Bryce said.

The thought horrified Doug. "That would be the worst thing ever!"

"Well, Doug my boy, it's time to show the world you can do what monkeys and robots can't." Bryce tossed Doug some clothes. "Namely commit treason."

Doug looked at the black uniform. "Isn't this like the uniform for one of Asmod's Protectors?" They were the government's elite soldiers and very scary.

"Just put it on," Bryce said. "No more time for questions."

Doug really didn't want to become an enemy of the state, but peer pressure was hard to resist. He headed off to the bedroom for a bit of privacy, but then he noticed something odd. "Why is there a half-naked woman tied up in here?"

"I don't know," Lulu answered, "but one thing is for sure: Her name isn't Chen."

She wasn't moving. "Is she alive?"

Bryce looked slightly worried. "None of us have the medical experience to make a pronouncement on that matter."

"Bryce was supposed to drug her drink," Lulu explained, "but he screwed that up so I had to bash her over the head with a chair. It was a very sturdy chair."

Bryce shrugged. "We're kinda new to this espionage thing, so it's well chalk this up as a learning experience."

Doug figured they were already in pretty deep, so he might as well go along and put on the uniform. "Was this the woman you were dating, Bryce?"

"One of them."

Doug shook his head. "You're really horrible to women. You gotta work on that."

"At least I get some," Bryce answered. "The point is we needed her credentials for this mission and I'm not really going to weep much over the fate of one of Asmod's stooges. You ready?"

Doug's new uniform smelled funny. "I guess."

Bryce handed him the helmet with skull-like facemask that went with the Protector uniform. "Put this on, and as long as you don't say anything you might actually look slightly intimidating."

He put the helmet and almost scared himself when he looked in the mirror. "We're going to get like executed for this, aren't we?"

"No, the government's hasn't been in much of an execution kick lately," Bryce said. "More like reeducation... or for you, I guess just a plain education."

"They'll make us admit two plus two equals five," Lulu said, "which won't be too bad except for how it will screw up the multiplication tables."

"I don't want to learn math." A thought struck Doug and he became quite concerned beyond just potentially being hunted by a government armed with arithmetic. "Will Charlene be a part of this?"

"Of course," Lulu said. "It wouldn't be team Hellbender without stick in the mud Charlene."

"Okay. Good." He was trying to get himself mentally prepared for this step into the abyss, but then another thought struck him. "Does she know she is going to be a part of this?"

Bryce laughed. "Of course not."

There was an explosion nearby and then sirens started going off throughout the city. "That's our cue." Bryce ushered them to exit the apartment.

Doug could hear gunfire. "What's going on?"

"Got inside info that Serpine's forces are attacking today," Bryce explained while they headed to the stairway. "That's what we had to schedule around."

"Who?"

Bryce led them towards the roof. "Transcendent who rules the areas north of us. Vowed to destroy this city recently and has been amassing forces to do just that."

Doug shrugged. "I really don't follow politics. So we're being invading?"

"Since they're going to leave after they raze this place," Lulu said, "I don't think it's technically an invasion."

Bryce stopped and turned towards Lulu. "Actually, I think as long as they just come in mass, it's an invasion. I don't think the term requires them to stay."

"So are we being invaded?" Doug asked again.

Lulu shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe."

Bryce led them to the roof, and Doug could see fighting in the air between jet planes and flying creatures. "They got dragons!"

Bryce sighed. "Superstitious talk like that is what give us Last a bad name. There are no such things as dragons, Doug. Are they breathing fire?"

"No... they're firing missiles I think."

"Not a dragon, then. Probably something much more ordinary like some sort of giant, flying, cyborg reptile."

There was a crack of thunder and the sky turned purple. The clouds swirled until they formed the face of a woman that looked down upon them all with scorn. "Followers of Asmod, this city is doomed. Asmod has been an obstacle to our progress for too long, and now this city shall burn until nothing is left. You can see your defense is already falling to my superior forces, and soon my ally Loch will be here... and I think you know that means you should be gone. If any of you survive, you should rethink your loyalties." The face faded away, and the sky was clear again.

"I'd so hit that." Bryce turned away from the sky and walked towards a nearby military VTOL transport parked on the roof.

"Is Loch really coming?" Doug was more than a little frightened having heard all the stories of Loch, a being of immense power who used his infinite knowledge to inflict pain. If even a fraction of the stories about Loch were true, Doug was ready to flee immediately.

"Yes, and he's going to eat our souls! Woooo!" Lulu laughed and got in the passenger seat.

Bryce got in the driver's side. "The Trans have their silly rules of engagement which means Loch can't do anything until Asmod's forces are bested through traditional methods... something that should leave us enough time to steal from the military base in the midst of the chaos. We can't start a new life without some capital."

Doug didn't share Bryce confidence, but he was now quite convinced they needed to get Charlene before they fled so she didn't get left to the mercies of Loch. He got in the back of the vehicle and sat down while doing his best not to freak out at the continued sound of fighting nearby.

Bryce took the vehicle into the air. "Now, we have to fool them that Tri-Lu is an officer, I'm a government official, and you're an elite soldier... but we only have to fool them for a couple of minutes if we're quick."

Lulu smiled and giggled. "I think is going to be neat. I'm glad we're finally doing this criminal thing because my secretary job was really getting on my nerves."

"I thought you were a stripper," Doug said.

"I am... but it's not my job."

"One more thing," Bryce said. "If I do this..." he made a motion with his arm. "Our cover is blown and we shoot our way out. Anyway just keep calm, and this should go off without a hitch."

"And most of all, have fun," Lulu added.

Doug didn't quite see the shoot everyone signal and though of asking Bryce to repeat it, but then he realized he didn't have a gun anyway.

NEXT

Rating: 2.8/5 (8 votes cast)

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March 10, 2008
A Story, Bit by Bit
Hellbender: Prologue - Enlightenment
Posted by Frank J. at 05:21 PM

"Hello, Doug. I'm the Devil."

It was a wholly unremarkable man who sat across from Doug. What was remarkable is that they were seated in the midst of darkness. There was nothing at all visible to Doug except for himself and the Devil. "Where am I?"

"You're in your bed. This is a dream."

Doug processed that a moment. "Usually my dreams don't tell me they're dreams... even though it's like really obvious they were dreams when I wake up because I was like flying and stuff."

The Devil smiled. He seemed like a nice enough guy, though the meeting was certainly odd. "God is defeated -- or so they say -- which would make me the most powerful being in existence. Still, I'm used to treading lightly, and while I wanted to talk to you directly, I thought appearing to you in a dream was a more subtle way of doing it."

Doug did not understand this at all, but he caught on to one part he knew was trouble. "Isn't God just made up or something?"

"Perhaps." He laughed. "It is the 'Age of Enlightenment,' so I can put it all in scientific terms if you prefer. It makes no difference to me."

"Yeah... I'm not really good at science either." When Doug was younger, people seemed to think that Doug learned concepts best through puppets, but the Devil didn't seem to have any.

"Suffice to say, there was a powerful force that held your world in balance and now it's gone. You've seen the consequences, haven't you? Place where reality itself has begun to rip apart."

Doug had seen the wastelands, areas of darkness where indescribable things moved in the shadows. No one ever entered those areas, and Doug knew no stories of anyone even trying to. When he was ten, his friend Bryce once dared him to walk up to the edge of one of the wastelands and throw a rock at it, but he chickened out.

"And the end of the human race has to be of concern for you," the Devil continued. "No new births for over twenty years -- not since the War that left you an orphan."

It was a concern for Doug, though he knew it wasn't supposed to be. The explanation was that the change in the world after the War no longer allowed new connection to a multi-dimensional existence -- the "soul" as known to primitive people -- that was solely an evolutionary advantage of the human animal. No more souls meant no more humans making Doug among the youngest alive, but their superiors constantly reminded them that this was of no worry anymore. "They can make us immortal, so there isn't really any more need for... humans."

"They say that, do they?" The Devil's disposition turned slightly less friendly. "Perhaps the biggest obstacle you face now is that the former prisoners of Hell now run your world. These bickering demons act as your gods, and surely you must see how wrong that is?"

Doug knew he was going down a dangerous path even if this was just a dream. The Transcendent were all-powerful and could see his thoughts if they wanted -- though it was unlikely they would be concerned with the thoughts of one of the Last Children... especially one who spent so much time thinking about videogames. "I thought they were like inter-dimensional aliens or something?"

"They don't really know what they are anymore, and some actually believe their own tripe about enlightenment. Of all the faults of the fallen angels, you would at least think they wouldn't end up being atheists."

"Well, we're all supposed to be atheists since God is just mythology or something."

"Then at least they're not hypocritical on that issue." He was silent for a moment. "It's hard to explain just how foolish the Fallen are. We fought a long war against the greatest power there is, and we finally had a huge victory and they've forgotten their purpose. I am a better leader than a teacher, but now they ignore me and use you people as pawns in a fight against each other for power over this world. You may think this world is vast, but it is infinitesimal compared to all of existence. To have escaped our previous confines only to try and rule your world it like freeing yourself from a jail cell only to willfully be imprisoned within a grain of sand."

Even though Doug's usual dreams made much less sense, he still followed them better. "So you're like the leader of the Trans?"

"Not the way I'd put it... and I am no longer their leader. As I said, I'm the most powerful being in existence other than God Himself -- or itself, considering your view -- but I have limitations. So do the Fallen -- the Transcendent, Trans, or whatever you want to call them. You can see that in how they can't do away with each other despite how obviously they wish they could. I want you to think about that, because understanding they are not all-powerful is the first step to believing they can be defeated."

Doug was stunned. It never had even occurred to him that the Transcendent could be fought anymore than one could fight a hurricane. They were just powerful forces with nothing physical to lash out against. Some of them often took physical forms, and he had been curious if you shot one in the face (he couldn't imagine a being so powerful it wouldn't mind being shot in the face), but he was careful not to muse too much on such a thing. "How could anyone defeat them? They're not just super-duper powerful -- all their followers are like invincible too."

"Yes, the 'Hallowed' -- the disciples of the Fallen. They may seem to wield great power, but they are damned. I assure you that there is quite a difference between what you perceive as power and what there really is. You have the potential for far more power than you'll ever know. Despite the Fallen's belief in a victory in the power known as God, I know He has not abandoned those who never chose to abandon Him. You may never have been taught about Him, but He has watched over you always. In the glimpses of light in the darkness that is this world, you must have sensed Him... someone who cares for you and assures you and made sure that no matter how hopeless things are that you keep soldiering on."

It was a nice thought, and Doug wanted to believe. Of course, he knew he wasn't too bright and thus susceptible to believing foolish things, and even he saw the flaws in this concept. "Are you referring to the being from the beliefs of those from before the War? If He was so powerful, then how come he didn't save them?"

"Good question. All I can say is that their last prayers were for their children, and here today you still are. They're appeal to God will only be shown to be in vain if you choose not to continue their fight."

It seemed a lot of responsibility to be put on Doug's shoulders, which was now making this dream seem as absurd as his usual ones. He took another good look at the Devil who appeared just as a normal man. He thought back to what little he knew about the Devil whom he usually saw portrayed with horns and red skin. "Aren't you supposed to be evil?"

He smiled. "I have my own purposes. If you think this world needs fixing, then for now our goals overlap. That may change in the future... but we'll cross that bridge when we reach it."

"And what do you expect me to do?"

"Just consider my words and keep your eyes open to see what the world really is and not how they want you to see it. You will soon have an opportunity to fight back, and I will help lead you there. This may seem daunting, but know you are not alone. You have a friend even more powerful than me watching over you."

Doug wanted to believe, but this just seemed so much like the foolishness he had been warned about since he was a small child in the orphanage. "Do you know my friends?"

"Yes, of course." The Devil chuckled. "'Hellbender.'"

"Maybe you could tell them to so they can help... if this really isn't just a dream."

The Devil's expression turned serious. "They can help you some, but at some point you will fight this battle alone."

That was a fearful thought for Doug. His friends were all he had. "But why me? I'm not smart or good at... anything."

"I know; in a world of gods and demigods, you're... well... Doug. What you must overcome seems impossible, but God deals with the impossible. Know that in the most important battles of this world, neither wits nor strength are of any use."

"Then what is of use?"

The Devil grinned one last time. "You'll have to find that out on your own."

NEXT

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