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  1. The tall, sprightly stranger seemed to materialize, lit cigarette in hand, beneath a wan streetlight.
  2. Whistling a tuneless melody, coat billowed by lonely October winds, he made his way down the crowded streets, taking in the sights and sounds of his fellow pedestrians, enjoying the simple pleasure the golden leaves crackling underfoot gave him. For some reason unknown to him, it put him in mind of Paris, and consequently of murder, sex, and maléfice. At a traffic light he didn’t feel like waiting for, he simply strolled on, forcing an incoming car to swerve violently to avoid hitting him, the motorist’s shouted curses only making the edges of his lips curl.
  3. He stopped in front of a store’s window to take a look at himself. One eye the color of a blood ruby, the other a freshly polished emerald, with beard and hair like virgin snow complemented by a black coat (which only the brightest noon revealed as being, in fact, an incredibly dark crimson), he looked, in his decidedly unhumble opinion, as debonair and rakish as ever. It was as he was admiring his good looks that his mismatched eyes were drawn to the sign on the other side of the glass. “LAST MINUTE HALLOWEEN DISCOUNTS” it said, in big, bold Gothic letters. Ah, he thought to himself, that explains all the costumed little midgets running around. For some peculiar reason these people found it incredibly exhilarating to dress up their offspring as the same monsters and horrors that made their ancestors afraid to go out at night only a few generations back. Ruminating on halcyon days long gone by, he noticed a tiny toddler dressed as a rabbit staring back at him, lounging back into his stroller. Giving it an avuncular smile, he dropped his mask for just a split second, which was still enough to make the little rug-rat begin to scream his lungs out in fear. Straightening up, the smile still plastered across his handsome face, he continued onto his destination.
  4. When he got to where he was supposed to be, he tutted in disappointment. While it was rarely the well-off that required his services, the run-down shack which he stood in front of seemed straight out of the pages of a Dickens novel. With an exaggerated sigh he stepped into the miserable looking yard. A runty looking pit-bull got up and growled at him, but he sent it whimpering away with one look from his scarlet eye. Crushing the cigarette butt beneath his leather shoe, he got up to the dilapidated screendoor, and finding it locked, without a sound he sunk into the shadows around him, and slid beneath the door.
  5. Crawling his way to the stairs that led to the room where the summons came from, he noted the old loud TV set in the living room that was on, and the frail tired figure that sat in the sofa in front of it. He also perceived a whiff of fish, a smell that made his skin crawl and reminded him of Persia, uncomfortably. While he could have easily gotten in by more mundane methods, such tricks were expected in his line of business, and so lurk in, and through, darkness he did.
  6. When he saw the budding occultist that had summoned him, for a moment he considered burning down the entire wretched neighborhood and slinking off to a particularly depraved brothel he knew on the shores of the Black Sea. But a summoning was a summoning, and he was bound to heed it by rules and orders older even than him, even if the summoner was a pimply teenager. With a grimace, he gathered his tenebrous form at the center of the clumsily drawn pentagram, and stretching out his mind began to draw his limbs out. First the feet, clad in the tanned skin of a 17th century French thief, then the powerful legs, then up to his broad torso, the shadows twining and twisting at his sides to form his arms, hands and fingers, before finally sculpting his once-cherubic face, topped now with majestic horns that stretched behind his head, his tattered wings unfolding behind him (while these last two were uncomfortable, it made mortals take you seriously)
  7. His sudden and otherworldly appearance made the terrified teen fall back onto his ass, an act that almost made him scowl in disgust. Instead, he licked his iron teeth, sharp as nails, and let his deep voice ring out.
  8. “I am Asmodeus, Duke of Dis, prince of demons, father to terrors, sorrow of brides, lord of evils” he boomed, “thou hast called, and I have come, through fire and ice, through wind and hail, through blood and battle. Speak, son of Adam! What is thy wish?”
  9. The brat gawped back at him with oddly familiar eyes, shaking like a leaf. “H-holy…!” he managed to whisper. “T-the b-b-book’s f-f-for r-real?” he asked, waving with the grimoire still in his hands.
  10. Asmodeus barely contained himself from rolling his eyes.
  11. “What thou hold in your hands is a first edition copy of the Clavicula Urbanis, bound in the flayed hide of its author.” This little tidbit made the cringing child drop the book (which Asmodeus absentmindedly wondered how exactly had fallen in such amateur hands) in disgust, but Asmodeus ignored this. “Thou hast called me by name, and here I am. Speak, mortal! Time is of the essence.”
  12. The boy gulped, and ran his hand through his hair, a gesture that once again vaguely reminded Asmodeus of someone he couldn’t quite place.
  13. “Well, there’s these assholes at school, right, and they keep making fun of me, dunking my head in the toilet bowl, shit like that.”
  14. Asmodeus’ eyes twinkled. “Ah. I see. And you want these miscreants boiled in their own blood?”
  15. “No…”
  16. “Devoured by a hundred thousand hungry termites?”
  17. “No, I…”
  18. “Buried alive five fathoms deep?”
  19. “No, I don’t…”
  20. “Torn to pieces by rabid dogs in front of their loved ones?”
  21. “No!” The boy’s sudden outburst made Asmodeus raise one coal black eyebrow. He had much preferred the little snot nosed creature when he was petrified with fear. “I don’t want them killed or maimed or anything like that! I just want you to scare them so bad they’ll leave me alone.” The boy’s eyes lit up with a psychotic gleam that was, for the third time, uncomfortably, unknowingly familiar.
  22. Asmodeus sketched a bow. “It shall be done this very night. But you are aware of the costs this will incur?”
  23. The cur rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, my ever-living soul, now and forever, all that jazz.”
  24. “It is rare to see a young man so wise in the ways of the world” he said, his talons digging holes in his palms. He cocked his head. “What is your name, child?”
  25. The teen looked sideways before answering. “Gabe. Gabe Bromley.”
  26. It was those last two syllables that were the last piece of the puzzle, and the answer hit him like a freight train. He remembered where he had seen those pond scum green eyes, and heard that grating voice. Bromley, Bromley, thrice cursed mangy whoreson Edward fucking Bromley! He’d had a sweet deal back in the 1690’s, hanging around an Ursaline convent with that pansy Astorath, until that Witch-hunter cunt had to stick his syphilitic nose in and banish both of them back to Hell for a 100 years and a day. For a being such as him, that was over in an eye-blink, but Beelzebub and Baphomet had never forgotten that indemnity, and he still remembered the buckets of (proverbial) shit they had made him eat over it. But a demon never forgets, let alone forgive, a fact which Bromley, or rather his degenerate descendant was about to learn.
  27. Lost in the heat of the moment, unable to contain himself, he burst out laughing, a sound like a cat sliding down a mountain of shards. Oh, this was too good! How his sulphuric brethren would laugh, when they found out Bromley’s kin had sold his soul for a night’s work!
  28. He noted the disturbed look on the boy’s face, and quieted himself down, running his serpent long tongue across his iron teeth, giggling like a giddy schoolgirl.
  29. “Very good, young Gabriel.” In one swift motion he drew out a contract (a carbon, or rather blood, copy already drawn out) and a red-ink Parker pen out of his pocket, and handed them over. The teenager scanned it in a few scant seconds, then signed on the dotted line. “You know, I knew your namesake, eons ago” he confided, as Gabe gave it back.
  30. “Oh?” was Gabe’s response, uncertain and uninterested of the demon’s seriousness.
  31. “A real prick.” he said with a grin, and with that he was gone.
  33. Outside, having reassumed his more mundane form, Asmodeus lit another cigarette, smoothly returning the lighter to his inner pocket. While fire was child’s play to one of the Infernal Lords, it had sentimental value, and it reminded him, if not of heavenly times (for there were no lighters, or anything to use them for then), then of happier ones. It reminded him of Lilly, as it was her gift, after all. While he could not love (he was a demon, after all), he was still fond of that loony little lady, and her infamous stubbornness. Much more fun than that oaf’s second wife, but then again, she was no good girl either, what with all that apple business. He wondered where she was now. He had last seen her in 1907, or was it 1908? After the first ten thousand years it all begins to meld together into one long binge of temptations, exorcisms and pointless intrigues. He got the lighter out again, and looked at the etching – a winged figure falling earthwards, shedding silent tears as above him the hand that cast him out can be seen withdrawing, its deed done. He ran his thumb across it, and put it back. Taking a long drag from his cigarette, he went in search of his prey.
  34. All around him children dressed as vampires, witches, zombies and some sort of “Bat” and “Super” men raced to and fro, baskets filled to the brim with tooth- rotting, diabetes-giving sweets. If he were in a meaner mood he’d show them what true horror looked like, but he was on a mission and to do so would draw unneeded attention, so instead he merely tripped one dressed as a police officer, sending him sprawling and his candies rolling on the ground, whereupon the others in his party started fighting over them like starved hyenas with a bone.
  35. Stepping over the “cop” fallen in the line of duty, he crossed the street, letting his supernatural senses guide him to his quarry, leaving clouds of brimstone smelling smoke behind him. Stretching out his Stygian consciousness, allowing it to snake through the tumultuous crowded streets he located tonight’s victims, four in all, at the other end of the town. Disinclined to walk that much, and wanting to savor the cool autumn air some more, with a single thought he was floating, then with a succeeding one he was flying, wings flapping, an oversized black bat. While all demons, thanks to their celestial heritage, could fly, a miniscule minority of them actually did so, bringing as it did unfortunately rueful memories. Asmodeus was one of the few who still derived some joy from it (although he too felt like a crippled athlete at a track); in fact, thanks to one impressionable Spaniard, he was still associated with it in mainstream demonology. That, and mathematics.
  36. Asmodeus thought on this and more as he glided beneath the moon’s pale aegis. He did not hate humans, really; while like all true fiends he enjoyed terrorizing them, and sped the more conceited ones to their well-deserved doom and demise, overall he saw them as naïve, short-sighted, slightly retarded but ultimately well-meaning younger siblings. It was not their fault that he and his brothers had risen up and been dashed down. Asmodeus knew his opinions were unpopular among his Hadean compatriots, but he could not care less for Lucifer and his sulks, Belphegor’s rages or Azazel’s intrigues. The way he saw it, while he may have fallen that did not mean he’d waddle in the muck.
  37. The sudden smell of his prey beneath drew him out of his musings, and like a bomber he dived, the night’s breeze screaming past his ears. He alighted on a tree branch, and sent a basking cat running with a well-placed hiss. His shining eyes observed the “assholes”, as his client had aptly dubbed them; two were dressed as skeletons, one as a pirate, and the fourth as a stereotypical devil, tail and pitchfork included. Asmodeus tittered to himself up on his branch. He would definitely enjoy this.
  38. He considered his options. He wanted to scare them, but not so much that they’d be catatonic. Ghosts were a hit among younglings once, but that was a long time ago, while wizards and warlocks were now considered good, for some reason he could not place. He suddenly remembered a movie he had seen some years ago, and without further ado, a garishly clad clown brandishing a fearsomely gigantic axe dropped in front of the costumed children and charged them, laughing maniacally.
  39. They froze like deer in headlight, then split up and ran as fast as their little legs could carry them, screaming for their mothers, dropping their hard earned pumpkins filled with candies. Asmodeus let the skeletons flee, chasing after the other two, fully intent on teaching his inferior double a lesson in true diablerie. They fled to a nearby park, just as he had intended, and he proceeded to phase through the shadows, herding them ever deeper. Out of nowhere, the one dressed as a pirate turned around and brandished his plastic cutlass in defense, trembling. Asmodeus cut it in half with one stroke of his axe, then hung the little “hero” from a tree by his underwear. That left only his imitation, cowering in fear only a few feet apart. Asmodeus picked him up by his foot (noticing with some amusement that the boy had pissed himself) and brought his luridly painted face only an inch away from that of the child.
  40. ”The boy Gabriel Bromley is not to be trifled with. Understand?”
  41. The brat nodded, and whimpered. Asmodeus opened his mouth, and licked the youth’s face from top to bottom, making him throw up. Dropping him into his own vomit head first, he gingerly stepped over him and emerged from the park, assuming his more comfortable look on the way out. Almost hopping, half smoked cigarette still in his mouth, he languorously made his way back to the shanty, humming a long forgotten Aramaic love song.
  42. Then he saw the angel.
  43. He was following a sickly looking toddler dressed as a tiger, flanked by its parents, one fatherly hand on its shoulder, yet nobody seemed to be paying attention to the 7 foot tall winged being radiating light. That was how they usually went about in the world, of course, all mysterious and invisible, above all the mundane grime. Spitting on the ground, he let his perception reach out, needlelike, to connect with that of the angel’s.
  44. “A bit lost, aren’t we?” he sent, without moving a single muscle of his lips. “Heaven’s some ways off, dummy”, and admired his own wit.
  45. The angel did not respond, merely moved in front of his charge, one hand on his sword. Asmodeus forced himself to laugh.
  46. “Don’t worry, I’ve no aim to harm him. Not like he’s got long anyhow, right?”
  47. At this, the angel’s eyes flashed, lightning-like, but he merely ushered the family he was guarding onwards, turning his back to his hellish counterpart. But he wasn’t getting off so easy.
  48. “You’re one of Raphael’s lot, aren’t you? You must be, if you’re guarding that little tumor-to-be.” The angel’s feathers bristled, but he did not turn or say a thing. “Tell that salubrious ponce I still owe him for Persia.”
  49. The angel went on as if he hadn’t heard, and Asmodeus slowly felt his choler start to rise.
  50. “Always the same with you daft pansies. So high, so haughty, so superior. And why, huh? What gives you the right to lord it up over everybody else? Because you’re a good little boy? Because you do what the powers that be tell you? Because you didn’t have the guts to stand against your maker like us?” He took a drag from his cigarette, trying to cool his temper. “If you really were as good as you claim you are, you’d face me like a man.”
  51. Surprisingly, the angel did turn, but Asmodeus knew something was off because of that cursedly enigmatic smirk on that seraphic face.
  52. “Cast not your pearls before swine.” the angel said, and walked on.
  53. Asmodeus could, quite literally, feel the smoke issuing from his nostrils and ears, as the cigarette was burnt to a crisp in his fingers.
  54. “You bastard! You cunt! You absolute fucking cunt! How fucking dare you! Come back here and get that shining little toothpick of yours out!”  he yelled after him, and when he realized he was being ignored, he tossed the incinerated cigarette at the back of the angel’s head, only for it to be harmlessly defected, and with a ridiculous pirouette land in a nearby trash can.
  55. When he got back to the annoying kid’s house he was in an even darker mood than before and simply phased through its walls, not bothering with all the impressive shape-shifting crap, and found him in the living room, tapping his foot on the floor nervously.
  56. “It is done. From this day on, your tormenters shall not dare raise a finger against you.” he announced, each word making the boy shake. Asmodeus extended his hand. “Now, boy, for your part of the bargain.”
  57. The boy gulped nervously. “I-I’ve changed my mind.” he mumbled.
  58. Asmodeus protracted a single talon. “You seem to misunderstand what a deal with the Devil precludes.”
  59. He heard motion behind him. “Get away from him, you bastard.” A weak, wheezing voice called out.
  60. Asmodeus half turned, and marked the same geriatric figure he had seen laid out in front of the TV some time ago.
  61. “So eager to meet your creator, crone?”
  62. The old woman took an unsteady step closer. “Gabe’s told me everything.” her dusty voice went on. “And I know everything I need to.”
  63. Asmodeus gave her the same smile he would to a mentally handicapped child, as he perceived that she was holding something in her knobby fist. “And what’s that, dearie?” he cooed.
  64. Toothless gums smiled. “I know your name, Ashmedai” she said, and with a speed that belied her great age she threw the fish innards on the red hot skillet.
  65. Immediately it him like a hammer, and he could only take a single step before he was on all fours, retching up brown blood and worms onto the stained carpet. No. No. No! How could she know, how could she possibly know!? With a distant awareness he noted that his disguise was no more, as his second skin was literally melting off him, his horns exploding out of his forehead messily, just like his wings.
  66. He heard the boy’s footsteps outpacing him, then the old bitch’s horrid voice.
  67. “Best close your eyes for this, sweetie.”
  68. Asmodeus tried to stand up, but only managed to fall backwards, his pinions overturning a cabinet onto him and the floor. He tried to swing at the whore, to at least take her with him, but he only managed to send a lamp flying through the air before collapsing onto his side, his entire body wracked with convulsions.
  69. It was not fair, it was absolutely not fair! It was like Persia again, word for fucking word, only it was a senile grandmother that sent him packing this time! As he felt his wings catch on fire, and his existence literally unraveling, he pointed an accusing claw at the perfidious boy.
  70. “WE HAD A DEAL!” he shrieked, and a second later there was nothing but the smell of ashes on the chilly Halloween air.
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