First ~ Second ~ Third ~ Fourth


Genowrath, lesser demon of the infernal order stood in the personal chambers of Hell's seventh-now-sixth General, Bezaliel, and told him, "There's been a problem."

Bezaliel's smile never wavered, though his eyebrows arched. "Oh?" he said. "What?"

Genowrath paced across the room, every inch of him feeling hot, like he'd gotten a bad sunburn. His skin felt strained, like he was stretched out, but his joints felt compressed, like he was being squashed. The room around him had ample walking space; this wasn't the weapon-filled office from before, it was a more ascetic sitting room with plenty of space to maneuver. From across the room, sitting languidly on a lounge chair, Bezaliel watched him with amused eyes.

"I just-- it's hard to-- I mean I didn't know what would happen--"

Bezaliel chuckled. "Gen. Did Shemsiel scare you before he died? Listen, that old fart is gone. G-O-N-E gone. I felt it in my head, all of the Generals did. There's no need to--"

"That's not it," said Genowrath. He stopped pacing, and with an agitated groan, he stopped holding his shape.

He changed.

Scales melted into skin. His horns shrank while his legs and torso elongated. The mane on his back and shoulders disappeared, and soft blond hair grew from his scalp. From his back sprouted two dark, bat-like wings. He became more lithe and less stocky, less spikey and more smooth. Less demonic, more angelic.

It was horrible.

Bezaliel's eyes widened.

"Wow," he said. "You're looking much better."

"No I am not!" Genowrath whisper-screeched. "This is not better! This is the opposite of better!"

"Very pretty. I like what you've done with your hair."

Genowrath grabbed locks of the atrocious yellow hair on his head and pulled, then stopped pulling because it hurt.

"Change me back," he said.

"You didn't use the dagger, did you?" said Bezaliel flatly.

"No, I didn't use the dagger!" Genowrath rubbed his arms, his scrawny, scale-free arms. "I had Maquasuel's sword. I thought--"

"Don't bother. You thought the dagger was leeching power from your kills," Bezaliel said, sounding less amused.

Genowrath nodded.

"Well, you were right. It was designed to make killing easier, and to take a substantial portion of the power released with each death. There was a reason for that, Genowrath. There was a reason for the power siphon. Because now you're. . ." He gestured at Genowrath. All of his new form. "This. Congratulations," Bezaliel added dryly. "You're a General."

"No," said Genowrath.

"I'm not happy about it either," said Bezaliel, crossing his arms. "The goal was to remove a General, not replace one. Though I suppose this could work. . . " He looked at Genowrath thoughtfully. "Yes, actually. This could work. It would be nice to have support during council meetings. Tell me, what are your opinions on--"

"No!" Genowrath shouted.

Bezaliel held up his hands. "I was simply asking--"

"Not that, I mean, no to this! I'm not a General, I'm a Genowrath, and I just want to look normal so Dave--" He bit his tongue to stop the words.

"Really?" said Bezaliel. "Still this Dave business?"

Genowrath nodded.

Bezaliel sighed and lifted himself from the chair. "Fine, fine. Pearls before swine and all that." He crossed the room and held open the door. "Come on, Gen. Field trip time."

"Where are we going?" said Genowrath, panicked. "I can't go out like this!"

Bezaliel quirked an eyebrow. "Geno, you're in the palace of a General, accompanied by a General. It's actually less suspicious if you look like a powerful Archdemon than if you look like your usual self."

Genowrath wanted to argue, but the only thing he could come up with was, 'but I feel icky', and even he knew that was an argument with no traction. Hating every bit of it, he got up and followed the General out.

Bezaliel walked him through the palace, the complete jovial host. He pointed out weird bits of architecture or items of historical importance and explained whatever story they had behind them. There were different rooms with different purposes, and Bezaliel made sure to explain each one, as well as anything interesting that had happened inside of them. Every so often, they passed an Archdemon who worked there, and Bezaliel would stop to chat. he'd introduce Genowrath like an old friend and there'd be an inevitable round of small talk and how-do-you-dos, and it was all Genowrath could do to not claw his own eyes out. He needed to fix this!

They rounded the corner and wound up back in the main entry hall, the one just before the entrance. The one near the room they had begun in.

"I just wanted to give you a tour of the place," Bezaliel said upon seeing Genowrath's expression. "If you're going to be working for me, I thought it wise that you knew your way around."

Genowrath stopped walking. "Wait, I'm working for you?"

"Of course," said Bezaliel. "That a problem?"

Genworath wanted to say it was, but couldn't think of a good reason why it should be.

"Will I have to do anything?" he said.

"Maybe," said Bezaliel. "You'll still have time to play around on Earth, if that's what you want."

That was exactly what Genowrath wanted. Besides, it didn't seem like there was much choice in the matter. He sighed and followed Bezaliel as he led him up the stairs.

"Don't look so glum, Gen," said Bezaliel cheerfully. "This is going to be the start of a mutually beneficial arrangement. I can feel it. Come on, this way."

Eventually the two made it to Bezaliel's laboratory.

The room was filled with enchantment tools. Specially engraved pentagrams and magic circles filled with arcane symbols marked on the floors, walls, and tables. Shelves and shelves of spell ingredients and potion bottles. An alchemy vat. A small forge-- was this where he made his magic weapons? Genowrath wondered-- work tables that all appeared to have different projects n various stated of completion. Bezaliel strode to the far work table and began rooting through the little drawers on the sides of it.

He brought out several tiny pliers, some lumps of metal, a few bottles of weird powder and fragments of gems.

"Genowrath!" he barked suddenly without turning. "Favorite color?"

"Green!" Genowrath blurted out. It wasn't actually his favorite color; it was Dave's. But Genowrath didn't have a favorite color, so that was good enough.

Bezaliel pulled out some green powder and green leaves and began working. The circle on the table began to glow as he pried and pulled and twisted the metal lumps with the pliers. He crushed the gems and hammered the metal into the powder, periodically stopping to cast a small charm or burn some incense.

"What is that?" Genowrath a said, hovering anxiously at Bezaliel's side.

"Magic. Hang a sec. . ."

Bezaliel slammed both hands on the table, and the symbols blazed with green light that rushed upward like a gust of wind. The force of it blew their hair away from their faces and scattered all the loose paper in the room.

"There!" said Shemsiel. He held up what he'd made, letting it catch the light.

It was an amulet. Gold on the outside, green on the inside, looking like a twisted, jagged circle.

"Do you prefer leather or chain?" Bezaliel said, turning to rummage in the little craft drawers beside the workbench.

"Uh. Chain?"

"Silver, gold, black, or white?"

"Uh. Gold."

"Good choice, it matches the rest." Bezaliel drew out a handful of thin gold jewelry chains and held them up against Genowrath, checking their length. Then he deposited all but one back into the drawer and expertly looped the amulet trough the chain.

"Boom," he said, holding the amulet out for Genowrath. "I'm a genius. Should've been a jeweler. Don't ask me how I do it, you wouldn't understand."

"Uh," said Genowrath.

"Take it, it's for you."

"What does it do?" Genowrath said, gingerly taking the amulet.

"Solves your problem. Put it on and see."

For a split second, the thought that this might be a trap of some kind flitted across Genowrath's mind. Bezaliel wasn't above murdering inconveniences, and Genowrath couldn't quite believe the General was being so accommodating out of the kindness of his heart. But the thought was swamped away by how gross he felt, so he took the amulet.

The relief was immediate, which might've meant that this was all psychosomatic, but Genowrath didn't care. The second he stopped looking like an Archdemon and started looking like himself, things were good.

"Feel better?" said Bezaliel.

"Yes," Genowrath said emphatically. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me," said Bezaliel, cleaning up the bench. "You owe me. Depending on how smoothly my transition from 7th to 6th General goes, I may need you to kill a few more people for me."

Genowrath saluted. "Whatever you say, boss."

Bezaliel gave him a snap-to-finger-gun combo. "That's what I like to hear. I knew we'd get along, Gen. Now, there is the matter of your actual payment. . ."

"Yeah?" Genowrath said, suddenly afraid Bezaliel would renege on their deal.

Bezaliel smiled. "Come on. Let's go to it, shall we?"

* * * * *

Lucifer did not have a palace.

Lucifer did not live in Pandemonium.

The Temple of Lucifer was far underground, far below Pandemonium, and it was only accessible by those highest in rank. The only creatures who came in or out of the temple were the Generals, and they only dared approach their master when delivering him human souls.

Except today.

Genowrath followed along, heart pounding in his chest, as Bezaliel conjured a door of shadow and stepped inside.

"Only Generals know this spell," he said. "If you ever change your mind, then I'll teach it to you."

They stepped into darkness together.

On the other side of the darkness was a slightly less dark room that brought to Genowrath's mind ancient ruins. Ones that had been regal in their day, but had been hastily abandoned, leaving behind their finery to be eaten away by time. The stone walls were dense with dark ivy, despite the dim lighting. There was furniture, but it was coated in dust. There were tables covered in thick cloth and woven tapestries on the walls, but they were all darkened and heavy with age to the point it was near impossible to tell what color they had been originally. Beneath the grime and dirt, small reflections of gold and silver glinted in the light, telling Genowrath that this place must have once resembled Shemsiel's Solar Palace. The only light came from torches on the walls and a chandelier hanging from the high arches.

Across from where Genowrath and Bezaliel stood were two double doors, both twice the height of Bezaliel

"This is the entry room," said Bezaliel. "Throne room is straight ahead, through those doors. When you go in there, you be polite, understand? You bow when you talk to him, you don't speak until he speaks to you--"

"I know how to be polite!" Genowrath hissed.

The doors opened of their own accord. Bezaliel pushed him forward.

"Go get 'em, tiger. I'll be here waiting if you come back."

"If?" Genowrath whisper-screamed, but the door were already closing behind him. The last thing he saw before being plunged into darkness was Bezaliel, smiling and giving him the thumbs up.

Then he was alone.

* * * * *

The throne room was impossibly large. It could have been miles across. It could have been miles tall. All directions stretched out towards absolute darkness. Genowrath walked blindly forward, hoping that this room was built like throne rooms in movies, and that it was a straight shot to the throne itself. Around him, his footsteps echoed like claps of thunder no matter how hard he tried to keep quiet.

Eventually, the blackness began to change. Still dark, still black, but softer. He took this as a sign he was getting somewhere.

Eventually, up ahead, he saw a dim light. He followed it, hoping that Lucifer had no will-o-the-wisp type traps in place for visitors. Bezaliel hadn't warned him of any such thing, but Bezaliel hadn't warned him the room would be so dark, either.

After what felt like an eternity of walking and second guessing himself, wondering if he was going the wrong way, wondering if he'd lost the path and would be lost in Lucifer's throne room forever, Genowrath approached the light.

It was a soul.

It floated several feet off the ground at head-height. The first thing Genowrath thought was that the soul was smaller than he'd remembered souls being, about the size of both his fists closed together. The second thing he noticed was how much the soul resembled a sort of amoeba. It looked like a glowing, floating, splotchy little ball of plasma, light on the outside, with a dark, struggling something inside. It looked like light in sludge form.

The closer he came to the soul, the more relaxed he became. The tension he'd held balled inside of him since he'd killed Shemsiel, since he'd killed Hebdekios-- no. Since Dave had first summoned him to the kitchen and had said the words, 'we need to talk.' All that stress, and anger, and fear, all of it slowly melted away. His shoulders unclenched. Muscles he hadn't known this form had, right at the base of his wings, unclenched. He watched the soul in fascination, his eyes glued to the small, amoeba-like structure. It wriggled and writhed in place, as though something inside the glowing orb was in pain.

And, the second he thought it, he knew it was true. It was in pain. It was in complete and utter agony. Genowrath noted the fact the way someone notices a napkin on the ground; it was a shame, but he couldn't bring himself to care in the slightest.

He moved forward and touched the soul. Instantly, an overwhelming sense of peace flowed through him. It was beautiful.

And somewhere around here, Dave had one just like it.

Slowly, against every screaming inch of himself, Genowrath tore his hand and gaze away from the soul. He had a job to do.

He left the soul and kept on, into the darkness.

* * * * *

Time passed. he didn't know how much.

Slowly, more and more souls appeared to light the way. They hovered in the air at different heights, some far far above him, some low to the ground. The deeper into the throne room he went, the thicker the groups of souls became. They illuminated the darkness like lanterns, casting their faint blue-white light. Every single one of them was in an unimaginable, nameless pain.

Genowrath walked among them with a small, dreamy smile. They felt so nice. So enamored was he by the souls, he almost didn't realize when he came to the throne.

The throne was enormous. As tall as a building. As tall as Dave's old apartment complex. Taller, much taller if you counted the back. Wider. Soft light from the hundreds upon hundreds of souls in the air around it cast odd shadows over the stone patterns on the solid base. On it sat an enormous being whose lap, legs, and feet were covered by a blanket of feathers, each feather as large as Genowrath was. It took Genowrath a moment to realize that those were the devil's massive wings.

It was hard to see the devil. He was a colossal figure taking up most of Genowrath's field of vision, but his head and most of his upper body were covered in souls. From this angle, all Genowrath could make out was a blank space of chest, neck, and underside of chin.

In an instant, any and all words he had considered saying died in his throat. His mind was struck empty with blind panic. How could he be here? How could he have dared? He had to leave, he had to run, he had to get out before the Devil looked down and saw him--

Who. Are. You.

Lucifer's voice was a soft wind across the desert, rolling waves of fine sand. It was cool air in temples forgotten and buried. It was quiet, near silent, but Genowrath heard every word as though they were hammered into his skull and engraved on his bones. He collapsed under the weight of the words, dropped to one knee and cowered.

You . . . are one of . . . my Generals?

"No," Genowrath said. He was surprised at how strong his voice was, at how surely he lied to the king of all lies.

Lucifer sighed, the sound of air escaping a fresh corpse.

I care not, he said softly. A demon . . . reeking of a General's power. . . disturbs me. What . . . do you want?

"A soul, Lord," said Genowrath uncertainly. "I was promised a soul."

Lucifer extended an arm as long as a skyscraper is tall and plucked a soul from the air.

Take it, he said, his massive hand placing the soul in front of Genowrath. The soul hovered in front of his face.

Genowrath looked at the soul for less than a second and said, "It's not the right one."

What. . . does it matter? sighed the devil. They all . . . accomplish the same.

"It matters to me," Genowrath said. "It's personal."

Through the endless hazy shadow masking the dark lord's face, Geno saw four glowing red slits that must have been eyes open up. Again, the devil raised his hand and took a human soul. He placed it in front of Genowrath and said,

Then go.

Genowrath didn't examine the soul closely. It was the right one. He could feel it. You didn't spent ten years stuck to a mortal and not recognize the shape of their soul. He grabbed the soul, bowed low, and hurried out the way he'd come.

* * * * *

"Did you get what you were looking for?" said Bezaliel.

Genowrath held the soul out in his cupped hands and nodded, unable to speak.

"Nice," said Bezaliel. His features softened when he looked at the soul. "I forget how . . . good those things are. They just make things better, don't they?"

Genowrath nodded.

In his hands, David's soul twisted, anguished.

It's okay, he thought, lightly stroking it with his thumb. It's okay. I've got you. It's okay.

For the first time since leaving the chamber, he examined the soul carefully. The soul was lighter than he expected, and a little dim. Presumably this was because Dave was actually still alive. Genowrath didn't know all the details; this was the first soul he'd been allowed to keep for longer than what it took to deliver them to HQ for them to be whisked away to Lucifer's temple. But he had seen brighter souls inside the throne room, ones that were writhing and moving, forcibly contained into keeping their formless amoeba shapes, and he knew that on Earth, lost souls could become ghosts and turn much more active, so he guessed that's what would happen when Dave died provided he didn't do anything to stop him.

But that was a long time from now. He didn't intend on letting Dave die any time soon.

"What now?" said Bezaliel, opening the shadow door.

Genowrath kept his eyes locked on the soul, entranced. "I think I need to pay someone a visit."

* * * * *

It wasn't long after that he felt the summons. With a smile and a small bit of his newfound power, Genowrath cut any tie the summoning ritual might've had to it's intended target and hijacked the spell, bringing himself to Earth.

Once there, he took a moment to take the scene in.

This wasn't Dave's kitchen, for one thing. This was outdoors. Around him, far-ish away, were dense trees. Closer around the clearing were thick walls of shrubbery-- thorny blackberries, it looked like. So some kind of woods. The sky wasn't dark yet, but heading there. The clouds along the horizon were streaked with a hazy pink and orange light. The immediate area was clear except for short grass and rows and rows of rocks someone had arranged in a pentagram. Some of the rocks were small, some were big, most were between the size of a human fist and a brick. Genowrath recognized them as the kind of smooth filler-rocks people used in landscaping.

And in front of him was Dave.

Dave looked tired. His hair had grown out shaggy. His face was no longer clean shaven, but scruffy with unkempt stubble that looked to have intentions of becoming something more. Despite that, he was dressed to the nines as far as summoners go; black robe with glittery gold bits, snappy dress shirt, shiny shoes. He'd wanted to impress somebody.

And instead he got me.

Dave stared.

"Hi Dave," said Genowrath. In his hands was the soul.

David grabbed his hair with his free hand like he wanted to rip it out. The he dragged his hand down his face. "God dammit."

"Not happy to see me?" said Genowrath innocently.

"What are you doing here, Genowrath?"

"I hear a summon, I follow a summon. What are you doing out here in the woods? What's with the fancy stone pentagram? You never used fancy binding circles with me."

"I'm trying to bind someone bigger," David said tersely.

"Meaning better."

Dave opened his mouth, then closed it. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Geno. Listen. Last time we talked, things got kind of ugly."

"Yeah. They did. I know," Genowrath said. "I know, you don't want to see me anymore. You hate me."

David sighed. "It's not like that, Genowrath. I don't hate you. And I don't mind seeing you. But I'm trying to improve myself. I'm trying to be better. And to do that--"

"You need to be around better people?"

"I didn't mean it like that."

"I know what you meant," Genowrath snapped, his anger showing for the first time. "You don't want to be bothered by someone so weak. Someone who might hold you back. Well, David, guess what I'm holding right now?" He dug his claws into the soft substance of the soul.

David had just enough time to look utterly baffled before the pain set in. He screamed and dropped to the ground, thrashing in agony. Genowrath squeezed the soul in his claws harder.

"You don't want me anymore, huh?"

Squeeze

"You don't think I'm good enough, huh?"

Squeeze

"What do you think now?" he screamed.

Squeeze Squeeze Squeeze

On the ground, David writhed, unable to scream anymore. Genowrath laughed.

"Look! Look at me! I own you, David! Do you hear me? You're mine. What do you think now? What the hell do you think now?" Genowrath loosed his grip on the soul.

David gasped and rolled onto his side. Sometime during the fit, he'd vomited and gotten it smeared over his face. He spluttered and coughed, and wiped himself off. Slowly, as though every muscle ached terribly, he rose to his knees.

"Well?" Genowrath said.

Dave was motionless for a long moment, and Genowrath was just becoming afraid he'd actually done him serious harm when the warlock shot up and hurled an electrifying spell at him. The spell was massive, fueled by anger and fear and pain. It shot visibly through the air like a comet and hit Genowrath squarely in the chest. The force of it sent him flying through the air, and he slammed into a nearby tree and had just enough time to wonder if he'd broken anything before he was hit by another spell.

This one felt like a thousand tiny needles stabbing through his skin from the inside out. He screeched and clenched David's soul, hoping to knock him out. The pain stopped immediately, and he saw Dave fall onto his hands and knees back on the grass.

"David!" he yelled.

"Fuck you!" David yelled back. He staggered to his feet, even with Genowrath digging his claws into his soul.

Dave drew back his arm, making to hurl more magic. Genowrath snarled and prepared his own ball of hellfire.

Time blurred. In some places, it seemed like it was standing still, and Genowrath could make out every detail. Dave was dodging fireballs, his hair singed at the back from the heat, his face bloodied and angry, his eyes burning red with witchlight. Other times, everything was too fast. He'd be ducking out of the way of one of Dave's spells, only to be hit by another, and then Dave was laughing, but then Dave was screaming from a strike Genowrath had made, with his actual claws, and somewhere in the confusion the soul had fallen onto the ground and got crushed into the mud, but that didn't matter because then Dave was on Genowrath's back trying to strangle him with a rosary-- a rosary! Where did he even get one of those?!-- and Genowrath was trying to pry him off.

Somehow, Genowrath found himself on his back against the base of one of the stones, badly burned around the neck, with every bone aching. Dave was several feet away, back where he'd left his ritual supplies, but he was limping his way back. He was holding his left arm with his right, but in his left hand he had a water bottle.

Genowrath sniffed the air. A cold chill ran down his spine. He'd had enough of that smell as of late to last a lifetime.

"Dave?" he said.

If Dave heard, he didn't act like it. His eyes still burned with that angry red light.

"Dave, that's holy water." Genowrath tried to sit up. It hurt. He tried to stand, and couldn't. One of Dave's spells had paralyzed him.

"Dave?" he said again, his voice higher.

Dave stopped in front of him, a crazed look in his eyes. Blood trickled down his face from his right eyebrow where he'd gotten gashed in the fight. He was breathing heavily.

"Dave?" said Genowrath quietly. "Dave, are you going to kill me?"

"Who are you?" Dave demanded.

"What?"

Dave shook the spray bottle.

"Answer me!" Dave said. "Who are you?"

"Dave, it's me! What are you--?" A cold, creeping feeling went down Genowrath's spine. He looked down at himself and realized that the amulet was gone, and he was back in his new Archdemon form.

"I won't ask again," said Dave. "Tell me, or I'll kill you. Who are you, and why are you pretending to be Genowrath?"

"Dave, it's me! It's Genowrath!"

"Liar!" snarled Dave. He made like he was going to douse him with the holy water.

Genowrath shouted the first thing he could think of. "You wet the bed until you were thirteen!"

Dave froze.

"You're afraid of small spiders but not big ones! Rubber bands gross you out! You cried at the beginning of Up! You cried at the end of Marley and Me! You cried during Spider-Man when Peter gets squished by the building! You had a crush on the fox lady from Robin Hood! Your favorite color is dark green and your favorite food is pizza!"

Dave stared. The burning glow in his eyes went away, leaving just his normal brown color. His arm came down slowly, but Genowrath kept going, unable to stop. The words rushed out of him, unbidden.

"You tell people your favorite movies are Inception and Die Hard, but it's really a tie between Kiki's Delivery Service, Young Frankenstein, and Princess Bride! You'd rather walk around with just one sock on instead of wearing a mismatched pair! One time when you were fifteen, you tried to make yourself learn Japanese with magic and accidentally cursed everyone in your apartment building to speak with fake-y Russian accents, and nobody but us noticed! You mix Hot Cheetos in Top Ramen because you're a fucking monster! We had a dog named Trip who ate some potions he shouldn't have and turned into a wolf! We spent two weeks hiding him from the landlord before getting him to the countryside. When you're sick, you always sing stuff from Les Miserables without even knowing you're doing it--"

"Okay!" Dave shouted. "Okay! I get it!" He stepped back. "Genowrath?"

"Hi, Dave." Genowrath waved weakly.

"Genowrath," Dave said again, shocked. "What happened to you?"

"Aww jeez, I didn't want you to see me like this. . ."

Dave opened his mouth to speak. Closed it. Opened again. Closed again. Then, like a frustrated parent, he put his hand over his face. "What. Happened." he said.

"I-- uh. It's a long story. Are you still going to kill me?"

David looked back at him, and though he didn't understand. Then he looked at the spray bottle in his hands, and his eye widened.

"Oh-- oh god." Dave hurled the spray bottle away, out into the bushes, and backed away.

"Wait, where are you going?" said Genowrath. The feeling was starting to return in his legs, and he tried to get up. It didn't work, and he wound up falling down again.

"Over here!" said Dave from a few feet away. He found a spot he liked and sat, back to Genowrath.

"Dave?" he called. "Are you okay?"

"I'm sorry!" Dave hollered. "I almost killed you. I wanted to kill you!"

"I'dve deserved it," said Genowrath. Feeling was starting to come back to his toes. "Not like you knew it was really me--"

"Even before that!" Dave said. "Before you shape changed, I wanted to!"

"Oh," said Genowrath, wings drooping. "Do you still want to?"

"No!" said David.

"Well, then we're in agreement. Neither of us want you to kill me. Problem solved!" Genowrath tried to get up and toppled over. "What the hell did you do to me?" he said, impressed.

"New thing I've been working on," David said. "Do you still want to kill me?"

"I never wanted to kill you!" Genowrath said. He made another valiant effort to get to his feet. This time, though he wobbled precariously, he managed to get up.

"Then what do you call earlier?" said Dave.

"A friendly disagreement," Genowrath said. He wobbled and waddled his way over to where Dave sat.

Dave stared at him a moment before burying his face in his hands. "What's wrong with us?" he said. "What the fuck is wrong with us?"

"Well, I'm a colossal screw up," Genowrath said, sitting beside him. "But I think you're pretty great."

"I'm serious," Dave said. "What the hell is wrong with us?"

Genowrath didn't have a real answer to that, so he said, "Nothing. We're awesome as-is."

"I'm a piece of shit," Dave said.

The statement caught Genowrath so off guard that it almost gave him whiplash. "What? No you're not."

"Yes I am. I've spent the past two months doing nothing but trying to be a better warlock, be a better summoner, and I've got nothing accomplished. You've been gone for two months, and look at you!" He gestured at Genowrath. "You made it to Archdemon? How the fuck did you make it to be an Archdemon in two months? You said that took thousands of years! You said that it was almost impossible! We've been split up for two months and I've got nothing done, and you just zipped up the corporate ladder! Was I the one holding you back?" Dave was starting to look glassy eyed. "Oh my God. Was I really the one keeping you down this entire time? Holy shit, am I the fuck up? Why'd you even come tonight, Geno? Did you want to brag? Did you want to show off how much better than me you are?"

"No!" said Genowrath. "Well, yes. But not like-- I didn't-- you weren't holding me back, Dave. Really! I can't even do the dishes unless you're telling me to! Everything I've done was so I could-- I just-- ugh."

Words failed. Mostly because, Genowrath realized, when he got down to it, David was right. He had done everything to make Dave feel bad about leaving him. He had wanted to hurt him. Every single bit of it was to make Dave upset enough to take him back-- which didn't make much sense now that he put it into words.

"It's my fault," Genowrath found himself saying. "The reason nobody else would deal with you. It's not because you're bad. It's because I scared them all away from you."

David looked up at him. "What?"

"The other demons. Fiends. Even the Archdemon. I scared them away from you."

"Geno, why? Why would you do that?" Dave didn't sound angry, just confused and sad. Genowrath winced; that hurt more than if he'd been yelling. "I'm just a half-rate warlock, remember?" said Dave. "I'm a loser. I'm a piece of shit. Why would you do that?"

"You're not," Genowrath said. "You're not a piece of shit. You're great. I'm a piece of shit. I taught you, didn't I? And. . . And I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry I wasn't any good as a teacher. I'm sorry I never gave you zombies or time travel. I'm sorry I ruined your chances with finding someone better."

"Why'd you do it? Do. . . do you really hate me that much?"

"No! I don't hate you! I don't hate you at all. Like, Dave. David. Bro. I don't know how to break it to you, but I'm crazy about you. Uh. Maybe literally. Actually literally. Entirely literally. Like, I murdered sooooo many people because I didn't want them going anywhere near you."

Dave blinked. "Wait, murdered? You killed people? Who?"

"Uh. How many demons did you try to sign on with?"

Dave thought about it. His jaw dropped. "That many?"

"Just the ones who agreed to work with you. Oh, and some cultists, too, though they were more in my way."

"That's. Uh. That's still a lot."

Genowrath felt his face heating up. "Yeah, well, I didn't want anybody touching my buddy. Oh! Uh. Also? Um, you should probably know. So, uh, I. . . ah."

"Out with it, Geno."

"I also kinda sorta maybe killed a General."

David's jaw dropped.

"It was mostly luck! And I'm sorta working for another General now? You might've heard of him-- Bezaliel? And he kinda said that I'm strong enough to, like, be a General if I wanted? But I told him no!" Genowrath said hurriedly. "I said no, because I want to be able to, you know, hang out with you more, if that's okay. I mean, it would be nice to. . . Uh. . . " He let the words trail off.

The glassy look in Dave's eyes got worse, and he looked paler than usual. Genowrath was worried he was going to faint, and considered what would happen if he did. Silence stretched between them, and for a long while the only sound was the quiet crackling of a few dying fires leftover from the fight.

"What do you want from me, Genowrath?" Dave said eventually.

Genowrath sighed and laid back, resting on the grass. "Man, I don't even know. I guess want us to be friends again. I want to hang out and watch TV and play video games like we used to. I want to make fun of shitty movies and find cool music and do magic and make weird potions and listen to you bitch about your job. And-- and I guess I want to be better for you, too. You wanted someone stronger, and I'm stronger now. I can learn better magic, and I can teach it to you. If you want me to. Do you hate me?"

"No," Dave sighed. "Everything would be a lot simpler if I did, but I don't. Not even a little."

"Sorry," Genowrath said.

"Me too," said Dave.

In the mud, a few feet away, Dave's soul sat, half-buried. Genowrath crawled over and plucked it from the ground.

"What's that?" Dave said.

"Uh. Nothing. Just the spell I used on you earlier."

"You'll have to teach me how you did that," Dave said. "I don't know that one."

It took Genowrath a moment to process what he'd said, and what it meant.

"Yeah," he said, throat thick. "Definitely."

"Did you still want to see Star Wars?" Dave said.

"Is it still playing?"

Dave shrugged. "No idea. We can check. If it's not, we can do something else. I'm sure there are other good movies out. Or maybe some really bad ones."

"Yeah," Genowrath said. "That sounds like fun."

The two picked themselves up. A few yards away, the illusion amulet sat tangled in the grass. Genowrath picked it up and put it on gratefully.

"What was that?" Dave said. He looked Genowrath up and down. "Not fond of the wings?"

"Wings are fine," said Genowrath. "Can't stand the hair. And the skin. Don't know how you stand it."

Dave shrugged. "Guess I'm used to it. You realize that if I ever show you off to my necromancer pals or something, you're totally going as an Archdemon, right?"

"Aww. . . "

"Suck it up, crybaby. That's what you get for leveling up without me."

They headed out of the park, towards the parking lot.

"Do you need your ritual stuff?" Genowrath said, pointing to the supplies.

"Nah. Why would I? I've got you, don't I?"

Genowrath almost gave the soul back then and there. He almost took it and shoved his straight into Dave's chest, into his heart, back where it belonged. They were clearly having a moment, and it would have been a grand gesture of reconciliation. Yes, Dave, I have slaughtered my way through the ranks of hell and returned to you your soul. Yes, Dave, you have me.

But he didn't, because he was a lot of things-- obsessive, controlling, manipulative, murderous-- but stupid wasn't one. If he gave it back to Dave now, then the idiot-- bless his heart-- would wind up losing it again somehow, and Genowrath wasn't sure if he could get his hands on it again. Or worse; Dave might not lose his soul to Hell at all, and that was unthinkable. So instead of making some grand gesture, he kept the soul in the pouch on his belt and followed Dave to the car.


Thanks to Silverai, Stasik, and Jet-poop for keeping me honest and helping me finish.