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by Archone

I double checked my preparations one last time, as I waited with baited breath. Soon, he’d be here. Everything had to be ready. I glanced in the mirror. Hair properly coiffed. Makeup unmarred. Clothes? Neat, and minimal. Mask…

“My lady?” It’s him!

I suppressed a shudder, as I slowly turned, taking a deep breath to control myself. “My lord Kaine.” I managed to avoid stuttering. He ducked his head, favoring me with a tiny smile, as he stepped into the room.

Oh, God! He’s in my room!

“I… I have something for you, milord,” I said, as my eyes veered away, unable to meet his gaze. “A… gift…”

“What is it?”

I gulped, and held up the Mask. “It’s enchanted. I made it just for you, K-Kaine…” No… I’ve got to keep control!

He didn’t seem to notice, merely took the Mask from my hand, stared into the inner surface. “I… thank you, Mishaela.” He leaned over, raised it to his face.

I tensed. Almost there…

The reaction was immediate-and intense. He gave a startled half scream as the Mask began to meld with his face, the living steel joining with his skin. The expression that showed on the animated metal was of utter agony.

Forgive me…

A low chuckle issued from behind me. I didn’t bother to turn, nor allow myself to jump in surprise. “It’s done, Darksol. You have us.”

The dark priest stepped forward, as Kain tried, in vain, to tear the Mask away. “What… what have you done to me?”

“A little something I showed Mishaela the making of,” Darksol chuckled. “Now, you are mine.”


“The secret lies in the Mask’s relationship with the bearer,” Darksol noted, in an almost clinical manner. “You see, it draws it’s strength from your own emotions. The harder you try to fight it, the stronger it’s control over you becomes.” He chuckled again. “The harder you try to remain good, the more evil you become.”

“I’ve done as you asked, Darksol,” I told him coldly. “We’re both yours now. As promised.”

“But of course, my dear,” he smiled at me, in a horrid, pseudo-benevolent fashion. “I’ll leave you two alone, then…”

“Please do,” I bit out.

After the Dark one had left, I rushed to Kain’s side. Placing my arms around him, I gazed down into his face, into the eyes that stared out at me, through the artifact I’d bestowed upon him. “Stop fighting it, Kain. It’ll only hurt more. Please…” For once, I couldn’t look away. His gaze held me. The pain in those eyes…

“Why?” he croaked.

“I… I wanted you…” I swallowed, trying to force the words out. “I wanted you…”

“Wanted… for what?” His eyes showed puzzlement, through the hurt and betrayal.

“For me.” I felt the tears, ignored them. “I… I wanted you to love me… like I loved…”

“I already did.”

For a moment, I knelt there with him, uncomprehending. Then, the full force of his words hit me. “What?” I gasped.

“Always loved you. Never… never told… too scared…” Kain’s face contorted in grief.

I cried in earnest, now. “Then, it was for nothing. I sold our souls to Darksol… for nothing…”

Kain touched my cheek with his hand. “I should have told you.”

“Or I...” Damn! Why couldn’t I have just said something? Why did I have to listen to HIM?

Kain’s arms began to coil around me, the strong hands touching me in a manner to arouse heat. Sobbing with desire and sorrow, I clutched him tightly, gasping, “take me!” I buried my face in his neck, begging him. “Punish me for what I’ve done! Make me pay! Punish me!”

As Darksol furthered his plots, and Protectora fell yet further to his whims, Kain punished me through the night. An unending symphony of pleasure and pain…


I faced Darksol squarely, reclining casually in my chair, within Demon Castle. My home. My sanctum. “Troops?” I asked, my brow rising quizzically.

He chuckled. “Creatures of nightmare, Mishaela. Creatures to swell the ranks of our armies, to slaughter our enemies. And you will create them for me.”

“Very well, my lord,” I responded simply. “I shall embark upon this venture at once.”

“See that you do.” He faded from sight.

I stared at the spot where he’d stood for a time. Then my face began to crumple, as the tears began to flow. As I tumbled from my chair, falling to the floor in grief, Kain came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me. I clutched his arms with my own, crying bitterly, as my love held me, comforted me.

“What will you do?” He finally asked.

I sniffled, sighed.

“What I must.”


I stood in the center of the Pentagram, a circle of candles lighting the gloom of my sanctum. I chanted an litany of dark verse, words to focus my will, shaping it to my purpose. Before me, a pile of armor lay upon the altar. Armor suited for a centaur, it’s cuirass decorated with a bestial demon face. As though the belly of the knight were able to open a giant maw and devour the foe.

I slowly poured my power into the armor, holding up a gleaming gem as I did so. A soul trap, it’s facets imprisoned a spirit, a dark imp, in this case. I touched the gem to the armor, fitting it into a socket fashioned in the interior of the cuirass.

The armor began to shift before me. As I completed the spell, the greaves began to reach for a secure footing. Then the entire disembodied suit rose up, standing upon the altar. The face began to contort into a leer, before the lips parted to speak. “Mistress,” a rumbling voice intoned.

“To your place, Durahan,” I commanded it. It hopped off the altar, and stood at rest next to a group of it’s brethren, already fashioned.

“Well done, Mishaela,” Kain smiled, resting on a couch to the side. “Your power grows with each passing day…”

“And don’t you forget it,” I favored him with a mocking smirk, sauntering over to where he lay. “I am Mistress of all I survey.”

“Indeed,” he murmured, as one arm snaked out, pulled me close. I fell on top of him, my lips captured by his own.

“Oh!” I jerked back. “You goosed me!” I swatted at the offending fingers. “How dare you?”

“And just what are you going to do about it? Hmm, witch?” he sneered.

I showed him.

“Ah! Ah aha haha aha! Stop- stop t-tickling me!” Like I’m going to be swayed by pleas for mercy. Finally, he lunged , throwing me off. Rising to a sitting position, he pinned me over his knee. “How long has it been since I gave you a good spanking?” he growled.

“Too long.” I smiled.

Smack! Smack! Smack! Ahhh…


Kaine winced.

I smirked at him, as I dropped my hands away from his shoulders, grabbed the soap, lathered up again. “Careful, my dearest,” I told him, “You’ll be tender a while yet.”

“I should have killed that boy when I had the chance,” he growled.


“That’s not you talking,” I stated, washing his back. “That’s the mask.”

“Yes.” And the only thing he still wore, even in the bathtub. Nary a trace of rust showed on the living steel.

I wore even less, of course.

“So what will you do next, my lord?” I hummed, lathering up for a go at his arms.

“There’s a village uprising, in the east of Runefaust. I’m supposed to go sack it. Kill all the men, enslave the women and children, that sort of thing.” He tried to make it sound diffident.

To an ear less accustomed to him, he might have succeeded.

“I’m sorry.” I lay myself across his back, rested my cheek on his damp shoulder.

“I know.” He grunted, an attempt at humor. “That’s what, the thousandth time you’ve apologized?”

“Thirteen hundred and ninety two,” I corrected. He stiffened.

“You’ve been counting?”

“One for every day we’ve been together.”

“Somewhat over… four years, then?” He cocked his head, trying to remember.

“More or less.” I sighed.

I washed him in silence, then he turned around, began to repay the favor. “You know what the most damning thing of all is?” I asked him suddenly, just as he began to reach the interesting parts.

“I don’t want to know…”

“I sometimes think it was worth it. When I’m with you, all of… that…” I waved my hands towards the rest of Demon Castle, the monsters and darkness within, all my bright and eager students perverted to the forces of Darkness. “It all seems worth it, to have you.”

He stopped scrubbing. After a moment, he replied. “Sometimes I feel the same way.”

“But not when we’re actually doing… those things.”


“My dearest…”

“Just shut up and let me finish washing off the blood from…?”

“Sacrifice. Elf.”

We finished the bath in silence.


We held each other tightly, basking in the warmth of the fire. I luxuriated in the soft fur of the rug, the blistering warmth from the fireplace. The strong arms of my Kain. He held me from behind, nuzzling my hair and and throat, as he clutched me possessively. I sighed at the thought. I’m his, I thought. His and his alone.

“I have to leave in the morning,” he murmured. “I have to meet with that brat, Max. Have to kill him, before he gets any further.”

“I don’t want you to go,” I moaned. I wriggled a little bit, cueing him to tighten his grasp.

“Don’t be scared. He can’t kill me.” The arms pulsed once, squeezing me lovingly.

“That’s not what I’m afraid of.” I shivered. “What if he finds a way to remove your Mask?”

He stilled. “Is that possible?” He asked, cautiously.

“Maybe. I don’t know. It depends on how strong he is. How pure.” I shivered. As we were once pure. “If he does, I’ll lose you.”

“No, you won’t.” He squeezed me again. “I love you.”

“The Mask makes you love me.” I shook my head.

“No. The Mask makes me evil. I make me love you.”

I didn’t say anything for a moment. “What… if he does? What would you feel?”

“I… suppose I’d be pretty mad. You did enslave me, after all.” His voice sounded pensive.

“To our everlasting regret, yes.” I closed my eyes, dropping my head in mute apology.

“But I’d still love you. It’d just… take me a while, to get over my rage.”

We didn’t say anything for a while. “Kain?” I ventured at last.


“Remember the Ritual of Nightmare Summoning?”

The Ritual conjures up the deepest, most terrible fears the summoner can know. For each caster, the stuff of fear is different, but for each, the terror is the same. Alone, against the horrors of the psyche, the caster must battle to overcome his fears, defeating them. To do so, is to master the subconscious mind, bringing the awesome powers it holds under the control of the conscious will.

My Ritual had placed me within a dark chamber. Not a tomb, though it could have been. No beasts filled the interior, no spiked traps, no images of horror.

Nothing at all.

I shivered at the memory. In the dark, by myself, for all time. Alone, beyond hope of salvation or companionship. I’d come face to face with the prospect of eternal solitude, screamed in horror, whimpered in terror. Eventually, attained peace. Banished the fear of loneliness. And won.

But while I could face loneliness, that still didn’t make it my favorite thing in the world. And while I no longer feared loneliness itself, the thought of being alone-without Kain-terrified me more than the fears of the Ritual had. I had more than I ever possessed. And more to lose.

“It won’t happen,” Kain promised me. “I’ll scream. I’ll vent. I’ll roar. I’ll run away. But I’ll come back. I promise. I still possess enough honor to keep such an oath. I’ll come back to you. No matter what.”

“Oh… Kain…” I began to cry.

We didn’t make love that night. He just held me, all night long, as I cried with love and terror.

Please come back to me, my love.


I stood outside the ancient city of Draygonia. The scent of battle wafted to my nostrils, the sickly sweet smell of gore, the stink of charred wood, cloth, and flesh. The Shining Force had carried the day. Kain was defeated.

Hooray for the Light.

I stepped closer to him, where he half knelt, half collapsed on the rocky terrain, his face streaming with tears.

His bare face…


His head jerked up at the sound of my voice. His eyes widened. The same eyes I’d seen through the Mask. Those haunted, beautiful eyes…

I could have spent the rest of my life, looking into those eyes.

“You!” His voice was hoarse with sobbing and rage. “You did this to me…”

“I’m sorry…” I began.

“Don’t! Don’t say anything, witch! You took my honor! You took my friends! My country! My king! Everything I loved is gone because of you!” He shifted to his feet, backing away slowly, shaking his head like a bull threatened by spearmen.

“Kaine, I…”

“Don’t!” He cried freely again, continuing to back away. “Don’t talk to me! Don’t touch me! Stay away, betrayer! Deceitful viper!”

“Kaine, don’t…!”

“Vile temptress!” He began to shimmer. “BITCH!” He finally cried, reduced to profanity in his abject misery.

He disappeared.

“NO!” I collapsed to my knees.

“Come back! Come back, Kaine!” I sobbed. “Don’t leave me alone!”

He’s gone…



I spy, with my eye… a naked butt. He finished wiping himself, then buried his waste like a good trooper.

“Nice butt.”

He whirled. Then he blushed.

I wonder if that centaur girl realizes how cute he really is?

“Don’t worry,” I reassured him, “I didn’t come here to fight.”

He swallowed nervously. For all of his experiences, he was still just a boy, when it came to women. “So then… why?” As if he didn’t guess. Or hope…

“You’re not far from my home, Max,” I told him, taking a step forward. He backed up, and bumped into a tree. “It looks like you’re coming to visit me. Did you come for the Sword?”

“Sword?” He repeated blankly. I smiled, took another step closer.

This little boy, I can handle…

“The Sword of Light,” I chanted pseudo reverently. “The blade that burns as it cuts. The source of power of the legendary Chaos Breaker. I have it, you know.” Of course I do. Darksol entrusted it to me, for safekeeping. He couldn’t bear it’s presence. And it would be his undoing… “Will you come to take it?” I took another step.

He nodded slowly, trying to exude an air of calm assurance. “Naturally.” Failing utterly.

“And will you take anything… else, from me?” I took another step, and he was mine.

His mouth was mine to plunder, as my hands felt the young flesh burning beneath his clothes. Soon, I thought. Just a moment longer, and I’ll have you in a Mask. I thrilled with incipient triumph.

Only this Mask was different. I could remove it easily, once applied. And I will, too. Just as soon as Kaine agrees to return to me. Then I’ll release my hostage, give the sword, and let Max and Darksol hack each other to bits. Who cares about any of that. Kaine will be mine again, that’s all that matters…

Max’ hands started to roam. He knew what he wanted. He knew…!?

He knew...

“Now I see how Kaine was enslaved,” he growled, holding the Mask aloft. He clutched my arm in a vice grip.

I didn’t even bother trying to break free. I don’t know how he did it, but this boy was strong. Stronger than any mortal human had any right to be. I instead fought back with words. “Don’t remind me of how you took him away from me, Max. I’m still quite upset about it.” My eyes blazed fury. “You took my lover away. You owe me another.”

He didn’t seem to see it that way. “You mean STUD, not lover,” he sneered. “A witch like you is INCAPABLE of love.”

Kaine once told me about the coup de Jarnac. A blow that shouldn’t have landed, but not only did, but ended the duel immediately, the hapless recipient dead or crippled. Now I knew what that must have felt like, for the overconfident warriors, brought down by the underdogs.

You would not simply mock my pain, little boy. You would DENY it…

His knees buckled from my instinctive strike. I knocked him down with a slap to the face, putting my hips into the blow for extra oomph. Then I started kicking him, right in those little blue balls, giving him a dose of what he’d given me.

“Come to Demon Castle,” I whispered savagely into his ear, while he lay in a pool of his own vomit, whimpering softly. “Come and die, you little BASTARD. I’ll see you suffer a thousand agonies for what you took from me.”

I was almost a mile away before I remembered my magic. I stumbled to a halt, and teleported back to my sanctum.

My students had a bath prepared for me. And chocolates. They’d suspected what would happen, made preparations to soothe me.

Damn them. Why did they have to be so smart?

And why did I have to use them for evil?

Why me?


“Let me handle this.”

I sat on my throne impassively, watching him dismiss his Lieutenant. My eyes were dry. I didn’t think I had any tears left to shed. Not even for my students. The brightest in all of Rune, the best, the greatest potential. Wasted, bested by his own mages.

He stepped forward, stopping just outside of lunging distance. I glanced at the Shining Force, then back at him.

Could I kill him, before they killed me?

He took a deep breath, preparing to issue his challenge.

“I apologize.”


This is a challenge?

“My remark at our last meeting was uncalled for. I shouldn’t have said it.” Even in that armor, he still looked like a boy. A big, muscular, innocent kid…

“You said… THAT, and now you apologize.” I almost whispered the words, the hate and rage and pain beginning to swirl within me, a maelstrom of Darkness. “And will you apologize for killing my apprentices? For killing my pets? For taking KAINE away? For taking EVERYTHING that mattered to ME?” And the maelstrom erupted.

He landed in a smoking heap, several feet away. He twitched, trying to regain his senses.

“YOU TOOK EVERYTHING FROM ME!” I was screaming now, my voice cracked with rage. “NOW YOU WANT MY SWORD?! I’LL KILL YOU! I’LL MAKE YOU PAY!”

My students. I do have tears left, to shed for you…

The wall of flames encircled us, keeping THEM from interfering. I cast forth acid, but he avoided it. He stumbled over a table, knocking a metal rod to the ground.

I couldn’t hold back my gasp. He knew the rod immediately, for what it was. He grasped the hilt, and the blade shot forth, the gleaming length of pure light. No…

I roared in fury, prepared a spell to wipe this whelp from existence. He pointed the blade at me, squeezed the trigger…

I cast myself aside, landing heavily on the floor, as the wall exploded. I landed wrong, knocking the wind out of me. Max, for his part, stood there, half shocked at the force of his own attack.

I leaned against the wall for support as I stood up. “Though you can take… my sword…” I reached desperately for words to hurl, something to hurt him with, “you will never… stop Darksol… Dark Dragon will be free…” I paused.

When he destroyed the Mask, and freed Kaine from my love, he broke my heart.

When he denied my pain, proclaimed me as cold as my automatons, he broke it again.

Third time’s the charm…

And it hurts. Oh yes. Oh, it hurts so much…

I stared into those eyes. The eyes of a boy, a young male horrified by his own actions.

He probably felt worse about my death than I did.

“That’s the third time,” I told him, just to make sure he knew, “you’ve broken my heart.”

Fade to black.


Fade to grey.

The grey of the afterlife. A dimly lit, sparsely populated… tavern?

Tastefully underdecorated, a quiet little place to drink and reflect. Not very many customers at this time, though. Just the bartender, a bland, nondescript, forgettable looking man, who raised His eyebrows to bade my approach, as He pulled out a mug.

I stepped up to the bar. What else could I do?

“This usually helps,” He told me, handing me the mug. It held an amber fluid, unlike anything I’d ever seen in a cup before.

I sniffed it suspiciously, automatically checking for poison.

I’m used to running with a very rough crowd…

“Why bother?” He asked. “You’re already dead.”

“Yeah.” I sniffed again, just from the aftermath of intense emotion. I took it in one swallow.


“Thank you,” I told Him sincerely, when I’d gotten my breath back. “Whatever this is, it’s just what I needed right now.” I glanced around, as the bartender refilled the mug with more of the delicious stuff. “Is this heaven? Hell?”

A shrug of the shoulders. “Both of those places are where you came from.”

“What?” I blinked.

“Do you really think there could be a place better than Kaine’s arms? That’s as good as it gets. Heaven’s a state of mind, not a place in the clouds.”

“How did you…”

“Know about Kaine?” Another shrug. “I’m the bartender. I’m supposed to see it all, know it all. That and serve drinks.”

I glanced down at the mug. Then I took another sip, just to clear my head. “So what is this place?”

“Your new residence,” came the dry answer. “Your room is down the hall. Last door on the left. Uniform’s on the bed.”


“That’s right, kid.” My mug was refilled, as a wan smile confronted me. “You’re my new waitress.”

I stared uncomprehendingly for a moment.

Then I drained my mug, and went to go get changed.

This is better than I’d feared.

I wonder how much I’ll make in tips?


I brought back my tray, a few scattered dishes strewn across. “Check for table five, Boss.” I plunked the tray down in the slot, where it was pulled back out of sight by unseen hands. He handed me the bill slip, and I plucked it up in two fingers, sashaying back to deliver the receipt.

I couldn’t help but quirk a smile at the concept. No one ever paid. The bill was merely a formality, no cash carried in these parts. Makes for quite a dearth in tips.

Of course, that doesn’t stop everyone and his brother from copping a feel. This uniform doesn’t leave much to the imagination…

No more customers. I went back to the bar.

The Boss had a mug waiting for me. I took a deep swallow, sighed gustily. “So what’s this all about?” I asked.

“What, the bar?”

“Yeah. What’s it for?”

“This is just a place for people to rest and recuperate, before going back down.” He began mopping at a spot on the bar.

“Back down? You mean, being born again?”

“Was there something better you had in mind?”

“Well… yeah…”

“Heaven? Hell?” He snorted. “Simplistic concepts. Be a good little kid, tithe to the Church, you go to eternal paradise. Otherwise, you get to burn for eternity. Stupid.”

“What’s wrong with paradise?” I demanded. “After all the suffering people go through down there, don’t they deserve a little happiness?”

“Happiness is one thing,” He retorted mildly, “pleasure another. You remember the last time you had a gut wrenching orgasm? The kind that made you forget your name?”


“Some faiths claim that Heaven includes orgasms that last a thousand years.”

My lips parted in a sensuous grin. “Sounds fun.”

“Oh? Try to imagine yourself orgasming for a thousand years. Heck, imagine orgasming for a thousand MINUTES.”

I thought about it, for a while. As lusty a witch as I am, even I had to concede the point. “Ok, so there’s limits to how much pleasure a body can take. But there are different sorts of pleasure. You could alternate with a good meal, or a sunset…”

“Instant gratification? Can you imagine how bored you’d get, if you had nothing to work for?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I could spend centuries in a hot tub filled with…” Kaine…

“And after that? Remember, Heaven is supposed to be for ETERNITY. Can you handle a million years of bliss?”


“Didn’t think so.” He gave me a wry smile. Jerk.

“So we just go back to the world, then?” I asked.

“You got anything better to do?”

I chewed on my lip, thinking hard. Then I plucked from a dish on the bar, munched on something better tasting. “What about punishment for our sins?” I asked.

“Case by case basis.” Shrug. “Choices have consequences. Action, reaction, equal and opposite.”

“In this life or the next?” I quirked an eyebrow.

“Good things come to those who wait.” He handed me back my order pad. “Customer at table 3. Hop to it…”


Sometimes I talk to the customers.

We’ve all got our own problems. Talking about them helps. A lot of the customers have a hard time accepting their deaths. The fact that it happened, the way that it happened, the time that it happened, etc.

Knowing that they could head back seemed to reassure them, a little. “Next time,” the general saying went, “next time, I’ll get it right.”

Sometimes I know the customers.

“You deserved a better teacher,” I told him, as I served my former apprentice his food and drink.

“There weren’t any better,” he replied automatically.

“I led you into Darkness.” I shook my head. “I got you killed.”

“It was a wild ride while it lasted,” he shrugged diffidently. “We always could have refused.”

“Why didn’t you?” I handed him a salt shaker, and he began sprinkling his food liberally.

“It was our choice.” He shrugged, and fell to eating.


“Sometimes we don’t get to make a choice,” I pointed out.

Another slow period. No customers, just me and the Boss, sipping drinks and chatting about anything that came to mind.

“Wanna bet?” His eyebrow quirked.

“What if a thief has to choose between stealing and starving?” I demanded.

“Just because the choices are bad versus worse, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” Another wan smile. “He simply CHOOSES not to starve.”

“What about a rape victim?” I tried another tack. “They don’t have much of a choice, when a couple dozen large males hold them down.” Kaine told me about his troops doing that, sometimes. I always got aroused when he described them to me.

In detail.

At my request.

I’m a witch. And witch rhymes with bitch, for a very good reason…

“Consequences arising from past actions.”

I blinked. “What past actions justify a rape?” I demanded hotly. The nerve!

“No event happens in a vacuum; they’re all connected, flowing from one to the next. Choices cascade, like a series of forking branches, and each choice determines the next set of choices.” He poured himself a drink. “Even if we don’t always know what the consequences of our choices may be, we still make a choice. And every choice, no matter how inconsequential, may have consequences reaching far beyond that previously imagined. Not necessarily a punishment, mind you. But… consequences…”

He raised the glass to eye level, stared at me through it’s depths. “The woman finds herself in her position through choosing to walk a dangerous path, not maintaining awareness of her surroundings, or trusting a charming stranger. She chose not to carry a weapon, to train to protect herself, or trained under an incompetent.” He sipped his drink, then grimaced. “And I never claimed it was justified. The rapist made a choice, too.”

“So where does the blame lie? With her choice or his?”

“Both.” He shrugged. “Mostly his, though. His crime, his time. Her sin’s one of negligence, or foolishness. The consequences are getting raped. He’s the one who chose to rape someone, chose her specifically, refused to listen to her pleas. His consequences… his PUNISHMENTS… are a little more profound.” Another wan smile.

He does a lot of wan smiles. Like He’s always half amused, half saddened by what he sees.

“I am, yes.” Once again, He seems to read my thoughts. “Life is a tragic comedy.”

“So what am I?”

“A cartoon character.” He reached out, tweaked my nose.


“So what could I have done, with Kaine?”

“Not Masked him.”

“After that.” My ire rose a little.

“You could have devoted yourself to trying to find a way to remove the Mask,” he suggested, gently.

I started to retort hotly. Then, I paused. “I could have…” I pondered. “I figured out how to make a Mask that was removable. I could have figured out how to modify an existing Mask.” I sighed. “Shows how good I am at making choices, huh?”

“You live, you learn.” The smile turned comforting.

“Then you die. Big help then.”

“Hence the joke.”

I sighed, pushed away from the bar. “You’re a real jerk, you know that, Boss?”

“I’ve been called worse than that, kid.”

“They were right!” I shot back, as I went to tend to a waiting customer.


“Customer, table 6.” He pointed towards the new guy. Big guy, muscular. Long white blonde hair. His back was to me, but he seemed… familiar…

I slowly walked up to him, trying to place the brooding figure. “What do you want to drink?” I demanded, in the tart, weary tone of voice that had become my usual manner of late.

He raised his head to look at me.

I gasped.

So did he.

Kaine swallowed, my gaze searing his. “Wha…”

He swallowed again, took a deep breath.

He parted his lips, to speak…

“What do you have on tap?”

Of all the questions he could have asked, he asked something so… inconsequential. Couldn’t bring himself to speak of the… the important things…

Just like before I Masked him…

“I’ll get you the house specialty.” I turned away, the tears beginning to shimmer. I blinked, and they were gone.

“He gets the room next to yours,” the Boss told me, handing me the mug. “He’s on the payroll now, too.”

I arched a brow. “Since when do we get paid, around here? Do I have credit accrued?” I demanded.

“In coin other than gold, yes.” He smiled wanly.

I brought the drink back to Kaine. “Hungry?” I asked.

He glanced at the mug, considering. “Do we still get hungry, here?” he queried.

“No. But old habits die hard. The food’s pretty good, too.” I smiled nervously.

“Maybe later.” He tried to smile. Failed.

“The Boss says…” I faltered. “He says, you’re on the payroll now, too.”

“Doing what?” He cringed slightly, at the prospects of more distasteful labor. Considering the accepted dogma’s descriptions of the fate awaiting him, I didn’t blame him.

“I don’t know. But I can show you to your room, when you’re ready.”

“Yes.” He drained his mug, then shivered at the taste. “Good stuff. What is it?”

I opened my mouth, then shut it. “I’m really not sure. It makes the pain go away, though.”

“Uh… yeah…” He trailed off. “Um, where’s my room?”

“Follow me.” I turned, sashayed down the tap room to the hall.

These heels make it hard not to sashay. They also make stumbling a constant possibility.

“Nice outfit,” Kaine commented. I blushed.

“Comes with the job,” I defended myself, feebly.

“No, I like it. Really,” he smiled to show he meant it. Then the smile faded again. We moved on.

“This is it.” I opened the door. He peered inside.

“Is your room this big?” he asked.

“A little smaller.” I shrugged. “Your bed’s bigger, too.” I sighed. I’ll share that bed with you, I wanted to say…

Can’t say it. Never could.

I’m such a coward.

“So…” he said, shifting his feet uncomfortably.

“So…” I replied, equally intelligently.

“Guess I’ll… take a nap, or something,” he shrugged. He carefully did not look at me.

“Sounds good.” I turned, walked away.

Away from the difficult choices.

Away from Kaine.


I turned around, slammed into his body with my own, drove him back into the room. “HOW COULD YOU!?” I screamed into his face.

“I’m sorry…” he began, before my lips crushed his, cutting off any pleas for forgiveness. Or mercy.

…I’ve never been dominant in bed, before. I’d always let Kaine have his way with me, enjoyed or tolerated whatever he tried. Never tried taking the initiative.

It’s pretty nice.


“You’ll never leave me again,” I told him. Didn’t ask, didn’t beg. Told him, with no room for discussion.

“Never.” He held me tightly, his eyes brimming with tears of joy and relief.

“You’re mine. Now and forever.”

“Always.” He sighed happily, gave me a pulse with his strong arms.

“I love you,” I told him, laying my head down on his chest.


“Ditto?” I jerked my head back up, glaring at him indignantly.

“Um, my Love is an endless river?” he tried again, innocently.

I sniggered, then leaned down again. And bit his nipple. He winced. “That’ll teach you,” I told him.

We lay there, together, holding each other. “I have to go,” I told him. “My shift starts soon.”

“What about me?”

“Ask the Boss.”

We dressed in silence, me pulling on the minimalist costume that the Boss, in His infinite perverse humor, had picked out for me, Kaine in the costume that had been folded neatly on the bed. Just before we threw it off with the covers. I finished dressing, then struck a pose. He whistled appreciatively, then finished donning his own garb.

“Nice apron,” I told him. We went to see the Boss.

He was behind the bar, just like always, wiping at a little smudge. “Good to know you, kid,” He greeted Kaine. “Have a drink.”

Kaine took the mug absently, stared at Him. “So why are we here?” he asked. “Why not Hell?”

“Hell’s back where you came from, kid.” Wan smile. “But then, you already knew that, didn’t you?”

“…Yes…” Kaine dropped his gaze, conceding the point.

“Why ARE we here, Boss?” I suddenly asked. “Why not let us move on, like the customers?”

He sighed, took the mug from Kaine’s hand, downed it. “Made a deal with another employee. You’re here at his request.”

“Request?” Kaine blinked.

“He said he wouldn’t give me any more backtalk, if I brought you two together again. Nice kid, that Max.” Wan smile.



Max was the leader of the Shining Force. The King he served was dead. His heir, one of Max’ subordinates. A complicated chain of command, there. Who…?

I knew.


“You’re… Him?” Kaine asked, figuring it out at about the same time.

“Some places.” Wan smile. “Some places I’m a Her. Depends on My mood.”

My mind raced. What to ask…?

“Why?” was all I could come up with.

“Why do I let bad things happen to good people, you mean?” He quirked His brow.

“That’ll do.” My voice was a croak.

“Part and parcel of free will.” Wan smile. “Freedom means the freedom to fail. I don’t LET anything happen. You people choose to do it all. I just watch.”

“And judge?” Kaine demanded.

“And judge.” He nodded. “Just remember. Your successes were your own fault, too.” He smirked. “I don’t fix sports, either. Where’s the fun in that?”

“So what do you do? You created all this!” I demanded. “Why not take an active hand?”

“I created… all this…” He waved his hand down at the floor, in the direction wherein the world presumably lay, “for you people. It’s your toy, to do with as you desire.”

“That’s it? No ultimate goal? No purpose?” Kaine demanded. “Where does Dark Dragon fit into all this? He interferes. Why not you?”

He shook His head, smiling wanly. “It’s not about Good vs. Evil, the way you think. Good is advancement, development, progress. Evil is regression, degredation, devolvement. The purpose, as you refer to it, is a question of, “How far are you willing to go?”” He refilled his mug, sighed. “And growing always hurts.”

He glanced down at the amber fluid, stared into the depths. “Dark Dragon will lose, in the end. Evil always must. The mindset and choices made are self destructive. If Max fails, someone else will stop him. He CAN’T win, because he’s a born loser.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “Dark Dragon… nothing but a born failure?”

He laughed right along with me. “You ever see a happy, well adjusted person who wanted to rule the world? He can’t create. He can’t produce. He can only destroy. He thinks that’s true power, because it’s all he has. He sneers at love, because he can’t have it. Friendship, joy, happiness, he disdains them like a little boy dismisses a toy he can’t have. “Well, who wants it ANYWAY?”” He turned his nose up, just like a spoiled brat. “He might do a lot of damage, but he won’t rule forever. He’ll fall, your world will be restored, and some other crisis will have to be dealt with.” He shrugged. “Makes for an entertaining story.” Wan smile…

“So why are we here, then?” Kaine asked. “Why can’t we be born again, together?”

“Your, um… accrued savings, don’t match up. You wouldn’t be able to see each other, with what you’ve got.” He drained his mug. “So you’re staying here, with me. I’ll defer you’re judgement, until you’re in sufficient balance for rebirth.” He slammed his mug down. “Be grateful. I don’t usually honor requests. Better for you people to help yourselves.”

“So I’m…” began Kaine.

“My new short order cook.” He grinned. And pointed towards the kitchen.

Kaine blinked, glanced at me. “Could be worse,” he managed.

“Yes,” I told him. “You could be stuck in my shoes.” I flicked my wrist, pivoted. “Customer waiting. Get in there, I’ll be right back with his order.”

“What… what do I cook?” Kaine asked, nervously. He glanced at the kitchen.

“Ask the customer,” the Boss told him.

“It’s their choice.”

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