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Scapegoat - 7. The Theocracy

It’s difficult not being in control of your own body, your own actions. That’s what Lionel Kaufman would have said were anyone to ask - and no one was asking. It was not a walk in the fucking park.

As he felt one of the guards twist his arm behind his back - it felt as if the son of a bitch was trying to snap the damned thing off - he wished the darkness would engulf him once more. If this is the last time, let it be it, he thought. But the spirits who inhabited his body, used it rent-and-utility free, had more control over it than he did. Right now he was stuck. Stuck in a situation he didn’t want to be in. A voice from long ago, a voice best left forgotten told him to pull his bootstraps up. Grow up! Become a man!

But how could he become a man when he felt like such a terrified little boy right now? When the world was spinning faster than he could keep up? When he kept slipping in and out of time? When his sense of reality was so porous it felt like he was falling through a strainer?

"Baraq!" he screamed with all the voice he had in him. Even though it tore his throat to bloody shreds to do so, he did it again. "Baraq!"

Where was the big guy? From the moment they'd met, the newly awakened fallen angel had been more like a flea ridden dog Lionel couldn't shake off. It hadn't been an easy journey for the fledgling death magician, but over the past week he'd grown to trust Baraq. He's saved my ass multiple times. He's my friend.

Was that what you called someone you did everything you could to push away?

Rough hands shoved him forward. He fell to his knees, back into the real world. A world of ash and ruin. "Get up!" a voice barked. The voice sounded muffled by a mask or a helmet. Someone kept shining a bright fucking light in his face. He stumbled over bits of the house (did I do that?) and dead bodies (I did that) into the open night air.

There was the hulking wreckage of the helicopter the man with the diamond eyes (there was only one person he knew capable of doing such a thing within his vicinity) had torn down, and the human lives he'd extinguished with a single push of his will. And in front of him was a fucking Theocracy hovercraft twice the size of a helicopter. He recognized it by the torch sign imprinted in the side of the chopper.

His throat went dry. His legs gave out, numbed with terror. Like a dog gone frantic with madness, he bit at the gloved hand closest to his mouth. Hard enough to make his gums bleed. It was enough to get the hand off him. "Get the fuck off me!" he barked. This got him a nip from a cattle prod device that flipped him on his back, convulsing with pain. From there he was dragged the rest of the way through the dirt.

At the ramp he caught his first view of other criminals: murderers, rapists, thieves, and unregistered magicians like himself. He'd heard many rumors circulating that many unregistered magicians went missing at the hands of the Theocracy and were never seen or heard from again. He was about to discover what the validity of that rumor was.

He was strapped roughly into a crash couch at the back of the aircraft, his hands cuffed to a metal bar. There would be no busting out of this with a lockpick. Shit, shit, shit. He could feel the eyes of the other future prisoners watching him. He wished they would look the fuck away.

. Lionel searched for Baraq. A cluster of guards - four of them he counted, one for each limb - were maneuvering him up the ramp. Why wasn't he moving? Why wasn't he fighting? Weren't the Rephaim supposed to be immortal? Even the ones who'd given up their divinity? Hey, he wanted to say. He has nothing to do with this! But he could only watch helplessly as they strapped the fallen angel into his restraints.

"Looks like we caught ourselves a Rephaim, newly awakened," said one of the guards to the others. "He's going to have one hell of a time when he does again."

This is fucked. This is all so fucked.

The Theocracy wonks left the cargo hold of the hovercraft. The ramp folded back on itself with a mechanical humming sound.

This is happening. This is really happening.

He watched Baraq's unconscious from. He willed him to get up with his thoughts: I'm sorry for what an asshole I've been to you before. I have really bad trust issues. But if you wake up and help me figure out how to get out of this mess I've put us in, I promise to be nicer…

It was childish he knew, but it was the best he had under the circumstances. It must have worked because Baraq stirred with a groan that made Lionel think of trees being ripped from the earth, raising his head. Waves of relief swept through Lionel.

"Baraq, are you hurt? I need you to tell me you're okay."

Baraq blinked, accessessing himself. "I'm fine. My muscles are stiff, it is impossible to move with these restraints, but it will take a lot more than that to take me down." He smiled in a way that said he was trying to be encouraging. Lionel was simply glad to know he was awake. Alive.

Baraq's eyes tracked the interior of the hovercraft. "Where are they taking us? What is this craft?"

"The Black Diamond," said a young black man around Lionel's age. He wore a sour look on his tattooed face. "A place you don't want to go. Because once you go, you never leave."

"What is The Black Diamond?" Baraq asked.

The young man shrugged; he seemed indifferent to the situation in which he found himself in. Had he resigned himself to his fate? “I’ve only heard rumors and none of those rumors have come from people who’ve actually been there. It’s supposed to be part prison, part research center, part asylum. I’ve heard they like to experiment on unregistered magicians. I haven’t heard how…”

“Baraq, can you break out of your restraints?” Lionel whispered.

The man who had spoken of The Black Diamond laughed. “He isn’t breaking free of anything. Not on this ship. Everything on it as been designed to keep us onboard until we reach our destination. They even have a stasis field around the craft that keeps us from using gnosis. You’ll feel it kick into high gear in any of about to take off.”

Lionel wanted to tell the man to shut up. He couldn't think with him chattering constantly. He needed to think of a plan to get them out of this. Was there a way out of this?

There was no time to think about it. Lionel felt rather than saw the stasis field flicker into place around the hovercraft. He felt it in his gut. It felt as if a laughing, cruel giant were sitting on it. Before he knew it he was vomiting whatever remained in his stomach from last night. He wasn't the only one who'd yacked. The inside of the cargo hold now smelled of vomit and stomach acid.

“I don’t feel so good,” Baraq said in a green voice. He craned his head around, searching what he could see of the cargo hold. Someone had strapped his head down, restraining it against the headrest. “Kaufman, where are you? I can’t move with these restraints on…”

“I’m here. I’m fine.” As fine as I can be, he almost added. “I’m more worried about you. You weren’t speaking or moving. I thought something bad happened to you.”

“They hit me with something. I felt all my muscles lock up. I couldn’t move. The technology has improved greatly in the time I’ve been sleeping. I can’t get in touch with my gnosis either. Kaufman, I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this helpless.”

Tell me about it, Lionel thought.



"There's nothing you can do about it right now. These guys don't fuck around."

"Hey, can you guys get a room or something?" the black guy said in a slurred voice.

"Can you shut the fuck up or something?" Lionel snapped back. Back to Baraq: "You shouldn't be here with me. This is my mess to fix. This is exactly why I didn't want you to come with me. I'm nothing but trouble."

Lionel believed that if he could have, Baraq would have shaken his head refutedly; the motion was in the gentle tone of his voice. "You keep talking about yourself as if you are a bad person. You may have done some bad things, but you are not a bad person. Believe me, I know a bad person when I see one."

You don't know. You don't fucking know. Lionel could try telling him, but what was the point? He would find out soon enough.

No one spoke for the rest of the journey. The thick smog of fear inside the cargo hold didn't leave much room for conversation. Lionel didn't know how long this silence stretched on for. There was no way in sight with which to tell time. Not a clock to tell the minute and hour or a window - a view of outside - to tell what the time of day was.

Fear has a way of weighing everything down. Everything that would be floating in the air gets nailed to the bottom: the mind loses all sense of time in a sloppy attempt to find a semblance of meaning in those final moments. Meaning? Kaufman thought. What meaning does my hold? All I've ever done is con my way through life.

Somewhere out of sight there came a hydraulic hiss, like air skimming the top of a watery surface followed by the heavy tread of footsteps. The guards are coming, he thought. A horrible idea began to form in his mind; it would only add to the bruises he already had, but it was better than hanging around waiting for his fate to come crashing down over his head.

As two guards stepped into the radius of his vision, Lionel slumped forward in his restraints. This was a more difficult task than one might think: the cold steel restraints bit into his flesh hard enough to make him grit his teeth in pain. I'm going to have strong regrets about this later, he thought.

He yakked by choking himself with his own tongue, felt his belly groan reluctantly. I have nothing left for you to throw up, it said. I'm empty. Though he could not see him, he could sense Baraq's attention focused on him, listening for him."Kaufman?" he heard the Rephaim mumble when he made a fresh mess on the floor.

"Ahhh shit," one of the guards muttered. "I'm not going to be able to to eat for the rest of the day."

Sorry to rain on your parade. Lionel slumped fully against the restraints, feeling the coldness of the steel against the thinning fabric of his T-shirt. The air smelled of indigestion, sterilization and chrome. Not a pleasant combination. He closed his eyes, blocking out Baraq's shouts. He could hear the fallen angel squirming to break free of his restraints, huffing angrily like a fucking bull.

It's going to take more than brute strength and gnosis to get us out of this one, Lionel thought even as a sly all too familiar voice told him there was no getting out of it. Maybe there wasn't. It didn't stop him from wanting to try.

He let the muscles in his face relax, let his body go flat. He used every bit of his "theatrical talents" (as Damien Blair had called them) to pretend that he'd fainted.

"Hey!" he heard one of the guards bark. "What do you think you're doing?"

Don't move, don't blink, don't even twitch, the death magician warned himself. Just keep doing what you're doing. Where are you when I need you man with the diamond eyes? If you can bring a helicopter down from the air, then you should have no problem with this.

"Kaufman!" Baraq boomed. "Kaufman, talk to me!";

I can't talk right now because I'm giving the performance of my career. He could hear the guards getting riled up. There was the electric sizzle of a cattle prod making contact with a solid body, followed by a weak grunt. Not a grunt of his own, but Baraq's. One of the guards must have hit him with the cattle prod again. The temptation to grit his teeth in anger - anger for the fallen angel, not for himself - made his jaw itch. With his arms in restraints he had no way to scratch it.

What about you Leonidas, you trigger happy fuck! You're always up for taking a life. Annabelle? Someone? Anyone! Somebody throw me a fucking bone here!

Silence. Nothing but silky blackness behind the flesh of his eyelids. Was he surprised? No. In his experience, people whether corporeal or not, had a way of sticking around when they needed something (like glue; there was no shooing them away), until the moment you need something. Then they disappear, nowhere to be found.

Lionel was truly on his own. What he did next was all up to him. So were the consequences.

"Hey! Hey!" A gloved finger tapped impatiently at his forehead hard enough to make the back of his skull bounce off the headrest.

"He must have fainted," the second guard said in a bored tone. "Happens all the time; some people can’t take the negation field sliding into place. The poor bastard's barfed all over himself. You get used to the smell after a while…to the point you don't notice it anymore."

"Hey, isn't that Kaufman? Hasn't the Theocracy been hunting him for a while."

"Several years. At least two or three years."

"He must be pretty smart to have stayed clear of our radar after all this time."

This comment earned a cynical laugh from the wiser of the two guards. "He doesn't look so smart now, does he? Let's get him off his feet and back into the restraints. He can rot in his own stink for all I care."

A moment later, Lionel felt the restraints loosen then give way, felt his body begin to tip forward. For a second the death magician was overwhelmed with the terrible sensation of plunging through open air. What if the guards decided not to catch him? What if they decided to let him hit the metal floor just because they could?

That would hurt.

Fortunately for Kaufman, this isn't what happened. The guards caught him, hoisting him into the air. He chose this moment to lash out with a kick. The guard holding his feet fell back against the restraints, arms flailing. The guard behind him also stumbled, letting out a curse of surprise. Lionel landed cat-like on his feet. He grabbed the fallen cattle prod and stung the closest guard with it. Take that you bastard!

It was a good effort, but a short lived one. Before he knew it was surrounded by Theocracy wonks with cattle prods. Shocking pain came from every direction, assaulting his body. He shook and convulsed, falling to the floor.

It was stupid, trying to resist. Pointless even. If he'd stayed in his crash couch like a good little boy, he would have saved himself a lot of pain. But he wasn't a good boy. He'd never been a

good boy. He'd always known this for as long as he could remember, a fact he'd stored in his bones since he was a child. It was in his nature to resist his betters - to resist those who would rather keep him down in the muck.

Leonidas laughed in the growing darkness. How is that working out for you so far?

The Void engulfed Kaufman before he could answer.



Baraq woke up in a cold white room. His dreams had been full of terrible experiences - experiences he would much rather forget: Being surrounded by dark-clad figures with weapons and wands that sent jolts of pain through your body until you were paralyzed or unconscious. The destruction of Seymour's house (now there truly was nothing left of it), the thing that had happened to Kaufman at Damien Blair's house. It still filled his blood with boiling fury to think about that.

Terror lanced through the fallen angel with black barbed wire. He wasn't used to being restrained or not being able to break out of restraints. He wasn't used to feeling helpless like this - even after he'd given up his divinity. He hated the way it felt as if his skin was crawling, as if his bones might pop out from under his very flesh. Not even with Seymour's health ailing had he felt this discomforted. Is this how Kaufman felt the first time he saw me? Baraq wondered. Did he want to crawl out of his skin?

With this thought came the realization that Kaufman was nowhere in sight. The room was bare and sterile, with only a sturdy looking table and a chair in the center of it. Everything was monotone, making it impossible to judge the true size of the room. The only break in the sterile whiteness was a small box-like device, with a camera lens; beneath the lens was a small red light like an eye. He got the distinct sense the camera was watching him. A question remained: who was doing the watching.

Kaufman, where are you? Where are they keeping you? What are they doing to you?

Finding Kaufman and getting out of this place was his first true priority. But first he had to get out of these restraints, then out of this room.

He reached into himself for gnosis only to feel a gag-inducing ripple of nausea to shook through his abdomen. What was it the guards on the hovercraft had called it? A negation field. In the time he’d been asleep, the mortals had advanced technology to the degree that it could resist the influence of gnosis. How long would it be before they breached the gates of the heavens to make demands of their maker? Do you realize the infection you have created, my dear creator? Do you realize that you are the puppeteer of your own doom?

He flexed his muscles against the restraints, gritting his teeth. In the past he’d broken through brick walls, had been able to tear his way through steel, but now he was as weak as a human.

Something in the room hissed like air escaping from a duct. Part of the wall moved, sinking into the floor to form a doorway.

A tall man with shoulder-length white hair stepped through the door. He wore a long white coat and slacks; he carried a clipboard in the crook of his arm. At first glance he appeared human, but as he approached the table it slowly became obvious to Baraq that he wasn’t. He was abnormally tall, close to Baraq's height. His pale skin glowed in the whiteness of the room so that it seemed he stood in the Entirety itself. He looked up at Baraq with silver eyes. The height and sharpness of his cheekbones was another dead give away that he wasn’t human.

He’s a Seraphim: dutiful upholders of the law. Brother, cousin, adversary. The sight of seeing one of his cousins in such a hostile place made Baraq’s muscles go slack with numb shock. It was stranger that this particular Seraphim had traded his armor and sword for a white lab coat. Had the humans found a way to domesticate, to enslave him to their cause?

The Seraphim pulled back the chair and sat down at the table in a single, graceful movement. "My name is Charoum," the Seraphim said in a voice that was both deep and sonorous. "I serve the Theocracy and the Good Mother, Wisdom."

"When did the Mother, Wisdom become such a focus of worship?" Baraq asked. "With the discovery of the Nag Hammadi and the death of the Catholic Church. Out of this came The Gospel of Thomas and The Void, an infinite space of dimensions and planes that the human race has only just started to explore. This all culminated with the realization that your creator, Ialdabaoth is not who He claims to be. For millennia they worshiped him as a savior of light and a bringer of peace. We all did. Now we find ourselves on a different course. The course of enlightenment."

"But then you are still owned by something: be it a deity or an idea. You have no independence. No self agency."

Charoum smirked. His eyes flashed like silver coins. "This is coming from Baraq, the soul who was once a Seraphim of the highest ranks, and then was denounced by his master when he betrayed him, yes? But then not even the halls and blood seas of Gehenna was enough to satisfy you, was it? So you turned your back on it as well. Now what are you other than a living ghost?"

Baraq felt his throat cave in. He was not used to being called out like this. All he could think of to say in a weak voice was, "Where's Kaufman?"

Charoum cupped a perfectly manicured hand around his ear. "Where is who?"

"I was dragged in here with a young death magician by the name of Lionel Kaufman. Where is he?"

"Ah yes, the death magician. He is very much alive. In fact he is in the room next to you. Just on the other side of that wall right there."

Baraq fought against his restraints, twisting his head around. “Kaufman!” he bellowed. “Kaufman, can you hear me?

He thought he heard a voice through the other side of the wall. It was muffled and weak, but it was there and somehow he knew it was the death magician. Before he could call his name again, he felt the Seraphims’s drop down on the fleshy spot between his horns. The moment those thin, long fingers made contact with his flesh, razor blades of agony traveled through every inch of his body.

He couldn’t move. If he could scream, he would have. All he could see was red. Stop it, he thought. Please stop! Seconds turned into minutes, minutes into hours, time into infinite. When the Seraphim lifted his hand, the pain stopped.

The Rephaim sagged forward in his restraints.

“None of that now,” Charoum said with the tone of voice he might have used to chastise a child. “You will see Kaufman soon enough.”

Baraq’s entire body felt heavy. His eyes felt tight, as if they would pop out of his skull. He was trapped. He was enraged. But more than anything he was afraid. A black, murky terror that threatened to engulf him entirely. His body had been made to endure pain. In his long, long life he’d been shot, stabbed, and burnt. He’d endured injuries that would have befallen any mortal man. With this ability to endure pain came the inability to escape it. Somehow he suspected Kaufman would understand.

“I will give you a minute to regain your composure,” Charoum said as if torturing Baraq had taken no effort at all. “Maybe then you will be more compliant.”

The wall shifted again to form a door. The Seraphim passed through it like a drift of air, leaving Baraq feeling alone and very small.




The angel opened a folder full of Lionel’s past; a past he’d done everything in his power to abandon and forget. Snapshots of him in various places with various aliases: Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, etc.

“We’ve been looking for you for a long time, Mr. Kaufman,” the angel said. “We have a lot of questions to ask you.”

The death magician’s fingers skittered nervously across the table; his legs bounced up and down, a marked somatization of his anxiety. His face on the other hand was that of a man who was deeply bored. “I came here with a friend. Eight feet tall, red skin, yellow eyes, and horns that could impale any man. You can’t miss him. I want to see him. I want to talk to him.”

The Seraphim ignored him. He began laying out more snapshots in neat rows; there had to be at least two dozen of them. “You’re not in a position to make demands,” he said after a moment. He said this in the same conversational tone one might use at a tea party.

The death magician folded his arms across his chest. “Fuck you. That’s my position. I’m not answering any more questions until I see my friend.”

“You will see him in time.”

You want to keep playing games, that’s fine, Lionel thought. Where else am I going to go? What else am I going to do? I got nothing but time. Let’s play verbal patty-cake. “He’s in the next room. I heard him, he heard me, so don’t try to gaslight me and tell me I didn’t. Let me just make sure he’s okay. By the way, if you’ve hurt him I will fucking kill you. And just what in the Void am I here for anyway? Are all these pictures supposed to mean something to me?” His arms twitched with the urge to upend the table and send the snapshots scattering everywhere; if it wasn’t for the fact the table was securely bolted into the floor he might have tried it if only to feel the smug satisfaction.

“For one you are an unregistered magician. Here in the United States that is a federal crime. Secondly…” the Seraphim tapped a photo with a perfectly manicured fingernail. “We know about your affiliation with the Sacred Brotherhood of the Blackened Cross.”

“I cut my affiliation years ago., As far as I’m concerned it’s ancient history.”

“Which brings us to the fire at the Los Angeles Theater, a historical monument that was built in the 1930’s.” The Seraphim gave Kaufman a crafty smile. “Would you like to tell me about that?”

“You mean do I want to talk about my fucked up childhood?” Lionel gave a stiff shake of his head. “I’ll pass, thank you. Any questions you have you can just shove up your holy angelic ass. So whatever the unanimous verdict is, you might as well save your breath and send me on my way.”

The angel’s smile widened from ear to ear so that it seemed to split his face in two; the affect was anything but holy. “There is only one verdict for you: The Black Diamond.”

You knew this was going to happen, Leonidas’ voice whispered with the cackle of a mustache-twirling villain. You’ve always known this is where the road would end for you, haven’t you? You deserve nothing else.

It’s not like you want to go there either, Leonidas said; it was one of the rare moments they’d interacted. He could sense the murderous spirit listening in the back of his mind; he could feel his growing disquiet. Remember, asshole, you are just as stuck with me as I am with you. When my body dies…when it’s destroyed and can no longer house you, where will you go I wonder? Probably somewhere worse than the Black Diamond. And there are far worse places, aren’t there?

To this the spirit said nothing.

This exchange happened within the blink of an eye. The Seraphim took no notice of its occurrence.

In real time Lionel let out a caustic, bitter laugh that earned him a disapproving frown from the angel. “What are you going to do? Cut me open like a fish, see what makes me tic on the inside? Go ahead, do your worst. There’s no pain you can inflict on me that I haven’t already endured a million times over.”

“You’ll find out when you get there,” the angel said cryptically.

“Fuck you,” Lionel said breathlessly. Leonidas’ wheezy laugh echoed in the caverns of his mind, bolstered by his growing sense of defeat. “You know what. I don’t even care about that right now. What’s going to happen to Baraq? He doesn’t belong here. The only reason why he’s here is because of my own fuck ups.”

“Baraq consigned himself to the Black Diamond when he killed two of our own.”

"He only did it in defense of me! He's been asleep for the past seventy years, he didn't know! The world has changed a lot since then."

"Try telling that to the families, the loved ones who will suffer in their absence," the angel said. He was in the process of putting the photos back in Lionel's file; they were held together with a paperclip.

The death magician scoffed. He shook his head, making the angel look up sharply. "You Seraphim are the biggest hypocrites. Don't sit there and try to convince me that you give a shit about those men. All you care about is serving your plate of cold justice. Or should I say your own narrow minded version of it. Whatever that looks like since your creator fell flat on His face."

The angel's face bleached with rage. His back went rigid, his hands clenched into fist. "I would stop if I were you, Kaufman. Stop while you still have a mouth with which to speak through."

Kaufman couldn't stop. The angels' warning only made him want to take it further. To know that he'd angered him gave him power in the situation. A small bit of power of course, given his predicament, but any power would suffice when you were backed into a corner. He thought, if this is the end of the road for me, I might as well get as much enjoyment out of it as I can. Make sure he never forgets my face, burn it into his mind.

"What I think it comes down to is that you're just a bottom feeding bitch. You walked away from one master, just so you could serve another. The Theocracy. You guys like to advertise it as being different from the Catholic Church, but it's no different and neither are you, because at the end of the day you immortals are incapable of change…"

The angel moved so fast, Lionel didn't have time to prepare himself. One second he was seated in his chair at the table, and the next the angel had him pressed up against the wall by his throat, so that his feet dangled above the floor. The Seraphim held him up in the air with no effort at all, his face so close that all Kaufman could see were his seething eyes, which burned into his like molten silver. "Your antics won't save you, Kaufman. I could rip your eyes from your skull. I could crush your windpipe to dust. Turn your mind to pulp. I can do this with no effort at all. You think so highly of yourself but really you were just an insect to me, nothing more. "

Once more Lionel laughed. " You think you scare me even now, with your hand on my throat? You don't. Because all you are doing is proving my point. So in that way I win. Checkmate, in your face, bitch. So, do it. Why the fuck are you hesitating? Kill me. Do me a solid."

The angel’s mask of rage slipped, regaining his composure. He cleared his throat, setting Lionel down on his feet. “Soon you and your horned friend will stand before a tribunal where they will judge you accordingly for your crimes. Too bad I won’t be able to watch your mind get wrung inside out at the Theocracy; I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with knowing that you’ll get what’s coming to you.”

Lionel laughed hysterically at Charoum’s receding back. “Oh, c’mon. Don’t be such a pussy. You were doing so well. My whole life flashed before my eyes, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was very moving. You’re such a tease…”

As soon as he was alone in the room the death magician went to the wall. He pressed his ear to it. “Baraq! Baraq, can you hear me?”

He heard a confirming rumble from the room next to this one. The sound was muffled, but it was there, and he knew it was his friend. His only friend. He swallowed. It was difficult to do. His throat was beyond parched at this point. How long had it been since he’d had anything to drink? Anything to eat? His eyes swam with tears as the cruel realization of his fate crashed over his head like a black wave.

“I’m so sorry I got you into this situation,” he said. He didn’t stop the flow of tears. Didn’t stop their path down his cheek. I deserve this. I deserve to feel guilty because I am guilty. “This isn’t what I want, I swear on my life. I’m going to try and find a way to get you out of here. You don’t belong here.”

Succumbing completely to his fear, Lionel Kaufman buried his face in his hands and began to sob.

Emotionally distressing moments like this was when he could really use a joint.



It took ten minutes in the break room, a lemon bar, and a cup of coffee before Charoum's heart stopped racing. Before he felt like himself again. He'd always prided to himself in having unshakable resolve. A confidence that had taken centuries to construct after being cleaved from everything he'd known by his creator. In a few short moments, in a single conversation, Kaufman had undone all his work.

I'll be glad when he and his horned friend are out of my hair, he thought. Hopefully that would be by the end of today. Which was how he found himself meeting with Dr. Sabine Lagerof, whose surname meant "laurel leaf." From the stories he'd heard about her methods at The Black Diamond, she was anything but a laurel leaf.

She was a slender woman with salt-and-pepper hair cropped close to her scalp in a militaristic fashion. Her black rimmed thick framed glasses didn't do anything to add personality to her epicene face. She sat across from him at a foldable table, nursing a styrofoam cup of coffee. In their brief interactions Charoum had never seen her eat anything; she only drank coffee and she only drank one cup. She watched him intently. The Seraphim could fill her assessing him.

"These two sound like quite the duo, " she said in a tone that imitated the desire for conversation; Charoum suspected it was only an imitation. The only emotion that never reached her eyes was keen interest. "Especially if they got under your skin in such a way. I look forward to having the chance to work with them."

"I figured you would have an interest in them."

"Is that disgust I hear in your voice, Charoum? Do you not approve of what I do? " There was no anger in Lagerof's voice. The angel didn't think she was capable of getting angry or sad. He didn't think she was capable of feeling much of anything at all.

"I have my doubts," the angel conceded.

"You may have whatever doubts you like. But I would like to remind you that I serve the Theocracy the same as you. Sure, my methods might be a bit radical, but we live in a radical world. Don't you think?"

The angel nodded his head reluctantly. "I recognize it less and less everyday."

"We've known about the Void for less than a century. We know that it contains other dimensions and planes, maybe even a potential multiverse, but we've only just begun to explore and can't be certain. When the Nag Hammadi was found, humanity found hope, found the answers to true salvation that your creator has kept from us since the beginning of mankind." The corner of Lagerof's lip twitched into something that might have been a smile. "Now how I contribute to the Theocracy and its attempt at exploration is through scientific methods through neurology and psychotherapy. We don't know the true source of where gnosis comes from. In particular where it resides in the body."

"It comes from within," Charoum provided.

"Of course it does,” Sabine said as if this was no surprise to her. “This we know. It was one of the first discoveries my researchers made at the institution. But where inside the body? The heart, the brain, the soul. Is it just in our blood, passed down from generation to generation? That's where the science comes in. We do know that the mind itself is heavily connected with gnosis; when someone uses gnosis, the brain lights off with fireworks on the screen. But is the brain truly the source? As I mentioned we've been able to do this with a modified version of psychotherapy and analysis, a program I work very hard to put into place. Some might say the work I do is barbaric, but I always say it's better the devil you know than the devil you don't. Don’t you agree?"

“I do,” the Seraphim agreed grimly.

“Ah.” Sabine turned her eyes away from the clock. Excitement glittered visibility behind the lenses of her thick-framed glasses. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss the proceedings. Shall we go?”

“The proceedings will be very brief. The verdict has already been decided.”

Lagerof let out a laugh that made a chill race up Charoum’s spine. “Still, I would not miss it for all the world.”



When Charoum and the guards came for him, Lionel jumped to his feet. He'd never want it to be punished so badly if only to get out of this boring fucking room. His heart swelled with a conflicting mixture of guilt and relief when Baraq was escorted into the room. He still had his tattered leather jacket and boots on, but his wrist had been shackled together with thick bands of steel. Under normal circumstances he might have been able to break through them easily, but these Theocracy wonks were smart. It seemed they'd thought of everything.

They started towards each other to have the guards close ranks around them like a single synchronous organism, to keep them from colliding in the center of the room like atoms. Get the fuck out of my way! burned on Lionel's tongue like corrosive acid.

It surprised the death magician when Charoum softly but directly said, "Give them a minute to the guards." To Lionel and Baraq: "You see, I always keep my promises. I told you, you would see one another soon enough. I think it's safe to say you're stuck together, one way or another. "

Lionel didn't mind when Baraq seized him in a powerful hug, saying only, "Kaufman." It felt great, comforting even after being trapped so long in a room with nothing to do except think dark thoughts and listen to the evil spirits trapped inside your head. For the briefest of moments his cheek was pressed against Baraq's chest so he could feel the slow, powerful strokes of his heart against his flesh. He feels so warm, he marveled.

Which was great since clearly these guys didn't believe in proper climate control.

When Baraq released him, his eyes smoldered with a renewed intensity. He gripped Lionel's shoulders as if afraid to let him go. "Are you okay? Did they hurt you?" He gave Charoum a look that said there would be consequences if this was the case, shackles or no.

“I’m not hurt. You? I thought I heard you scream.”

Baraq’s mouth curled into a smile. A chuckle rumbled in his throat like a self-contained earthquake. “Concerned about me, were you?”

Lionel sniffed, wishing he could transport Baraq and himself somewhere - anywhere but here. It sucked having powers but no control to use them. “Of course. You shouldn’t be here. This is all my fault. No amount of apologizing is going to make this okay. I swear on the Good Mother’s name I’m going to do everything I can to get you out of here. I don’t care what I have to say…”

Baraq’s fingers tightened slightly: not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough for the death magician to sense his urgency.

"Kaufman, I do not want to be separated from you again. You are no more at fault than I am. You don't have control over your own body."

“That is enough,” Charoum said in a bored tone. He gave them a roll of his silver eyes. “It is time for the proceedings to begin and to get you two out of my hair.”

“Hey!” Kaufman glared. “This is an A-B conversation. C your way out.”

Gloved hands shoved him roughly away from the Rephaim. He had no choice but to turn around and get moving. If anyone shoved him again he was going to do something that would get him another shock from the damned cattle prod.

“It would be nice if your friends with the diamond eyes chose to show up,” Baraq said in an almost casual tone. Almost. Beneath it, Kaufman thought he sensed trepidation. Lionel understood. I don’t like him - it - whatever it is either. But he also understood what he meant. Right now he needed the man with diamond eyes. They both did.

Lionel tried not to feel helpless. Tried not to throw himself a pity party. Regardless of his motivations or lack thereof, his choices had led him here and now they were affecting someone else.

The hallways in the facility were the same monotone white color as the rooms they’d found themselves trapped in. There were no windows, no view into the world to give glue to their location. Were they still in Oklahoma? Were they even still in the United States? These thoughts made the death magician's mind reel. He felt like a UFO abductee that had been snatched from the middle of his life and planted somewhere completely foreign to him. That’s exactly what happened, he reminded himself.

Cameras watched them from the corners of hallways like suspicious eyes. We’re watching everything you do; there’s nothing we don’t see. We miss nothing. Their little parade of guards and prisoners and angels both fallen and otherwise kept having to stop at checkpoints so Charoum could wave his fancy little badge around. Just how big was this place anyway? It felt as if they’d been walking forever.

At last they came to a final set of doors. Kaufman sensed an aura of finality surrounding this last leg of the journey before they were whisked off to the Black Diamond, never to be seen again.

The chamber they entered stole Lionel’s breath; it was beautiful in comparison to the sterile void that had been the rest of the building from what he’d seen so far. High ceilinged and made of thick slabs of stones, he had the feeling he’d entered another time. Another dimension. He didn’t know what to expect but it hadn’t been this. Shadowy figures with bright silver eyes like Charoum’s watched them from up high on towering thrones. The moment Lionel and Baraq entered the room, thirteen pairs of eyes turn to him. The intensity of their focus made his skin prickle and his scalp crawl. The shadows in the chamber were so thick it was impossible to tell what they looked like.

Charoum grinned at Lionel. “I would say it’s been a pleasure meeting you, but that would be a lie. I hope we won’t be seeing each other again.”

Lionel watched him and the guards walk away, sweating. He could smell the stink of his own fear. The only comfort in the room was the familiar, warm presence of the Rephaim standing next to him close enough that their shoulders almost touched.

They exchanged looks.

Lionel’s fingers brushed against Baraq’s wrist.

The fallen angel looked down. When he looked back up he gave the death magician a questioning look.

Lionel gave him a confirming nod, smiling slightly in spite of his fear.

Baraq’s hand engulfed his own, fingers entwining through his, sharingm his warmth.

“You are both being tried for treason against the Will and Law of the Theocracy,” said the shadowy figure sitting in the center of the shadow procession. “For such crimes you are being assigned to the Black Diamond where you will undergo rigorous treatment until it has been deemed that you are fit to reenter society.”

Lionel squeezed Baraq’s hand. He looked him in the eye. I’m sorry, he tried to tell the fallen angel with his eyes, with his touch, with his thoughts. I’m going to do this.

Baraq shook his head in denial. He opened his mouth to speak, but Lionel had already pulled his hand away and walked into the center of the chamber. He glared up at the tribunal. “I refute your statement. Your Law is not my Law. Your Law is not the Law of the world anymore. There are no Laws except the ones we make for yourselves. Instead you shove your Law down people’s throats the way you have always done.”

The doors to the chamber burst open. Guards flooded in a wave of black. Gloved hands pulled at his yarms, yanking him away from the center of the room. He let out a mad cackle in the spirit of Leonidas. “You think you’re safe from me! You’re not! One day I will find you and I will kill you -

The stone doors closed on him before he could finish his threat.


Copyright © 2023 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.
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The guys being captured by the Theocracy peeps was not good, and the ability to take away the gnosis leaves Baraq almost helpless.  Those entities in Lionel are not helping much.  This is not the end but it seems like they’re in for some pain coming up.

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