“You’re going to the concert wearing that?”
I sighed and rubbed at my forehead, feigning a headache. We were in my office instead of my place, and I had the desk as a buffer zone.
“We’re not ‘going to a concert,’ Meg. I’m going to work,” I said.
“And who got you this job?”
She gave me that smile. That adorable, impish, trickster smile that made it easy to forget that she was a bloody-eyed bronze-taloned Erinyes.
“Meg,” I said, taking in a deep breath before repeating myself again.
“Exactly!” she interrupted. “We’re going to the concert. All three of us.”
I glanced to Gabriel in the corner. The Knight of the Silver Cross had been spending this part of the conversation in my secretary’s usual seat, surreptitiously answering e-mails on his phone.
“Don’t look at me,” he said without even looking up. “Discuss this amongst yourselves.”
“Concerts are loud,” I said. “And crowded with crazy people.”
“That’s exactly why you should love it!” Meg said.
“You’re about to call me loud and crazy as a punchline.”
“No, I was just gonna say that things have been too quiet and sane around here.”
“A meth-addicted werewolf shot me with a derringer last week.”
“It wasn’t a silver bullet, and you got better.”
I put my head in my hands. Was it too much to ask for some peace? Maybe other vampires had the right idea, and I should have gotten a coffin a long time ago. Just nailed it shut whenever I felt like an introvert.
“Meg,” I said. “It’s an obscure, low-rent metal band that claims they sold their souls to Satan. This isn’t going to be a fun concert, it’s going to be a boring and annoying paycheck.”
“If that’s the case, then why ask the two of us for help?” she asked, fluttering her eyelashes and playfully toying with one of her red curls.
“Well, you brought me the job,” I said. “And you had Gabe with you for some reason. I don’t know.”
“He had the car,” Meg said.
“I had the car,” Gabriel said.
“I got you the job, and I think we should enjoy the concert after everyone’s souls are saved,” Meg said. “Please?”
The puppy eyes. She gave me the puppy eyes. Of course, a rational person could point out that she created her human disguise and thus was exactly as cute as she needed to be. But I was never rational, so I folded like a senator with a bribe.
“Okay,” I said. “We can stay for the concert once the job is done.”
“Yay!” Meg clapped her hands. “Are you really gonna go wearing that?”
“What’s wrong with the way that I dress?” I asked.
She put her hands on her hips. “You look like a cartoon character,” she said. “Trenchcoat, hat, skirt. Babe, it’s not the 1940s, and we’re going to a metal concert.”
“And? I like the trenchcoat. I can hide stuff in it.”
“And Gabe there looks like he stepped out of The Matrix,” Meg muttered.
“Argentum Crucis uniform insignia, and I can hide weapons in the coat,” he said as he continued to check his e-mail.
“Yeah, well, what about you?” I asked Meg. “Are you going to wear that to a concert?”
“What about me?” she asked as she gestured to herself. She was wearing Black jeans and a Slayer T-Shirt, which I realized completely ruined my argument.
“Well, I guess you’ve got a point. I need to dress for the occasion,” she added and then slipped a studded bracelet over her wrist and the shirt changed to Black Sabbath.
“What do you think?” Meg asked. “Too much?”
“I think you look fine,” Gabriel said without looking up from his phone.
“You always say that,” Meg pouted.
“Meg, I think you look fine,” I said.
“You always say that, too. Hmph!” she folded her arms. “You guys really aren’t enthusiastic enough.”
“Siri, add to calendar,” Gabriel said into his phone. “Premarital counseling with Schrader-West Friday at seven-thirty.”
“Gabe!” she said.
“I still have to do my other job,” Gabriel stated. “Hold on a moment.”
“Okay,” I said, pulling the conversation back on topic. “This band. Hellblazers. Meg, you’re a fan. What can you tell me about them?”
“I’m not really a fan,” Meg explained. “They’re not very good. They do all right when they cover Metallica or Black Sabbath, but their own music is pretty bad.”
I gave her a look. “Then why are you so excited about their concert?”
“Because we need some variety,” she said. “You’re in a rut.”
“I’m in a comfortable pattern.”
“I work, I teach Lily, I see my friends,” I said. “It’s nice.”
“You’ve been taking boring jobs,” Meg pointed out. “You see the same friends on Tuesdays and Sundays, and you’re just giving the girl homework. When’s the last time you fought a proper monster?”
“Last week,” I said. “He was a werewolf. He was addicted to meth. He shot me with a derringer. Remember?”
“Okay, fair enough, you got me there.” She rolled her eyes. “When’s the last time you spoke with the Council?”
“We’re kind of on the outs right now,” I said.
She nodded. “Oh, right. Because of the atrocities.”
“Because of Cole,” I corrected. “Because of what he did, and they just gave him a slap on the wrist, and that means they’re all complicit.”
“Right. So my point is, you need some variety to get out of this sad little rut.”
“Okay, back on topic,” I said. “Hellblazers.”
“Yeah, they do okay covers, but their original music is so-so,” Meg said again. “They got a little boost recently, so I wanted to check them out. They were playing a gig at a small bar in Pacifica, so I went down there alone because Gabe couldn’t be bothered.”
“Food drive at the church,” he answered. “They needed help organizing the new donations.”
“Okay, so I got there.” she sat on the corner of my desk. I moved stray paperwork and a coffee cup away from her butt. “And I could immediately tell that something was up. You can feel it, you know. So I sneaked backstage and overheard the band members arguing about a contract with the Devil. Lots of bands pretend to be all evil and satanic and everything, but they really aren’t. I mean, Ozzy is Anglican, after all. But these guys were complaining that their time was up and they only had a couple of concerts left before their souls were due. So I barged in and hired you for them.”
“You just barged in?” I asked.
“Yeah, security got mad, but then I did this,” she said as her eyes flashed intensely luminescent hellishly bloody red for a second. “Convinced the guys that I knew someone who might help get them out of a demonic soul contract. They believed me.”
“Gee, I wonder why,” I commented. “All right. What did they tell you about the contract?”
“Absolutely nothing, but they thought I was a succubus and hit on me,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“Well, okay,” I said, finally feeling motivated. “We’ll go down there and figure this thing out. Most of those contracts are pretty easy to break if you can beat the demon up. Where are they performing?”
“I’ve got a flier right here,” Meg pulled a crumpled, folded piece of paper from her pocket.
“Thanks!” I grabbed it and unfolded it. “Wow, the Cow Palace? That’s a pretty big step up from a dive bar. Maybe they did sell their souls.”
I smoothened it out and took a better look. “Wait, the Cow Place?”
“It can fit about two hundred people in there. That’s pretty respectable for an indie band.”
“Okay, it’s also in Daly City. Looks like it’s pretty close to the real Cow Palace, so this is like one of those knockoff toys at the drug store that Grandma buys by mistake.”
“Yeah, it’s definitely the Robertcop of the band venue scene.”
“I don’t understand a word that you’re saying,” Gabriel chimed in as he put away his phone.
“Explaining it would be less funny,” I said. “Come on, then. Let’s go!”
“Whose car?” Meg asked as she hopped off my desk.
“Well, I assume mine.” I jingled my car keys.
“Your used, dented Corolla or Gabe’s pristine ’68 Mustang?” Meg asked.
“Oh come on, that’s not fair,” I said.
“I’m fine with either,” Gabriel answered.
“Gabe’s car is cooler,” Meg said.
“Fine, fine – Gabe, you’re sure you’re okay with driving?”
“Perfectly fine with it,” he said as he moved to the door and held it open for both of us ladies.
“I get to pick the music!” Meg chimed in.
“Meg, what’s gotten into you lately?” I asked as we walked outside.
“We’re going to a metal concert,” she said. “And no offense, I love you guys, but Lucy? If you’re in charge, we’ll be listening to that acid…funk…gospel…whatever the hell Alabama 3 is.”
“Hey,” I protested.
“And Gabe, ‘80s R&B is nice and all, and I get that everybody listens to whatever they grew up with, but there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing, you know?”
“Granted,” he said.
“All right, so I’ve got an appropriate playlist!”
Gabriel’s car had a few post-1968 modifications. For example, a modern sound system with a USB port. We were now at the mercy of Megaera’s smartphone.
Gabriel was somewhere north of six feet. Megaera was about 5’7”-5’9” depending on her mood. This left me, at 5’ in the morning when I tried hard, feeling like a child in the back seat while Mommy and Daddy drove.
“Okay, so most of this playlist is stuff from Mob Rules and Heaven and Hell,” Meg explained to us. “But I’ve added some stuff from Dio’s self-titled album, because you can’t do a tribute to him without Rainbow in the Dark.”
“But we’re not going to a Ronnie James Dio concert,” I said. “He’s been dead since 2010.”
“I know.” She gave an exaggerated sad sigh. “But this group covers his stuff a lot, and I love it. Okay, first up, Country Girl!”
“Country Girl is heavy metal?” Gabriel asked.
“Yeah.” She rolled her eyes and started the music. “Haven’t you been listening?”
Okay, I had been on a weird blues-fusion kick lately, sure, but that didn’t mean I was limited. I appreciated and enjoyed just about everything the music world had to offer, and even I had to admit that mid-‘80s Black Sabbath was great.
“Hey, wait a second,” I said after a bit. “Is this song about you?”
“‘She came up from the nether world,’ it says,” I quoted. “‘All to bust another soul. Her eyes were an endless flame, holy lightning.’ Ring a bell?”
“Just a coincidence.”
“‘Desire was a special name made to snatch your soul away?’” Gabriel joined in. “Megaera, is he singing about you?”
“I never met Dio,” she said. “I try not to meet famous people I like, because if I see their sins then I probably wouldn’t like them anymore.”
“Oh,” I said. Our conversation got a lot quieter on the way to the venue.
Finally, we reached the venue. A silly neon cow pointed to what looked like an ordinary bar wedged between several other businesses and a parking garage. It didn’t look like the kind of place with room for a full concert, but architecture was surprising these days.
“I see a problem,” Meg said as we drove past the entrance toward the bar.
“I see it, too,” Gabriel agreed with a nod of his head.
“See what?” I asked. “What did I miss? Tiny person in the back asking.”
“Security checkpoint with metal detectors,” Gabe said. “We can’t go in armed.”
“I don’t need to be armed,” Meg said. “But yeah, that’ll be a problem for you guys.”
“Metal detectors for a metal concert?” I asked. “When everybody going in there is gonna have piercings and chains?”
“But not guns,” she said to me before turning to Gabriel. “Or big silvery swords.”
Gabe pulled into a parking spot. “I don’t like the idea of taking on a demon unarmed, but we’ll do what we have to do.”
“Or,” I posited. “I could turn into a bat and sneak inside.”
“Lucy.” Meg sighed. “Babe. It’s not like they have open windows. If you go into a crowded building through the front door as a bat, everyone will freak out over Covid-Rabies, evacuate the building, and call animal control. Or Ozzy would show up from out of nowhere to bite off your head. Or something.”
“Bah,” I said. “Humbug.”
“Let me see what I have in the back,” Gabe said as he got out of the car and opened the trunk. Inside were his sword, guns, ammunition, and a few suspicious-looking weaponized holy relics.
“Yeah, none of that would pass a security checkpoint,” I said.
“We could take those holy water bottles,” he suggested. “The glass is as thin as a lightbulb, so they’re guaranteed to break when thrown. It’s better than nothing.”
“I guarantee that security will confiscate outside liquids,” Meg said.
“This is like a magic trick,” Gabriel said as he made two flasks disappear inside hidden pockets in his coat.
“That’s nice, but I don’t want to carry something volatile that’ll hurt me the moment I’m jostled,” I said.
“You and I will manage by hand,” Meg said. “Gabe can bring the water grenades and then I guess grab a chair or something.”
“I think we’re good to go,” he said. “Lucy?”
“It’s the best we can do,” I admitted.
I looked over my shoulder at a family staring at us from across the way.
“Hi,” I waved. “Just sneaking snacks into the concert.”
“Uh, okay,” one of them said.
Gabriel closed the trunk full of weapons.
“Okay, who’s got the tickets?” Meg asked. “Just kidding, I have them!”
We got through security without any trouble, which was kind of surprising considering how many red flags we shot up, what with the overcoats and Gabriel being the kind of man who the police profiled on sight. After the security checkpoint, we were led downstairs where the club proper was, including a stage and enough seating for a decent crowd. I did some mental math and unless everybody was waiting for the last minute, it wasn’t going to be sold out. Decent enough crowd for an indie band, sure, but not worth selling your soul over.
“Okay, I’m guessing that the band knows to let us backstage,” I said to Meg. “Meg, lead us there?”
“Sure thing!” she smiled and directed us to a small side door in the back near the stage. As we neared, a security guard stepped in from out of nowhere and quietly, yet firmly blocked the door.
“Hey, it’s cool,” Meg took point. “I’m Megaera, and this is Lucy. The band invited us – ask them.”
The guard remained silent.
“Ask the band,” she insisted.
“Ma’am,” he spoke. “No admittance. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Ask the band,” she repeated, and I couldn’t tell if her eyes flashed or it was something else, but the security man seemed suddenly convinced.
I glanced back over my shoulder to the room at large. People were setting up sound equipment, customers were getting settled, and everything seemed normal as far as I could tell.
“Feel anything out of the ordinary?” I asked Gabe.
Gabriel shrugged. “I’m not as good at sensing that as either of you. Looks like they’re setting up a lot of pyrotechnics up there.”
“Yeah, they’ve done some really elaborate stuff in their shows,” Meg commented. “It helps make up for mediocre playing.”
“That checks out,” I said.
The security guard came back. “This way.”
He led us to a mostly unremarkable green room filled with drinks, M&Ms, and rock musicians.
“So I was telling the fuckin’ bastard, I was fuckin’ telling him, how do you expect us to fuckin’ open with Ride the Fuckin’ Lightning if you can’t get the fuckin’ plasma lamps ready on fuckin’ stage? If we’re singing about fuckin’ lightning, we need fuckin’ lightning!”
I had no idea if he was the frontman or lead guitarist or drummer or what, but he sounded like he wanted to be in charge. Looked like he needed a shower, but that was part of the metal image. I took a quick mental catalogue of the band and which stereotypes they were trying to play up: Grungy guy, biker guy, hair guy, biker chick, enby.
“Hey,” hair guy whispered. “Tone it down. She’s here.”
Grungy guy turned and saw us, and then immediately put on a smile and dropped the profanity. “Miss Meg, we were worried that you wouldn’t be here. Who are your friends?”
Meg stepped forward and gestured to us. “This is Lucy December. She’s the one I told you about. And this is Gabriel Evergreen. He’s badass.”
Gabe nodded. “A pleasure,” he said.
They completely overlooked me as the grungy guy turned toward Gabe. “Nice, you got a big gangsta guy! I bet he’ll supply the muscle.”
Gabriel demonstrated incredible self-control.
“Everyone here is equipped to help you with your problem,” Meg said, a slight undertone to her voice demonstrating exactly how fragile her self-control concerning Gabe was at the moment. “So let’s talk.”
“All right. Well, I’m Rob Hell, and we’re the Hellblazers.” He gestured to the others in the room. “And this is Dreck Low on bass, Jimmi Burton on backup guitar, Kelly Kaprov on keyboard, and Vess is the drummer.”
“Nice to meet you all. Name’s Lucy, professional supernatural detective,” I chimed in and stepped forward, taking the expert role. “So, is it a physical contract? What happened?”
Meg had her arms folded as she stood closer to Gabriel, helping to focus the band’s attention on my expertise.
“We sold our souls to the devil,” Rob Hell said. “Didn’t she tell you?”
“Yeah, but which devil?” I asked.
He gave me a strange look. “To Satan, of course? Who else? You’re supposed to be the fuckin’ expert here.”
“Yeah, that’s the thing,” I said. “You don’t get to sell your soul to ‘Satan.’ There are a lot of devils, and ‘Satan’ is kind of just a title that gets tossed around a lot. And even if there is one big Satan calling the shots, do you think he’d take his valuable time out for you guys?”
“We’re a pretty big deal,” Rob Hell said.
“Can the bullshit,” Vess the enby drummer interjected. “We made like twenty cents on Spotify last month.”
“But we played to a sold-out audience!”
“Fifty people in a bar,” Jimmi Burton said. “Come on, man. We sold our souls for fifty people and twenty cents.”
“And the t-shirts,” Dreck added.
“Fuck your t-shirts!” Rob snapped at him.
I cleared my throat loudly. “Hey! We’re still here. Let’s get down to business. Do you have a physical contract? Can I have a look at it?”
“Yeah, we tried to tear it up and burn it, but it didn’t work,” Kelly Kaprov said as she turned to rummage through a box of junk.
“Yeah, that’s not how it works,” I said. “But there’s usually a way to cancel the contract in its wording.”
The keyboardist produced a vellum scroll from the box and handed it to me. I unfurled it and was greeted by a demonic sigil. An X-shape similar to a Chi-Rho, but with a trident instead of the P-symbol on top, and two crescent moons decorating the horizontal arms.
“Okay, that’s the symbol for – dammit, let me think,” I muttered as I pulled my phone out and cycled through a saved list. “For Murmur. Duke Murmur.”
“Murmur?” Dreck Low asked. “That’s a dumb name.”
“There’s a demon named Leonard,” I commented. “Big deal, really intimidating. Wouldn’t want to mess with Leonard. Anyway, Murmur offers power and fame, answers questions, teaches philosophy and music, and also commands the souls of the damned. It doesn’t say this in most books, but he commands souls that he himself has enslaved, which is probably why he was scouting for you guys. He wants more ghosts.”
“This is your fault!” Vess shouted at Rob Hell.
“My fault?” he yelled back. “My fuckin’ fault? I’ve given everything for this band! Blood, sweat, and tears!”
“You sold our souls,” Dreck said.
“Well, when a spooky knight with red eyes meets you at a crossroads and offers you fame and fortune, you say yes!”
“It wasn’t at a crossroads! You were blazed out of your mind jaywalking on Reed St.!”
“He promised us a perfect show! Fame! Fans!”
“You call fifty people at Old Tony’s a perfect show?”
“Yeah, I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” I chimed in. “But the contract here does say one sold-out show.”
“Fuck you!” Jimmi Burton shouted at Rob Hell. “And when we go to Hell, fuck you there, too!”
“Fuck you first! You wanna go at it? You wanna go right now?” Rob Hell gestured angrily as he stepped toward the guitarist. “Come on! Come on! Come at me, bro!”
“Silence!” Megaera’s voice was amplified, resonant, and hellishly terrifying. A hint of the creature that she truly was slipping out from behind the glamour. “You bicker and you fight and you whine with your little petty bigotries all while you hurtle toward the fires of Hell. Your souls are worth very little.”
Now the band stopped arguing. It felt nice.
“You have nothing. You are nothing,” she continued. Megaera did not shed her human form, but the sound of her voice had force and power behind it, the true terror of a Fury held barely in check. “Your band is a mess. Your lives are messes. What love you had for music has been long replaced with hedonistic money-fueled cynicism. As human beings, you have worth. You have value. But you have turned your lives into a waste. Let us save you, and then sort yourselves out. But until that time, shut your pathetic and sinful mouths and let Lucy December do her job!”
I cleared my throat again. “Okay, so I think I’ve found the issue,” I said. “It says here that after your one sold-out show – hope you enjoyed those fifty people – Murmur will come at a set time during another show to claim all the souls there. That’s tonight’s show, right?”
“Right,” Rob Hell said, his voice having lost a lot of its fire.
“Well, there you go,” I said as I rolled up the contract. “He’s coming not only for your souls, but also for your audience. Murmur’s using you to get at them.”
At least it wasn’t selling well, right? Right. Good thought.
“So how are we gonna get out of it?” Dreck asked.
“He has to collect the souls during your concert,” I said, and then nodded to Gabriel. “Gabe, want to chime in?”
“Murmur is a Goetic demon,” Gabe said, adjusting his coat casually to show off the silver Argentum Crucis insignia he wore. “The demons of Solomon are bound in different ways, but the end result is that they can’t just manifest a body at any time they want. If we disrupt Murmur’s physical form when he comes to collect your souls, he won’t be able to complete his end of the contract. That should cancel it.”
“You mean you’re going to kick the devil’s ass?” Vess asked.
“Sounds like a plan,” Meg grinned.
A few minutes later after we hashed things out, we left the green room and headed back toward the main auditorium. Bright stage lights blinded my vision and the roar of the crowd took me aback. Apparently there had been a last-second ticket rush, because there were clearly more than two hundred people here crowding the tables up top and occupying the formerly-empty stadium seats below. More standing, clogging the pathways. A smorgasbord of souls.
“Any idea how we’re going to do this?” Gabe asked me as we took a couple of reserved seats in front.
“Well, you’ve got your holy water,” I said to him. “Meg’s an implement of mass destruction, and I’ll figure something out.”
“Woo! Hellblazers!” Meg started revving the crowd up, acting as if she was a genuine fan of theirs. Or maybe she really was looking forward to the music, it was hard to tell sometimes.
“How powerful is Murmur?” he asked me. “Relatively speaking.”
“I don’t know,” I said, thinking about demons that we had seen or he at least knew about. “He’s definitely no Caacrinolas, but I dunno if he’s more like Oriax or Zagan, or something else. Definitely not an Aamon. If he’s digging for souls like this, he might be a little desperate, so that could give us an advantage.”
“Whatever advantages we can get,” he said.
“Man, I hate fighting on stage,” I muttered. “It’s awkward and the audience always thinks it’s part of the show.”
“You’ve fought on stage before?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Opera gone bad,” I said and left it at that.
I looked to the stage. Dammit, the Hellblazers were idiots. Murmur’s sigil was everywhere – on a banner, projected onto the curtain behind the stage, painted on the drums. What did they think they were doing? Flattering him into letting them go? Well, maybe. Wouldn’t put it past them.
I looked at Megaera. The human glamour she was using wasn’t her only one – she had at least one more disguise that I knew of – but it was definitely her favorite. Like this, she was an adorable, perky, flirty redhead. In her real life, she was the Eternal Fury, the Erinyes of Jealousy. She worked for Heaven to drag sinners into Hell, specializing in infidelity and sexual crimes. Her true form was terrifying, a nightmare of metal and blood, though I personally didn’t mind it anymore. But this way she could have fun. Enjoy herself like a normal person, not an eternal nightmare.
You know what? Let her have her fun. Maybe we could go to a real concert sometime.
The band began to organize on stage, taking up their instruments and getting ready for the show. The crowd began to swell with excitement, their fervor palpable. It was enough to make a mediocre band feel like superstars – like gods descending upon the stage, ready to bestow their electric blessing upon us mortals.
Here it was. They tested their instruments. Tuned them. Vess began to tap out the beat with their drumsticks. Bursts of smoke. Electricity roaring inside plasma globes. Stage light turned blue. Any minute now, it was going to be time to Ride the Lightning…
“Are you ready?” Rob Hell shouted into the mike. “Are you ready to blaze some Hell?”
The crowd cheered back, and then everything went to Hell.
Blue lights turned red, smoke became jets of flame, and I could feel the infernal atmosphere as Murmur appeared.
He was like a knight clad in ornate heavy armor, black metal decorated with gold trim. His cylindrical helmet covered his face, the blazing pinpoints of crimson light burning from behind his visor. Atop the helmet was a spiked crown, a regal touch to the Knight of Hell in front of us. He rode a massive beast shaped like a gryphon, an infernal creature of violet feathers and blazing claws with smoke pouring from its jagged beak.
“Hellblazers! Your contract is due! I have come for your souls and the souls of your audience.” Murmur’s voice was loud and overwhelming, reverberating and buzzing like something spoken over a microphone turned up way too loud. It seemed to come from everywhere at once, from the demon and the walls and the stage itself.
So of course, the audience thought that this was all part of the show and went wild with cheers. Well, why not? This was a perfect elaborate stage show, right? Just enjoy the theatrics and try to ignore the feeling of our soul being sucked out.
“Well, here goes,” I said to Meg and Gabriel. “Let’s rock.”
The three of us jumped to our feet and rushed toward the stage, positioning ourselves in between the demon and the band.
“Not so fast!” I shouted, trying to think of something witty to say. “Sir Satan-A-Lot!” I failed.
Murmur turned his gaze downward to the three of us. “Who are you?” he asked in his overwhelming stereo voice.
“If you want the band,” I said to the demon. “You’ll have to get through us.”
Okay, so I was unarmed and Gabriel hadn’t shown off his flasks of holy water yet, but I liked to think that we cut a nice imposing figure. But there was also Meg standing in the middle of our formation, and with a flourish of smoke and flame she changed into her true form.
Megaera the Fury was a nightmare of blood and metal, like a harpy from Hell. Her wings were razor-sharp and bronze, her talons were like knives, her eyes crimson pools dripping bloody tears. Celestial flames burned barely restrained in her hands as she prepared to take on the demon Murmur.
And the crowd ate it up. Screaming, cheering, applauding. Men and women in the audience reacted not with fear, but with enthusiasm at her crimson form. Instead of a celestial nightmare she was an infernal savior.
“Erinyes, vampire, and holy knight,” Murmur’s buzzing voice announced as he lifted the reins of his gryphon mount and raised an armored glove. “Do not contest my claim, lest you be included in it.”
“Bring it!” I shouted back to him, adding an exaggerated finger-point to the theatrics.
Murmur clenched his gloved fist, and two ghostly knights materialized on either side of him, armored wraiths cast in translucent neon green. One held a spectral axe and the other a sword, but instead of charging at us, the enslaved spirits lifted their free hands in a gesture similar to that of their master.
Murmur spoke one word, and it echoed like an explosion.
The sound attack came not in all-encompassing stereo but instead a massive oppressive force, directional like a hurricane wind. I felt pressed in on all sides, squeezed, barely able to resist the pressure enough to remain on my feet. Gabriel threw his forearms defensively over his face, the sonic assault beginning to push him back on the wood floor. Megaera took a similar stance, her metal wings spreading out behind her.
The sound continued and persisted, overwhelming buzzing that warped the walls and strained our minds and bodies and sent the band on stage to their knees. It had to be stopped, had to be resisted – but how? I felt that I could not speak, could not breathe. It was all I had in me not to collapse beneath the sheer force of their triune voice. I forced myself to take a step forward. To try to move. I attempted to open my mouth to fight back, to resist his voice with my own, to stand up and shout. But wave after wave hit me and forced the air from my lungs, robbing me of the ability to contest Murmur’s dark voice with my own.
“None shall contest the power of my voice!’ Murmur announced above the oppressive droning attack.
With her wings spread, Megaera let herself drift backwards from the force of Murmur’s sound attack. Her taloned feet gently alighted on the stage and she stepped back further, gracefully taking the electric guitar from Rob Hell’s hands and slung the strap over her neck. On the edge of the stage, Kelly Kaprov mustered up the strength to turn the volume up on the speakers, perhaps knowing what was coming or perhaps just operating on instinct.
Megaera the Erinyes held the electric guitar in her arms, her razor talons ready to pluck at the strings. She mouthed something silently, words that looked like “I haven’t done this in a long time.”
And then she played.
One note. One chord blasted over the force of Murmur’s voice, a sound of harmony and hope that overwhelmed his infernal noise and even disrupted the ghosts at his flank, their forms flickering under the disruption. And of course, with a chord there has to be a melody.
Melody and voice.
I knew the tune immediately – we had listened to it on the way here. It was a song of hope in adversity, of strength in trial, of glory against the enemy. It was the song that you absolutely had to include if you called yourself a Ronnie James Dio fan.
I’m talking, of course, about Rainbow in the Dark.
The music blasted triumphantly, accompanied by Megaera’s voice as she sang about lightning, darkness, loneliness, and hope. It drowned out Murmur’s commanding voice, cut through the demon’s magic like a knife and broke the physical hold that his sound had on us. The audience, having no clue that this was anything but a scripted part of the show, joined in by clapping, cheering, and more than a few voices singing along. Now freed from the oppressive sound, I gave Gabriel a quick glance which was returned by his nod of agreement. They wanted a show? It was time to give them one.
With a flick of his wrists from inside his coat, Gabriel flung both flasks of holy water at the ghostly sentries. The vials hit and shattered on contact, splattering their disrupted forms with holy water. Their neon bodies sparked and sputtered and smoked as they fell back.
I dove in, grabbing spectral weapons from both ghosts, pleasantly surprised to find that they were solid enough for me to hold and wield. I tossed the sword to Gabriel who caught it deftly, but I kept the axe for myself.
“Murmur!” I shouted to the demon as I brandished a neon ghostly axe in my hands. The hell knight drew a flaming sword and held it high as his gryphon mount flapped its wings, taking him high into the air in preparation for an attack. Behind me, Gabriel darted in and cut down the ghostly sentinels before they could recover.
“Gabe,” I said. “I need a boost.”
He nodded and sidestepped closer to me. Murmur rose up above us and leveled his sword before beginning a dive, intending to charge like winged cavalry and cut us down in fire. I dashed, building some momentum before reaching Gabe and entering into my own leap, the holy knight ducking and bringing his hands underneath to offer me that extra step on my way up. In a split second I turned into a bat and then back again, using it to give my jump just a little extra airtime and momentum beyond what I could have achieved without it.
Now, I had done a lot in my long and unbelievable life, but never anything as metal as jousting a gryphon-riding demonic knight in midair while wielding a neon ghost axe as a Greek Fury played Dio onstage.
When there was no sign of the morning, when you cried out for magic, sometimes you had to make it for yourself. Our weapons clashed and exploded, shards of burning sword and neon ghost-axe bursting in the air like a miniature firework. The force of the impact pushed against my momentum, but it nearly forced Murmur off his steed. As he reared back and nearly fell from the gryphon, I managed to land on the beast’s neck, my small size helping me stay on without sending all three of us tumbling to the ground below.
“Who do you think you are?” Murmur threw a wild punch at me. I ducked to the side, managing to stay on the now-bucking gryphon as Murmur’s metal gloved fist sailed past.
“Think of me as a Neon Knight,” I said as I used the gryphon’s wild attempts to throw me off to my advantage, leaping with the bucked momentum and tackling Murmur, unhorsing him before he could get his bearings.
I held on to him as we began to fall and flung myself, manipulating Murmur’s weight to turn our long fall into an extended version of my favorite move: The suplex. At this altitude it was more like an Izuna Drop, but you took what you could get. The demon’s helmeted head hit the ground before I did, the clanging crunch louder than even Megaera’s playing onstage.
Murmur’s gryphon circled around with one great flap of its wings and began to dive down at me, only to realize too late that it had overlooked something important. Gabriel stepped up and lifted his spectral sword, plunging the neon ghostly blade into the gryphon as I dove and letting momentum and gravity do the rest. Surprisingly, this didn’t result in blood and gore splattering everywhere, the demonic beast rupturing into fire and sparks as Gabriel’s sword nearly bisected it.
My head rang from the fall, but I felt my vampiric healing take effect immediately. Beneath me, the crumpled and dented suit of armor that had been the demon Murmur twitched, and he lifted his arm in one last defiant gesture. The crimson lights within his helmet blinked and went out, and the various pieces of armor collapsed and fell apart with dark smoke gushing out. The spiked crown rolled free from the helmet, eventually coming to a stop a few feet away.
The crowd went wild.
Megaera remained on stage for the rest of the performance. She was the frontman for a few Dio tributes – including Country Girl – and stepped back for Hellblazer’s own original songs. Maybe they weren’t the best band in the world, but for this one night they certainly played their heart out. They had a glimpse of the potential and performance they had always wanted – success that selling their souls could have never brought them. Would it last? Who knew. But for now, there was tonight, and their concert stood out like the rainbow that Meg had been singing about.
Hours and hours later, after the concert had finished, after the audience had bought their merch and left, and after roadies had begun packing up all the equipment, we found ourselves back in the green room with the band. Meg was still in her Fury form because why not at this point? Turning back would have broken the illusion that it was a costume. As for the Hellblazers, the difference in attitude was palpable.
“I guess I screwed up,” Rob Hell sat in one of the chairs, his hands folded, looking down. “Fucked us all over a little bit back there. Sorry, guys.”
“Sorry’s not good enough,” Jimmi Burton said. “But it’s a start.”
“I guess the band’s still going,” Vess added, and they looked at me and Gabe with a bit of admiration. “We’re all still alive with our souls and thank you so much for that.”
“It’s a living,” I responded.
“Argentum Crucis is dedicated to dealing with threats like this,” Gabriel explained.
“Hey, I was thinking,” Rob Hell looked up at Megaera. “You were pretty hot up there on stage and I know there’s a demand. Think you can perform with us sometime?”
“Did you see me turn the speakers up?” Kelly Kaprov asked. “There we were, rocking against the demons.”
“Eh, maybe.” The Fury shrugged her shoulders. “Get your act together and fix your life, and then maybe we’ll talk.”
“But what about your image? Can we sell some t-shirts with you on it?”
“An album cover?”
She grinned. “I’m flattered. But improve yourself first. I’ve got an image to maintain.”
“Just think of this as your rock bottom,” I chimed in. “Nowhere to go but up.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Dreck said, not catching the pun. “We almost got eaten by the devil. It’ll be hard to sink that low again.”
“It’s a second chance,” Megaera said. “Not everyone gets one. Lucy, Gabe, shall we go?”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. “The night is young, and we’ve got some holy diving or whatever to do still.”
Gabriel shook his head and muttered that he could never understand that song. Still, it had been a nice night for a concert and a demon fight. Not the worst way to spend a few hours.
As we left, Megaera took her human disguise again, and skipped ahead of us to the car with a spring in her step.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go finish that playlist!”