Yunomi sat on the rotting porch of the old house, idly chucking shurikens into the railing across the way from her. A neatly spaced row of sharp stars protruded from the ancient wood. Darkness was slow in coming this October night, and she was eager for the nearing twilight. Tossing the last star with an echoing thunk, she rose and stalked across the creaking boards to retrieve her weapons. As each star was pulled free, she stuffed it into the pouch pocket of her hooded sweatshirt.
A slight change in the light caused her to snap her head around to face the front yard. A roiling cloud of misty blackness was bubbling towards the house. As the leading edge reached the front steps, the cloud receded and condensed close to the ground. A tall figure dressed completely in black stepped from the writhing gloom.
It was a man nearly seven feet tall, with long red hair pulled back in a single braid down his back, a black bandanna wrapped around his forehead. His face was not young, but not old either, with an ageless quality to it. A neatly trimmed beard and mustache gave him a somewhat sinister appearance. The sleeves were cut from his black denim shirt, revealing heavily tattooed arms, the lines of which glowed in the dying light like molten stone. He was lean and muscular, with a commanding attitude. Black jeans and heavy boots completed his appearance.
"Yunomi" his dark voice intoned.
Tiny flickering dots of light shone as the hooded figures moved single file through the cemetery. Reaching the chosen grave, they formed a circle and began chanting an ancient invocation. Two figures stepped into the center of the ring, carrying a writhing burlap bag. After some struggle, a black cat was produced from the bag and restrained on the grave top. A third figure came forth with a large knife. The tone of the chanting turned to a frenzied pitch and mixed with the screams of the unlucky feline as the knife wielder clumsily cut the catís throat. An audible sigh came at the end of the chant, as the animalís blood soaked into the grave.
Yunomi and Reaper stood unseen in the shadow of the trees surrounding the
graveyard. Reaperís expression was a mixture of curiosity and perplexity as he
watched the sacrificial scene unfold. The chants were all wrong, the sacrifice rudely
Yunomi watched in fascination as Reaper metamorphosed into his Protector of the Dead aspect. She never tired of seeing him transform. The Protector was a particularly terrifying vision. His limbs elongated as his flesh shrank and became leathery, his face skeletal. Long fingers ended in curved claws. His hair took on a life of its own and writhed around his head. His eyes became green coals burning in sunken pits. His clothes hung on his frame as grave rags. Yunomi nodded appreciatively at the transformation. He was now truly horrifying.
As Reaper sank into the ground, Yunomi decided on her own transformation. Something Lovecraftian and grotesque, she thought, would be perfect. Her arms and torso became bloated and hideously white. Her legs grew heavily muscled, ending in broad, flat feet. Her face widened and flattened, her mouth became unnaturally large. She resembled nothing so much as a human being slowly transformed into an enormous white toad. Although her posture was still upright, she hopped instead of walking. Her clothes had fallen away, so that the full horror of her half-toad body was visible. Pleased with the effect, Yunomi hopped in among the headstones and hid quietly, waiting for the Protector to make his appearance.
As the erstwhile Satanists dug at the grave, the earth beneath their spades trembled slightly. Baffled, they stopped digging. The coven leader continued chanting loudly from the book he had brought out, oblivious to the growing consternation of his followers. Finally, sensing something amiss, he glanced up to see two huge clawed hands with impossibly long fingers thrust up through the dirt of the half-opened grave. The diggers dropped their shovels and backed away as the priest and his two acolytes stood gape-mouthed. The Protector of the Dead crawled up out of the grave and stood to his full seven foot height before them.
"Who dares disturb the peace of my dead?" He thundered.
At that, all but the priest fled in terror. Regaining himself, the priest began chanting what was apparently a binding spell. He clearly had no idea who or what stood before him. The Protector clutched the priest by the throat with one long fingered hand and lifted him high off the ground. Yunomi hopped up onto a nearby vault in plain sight of the terrified priest.
"Reaper, theyíre just kids." she mind-spoke to Him.
"This oneís not." He spoke audibly and flicked the hood off the priests head with one long claw. The priest was a thirtyish white man with long greasy black hair and a pointed devilís beard. He began chanting again in a choked voice. The Protector pulled the priestís face close to His own, the awful gray flesh around His teeth writhing back in a grotesque grin.
"You canít even pronounce the words right." He hissed, and dropped the man to the ground. The priest scrambled to his feet.
"Then teach me, demon. Take me as your acolyte."
The Protector looked him up and down, then grasped him by the back of the neck and thrust him close to Yunomi.
"This is my acolyte." He stated as Yunomi shot out her broad, pallid tongue to lick the priestís face. The man let out a muffled shriek and covered his eyes with his hands. The Protector released him and intoned, "Be gone, false man, and trouble my dead no more." Then He turned to go. The priest took two steps back, and began chanting what he thought was a binding spell again. With a casual back slash of a long arm, the Protector raked His claws across the manís face and chest, opening gaping wounds and sending him flying back into a nearby grave stone. Yunomi hopped over to the stunned, bleeding man and tasted his blood with her toad tongue.
"You shouldnít anger my Lord." she croaked sympathetically, then hopped off after the retreating form of the Protector. When she caught up with him, Reaper had already resumed his human form.
"Your appearance was inspired, Yunomi."
"Thank you, my Lord. I thought it might fit the occasion." She began to reassemble herself. Her body regained its true form, one that reflected her training in the martial arts. She stood upright, shaking her red-blond hair back into place. Reaper stepped forward and smoothed a stray strand back, then caressed her cheek.
"Lovecraft, I believe." he mused. Yunomi smiled, pleased that he had recognized her inspiration. She was more in touch with human darkness than Reaper, having lived among them more recently. She was always curious about how humans viewed the Dark Side, the place that had become her home. She found their versions of it immensely entertaining.
"Well, that was fun, but the night is still young. Where to?" Yunomi was up for more mischief.
"My coven is having a Sabbat tonight, and I must make an appearance. They have a problem." Reaper told her. Yunomi was ecstatic. She loved her Lordís personal coven. They were all humans who had accepted him as the Lord of Darkness and worshipped accordingly. He had chosen them because of their dedication to the dark arts and their personal devotion to him. Also, they threw really good Sabbats.
When they arrived at the Sabbat grounds, the chanting had already begun. This time it was done correctly, and a beautiful thing to hear. Reaper assumed his aspect as the Lord of Darkness. His dark red hair was loose and flowing, His tattoos glowed with a supernatural light. He was dressed all in black leather; pants, boots and sleeveless vest, and a long black cape with a high silver-studded collar.
Yunomi decided on a black metallic dress that fit her form like poured water. The material resembled shining black chainmail with a high neckline and slits up the side to mid-thigh. Black soft leather boots finished off the outfit.
Satisfied with their appearance, the two made their entrance to the Sabbat. A crack of lightning and rumble of thunder announced them. Boiling black mist arose in the Sabbat circle, and when it cleared, the Lord of Darkness and His acolyte stood in the center. A wild cheer went up. Their Lord did not appear at every Sabbat. Reaper raised His arms, turned and walked to the throne His coven had prepared for Him, a large heavily carved Gothic chair, probably stolen from a church.
He seated Himself with regal authority. Yunomi elegantly curled herself at His feet. One of the coven members approached and offered a goblet filled with the potent home-brew they reserved for their Sabbats. Yunomi accepted the goblet and passed it to Reaper. He drank deeply, and handed it back to Yunomi. She too drank, and the revels began.
Wild fiddle and concertina music filled the air, and the coven began to dance. Yunomiís attendant, a young girl, brought her a cup filled with brew. She and Reaper drank together, and when their cups were empty they were refilled. One by one, the coven members left the dancing circle and approached their Lord. Some offered supplication, some requested favors. Reaper stretched out His hand in blessing to each one.
Yunomi noticed that one man hung back. He had not partaken of the home-brew, and did not approach the throne. Reaper noticed, too. He beckoned to the coven warlock, and indicated the reluctant participant. "Our new member seems uncomfortable. I would speak with him."
The warlock bowed low, and went to fetch the new member. "You are indeed fortunate," he told the initiate. "Not only has our Lord appeared at your first Sabbat, He wishes to speak to you personally." Privately, the warlock was suspicious of this new man, and his Lordís interest was confirming his doubts. He led the man to Reaperís throne, stopped and bowed low.
"Lord, this is our initiate....."
Reaper motioned the warlock to be silent. The Dark Lord stared at the man with His milky white eyes.
"I know who you are. I know who sent you. You are not a believer."
The man stammered, unnerved. "Lord, I....."
Reaper cut him off. "You will believe before the night ends." The revels continued around them. The coven members were becoming entranced from the dancing and home-brew. Yunomi was sipping from her cup, gently swaying to the music. Reaper stroked her head like a pet.
"This is my acolyte, Yunomi. Beautiful, is she not?"
"Yes, Lord." the shaken initiate replied. Yunomi smiled evilly up at the man.
"Yunomi, show him your true face."
Yunomi set her cup down and bowed her head so that her face was hidden. When she raised her head, her face appeared as it had when she died, beaten almost beyond recognition. It was the face she had used to drive her own brother mad. The initiate gasped and stumbled back from her as she grinned at him with her ragged, broken mouth. The warlock stifled a laugh behind his hand, while Reaper benignly continued to pet Yunomiís head.
"Yunomi has been dead for over two of your years. Her soul belongs to me. All these souls belong to me." He swept His arm in a large gesture at the dancers, then He leaned over and kissed Yunomi on her bloody mouth. Her face returned to its former appearance.
The initiate was shaking. He could not believe what he had just witnessed. When he had taken this assignment, he believed it would be a standard investigation of run-of-the-mill Satanists. But now it was becoming something entirely unexpected. He had seen many corpses in his law enforcement career, and there was no doubt that this woman had become a living corpse. But it wasnít possible, it had to be some sort of trick.
Yunomi arose and stretched gracefully. She leaned over and whispered to her Lord. He nodded, and kissed the back of her hand. She picked up her cup, and swayed out to join the dancers, drinking as she went. Reaper stared after her in admiration. She danced beautifully, and with great devotion. He loved to watch her move. Reaper then turned His attention to the matter at hand. This initiate was a spy, and must be dealt with.
"You donít believe what your senses tell you is true. You are not drugged, you have drunk none of our brew." Reaper saw with annoyance that the spy was still staring at Yunomi. He was apparently trying to figure out how she had achieved her transformation. The warlock nudged the spy sharply.
"Our Lord is speaking to you." he hissed. The spy regained some of his composure, and looked straight into Reaperís face.
"So you claim to be Satan?" he asked.
Reaperís eyes narrowed dangerously. He rose from His throne and spread His arms so that His cloak took on the appearance of wings.
"I am the Lord of Darkness!" He thundered.
The dancers all stopped and turned to face their Lord, swaying and chanting. Yunomi put down her cup and moved closer, smiling wickedly. She knew what was coming. The warlock and his acolyte moved closer to the spy, to prevent his escape. They also knew what to expect.
Electricity flashed from Reapersí eyes and fingertips. The outstretched cloak became wings, leathery and black. His eyes became large, with glowing green irises and vertical slits for pupils. His skin changed to gleaming ebony, the tattoos glowing like lava. His hair became flame. The coven sighed in ecstasy as one. Their Dark Lord had taken on the aspect of the Dragon Lord. Yunomi approached Him and hugged Him. He enfolded her in His leathery wings so she could not be seen.
Throughout the transformation, the spy stood open-mouthed in horror and astonishment. He was close enough to see that this could not be faked, but his mind could not accept what he was seeing. The Dragon Lord opened His wings and His acolyte emerged. She was naked and hairless, her skin a glittering emerald green. Her eyes were like her Lords, but with orange irises. When she smiled, rows of white needle teeth showed. She twirled over to the spy, and circled him, flicking her forked tongue as if tasting his fear. The man felt something snake-like twining up his leg. He looked down and to his horror discovered that the acolyte had a reptilian prehensile tail that she was wrapping around him. He shrieked in terror and tried to jump back, but was held fast by Yunomiís tail.
"Ummmm," she hissed, flicking her tongue. "I never tasted a cop before."
"Yunomi!" the Dragon Lordís voice roared in warning. "He is mine!"
Yunomi gave her Lord a petulant look, but returned to His side. She knew He would not warn her a second time.
"Bring the unbeliever to me!" the Dragon Lord demanded. The warlock and his acolyte dragged the spy to their Lordsí feet. "You have a choice," He rumbled. "Give your soul to me freely, or I will tear it from you."
The spy was in no condition to make that kind of decision. He had been pushed to the edge of insanity. The warlock and the acolyte supported the man between them as he stared uncomprehendingly at the Dragon Lord. The Lord lost patience, and struck the spy on the forehead with His open palm. The man stiffened and fell to the ground where he lay in a heap, muttering incoherently.
The Dragon Lord appeared satisfied with His work. He enfolded Yunomi into His wings, and they returned to their previous aspects. The Dark Lord turned to His priest.
"Leave him in the forest, far from the Sabbat grounds. He will not trouble you again." Giving the warlock a warning glance, He continued. "In the future, be more discerning of our initiates." The warlock, trembling slightly, bowed deeply to his Lord.
The Lord of Darkness extended His arms in blessing to His assembled coven, then grasped Yunomiís hands. They disappeared as they had come, in a boiling black cloud of mist.
Reaper and Yunomi reappeared at the edge of the badlands that served as a gate between the Dark Side and the Human Realm. Reaper had left his black motorcycle there for the return trip to the Dark Side. They shed their Lordly aspects and resumed a more human appearance. They mounted the bike, and tore off through the badlands. Yunomi threw back her head and spread her arms wide, screaming her wild joy to the wind. Smiling, Reaper shook his head. Her enthusiasm for the life he had given her amazed him. She was a wild and fearless soul, and he was glad she was his companion. Yunomi leaned forward, throwing her arms around Reaperís neck.
"Letís go watch the moon set." she yelled over the wind. He turned off onto a dirt road that wound to the top of a nearby bluff. At the top he parked the bike and they climbed off, walking to the edge of the cliff to watch the setting moon. Reaper stood behind Yunomi, his huge arms wrapped around her shoulders. They stood silently for a while, each deep in their own thoughts.
As the moon sank below the horizon, Reaper leaned forward and nuzzled Yunomiís neck. She sighed and tilted her head, allowing him to continue. "Donít start something with me youíre not gonna finish." she warned. He smacked her on the butt.
"Then letís ride. We can get to my place before daybreak."
Hooting with anticipation, Yunomi ran to the bike. The thought of spending the coming day making love to her Lord caused her heart to race. They descended from the bluff, and roared off through the brightening badlands, to the Dark Side gate.
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