Hazy speed of his initial court hearing did not give Antonio much time to catch his breath. Accusations of crimes he had not committed ended up on his charge sheet. Antonio had rejected the deaths as his fault. That did not matter. Some eye witnesses placed the blame on his shoulders. Now it was his assigned lawyer’s job to prove his innocence. A trial date had been delayed. The lawyers from both sides needed time to make a solid case. Since some of the charges were murders he would have to spend some time behind bars, awaiting the fight of his life. Antonio knew exactly where his guilt stood. He had no blood directly on his hands as stated in the charges. Shock was still rumbling through his being.
Pits of torment made anything want to escape. Even lowly beings, felt the despair of a place that served as a prison. Those who made the decision to be there baffled him. Trapping their souls through bad decisions was the consequence they freely chose. Antonio was created in that world. Having never known the luxury of free will, he could only look with envy. Lords of the dark world had been sent to their own prison. A major difference in what Antonio was facing and the prison in which they existed was the ability to send others to do the bidding. Emotions of the damned spawned the creatures molded to their purpose by the dark overlord.
War had been waged in the shadows and in quiet for longer than man had walked the Earth. Those forces had been around long before humanity took the journey to sentience. Free will was the weapon that Antonio and his colleagues tried manipulate for their master. Their master had fallen from grace. When he hit the realm of prison he swore to punish all the creations of his master. Evolution made the need to change the demons and give them different purposes. The mortal realm was created as proving grounds. Free will determined the outcome of those tests. To feed his purpose, the fallen favored son fed on the spirits of those who failed. His appetite was unquenchable. He desired every free soul killed and the spirits brought to him.
To win the eternal war, the fallen one created the demons to subvert free will. When he had gathered enough to field an army he would storm the land he was from which he was exiled. It would be his poetic justice to turn the creations against their maker. Hatred darkened the last bit of his light. Even the slightest bit of faith or hope hurt. A three pronged attack would shield him from those two things making it to his realm. Each class of demons would do his bidding on the surface. To protect the others, a strong breed would exist. While under their protection the others would do their jobs of tormenting or corrupting. A final type would exist to take advantage of the small amount of power that could be held on the mortal realm. That power shifted fate lines to make deals happen.
The warrior class was the first creation. They were made strong enough to fight the Angels that threatened the others in the realm. So strong, that the fallen one himself feared the possibility of them uprising and demanding control. As a precaution he limited those created. To assert his and the other dark lords dominance the created demons were kept in Hell tortured and kept submissive. When they submitted completely to their masters, they were allowed to the surface world. Some creations resisted and were destined never to leave. Antonio was a quick convert to his side. He understood he was at the low end of the creation hierarchy and he accepted his purpose.
When the assignment out of Hell was earned a host body had to be found. Souls were in the way of any demonic spirit taking a body. Some attempted to despite the impending struggle. A simple exorcism and show of faith would banish the demon back. If a person used free will to choose greedy or harming others they would chip away at their soul. Sometimes another demon assisted in that process. Other times human nature made the decision to be selfish easily. The bodies became unguarded. When Angels roamed the world they would eliminate those unguarded bodies before they could play host to Satan’s spawn. Those days seemed to be gone in the new world. It was an open playground if a demon could earn his way out of the pits.
Failure meant a return to the torturing world. Antonio and other corruptors task was simple. Create the situation where the wrong decision seems to be the best decision. All they had to do was open the door. Harold took that option. Marie and Judith took that option. Many took the wrong option; Antonio had earned a long stay. Nathanial was a tormentor. He gained strength through the suffering of mortals. Often not willing to work in any organized fashion with the others they existed to visit Hell on mortals. Tormenting souls to defeat hope and test faith. This type also kept the same job when they returned to the fires that spawned their existence. Making sure nothing ever had hope of escaping the cruelty of that sentence. They were the only things that enjoyed their time in Hell. Some of the longest tenured demonic forces existed to do one thing, getting a person to voluntarily commit their spirit to the flame was easier as greed rose. In exchange for whatever worldly promise gained, the individual would take the place of the demon in the pits upon their death. Demons of this type were usually smart witted. They constantly had to have promised spirits ready to take their place. Pleasant in appearance and charm they were created to gain the trust of humans. When their last bargained person died they would have to return. It created a need to get any deal possible even if it meant destroying one of their own.
Antonio had done extremely well up until his arrest. Human justice meant he would not be convicted because in the charged offense, he was innocent. Still it was a delay to what he needed to pursue. He had worked with the several dozen others in the city to make their jobs and existence easier. It would take just one of them to help him out. Laws of man were silly to those fighting a greater battle. In fact, they helped by denying some from what they truly wanted to choose. Free will does not always mean making the best choice for all concerned. Antonio would go to his holding cell. Perhaps he would be able to spread even more of his gift. With his folded uniform and linen set tucked under his arm, Antonio proceeded with a bit of optimism.
What would become his home for the next few days was smaller than even his hole in the pits. He would share this hole with another. Linen already covered the top bunk letting anyone know that it would be occupied. In a way Antonio was happy. It would give him a chance to prevent someone to make the decisions needed to save their spirit. He held that outlook until the occupant returned from his smoke break in the outside area.
“I never would have dreamt I would see you again.” Vincent’s words carried the guilt of the murder he had committed. He was awaiting final sentencing as the facts did not take long to link together. Riga mortis had not yet set in when the flashy salesman was proven guilty. There was no fight in him, he did not even burden with a true lawyer. He wanted the shadow of guilt gone. All his hopes would lie on the sentencing. Nothing up to this point lifted the dark cloud. “You know you set me up. I am the one who did the deed, but you set me up.” Teeth gritted as the cloud needed to be shared. Vincent took his end of the responsibility. Now, his roommate needed to take his own.
“You chose to end that man’s life.” Antonio could sense the tension and desperation in the man’s words. He loved it.
“You escalated the situation to the point someone was going to die.” Vincent’s temper rose quickly in the man’s words. Accusations took the form of stated fact as they left his lips.
“You both only needed an excuse.” Antonio answered flatly.
“Maybe,” Vincent clenched his fist and finished the sentence. The pain he had throughout the hasty trial was released into one final strike into Antonio’s jaw. “Maybe we both should have targeted you.”
The demon let out a small hiss as he stumbled against the bunks. Impacting the side of his knee into the corner of the metal bed frame, he fell. A sharp pain shot through his mortal body. Finding the thin mattress with his rear, Antonio sat. He weighed the situation. All he would have to do was end this man. If it were not for the obvious death on his hands, it would not take this much measuring.
Decisions would have to wait as the lights shut down and a dark fog concealed any light from the windows. It was pitch black. Two small flames appeared beside Antonio. The flames formed into two eyes creating a glow around the hooded face. Bravado sprinted away from Vincent within an instant. He was frozen in fear. The dark cloud was no longer a metaphor, he was surrounded by it. The handsome man in the cloak had to be the devil, here to punish him for all the crimes he had committed. So much fear ran through the consultant that he was frozen from speech. Mindlessly clawing at the back wall of the cell, he had to get away.
“I love that effect on people.” Sinister smiles became illuminated from the burning eyes. The cloaked figure was thoroughly entertained by the bloody nails on Vincent’s hand as he tried in vain to burrow away. Antonio had no problem revealing his true self in the darkness. A second set of flame eyes watched in glee. “We only have a moment.”
“Are we escaping or doing this the way we have in the past by manipulating the system. With no proof and no intent, I should be able to walk.” The forked tongue flicked the air after his words.
“Neither,” the answer was firm. In an instant a single voice turned into many originating from the four walls of the cell. Powered by the tormented, these beings used every ounce to gain access to the mortal world. Damned voices spoke the demon’s words. “Prison has become a place where many find religion. Some even find a true salvation and rebuild their souls. We are diverting you to the goal of assisting an end to that.”
“So I am being sacrificed to the mortals?” Discussing the topic took away from Vincent’s presence in the corner. With his finger nails worn off and blood pouring down each tip, he gave up hope and began hyperventilating. To meet the echo of voices he perceived as a threat, Antonio spoke with many as well. Deep male voices conveyed his aggression.
“You are not being sacrificed. We have a new purpose for you. The mentor has chosen you specifically for this.” Reassurance did not do anything to sway Antonio. He felt perhaps a threat may. “Do you really want us to release something to enforce this decision?”
Time to fold his bluffing hand had come around. Antonio could not take on something created to orchestrate the maneuvers. The voices fell submissive in his reply. “What do you need me to do?”
Vincent had passed out and missed the point where the lights returned. Whatever had haunted his cell was gone. Hope was betting on it was gone. Regaining his footing, he noticed the seated Antonio was still present. With fear in his voice Vincent searched for answers. “What happened? What are you? What was that?” He wanted to know yet feared the answer.
“You don’t remember?” Antonio said with a little pride. “I know my punch knocked you out. I did not realize it also wiped your memory clean. Maybe, it is the drugs you are on?”
“I know what I saw. I am not even on drugs.” Vincent was adamant in his self defense. Raising his hands to Antonio to show the dried blood along his fingers, Vincent entered a scared depraved state. “You did this to me, you and your friend!”
“Are we really going down this road again?” Antonio was a bit smug in his answer. “This is what got you knocked out the first time.”
Screams caught the attention of a guard. He had made his way to the cell that held the two newly minted nemeses. “Be silent!” The command was even more firm than the voices Antonio had just mustered. “What is going on?”
“I was just informing my friend here that I am going to confess.” First to speak was usually the first believed. Antonio learned that lesson long ago. Leaning against the cell wall to whisper to the guard, “he is having an,” the fingers of Antonio made air quotes, “episode.”
The county deputy had a little more weight than when he was a new recruit. He also carried a little more wisdom. He knew to hear both sides of the story before rushing to judgment. Knowing that not too many people became one of his guests by being honest, both sides needed to be heard. “Is that what happened?”
“Not even slightly,” Vincent slammed his body against the jail cell. Bloodied hands wrapped tightly around the metal cell bar. “This man is not a man!” The statement hit the other two with a bit of instant scoffing. “When the power went out, he and his friend both came to haunt me. Look at his eyes and tell me he is normal. I have already been found guilty what else do the ghosts want, my blood?” Frantic words did not convey sanity to the jailer.
“We will get to that.” Hiding his ridicule was hard. There had been no power outages that were known. Fortunately, he was a veteran. “What happened to your hands?”
“I don’t know!” Words escaped Vincent’s mouth as desperate as he had become. “I am telling you they did this to me!”
“Just tell me how then.” Signaling for assistance the deputy knew when a drug addict was coming into a serious incident.
“I don’t know!” Vincent just needed someone to believe him. The irony struck him that he could sell a lie anytime he wanted to, but getting someone to believe the truth, was not in his tool box. “I just need you to believe me.” Hope had left him. When the assistance showed up it increased his struggle. Three guards rushed the cell and pinned him to the ground. “Why won’t you believe what I saw?” He kept repeating those words as they wrestled him out the door and down the hall.
When the struggling prisoner disappeared down the hall, the deputy returned to Antonio. “Eh, he will be just fine. What were you saying before that unpleasantness?”
“I want to make a statement.” Antonio portrayed the humility of someone making a guilty plea. “Can you get me my lawyer?”
Smiling, the deputy wondered if they should put anyone awaiting a murder charge in a cell with a lunatic. He could revolutionize the judicial system with the act. The detectives had failed to get a confession but not even an hour into the holding cell, this man was confessing. “Before I waste their time on this fine evening, would you care telling me what it is that you want to tell him?”
Ohio still had the death penalty. If he gambled with his innocence, there was only a slim chance he would be convicted. Rewarding that slim chance with the number of murder he was charged with committing would surely mean his end. Death of the body meant he could not do the mission the mentor had chosen for him. A deal could be made however. He could plead guilty in exchange for a promise to get life in prison instead of death. Deals such as that were common. It would not take much effort. The only problem he would face was being immortal in this realm. A life sentence could outlast the prison. Someone would eventually notice after he had served the equivalent of several life sentences. His mentor would find a solution when that time came. If he was obedient they would keep him in this realm and avoid the real prison of Hell. “Tell him I want to make a deal.”