Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Wise Men Weren't Christians But They're Still Part Of Christmas

Last year around Christmas, I blogged about Josephus' account of Jesus. That seemed to be pretty interesting for most people that read my blog, since it's the second most popular post I've ever written and it still gets views throughout the year but gets heavily visited around Christmas.


This year I want to talk about the "three wise men" from Matthew's account of Jesus' birth. Here's their part in the birth of Jesus (or you can skip down to where I paraphrase the 12 verses below):

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
    for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route." (Matthew 2: 1-12, New International Version)

They saw a new star that denoted the birth of a Messiah and they followed it to its source. Upon arriving in King Herod's domain, they asked Herod where the child was to be born. Herod consulted with the chief priests and they were able to correctly tell the Magi that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. The wise men then followed the star until they found the child in a house. They fell down at the feet of the Infant King and worshiped him, presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. God then warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, so they returned to their country using an alternate route and lived out their lives in their own country.

What does all this have to do with anything?
Well, what most people don't know is that the Magi, or wise men, were Zoroastrians.They were followers of the Prophet Zoroaster (and you can read more about their prophet here: Zoroaster. They were not even Christians the way we define Christians today. Guess what? I don't know of a nativity scene that's complete without the wise men. Let's recap:

-They knew of a prophecy about Christ's birth
-They left their homes to find the Messiah
-When they found him, they kneeled and presented him with gifts that were fit for a King
-After worshiping Christ, God spoke to them in a dream and told them to return to their country via a different route

So in reality, they received two honors that few people have received in this life. They were gifted the chance to worship the Immortal Christ in person. They were spoken to by God in a dream. Does that actually make them Christians?

Here's what I believe. We focus too much throughout the year on excluding people. These people don't belong to this group that I'm in because of this. I don't think they would fit in. Those people aren't Christians like I'M a Christian. It's really annoying. Christianity should be a religion of inclusion. Stop looking at your neighbors like they have the plague. Stop with the jealous thoughts and feelings that run your life. Stop looking down on others who may have received honors from God that you can't even comprehend.

Merry Christmas and happy whatever else doesn't offend you. For me, I would love to kneel at the feet of Christ with the Magi, the shepherds, and the little drummer boy. I wouldn't be thinking horrible things about them because they, like me, just want to worship the Son of God.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Online Donors Raise $100,000 So Orlando, The Seeing-Eye Dog, Can Stay With His Best Friend

I wanted to post something since its getting pretty late into December and I haven't blogged since last month. I thought about writing about the whole Phil Robertson / Duck Dynasty controversy over what he said, but that actually sounds kind of boring to me. Here's what I think. Phil is a celebrity because his family makes duck calls really well. He also runs a very successful business. So unless Phil is talking about duck calls or running a business, I really don't care what his opinion is. Everyone has a right to say whatever they want, but I don't understand how everyone can get into a heated debate over what celebrities think. It's not like they have any knowledge on most subjects beyond what an ordinary person would have.


On to something more important. I don't usually cover news stories on here, but it's close to Christmas and I really liked this story.

The above photo is a picture of Cecil Williams, a blind man, and his seeing-eye dog of eight years, Orlando. Orlando the Labrador is one of the most badass dogs ever. Not only did the dog go above and beyond what he was required to do, he did something very few humans would even attempt.

On December 17, 2013, Cecil fainted and fell onto the train tracks of the subway. Orlando went down to save him. After an unsuccessful attempt at trying to get Cecil off the train tracks, Orlando stayed there with him and licked his face as the train passed over both of them. They both escaped with only minor injuries.

Orlando is nearly 11 and that means he's only a short time away from retirement as a seeing-eye dog. Cecil wanted to keep him as a pet, but didn't feel he had the money to do so responsibly. This is the kind of thing that catches the attention of the internet. A GoFundMe project has raised nearly $38,000 and an Indiegogo campaign has pulled in around $67,500 so that Cecil can get a new seeing-eye dog but still keep Orlando as a pet.

Normally I think that these ridiculous amounts of money raised after a story goes viral are kind of... well... ridiculous. In this case, I don't think so. Yes, the money was raised so Cecil can keep Orlando as a pet. In reality, Orlando went above and beyond the call of duty and he deserves to retire and live out his days with his best friend, Cecil. Will that require $100,000? I doubt it. The extra money will be going to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization that trains seeing-eye dogs and then gives them to blind people at no charge. They were also the group that initially gave Orlando to Cecil.

So Orlando, you are a badass dog. I hope you have a great time as a retired badass. I'm glad that you get to stay with Cecil, the owner that clearly means more to you than your own life.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Evolution of the Cover: Minor Demons

I promised myself I could have a short break when I made it to 66,000 words on Minor Demons so I could post an evolution of the cover on my blog and finally reveal the finished cover for Minor Demons. The cover for Minor Demons was created by Doug Beckstead, the same artist who made the cover for Jehovah and Hades and Geek of Legend: The Elvish Screwdriver. You can find the Facebook page for his company, Original Concept Designs, here.

When I have Doug start on a cover, I usually give him a photo of the general idea of what I'm looking for and then we discuss a few specific elements that I want incorporated into it. The cool part is that I never know where exactly the drawing is going in the early stages but it always turns out great. By the time I got the third image, I knew this cover was going to be epic:

There were a few things I knew I was going to have Doug change (I requested that he try to add a skull into the hilt of the sword and that turned out looking really cool), since this is a drawing of the minor demon Shadow, but I held off and just let him go in the direction he was going in. Once he had a more complete drawing, I had him add metal gauntlets instead of bare hands.

From there, Doug started in on the computer graphics phase. He started with the face and started working his way down.

We then decided to place the drawing in a rectangle the size that the final book cover would be and insert the title. I picked the fonts for my name and the title. I also told Doug that it would be really cool if he could find a way to insert veins onto a red blade for Shadow's sword. I don't know how he did it, but he was able to pull it off.

After that, Doug finished coloring in Shadow and added him in with the text and a red fog to produce the final cover. I don't really have a "favorite part" of this cover because the whole thing looks badass and fits perfectly how I imagined Shadow the demon in my head.

As far as my action / adventure fiction goes, this is my favorite cover to date. I'm pretty sure that it should only be another week or two before I publish on Amazon and start formatting for the paperback version. Minor Demons will likely be the first book in a trilogy (I have two more books somewhat planned out in my head right now, Middle Demons and Major Demons.) Thanks for taking the time to check it out and for your patience while I finish writing the book. I know many of you want to start reading it, based on how many hits my blog got when I posted the first two chapters earlier this month.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Minor Demons: Intro plus Chapters 1-2

I just crossed the 60,000 word mark on Minor Demons last night during a slow hour (9:00 pm) at work. I also realized that I haven't posted anything on my blog so far this month. I decided that I'd post the introduction and the first two chapters of Minor Demons, since Amazon will give at least that much as a sample when I publish it. I've been trying to edit as I go, but this is not a final version. You'll probably even see some changes from the introduction I posted on my blog a while back.



At the end of the Great War, the Dragon was cast into Hell. He yelled and thrashed around in his new home. Hell wasn’t Hell until the Dragon was sent there. Rocks jutted out of the ground and ended in impaling spikes. A thick mist of darkness enveloped the entire realm. Fire came into existence all around; not a fire that brought light but a fire that brought heat and pain. The Dragon raged there until he saw something else descending from the Heavens.
The gates of Hell were broken as the Dragon’s army was thrust through them. For the first time since the last battle, the Dragon smiled. At least God had allowed him creatures that he could make more miserable than himself. Maybe there would be a chance to regroup and assault the Heavens once again…
His thoughts were cut short as something else walked through the gates of Hell. The demons all cowered in fear and crept deeper into the shroud of darkness and fires of Hell. The Dragon stood his ground. The shimmering being walking towards him glowed with radiant light. His white eyes were no less bright, even in the blackness of Hell. His right hand gripped his sword, also a pure white but the Dragon knew it was stained with the blood of innumerable demons. Even if his followers fell back, he was not afraid of the angels, having once been one himself. He knew this angel particularly well since he was the commander of the armies of the Heavens.
“Come to finish me off, Michael?”
Demons had been slowly growing more used to the light surrounding Michael the Archangel and were slowly moving towards him, readying their weapons. Without turning his head, Michael could sense their gradual approach. He took his sword in both hands, raised it high above his head, and drove it into ground. The entire realm radiated with white light and the demons fled in a final retreat.
“Enough with the tricks. Let’s finish this.”
The dragon unsheathed his dark blade that still glowed with the blood of the angels. He was ready for the final fight, Lucifer and Michael – one on one.
“I didn’t come here for that. I come with a message from God.”
“Do you now? What does the Great Tyrant have to say about my rebellion?”
“I wouldn’t talk ill of the Great God who spared your life. It would have been easy enough to stamp out your rebellion and put an end to you.”
“So why didn’t you?”
“God told me to stop.”
“I’m not an angel anymore, Michael. I tried to overthrow God. You mean to tell me that even after I betrayed him, he didn’t have it in him to end me? What a weak and sentimental…”
“I didn’t come here to argue with you. I’m here to offer you the terms of your exile. If you refuse,” Michael added with a smile, tightening the grip on his sword, “I will cut you off from existence. God has allowed me that privilege should you continue on in your desire to fight.”
“Let’s hear it then, errand boy.”
“God will allow you to bring evil into the world to test the humans. You will retain command over all the souls you took with you from Heaven. You and your army will sustain yourselves by the souls you corrupt and successfully win over on earth. You will not appear to the humans, you will not make yourself known unless they seek you, and you will never again attempt to enter the gates of Heaven unless God demands your presence. It’s either that or I can end your miserable reality right now.”
“I accept. We surrender.”
Michael looked disappointed.
“The first humans will be placed on earth shortly. Be warned that I will not allow your demons to rage out of control on earth. Angels will be sent to earth should the humans ask for it.”
“Oh they won’t. Most of them will be under my control almost instantly. They’re weak creatures and God was a fool for creating them. If any of them do ask for angels, I’ll have other humans mock them and put them to death. I hope you don’t get too bored waiting for prayers that will never come.”
“You underestimate God’s plan but pride has always been your downfall. You were my brother but you rose up to seek the glory that will never be yours. I had always hoped that you weren’t as stupid and impulsive as you looked but I guess you proved me wrong, Lucifer. I’ll see you again at the end of time when God gifts me the right to slay you.”
As Michael turned to leave, Satan threw his sword at Michael’s back. Feeling darkness approaching, Michael turned and deflected the weapon with his sword. He spun and readied a counter strike, ready to split the Dragon’s head down the middle. He stopped his blade within inches. The Dragon smiled and shook all of Hell with his laugh. Michael turned and walked swiftly away, light and glory exiting Hell with him.

It was shortly after his exile that the Dragon organized his forces. As the master of all evil, he decided to gift his knowledge to six demons – the six lords of Hell. Each would become the master of one temptation. While they took over responsibility for their specific sin immediately, they were all made masters of sin when the Dragon personally brought them to earth and taught them how to destroy humanity.
The first major demon was Lucian, the lord of lies. Lucian accompanied the Dragon to earth when he tempted the human race’s first parents, Adam and Eve. The Dragon took possession of a snake and lied to Eve. Eve then tempted Adam. Lucian watched and learned how one lie could spread from person to person and corrupt them all. Lucian later discovered that a lie could easily lead to more lies and even a white lie could be like piercing water to bring forth innumerable ripples. It was Lucian who convinced Cain to lie to God after he killed his brother.
The second major demon was Cain, the lord of murder. His spot was contested as the Dragon couldn’t decide who was more deserving between Cain and his brother, Abaddon. Before his journey to earth to tempt a son of Adam to murder his brother, a plot to overthrow the Dragon was uncovered by Lucian. Abaddon had planned to betray the Dragon and sit on the throne of Hell. Cain pleaded with the Dragon to spare his brother (while demons generally care for no one but themselves, they can’t deny a sense of responsibility when it comes to family) but Abaddon was cast into the depths of Hell to be eternally tormented with all that were under his command. Cain adopted his nephew, Shadow, and convinced the Dragon to spare him from the torture endured by Abaddon.
Cain, the lord of murder, went with the Dragon to earth to tempt a son of Adam to slay his brother. The demon Cain learned that murder can have any motivation: greed, jealousy, anger, even righteous vengeance. After the son of Adam was killed, it was Cain, the lord of murder who tempted Lamech to become a murderer and forge a secret society bent on murdering all that opposed them.
The third major demon, and the only female of the six, was the demoness Vixen. Vixen became the major demon of lust. The Dragon took Vixen with him when he corrupted Sodom and Gomorrah and held absolute power over them through their complete abandon to sexual desires. Vixen learned that getting any human to focus on immediate desires, while blocking out any other thoughts, could be incredibly effective in bringing men and women to surrender to lust. After the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah, Vixen was able to tempt the Egyptian pharaoh to bring Sarah, Abraham’s wife, to his house out of pure lust. God put a stop to this attempt at ruining Abraham’s lineage, but Vixen was later able to tempt David to commit adultery with Bathsheba and Cain stepped in to tempt David to murder Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. Vixen caused Solomon to give into lust and he took every attractive woman as his wife or concubine. Once he was bound through lust to hundreds of idolatrous women, Vixen led him into other sins and almost brought down the entire House of Israel on her own.
The fourth major demon was Baal, the lord of idolatry. Baal was present with the Dragon when the Israelites asked Aaron to make them a golden calf to worship. Baal learned that an unhealthy obsession with any object could turn into blatant idolatry. After Moses gave the Ten Commandments, Baal was still able to influence the Israelites by making idol representations of Jehovah. At times, Baal worked with Vixen to bring Israel’s pagan neighbors into the royal family as concubines or wives. Their greatest success was the marriage of Jezebel to King Ahab. Jezebel fought tirelessly to spread the worship of Baal to the entire kingdom of Israel. During some centuries, Baal was worshiped as a god by the idolatrous humans.
The fifth major demon was Leviathan, the lord of jealousy. Leviathan went with the Dragon to earth when the Dragon convinced the sons of Israel to throw their brother, Joseph, in a pit and sell him into slavery. Leviathan learned that jealousy was capable of being the author of many other sins, including murder, theft, and lies. It was Leviathan who later planted the seed of envy in King Saul which grew into a desire for murder. Leviathan worked with Cain in an attempt to slay David through the king’s overwhelming jealousy. Since then, Leviathan has used envy as an effective tool to not only lead mankind to other sins, but to also keep them in an enraged and hateful state toward their fellowmen.
The sixth major demon that the Dragon trusted to lead his armies was Asmodeus, the lord of inaction and laziness. Asmodeus was with the Dragon when he convinced the leaders of the Israelites to disobey the commandment of God and not destroy everything of the Canaanites. Asmodeus later convinced King Saul to spare Agag when Samuel had given the clear commandment to destroy everything. Asmodeus then took possession of Sarah and deprived her of her husbands until the arrival of Tobias, who was accompanied by the Archangel Raphael. Asmodeus fled, was captured by the archangel Raphael, but then later escaped and has been leading men to failure through inaction ever since.
The Dragon retained control over the sin of pride, as it was the sin that he was cast out of Heaven for. Once he put the six major demons in place, he allowed them to choose their followers. Lucian and Cain recruited the largest followings. The major demons divided their followers into ranks based on their skills as tempters. Thus, middle demons and minor demons were born. A final class of non-recruited demons remained “in-training” until recruited into the army of a major demon.
While they couldn’t appear to humans or harm them physically, except under special allowed circumstances, demons were made of the same type of matter and could harm one another. Humans could neither see them nor harm them, even though they were fairly similar in overall appearance. Demons often got into fights with one another and crafted armor and weapons out of the humans they stole away to Hell. The need to craft armor and weapons from bones coupled with the demons need to consume souls for sustenance eventually led to a shortage of humans in Hell, despite the billions the demons had corrupted and dragged down. The major demons of Hell pressured their armies to corrupt human souls further before escorting them to Hell but the shortage continued on.
The Dragon, shortly after his exile, devised three horrible trials that demons-in-training would have to pass through to aid in the recruitment process. Major demons and middle demons tuned in to watch each new class of demons compete in the trials.
The first trial was a labyrinth filled with creatures and monsters from the nightmares humans dreamed. The labyrinth changed with each demon that entered, so no run through the labyrinth was ever exactly the same. Some creatures remained in the labyrinth each time to keep a small degree of consistency.
The second trial was called the death pit. Two demons went in and one came out. Demons were allowed to kill their opponent, but the match was officially won when a demon incapacitated his opponent. Single elimination – no second chances.
The final trial was tempting a simulated human in a simulated earth-like environment. Points were scored based on what the demon could get the human to do and how much chaos he could cause as a result.
Time passed on and while the earth became more and more corrupted, Hell brought forth a new generation of demons that would have to bring humanity to an even lower level to keep Hell supplied with sufficiently corrupted souls. All hope rested with the next group of demons-in-training.


The day had finally come.
Shadow hopped out of bed and made his way slowly to the fridge. He grabbed the last remains of the soul of a drug dealer and downed it in one gulp. While his hunger didn’t fully dissipate, he was lucky he had food at all with the current soul shortage in Hell, and too much was on his mind today to worry about taste. He had been waiting a long time to finally get this chance.
Demon placement.
Shadow returned to his room and opened his closet. He had to look his best and find the most intimidating outfit possible for his first day. He put on his father’s old, red cloak. He found his skull helmet with the least amount of damage and placed it on his head. Those choices were easy but the final item he carried with him would make a statement more than anything else. His hand paused as he reached in to grab a weapon. It was obvious which one would make an impression. His uncle had given him a scythe on his last birthday. While it would surely be the envy of his entire class, Shadow knew he shouldn’t have it. Demons-in-training shouldn’t have a weapon that was generally only gifted to major demons. He was about to choose something else when his mother came in the room.
“Look at you. You look exactly like a smaller version of your father.”
“I can’t decide on a weapon.”
“Go with your uncle’s scythe. No one else will have one.”
“I’M not supposed to have one.”
“Your uncle is the demon of murder and he doesn’t have a son to give things to. You should show him your respect and carry it with you.”
“He’s not my dad. My dad is in the lowest circle of Hell.”
“And your uncle has tried to get him out for years. You have your father’s cloak and you should carry your uncle’s scythe.”
“I don’t want to coast on his reputation. I want to be my own version of badass.”
“And wielding a scythe is going to prevent you from doing that?”
Shadow sighed and then reached back in his closet to pull out the scythe. He could feel the power resonating from it. His mother was right; no one in his class would have a weapon like this – not even his instructor.
“You look… so much like your father…”
Shadow could tell the tears were about to come. He decided to distract her.
“So, can I get some advice? I would normally ask dad or uncle but they’re both kind of busy at the moment.”
Shadow gave his mother a half-crooked smile and his mother smiled.
“If you don’t get recruited right away and become a minor demon, that’s ok. Just study and work hard and you’ll get there eventually. Most demons don’t become minor demons after the three trials. Just do your best.”
“Is it a real human that they let you tempt in the third trial?”
“No. Not anymore.”
“Was it a real human you tempted when you entered the third trial?”
“The only one I tempted on my first few days was your father.”
She winked.
“Mom, that’s disgusting.”
She laughed and Shadow regretted asking her for advice.
“Take in all you can from the trials. If you make friends with the other demons, make sure they see you as the leader. I want you to become a minor demon as fast as you can so you have a chance to move up when other spots become… vacant.”
“There’s no need to worry, Mom. I’ll be a minor demon in no time. You know how hard I’ve trained.”
“Yes, Shadow, I know but don’t get overconfident. Oh, I almost forgot.”
She left the room and came back with a piece of paper.
“Your uncle left you a note for you to read before the trials. Read it out loud; I want to hear.”

So it’s finally your time. You better make me proud. I’m going to check in and see how it went so I expect you to start plenty of fights with the other demons. No flying under the radar today, kiddo. I want you to find the demon that you think has the most potential (other than you) and I want you to put him in his place. If you’re going to make friends, make sure they’re demons that you can control. I want you to take the scythe I gave you to the trials and if I find out you didn’t… I will drop in and murder you myself. Remember our deal, Shadow.
Your uncle,
General Cain
The Demon of Murder

“So uncle wants me to walk in like I own the place? Shouldn’t be a problem.”
“You have a few minutes before you need to get going. Let’s see you swing the scythe.”
Shadow took the scythe in both hands, swung it over his head, and brought it down hard on the floor. The room shook and his bed caught on fire.
“Holy shit, Mom. This thing rocks!”
“I just wanted to see if you could lift it. Don’t play around with it when you’re supposed to be listening later.”
“Mom, it feels like it’s slowly welding itself to my hands! It has so much power! I can’t wait to reap souls with this thing!”
“Plenty of time to play with that later. It’s time to get going. Make me proud!”
“I’m sure that I will.”

Shadow was ecstatic as he walked out the door. He had never felt such power and now he thought he understood a little of what it felt to be an addict. No wonder drug addicts keep going back for the high. Shadow was so preoccupied with unwinding from the rush of power that he walked right into another demon-in-training on his way to demon placement.
“Hey! Get the hell out of my way!”
“Kiss my ass! You need to watch where the hell you’re…”
The other demon paused as his eyes rested on Shadow’s scythe.
“Shit… is that thing real?”
Shadow brought the bottom end of the scythe down on the ground. The tremors tore through the ground and knocked the other demon’s legs out from under him. He stared up at Shadow in awe mixed with a moderate amount of fear. Shadow reached his hand out and pulled the demon to his feet.
“Still think I need to watch where I’m going?”
“So you must be Shadow. My dad told me you’re General Cain’s nephew and that he gave you a scythe a few days ago. Must be nice to have family in power like that.”
“Sounds like you know of me. Who the hell are you?”
“The name is Leech.”
“Who’s your dad?”
“One of the minor demons in charge of muggings. He reports to demons that report to your uncle. He didn’t even have enough money to get me a decent weapon or helmet… and this cloak is a piece of shit.”
Shadow noticed that Leech had no skull helmet and no weapon. The cloak he wore was dark brown with a few holes and patches scattered across it. He was also on the smaller side for a demon. This was one demon in his class that he would never have to worry about. He was likely to stay a minor demon forever, just like his father had.
“So you don’t even have a weapon?”
“No, I have one. I said they couldn’t get me a decent weapon.”
Leech reached into his cloak and pulled out a dagger made from a human femur bone that had been sharpened to a lethal-looking point. Some attempt had been made to smooth out a handle but the entire weapon looked fairly crude.
“It’s nothing like a scythe and I’m already planning on getting tormented by everyone else. I just hope you’re willing to… forget this whole thing?”
Leech forced a frightened smile. He seemed to possess a small amount of confidence and bravery but he clearly recognized Shadow as his superior. He knew the order of things and how things worked. Shadow saw in him the potential to have a very strong minion.
“I’ll give you a chance to make this up to me. My uncle wants me to find a potential rival today and put him in his place.”
“Oh I don’t think I’d make a very good rival for you.”
“Shut up.”
“What I was going to say is that you’re likely to get picked on. The first time it happens, I want you to tell the bully that Shadow is going to kick his ass and then show him who I am. Can you do that?”
“And if I do this for you, I get a free pass? You’ll forget that I was about to stand up to you?”
“Even better. If you do this for me, I’ll let you in my posse. NO ONE will pick on you… except maybe me when I get bored.”
Leech smiled and extended his hand.
“You’ve got a deal, Shady.”
“Don’t call me Shady ever again.”
Shadow took Leech’s hand and they shook on their deal.

The rest of the way to demon training was mostly uneventful. Leech showed Shadow a side trail where they could pass by humans in the process of being tortured. They both decided to throw rocks at them for a few minutes. Demons never pitied humans, even those who were already damned. They would have continued for a bit longer but the torturing demons turned on them and started to walk in their direction. This provided a moment of respite for the damned human souls and Shadow couldn’t allow this. He brought the bottom of his scythe down on the ground and let tremors ripple through the floor of Hell.
“We’re on our way to demon placement. You can get back to what you were doing now.”
The torture demons saw the scythe and looked at each other. They almost decided to risk it, but they saw Shadow and Leech continue back on their path and returned to torturing their victims. The soul-shattering screams resumed as the continual background music of Hell.
Once they were out of sight of the torture demons, Leech, who was in front of Shadow, turned and started to walk backwards.
“Dude, I thought they were going to kick our asses.”
“Don’t call me dude either.”
“Sorry, Shady.”
Shadow started to look angry and Leech decided to change the topic.
“So if we had gotten in trouble with those guys, would your uncle have come in to save us?”
“Probably not. I don’t think he’d approve of me messing with the torture demons. They aren’t under his command. It would be an inter-departmental nightmare if he tried to get me out of that shitstorm. It’s probably best we don’t mess with them anymore.”
“Well who can we mess with and get away with it?”
“Leech, you shouldn’t be messing with anyone.”
“I’m not going to be stuck as a minor demon for eternity. I’ll mess with whoever it takes to get up to at least middle demon.”
“What if you have to mess with me?”
Leech grinned.
“I won’t have to. You’re going to promote me as soon as you climb the ranks, right? That’s what friends are for.”
“You aren’t my friend, Leech. You’re a pain in the ass.”
“Hey now. I’m going to help you out later, remember? The least you could do is have my back when you move up in the Hell hierarchy.”
“Prove yourself and I’ll think about it.”
“And we’re back to me messing with people to prove myself. I win, Shady.”
Shadow grabbed Leech by the back of the neck, kicked his legs out from under him, and brought him down, face first, on the ground.
“You’ll mess with whoever I tell you to when I decide I need you to. God, don’t you ever shut up?”
Shadow saw Leech’s face form into a grin and couldn’t help but smile himself. Leech might be annoying, but he had guts and he wasn’t afraid to do what needed to be done to move up. It seemed that Leech had been born with an ambition that his father probably lacked. Shadow helped Leech back to his feet and hit him across the back of the head.
“What if the first demon that picks on me is a lot bigger than you?”
“I have a scythe.”
“Can you fight without it?”
“Of course. My uncle put me in combat training when I was little and my dad…”
“What happened to your dad was bullshit. My dad always said he was the most skilled demon he ever…”
“Don’t talk about him like he’s not around anymore. I’ll get him out someday. I don’t care if I have to kill Satan to make it happen.”
Leech looked horrified.
“I’m gonna let that go and pretend I didn’t hear it, but you really need to watch what you say. We’re not even minor demons yet.”
“Well, it’s the…”
He didn’t finish his sentence. They had arrived at the demon placement trials. Shadow could see all the places his father told him about when he was younger: the labyrinth, the death pit, and the human tempting chambers. Every few seconds a new horrible scream pierced the walls of Hell. Each scream was unique, even if it was only slightly different from the last. Shadow smiled as he saw the group of demons-in-training and their instructor. Most of them looked terrified. When he turned to face Leech, he wasn’t smiling but he did appear to be calm.
“Time to make a name for ourselves.”
“Yes it is, Leech. Yes it is.”


“Late on the very first day. Apparently neither of you wants to become real demons any time soon. Your names?”
“Leech and Shadow.”
“Shadow? Cain’s nephew? You must be... look at you walking around with a scythe.”
The instructor opened his hand and Shadow could feel the scythe being drawn away from him. It covered the distance between them and fell into his instructor’s open hand.
“You didn’t really think Cain was going to give you his scythe, did you? I received a letter from him this morning letting me know that I was to confiscate it and replace it with this.”
The instructor handed Shadow a long, dark sword. It looked ornate with blood-red veins and the handle was made from a human skull, but it was nowhere near as powerful as the scythe he had been carrying. Several of the other demons-in-training smirked at him and a few were brave enough to laugh but they stifled it when the instructor turned their way. The instructor handed the scythe to another demon, one of his assistants.
“The scythe will be returned to Cain.”
His assistant bowed and disappeared.
“This is a lesson all of you should learn early on. You are not important. You are servants of the Dark One. Your own pride and vanity mean nothing because you are nothing. Whatever you think you deserve or have a right to will not be given to you until you have earned it.”
“My name is Venom and I’m the middle demon of half-truths. I serve under General Lucian, the Demon of Lies, who was in the garden with our Master when he first tempted Adam and Eve. I have tens of thousands of minor demons that serve under me and countless more little in-training nothings like yourselves. I never recruit anyone right after the trials so the ass kissers can stop before they start. It won’t do you any good.”
“Your immediate placement test will consist of three phases. The first is the labyrinth. Two at a time, you will enter and fight your way through the most hellish nightmare you’ve ever encountered. Creatures will attack you that you have never even conjured in your dreams. Your completion time will be recorded, as will your kill total, and both will play into how well you do overall.”
“Phase two is the death pit. We will randomly select two of you to go in there and beat each other to death. You can also quit and we will try to get you out in time. Single elimination and only those who make it to the semi-finals will have enough points to matter when this is all over.”
“The final test is the human tempting chambers. We put you in a room with a simulated human and simulate Earth. You talk him into or beat him into doing whatever horrible thing you can think of. I’ll be impressed if half of you can talk him into a simple mugging. Anything more creative than that will be rewarded.”
“Once everything is done, you will receive a final score. A very small number of you will be recruited immediately following the announcement of your score and will become minor demons. The rest of you will be assigned to follow minor or middle demons on earth until someone requests your promotion. You will all report back to me until you become minor demons and I can request to have you pulled from wherever you are. Most of you will stay demons-in-training for a very long time.”
Venom shifted his gaze to Shadow and then another demon with a smug grin on his face.
“Don’t think you can get by on family connections either. I don’t care if you’re the nephew, son, daughter, or whatever of a major demon. I don’t even give a shit if you’re the bastard offspring of Satan. You will meet the same requirements that have been in place for millennia. No one will coast on a family member’s reputation while I’m the demon training instructor.”
Venom’s speech continued but Shadow stopped paying attention. The other demon that Venom had looked at before making his comment about familial ties was still grinning. Shadow nudged Leech.
“Who’s that over there?”
“Which one?”
“The big one. The one that looks like he could rip the teacher apart.”
“He probably will at some point. That’s Nightmare, Lucian’s son. He’s the only one in the class other than you that has a direct tie to a major demon.”
Shadow smiled.
“That’s who Uncle Cain wants me to intimidate today. By sending me here with a scythe, he guaranteed that Venom would make some comment about special treatment. That guaranteed that I would find a rival.”
Leech shifted his stance and looked uncomfortable.
“Not to say that you can’t, but are you sure you can beat him? I mean… he’s huge and you don’t have your scythe anymore.”
“I’ll be fine, Leech. Don’t stress it.”
Venom’s speech was wrapping up.
“So now you’ll have fifteen minutes to find a partner for the labyrinth. Those of you who don’t will be randomly paired with anyone that’s left. Choose wisely because you don’t get to do this over; this is your one and only shot.”
Leech turned to Shadow and bowed his head.
“Well, I’ll get out of your way so you can find someone to team up with. Good luck.”
Leech took a few steps and a large hand grabbed him around the throat and lifted him into the air and then brought him down hard on the ground. Leech drew the sharpened bone from his cloak but his hand started to shake when he looked up and saw who had attacked him. Nightmare stood over him, still smiling, with his arms crossed.
“I came over here to talk to Shadow but it looks like the smallest dumbass in the class decided to get in my way. You gonna apologize for being in my way?”
Leech looked scared. He looked around to see Nightmare had brought a fairly sizable posse with him. Even if he had been a match for Nightmare, there was no way this was going to be a fair fight. While it really annoyed him, he was going to have to apologize.
Right before he began his apology, he saw Shadow out of the corner of his eye. He didn’t look scared. He looked menacing. Leech was immediately glad that he had made a deal with him. As if to confirm that Shadow still wanted to fight Nightmare, he raised both of his eyebrows. Shadow smiled and nodded. The deal was still on. He just had to muster enough confidence to play his part.
Leech got to his feet. He considered shoving Nightmare for added effect but decided against it because he preferred his arms to remain unbroken.
“I won’t be apologizing to you. Here’s the deal, Nighty. Turn around, walk away, and maybe Shadow won’t kick your ass.”
Nightmare’s right hand balled into a fist and he swung it down hard on Leech’s head. Leech collapsed, knocked out cold.
“Not sure why the little bastard thought you were going to save him. Now we have some time to talk.”
“What makes you think we have anything to talk about?”
“Look, if we team up and take the labyrinth we’ll both move on and become minor demons. I know we have the best chance of being recruited so we might as well blow everyone else out of the water.”
“I’ll pass.”
“You already have someone to partner with?”
“You just knocked him out.”
Nightmare laughed.
“That’s fine. You see, my dad is the demon of lies. I was going to knock you out the second we got in the labyrinth anyways. You’re uncle may be a major demon but your dad is just a discarded piece of shit that’s rotting in prison.”
That was all it took for Shadow to lose his temper. He kicked hard at Nightmare’s knee which brought him down to eye level and then delivered a hard upper cut to his chin. While this probably would have taken down just about any other demon-in-training, Nightmare only stumbled back a few steps. Once he regained his footing, he shook his head and his eyebrows arched down but he continued to smile. His underlings stepped forward to fight but Nightmare raised his arms and waved them back.
“He’s mine.”
Nightmare cleared the distance between them with three massive steps and then swung a powerful fist at Shadow’s head. He was able to side step the blow and deliver one of his own to Nightmare’s elbow in an attempt to get it to bend the wrong way. It had no effect. Seeing that Nightmare was unharmed, Shadow backed up to a safe distance.
As they began to circle each other, Shadow realized that Nightmare would likely remain unharmed unless he could get some shots in at his face. His initial attack had caught him off guard but he probably wouldn’t get another free pass like that now that Nightmare was angry and ready for his assault. He decided to wait for Nightmare’s next attack and go from there.
When Nightmare charged and swung a fist at Shadow’s chest, he was able to redirect the blow to the ground. Shadow then stepped on Nightmare’s forearm which brought his face within striking range. Once Shadow had a clear shot at his face, he sent several quick punches his way. Nightmare was clearly in pain but he shifted his arm which caused Shadow to stumble backwards. This was all the time Nightmare needed to bring his other arm to meet Shadow’s abdomen. He flew backwards through the air with pain resonating from his midsection.
Shadow took a few seconds to recover while he scowled at Nightmare. Once he felt most of the pain had subsided, he started charging back in Nightmare’s direction. Nightmare grinned, cracked his knuckles, and aimed what would no doubt be a devastating blow. Right before they collided again, Venom appeared in the middle of them and swung his massive battleaxe at the ground. Shadow and Nightmare both flew backwards and fell on the ground.
“Save it for the arena you stupid little assholes.”
Right as Venom said the word “assholes,” the buzzer rang. Venom smiled.
“Guess neither of you found a second for your tag team. Looks like I’ll be randomly pairing you up.”
“No I’ll take him.”
Shadow pointed at the still unconscious Leech.
“And you, Nightmare? Would you care to pick some unconscious moron as well?”
Nightmare smiled and grabbed the closest demon at his side. He delivered a hard punch to his face, knocking him out cold.
“Sure. I’ll take this unconscious moron. I’ll tie him to my back and I’ll still beat murder trash wannabe over here.”
Shadow smiled.
“I know you’re the daughter of a decent liar, but that wasn’t very convincing.”
The smile finally left Nightmare’s face. Apparently he didn’t like being called a girl or the way Shadow just referenced his father. He took a step forward but then turned his head to see Venom still standing there. Venom shook his head and Nightmare took a step back.
“Enough bullshit. Let’s see if either one of you can back up what you’ve said. Everyone make your way to the labyrinth entrance.”
Shadow went to Leech, who was finally regaining consciousness. Leech looked up and smiled.
“You kicked his ass, didn’t you? You barely look hurt.”
“I got more punches in but he landed a good one in my stomach. Still hurts a little.”
“Is he laying face down somewhere?”
“No. Venom stepped in and broke it up.”
“Well that sucks, Shady. You find a good partner for the labyrinth?”
“No. I’m pretty sure the demon I picked is going to be more trouble than he’s worth.”
Shadow smiled.
“It’s you, dumbass. Now help me get my armor on and we’ll see what we can do about getting you some better equipment.”
Leech looked shocked and bowed on one knee.
“I really appreciate it, Shady. I won’t let you down.”
“You can’t. I couldn’t think any less of you than I already do. One punch from Nightmare and you’re out cold?”
“That asshole sucker punched me.”
“Well redeem yourself then. Armor. Now.”
“Sure. Right away.”
Leech opened the bag with Shadow’s armor and polished it with his cloak. He then helped Shadow secure his armor and handed him his sword. Leech saw that there was still some extra gear in the sack.
“Can I just go ahead and um… take what I want?”
“Have at it.”
While Shadow watched Leech put on a belt and attach a pair of daggers to it, he couldn’t stop thinking. Why the hell had Cain given him a scythe when he knew it would be taken away? It couldn’t be just for style points and making enemies.
Shadow decided to look at the sword so he would at least better understand his new replacement weapon. As he looked along the blade, crimson writing started to appear and extend along the surface of the sword.
Recite the story of the first murder and this weapon will become your salvation.
The writing disappeared shortly after Shadow read it and he had no idea what it meant.