Chapter 10: True Love and Jehovah

I was so FUCKING tired of passing out. When I woke, I was in a small room on an overstuffed recliner. Someone had put a new t-shirt on me. I was still wearing the jeans I had put on this morning. I had an IV in my arm. They must have been feeding me through the IV because I didn’t feel like shit. I had to pee in the worst possible way. The problem with getting liquid nutrition is the fluids have to go somewhere.

I pulled the IV out carefully and put pressure on the puncture. Since Aidan and the penguins had left my pants on so my ass wasn’t hanging out; I was good to go. When I opened the door, I recognized where I was, the lower level at Rare Change and Medallions. A couple doors down I found a single seat rest room. There’s no pleasure like the sensation of letting go when you’ve been holding it too long.

Sometimes I’m amazed at how much my bladder can hold. I was almost on the verge of being bored waiting for it to completely drain. I heard Tim Hardy’s voice, “Oh my God, Mr. Paladin is gone!” I could hear him rushing from room to room, looking for me like we were playing hide and seek. I hurried up, finished, washed my hands and opened the door just as Tim was running by. “Tim, I was in the bathroom.”

I try not to make the same mistake twice. When he lunged to hug me, I sidestepped and; he missed. Tim wasn’t good at reading social cues. I could see he was going to try to hug me again. I put my hand out like a defensive spear pointed at his gut. I could see the neurons connecting in his head, ‘Oh Mr. Paladin doesn’t like to hug; he’d rather shake.’ So he grabbed my hand with his both of his and started pumping it up and down. “Congratulations, Mr. Paladin. Oh my gosh, destroying an infestation of 26 minions and retrieving Obex is amazing!”

That reminded me, “What happened to my mount, Harley?”

He kept shaking my hand. “Paladin mounts disappear as soon as they’re not needed. I don’t know where they go. Mr. Cahill might.”

I firmly yanked my hand away. “Where is he anyway?”

“He’s busy linking your new jacket to the rest of your gear. What he’s doing is delicate. so he asked to be left alone. I’ve been in the room with you for hours. I just left to grab a sandwich.”

When Hardy mentioned food, I realized how hungry I was. “Where did you get the sandwich?”

Tim blinked at the change of subject. “There’s a deli just down the block.”

I motioned to him to follow me out of the basement. “Show me where it is. I’m hungry too.”

The deli was just down the block, easy walking distance. Since Tim had already eaten, I told him I could go by myself but he wouldn’t hear of it. He wanted to help. As I walked, he was like a little dog , running around me and nipping at my feet. At the deli, I ordered 5 roast beef foot-long sandwiches with all the fixings and one large drink to go.

Hardy desperately wanted to help. To get him off my back, I let him carry my drink and the bag holding 4 sandwiches. I kept the fifth to eat as we walked back to the shop. We went downstairs into the tiny kitchen.

“Tim, sit down.” I gestured at the table in the room. After he sat, I pulled a chair across from him. “You need to explain how I got healed and what the deal is with Obex.”

“Oh, that’s easy.” Tim looked pleased. He liked to teach. “Since time eternal, the gods across dimensions having been playing the Great Game, the goal is to amass the most power and to gather the most souls. A small part of the game is called Mythic Hero. A god sends a hero across dimensions to kill a monster for its treasure and then bring it back home. You know, the story of Jack and the Beanstalk is true. A human boy was sent to a different dimension and killed a giant and brought back his treasure. The definitions of hero and monster depend on where you stand. From the Jotunn’s or Redcap’s point of view, a human paladin is the monster and he’s the mythic hero. Every time a hero comes back with treasure, one god wins power and the other loses. The reason why every human culture has legends of a mythic hero is because human beings have been sent on mythic quests ever since we were created.”

Tim wasn’t much of a give-and- take conversationalist. He was ok with being the only one talking. As long as I nodded my head every once in awhile, he was good. I was on my third sandwich and happy to keep on eating while listening.

“Mr. Paladin, you’re extremely unusual. Most paladins start training with a sword and shield very young, almost as soon as they can walk. Two hundred years ago a paladin named Roland Fare, armed himself with a spear and breastplate rather than the usual sword and shield. He died within hours of becoming a paladin. This wasn’t unusual. Paladins are rare. When one dies, it takes months if not years to find a replacement. When a new paladin is found, there are almost always a lot of minions that need to be taken care of immediately. Thirty percent of paladins die within days of taking their positions. However, most of those who die are able to send their gifts back to safety. After David killed Goliath, there’s no mention of him coming back with treasure. When Mr. Fare lost his gifts, his weapon choice was blamed. No one has asked for a spear and breastplate since.”

I waved my hand to ask a question. It took another second to swallow the mouthful I had just bitten off and take a swig of soda. “What don’t the other paladins like about Roland’s combo?”

Tim stood up and pretended he was wearing armor. He pointed to his chest. “When Jehovah’s will is turned into a piece of armor, it is impenetrable and impervious to anything, but it has limits. The advantage of a breastplate is that it provides constant protection to your vital organs. This disadvantage is you can’t move it to protect your limbs or your head.” He now pretended to be holding a shield. “A shield at any one time provides less protection than a breastplate; it can only protect what’s behind it but it can be moved to protect any part of your body and it can also be used as a weapon. You can strike with the face or edge of the shield to attack your enemy.” The sight of potbellied, twiggy limbed Tim pretending to be a knight raising a shield brought a smile on my face.

“To claim a god’s gifts by right of conquest, the previous holder must surrender the gifts or die so unexpectedly he doesn’t have a chance to send the gifts away. You’re the first paladin in at least 500 years to reclaim lost gifts. It was very fortunate Mr. Fare had the healing spell on his breastplate and the Redcap you killed hadn’t used the spell recently. The healing spell needs a week to recharge.”

It dawned on me I had done something impressive. I now had four of Jehovah’s gifts. Aidan had already modified the breastplate to match the rest of my armor. It was interesting how weapons were named but armor wasn’t. I still preferred Sanguinis but I could see the advantage of being able to call Obex if I ever ran out of ammo. “Tim, when I call my gear now, will my same phrase work? Oh, and how do I choose between Sanguinis and Obex?”

Tim scratched his head, “To tell you the truth, I don’t know. I think that’s what Mr. Cahill is working on now. Normally as his apprentice, I’d be helping him but he knew you’d have questions.” Hardy broke out in a huge grin. “If anyone had ever told me I’d give up a chance to work on reclaimed gifts to answer basic magic 101 questions, well, I’d have said it was crazy talk. But I have to tell you, it’s a pleasure helping you.”

I carefully studied his earnest face. The guy had a serious case of hero worship. I wasn’t sure if it made him more or less annoying. I reached for a sandwich that wasn’t there. I had eaten them all and actually felt full. I was also really tired. Involuntarily, I let loose a huge yawn.

Tim fretfully said, “Oh you must be exhausted. Look at the time; it’s close to 10 pm. You should go home to your true love.”

In my calorie induced stupor it took a second for his words to penetrate. When I lose my temper, I don’t get hot. I get cold. “Tim, you said ‘true love.’ Why would you say that?”

Even clueless, Tim heard the ice in my voice. “Uh, well, you’re staying at the old paladin’s home and he has two beautiful daughters. Most paladins marry among themselves—a relative of another paladin. All Jehovah’s Heros have one true love.” He gave a sheepish grin. “ It’s one of the perks of being a mythic hero. I just figured…”

I can handle prison. I’ve been there before. I will take being a slave until I have a chance to rebel. I WILL NOT TOLERATE someone fucking with my mind or emotions. The shit that was going on with Mina now made sense. It wasn’t real attraction; it was a spell. I glared at Tim until he started to cringe. He didn’t know enough. I needed Aidan. “Where’s Aidan?”

Tim stuttered, “In-in-in his work room, next to his office.”

When I left the kitchen, Tim wisely didn’t follow me. I checked the door to work room. It was locked. When I banged on it, the door felt and sounded like I was striking a solid block of granite. “AIDAN, Open up! I need to talk to you!” There was no response. I considered a spell. I had been told earlier today if I cast a spell, it would kill me. I wondered if being healed changed those odds. There was another way, “Obex.” The spear appeared in my right hand. It had the spell of sharpness embedded within.. It had sliced through my armor like butter. It should do the same to this door. I pulled back, aiming the spear at the lock.

Someone grabbed the Obex’s haft from behind. I turned and saw it was B. I was moving to wrench my spear from his grasp when he caught my gaze. For the first time since I met him he wasn’t laughing at a secret joke. Through senses I didn’t know I had, I could feel immense power emanating from his body. The armor of my anger was no defense; I felt like I was staring into the sun. There was deadly intent in his eyes; if I didn’t back down, I would pay. I admitted to myself I was intimidated.

“Victor,” his voice was cold, “any insult you may feel was unintentional. Before you do something you can’t take back, learn the facts.” Making the wise choice, retreating when I’m not in a position of strength, doesn’t come easy to me. I stared back. If there had been any amusement, any hint he was laughing at me, I would have tried to take him. They say eyes are the windows of the soul. His windows revealed nothing but an empty dark void.

I took a deep breath. I’ve said before I make unforced errors when I’m angry. I decided I wouldn’t today. “Obex.” With my spear gone, we were standing too close for comfort.

B cocked his head to the stairs leading up to the street, “There’s a good microbrewery a couple minutes drive from here. Let’s take your truck there. It looks like you could use a good drink.”

Neither one of us said a word until we were in my truck and I was headed west. B spoke first, “Victor, the Earth is only 6000 years old. Evolution is a hoax.” I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture so I didn’t respond. The silence that followed had a physical weight. The brew pub was just four blocks west on Broadway. The couple minutes I spent driving there took a long time, but it gave me a chance to get my temper under control.

There was parking in a lot nearby. We walked into the busy bar/restaurant. The hostess that greeted us was young and attractive. At another time, I would have been amused by how she kept sneaking stunned glances at B and myself. I still wasn’t used to being gorgeous. It wasn’t until we were sitting down and I had a Nitro Cream Ale in my hands that I spoke to B, “You want to explain the hoax?”

B took a slow lingering draft of his beer, set it down firmly on the table. As he leaned toward me, his eyes like flint, mouth turned up into the open mouthed, snarl of a predator. “Since charm clearly doesn’t work on you, I’ll try the truth. It burns my ass I’m forced to watch over a pissant paladin. I can’t believe I had to stop you from throwing a temper tantrum—GROW UP! You have a problem; bring it up with the guy in charge. Take the time to learn how the system works before you beat down a brotherhood apprentice and an armorer.”

I watched him as he spoke, somehow I knew he was really disgusted and wasn’t acting. He had a point. I nodded my head. If that wasn’t enough—fuck him.

B stared back. I tensed, ready to call my gear when he relaxed and sat back, laughing. “Victor, you’ve found my weakness. I can’t resist dumb insolence. I can squish you like a bug and there you sit, all mean and feisty. You’re so adorable; I can’t stay mad at you.” He grabbed his glass and emptied it with one long swallow. When he set it down, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, grinning like a shark. This was the B I knew and desperately wanted to kill. “You ready to learn how the system works?”

I just nodded again.

He waved a waitress over and ordered another beer. He watched her ass as she walked away and then turned his attention back to me. “History is boring but you need the background.” He settled back in his chair. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” and for a time, He was just another god in the Multiverse. In fact He was weaker than most—too weak to prevent refugee pantheons from invading our Universe. It’s a god eat god Multiverse. No shit, defeated deities are constantly fleeing from one dimension to another. If you’re going to flee you might as well head for a dimension where the local god is weak. Earth was covered with pantheons that didn’t have the mojo to be make it anywhere else. Two thousand and twenty-three years after the creation, Yahweh was making his His last stand in the Middle East. The angelic hosts were so depleted, He had to roam His own territory to find enough souls to live. Remember what I said about Abraham over our first dinner? Yahweh, back in the day, used to take blood sacrifices like all the other gods. Gods get their sustenance from the life energy from the souls of humans or human-like beings.

“Vic, things weren’t looking good for the Our Holy Dude.” B paused for dramatic effect. “Then He found a 75 year old guy named Abram who had just been exiled from his tribe. He was about to feed on the guy and his small immediate family when He had a brilliant idea. Before then, Yahweh had been a hunter gatherer kind of god feeding off wild, free range souls. He decided instead to cultivate Abram and his family like a shepherd does sheep. Yahweh entered a symbiotic relationship with Abram and his descendents. Abram became Abraham, the father of the Jews and eventually, the Christians and Muslims. Yahweh got a new name: Jehovah, although he still answers to both.

B was a natural story teller. Even though I wanted to put a bullet between his eyes, I was intrigued by his history lesson. He continued, “Most gods are spoiled brats without a hint of impulse control. Jehovah had to be calm and methodical, He didn’t have enough souls to waste. He fed sparingly—taking only what he needed to survive, way less than other gods. He hid and protected Abraham’s descendents from the whims and hunger of all other gods. In return, they worshiped and gave Him willing tribute. All blood or death sacrifices have power, willing death sacrifices have ten times the power of unwilling. The relationship between Jehovah and the Jews became a self-reinforcing loop. The more He protected His people, the larger their numbers became and the more likely they were to give willing sacrifices.”

We were interrupted when the waitress came back with B’s drink. He took it and leered at her so openly, she fled. “I don’t have it, but I can fake it.” He took the time to chuckle, savoring his own joke along with his beer while I waited impatiently.

He took one more, small sip of his drink. “Things were stable until the descendents of Abraham got large enough to attract the notice of the strongest pantheon of the time, the Egyptian Gods. The Egyptians pulled the usual crap and tried religious conversion by conquest. Yahweh, at this time, was one moderately strong god trying to fend off an entire pantheon of very strong gods.” B gave a mocking laugh. “He hid like a scared little girl.

“There’s no need for faith when a god is right in your face. Yahweh hid for so long an entire generation of Jews grew up never seeing him personally. It helped enormously that the Egyptian Gods were the usual spoiled pricks. Yahweh looked great in comparison and in His case, absence made Him look even better. He discovered unforced faith produced almost as much power as an unwilling sacrifice. By pure happenstance, He got a continuous stream of power from his worshipers without killing any of them.

“He eventually amassed enough power to free His people from Egypt. Other pantheons saw what He had done and tried to copy him. They couldn’t; none of them had His discipline.” B chuckled, “Also, He didn’t have to worry about stupid relatives. Pantheons only had to have one idiot who couldn’t control himself to ruin it for everyone.

“For the most part since then, Jehovah has been staying undercover. The less He does the easier it gets.” He smirked, “Being a scared little girl works for Him. Who knew if you left humans alone, they’d develop technology and multiply like bunnies? The average world controlled by a pantheon has a population between 50 to 100 million. Currently on Earth, there are 6.5 billion people and a good percentage of them are Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Jehovah’s kicking ass. He doesn’t have to invade other dimensions for more souls. He has the equivalent of 65 decent sized Universes just on Earth.

“Makes you want to just bow down and worship, huh?” B burst into giggles; he was killing himself with his own comedic genius. When I’d talked to B yesterday, I thought he was funny. After today, a little bit of him went a long ways. If I had been the kind to roll my eyes, I would have.

“The downside of all this, is He needs to maintain a huge bureaucracy to maintain the illusion He might not exist while also protecting humans from everything that wants to munch on them. To other deities, our world is El Dorado, the City of Gold. The most competent angels are assigned to defense. The incompetent ones get assigned to illusions and like idiots anywhere, they’re constantly screwing up.

“For example, the fake fossil history was perfect until some idiot accidentally put feathers on a Velociraptor’s remains and then every gullible, head-up-his-butt paleontologist decided dinosaurs had feathers. Can you imagine the waste of resources to go back and modify every single theropod remains so they looked like birds?” B shook his head in disgust.

“So in a nutshell, it all happened by accident but Jehovah’s the best god for humans in all of the Multiverse. He’s the most powerful being around but He’s not omnipotent and he certainly isn’t omniscient. Our Universe is run by a huge bureaucracy made up of multiple billions of angels. The further they are from combat the more incompetent they’re likely to be.”

The idea of Jehovah actively hiding from humanity seemed ridiculous. “B, explain to me again why God is trying to make people not believe in him?”

B snorted, “Yeah, I know it sounds strange but unforced faith is a really good source of power for a god. It’s a hell of a lot better way to run a world than running around eating your worshipers. Humans do best when they think they’re in charge. Look at any culture that is dominated by its priests. It doesn’t do well. It’s a lot worse when it’s a god or gods doing the dominating. Creating the illusion that humans are in control of their own fate is just good animal husbandry.

“Give you an example, the Grand Canyon was originally created in Noah’s Flood. The rapid flood waters dug a huge ditch into the soft sandstone. Once Jehovah had enough power to invest on illusions, a bunch of low level angels were sent to the Canyon to pretty up the colors and artificially age the ditch. They made the canyon look like it was created by erosion over a time span of 5 to 6 millions years. For once, the numbnuts on the illusion crew didn’t mess up. You have to admit that it’s hilarious that the ‘idiot, irrational bible thumpers’ are right about almost everything while the ‘know-it-all scientists’ are the oblivious victims of a con run by incompetents. But, regardless of who’s wrong or right, it’s better for human societies when there are enough know-it-alls to balance out the fundamentalists.”

B’s was right. The situation was hilarious. This time when he burst out laughing, I joined him. He finished the dregs of his beer. “Vic, my man, what happened to you was the typical FUBAR that comes from depending on REMFs. No one cast a spell on you to fall in love with Mina. You were designed from birth to be together. If you hadn’t been lost to the system for so long you’d already know this info.” B made a ‘what can you do’ gesture with his hands, and then leaned forward. “Here’s the biggest kicker to this story. I’m not sure if He’s starting to believe His own press releases or if feeding on the belief of billions over the last four thousand years has changed Him. But Jehovah is now almost as much of a prissy ass goody two shoes as His worshipers believe. He’s so good; He doesn’t mind when an archangel talks crap about Him. He’s so good; there’s a constant stream of defectors from other Universes trying to join Him.

“Jehovah doesn’t do conquest. There is no need; all He has to do is watch His worshipers multiply. This means, on any given day, there are thousands of minions landing on Earth. There’s a constant need for Holy Warriors, human and angel. God love ya Vic, you may hate being drafted. I don’t blame you one bit since I’m in the same boat. But I’m telling you, and you can trust me on this, he’s the best of a bad lot.”

B finished his spiel with the hearty smile of politician who only has your best interests in his heart. It dawned on me he liked playing the buffoon. My gut told me he had flubbed some of his jokes on purpose. It made it easier to underestimate him. It’s hard to be frightened of an incompetent class clown. He lounged back in his chair waiting for my questions.

I had a thousand things I wanted to know. I bought B’s explanation for what I felt for Mina. For once I was told something that fit my worldview. Emotions are the end product of a mix of chemicals in your brain. Beauty is a marker for good genes and pheromones have way more power than most people realize. I bought his explanation my feelings for Mina were no one’s fault; I could live with that. I had already spent too much time and thought on her. I decided I wanted to learn more about the hosts of heaven. “Aidan told me at one time Angels and humans interbred. You’ve said angels don’t have the equipment. What’s up?”

For a split second, I saw an honest emotion on B’s face, intense longing; it disappeared into his politician’s smile. “We’re allowed to say anything we want about the Man. In fact, we’re encouraged to say stuff, make things up, even to insult Him. It helps support the illusion He might not exist. Any truth about God is lost in all the misinformation. The actual details of how heaven works, especially details about angels, are a different story. You don’t have the clearance to know what exactly happened. All I can say is Jehovah is a prude. Come on, man! He had an opportunity to make a baby and he used artificial insemination! It took Him close to 4000 years to get enough power, but when He did, things changed for angels.”

B shrugged to show he was helpless to satisfy my curiosity. I nodded back, “So getting the story on the angels that rebelled is out of the question?”

He flashed a grin. “You got it, bro.”

I kept prodding. “Your original name wouldn’t have been something famous, say Beelzebub?”

B burst out with involuntary laughter. It was a good thing he hadn’t been drinking at the time; I would have been sprayed. With a grin he made the 3 finger Boy Scout salute. “I can neither confirm nor deny.”

He then looked at me seriously. “Dude, trust me, nothing good can come from these kinds of questions. Certain words and names are flagged, using any of the names of the ex-Princes of Hell are like waving big red ones. Right now one of Metatron’s boys is listening to us. Think of the NSA and eavesdropping programs on steroids.” He paused and looked me in the eyes to emphasize his point. “You need to drop this.”

B’s reaction told me what I needed to know. Hell no longer existed. He may or may not have been Beelzebub, but I’d bet a lot of money he had been one of the angels who had rebelled. To get out of Joey’s grasp I needed to leave this Universe. If Aidan could defect to Earth, there had to be a way to defect the other way. Another Universe filled with weak competing gods had possibilities. I needed time to do more research. I had never previously had much interest in dead religions, but I distinctly recalled in most of these religions, it was possible for a human to become a god. The idea of being a servant for eternity sucked, being eaten by a god was worse. The only way out for me was becoming a god myself.

I was certain the story B had told was mostly true. Angels, like me, couldn’t say a lie. I was equally sure his story was misleading. I needed time to figure out the real truth. I had to play along for awhile. “Ok, I get it. Let’s go back to the jotunn. Is it still dangerous for me to go outside at night?”

B made a ‘who care’s’ face. “Not so much, your anti-scrying spell prevents them from learning your exact location. They know you’re in the City but not much else. They’ll have to track you down by non-magical means. By the rules of the Great Game, I’m not allowed to help you fight them off. I can’t even tell you how many of them are here. You’re better off talking to the Oath Brotherhood; they’re allowed to help you as best they can…”

An inebriated voice behind me became too loud to ignore. “Are you two fags? You guys are so pretty, you have to be fruits!” B was facing the voice, I turned and saw a man who was convinced he was Bad. He was in his late 30’s, with a large frame of an ex-football player, and at least 40 lbs over his prime weight. There were six men and two women at his table, all of them in Hells Angels inspired denim and leathers. A couple of the guys had prison tats. We were in an upscale yuppie bar/restaurant. They didn’t fit. The other patrons around us were desperately trying to pretend they were somewhere else.

B grinned and blew the guy a kiss. “Why, you want some of this?”

The idiot lunged for B. I could have tripped him, preventing him from reaching my annoying guardian angel, but I didn’t, I was curious how B would play this. I didn’t see B move but somehow the biker missed him, landing on the floor on his hands and knees. B reached over and patted the drunk’s head like he was soothing a dog. He asked, “Are you alright, boy?”

With a roar, the biker swung at B from the ground. This time I caught what B did; he moved so quickly, out of the way and then back into position, it almost looked like the guy’s fist passed through B’s body.

“HEY!” The hostess screamed, “I’ve called the police. You need to leave, NOW!”

The biker slowly stood up. He pointed to each of us, and then with a threatening glare said, “This isn’t over.” He jerked his head at his friends and they all walked out of the restaurant together. By the nonchalant way they were handling this, it was clear they’d been kicked out of bars before. B and I had remained sitting the entire time. The hostess walked over to us and said regretfully, “I’m going to have to ask you both to leave too.”

From a nearby table, an older man spoke up, “Miss, my wife and I have been here the whole time. These two men did nothing to provoke those hoodlums.” A woman from another table chimed in. “He’s right. The bikers started the fight.”

The hostess smiled shyly at us and said. “Ok then, I did call the police. I guess when they get here, you can give them a statement.”

B beamed like an innocent cherub. “Absolutely sweetheart, in the meantime can we have our check?” When the hostess left happily to do his bidding, he turned back to me. “Vic, did you notice those yahoos were human?”

I thought back. “Yeah, I did.”

“As a paladin you’ll be able to sense who is human and who isn’t. You should also be able to get a good idea how powerful they are, pretty damn quick. For the most part unless, someone has more mojo than you, they won’t be able to hide who they really are. Now, try looking at me.”

I focused on B. He looked human, a fucking annoying human, but still human. I felt a flash of power come and go. “Notice what I did?”

I nodded. Our waitress then came with the check. B held out a hundred and as the girl reached for it, he held onto the bill with a lecherous grin, “The change is for you, beautiful.” She mumbled her thanks, unable to look him in the eye, snatched the money and fled again. He turned back to me as if we hadn’t been interrupted, “You felt me move a drop of beer in your glass. It’s a good idea not to get too cocky about your new senses. Remember, you won’t come across things that can hide from you often but when you do it’s going to be a bitch. If out of the blue, you feel a flash of magic and you don’t know the source, it’s trouble. Jotunn are powerful. A couple of the ones here might be able to hide from you.” He flashed his shark grin.
“Wish I could tell you more but like I said, there are rules.”

B looked at his wrist and revealed an expensive looking watch. “Well, look at the time. Believe it or not, I’ve got other shit to do besides watching over you. Wanna see how angels come and go?”

I suddenly got the sense someone was behind me. I looked but there was no one. I felt a flash of magic. When I turned back toward B, he was gone. I scanned the people around me. None of them looked shocked or surprised. It looked like all of us had been facing away when he took off. I wondered if Harley came and went the same way.

Physically, I was fine. Mentally, I was beat. The thought of going back to my ‘true love’ made me even more tired. I promised myself I’d move out as soon as possible. As I walked out of the microbrewery, the hostess caught my eye. I waved and kept moving, the chances of the cops coming anytime soon for a bar scuffle where nothing happened was slim to none. When I got outside it was full dark. I walked down the block and was about to turn the corner into the parking lot when I sensed eight people were quietly standing beyond the corner, in the shadows. I could hear them breathing.

I hadn’t taken anything the biker had said or done earlier personally. I knew he and his friends were playing a con to avoid paying for their food and beer. It’s not a bad scam, a group of lowlifes go into a place that’s too upscale for them, eat and drink their fill. When it’s time to leave, one of them causes a minor ruckus and gets them all kicked out, usually without paying. As long as you don’t try to hit the same place twice, it’s a good way to get free grub.

It’s possible this ambush wasn’t personal. The biker and his friends may have just needed the money and they thought I’d be an easy mark or they may have been fag bashers who had taken a particular dislike to B and me because we’re so pretty. I didn’t care. They were just what I needed. I had stress I wanted to release.

I turned the turned the corner. Mr. Thinks-He’s-Bad and his gang were waiting, “Hey, fag…”

Force=Mass x Acceleration. It’s hard to change your size and weight in the middle of a fight. Acceleration is the way to go. I visualized my right foot being a lead weight and my leg a piece of string. I flicked my hip forward 3 inches and my foot followed. Just for laughs, a couple years ago I used a radar speed gun to see how fast my foot traveled when I used this technique. My fastest time was 92 mph. In the last couple days, I’d gotten faster. I’m sure the bony ridge of my shin struck the biker’s thigh at over 100 mph.

My shin compressed the muscles of his thigh almost to the bone causing massive soft tissue trauma. Like a lead pipe hitting meat, my leg rebounded. I used the momentum I gained from the bounce to turn my forward roundhouse into a rear spin kick. My heel slammed into the side of the guy that had crept up behind me. I could feel his ribs crack.

The next man up was huge, 6’5” and overweight. He took a few quick steps to gain momentum and then tried to use a football tackle to take me down. He drove his shoulder into me at waist height while reaching with his arms to grab me. I dropped and let my butt hit my heels. I met his shoulder with my left hand and his front belt with my right. I rammed my body forward at an angle as I straightened my knees and arms. My forward momentum canceled out his and I ended up standing with my legs and arms straight, my stress- relieving volunteer held above me. The guy had to have been double my weight and I had lifted him like he was a 30 lb two-year old.

This was more fun than running up walls. Being a paladin sucked but super strength and speed were a blast. I was laughing when I dropped Mr. Big-and-Heavy on to the ground. He didn’t bounce.

The rest of the gang stood frozen all around me. I jerked forward, “Boo!” They scattered, even the guy with the broken ribs. The only guys left were Big-and-Heavy who had the breath knocked out of him and Mr. Bad, who was laying on the ground holding onto his thigh, moaning. His thigh was bent in an unnatural angle. I had broken his femur. Hmm, I hadn’t meant to do that much damage. I really needed to learn my own strength.

Bad didn’t have much fight left. He pulled out a knife but threw it aside, screaming, when I lightly punched his injured thigh. I found his cell phone and his wallet in his jacket. His name was Harry Mossman and he had a Montana license. “Harry, you from Montana?”

He made an agonized groan that sounded like a ‘yes’ to me.

“Well, Harry, I suggest as soon as you can, you get your ass back home. I know where you live and I have the phone numbers of all your friends and family. You don’t, DO NOT, want to piss me off. Do you understand?”

He frantically nodded his head.

Harry’s friend was getting up. I went over to him, “How you feeling?”

“I think my tailbone’s broke, man.”

Now that, I had meant to do. “I dropped you on your ass so nothing more serious got broken. You hear what I said to your friend?”

He hung his head, not meeting my gaze “Yes.”

“Same goes for you. Give me your wallet.”

He gave me his wallet and tried to hand me his cell.

I waved off the phone, “No, you can keep the cell to call an ambulance for your friend.”

I drove away with a smile.