We quickly settled into a routine while in Hell’s headquarters. It was rough at first, and took a lot of getting used to, but we managed to stomach it. Lucifel allowed us to retain our cell phones, explaining that Michael already knew where we were, so there was little risk in us keeping them. Even if he somehow monitored our calls, we were not privy to any sensitive information regarding the operations of Hell either, so it would do him little good. I called my father that first night after we met Belial, and made sure to call him at least once a day when I woke up. It was how I started the day.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all provided by the crew, and were normally brought in by several angels led by Verina, who would leave it on the large dining table in our quarters. Verina would normally stick around until one of us would tell her to leave, which took less than a few minutes on most occasions. Eventually she stopped hanging back and got the hint that she was unwelcome, and we began to put her out of our minds. She became a fixture of our stay in Hell, and nothing more.
When Marc and I were not busy reminding each other how we felt, we were training. The second day of our stay Belial had shown us to a room where we could easily improve our skills. The walls, floor, and even the ceiling were padded, except the occasional light fixture which brightly lit the room. Belial affectionately called it “the dojo”. Keith and I would take over one corner of the room while Marc and Alan would situate themselves on the opposite side. While Marc trained Alan in martial arts, I worked on my telekinesis and telepathy.
Alan was a quick study, and I was not surprised in the least when Marc started looking at the kid differently. Where once had been only the patience of an older teen dealing with a child, now there was respect in my boyfriend’s eyes whenever he looked at Alan. I was glad that things had worked out with them, even if my own training could have been going better. I was still struggling to move heavier objects, though Keith was quick to point out that I had a certain kind of finesse when moving lighter things. He explained that the weight of an object moved wasn’t the measure of a psychic’s ability, but rather the control the psychic had over that object. Control was something I could do.
We continued this routine for several weeks, and I began to lose track of time. The only thing that centered me in the real world was when I called my father, and for an hour or so every day I became aware of what was happening in the world. Apparently there had been more unrest in the Middle East than normal, and all the powerful nations were starting to puff out their chests and make displays of strength. Nearly everyone was making threats at everyone else, except the usual neutral parties.
When I questioned Belial about it he explained that Michael was starting to feel threatened by the word of an alliance between Hell and the Demons. He was making sure that the humans kept out of it, and in order to make sure that happened, he was going to throw the world into total war if he had to. Belial didn’t think anything was going to come of it though, and I trusted his judgment on the matter. It was his family after all, even if they were split up.
And so we ignored the outside world, and focused on our training. Since we could do little to affect what was going on, we put it out of our minds; at least, most of the way. My doubts about somehow being able to end the war kept creeping up on me, and I did everything I could to hide the thoughts from Marc and Keith. I knew that they both had high hopes for me, and I couldn’t bear the thought of letting them down. It began to slowly gnaw on me as I went through the motions of training. Bit by bit it started to wear me down, and I began to hope for anything to distract me from the monotony.
I was given my first distraction at about three weeks into our stay. We were training in the dojo, Keith and I in our corner and Marc with Alan in the other, Belial standing not too far from me, when the door suddenly slid open. A few seconds later Shatan strode into the room in his human form. He walked with a certain grace that befit his training, professional and perfectly balanced. While Keith and I stopped our training to see what he wanted, Marc and Alan finished the technique they were working on before turning to regard Shatan. The older demon had approached to within ten feet of Marc, and to my confusion he began to undress.
I was about to question what was going on when Keith sent a thought to my mind in explanation, “I’ve seen this before, at the demon matches. It is how they begin an honorable spar. It is the senior demon who determines the terms of the match. In this case, Shatan is asking Marc to spar with him, and by undressing he is telling him that he wants to include shape shifting in the match. Demons normally spar naked, to allow for just that.”
“Wait, so Marc and Shatan are going to spar?” I replied, confused by the sudden turn of events. We had not seen either Shatan or Lucifel since the day we arrived, and I found it odd that Shatan would suddenly appear and challenge my lover to a sparring match.
It seemed that Marc shared my confusion, for his initial answer to Shatan was to raise a questioning eyebrow. But once the older demon stood naked in front of him, Marc bowed in return and began to undress as well. As I made note of the gorgeous body of my boyfriend I couldn’t help but think that there was little chance of anyone being a match for him physically. However, I quickly turned my eye to Shatan’s chiseled form and couldn’t help but think that if anyone could beat Marc, it would be him. He was twice the width of my lover, but it was all toned muscle, and not a trace of fat. He looked as sturdy as a towering oak, and strong as an ox. I was no less impressed by his physique than that of Marc’s and I suddenly felt a pang of anxiety for Marc’s safety.
“Don’t worry too much about it,” Keith said in my mind, “There is an honor code to these matches, which keep them from doing anything fatal, and if you remember, the medical systems on this ship are more than capable of repairing any damage. Just enjoy the show. I know that Belial talked up Shatan’s abilities, but Marc is really quite good at what he does. I think he has a good chance of winning.”
My growing excitement kept me from replying, and instead I stared across the room at the combatants. I needed to get closer, so with my fear for Marc’s well being guiding my steps I approached them at a quick walk. Keith and Belial followed closely behind. Alan was standing off to the side, confused at what was happening, and out of my peripheral vision I saw Keith wave him over to us. We stopped at approximately twenty feet away from the action, and I stood watching, numbly.
“Alan,” Keith began with a hint of worry in his voice, “I don’t want you to freak out here. They are both about to shift into their demon forms. If you need to look away, I understand, but just remember that they are both people, and you know them.”
“I think I’ll be alright. Marc has changed for me a couple times now. To be honest, I’m just excited. Marc is going to kick ass! I already know how good he is, and there’s no way that Shatan is better.” Alan replied with confidence. Though his eyes widened as the two combatants shifted. Marc had explained to me once before that it took a long time for most demons to shift, but that he had practiced enough to make his almost instantaneous. My heart fell a little when Shatan shifted just as quickly, if not faster than my boyfriend. It was possible that Marc was out of his league.
Shatan was massive. He was just as large of a demon as he was a human, except he gained wings and a tail that made him even bigger. He was still twice the size of Marc, even though Marc had gained some bulk in his scaled form. Their comparative forms spoke of the same strengths they had in their human selves. Marc was sleek and slim, and walked with the grace of a cat. Shatan was thick and chiseled, and carried himself like a bear. It was the classic battle of strength versus speed.
Marc came forward first; a straightforward attack in an attempt to make the first hit, hoping that like most fighters, Shatan would be a bit sluggish at the beginning of a fight. Shatan had anticipated the move, and quickly reversed the momentum on the younger demon. Marc found himself easily pushed back, and he nodded at his elder in respect.
“That was an interesting move. Did Marc not listen at all when Belial said that Shatan was a master?” Keith said incredulously as we watched them square off again, circling each other as they looked for an opening.
“Actually, that was quite an impressive display,” Belial replied, surprising the rest of us at the compliment. “You weren’t able to tell, because none of you are particularly well versed in the arts yet, but Dae’Marca’s rush was a feint. He had his claws poised for a secondary attack and his tail ready for a defensive maneuver if he got in trouble. He would have gotten Shatan if Shatan hadn’t been the master that he is. The only way to avoid getting hit by Marc was to do exactly what Shatan did, which was to throw him backwards, rather than try to take advantage of the opening Marc was supposedly giving.”
I regarded the combat with newfound respect. I had always appreciated choreographed displays in movies, and had certainly appreciated watching Marc move in the past, but I had never noticed the deeper side of it. I wondered how many things I had missed, the subtle movements that made the artist brilliant. Once again I felt as if Keith was reminding me that it wasn’t the weight of the object being moved that was important, it was the amount of control one had while moving it. Martial arts were the same way; it was the skill that was important, not the specific feats that one had accomplished.
Marc advanced on Shatan two more times, with similar results, and then it was Shatan’s turn to act. Immediately after throwing the younger one backward, he pushed off with his thick legs and launched himself into the air. I suddenly realized why the ceiling was padded as he unfurled his wings and began a glide around the room. Marc joined him after only a moment of hesitation, and the combat became aerial. It was an interesting sight, and frightening at the same time, especially when Marc finally caught up to Shatan.
The faster flier was Marc, and he used his speed to his advantage and moved to tackle Shatan out of the sky with his forward momentum. The older demon anticipated the move, and just as Marc was about to grab him he turned around and kicked the youth in the face. Marc was far from deterred, though he had been knocked off course, and where as he had originally aimed for Shatan’s midsection, he raked his right hand claws across Shatan’s thigh instead. Shatan responded by whipping his tail across at Marc, and when it collided with his neck, he wrapped it around Marc’s throat and started strangling him.
Their exchange had occurred in an instant, and in that same amount of time they lost their altitude. They came crashing down with Marc landing painfully on the bottom, Shatan’s tail still wrapped around his neck. As soon as Marc gained his bearings, he reached up with his claws to scratch at the tail, only to have Shatan stomp down on both arms hard, keeping them in place. My heart was pounding as I watched my lover struggle, and I was sure he was about to succumb to the strangling, when in one swift move he proved me wrong.
He pulled his knees up and kicked upward with his foot claws, scratching at Shatan’s ribs mercilessly. Shatan howled in pain, released his grip on Marc’s throat and stepped away. It was his turn to nod in newfound respect to Marc, and as they squared off again, both of them were stepping a little more cautiously. My boyfriend was breathing heavily, and Shatan had blood running down both of his sides, but neither of them seemed ready to quit yet.
The next time either of them advanced, they both did. They met in the middle, and the brutal wrestling match of scales and claws that ensued was too hard to follow for me, though Belial’s eyes widened in response. It was clear that he was impressed, and when I looked to Alan it was evident that the sentiment was shared between them. Keith and I shared a look of wonder, and then returned to watch the battle.
Marc gained the upper hand a moment later, and had his claws poised to rake across Shatan’s face. The older demon smiled, and flipped Marc over and off of him. Once again, they were across from each other and ready to fight, but this time, Shatan dropped his stance and bowed, tranquilly. Marc followed suit and suddenly the spar was over.
Once again I was perplexed by what was going on as Shatan dug one of his claws of his right hand into the palm of his left, and then extended his left hand forward to Marc. Marc dug one of his claws into his own hand and then extended it out as well, and they shook, bloody palm to bloody palm. They then shifted back to their human forms, and without a word to each other they returned to their individual piles of clothing and began dressing.
No one said anything until Shatan had left the room, and I approached my boyfriend with an embrace and a kiss. “What was that all about?” I asked with confusion.
Bewildered, Marc replied, “Shatan just offered to take me on as a student.”
“What? Really? So what happens now?”
He smiled at me weakly and then replied, “I haven’t been beaten in three years. I accepted his offer.”
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