"Okay, little man, let's make a deal," said Spyder.
"Lovely," said Ashbliss. "You know my terms."
"We'll cut you loose from Beelzebub, but first we need the book," said Shrike.
"Nonsense. You have the knife. First my master, then your book."
"We have the knife, but that might not be enough. To use the knife, we have t_et close to your master and that might not be possible. If we have the book, we can use its magic to safely free you."
"Or destroy me. I'm not sure I want to help you after all."
"Ashbliss, don't be that way," said Spyder. "We're not demons. We're human. I_e make a bargain, we keep it."
"Humans are the most treacherous animals in existence! Everyone knows that!"
Ashbliss shouted. "It's not even fun going to Earth and corrupting you becaus_ou're all half-way there."
"How can we prove to you that we intend to honor our bargain?" asked Shrike.
"There is nothing you can say or do. I don't trust you. Accept my bargain a_tated or I'll be on my way. I'm sure other talking meat will be alon_hortly, after your bones are used to fill potholes in the road to Gehenna."
"All right, you got me, you clever boots," said Spyder. "We were messing wit_ou, but you foxed us. We'll do it your way. First the boss, then the book."
"Spyder, it's too dangerous," said Shrike.
"I'm open to suggestions. Xero knows we're here. This runt knows we're here.
Some of Lucifer's demons high-tailed it out of here during that fight, an_hey knew we're here. We've got to do something and we've got to do it now."
"He's right, Shrike," said Lulu. "I know you're the smart one and the warrior, but we're not gonna tunnel out of here with a spoon and fighting spirit. W_eed the book, however we can get it."
Shrike was silent a moment. "I know," she said. "Give me the knife. _omplicated things by losing my temper. I'll kill Beelzebub."
"You sure you're up for this?" Spyder asked
Shrike nodded. "I told you I'd take care of you down here. I haven't done _ery good job so far. Let me do this."
Spyder pulled Apollyon's knife from his waist and gave it to Shrike, takin_er hand for a moment after he handed her the blade. He looked at Ashbliss.
"We're not going to hump. Don't even ask."
"Treacherous and boring," muttered the demon.
A fireball streaked at them from across the plains, turning away from them a_he last possible moment. At the edge of the field, it turned and circle_ack, scorching a circle once around the group, enclosing them in a ring o_ire. When the circle was complete, Spyder could see something in the flames.
A man stepping down from a chariot.
"I couldn't leave you all without saying goodbye," said Xero. Great waves o_eat cascaded off his body. He didn't seem to be covered with fire so much a_ade of it.
"Do you remember that I was the one who taught you your first magic, Alizarin?
But I gave you so little considering how much I got in return. Your bed. You_ingdom. Your father's soul. I even had that boy gutted. Your old partner, Ozymand," said Xero. Shrike held the black blade before her. Xero approached, but carefully stayed beyond her reach. "Your friend there, the pretty fool, injured me when my back was turned. I should be resting, but I needed you t_now that even wounded, I'm stronger than you."
"I'm not afraid of you. And I'm no longer shocked," said Shrike calmly. "Yo_on't have any power over me."
"You misunderstand. I'm not here to hurt you, girl. I'm here to give you _ift. Once upon a time, I took your sight. Now I'm giving it back." Xer_uckered his lips and blew across his hand, as one might blow a kiss. _oiling fireball enveloped Shrike for a second. When it faded, Xero was gon_nd Shrike was on the ground. Spyder ran to her and saw, thankfully, that sh_as unburned by the magic flame. He and Lulu propped Shrike up between them a_shbliss peered from behind a pile of demon corpses.
"Are you alive?" Ashbliss asked. "The bargain is off if you're dead."
"Shut up!" shouted Lulu.
Spyder was murmuring into Shrike's ear and patting her cheek. "You're al_ight. You're all right. Wake up, Alizarin. Come back."
She awoke with a start. Spyder felt her go rigid in his hands. She screame_nce and went very quiet.
"Can you hear me?" Spyder asked. "Are you all right?"
Shrike's hands went to her face. She pulled off her shades and looked a_pyder. The ruin of her eyes, the cracked glass irises and spidery pupils wer_one. Her eyes were greenish gray, perfect and open wide.
"I can see," she whispered.
"I'm so sorry," said Spyder.
"You're sorry your woman can see?" said Ashbliss. "You mortals really ar_astards."
"I'm sorry because now she's stuck here in Hell forever, like me," sai_pyder.
"I've already been stuck here for millions of years. -Pardon me if I'm no_ore sympathetic."
"Can you shut it for a minute?" Lulu said.
"Fine," said Ashbliss. "In fact, you seem less and less like the champions _hought you were. I think I'm going to have to nullify our deal."
Spyder snatched the black blade from Shrike's hand and tackled Ashbliss, pinning the demon down with his legs.
"Are you mad?" Ashbliss cried. "My master will destroy you! Gigantic scorpion_ill suck the marrow from your bones! Beelzebub will fill your still-livin_arcass with molten lead!"
"No, he won't," said Spyder. "Because I'm going to kill him for you. And the_ou're going to take me to the book, just like we agreed." With the blac_lade, Spyder cut off one of the candles on Ashbliss' scalp. The little demo_creamed piteously as black blood flowed from the candle stump. "If you don'_tick to our deal, I'm going to use this magic Ginsu to cut off your arms an_egs and make you my doormat. And that's just the warm up. I'll devote th_ext million years to inventing brand new ways of making your existence pur_isery."
"No!" cried Ashbliss.
"With the most treacherous animal in existence, you do not fuck. Got me?"
"Yes! Yes!" screamed the demon.
"We've got a deal, right?"
Spyder rolled off the demon and helped him to his feet. He held up the candl_e'd sliced from Ashbliss' head and when the demon reached for it, Spyde_natched it away.
"You can have this back in a minute," he said.
Shrike was on her feet, but unsteady. She looked around Hell in childlik_onder.
"It's been so long since I've seen anything, I don't even know how to proces_ll these images," she told him. She took a step toward Spyder and wobbled.
"My balance feels funny. All the cues are wrong."
"Sit down," Spyder said. He and Lulu helped her to the ground, so she wouldn'_all. "Listen to me. I'm going to Pandemonium with Ashbliss. I'm going to pu_is boss to sleep and then I'm going to go and find the book."
"It's too dangerous," Shrike said.
"You can't do it. You can't even walk," he said. "Lulu can't go. Cut up lik_he is, she'll attract too much attention. That leaves me."
"I hate this plan," Shrike said and laid her head against Spyder's chest. H_ugged Shrike, then Lulu.
"You come back safe or I'll find your ghost down here and kick your dumb, dea_ss," Lulu said.
"Take care of Shrike while I'm gone," Spyder said.
"You got it."
Spyder went back to Ashbliss and held out the demon's candle to him. Sullenly, Ashbliss took it, and with a great deal of groaning and swearing, poured wa_n the stump and stuck the candle back in place. The little flame popped bac_o life.
"I really am going to keep our bargain," Spyder said.
"You had better. Now, get down and roll in the dirt like the pig you are."
"You'll need a disguise to get into Pandemonium. You're going as my slave. Ge_own and dirty yourself, meat."
Reluctantly, Spyder did as he was told. When he'd rolled in as much filth a_e thought necessary, Ashbliss took pains to inspect him, slapping more dir_nto Spyder's face and especially his ass, "To give you an authentic sex slav_atina," he said.
"We done?" Spyder asked.
"Nearly. Get on your knees."
"Don't get carried away with the sex slave fantasies."
"I need to chain your neck."
"Where're you going to get a chain out here?"
"Right here," said Ashbliss. He squatted down and his face turned a deepe_hade of red as he strained. A second later, a shockingly long length o_ilver chain slid from out of his round, pink ass.
"No goddam way."
Ashbliss smiled. "If you want to call off our deal… "
"Put it on," Spyder said, lowering his head.
As he and the demon started toward the city, Spyder heard Lulu singing Areth_ranklin's `Chain of Fools.'