He awoke on the floor of Lucifer's palace. Someone was standing over him. Hi_yes fluttered fully open and he recognized a woman's face. She was red-eye_nd -crying.
A name floated by and he said, "Lulu." She reached down and pulled the knif_rom his chest. He groaned.
"Alive?" said one of the Clerks.
"He is surprising," said the head Clerk.
Spyder leaned shakily against the cage that housed the book. Lulu spun on he_eels and blasted the Black Clerks with round after round from the four-ten.
"Don't," said Spyder, reaching for her.
Each of Lulu's shots hit, but it was like shooting at scarecrows. Each roun_ent through the Clerks, as if there was nothing but straw to absorb th_lasts.
The head Clerk snatched the shotgun from Lulu's hands and tossed it across th_all. "Your debt is past due. We will collect now. Your heart, I think?" h_aid.
"That's not going to happen," said Spyder. He got to his feet and stretched.
"Damn. Sometimes dying is like two weeks in Miami."
"Perhaps your head was hurt in your fall?" said the head Clerk. "We move fro_arth to Heaven to Hell. Nowhere is closed to us. We swallow life and spit ou_rea-tion. And you say we will not take this child's tiny life?"
Spyder went and stood close to the head Clerk, close enough to smell the ro_n his borrowed flesh. "I know what you are. You aren't gods. You aren't eve_emons. Come on out of the closet, boys."
"We don't believe you."
"I know, but that doesn't mean dingo's balls. You're hollow. Puppets. I don'_ven think you're really alive."
"You are mad? I think so."
"Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain, that's the best you ca_ome up with? It didn't work on the girl in the ruby slippers and it doesn'_ean shit here."
"Enough," said the Clerk with the ledger. He opened the book and withdre_omething that looked like a thick, ragged tree limb. Dropping the ledger, h_wisted the limb until a dozen ragged blades sprang from the shaft, killin_horns. The Clerk lunged, but Spyder side-stepped the blow, slipping behin_is attacker. Slamming his arm around the Clerk's throat, Spyder held him s_hat the others could watch, as he whispered a single word into the Clerk'_ar. When Spyder released him, the Clerk remained frozen in place, hi_eformed weapon still in the air.
"A trick? Yes," said the head Clerk.
The frozen Clerk began to shake. His mouth came open and he made a sound tha_as part wonder and part howl of pain. He shook until he was a blur, and th_titches holding his pale body together began to split. The wan internal ligh_he Clerks always gave off, burst through his seams as he flew to pieces. A_ach broken part of him hit the floor, it vanished.
The two remaining Clerks looked at Spyder.
"I said the true name of time and decay," he told them. "Do you even know wha_ou are? You're the boy toys of the Old Gods, the Dominions. You need used u_rgans because you're trash on two legs. Golems. Animated table scraps. A wor_ade you walk and a word can make you stop. I saw into the book. I learned th_ords."
"We are the engines of creation and destruction," said the head Clerk. "W_alance the Spheres. We prune dead branches, taking life where it is no_ppreciated, such as in this sorry child?" The Clerk nodded at Lulu. "We pas_er breath back into the universe for new souls."
"That was your burden. That's what you used to be. You balanced order an_haos, but something happened. The Dominions got inside of you. Instead o_erving the universe, you started serving the Old Gods. You're their deliver_oys. You grant wishes to the weak, the wounded and lost, getting your hook_n their souls so the Dominions can feed on them. There's nothing left of you_ld selves. You're empty shells. And this book was made to bring them back.
But I'm not going to let you do that."
"Is someone going to kill someone soon?" Xero called from the stairs. "I wa_bout to win a war."
"You were about to be eviscerated in front of your troops," said Lucifer.
"We know you. You are not a man, but a broken child?" said the head Clerk t_pyder. "You've seen and learned much lately, but you remain a drunke_ibertine who despises his own foolish weakness above all else. And you_ortal body is trapped forever in Hell. But we will take pity and give you th_ift of annihilation."
"I'm not afraid of you."
"But it is yourself you hate and yourself you must fight?" The head Cler_aised his hand to the palace entrance, where a figure was waiting.
Spyder saw his reflection. Sort of. A version of himself, but scarred lik_ulu, crudely stitched together, like the Clerks themselves.
"He is your Shadow Brother, built from a broken memory you left in Berenice.
All the blood you left in the street? A very powerful elixir. We sacrificed _ew of the organs we'd collected," said the head Clerk. He turned to Lulu.
"Child, do you recognize your eyes in another?"
"You got the jump on me in Berenice, bro," said the lacerated Spyder. "But I'_ack and bad and ready for love."
"More golem trash," Spyder said the Clerks. "You think I won't kill it?"
"We're counting on it. He's special. Not you in name and form, but you,
literally. A strike against him is against yourself? Show him," the head Cler_old the golem.
Spyder watched his Shadow Brother pull the punch dagger from behind his bac_nd slide it hard across his chest, carving a deep, crimson wound. Spyder fel_omething like a live wire being dragged over his skin. He looked down and sa_hat he had a chest wound identical to the golem's.
"You know the true names. Use them. Turn him to dust!" called Shrike.
"I can't. I might dust out, too," Spyder said.
Feinting and teasing, the golem came at him with the knife. Spyder backed u_nd started to draw Apollyon's blade from his belt, but stopped himself. I_ould be suicide.
The golem kept making little charges, then stabbed and sliced himself. Spyde_witched in pain and bled, feeling each twist of the blade. The golem circle_im, splashing blood onto the marble floor and laughing.
"Why are you running? This is what you always wanted. Life's too hard fo_eople like us. Let me fix it for you," said the golem.
Spyder backed up. Sweat flowed into his wounds, stinging him.
"Remember the middle way, little brother!" yelled -Lucifer. "Would the Buddh_ight himself?"
Spyder stopped in his tracks, he gaze flicking to Lucifer, then Shrike. H_tretched his arms out wide and closed his eyes. The golem rushed him, jammin_ts knife deep into Spyder's chest. Gritting his teeth at the pain, Spyde_rapped his arms around the golem and held on. They were both bleeding and th_loor was slippery with their blood. Spyder lifted the younger, smalle_ersion of himself and spun on his heels, dropping his Shadow Brother onto th_ook. Gasping, Spyder twisted and threw all of his weight on his doppelganger,
pinning him long enough to pull the black blade from his own belt and swing i_nce.
Both Spyder's and the golem's heads slid off their shoulders and rolled ont_he floor.