Shutting down the machinery

Lizabeth's mind was working furiously. How could Lucifer have fooled the entire Underground into thinking he was gone? How could she have been so foolish as to let her guard down and allow a mortal to get too close? Jack's life was now in turmoil because of her weakness.

When she had found him, he had been a young boy, and she a lonely girl. She had spent the past eighty three years in isolation, wandering the undergound, attempting to find someone else like her. Another walking dead.

He was afraid. She had tried her best to console him, tell him that in the underground, the City dwellers couldn't find him--they never ventured down there, for fear of the beasts...or her kind.

After four years he had grown into a teenage boy. He was stubborn, arrogant--he had a gift, she had realized, a gift that allowed him to subdue something in her. He had used it on her on more than one occasion. Whenever she looked into his eyes, she became his slave.

It was a few years after he left her that she realized this was not Jack's gift alone. In the thirteen years after his departure, she found other exiles with the same ability, and had pieced together the puzzle of Jack's broken past.

After a few more minutes of walking, she came to a room lit dimly by torches burning blue. Five silver coffins lay elevated on slabs of marble.

Lizabeth walked towards the one furthest from her. She slid the lid off the case and wrinkled her nose as dust flew out from inside it. A mangled skeleton lay inside, its gaping eyes watching her.

"Jonas," she said, bowing her head. "Excuse me."

She cocked the gun and aimed it at the skeleton's head. The blast echoed in the small room.

The bullet did not destroy the skull, however. It embeded itself in the bone and from its puncture point, skin started to spread across the skeleton. Hair grew quickly from the now-bald head and blood began to leak from the bullet hole. The muscles began to bulge underneath the skin layer and the fully formed being opened its new eyes, yawning.

"Lizabeth! You should have been dead ages ago!" The figure sat up jovially, taking her hand and shaking it furiously.

"Things have changed since you passed, Jonas," she said, smiling.

Jonas raised two fingers to his head, where the blood still sprouted. "I see you haven't much time before I pass again. What was so important that you needed to awaken me from my sleep?"

"Lucifer has built a machine that burns bodies--"

"I know, I know. I've been dead, not deaf. They came through here to set up the damned thing. That boy's taken too much control, you ask me."

"You don't know the half of it. He has some kind of plan to take over the City and kill..."

"The half-breeds." Jonas frowned. "Hold me up, I'm getting a bit dizzy."

"The half-breeds? Jonas, what are the half-breeds?"

"The children who were born to people like yourself, the dead. Half-City, half-Underground. Or Underworld, I suppose. They have an ability that threatens the balance of power in this world--you may have seen it first hand. The ability to control souls."

"Souls?"

"Don't sound so surprised. When you're half-dead, half-alive, you're soulless, after all. Their eyes are said to hypnotize."

"They're empty. Void..." Lizabeth drifted off. "But what of their intense emotions? The anger? The passion?"

"Emotional capability has nothing to do with owning a soul." Jonas shrugged. "Some say it's a survival mechanism. If they were gentle, they'd be dead."

His eyes began to drift closed. Blood was all over Lizabeth's hands.

"Wait! Jonas. How do you shut down the machine?"

"It's fairly simple." He coughed, his voice getting fainter. "It's a machine. Step inside the oven. When it can't burn you, it'll overheat from the increase in temperature. Good thing they sent a half-dead girl. That's what you are, aren't you? You're one of Lucifer's?"

"I was."

She laid Jonas back down in his coffin.

"Have a good rest," she said. She took the rose out of her peacoat and placed it between his two hands.

"Good-bye, Lizabeth. Next time, get a better alchemist to doctor your bullets."

A heavy breath whooshed out from between his lips, and the skin turned to ash. All that remained was a golden bullet, the skeleton, and the rose.

She followed the next hallway and rounded the bend at a run. The heat burned her face long before she saw its source.

An enormous copper machine sat churning out ash in a hollow, high-ceilinged room. Lizabeth looked up and saw a hole in the ceiling, where a long, copper tube went out--presumably to transport the fuel.

"I'm no scientist, but this must have something to do with alchemy," Lizabeth said, removing the second pistol, "or it wouldn't work."

She peered around the corner. There, walking around the machine, was a sentry. He hadn't spotted her, so she leapt out into the open and fired one shot. It was enough to send him to his knees.

A large, glass doorway led into a copper oven. Flames rose inside, but there were no occupants. It was probably nearing time for the next victims to be brought down from above.

She willed herself to be calm. Fire was the one thing that scared her more than Lucifer. When she had been a child, before she was turned, her house had burned down. She had barely escaped with her life. The flames had licked her ankles, burning her...

Out of her hand fell the pistol. She wrenched the door open and stepped inside the oven.

At first, the feeling wasn't unpleasent. It was like a tingling, hot bath. But after a few moments, the oven attempted to compensate for the fact that she wasn't dying--clearly a new sensation for it--and the heat became unbearable.

She stopped breathing. Her body was unaffected by the flames. As one of Lucifer's followers, she was exempt from death, and that meant burning as well, but it didn't make it any less uncomfortable.

Her fingers felt so hot they seemed cold. Her peacoat had burnt off long ago, as had her dress, and so she was standing, stark naked, inside the boiling inferno.

A whine began outside the machine. She heard something start to whirl faster. A thought flew through her head--I hope this thing doesn't blow up with me inside it. Way more uncomfortable than burning.

Somewhere, something broke. A piece of copper whirled against another, and something exploded. The oven, which was starting to melt itself, shut off with a groan.

Lizabeth ran out as fast as she could, burning her hand on the hot doorknob. The sentry was still lying there, so she striped him of his uniform and put it on, surveying the wreckage.

The thing to blow up had been the control panel (good, she thought) and the metal that had blown off had been the casing for the tube leading up towards the ceiling. The whole thing was covered in ash.

Lizabeth grinned. No one's going to be burned in here anytime soon. Take that, Lucifer.

She left the chamber, her mind already on ther larger worries that lay ahead.

The End

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