"I was unaware that we had any such agreement, Mister Copperfield."
Copperfield's hands itched at his side, shaking nervously as if they had suddenly discovered that without the formed plastic handle of the case they had no function.
"We've known each other for along time. Taking this course of action so late in the game would just be fucking stupid." Copperfield sweated out, his mouth a thin line of determination and his forehead furrowed in a deep frown.
The other man waved his gun in the air casually, looking quite the dandy as he threw his eyes up towards the darkened sky and tilted his head to one side.
Copperfield's hands twitched once more and for a brief moment, they considered lurching forward and tearing the case out of that treacherous, gloved doppelganger of the other.
All too soon, the other's eyes turned back to him.
"I'm afraid, Mister Copperfield, that I have little time for any sort of game. My apologies."
Copperfield lurched forwards and the gun fired in the other's hand.
A single bullet sliced through the air and punctured Copperfield's right kidney.
In a beautiful flowering of colour, the bullet exploded from his back and the wall behind was redecorated with flowing crimson and thick, grey lumps of mass that clung to the wall and then slowly slid down leaving behind them the sweat of a trail, much that of a slug.
Copperfield's mouth gasped once, his eyes wide with confusion and tears forming at beneath the watery blue irises.
He fell to the ground and tried to force his head up to the look at the face of his killer but the effort was too great.
Then was a second explosion and his head shattered in frozen ice sculpture of broken bone, cartilage, blood and other fluids, and then collapsed in upon itself.
Copperfield's body shuddered and his hands clasped at the air once more and then moved no more.
WISDOM: MU: TF ISSUE #1
WRITTEN BY JACOB MILNESTEIN
Based on concepts and characters created by Warren Ellis
"I am Wraith. I had neither father nor mother: I leaped out of a lion's mouth when I was scarce half an hour old, and ever since I have run up and down the world, with this case of rapiers, wounding myself when I had nobody to fight withal. I was born in hell - and look to it, for some of you shall be my father." - Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
There were seven daemons at the heart of London, seven vile creatures; Pride, Covetousness, Wraith, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth and Lechery, each one a representation of a specific atrocity or sin.
Pete Wisdom flicked his lighter open and brought the flame up closer towards the end of cigarette.
It blossomed in a halo of orange and red, illuminating his tired face.
"Sorry I can't stay." He smiled viciously, picking up his torn copy of The Screwtape Letters and leafing through it. "More important matters to attend to and all."
Pride bellowed in agony, the barbed wire cutting through its leathery skin as it struggled to be free of its bonds.
Its six brothers took up the cry, their distorted and warped voices filling the air.
Wisdom didn't flinch once, he simply maintained his viscous smile of smug satisfaction.
"I would say it's been a pleasure but I think we all know that would be lie." He announced once the daemon screams had subsided. Slowly he let go of the cigarette, allowing it spiral downwards to the burnt floor of the institution's complex. "Be seeing you." He nodded once and made good his escape.
Moments later the building flowered in flame.
The distant sound of laughter and traffic filled the air.
James O'Neill staggered, cold waters splashing about his malformed feet as he fled through the abandoned tunnels, flesh screaming with agony at every new injustice.
Many before him had passed through these corridors of grief and emptiness and many would pass down them once he had faded away into the cold void beyond death. He was not the first, of that he was entirely cognisant.
Before his ascension to daemonhood and his inauguration into the seven, O'Neill had been a resident of the cold sterile facility of what was universally known as the Institution.
Over the past century or two, the Institution had been harvested alien DNA and preparing simulacra for a variety of experiments; all of which involved the subjugation of those they believed inadequate in some way, shape or form or the other.
The rippled flesh that had composed O'Neill's flailing body for the past twenty years had itself originated with these experiments.
The introduction of two different strands of alien genetic material had created a brotherhood of thousands, the most important of which remained the last and final breed.
This new species was composed of many oddities, not least of all O'Neill.
The council of seven daemons of which he had, until recently, been a member of, had overseen the new breed's development and others - Michael Kirwin, Samuel Dern, Jonathan Hibberd, Joseph Liebowitz - had each added to the species' development, whether they knew it or not.
And now...now it had ended in fire; in howls and burning, in fire and brimstone, in the rank stench of sulphur.
Now one man, one poxy, arrogant little bastard, had put an end to all their schemes.
The future was stillborn in their expectant wombs, all plans as dust.
O'Neill threw himself down into the water beneath him, the sweet smell of urine assaulting his nostrils. He rolled franticly in the filth, dowsing the flames that burnt his daemon flesh with the bitter water that had fallen through the gutters and accumulated here beneath the city.
Silently he swore one thing to himself:
The slow, painful and exquisite death of Peter Wisdom.
The door was wide open, an invitation of sorts that allowed safe passage across the threshold and into the heart of another world.
"Jesus Christ, this place looks like a bomb's hit it." A voice cried out in the wilderness.
Romany Wisdom dropped her bag in the doorway and waded through the litter of torn newspapers and empty bottles, stopping momentarily to look up at the shrine of post-it notes, nicotine sepia newspaper cuttings and monochrome photographs.
"Peter Wisdom, are you not up yet, you lazy arsehole?" She called into the dim light beyond the living room.
"Haven't slept yet." A voice from behind her responded.
She turned, her heart stopping a beat and calming as she saw the gaunt figure of her brother stepping over the bag and across the threshold, four litre bottle of semi-skimmed milk in one hand and cigarette smouldering in the other.
"Went out to get some milk and ciggies." He explained. "Got side-tracked."
"Mary, mother of God, you look worse than I expected." She mollycoddled. "The old man's going to be bloody turning in his grave."
"They haven't put him in it yet." Wisdom reminded her then with doubt added: "Have they?"
She looked down at her watch.
"Not yet. They will have if we don't get there soon enough though."
"I fucking hate funerals." He muttered, moving past her and depositing both milk and cigarette in the fringe, grinding the stub out in an empty I Can't Believe It's Not Butter box and slamming the door.
"Is Kitty coming?" Romany asked tentatively.
"Not bloody likely." Her brother responded with a sneer.
Kennedy #883267 unwrapped the thin plastic film from around the carton of cigarettes, fingers textured with rubber and organic materials to give the impression of life.
Since the late Sixties, he had wandered aimlessly through the sewers of London, uncertain and what and who he was.
Over the course of time he had began to understand the nature of his resurrection and through a chance meeting with a sinister `countryman' of his, he had learnt that he was little more than a simulacra - a replica of the original man whose face he wore.
As he lit a cigarette and made his way up the steps of Saint Paul's, conscious of the itch that inflamed the serial number carved into the back of his neck.
The doors opened before him and he moved slowly past the various assembled troupe of tourists and visitors, some visibly disturbed by his appearance.
He moved in deeper before finally taking a seat at the back of the pews.
"You took your time." A voice intoned from behind.
"I'm sorry. I seem to have lost track of time." Kennedy responded.
The other stepped into the light, his crimson jacket looking disturbingly like a coat of congealed blood in the dim illumination of the cathedral.
"It doesn't matter. I've got enough time to kill till the year 2200." He shrugged.
Kennedy inhaled deeply, allowing his synthetic lungs to fill with the deep, discoloured smoke.
"Over the next two centuries this place will become the last place left standing in London. It will be the focus of daemonic invasion within the next ten years. By the time 2200 rolls around, it will be wiped of the surface of the Earth, along with the city that surrounds it and nearly every other city on this planet."
Kennedy looked blankly towards the altar, ash dripping from the end of his cigarette.
"How?" He finally asked, refusing to turn and look at the other.
His companion smiled darkly.
"It begins with a man called Peter Wisdom." He responded. "He's the one person that will begin the downward spiral for all of us. He's the man that will find off the daemons and, by his actions, bring the first Angel to Earth's doorstep. I'm still trying to work out which of the two options is worse; a world dominated by daemonic beasts or a world kept on life support as the Angel's plaything."
"How?" Kennedy repeated.
"In defeating the daemons, this Wisdom will leave the gates of Heaven wide open. By destroying Hell he will take purpose away from the Angels. They will send the first Angel here and cause-and-effect will follow."
"Wouldn't it solve your problems to just kill Wisdom now?" Kennedy asked.
"It depends on if you want to live in a world full of daemons."
"I don't live at all." Kennedy reminded him.
"Worse things happen at sea." The other countered.
Silence, then Kennedy twisted in his seat and faced the make-up stained features of his companion.
"Do you want me to kill this Peter Wisdom for you?"
"No." The other smiled. "I have investments in the 23rd century. I'd like to see the fruits of my labour when that time rolls around especially now that my theatre has been burnt down once more."
#883267 nodded and turned back to face the front of the church. A soft breeze caught his matted hair and when he turned once more, the other had vanished.
The rain tasted of salt, slow beads hitting his face as he watched them lower the coffin into the ground.
On this day, his father - the old bastard - was finally laid to rest.
Pete Wisdom nodded in respect once and tossed a handful of dirt in after his old man as the priest intoned:
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
"We know Major Tom's a junkie." He added beneath his breath.
The mourners dispatched, leaving Romany and himself alone at the grave.
"He was a good old bastard." Romany whispered, grief choking her voice.
"For what we knew of him." Her brother muttered cynically.
He lit a cigarette and stared morosely down at the anonymous hole in the ground.
"Come on, I'll buy you a pint." He announced.
"You don't have to. It's already been paid for." She answered solemnly.
"Then I'll buy it metaphorically." He snapped.
The rain continued to fall as the two figures, brother and sister, left their father to his final resting place.
O'Neill staggered up into the light, his savaged features smouldering in the glare of direct sunlight.
The crowds parted as the corpse like figure moved through, elbows and arms igniting in flame as they came into contact with him.
Screams issued forth as the surrounding people exploded, insides pushing their way through splits in the skin.
And yet still the Beast continued to move, spreading his contagion through the crowds until he reached Nelson's column.
With hands still bleeding and flesh smoking with flame, O'Neill clambered atop the statue and spread his arms wide, a leper messiah before his crowd of burning disciples.
Slowly, the clouds shifted, pushing their way across the surface of the sun and in an instant, the world was his.
Romany Wisdom watched her brother as he grew progressively (or rather regressively) drunker. His speech became slurred and his eyes seemed to lose focus, as if he were glaring beyond the world in which every other bastard on the planet was forced to live in, day in, day out.
By half six he had already offended the vicar and by seven, they had both been thrown out, left to wander the streets.
It had grown late a lot quicker than she remembered. By six the sky was usually a shade of purple, a sign that summer was coming but today the darkness had set upon them as if they were still in late December.
She shrugged it off, living in London she had known stranger things.
Her brother muttered something and she turned to face him, watching as he hung desperately to the wall for support.
".and then I killed seven daemons, all last night it was, Romany." He seemed to be saying.
She placed her hands on her hips.
"What in God's name are you talking about, Pete?" She snapped.
He straightened up, seeming to sober as he continued to speak.
"Something is coming." He warned.
"What do you mean?" She asked.
His face was pulled tightly in concentration for a moment before realisation dawned and promptly dropped away once more.
"No, sorry. It's gone." He shrugged and lit a cigarette.
She watched walk further on and then calmly counted, in her own special way, under her breath.
"One-bastard, two-bastard, three-bastard, four-bastard, five-bastard, six-bastard, seven-bastard, eight- bastard, nine-bastard, ten-bastard."
She exhaled, calming herself and then followed on after him.
O'Neill looked over his kingdom of shattered stone and smouldering corpses, the face of Nelson peering over his shoulder almost in anticipation.
"Behold you have sent me out like a wolf amongst sheep." He cried in answer to a silent accusation. "And I brought this world to its feet, just for you. I am your first born, your first and last and always."
The sea of flesh beneath him writhed in agony, wails and moans issued forth from the gaping wounds that had once served as their mouths.
"I am the Wizard and you are my Oz." He smiled insanely. "I am Wraith, the last of seven sins. I am the only sin."
Kennedy #883267 watched the chaos break over the city, a tsunami of insanity and intolerance.
Patience had always been a particular virtue of his, the man who in some half-remembered life had been unprepared to go up against communist Cuba - and rightly so.
The city seemed to fold in upon itself, swallowed by its own epidemic of madness.
He staggered slightly and almost fell, leaning himself against the wall.
Within his chest cavity, the aching had begun once more - the pain that forever demanded feeding.
His desperate hands tore at his shirt, ripping it open and peeling back the layer of skin underneath.
Hidden within the mass of synthetic tissue a large cube glowed a dull purple. The top half of the cube was transparent, evidence of the immense strain such movements had upon him.
He needed to find a power source, something he could convert into the ambrosia that fed his simulacra's body.
He needed to `plug himself in', in so many words.
The sound of heavy footfalls echoed through the air and #883267 heard a strange voice whisper;
"One-bastard, two-bastard, three-bastard, four-bastard, five-bastard, six-bastard, seven-bastard, eight- bastard, nine-bastard, ten-bastard."
A man and a woman, the woman being the one who had spoken, emerged from the fog.
Both were tall and healthy though the woman wore glasses, an obvious sign of deficiency.
Kennedy stepped out into the light and held his hands up.
The man, caught unaware nearly fell back upon the woman. His breath stunk of alcohol.
"Stop." Kennedy stated blankly.
"I think you made that one clear, Johnny-boy." The man announced, still uncertain of his footing.
"`Johnny-boy'?" The simulacra questioned.
"As in the old JFK, all that bollocks. My friend Mark is related to you, you know that?"
#883267's brow creased in confusion but he decided to let the matter slide.
"I am in need of.recharging." He said with difficulty. "You will assist me."
"He sounds like a bloody Cyberman." The man smirked and turned to his companion. "Doesn't he sound like a Cyberman?"
"Yes, Pete." The woman sighed.
"Please." Kennedy #883267 begged, stumbling forwards.
The woman reached out her arms and caught him and then let go, gasping and raising her hands to her mouth in shock.
The cube at the heart of Kennedy's being glowed ominously within the centre of his chest.
"I am.the Wizard and.you are.my Oz." He stuttered, his mouth opening and closing now beyond his control. "I.Wraith.last.seven .only.sin."
His voice fragmented and distorted with static as he repeated the words in an alien voice.
It was only then that #883267 realised he had been tricked. The other had altered his programming, infected it with some kind of language virus - a virus that would alert others to the knowledge of some threat beyond the simulacra's imagining.
How long had he been like this? How long had the virus resided within him, waiting for the right person to hear its words?
"What is it?" The woman whispered.
Only now to Kennedy #883267 understand who the man that confronted him was, only now did he understand that this was Peter Wisdom.
"I told you he sounded like a bloody Cyberman." Wisdom said seriously.
Kennedy opened his mouth a final time and repeated the words as Wisdom reached inside of his chest and tore the cube from his body.
There was a moment of pure static, gushing unwanted from his simulacra's mouth and then the world turned black.
The other watched the chaos unfold, liquid fire spreading throughout the peoples of the city, infecting each one of them and passed no judgement.
No smile crossed his abnormally pale features, no whisper of a grin but a strange sadness haunted his eyes, as if he were witnessing the beginning, or perhaps the end, of a vital chapter of history.
The 20th century had crumbled to dust, leaving nothing but a dissatisfied world still dealing with the problems that Thatcher and Reagan had brought with them.
Perhaps this `new flesh', to lift a phrase, was what the world needed.
Perhaps...but he doubted it very much.
The immediate future waited desperately to happen and in his third eye he saw Peter Wisdom take the cube from Kennedy #883267's chest - the cube that he had gone to great measures to acquire - and watched the simulacra repeat its message for the final time before its death.
He watched as the cube's fading purple light played across Wisdom's face and he watched as Wisdom gained his first clue as to its truly alien origin.
The images flickered before Wisdom's eyes and the other smiled and waved back at him, knowing that the cube's disorientating effect would bend the immediate future enough for him to signal to the future destroyer of Hell where he resided and more importantly where the daemon he had failed to finish was.
And then, as if no time had passed at all, Wisdom was there, standing defiantly amidst the sea of burning flesh and remaining miraculously untouched.
The Wraith laid eyes on him and the woman that stood several feet away and descended, long spider-like limbs clinging to the column until its uncertain and malformed feet touched the ground.
"I thought I fucking killed you." Wisdom sighed with distemper, the cube still in his hands.
"Ah, Wiiiiiiisdom." The once-man glowered. "You should know better than to assume that you could ever stand a chance of killing me."
Wisdom cocked his head to one side.
"Should I?" He asked. "Oh. In that case, you have my apologies, squire."
A puzzled look crossed the daemon's face.
"What do you mean?" It demanded.
"Well," Wisdom grinned, scratching the back of his head. "I'm taking your advice. By the way, you're melting."
"Eh?" The daemon proclaimed.
It looked down at its melting body.
"What's happening?" It demanded.
Wisdom's smile grew fractionally.
"I take you're aware of the concept of consecrated icons, usually metals or liquid - holy water and crucifixes, if you like."
The daemon's eyes grew larger.
"Well this odd little whatever it is cube seems to be having an adverse effect on you, mate." He said and lit a cigarette with his free hands. "Turns out that in the occult periodic table there's a companion element to each element on the regular common or garden periodic table that's why crucifixes and holy water are lethal to vampirs and the like." His smile grew again. "Looks like this little bastard was built by someone or something composed of a metal that corresponded to one of those lethal occult elements. Sorry about that."
"B-But this can't be happening. I was going to kill you...and so gloriously too." The daemon protested.
"Save the sodding melodrama, it's time to say goodbye." Wisdom beamed as the daemon's leg collapsed under the weight of its rotting body. "First and last and always, my arse. I fucking hated that Sisters album."
The daemon opened its mouth to howl a final time and Wisdom raised his foot, kicking the bastard's head clean off its body.
It bounced twice before turning to a sizeable liquid stain on the pavement.
He shrugged, tapped some ash from the end of his cigarette and turned to face Romany.
"How in the bleeding hell do you manage to pull shit like that off?" She asked.
"Lucky." He shrugged. "Fancy a pint?"
"Metaphorically?" She asked.
"Bollocks to that." He grinned and walked off in the direction of the nearest pub.