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MBCE

Power Check -- Belphegor

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Legend stood on the platform of the derelict oil rig known to certain people as the Arena. The mysterious curator of the one place where the villains of Freedom City could mingle with their peers without fear of intrusions by the do-gooders of the city. Today, he was waiting for one such villain to arrive.

Legend had sent out the message to the demon after learning of his campture by the hands of the mob boss, "Big Al" Driogano, and his mystic, Lady Tarot. The demon had shown himself to be a very interesting character to the city and Legned wanted to see just how much power the mysterious newcomer had. The fact that he was so easily taken down by the Don would only draw the demon's attention to the summons. Perhaps, Belphegor could learn of a new way to cause havoc within the city limits.

Of course, he would have to first appear at the Arena before Legend could do anything. Legend looked up at the sky and waited for the demon to appear.

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To say Jos Terhune had been aggravated by recent events would be an understatement. His first real villainous gig in Freedom City had been a disaster, and painfully reminded him of just how much of his power was bound and contained. Add to this the fact an Italian gypsy had some of his scale and blood and so was now able to compel and command him, and make him do whatever her Mob boss wanted, and he was in a particularly foul mood. He tried not to let it interfere with his more legitimate business dealings at his shoppe, and for the most part he succeeded, bu there were more than a few slips where his tone was harsher than he would have liked, and he did lost a few sales as a result. He had, during a moonless night, taken out his frustrations on some abandoned buildings in the Fens -- he needed to vent, but also needed to do so in a way that wouldn't initiate a citywide manhunt -- which did help, but he wanted more.

And now that tingling feeling, the one he'd felt when he first arrived in Freedom, the one caused by Legend's calling him to the offshore Arena, was back. "What's he want now?" he muttered, then let out an exasperated sigh before addressing the few customers in his cramped shoppe. "Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that we are closing early today. If you have any purchases to make, please do so immediately."

As it turned out, the few customers were all window-shoppers, so they all filed out fairly quickly. Once the last one was out, he locked the door, pulled the blinds shut, and dashed upstairs to his home on the upper floor. He changed out of his casual-business attire and into a cheap jogging outfit, then headed out. He carried nothing with him, not even keys; he kept a spare house key in a container buried in the back yard so he didn't need to bother with having one on him. Jogging down some of the winding streets of Riverside, he darted into a shady alley, and waited until he was reasonably sure no one was watching him. He concentrated a moment,

Change! Change, O mortal form!

Release the might from fleshy mire!

Boil the blood in heart of fire!

Gone! Gone! -- the mortal form --

Rise, the Demon Belphegor!!

and was transmogrified into his dark red, scaled, horned, fanged, bat-winged, taloned demonic form, shredding the cheap jogging suit in the process. He was just able to spread his wings enough to fly, and took off into the early afternoon sky, flying high so as to reduce the likelihood of any onlookers identifying him. People flying in Freedom was by no means uncommon, but demons were, and very much frowned upon.

In a few moments he was at the Arena, and there below was Legend, looking as he had during their first meeting: a pale opulently-dressed 17th-Century French Nobleman/Satanist.

"You rang?," he growled in a resonant bass voice.

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Legend smiled softly at the demon. "Yes, I did, Mr. Terhune. I've called you here since I've noticed you having a number of problems within the city. Your recent embarrassment at the Golden Calf casino being the largest."

Legend gestures to the side, away from the main entrance that most of the villians use when visiting the Arena, to a lone door. "I believe I can help you realize your true untapped potential. That is, if you're willing to accept the help."

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The demon growled at the mention of his recent failure, and clenched his taloned hands into tight fists.

"And just what sort of help would that be, hrm?" he said after a moments pause. "And what would you be asking in return?"

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Legend smiled at the demon. "The help I offer is the chance to better yourself by understanding exactly what your limitations are as well as what you may excel in. Just recently, your companion who also failed, came here looking for a place where he could hone his skills. I am offering you that same opportunity. As for payment, I ask for nothing more than to have you continue your work within the city, Mr. Terhune."

Legend begins walking ot the side door, not worrying to see if the demon would follow or not. As he walked he continued talking, his voice never fading nor increasing in volume. "Behind this door, you will find a corridor. Within the corridor are doors, doors that lead to various small rooms where your skills will be tested. For this visit, you may enter five such doors where you will be assigned a task. Each task will be atest of your abilities. Sometimes, they will test your strengths, while other times, they will test your weaknesses. Regardless of which door you enter, I'm sure you will learn something new about yourself."

The elder gentleman opened the door to reveal al ong corridor with alternating doors on each side. The doors were unmarked and seemed identical. Only the present door stood out from the rest. "Once you have completed a room's task, you will be allowed to return to the corridor. There, you'll find refreshments waiting for you. Once you are ready, you can enter another door and begin the next task. Once you have entered five rooms, you will be finished an unable to enter another on this trip."

Legend turned to Belphegor once again. "Well, Mr. Terhune, are you demon enough to face your own shortcomings?"

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The demon continued to growl and clench his fists, but said nothing. Okay, he thinks, this joker might be a powerful mage, one who could turn me to ash before I could even throw a punch... or he might be something else altogether. He really, really annoys me, especially with his summons, and by calling me by my 'civilian' name... though he's probably got something up to shield us from prying eyes, so there's probably not much danger of anyone finding out my secret. Probably doing it because he knows it irritates me. Besides, if I tear him in half, I can't find out what he's up to.

"Would you mind not using that name?," he growled as he stomped into the doorway. "I would like to maintain some shred of my reputation."

Belphegor chose the third door on the left.

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Legend nodded his head. "Of course Mr. Belphegor. I hope you enjoy yourself."

Once Belphegor walked into the room, Legend closed the outside door, leaving the demon to his task.

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The room Belphegor entered was empty.

As soon as the door closed behind him, Legend's voice rang out in the room. "Your task is simple, Mr. Belphegor. You have the ability to affect emtions but you must see how best to use that ability. You must use your power to make each victim before you feel some kind of emotion, your choice. You may attempt to subvert control on a subject up to three times before moving to the next target. There will be four different targets to face. Good luck."

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Not what I expected, the demon thought, but let's give it a shot. I've not really tried using that trick since that mage de-powered and bound me, so it's a good ability to flex.

-------------

The first target was heard before being seen, a lanky Goth guy blaring some screeching death metal through his iPod. He seemed to barely notice Belphegor until he had practically walked into him.

"Boo", he said. Not growling (well, no more than usual), not screaming, just speaking in a normal (for a demon) conversational tone.

The kid collapses into a quivering heap, utterly overcome with hopelessness.

Well, that was... nifty. Let's see who's next.

-------------

Belphegor walked around a bit, trying to determine where the next target would come from. The room felt far larger than its initial appearance suggested, and there were patches of darkness even Belphegor's demonic eyesight could not penetrate.

The next to arrive was actually a pair, an old man and woman, obviously married for decades and still very much in love. A small collection of potted flowers appeared to their side, and the gentlemen picked some for his wife.

Ohhh, this is just too perfect a scene. Now, let's see...

Belphegor tried to maneuver himself so he was out of their site, sticking to the intermittent patches of unnatural darkness. He focused on the woman, and concentrated on her a moment.

No effect at all.

Hrmph. Okay, let's try this, he thought as he flitted to a different patch of darkness, one slightly closer and hopefully improving his chances.

A better result. She threw the flowers down and began berating the man for assorted failures in his life, leaving the old man quite confused at her sudden turn.

Ah, 'marital bliss' is such a sham. Ah, and already they fade away.

-------------

Things were very quiet for a several moments after the couple disappeared, and Belphegor almost wondered if his test had come to an abrupt end. Then he began to hear the pat pat pat of soft leather shoes and the swish of loose gowns.

"Hello?" an all-too-familiar soft feminine voice tentatively called out.

"You!" the demon growled as he leaped out towards what he assumed, from the sound of her voice, was the woman who'd placed him in his current binding oath.

"Demone!" she spat, raising one hand in a claw-like gesture and reaching into her large courier's pouch with the other.

"Whatever it is you're thinking of doing, you don't want to do it," he said, trying to modulate his natural growl to a more seductive tone.

She lowered her outstretched hand, but kept the other in her pouch. "No? You just want to... chat?" she said in a more friendly tone.

He took a few steps closer. "Chat... and perhaps a bit more," he whispered.

"Ah, I see. Well, perhaps we can do... more," she said in a decidedly more helpful/eager/lustful tone. She placed both her hands on the demon's chest, sliding them down to his hips and tugging at his scarlet trunks...

... and then vanished in a puff of smoke and shadow.

"Oh, come on!" he shouted to the Heavens (er, the Depths?).

-------------

Okay, so that's three down, one more to go. I wonder who-

A bolt of golden light slammed into the floor in front of him. Looking up, the source was clear: Seven, the teenage witch from Next Gen.

"I don't know where I am or who you are," she called out, "but I can tell what you are!"

Crap! Okay, okay, I can... er... crap! Belphegor was temporarily a a loss as he dodged Seven's mystical energy bolts. Then, suddenly, the barest germ of an idea hit him.

"Say, didn't they burn witches? How 'bout a little hellfire, a taste of what awaits you in the afterlife?!"

Didn't seem to phase her one bit. "Most of them were hanged, actually, you stupid demon!" More bolts were released, and Belphegor hopped and dodged to avoid them.

"Maybe so, but they burn all the time where I'm from. And where you'll be going!"

Still no effect, but he could almost feel his power getting through. "Big talk for someone who's dancing about like a monkey!" More mystic bolts were loosed, and the demon continued to dance about to avoid them.

Might as well try a psychological shot-in-the-dark, he thought. "Big talk for someone who's playing at superhero because mother is burning in Hell! Come, let me take you to her!"

That hit the right nerve, and frost-fingered fear crept into the sorceress. She flew back into the patch of darkness she came from, and things quieted down.

Belphegor smirked, "I'm gonna have to remember that," then walked towards the slowly opening door out of the chamber. He ached, though he attributed that to the jumping and dodging from the last encounter.

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Back outside hte chamber, Belphegor found a chair and a table covered with refreshments, just as Legend said there would be. The food and refreshments amazing seem to be everything that the demon found enjoyable to refresh himself.

The chair was just the right size to let the him either recline or sit up straight as he needed. All in all, it was just what he needed to regain his strength.

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This guy certainly seems a fine host, I'll give him that, Belphegor thought as he looked over the refreshments. The food here was fairly light: a cheese platter, some chocolates, and a few sushi rolls (mostly eel and shrimp); for drink there was brandy, gin, and hot cocoa in mugs big enough to fit comfortably in his massive taloned hands. As he served himself up, an onlooker might find it odd that he picked through the selections like a refined gastronome, rather than simply grabbing up handfuls as his bestial appearance might suggest. A glass of brandy and mug of hot cocoa (spiked with a bit more brandy) finished his meal, which he ate while reclining in the chair.

After eating he sipped at his hot cocoa, and thought about what had just happened. He wondered if the people he'd just faced were real or just very reactive illusions. He wondered about one in particular, the woman who'd bound him, and, if she was merely an illusion, whether or not the real one really did look like what the illusion did; they certainly sounded alike. Then he began imagining all manner of brutal and carnal acts he would do to her, and to Seven.

After what felt like hours, based in part on how refreshed he now felt, Belphegor rose and made his way to another door. "Wonder what's behind here?", he asked no one as he opened the door and stepped in.

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As he enters the room, Legned's voice again is heard.

"As a demon, you must be wary of those blessed by deities for their attacks are targeted directly against your unholy nature. Here, you will test your resolve to withstand the pain that these attacks will cause you. Stand strong and you will no longer fear facing those blessed attacks."

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[[ Links to roll results are in OOC thread ]]

"Whoah, now, waitasec!" Belphegor protested as the door slammed shut. Holy? Blessed? Just whose side is this guy on?

-------------

Belphegor soon heard the sound of footsteps coming towards him. Turning quickly, he saw a young altar boy carrying a pitcher of wine. The boy seemed quite shocked at seeing the demon.

Wow. I know Legend started slow last time, but this is just... pathetic.

"Woe unto you, child!" Bel bellowed, "for I have come for you! Oppose me, if you da-!"

To his credit, the boy acted quickly, tossing the contents of his pitcher -- blessed wine -- at the demon. About a third of it actually went into his mouth, and burned very much. As the demon spat out the water, the boy began to recite the assorted prayers in Latin, stunning the demon with wracking pain in his head.

"Oh, you little b-" Belphegor started, but he saw the boy was gone as quickly as he'd appeared. "S#!t, if that kid can do that, I have got to be more careful!" Belphegor summoned some hellfire to him, and concentrated it within his form, amplifying his toughness.

-------------

A few moments later -- time enough, at least, for Belphegor to recover from the first encounter -- he heard another set of footsteps. These were heavier, purposeful, determined. And picking up speed?

"Devils amongst us, eh? This calls for some divine intervention!"

A Catholic priest in a purple robe, with snow-white hair, flew out of nowhere and delivered a solid kick to Belphegor's stomach. Thanks to his unholy power, though, the demon felt nothing. Much of what the father did had no effect, including the splashes of holy water, though there were two joint-strikes that did slow him. Annoyingly, the father seemed too agile to strike, dancing about with surprising skill.

And just as quickly, he leaped away.

... what the f---?

-------------

Belphegor crept slowly about now, wary of attack from any angle.

"What's all this ruckus?" a voice called out. Belphegor got the distinct feeling it belonged to someone he (as Jos Terhune) knew, bu could not place it. "Don't make me come up there, or the Good Lord'l be coming down on you!"

Mother McTavish, the nun who lead the Sunday school he attended as a young boy! It was said that with but one glance she could shame any demon, though Lucifer would require two.

Let's see if there's any truth to that rumor.

Belphegor leaped out and let loose what he felt was the most terrifying roar he'd ever done. McTavish did take a step back, but just one.

"Jos Tehune, you stop this foolishness right now!"

"Pfah! I take no orders from you, harridan! I am Bel-" As with the altar boy before, the nun tossed some holy water at the demon, and it hit him square in the mouth. It burned.

"Now you see here, Jos Terhune! You'll stop this foolishness, or I'll be stoppin' it myself!"

"Grah! Is that the est you've got? I'll--" More holy water in the mouth.

"You always were a troublemaker, Jos Terhune, and I told you your wicked ways would lead you straight to Hell! And now I'll be makin' sure you stay there!" She began to chant in Latin, as the boy had before, though her voice was stronger, more sure. Belphegor felt the same stabbing, stunning pains in his head.

Then, from behind her, Mother McTavish pulled out her shotgun.

Three consecrated solid slugs drove into the demon, two in his guts and one in his leg. The first two knocked him prone, and he had to struggle to crane his head up to see the nun vanish.

"Ouch."

-------------

A trio of tiny imps flew to Belphegor's side and worked strange fleshwarping magics on him, healing his damage. They flitted off as soon as their work was done, and Belphegor rose to his feet.

"My, but that's handy. Here's to hoping I won't need them again, though. I-"

Before the demon could finish his thought, a great radiance shone from above, and slowly descended. "Hear me, o vile one! Ye have been tested and found most anting, and now thine judgment hath arrived!" The light dimmed slightly, and Belpheogr could see the source. It was, by all appearances, an angel. A bronze-breastplated, flaming sword-wielding, winged humanoid of indeterminate gender but perfect beauty.

"Oh..." Merely seeing the angel filled Belphegor with a sense of deep and profound despair, coming so close to Heaven yet still being so far away.

"First shall I bathe thee in the blessed waters of Heaven, to wash what Evil I can off of you." The angel brought forth what appeared to be a mace, but when s/he shook it holy water sprinkled out from the head. The demon hardly moved as it splashed on him, hardly seemed to notice the patches of scales which burned and sloughed off.

"And now, I end your existence on this mortal plane." A swipe from the angel's flaming sword opened Belphegor's throat, making his head flop back like a Pez dispenser.

"Amen." the angel intoned as it sprinkled more holy water on the demon.

Belphegor's vision dimmed.

-------------

Belphegor's vision returned, as evidenced b being annoyed at the light streaming in from the open doorway. He suddenly sat up and quickly felt around his neck, and was very relieved to find no gaping wound. He then quickly scampered out of the room.

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Again, the demon was greeted by refreshements and a chair in the corridor. It was jsut what he needed after the ordeal against the Angel.

After a few moments, another door opened, beckoning Belphegor inside.

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Belphegor ran into the chair and table, knocking food everywhere. "Wha.. wha... what was that?" The demon quickly picked up a bottle of gin and gulped it down while backing into a corner.

Was that real? Did I really almost die? Or was that more of Legend's illusions? Would it matter? If I think I die, and believe it firmly enough, is that enough to truly kill me?

He tossed the now-empty gin bottle aside and reached for a snifter of brandy, and took big swigs of it.

Oh, man up, Jos! He said this was all a test, right? Tests don't kill folks... right? You've failed a few before in college, those were nothing to get upset about. You just get back on the horse and keep ridin'!

Belphegor stood back up and stretched his wings and limbs. He felt the pain-pleasure of stuff joints popping, especially as he rolled his head around. Tossing the brandy onto the chair, he strode boldly towards the door.

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The third room was very much unlike the the first two rooms. A few feet beyond the door, a wall stood that reached all the way up to the ceiling forming a small alcove. As the door to the corridor closed, a small opening appeared in the wall, revelaing the rest of the room.

"You have weathered the pain that your enemies will throw at you, Mr. Belphegor. Now it is time for you to return the favor. This test will see how well your aim is with your Hellfire bolt. Simply blast the targets that you can see beyond the wall. Good hunting."

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[[ Link to attack rolls are in OOC thread. ]]

"I like the sound of that," the demon said, with a very wicked smile on its face.

No sooner had he said it than the altar boy from the last test appeared.

This time he vanished after being hit by three bolts of hellfire.

"Ha! Bring it on!"

A very burly man appeared next, looking like a lead from a sword-and-sandals film. He let out a yell as he charged towards the demon...

... and his dead body skidded to a stop right before the demon, blood oozing from the stumps where his legs had been.

"Yeah! I'm really feelin' good now!"

"Not for long, you won't!" a voice from above shouted.

Quickly turning, the demon paled a bit to see the silver, red, white and blue form of Lady Liberty! She dove towards him, dodging two bolts from him, but the third struck home.

"Dude!That'ssonotcool" a voice buzzed past. The demon felt a tap on his shoulder; he whirled around just in time to see a lean blue-clad man speed off and race all about the room. Belphegor could barely keep up with his movements, and all of his shots went wide.

The blur then disappeared, and the door opened back up.

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Again Belphegor found the table of refreshments waiting for him when he exited the room. It wasn't long before another door opened up.


When he entered this room, he found it empty like the first two rooms he had entered. Legend's voice again explained the new test. "You have provened your ability to attack from a distance, Mr. Belphegor, but you must be able to take your enemies down in close combat. Are you able to inflict pain and suffering at close range? Simply rip apart anything that stands in your way."

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[[ Links to Toughness saves are in OOC thread. ]]

"Yeah, I can definitely get behind this test!," the demon said with dark joy.

The demon crouched low, waiting to see who'd first come into view. To his surprise, it appeared to be Bowman, swinging in from a zip-line. "Show yourself, demon! I've got a blessed arrow with your name on it!"

Belphegor charged, "not if I chew your tendons off first!" The Bowman sidestepped and dodged the initial charge, but the demon spun around and struck him in the back of the head with a fist, stunning him & making him fall prone. As the demon went for a third strike, the Bowman disappeared.

"Hrmph, just as it was getting interesting."

-------------

Belphegor crouched again, trying to feel out his surroundings, watching for any hint of movement in the darkness. An ever-so-slight creak of leather and the barest glint of gunmetal gave away the position of the next foe.

"You'll make a fine addition to my collection, demon!" came the voice of Orion the Hunter, punctuated by a shot from his gun.

"It'll take more than you, mortal!," Belphegor roared as he charged. This time the rush did connect, knocking him prone & stunning him momentarily. The demon quickly followed this with two mighty kicks tot he hunter, but he only groaned at the first; the second hit a thicker section of the hunter's undercover vest.

And then he vanished.

"Oh, I am loving this!"

-------------

"You won't be for long, foul thing!" came the voice of Neried, Princess of Atlantis, clad in a shimmering golden Atlantean armor. "The power of the seas courses through me, and they shall surely extinguish your hellfire!"

The demon briefly flared with hellfire, which then flowed back into him, making him glow from within. "Bring it on, girlie."

Nereid charged, and blows were exchanged. Belphegor felt nothing, either because she missed or her blows weren't strong enough (or because resisting damage isn't part of this test, he thought), but she fared quite well against his blows. His first two clanged ineffectively off her Atlantean plate-mail, and the third barely got through. But get through it did, and Nereid seemed to explode in a shower or seawater.

"Heh, only thing about the seas that might dissuade me are the sunken treasures it holds."

-------------

"C'mon, c'mon, who's next, hunh? Who wants to go a few rounds with Demonic Ali?!"

"Bekemono desu, ne?," a voice replied. At first all Belphegor could make out was the glowing blue circuitry of a teenager-sized suit, but soon Soc Otaku revealed himself. "We fight now, yes?" he asked in a disturbingly cheerful tone.

For a moment, Belphegor just stared dumbfonded at this new foe.

Then the energy bolts came.

Legend said this was a test of muscle, so I'd better close the gap! He made mad dash for the mad boy genius, charging with his hellfire-charged body. He connected, but almost bounced off the target. Otaku flew up to get some distance; Belphegor swiped at him with his claws but they clattered off his armored suit. The demon took to the skies and chased after Otaku, but it took some time to catch up to him (by effectively herding him in certain directions). By the time he got close enough for a third blow, Belphegor's anger had been fanned considerably, but the mad boy genius's armor protected him even from the wrath-filled pummeling.

And then he disappeared into a patch of darkness.

The demon howled in frustration.

-------------

Belphegor, muscles aching as they did after his very first test here, slowly made his way back outside.

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Belphegor is again greeted by the refreshment table when he enters the corridor. It doesn't take him long to regain his strength. Just as he feels his strength had fully returned, another door opened.


Walking into the room, the demon knew something was different right away. It seemed that four different stations were set up, something very different than the last four room which were mostly bare.

At each station, there was a chair and a table. AS he contemplated the rules of this present test, Legend's voice filled the room.

"You have shown much of the physical prowess within you, Mr. Belphegor. Now it is time to see what lies in your mind. Only unprepared fools fall to the heroes of Freedom City. Those that trust solely in their brawn quickly find that their most important weapon, their mind, has been wasted. Go to each station. There, your knowledge, creativity, charisma, and observational skills will be tested. Prove that you are more than simple claws and anger."

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"This is the final test for this little session, isn't it?" Belphegor asked... no one. "Best pull out all the stops, then!"

-------------

The first table held numerous pieces of artwork, randing in size from an inch to two feet in size. Carved statuettes of assorted materials (bone, ivory, stone, bronze), finely wrought jewelry, ewers and chalices and mugs, exquisite musical instruments, and much more. The demon's eyes grew as large as saucers upon seeing it all, and he was scarcely aware of the huge smile that was spreading across his face.

"Ohhhhh.... okay, okay, focus, man, focus. What am I supposed to do here? I don't... oh, a card!"

At the front of the table was a small card, in crisp black block lettering.

ONE OF THESE THINGS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHERS.

"One?," he asked, looking up to th collection, down at the card, then back up at the collection. "There are dozens of different styles here, these treasures hail from all corners of the globe! They're all unique in their own way..."

"... unless one is actually a forgery."

The demon passed his own eyes, the eyes of both an appraiser and a forger, over the items. It wasn't long before he spotted a fake, a 12-inch-high bronze head with atypical markings of wear and tear. He took the head and held it aloft, gazing into its eyesockets. "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio! HA!" He carried the item with him to the next station.

-------------

The next station he went to had a desktop computer, as well as dozens of discs and books, and a large, sturdy chair for the demon. He set the bronze head down and checked the computer, and found it was on and logged onto the internet. Examining the discs and books, he found they were research materials for antiques, and he could use them to identify the item -- or, rather, the real version of the item that his was supposed to imitate.

He picked up the bronze head and looked it over, trying to figure where to start. "The stylized hair and beard indicate it's Mesopotamian in origin, so let's start with Gardner's Art Through the Ages...."

After several hour's worth of diligent skull-sweat, Belphegor knew all there was to know about the statue. It was Head of an Akkadian King, dating from about 2300 BC. He knew the exact composition of the bronze used in making it, the tools which would have been used to make it (and what those tools were made of), the patterns of wear and tear the real one would have (as opposed to the haphazard markings on the fake in his taloned hands), and so on. Oddly, the whole effort made him feel invigorated, like he was back in college, back when things were simpler.

-------------

The third station contained everything he would need to make his own bronze artwork, including supplies of copper, tin, and other elements with which to make his own bronze.

"Looks like I'll be making my own copy." He glanced over at the fake he'd been dealing with for the past hours, "let's see if I can do better than the chump who made you!"

It felt like a month passed by the time he was through (though he felt neither hunger nor exhaustion), and like Goldilocks it took three tries (the first two would barely qualify for a high school art show), but the third one was just right.

"Three down, one to go," he said as he carried his forgery to the fourth and final station.

-------------

The fourth station also contained a computer (and large, sturdy chair), connected to the net and with several browsers open to different chat programs and messageboards. All had to do with art collectors and antiques dealers.

"Guess I'm to see if I can find a buyer for my new piece." The demon sat, cracked his knuckles, and set to work, first reading the assorted threads and conversations, then graciously introducing himself and engaging in some light conversation, then slowly working around to asking if anyone had a particular interest in Akkadian artwork. It took a few hours of work, but he made some contacts, and arranged to meet them.

"And if they are just more of Legend's figments... well, it was still pleasant to 'talk shop' with some folks."

And then the door opened. He exited, with his bronze head.

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When the demon exited teh room, he found the table of refreshments in place along with Legend standing before him. The older gentleman smiled as he saw Belphegor exit with his newly crafted forgery.

"Congratulations, Mr. Belphegor. I believe your time has been well spent. You were shown aspects of yourself that will only make you stronger to cause havoc within the city. In time, you may return to further test your abilities, but now you must begin working towards your destiny. The item in your hands as well as the contacts you made during the test, are yours to do as you wish."

The door to the outside world opened, letting light filter into the corridor. Legend stood waiting to see if Belphegor had anything to say to him.

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Belphegor took a long swig from a bottle of gin, then stomped over to Legend. The demon tried to stand as tall as he could, to puff out his chest as much as he could... but something about the Lord of the Arena made him feel woefully outclassed.

He looked back and forth, at the hallway of doors, at the bounty of food, at Legend, at the floor, at everything and anything. He snorted, and flexed his taloned hands, and opened his mouth to speak... then shut it again. He took another long swallow of gin, draining the bottle (almost a shame it take so very much to get even a decent buzz in this form!), snorted again and cleared his throat, and then, at long last, finally spoke: "Thanks. I'll probably be back in the near future."

And then he dashed out he door and flew off into the night. Yeah, like I'm gonna make some side crack and hose that guy off. I may be half-demon, but I've got some sense!

He soared back to his home in Riverside, landing on his roof as quietly as he could. There seemed to be no lights on in his neighbor's house, so he hopped down to the patio, retrieved the hidden key, and quickly ducked into his home. Once in, he concentrated for a moment, and recited his (unnecessary but for some reason amusing) chant:

Gone, gone, O Belphegor!

Resume once more a mortal's form!

The demon's tail, wings, and horns shrunk, his fanged muzzle of a mouth compressed down into a more normal facial structure, his eye sifted from orange slitted pupils to green normal ones, and all his scales sloughed off, landing with a wet *plop* on the kitchen floor and quickly dissolving away into nothingness.

"Now," he said, standing as naked as a newborn babe in his kitchen and addressing the statuette, "let's see about finding you a new home, shall we?"

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