"Who needs the light
With the darkness in your eyes
Who needs to sleep
With the stars in the sky
It's here in your soul
I want to be married
You are my sanctuary."

From Madonna's Sanctuary from Bedtime Stories

Adam Stone had a good life. He lived in Phoenix, Arizona all of that life. He met his beautiful wife, Cori, over a year ago and they were married almost immediately. They only just celebrated their first anniversary a few days ago.

He had a great job. He and Cori owned and operated a small rare books store named "Ex Libris". The bookstore was a storefront to their two-story house -- the store taking most of the ground floor.

The bookstore dealt with new and used books. Hard to find volumes. The arcane and unusual. The rare and valuable. He bought and sold books, scripts, and comic books from around the world.

The comics are what he enjoyed the most. His favorite comic was that of the adventures of "Obsidian" -- in all of his outlets: "Obsidian: Defender of Darkness", "Obsidian of Canyon City", and "Obsidian and Ruby" which in the 70's introduced the Dark Avenger's beautiful sidekick Ruby; the inspiration of many a teenage wet dream for Adam as he grew up.

When Adam was young, he wanted to be Obsidian when he grew up. Battling evil with his buxom, copper-haired lover/ fighter beside him. But when he grew up, he realized the closest he could come was to hands-down own the largest collection of Obsidian comics anywhere. When he came into some money, after his parents died, he turned his house into a rare books store.

He placed an ad one day for an assistant, and Cori answered the ad. At first, the relationship was professional, but the two quickly fell in love and got married. Yes, Adam had a good life once upon a time.

A year later, however, the publisher of the now "Obsidian: Dark Crusades" comics, has gone out of business. Adam received the last issue and cried practically all night long as he read the heartbreaking story of how Obsidian finally cleaned up the last of the arch-villains of Canyon City and decided to retire, and left Ruby with an unrequited love's broken heart.

It was all Adam could talk about for days, and that was driving Cori crazy because he wasn't paying attention to her. She was almost jealous.

One day, Adam woke up to the sound of the shower running. He knocked on the door for her to let him in so he could relieve himself. She didn't answer. He knocked harder and called out to her. He heard nothing but the hiss of the shower running. Then he felt the water at his feet. He looked down as the floor started to get flooded with red-tinted water.

He stepped back in shock, and then steeled himself to ram the bathroom door. He broke through and was overwhelmed when he saw Cori floating in the bathtub overflowing with bloody water; steaming hot water still spraying down onto her lifeless body. He turned away for a second as the fear and revulsion washed over him. He then came back to his senses and carefully walked across the slippery wet floor to turn off the water and pull the plug.

As the water swirled down the drain, Adam rushed to the bedroom phone to call 9-1-1. He described the situation then hung up as he waited for help. In the meantime, he found towels to soak up the water making its way onto the bedroom floor.

The paramedics found Adam sitting on the toilet, with the lid down, mumbling to himself in a dazed state. Adam was lost in his own fear, trapped in a dark place, wondering why Cori would have killed herself. When the water drained away, he saw that her wrist had been cut... the razor blade caught in the drain. That image kept flashing back to him in his mind.

He could hear paramedics say, as if in the distance through a tin-can phone, "what a mess" and "sad to see this happen" and "what must he be thinking", but worst of all, "she was dead when we arrived -- hard to tell the exact time of death -- get the coroner down here."

It was almost 2 weeks later, 13 days to be exact, before Adam opened up the bookstore to the public again. He was tired and distracted; by now he was an insomniac. He couldn't sleep, but when he did, he had nightmares about Cori. So, he ended up changing the hours that the store was open, staying open later.

That night, just after the sun set, a beautiful red-head dressed in a provocative black leather outfit that had to have been painted on walked into the store with an old book bound in black leather with gold embossed writing on the cover. She walked up to the counter he was standing behind and gently placed the book onto the countertop.

Adam had a haunting feeling that he knew the woman from somewhere but there was no mistake what book was just brought to him. He caught his breath then asked, "Is this really the 'Book of Palingenesis'?"

The woman smiled a knowing smile and sweetly replied, "Yes, and I'm willing to sell it to you... for a price. One I'm sure you are willing to pay."

"And what would that be?" he asked.

"I need you to be the next Obsidian."

His heart stopped as he realized with whom he was talking. Was he going mad? Was this really Ruby in his store, asking him to be Obsidian?

"What?!" was the first intelligent thought that he could verbalize. Then came, "Why do you want me to be Obsidian? Who am I to you?"

Her lips curled as she replied, "I know all about you, Adam Stone. I know you are the one man who knows everything about Obsidian, and me. I know you were as shocked as I was that Obsidian retired..."

"Wait a minute... just wait. Obsidian is just a comic book character. YOU are a comic-book character. This isn't happening."

She slapped him in the face. "Did that feel real enough to you? Trust me, I'm as real as you are, Adam. If that doesn't convince you, I know something you don't know that you can only reveal if you become Obsidian."

Still reeling from the sting, he cautiously asked, "What's that?"

Her face became cold, "That your wife Cori didn't kill herself. She was murdered."

"That's it. I've gone insane. 'That's right officer, a comic-book bimbo told me my wife was murdered,'" he said, mocking her.

She tried to slap him again, but he caught and held her hand fast. She smiled again and said, "Very impressive. With moves like that, you will become Obsidian easily. Listen, I don't have all night. Read this book. It will explain a lot to you. Most importantly, it will explain how I can make you Obsidian." With that she freed her wrist from his grip and started to walk towards the door. She opened the door, turned and said, "And yes, you have gone insane. That's what I like most about you, Adam." With that, she was gone, disappearing into the night.

In his business, Adam has become very familiar with the legends of many rare books. The Book of Palingenesis is the most rare of all of the apocryphal texts to ever be excluded from the canonized Bible. Legends held that a rogue Templar Knight had acquired a copy and vanished mysteriously afterwards. Tales of failed attempts to claim it before and since rival even the quests for the Holy Grail. Even a splinter group of the Spanish Inquisition claimed to have searched the globe in an attempt to find it and destroy it. In the end, it is said, they declared it to be pure myth; a fiction to be sure.

The very idea that someone, a comic book heroine at that, would just drop it off for him to skim in an evening was preposterous. Yet he picked it up and was compelled by curiosity to look through it. The binding was quite worn and weathered. The pages were not paper but very fine parchment. This was not a book to flip through casually, but gingerly and with care. It was written in English, hand-scribed and illuminated. If it were authentic, it would have been transcribed from at least a Greek source, and from an unknown language before that. The word genesis is from the ancient Greek for "birth" or "origin". The prefix palin means "back again". Put them together and you get anything from a second creation, to resurrection or reincarnation, perhaps reanimation… even vampirism. It described everything that goes against Christian dogma, save the ability of one special man. Everything that could punch a hole into the side of the world's predominant, if fractured, religion.

By the time he finished reading the ancient, hand-illuminated tome he had been given, Adam was exhausted. He fell asleep as he completed the last sentence. Shortly into his long-awaited slumber, he began to dream. He saw the whole of the Book Of Palingenesis acted out before him.

"And the Earth was void and Empty
And Darkness was upon the face of the Earth
Is all of this pain so necessary?
You are my sanctuary.
Surely whoever speaks to me with the right voice
Him or her I shall follow,
As the water falls from the roof.

From Madonna's Sanctuary from Bedtime Stories

The Creation of Adam… and Lilith? The First Sin? Not the “Original Sin”, but the First. Of the betrayal of Lilith by Adam, the Angels, and God Himself. What the book failed to say, unless he missed it, was just who it was exactly who committed the First Sin. Perhaps they all did, not just Lilith. That was another terrible thing that mustn’t be allowed to surface. The idea that Adam was flawed was acceptable, but not the angels and God. Blasphemy and heresy, right here in his hands. So any trace of Lilith was erased from the Good Book, second runner-up Eve was promoted to matron of humanity; the church had its scapegoats, and all was right with the world.

But what happened to Lilith? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Her fury was the First, and it burned so bright even God was singed. Throughout the ages of man she continued to return, in many forms, to either help or hinder Mankind at her will. One of her happy chores was to seduce young men in their sleep, feeding on their dreams. From her we also get our nightmares, and legends of succubae and vampires.

He saw it all. He finally believed. He finally understood. He knew why the early patriarchs of the Judeo-Christian religions tried to destroy this tome. The Inquisition and Crusades may never have happened had this been found. The vampires would never have had to masquerade in the darkness. The Obsidian Order would never have been necessary.

In his dream he cried out, “My God! It’s all so clear! Holy Shit! I know about it all. They’ll kill me to protect the secret, unless...” Then Ruby appeared before him, in a flowing, black silk dress that almost, but not quite, revealed her shapely body, and said, “Unless you drink from me tonight. All your life you have sought out the arcane knowledge... especially those lost books of the Bible. But the Apocrypha left you hungry for more, and you thought the Book Of Palingenesis was only legend. You thought WE were only legend. Vampires are very real. We are not the foul beasts of Hollyweird. We are the Keepers of the Night. We are not all evil. Some of us champion the Innocent. Obsidian was one of us. He was killed by the Hunters, and his successor must be found. You, Adam, are to be that Dark Avenger. You have been trained since your childhood to be his successor.”

He understood, “Through the comic books.”

“Yes. It was the only way the secret could be kept in check this long. Permission has been granted to me by the Prince of Phoenix himself, whom you will meet soon, to make you one of us.” She seemed to float nearer to him, and eventually less than an inch separated their bodies, ethereal as they were.

“What about Cori?” he asked solemnly.

He understood, "Through the comic books."

"Yes. It was the only way the secret could be kept in check this long. Permission has been granted to me by the Prince of Phoenix himself, whom you will meet soon, to make you one of us." She seemed to float nearer to him, and eventually less than an inch separated their bodies, ethereal as they were.

"What about Cori?" he asked solemnly.

“Her murder is for you to solve. For you to Avenge. Her soul will not rest without Retribution. You are the only one who can find out the Truth. Only you have the Thirst for Truth and Justice and now Vengeance that is the birthright of Obsidian.”

He looked into her crystal blue eyes and asked, "But do I need the Thirst of Blood as well?"

"Vengeance is a dish best served cold," she started as she took his hand and placed it on her bosom above her heart. He felt her lifeless, cold body for the first time. She smiled and continued, "as cold as my dead heart. But even in this cold heart, there is warmth. Even in the Darkness we must live in, there is Light as long as Obsidian defends that Darkness and the Innocents it shelters. As Obsidian, you will slake your Undead Thirst only on the criminals you pursue. You will not be able to take the life of an innocent. If you find their blood spilt, it will have no hold over your Thirst, but their slayer's blood will satiate you two-fold."

"And what about you? Will you fight beside me and love me as you did the original Obsidian?" he asked moving his hand from her bosom to wrap around her and pull her closer to him. Up against him so close. The chill of her skin against his was invigorating.

"As I have fought with every Obsidian I have created down the years, my beautiful Adam." With that she kissed him. When they came up for air, she asked, "So, Adam, will you join me?"

Gasping, he gave in and said, "Yes..." and he woke up. When he realized he had been dreaming and she wasn't there, he sat up straight and the Book of Palingenesis fell from his lap. He noticed a Post-It note was attached to the cover when he picked it up that read: "My Love, I'm glad you agreed. But you must train before you are turned. You'll also need your cloak. We shall begin tonight when the sun sets again. Until then, Ruby."

The following night, she arrived as she promised, and they began a regimen of exercise and martial arts to hone his skills. He was already in fine shape, but never had formal training in defensive and lethal moves. He often mimicked the style of Obsidian from the pages of the comics, as Ruby hoped he would, so the training went quickly. But the agility and stealth he needed would not be trained easily. They would come with the power of her blood.

Night after night they worked, until finally 28 days had passed, and she believed he was ready. She presented him with the famous Cloak of Shadows. A thick, yet remarkably light hooded cloak that was pitch black in color. Light almost seemed to be sucked into it like a black hole. She set it aside, and told him, "You can put it on afterwards."

"After what," he asked.

She only smiled and walked up to him to give him a kiss; a long kiss, which ended with her moving from his lips to his neck. Soon after she bit and began to drink, he lost consciousness as he gave himself willingly.

Like fire, her blood burned down his throat, and yet he didn't mind the heat. In fact, he welcomed it. Indeed, he finally wanted something more than anything else in his life. Such as it was. With the heat -- the thick, salty liquid heat - - came understanding.

Truth. Power. Knowledge. Infinity. Mind-shattering and numbing revelations threatening to crush his puny mortal brain under its weight. The weight of everything that had happened to him, combined with her blood, cracked his psyche like an egg and fried it as if it landed on a Phoenix sidewalk in July.

As his mind fractured he became deranged with two personalities. Like all good superheroes, Obsidian has an alterego, which is now the mildmannered, bookish Adam Stone. However, unlike a normal secret identity, Adam will also tend to "channel surf" through other personalities from time to time. When his psyche split in two, it wasn't a clean break; little fiddly bits splintered off. They are the little insane lapses he'll suffer and Adam knows this now. The blood has made this known to him. Or perhaps Ruby told him through their blood bond.

Either way, he can't stop it, or control it. Only his final death can hope to calm the madness. Until then, Obsidian is locked inside Adam Stone. The suffering of those around him and the evil elements in the world will draw him out, and they had best not be around when he is unleashed.

He slept all day after the Kiss, and when he awoke the next night, he found her beside him. He woke her with a kiss, and they fooled around for a bit before she told him that he would need to meet the Prince that night. He was nervous, naturally, but he tried not to let it show.

Upon presentation at Midnight, the Prince kept his word and accepted Adam Stone into his domain -- secretly hoping to meet his Dark Half soon. Little did he know how soon it would be. At the end of the introduction, an explosion was heard from outside. Ruby ran outside and Adam followed. The Prince went as well to investigate.

When the trio made it outside, they found a car had been bombed. The car had chrome spray-paint on it that read, "The Legend of Obsidian WILL DIE!" As the three discussed who might pull such a stunt, a black car without plates screeched around the corner. A window rolled down, and a shotgun loaded with phosphorus shells was fired towards Adam.

Ruby dove in front of him and took the hit full-on, completely scorching her chest to her heart. Adam screamed into the night, “NOOOoooo...!” He turned to face the Prince, bloody tears rolling down his cheeks from his eyes which were now blazing red. In between sobs he swore, “If it is... the last thing I do... on this Earth... I will avenge her death. I will avenge Cori’s death, and I pledge my services to you, my Prince. I only ask of you two things.”

"Name them," the Prince said.

"First, turn around," He said, in a slightly deeper, calmer voice.

The Prince smiled, shrugged, and then turned around. After a whooshing sound, a tap came to his shoulder so he turned back around, to find a man who somehow seemed taller, or stronger, or just different, but certainly wearing a black hooded cloak that fluttered slightly in the light breeze. "The other thing," Obsidian said, "is never tell anyone my true identity."

"Absolutely. You have my word," said the Prince as he extended his hand. Obsidian started to kneel before him, but the Prince stopped him and said, "A handshake will suffice, Obsidian."

"With these powers, I could be... a Super Hero!
But first..."

The Mask

Originally published in Acrimony Magazine Issue #9 May 2004