Order To Oneself
"To be a hero or a heroine, one must give an order to oneself." – Simone Weil
Alexander Penn couldn't put his finger on it. He just felt it. Something had changed in his brother Moses. He spent way too much out and about. Alex Penn wouldn't have minded if he had ever invited him along on one of those shadowy errands of his but he never did. In truth, Alex never asked but, then again, Moses never offered.
A bad combination, indeed, Alex realized. For as far back as Alex could remember, Moses lived in this entirely different world. Even before Excalibur, he sought out the romantic adventures of ages past as an escape from the drudgery of the modern world. Alex had refused to open the box containing Excalibur.
Looking back, Alex didn't have the stones to face his destiny which he sensed within that box. Faced with the same situation, Moses had ripped the box open and laid hands upon the sword. Moses did not fear his destiny. Moses embraced it.
Or, at least, he used to. Now, he faced the strange world of demons and monsters with the same trepidation he had felt for the ordinary world. Something had changed his sporting attitude towards the occult. Alex couldn't imagine what.
In all fairness, Alex didn't want to know. Moses lived in the dark chaotic world of mystical power where waving a magic wand could open the gates of Hell. Moses rushed at Alex with a rapier in hand. Alex parried. The practice round degenerated into a heated exchange of attacks and counters.
Alex poked Moses in the shoulder. Alex blinked. Moses had his rapier against Alex's neck. "Calm down, bro." Alex pushed Moses' rapier away. "We were just practicing." Alex brushed himself off. "No need to get rough." Moses nodded weakly and took his position on the mat. "Ready?"
Moses Ambrose Penn ulcerated to tell his brother Alex the bad news. The bad news that Lord Belial still lived but how could he do that with chipping away at the fortress of lies and secrets he had built around himself? To tell Alex that Lord Belial had tricked them would mean revealing Abigail Vennard's otherworldly sex romp.
Then, Moses would have to reveal how he knew about that and that meant telling him about his own suicide attempt. If he told him that much, he'd have to voice his fears about his gradual metamorphosis into a full-blown demonic entity.
A fine mess you've gotten yourself into, Moses. To throw more firewood onto this raging tire fire of a life, Moses had began experiencing black-outs. Two weeks ago, when Moses stopped the mother of all unwanted pregnancies, he arrived at their temporary refuge at the Wallace residence. The lights came on and Moses blacked out.
When Moses came to, he saw his suicide note burning in the ashtray. Moses couldn't remember lighting it on fire but he must have or how did it catch fire in the first place? Moses had checked in on Alex and found him fast asleep in one of the guest rooms. Moses shrugged it off and treated himself to a much deserved R&R.
Moses sighed as he laid in the second guest room of the Wallace residence staring at the ceiling. Hadrian Galileo Wallace, their new comrade in arms in this war between good and evil, had tried to find an apartment for them. Not an easy thing to do for two brothers who had zero work experience between the both of them. Not exactly a landlord's dream occupants. Alex wanted to move on and find a way of their own.
Living in someone else's house hurt his pride. Moses had suggested moving back to the old house but they couldn't afford to stay there anymore. Mom's money only lasted so long. Besides, if they could, would they really want to live in a place saturated in the kind of memories that would make their psychiatrist(s) very rich?
Moses had tried using his magick for financial gain. It worked but only just so. For instance, turning lead into gold was a surprisingly easy feat. Getting the lead to stay gold for more than a few days ... He still had not figured that one out yet. Moses could not keep ripping off goldsmiths without drawing the wrong kind of attention.
Fiction made that sort of thing look so easy. Wake up, go to work, save the world. Rinse and repeat. They had been at this for less than six months and what did it get them? An emotionally paralyzed best friend, a deceased mentor, their mother gutted like a fish and more wins for the visiting team than Moses cared to admit to.
Deep down, Moses Penn knew that this sudden burst of increased magick came at a steep price. Like a plague rat, Moses carried inside of him something deadly and dangerous to everybody around him but he didn't care so long as he could ignore that somehow. Moses didn't know if he could ignore it much longer. I need to tell someone.
Luther Jared Penn stared at Tizona behind glass in the Museo de Borgos. Its name came from the Spanish word for "firebrand." Most historians hypothesized that its creation had occurred in the 12th century. Few serious historians would have guessed its true age. Fewer still guessed at its original function as a tool of Creation.
A team of professionals that came highly recommended by the elders waited for Luther's signal to snatch the blade. Luther had not set foot in Spain in ages. It felt like a homecoming. Too bad he arrived in this country for business, not pleasure. Luther needed to collect this Sword of Creation and return with it back to San Uriel.
Of course, Luther would have to dip into the temple funds to cover the overhead of this band of thieves. The Brotherhood of Autolycus, an ancient secret society with a spotless record for "appropriations" did not come cheap. Nonetheless, if a person could afford them, the Brothers could steal just about anything in Creation.
The eldest Brother, Nicholas Myra, had wanted a more subtle "appropriation." Cover of darkness, out of the country before dawn. Luther had voted it down. No one could steal this sacred relic without bringing the wraith of God down upon his head.
Luther gave the signal. The Brothers went to work. "Everyone get on the ground!" Nicholas smashed open the glass container with a mallet as his younger Brothers provided cover fire. Nicholas seized the sword. Luther gave another signal and the whole lot of them departed. Nick Myra had lead a robbery of a country's most prized possession and, all in all, he made it look like the hold-up of a five-and-dime.
Due to the highly visible nature of the appropriation, Nicholas had asked for double. "I will not double your rate," Luther told him. "I will triple it." Luther didn't care how much Nick asked for. It wasn't his money. Nick whole-heartedly accepted the extra money. Luther had settled up in cash by the time they reached Madrid.
Gimel, the one elder who had an axe to grind with Luther, would fume at the bill coming his way, a less-than-subtle taunt to infuriate him. Luther had a former archangel in his corner. If Gimel wanted a fight, Azazel might just pay him a visit at his vacation home in Andalusia. Luther Penn had already given Azazel the address.
Only the constraints of moderation kept Luther from giving the kill order. The Order of the Solar Temple had gone centuries without losing an elder to the violence that plagued the lower ranks. Two elders getting sliced up within a year of each other would have had eyes of the elders fixed on the one agent both elders had in common.
Needless to say, Luther couldn't have that. The Order of the Solar Temple only had one punishment for treason. If they even knew why he needed this sword, they would have had just cause to issue a warrant for his arrest. Luther felt like a double agent. Hector Garland, an uncommonly decent apostle, had tried to ascend to the open title of Dalet but Kaph and his cronies saw to his demotion to special agent.
Luther had always supported the policies of the elders, even when their tactics caused the kind of collateral damage that would have had any other military outfit arraigned on crimes against humanity. Then, Hector Garland died fighting in the Philippines. After that, Luther didn't give two craps about what the elders wanted. Most of the elders didn't care what happened to field agents. The ones who did care (like Gimel) either wanted them dead or slaves to their pet projects. Luther took a moment to savor this small victory. Three down, two to go. He had collected Tizona. With Durendal at his side and Excalibur within reach, he had only two more Swords of Creation to collect on this scavenger hunt. Then, the really hard part would begin.
Moses Ambrose Penn walked up to the demon chicken wandering the Wallace's backyard. Valac stiffened up at his approach. "I guess you know what I'm about to tell you." Valac nodded. "Good; that will save me the time trying to explain this; I think I'm turning into a demon." Valac started laughing. A chicken laughing stretched his already flimsy definition of normalcy. "What's so funny?" Moses asked defensively.
"You think you're turning into a demon?" Valac started rolling in the dirt. He took a minute to compose himself. "You're not turning into a demon, genius. You got one inside you." Moses froze at the sound of that. "Even if you did turn into a demon, it would have taken centuries for you to amass the kind of power you got right now."
Moses waved his hands in front of his face. "I don't understand; I don't feel like a demon's puppet." Moses snapped his fingers in front of Valac. "I can still do this." Moses flexed his hands open and close. "If I have a demon inside of me, how come I have complete control of myself?" Valac looked ready to burst into laughter again.
"So you haven't had any black-outs then?" Moses' eyes widened. "Oh, you have. Well, that makes sense. You couldn't expect to keep Nisroc locked up forever." Moses' eyebrows danced in a sine wave. "I've never seen it before but I have heard stories of righteous mortals who not only overpowered a demon but managed to gain control of the beast. In essence, you are possessing the demon instead of the other way around."
Moses would have asked what to do about it but he already knew that. "A verse of Latin and Nisroc gets a one-way ticket back to Hell." Valac shook his chicken head. "Of course, that would mean having to start over again from scratch." Moses weighed his options. This demon only gained control on rare instances and only for a hour or two at a time. With the right precautions, Moses could keep drawing on its power.
Valac peeked away at his feed. "I can't say I don't enjoy seeing Nisroc like this, reduced to a wizard's battery but I can't say it doesn't scare me either." Valac looked up at Moses. "Nisroc could secure dominion over you the next time you fall asleep."
Valac sighed. "Are you a gambling man?" Moses Penn nodded. As a wizard in conflict with monsters, he had gained a distinct respect for risk-takers. "I say roll the dice." Moses thought back to his mentor, Blaise. He had given him similar advice in his dealings with another demon. He didn't know if that same advice applied to this.
"I know you do not want to hear this but nobody can help you with this. I know you only turned me into a familiar so you would have someone to turn to in a crisis. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that you have a time bomb ticking away inside of you. When you decide to disarm it, well, that's your call. Not mine or anyone else's."
As any hack mystic knew, names held a lot of power. Learning someone's true name meant having power over them. As such, paranormal entities liked to make a sport of hiding their true names from intrepid wizards. Valac no longer thought of himself by his Roman name, Petronius. That level of psychological conditioning provided him with an added layer of defense against those seeking to control him.
Valac had anticipated running into Nisroc again. Now that Moses Penn knew he had Nisroc under lock and key, it wouldn't take long for the beast to find a way out of his cage. Then, he would find Valac and either killed him or dragged him to Hell.
Valac tore the top of the marker off with his beak. He positioned the piece of paper in front of him with his feet. Despite his poor penmanship, Valac managed to spell out what he hoped would amount to Nisroc's true name and a brief primer on how to use it. Valac could only hope that they could read literal chicken scratch.
Between torture sessions, Nisroc had taken to rambling about this and that. During one of his more involved speeches, he mentioned how he had visited Earth to find married happiness. In the end, he found only discontent, the natural state of the human animal. Nisroc had said it merely as a jolly insult towards his human slaves.
Unfortunately for Nisroc, Valac had heard this legend before in connection to a fallen angel the Assyrians used to worship. "Ba'al-Peor," they called him. Without even knowing it, Nisroc had showed his hand. Valac did not try to command his true name. In his domain, under literally hellish conditions, Valac couldn't work magick.
Regardless, the information could prove useful in the event that he managed to escape. Valac hid the note in the shed. Hopefully, when Black Merlin turned to the dark side, his friends would find this note among the shovels and lawn-mowers and put two and two together. Hopefully, Nisroc wouldn't find this note first, put two and two together and gut his chicken body with the sword Excalibur. Gotta roll the dice.
After perhaps the most depressing conversation a guy had ever had with a chicken, Moses Ambrose Penn returned to the second guest room a broken shell of a man. Moses gripped the sides of his head. He looked up at the ceiling, eyes dilated.
Moses didn't want this creature inside of him. What thinking man would? The more Moses thought about it, the more he could feel Nisroc squirming around inside. He was testing the bars of his cage on the look-out for any weak spots in his defenses.
Closing his eyes, Moses thought back to that night in June when he nearly lost everything and everyone that mattered to him. His brother Alex had taken a bone-breaking organ-smashing trip through the drywall. By the time he had ricocheted off the mirror of the dresser drawer, Alexander Julius Penn looked down for the count.
Moses had looked over and seen Mom lying in bed, MORDRED painted on the walls in her blood. In a fit of rage, he summoned his courage and used the last of his magick reserve to evoke the god Janus to banish Mordred through a portal to God only knew where. The energies of the portal burned his flesh and plunged him into unconsciousness. Moses thought for sure he had died but his battle had only begun.
In the darkness, Moses saw a light. Considering the kind of damage he had taken, Moses believed what most people would have believed in his situation, that he had died and gone to Heaven. Still, Moses knew better. Souls like his didn't get final rewards. Merlin and his friends had vowed to stay earthbound to defend their world.
Moses examined the creature in the light and, instead of seeing an angel of the Lord, he saw a bird-faced goblin monster with gnashing teeth and a tongue wrapping around his neck. "Surrender your soul," the beast said in a voice without words as he continued to crushed his windpipe. "Or you'll feel pain like you've never felt before."
The beast had more to say. More gloating, more positing on the agonies to come. Moses didn't give a damn. If this ungodly beast wanted his soul, he'd have to rip it away from him. Thus the battle for his soul raged on for what felt like hours.
And, though Moses won, the exertion of his victory had washed his memories of it. Moses had awakened, fully healed, left his hospital bed, found his brother Alex and healed all his wounds in a brilliant flash of light, none the wiser about his battle.
Alexander Julius Penn held a hand over his mouth as their demonic chicken explained the situation. "Do you think it's already gotten to him?" Valac didn't need to answer that. Alex had found the second guest room abandoned. That alone would not have bothered him except that the Staff of Merlin and Excalibur were missing.
"It sure sounds like Nisroc to me," Valac offered as he paced around the yard. "The guy never goes anywhere without his toys." Alex tried not to blame himself. According to Valac, Nisroc had a number of special abilities other demons did not. Detecting his presence would have taken longer than with the usual rank-and-file.
"First, we need to write down Nisroc's true name on something that will come in contact with the blood of his human host." Alex offered to write it down for him. "No good," Valac told him. "A pure human can't write it down. It would be no good." Valac grasped a tiny note with writing on it. "… Any member of the fallen would suffice."
Alex felt his head swimming from the new concepts getting thrown in his face. "Listen, human, I must speak plain and to the point. I do have my own agendas and motives but, right now, I too desire to send Nisroc back to the pit where he belongs."
Alex nodded. Valac, though hardly an angel, was a plain-dealing villain. Valac had no problem laying all his cards on the table if he meant staying out of the cosmic penalty box. In a wave of nausea, Alex Penn fell to his knees. Suddenly, the thought of shedding the blood of his family made him violently ill. Valac zeroed in on that.
"I know some of you humans have compunctions against this sort of thing but, believe me when I say, until Nisroc gets the boot, the thing's not your brother. It's the thing that's holding him hostage. Don't forget that." Alex would try his best not to but it didn't make any of this feel right. Valac looked back and forth across the backyard.
"First, we need to get an idea of where he went." Alex couldn't think of a lot of places where Moses might have gone. "Do you have any idea where he went?" Just as Alex stopped to think, a tremor of pain shot through his skull. "What just happened?"
Alex couldn't explain it. It felt like he got hit with a Peterbuilt at 100 MPH. Alex tried his best to describe it. "Memory wipe," Valac whispered into Alex's ear. "It sounds like Nisroc used Moses to hit you with a memory wipe. He made a mess of it and you almost remembered something. Think, where's Nisroc? Where did he go?"
Alex caught a glimpse of Moses standing in the light of the living room after dark. "Don't act all high …" Alex heard Moses say in jumbled recollection. "I've seen the way you look at ... You know what it feels like to have your ..." Alex remembered.
"Abigail," Alex said to Valac. "I think he went to Abigail's house." With that, Alex fetched the keys to the Chevy Malibu. Alex went out to the garage. "What the Hell?" The tires were slashed. All this after recently getting the windows repaired at Hadrian Wallace's expense. Abigail lived six blocks away. Alex needed to run and fast.
Abigail Kathleen Vennard had decided to wait a semester before going back to school. As everyone else often reminded her, nobody expected her to recover from her abduction within a month's time. Abigail still did not remember what had happened before those infamous two months but she had found ways to live with her ignorance.
Abigail didn't even know if she wanted to know anymore. Some major freaks had kidnapped her and did awful things to her for two months. Abby should thank them for removing her memories after putting her through such a horrific ordeal.
Abby laid in bed, watching daytime television. Another deadbeat dad was the target of a paternal suit. In a second, Jerry Springer disappeared into a blip of static. Abby tried the light switch. Zilch. Something must have tripped the circuit breaker.
Abby got out of bed and put on her slippers. Unlike on a dark stormy night, she wouldn't need a flashlight to get to the circuit breaker box in the backyard. Abby stepped outside. Before she turned back, two pounds of hardwood collided with her midsection. Moses Penn stood over her with the Staff of Merlin buried in her gut.
"Kneel, whore." Abby kneed him in the groin. "Allow me to clarify." Moses whacked the staff against her throat. "Get down on your knees, you harlot, or I will end you." A white light emerged from the top of the Staff of Merlin. "That's right. You don't remember. Time to re-enlighten you." The memories returned to Abby. Not just of her abduction but what happened when her abductor came back two weeks later.
Abby's eyes dilated as she witnessed in her mind's eye what she had done in Magonia. "See, you are a whore." Moses was about to bash in Abby's skull. "And Alex deserves better." Moses doubled over in pain. At first, Abby imagined it was a delayed reaction to the groin kick but something else troubled Moses right now. "Why are you protecting this filthy whore?" Abby ran back into her house as Moses fell to his knees.
Moses Ambrose Penn summoned enough willpower to form his lips into a smirk. Moses had never gotten an invite to Abigail Vennard's house, a fail-safe in the event that he should turn into his own worst enemy. "Ha!" Moses slammed his fists against the bars of his psychic cage. "You can't get in and, pretty soon, she'll call 911." Nisroc had no choice but run away and hide. "What do you say to that, foul demon?"
Nisroc shook his head disappointed. "I would have said, 'Bravo!' I would have if I had ever had any intention of causing harm to her." Moses stared dumbfounded at the bird-faced demon. "She's not calling the cops. She's calling Alex. He's coming here with his demonic chicken." Nisroc held Excalibur. "Without this, he cannot hurt me."
Nisroc paced around Moses as he reached through the bars of his cage. "Even if he did get this sword away from me, what would he do? Kill his brother to stop one demon?" Nisroc shook his vulture-like head. "He could never live with the guilt of it."
Nisroc chuckled. "He dies or I die. Either way, I win." Moses took a seat inside his psychic cage. Nisroc had won. Moses Penn had waited too long to make an obvious decision. Moses had wanted the power so badly he didn't consider the consequences of accepting power from an unknown source. "Fear not, I'll make his death a quick one."
Valac sensed an influx of demonic energy behind the Vennard residence next to her bedroom window. Alexander Julius Penn readied his weapon and made his approach. He couldn't out-stealth a demon. He could smell souls from a mile away.
Alex stepped out in the open. "Nisroc!" Moses or the creature controlling him turned in his direction. "I'm calling you out." Alex raised his rapier. "I challenge you to a duel." Moses smiled. "If I draw blood before you do, you'll leave here and never bother us again." Moses smirked. "Do we have a deal?" Moses nodded. "Good then."
Moses armed himself, his sword Excalibur in one hand and the Staff of Merlin in the other. The demon's arrogance overwhelmed him. Moses fought one-handed, his other hand holding onto the Staff of Merlin. Alex lost track of how many blows he had exchanged with the demon. At last, the demon slashed through his off-hand, sending it smashing against a tree. Alex plunged the rapier into the demon's left shoulder.
Moses Penn plucked the rapier out of him like a splinter. Moses looked down at Alex's left hand lying severed on the ground. "Well, well, doesn't this look familiar?" Moses placed Excalibur against Alex's throat. "I had promised your brother that your death would be a quick one." Moses grinned. "I lied." Alex leaned up against the tree.
"Even if you had drawn first blood, I would have finished you off anyways; the terms of our agreement did not forbid me from killing you before I go." The possessed Moses licked his lips. "Any last words?" Alex stood himself up against the oak tree.
In spite of the superhuman amounts of pain bearing down on him, Alex forced a smile. "Just one … Ba'al-Peor." Valac held the note with the demon's true name on it, stained in the blood from where he had shoulder-checked Moses with his rapier.
Alex leaned up close to Moses and whispered in his ear. "He's weak, brother. Tear me apart." Excalibur fell to the ground as Moses wrestled for control of his body. Moses screamed the words of exorcism at the top of his lungs. A shadowy black bird appeared over his head and engulfed him like a dark halo. In seconds, the creature inside Moses had vacated. Humanity returned to his eyes as the dark avian flew off.
The numbness at his wrist had his arm frozen stiff. "If you don't mind …" Alex looked over at his severed hand gathering dirt. "I would like to have both my hands." Moses obliged Alex and went to work reattaching the severed limb to the stump. All in all, this had been a impressive (if not bloodless) coup against the forces of hellfire.
"Wow." Alex joined Moses Ambrose Penn on the roof of Wallace residence. "You haven't done this since the sixth grade." Old habits die hard. Besides, Moses needed to take the time to examine what happened to him lest his sanity drifted away like it did with Luis Lanza after his bout of possession. "Anything you want to talk about?"
Moses had a billion things he wanted to talk about. He just didn't know which of them he could talk about. Moses picked the obvious. "I can't tell you how sorry I am for what happened back there." Moses stared up at the stars. "I could have killed her. I could have killed you. I could have gotten myself killed and for what? So I could go on indulging in this power trip without ever having to question where it came from?"
Alex massaged his wrist as if responding to his silent question about the non-surgical attachment of his left hand. Without Nisroc, Moses' gluing limbs back onto bodies had regained its signature uneven quality. At least, Nisroc had not severed the hand Eligos had. This time, the healing would not hamper his dominant hand.
Moses swallowed the lump in his throat. Alex still didn't know the truth about Lord Belial. Alex deserved to know but revealing that much would mean revealing all of it. Moses, while under command of Nisroc, had restored Abigail Vennard's lost memories. Perhaps, when she saw fit, Abby would reveal to Alex her fairy sexcapades during her lost time. As far as Moses knew, he didn't have the right to spill the beans.
Moses stared up at the constellation Orion, a true hero. "The longer I live, the further I get from the ideas that drove me to fight evil to begin with." Nostalgia came over Moses. "Remember when I had you burning down crackhouses?" Alex nodded a bit too quickly. "Damn, did I ever have my head up my ass? At least, my heart was in the right place. Now, bro, I don't where my heart is and I don't want to know either."
Alex smirked. "Don't beat yourself up." Moses laughed. "No really; part of what it means to be human is to embrace one's faults. You seek power to fight evil but evil uses the desire for power to corrupt. If you're serious about holding onto your human nature, you need to accept your limitations." Alex laughed. "I feel like you right now."
Alex got up and left. Hadrian Galileo Wallace had returned home from hunting down Romeros. Like the rest of their merry band of losers, Haddy had decided against college. There was too much chaos in the world to justify any time in a room listening to lectures. Moses would have liked to go but not on anybody's dime but his own. Alex believed in him and yet, he still kept secrets from him. What a beautiful mess I'm in.