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Merely Decent

"One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being." – May Sarton

"Not again!" Moses Penn pulled out the M1911 pistol, one of a pair of souvenirs from William Walter Wallace's days running covert ops in South America during the Cold War. It was a fitting weapon to use against the enemies of the human race in a secret war that had gone largely unnoticed throughout the bulk of recorded human history.

"Die, zombie!" Moses screamed as the Romero's brain stem splattered out of the back of his skull, knocking the beast down. The loud noise of the sidearm alerted a group of Romeros at the end of the block. Moses had started carrying the gun since his third visit to this apocalyptic wasteland of San Uriel, California in the year 2024.

Unlike before, when the visit had dragged on for hours, Moses could usually rely on these visits to end in minutes. Usually. Moses dreaded the day when these visits returned to their original length of hours instead of minutes. The five Romero team shrieked to the heavens above and ran down the block to intercept Moses Penn.

As much as he wanted to say he stood his ground and fought it out to the end, Moses couldn't in good conscience say that. Moses didn't want to get infected. Moses didn't want to bring it back with him. If it came down to infection, Moses only needed to think about what it would feel like to have to chew through his own brother's neck.

Moses placed the gun against his right temple. A moment passed. Silence. Moses opened his eyes. Screams filled the air but not the screams of monsters. The screams of people. Moses had arrived in the middle of a crowded intersection. The gun he had pointed to his head in a universal gesture of suicide didn't help his case.

Moses put the handgun in his belt holster and unfastened the Staff of Merlin from his back-pack loop. "Say 'cheese,'" Moses said as the bright light filled the street. It had gotten too easy for Moses to use his memory wipes to solve all of his problems.

Worse yet, Moses had gotten careless. Perhaps, he wanted to die. Moses had tried the suicide route before and it took the intervention of his sainted mother as a holy ghost to stop him. Moses lived with fear of what might happen. What if Alex learned about all the lies and secrets he had spun to make his life semi-tolerable?

"Why do you keep coming to me?" Hadrian Galileo Wallace asked in an exasperated tone. "Don't you guys have a demon chicken for this crap?" Everybody gave Haddy the look of death, what his mother called the stink eye. "Alright, alright."

Haddy relented. "Just thought I'd lighten the mood a little; that's all." Nobody seemed impressed by his stand-up routine. Going eight years into the future and seeing the world destroyed could mess a person up. Seeing that same doomed future five more times in two weeks … Well, ka-ching! Jackpot for their future therapists.

"Listen." Hadrian clicked on the computer file. "I got nothing. Hell, I got less than nothing. I got crap." Haddy rolled his eyes. "Well, I do have a lot of facts." Haddy looked over. "Facts, I might add, that don't give us any clue how to stop these jaunts."

Hadrian had chosen the word "jaunt" to distinguish these tiny trips into the future from the first long one they took. Haddy needed to approach this scientifically. Everyone let out their groans in response to this lack of new information. "It boggles the mind." Hadrian combed his fingers through his hair. "I can't even go the second story of my own house for fear that I'm gonna plummet twenty feet to the ground." Survivable, yes. Painless, no. Haddy shook his head. "So don't think this thing doesn't bother me because it does. I just want to devote all my remaining energy to getting this awful crap outta my system and moving on for God's sake ..." Hadrian couldn't remember the last time he had said "crap" this many times in one sitting.

Luis Lanza, the one who stayed behind during the first trip to the future, didn't jaunt, erasing any doubt that this condition had something to do with their journey to the Weiss Salvage Yard. That sparked this idea he should not have said aloud. "We can contact Mr. Penn." Alex gritted his teeth. "See if he knows anything."

Laughter filled the room. Abigail Vennard laughed uncomfortably with the two brothers. It dragged on and on as if punish him for bringing up such a sore topic. Hadrian Wallace resented having an elephant in the room nobody talked about. He always made it point to mock Dumbo's huge ears while everyone begged him to stop.

Still a hot button topic, the two brothers had discovered that their father had abandoned them due to a complex conspiracy involving people dedicated to doing the right kind of things, saving the world and so on. The main difference here resided in the style of execution. The Order of the Solar Temple had dark means to their ends.

"We can't exactly post a reply on his Facebook page." Luther Penn needed to stay off the radar. His bosses would know he had revealed himself to his sons if they tried to contact him. Then, all three of them would get the executioner's axe for sure.

Moses Ambrose Penn had, in fact, turned to Valac for answers. The chicken demon didn't have a lot of answers. Valac had other things on his mind besides the problems of his non-demon counterparts. The fact Nisroc could come back scared him. Moses didn't think much of it. Moses had defeated Nisroc twice already. And even a demon hell-bent on vengeance would take more than a month to stage his return.

Moses sat on a bed in the second guest room of the Wallace residence. Wallace residence. What a lie! The Penns would end up living here. Alex and him didn't have a means of supporting themselves. Hadrian, though his patience had been tested by trials and tribulations, never ever considered rescinding their rent-free habitation.

Contrary to what he had implied earlier with Hadrian in the office, Moses did know a way to contact their father without alerting the elders who micromanaged his life. Moses could project his astral form and search him out tracking the particular energy signature of Durendal. Dad had taken an awful risk giving him Tizona to give to Luis. If those elders demanded that sword from him now, he would have nothing.

Gimel, the meanest of his bosses, would track Tizona to Luis the way Moses planned to track Durendal to Dad. It wouldn't take him long to realize that he had broken his promise and therefore forfeited his life. That would be an awful mistake.

Moses banged the Staff of Merlin against the wall. "Keep it down." Ever since they had hooked up in the year 2024, Alex and Abby had gone at it like jungle cats in heat. Moses took off his glasses and stared up at the ceiling. His love spell had worked too well. The two had no time for anything else. Moses thought of telling Alex how to reverse it so he could keep the right head in the game. If he did that, he'd have to …

The sound of the queen bed turning into a futon filled the house. It did more than just distract Alex and Abby. It distracted Moses. He had engineered this love-in. Instead of giving him the strength to go on, it brought production to a stand-still. A king too busy with his queen to notice his kingdom needed him. What have I done?

The mists parted. Aradia looked through the crystal ball with borrowed eyes. Aradia didn't know why she watched Mordred work. Not even his actual mother, the sorceress Morgan le Fay, ever did that to him. If Aradia had to guess, she considered herself Mordred's second mother. If not for her skilled healing touch, Mordred would have remained a brain-damaged fiend burned out by the horrors of eternal torment.

Even now, Mordred had yet to regain the ability (or desire) to speak. Perhaps, by watching him, she could decipher a hidden mode of communication. Aradia looked on with bated breath as a tiny black girl in a pink sweater at a park stared up at him.

Unlike a dozen times before, the little lady show no fear. Not in the way a die-hard soldiers didn't show any fear. The girl in the pink sweater just didn't have any experience to make Mordred the key star in whatever constellation of evil her loving parents had hung above her cradle at night. Aradia pitied her. Such pure innocence.

Each time this dance of death began, Aradia indulged a fantasy. In the time it took Mordred to raise his hand in violence once more, Aradia believed that, perhaps, just this once, Mordred would show something approaching mercy to his target prey.

In this way, she imagined suspense in an inevitable chain of events. Mordred might have smiled before he smeared that poor girl. Aradia had no way of knowing. The crystal ball could only see through his eyes. As such, Aradia couldn't see his face.

Aradia didn't know why she tortured herself like this. Mordred knew only the language of death. She couldn't tell her brother Meterbuchus AKA Lord Belial about her torment. He would recognize these doubts as signs of humanity creeping into her.

Valac's betrayal, though not the game-stopper she had hoped for, did make Belial a bit more cautious with his team. Xynextyur, a mouthful of a demon, had transferred from the Middle East branch. Xynnie, like her brother, preferred to keep a level head. Xynnie had occupied Basil Valentine's body during her brother's stay in Thomas Learmouth. The Arab newbie now occupied a pit boss named Adam Erskine.

Except for his fondness for perfume, Xyn had pulled off the switch to the North American branch without a hitch. Belial still didn't trust him. By now, he'd have had Xyn running operations while he went on the warpath against the New Round Table. Instead, her brother sat around baby-sitting Xyn, making sure he felt at home. Or so he let himself believe. Belial just didn't want a repeat of Valac's turn to the light side.

A shiver crossed his body as he stared at the unspeakable thing, the symbols that spelled out the letters that spelled out the words that spelled out his brother's guilt. Gonna throw up. Alex backed out of the room, his fragile sanity about to crack.

Alex felt a mass behind him. He spun around without looking and clocked Moses in the nose. "You bastard!" Alex chopped him in the throat. "You did it!" Alex banged his hands upon Moses' ears. "You actually did it, you cambion son of a whore."

The hurt in his eyes showed more signs of emotional injury than his nose and ears showed any sign of physical injury. "If you say you did it for me, I will kick your ass until you are passing blood." Alex knew he had overreacted but he did not care.

Alex couldn't give Moses a chance to defend himself. To cook up a cock-and-bull story to explain the diagrams of a love spell in his room or to reach for the Staff of Merlin and break off the portions of his mind with the incriminating evidence on it. Alex grabbed the sword Excalibur and ran out into the night, looking for a new kill.

No more pretensions like "save the world" or "protect the innocent." Alex just wanted to kill in the hope that he would not turn the blade on his brother or himself. Too perfect, Alex realized with 20/20 hindsight. Abby putting out like a drunk prom date. Alex wiped away tears. Not in this life or any other. Alex should have known. Abigail belonged to someone else. Moses had poisoned her soul with love for Alex.

Curses upon curses swam up from the trenches of his soul. Like the ancient sorcerers of myths and legends, Moses had taken something pure and natural, like falling in love, and turned into an abomination upon the Lord, a shambling beast, born on the backs of perversion and arrogance. Alex Penn ran down the sidewalks.

Still weary from the first viewing, Aradia decided on a second. Mordred had a soul. A dark hideous soul hidden away in a meteor fragment, but a soul nonetheless. Aradia could reach him. She just had to dig a little deeper. The mists parted once again. The crystal ball revealed the same park where the little black girl had died.

Mordred took care this time to dispose of the body. It was an innovation for the rampaging slasher killer. Aradia watched as Mordred tracked his new quarry. Alicia Alvarado's eyes bulged as Aradia stranded to see the intended victim. It looked like Merlin's current incarnation, only younger-looking and more virile in countenance.

Aradia struggled to remember the current names of the Ascended. Merlin had a new name: Moses Penn. King Arthur had a new name too: Alex Penn. How quaint, Aradia thought as she considered the irony. King and counselor reunited as brothers.

Aradia wondered how Merlin would take the death of his fallen charge. Aradia needed to act. As one who had restored his strength, Aradia could easily take it away. If she did that, her brother would know what she had done. As much as it would pain him to do it, Lord Belial would murder his own sister if it meant forwarding the cause.

Long slender fingers rested on the crystal ball as Aradia peeked into the view from Mordred's eyes. King Arthur would never stand a chance. Not only did Mordred have a knack for killing his father/uncle, King Arthur always had some melodrama to hold him back. Mordred snuck up behind the kid and raised his machete to the stars.

Mordred's machete crashed down on the sidewalk Alex had occupied a second ago. Aradia looked at her hands. She didn't feel any weaker. Then, it dawned on her. She had not done that. Something else had intervened on his behalf, sparing his life.

Mordred must have awakened deep sleepers from miles around with his cries for blood. Mordred had zeroed in on Rolls Royce of victims. King Arthur had already slipped through his grasp before. And, if he had anything resembling a true thinking mind right now, he too could not penetrate the mystery of Alex's sudden salvation. Aradia breathed a sigh of relief. King Arthur had been saved. Scrying mists clouded the crystal ball. Aradia walked out of the bathroom of the Presidential Suite at the Valentine Hotel. Las Vegas. The city of light. This town looked brighter now.

Alexander Penn felt someone behind him. Thinking Moses had caught with him to make some sort of apology/defense of his behavior, Alex ignored him. Then, when Moses had worn down his resistance, Alex turned around to face his brother.

Except, when he did, he saw nothing but darkness. At that moment, Alex realized something unusual about this particular darkness. It had a wild quality to it like the darkness he had experienced in Purgatory, the total absence of all electrical sources of light. Nothing except torchlight and starlight to guide the weary traveler.

It could only mean one thing. Alex jutted the sword Excalibur into the dark. While he couldn't see the monsters in this decimated parody of San Uriel, California, he could bet that they could see him. If these devils felt even the slightest twinge of fear, Alex would exploit it to send them cowering back in the dark womb of the night.

Alex would have liked to believe the words of bravery stirring in his head but paranoia crawled away at him. Moses had taken away the last thing he believed in and twisted it into a source of uncertainty. Alex understood why Moses had done it.

More than anything, Moses Penn wanted the story of Camelot to have a happy ending this time. What better way than to kill the hurricane butterfly that rewrote the destiny of their kingdom, namely the romantic discord between king and queen?

Horrible beasts set free upon this city roared in unison. He expected as much. The feeling of their roars always caught him off-guard. Not only could he hear the noise bouncing off his bones, he gained an impression of the hunger that fueled these beasts. The thought that Alex might be turned into one of them kept him up at night.

As if possessed by the spirit of Hermes himself, Alex sprinted into the dark, running as far from the roaring undead cannibals as he could. Alex went into the asphalt of the road, the safest terrain. San Uriel of 2024 didn't have a lot of cars left. These old remnants of city infrastructure would keep him from falling while fleeing. Alex punched his stopwatch. Despite his recent bastardly behavior, Moses wanted a time record to see if the jaunts had gotten longer. Alex wanted to know too.

The streetlights came on again. Alex stopped the count. Two minutes and forty-three-point-three seconds. Useful data or pointless trivia? Alex did not know but it always felt like the passage of hours in a city where a large portion of the population wanted to eat you. Alex sheathed his sword and ran back to the Wallace residence.

Abigail Kathleen Vennard did something of a flying tackle when Alex Penn entered through the front door of the Wallace house. "Omigod, it happened again." Seven times. Seven times, Abby had seen the city as it would look in the year 2024.

Seven times, she stared at the broken homes and broken streets stocked up on undead monsters and post-apocalyptic despair. Abigail didn't know if she could take another trip to the dead world they had failed to save (or were going to fail to save).

In a strange gesture, Alex peeled her arms off of his shoulders. "We need to talk." Alex looked over at his brother Moses and his new best friend Hadrian. "Alone." Abby's heart skipped a beat. Had Moses told him about her knocking boots with their supposedly dead demonic arch-nemesis? No, old Moses had a gift for keeping secrets, even the secrets of others. The old wizard couldn't break his promise if he wanted to.

Abby joined Alex in the guest room he had staked out for himself. "Do you ever worry that we went at this kind of fast?" Except it wasn't. They had known each other for years now. "Perhaps, we should slow down and get to know each other first?" Aunt Chloe said that a guy never wanted to "slow down" unless he had an ulterior motive.

Abby decided to give Alex the benefit of the doubt. "We've had years to get to know each other." Abby planted a kiss on his lips. "Besides, you picked a weird time to start complaining." Indeed, the two of them had their favorite indoor activity down to an art form. Alexander, the typical virgin nerd, was all theory and no practice in bed.

Abby knew about the lascivious adventures of fictional characters. Not exactly a reliable source for accurate worldly Sex Ed. And Lord Belial didn't exactly hand out any free sex tips while he was impregnating her with Thomas Learmouth's meat-suit.

Abby kissed that sensitive spot on his neck. "Just relax." Alex grabbed his left hand and started kissing the fingers. Abby thought she had convinced her Alex into another round until she saw the tears in his eyes. "Why do you always do this to me?"

Abby remembered the failed hook-ups. Whenever her dance card was empty, Alex wouldn't go near her. "Don't deny it." Abigail felt a tear coming on. "I love you." Alex stepped back when she dropped the L-bomb. Abby sniffled. "Don't you love me?"

Moses Ambrose Penn cornered his brother Alex. Moses had no idea what he would do to remedy this situation. Alex seemed to have a clue. "Have you come to erase me?" Moses liked the idea but tried not to let it show on his face. "Have you thought it through?" Moses tilted his head. "For all you know, I wrote down all my memories in some journal somewhere and I just might stumble upon it someday."

Moses smirked. "Or, perhaps, I just made that part up to see how far you would go to cover up all your misdeeds. I bet you'd have torn this house apart looking for a journal that might not exist." Alex smiled a cruel bitter smile. "But don't you worry. I'm not going to fight back. You wanna take my memories. Go ahead. They're yours."

Alex shook his head. "You want to know why?" Moses shook his head. "Because I pity you, brother. You are on a dark path and I cannot even begin to imagine what it must feel like to have so many secrets." Alex stepped into Moses' personal space.

"I used to look up to you; I thought you had all the answers. But if you cannot think of anything better to do than erase my memories to keep up this charade, then you clearly don't have any answers for me. " Alex leaned up close. "That is something I'd rather not know." Alex bowed in mock courtesy. "So let's get this over it, Houdini."

Moses raised the Staff of Merlin to eye level. It doesn't change anything, Moses told himself. Alex wanted to psyche him out. Alex wanted to make him falter. Alex couldn't fight back even if he wanted to. He could tell as many people as he wanted.

Moses would just do the same to them. Moses knew that his method worked. So many problems just disappeared when nobody could remember them. Alex nodded as the light of heaven poured out from the tip of the magick staff. "As you wish, brother."

Moses smiled back at Alex. Light filled the hallway. Alex blinked in confusion. "Did I ever tell you what I did after Camelot fell?" Alex shook his head. "Before Lord Belial sent his temptress Nimue after me, I lived in the wilderness with my invisible friends. Some, I could see because of my magick. Others, I could see through the eyes of madness. I lost the ability to tell them apart. Soon after, I lost the desire to as well."

Mose circled Alex. "With a few dusty old words, I can conjure up a world far better than this one." Alex rolled his eyes. He obviously didn't grasp the point of his story. "You will choose my world over this one. When you look into her eyes and see the future you can now have with her, you will beg me to rid you of your memories."

Aradia finished typing up her post in the comments section on the late Doctor Simon Leveaux Blaise's website. A half-demon fairy goddess from antiquity, Aradia prided herself on knowing the ins and outs of modern technology. Aradia had dummy sites and zombie computers set up to bounce her message to prevent undue tracking.

Not that she would need them. Though her brother had developed a knowledge base that incorporated technology, Lord Belial preferred doing thing in the old ways to lift morale. Aradia had no such preferences. Aradia pressed SEND. Knowing King Arthur's ways, he would have a knight searching for answers. Thanks to the miracles of technology, said knight would not have to go on a quest to seek ancient wisdom.

Morgan le Fey didn't know about the lich's emerald heart, removed from his chest fifteen years before the rest of him was summoned to Earth. Even if she did, she had no clue where it had landed. If she had, she have buried it deep within the earth. Or, at the very least, she'd had put somewhere nobody could do any harm to it. Aradia revealed the contents of the crimson pouch around her waist. She had to visit a remote part of India to acquire it. A valuable piece of leverage in case of emergency.

Aradia had the emerald heart shipped off to Moses Penn, the webmaster of the New Round Table. If she had done the calculations right, the lone package would be forwarded to his current address right when he discovered her post on Doctor Blaise's website. It's a small world after all, Aradia sang in her head. Aradia had done all this cloak-and-dagger style, careful that none of Lord Belial's lackeys had shadowed her.

In truth, what would one lost soldier do to his cause? Her brother did not need a drooling indestructible slasher to do his bidding. He tolerated Mordred to appease Morgan le Fay, the all-time MVP of his crew. Morgan would demand vengeance for her son but the target of her ire, the New Round Table, could take her on. Or, at least, she hoped they could. Because once he died, the sorceress would raise Hell. Literally.

Moses Penn knocked twice, ignoring the "GO AWAY" scrambled on a piece of paper taped to Alex's door. Moses couldn't believe what he come to do. Moses could only hope that Alex would have no use for the information. Moses still shivered from the monomaniacal monologue he had given in defense of his love spell. Moses had strayed down a dark path, the real road to Hell lined with real good intentions.

Moses knocked a third time. The door opened. Alex stared at Moses, his eyes stuck to his every move. "You win," Moses relented. "You want an out?" Alex nodded. Moses raised the Staff of Merlin, creating a glamour of the earth and the moon. "The love spell works by means of contact with a goddess named Anumati." Moses showed Alex the lunar phases that lead Will Shakespeare to refer to the moon as inconstant.

"During the night of the first new moon, the goddess wards guarding the spell are at their weakest." Moses sighed. "During this time, you go to Abby and you say, 'I release you,' three times in a row. Remember that, bro. Three times. In a row." Moses sighed again. "The spell will break and she will not remember her affection for you."

Moses sighed a third and final time. "But I beg you, don't do this. Or, if you do, at least, ask Abby for her opinion of this first. Let her have a say in her own love life."

Moses had just handed Alex a live grenade and begged him not to blow himself up with it. As soon as the night of new moon came, Moses would know if the proximity of the date stalled him out. It required unbelievable willpower to break this love spell.

With any luck, Alex would simply run out of time to make this decision. Moses could only hope. Hadrian still had the computer on in the office; Moses went straight to his bedroom. Moses Ambrose Penn needed two things right now, sleep and prayer.

Luis Enrique Lanza sliced Tizona through the big black Romero charging at him. The fiery blade melted his flesh. It took a couple tries but he finally pierced his brain stem. The heat cauterized the wound. Another Romero climbed over the chain link fence. According to the New Round Table website, the others had cleared out the Fulci Avenue Romeros. Not even close, Luis thought as he killed another dead-head.

Then again, who really knew with this monsters? Perhaps, another bunch had muscled into the territory the previous inhabitants had left behind. Luis noticed that about Romeros. They one redeeming quality in the mental department. Romeros left other Romeros left. If anything, all Romeros behaved like a single unit, driven by one purpose. Hard not to admire even undead cannibals who knew how to stick together.

Luis had heard about Alex and Abby finally hooking up. About time, Luis realized as the third Romero waddled after him on his leg stumps. As much as Luis would love to have Abby for himself, those two belonged together. Luis, like in many lives before, had found his release on the battlefield. Slashing a magic sword through many legions of monsters gave him a peace of mind he often sought but rarely found.

Luis loved knowing what battles needed fighting and then fighting them. One hand reached out and trapped the burning blade from behind. Luis turned around. A tall black man in his early forties looked at him with cold gray eyes. It was Mr. Penn. Luis hadn't seen the guy in years, but it was him alright. "What are you doing here?"

Luis needed to know on behalf of Alex. Why did he leave? Why had he come back all of a sudden? "Same thing as you." Mr. Penn handed Luis a note. "To help Alex." So many implication jumped out from his words. He knew about Alex and the freaky things his brother and friends had gotten into. That meant he was part in that other world that they now lived it. "Give this to him." Mr. Penn did a full ninja vanish.

Luis Lanza surveyed the carnage. "Holy shit." Luis kept his distance. Even a dead Romero could infect the living through its bodily fluids. Mr. Penn, a nine-to-five desk jockey, never struck him as the physical type. Nonetheless, somebody with great strength and skill had gone Conan the Barbarian on these seven Romeros. "Damn."

Alexander Julius Penn watched as Hadrian Wallace held the emerald heart in his hand. "Sure this will work?" Haddy shook his head and waved the emerald heart in the air. Even with a day to the attack, Alex Penn held his sword as if holding on for dear life.

Sweat creased Hadrian's forehead. "It arrived in the mail this morning. A user on Blaise's website seemed to know an awful lot about it." Hadrian strained his eyes. It was dark. "She says it will draw in the lich to it from over a hundred miles around."

The emerald heart, if the intel was right, held Mordred's soul. Excalibur could not kill him because it wasn't really him to begin with, just an empty vessel receiving direction from afar. Alex wanted nothing more but to obliterate this amulet, here and now, but he wanted to finish this, once and for all. Mordred would come looking for it.

Perfect opportunity for an ambush. Alex waited in the darkness. Eight years from now, this part would serve as a refugee camp for the displaced survivors of the pandemic of undead cannibals doomed to befall this world should they fail to stop it.

A mix of terror and rage came over Alex. Mordred had killed his mother. Alex wanted revenge for that. He had also maimed him and his brother Moses with no real difficulty. Mordred could hold his own. This felt like waving a red flag in a bull's face.

Then, a mountain moved out of the darkness, the glint of a blade in his hands. Alex sliced through his neck. A head rolled along the grass. Hadrian pulled out his father's handgun. Still headless, Mordred belted Hadrian across the chest, sending him flying through a tree Alex had split in half with his sword a couple of weeks ago.

Alex raised his sword. Mordred crashed his rusty machete against Excalibur, disarming him. Mordred took a moment to collect his severed head. Alex exploited Mordred's want to place his head back on his shoulders. Alex Penn made a play for Hadrian's gun. Alex pulled the trigger and fired off a shot. Mordred, his severed head now reattached to his spinal cord, laughed at Alex's seemingly poor marksmanship.

Mordred then said the first words he had ever heard him speak in this lifetime. "You missed," the beast commented in a gravely voice. Alex pointed to the emerald heart in the grass, shattered by an ACP .45 round. Mordred trembled as the old soul migrated from the emerald heart back into his body in a fluorescent stream of light.

Alex thanked God for Mordred's mortality. Alex calmly picked up his sword off the sidewalk. "This one's for Mom, you murdering son of a bitch." Mordred vanished. "No." Alex Penn saw Hadrian Wallace lying on the ground surrounded by Romeros.

One-armed Luis from eight years in the future defended Hadrian's limp body. "So close," Alex said in a daze as he gave no thought to defending himself. A Romero grabbed Alex by the neck. Right when those teeth would have pierced him, Alex and Hadrian reappeared in the past, Mordred having fled to safety during their absence.

Alexander Julius Penn walked out of Hadrian Wallace's room at the hospital. Alex couldn't stand another minute watching Hadrian breathing through a machine, beaten halfway to Hell last night by a casual backhand from his bastard son/nephew.

And for what? Mordred had escaped. Alex took comfort in the fact that, the next time their paths crossed, he had the power to kill him. Hadrian had not fallen in vain. He had paved the way for Mordred's death and now the beast knew mortal fear.

Alex saw his old friend Luis Lanza. "Impossible." Last time the two had traded words, Luis had punched him in the ear. A lot of bad blood had accumulated between them. To put it lightly. "Good to see you." Luis had a note in his hand. "What's that?"

Luis shrugged. "Don't know. Don't wanna know." Luis forced the note into his hand. "It's from your father." Luis let the gravity of that statement sink in with Alex. "How long have you known about this?" Luis asked. "Never mind," Luis interrupted. "Don't wanna know that either." Luis sighed. "Are we done here?"

Alex shook his head. "No." Luis rolled his eyes. "A lot has happened between us." Alex paced around, collecting his thoughts. "We have a lot of baggage, even for teenagers." Alex sighed. "So, as far as I am concerned, we are getting way too old for this crap." Luis smiled at that. He forgot what his smile looked like. "So, are we good?"

Luis took a moment to think it over. "Yeah." Luis patted Alex on the shoulder. "I guess." Luis walked backwards down the hallway. "Why not?" Luis walked through the open elevator door. "See it around, Your Highness." Luis departed, leaving Alex with the note his father had given to Luis to give to him, a somewhat circuitous way of circumventing the surveillance bearing down on him. Alex began to read the note.

It will not last, the deliberately vague note read. Dad didn't want this note to mention anything that might be used to track him. They will end the night after the new moon. Dad must have meant the jaunts would end tomorrow. Given how the jaunts began in the first place, it must have been happening to Dad too. Good luck.

Alex had looked over the papers attached to Hadrian. Everyone at the hospital marveled at how quickly he had healed from the injuries that should have killed him. None of the doctors knew why he was comatose now. Anatomically speaking, the machinery was intact. Something else tethered Hadrian's mind to the dream-world.

Nobody could help Hadrian Wallace now. Moses could have healed him if he had any wounds left to heal. Moses, the wizard who had no qualms about screwing with people's love lives, trembled at the thought of messing with a person's neurology. Good to know he had some limitations. Alex gazed up at the stars of a moonless night.

"Please don't." Alexander Julius Penn had taken his brother Moses' advice to ask for Abigail Vennard's opinion first. It surprised him to say the least. "I don't care why I love you," Abby explained. "Perhaps, someone enchanted you and you only feel this way because of that. Would that change how you felt about me?" Abby sighed. "I don't want this to go away." Abby grabbed Alex. "For once in my life, I feel complete."

Alex slipped his hands from her grasp. "Abigail," Alex started. "You can't want this. Not like this." Alex looked down at Abby's hands. "I hate myself for letting it go as far as it did." Alex looked away. "My brother had the brass testes to imply that I would choose this dysfunctional fantasy over a dysfunctional reality. For the life of me, I can't understand why you'd want something so fake and artificial in your life."

Cries streamed down her eyes. "You love me," Abby said with conviction. "That is real enough for me." Abby planted a kiss on Alex's cheek. "We have fought demons and gods. We have journeyed across time and space. We have faced the impossible."

Abby laughed weakly. "We have no right to distinguish between what's real and what's not anymore." Abigail planted another kiss on Alex. This time on his lips. "Nothing makes any sense anymore, Alex. So, let's just make do with what we have."

Alex pushed her away. "I can't." Alex remembered something from his past. "When Dad went away, I blamed myself. He had spent a year acting strange but he chose to leave the day after I got suspended for crippling Eugene 'Basher' Basha. I put myself in a fantasy. My parents had their big fight that night. Though he had to leave, Dad chose then because I chose to play the part of the almighty bully hunter."

Alex sniffled. "I would love to play the role of the male lead to your female love interest but, in time, reality will set in just like it always does. Like clockwork." Alex looked out into the night sky from the Wallaces' front porch, his stuff already packed.

"I release you." Abby let out a sharp cry of tangible agony. "I release you." This time, Abby tackled him to the ground, her lips and tongue working in concert to stop his mouth with a kiss. "I release you," Alex said at last. Alex felt the jolt of electricity.

Moses joined them as they packed their things in the GMC Sonoma and the Chevy Malibu. The Wallaces had offered to let them stay. With Hadrian in a coma, the Penns had officially worn out their welcome, whether the Wallaces knew it or not. Abigail stood still as the spell of the moon goddess broke and left her bereft of all love.

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