"It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle." – Norman Schwarzkopf
Hadrian Galileo Wallace, still trapped in this prophetic dreamland, happened upon an armor-clad horseman trotting against a blighted wasteland. While the knight had his visor down, Hadrian had the strange feeling that he recognized him all the same.
"Do you know this fellow?" Al-Khidr had materialized to his left. Hadrian shook his head. Despite his inkling, he could not remember how this pale rider had left such an indelible yet fragile imprint in his mind's eye. Then, Hadrian realized how he was.
"Galahad," The first life that had propelled him into all the other incarnations. Haddy still couldn't believe Abigail Vennard, Queen Guinevere reincarnated, had started out as some demoted fairy goddess who had shacked up with Lord Satan.
Time and space did its dance. Hadrian watched on as the tireless youth made his way across deadly terrain. At the end of his journey, he found a cave, It was the exact copy of the one he had crawled through to get to the Green Man, his guiding companion on his journey through the secret history of the unseen universe.
"Jesus Christ!" Hadrian stared at the spot where Al-Khidr had manifested a glorious hallway terminating in an equally glorious dining room. In a small nook in the cave wall, Haddy stared at a humble little carpenter's cup, knowing full well its true identity. "The Holy Grail." How could he have forgotten? Of all the knights who went searching for the cup that caught the blood of Christ, Galahad had succeeded.
As Galahad reached out for the cup, a sword descended upon him. Quick like a fox, Galahad's hands gripped his hilt. A knight in shining armor, almost his double, stepped out of the shadows. "You have come a long way to leave empty-handed," the knight boasted as he extended a long foreign blade in his direction. "Prepare to die."
Galahad held out as best he could but his enemy had training and magick on his side. The knight's eyes turned solid white as his sword plunged into him. "You've failed." The knight lifted him up and tossed him against the cave wall near that cup.
Trapped, Galahad did not stop to think as he caught his blood in the cup that had caught the blood of the Living God. Galahad drank his own blood as the demon menaced him with the sword, ready to finish him off. Then, it happened. The mortal wounds in his chest and back sealed up. A look of terror came over the demon as he raised his sword in defense. The demon vanished. "You fought Belial and you won."
Haddy looked over at Al-Khidr, a look of shock on his face. "When Diana bore Lucifer twins, the twins grew up outcast among the Fallen. Demons shunned them for their fairy blood and fairies shunned them for their demonic heritage. The male sought the favor of demons while the female sought the favor of fairies. Those twins formed the Sons of Darkness. Despite what you might have heard, he's alive and well."
Upon the penthouse suite on top of the Valentine Hotel in the guise of an owl, Aradia had watched her brother for hours. The hybrid demon fairy goddess wondered whether her twin brother knew about her feelings. Moreover, did he know what she had done? Aradia had crossed the render Mordred mortal had relied on the wits of the heroes to figure out her riddles. They really just helped themselves.
When Aradia patched up Moses Penn, removed the chains of Hephaestus and gave him back the Staff of Merlin, she had just straight up saved his butt. Herodias. Nimue. Frau Holle. Viviane. Ninianne. Each name, however disingenuous, had their own collection of stories. Aradia tilted her head behind her, watching the city's lights.
Silly humans. They always embellished the wrong stories. The stories of glory and achievement. The stories of good versus evil and the triumph of the former over the latter. The stories of loss followed by happiness restored. All these stories had one thing in common. They were about desires. Right and wrong, noble and ignoble, and how people went about fulfilling them, renouncing them or ending up slaves to them.
In her story, Aradia loved her brother. Perhaps, in the beginning, more than a sister should have. Before their father had cremated their bodies with hellfire, she'd planned on siring a family with her brother to create a master race with their unique blend of angelic traits. With time, they discovered a means of possessing other bodies.
When their offspring did not possess enough of their unique traits, her brother Meterbuchus was outraged. He saw this as a sign from their exiled father to end their sexual union and concentrate on building upon the ranks of a different sort of family.
Meterbuchus (or Belial as he started calling himself) contacted all the demons who expressed reluctance in taking orders from a fairy god arch-demon crossbreed. Belial answered their concerns by seizing a Sword of Creation and ridding the planet of any earthbound demon didn't side with him. Many humans mistook him for a hero. In those days, violence towards the correct races could make anybody a culture hero. Aradia took a softer approach with the fairies. Showering her followers with the kind of magick they had only ever dreamed of, the fairies supported her rise to power.
It helped that she was of the Danu Dynasty, a near-extinct bloodline that still held a claim to the throne. While put off by her mixed heritage, fairies couldn't stand the current line of queens and ignored the signs of foul play in their untimely deaths.
Aradia continued to watch her brother Belial. In terms of results, her brother had accomplished more with his life. Not only had he organized a huge chunk of the demon world under his banner, Lord Belial had even reached out to the Elioud, the forgotten middle children of the Fallen, the ones the humans referred to as "monsters."
The efreets on his payroll spoke to his pull among their kind. The fact that the efreets had died horribly did not deter the flood of applicants vying to take their place at their side. All the while, Aradia lorded over the symbolic remnant of fairy royalty.
Aradia spread her wings. She needed to go somewhere to clear her head. These thoughts of her brother removing said head from her shoulders helped nobody. If her death was part of his plans, he would not hesitate to slay her for the good of the cause.
The cause. Aradia used to love the very idea of making the shaved apes pay for their many sins but, more and more, she didn't comprehend how slaughtering the few innocent people could avenge the gallons of angelic blood human hunters had spilled.
Contrary to popular belief, demons could dream. Valac dreamed, not as a side-effect but as an objective. He didn't need sleep but to dream he needed to sleep. Valac often dreamed of Nisroc. How he got possessed by and then possessed the most wizard in the world. In that moment, Nisroc could have banished him back to the pits of Hell.
Instead, he walked up to him with the Staff of Merlin in hand, his arch-demon prowess rendering the mighty sacred icon powerless. "Hello, Valac, long time, no see." Valac remembered defecating when he heard his voice. Of course, as a chicken, he did that even when nothing scared him. "I'm not sending you back." Nisroc circled Valac.
"You can't really hurt me and I enjoy letting you sweat it out." Nisroc smirked with Moses' lips. "When the time comes, I will claim you and bring you back to finish the rest of your sentence." Nisroc looked out at the horizon. "In the meantime, let us behave like civilized gentlemen and tend on no one's business but our own." A fancy way for Nisroc, an arch-demon in Hell, to say to a low-level imp, "Stay out of my way."
Valac prided himself on having the nerve to betray Nisroc in the worst way by revealing his true name to his enemies. Still, his courage had bred nightmares. That winged troll could return at any moment. Especially with Moses, the resident wizard, tied up in the quagmire of two young lovers with nothing better to do. Nisroc endures.
Valac had started painting protection wards on the sides of Wallaces' residence but they never stayed long. Hadrian's parents would always find them and take them off. Valac admired the bliss of their ignorance. They never questioned why they had appeared in the first place. They never treated them like demonic sigils. In the prior ages, such iconography would have inked in the blood of virgin sacrifices.
Valac felt like that damn idiot always pushing that boulder up that hill of Hell. Now that Hadrian's parents had abandoned the city in search of refuge, Valac knew that he had no other choice. If he stayed behind, he would certainly regret it. Valac chewed through the chicken wire. Valac didn't care if his owner banished him back to Hell. Damned if you do and damned if you don't, Valac thought as he ran to freedom.
A military-style tribunal assembled around Nisroc. A formidable arch-demonic entity with powers second only to Aradia and her brother, Nisroc had failed to destroy the New Round Table from within. Worse, Nisroc had suffered the ultimate indignity.
The shame of reverse possession occurred to imps but to an arch-demon? It was rarer than rare, even during times of prosperity and optimism. Her brother needed to decide if Nisroc had future employment with them or he was going to get downsized.
Nisroc had received a summons to the Valentine Hotel months ago. Nisroc had dragged feet getting here, knowing what he would face as soon as he did. He had tried leveraging his knowledge of the New Round Table to barter for an extension top-side.
Xynextyur, aside from a love of perfume, had a gift for ferreting out secrets, no matter well hidden they were. "I still have use." Nisroc stood in the center of the circle in the body of a twelve-year-old boy. "I have more power than any demon that walks the earth today. You cannot defeat them without me." Nisroc might have had a point.
He did have a lot of power for a pure demon. "You need me and, if you send me back, I will raise an army against you." Lord Belial raised his hand. Belial curled his borrowed lips with a delight only possible in demons of a certain age. "I swear to you."
"Now, now, Nisroc," Belial said like a parent chiding a child for bad language. "We'll have no talk of threats in this room." Belial smirked. "Especially empty ones." Belial flipped through his notes. "I do agree that you did have power, but they have compromised most of that." Belial let out a short cough. "They know your true name. "They have successfully defeated you. And, if memory serves me, this company has implemented a strict no-vendetta policy. I have no way of knowing if your desire for revenge may or may not prove a liability should a crisis emerge." Belial shrugged.
Morgan le Fay, never one for company politics, had skipped the tribunal due to a slight case of death. With Morgan taking his place downtown, Mordred the Bastard simply shambled about killing random people, cursing the Pendragon name. Without his soul locked in an amulet, a Sword of Creation could demolish that homicidal hulk.
Xynextyur banished Nisroc back to Hell. The twelve-year-old boy he had taken as a host was dispensed with by a heavy blow to the head. Aradia's brother went back out onto the floor to cover Adam Erskine as pit boss while he saw to "janitorial work."
Xynnie gazed up at Aradia with his knowing eyes. "You betrayed us." Aradia's eyes widened. "You have aided and abetted the New Round Table. You even healed their wizard." Xyn shook his head. "Why?" Xyn smirked. "I see, you still love Merlin."
Aradia asked the obvious question. "Your abilities are comparable to his." Xyn nodded. "A fight between siblings would not end well." Xyn patted Aradia on the back. "We all have moments of doubt, Nimue. Do not let them destroy what you have built."
The memories of the prophets surged around Hadrian Galileo Wallace's head. Al-Khidr smiled as he faded into the light, a flicker of light off of his green robe the last thing he saw of him. Haddy would miss the Green Man. He had all the answers and anything he might have "forgotten" to tell him would remain unknown to him.
Eyes open, Hadrian realizeed the facts of his situation. Just as he had thought, Al-Khidr or Viridius or whatever name he went by had visited him in his dreams. He could remember the secret history of the universe now but could only guess at how he had entered the world of dreams and visions that had given him this new knowledge.
A hospital room greeted him as he inspected his surroundings. Flashes of the events that had brought him to this bed flitted through his mind. "Mordred," Haddy remembered aloud. He looked around for a buzzer to summon a nurse. Yes, Hadrian remembered. Mordred had busted him up. Except this time, Haddy didn't get back up right away. It were an anomaly considering where his healing powers had came from.
Gunfire echoed from the hallways. "Oh, crap." One minute back into the land of waking life, Haddy had met with the reminders of the savage brutality that defined this layer of reality. No more sitting on the sidelines watching history unfold. Haddy eyeballed an abandoned medical tray. Hadrian would have to make his own history.
Haddy gripped a scalpel in his right hand and dangled his legs over the side. He wasn't even sure if he could stand upon them. Four masked strangers entered his room. "Get away from me!" The apparent leader of this group of four stepped forward.
"Hadrian?" Haddy strained to remember that voice of authority and power. "It can't be. You're awake." The leader pulled off his mask, revealing the once and future king. "Thank God." Hadrian had gained an appreciation for that phrase. God had sent a heavy hitter with the enemies' stats. "Let's get you outta here before they show up."
Before Hadrian could ask about their current pursuers, he spied a pair of fiery eyes. The fire-eyed one pulled off his mask, revealing Luis Lanza. Now, if only Luis could remove those grotesque contacts. Luis smirked. "Trust me, it is a long story. I'll tell you all about it ... later." A hellish shriek shifted everyone back into combat mode.
Hadrian Wallace jumped out of bed. Hadrian didn't have any trouble waking. Hadrian wanted to know how long he had spent in Never Never Land but no one seemed interested in giving him a timeline. Al-Khidr had spoiled Hadrian rotten with knowledge. Hadrian had forgotten the ignorance that defined waking life.
Aradia turned back into Alicia Alvarado's native form, that of a skin-and-bone Hispanic girl in her late teens. Aradia stared at the TVs in the pawn shop in one of the poorer neighborhoods the tourists tend to ignore in their search for good times.
The owner, a six-foot-tall stack of polished sleaze in a polyester leisure suit, kept the TVs on to mimic the look of a high-end department store. Who he thought he was fooling with that defied even Aradia's wisdom. It amused Aradia to think of herself using something as mundane as a TV set when she had a crystal ball. Still, nothing rivaled the television for its simplicity and ease of use. Point and click.
The local news reported the disintegrating situation in San Uriel, California. The infected had seized control of the Trevena city hall. The federal government had urged citizens to evacuate all the affected areas. As with most natural disasters, a few crazies stuck it out despite all the risks. The reporters still called it Sumatran rabies.
Aradia's brother, Meterbuchus AKA Lord Belial, had gone through years of R&D after Big Daddy had gift-wrapped a Dark One and shot it through a once-in-a-million-years wormhole that appeared over Southern Siberia for a couple of seconds one early morning in June of 1908. The Dark One hated the bright lights of this reality.
The Dark One struggled to return to its proper place in the cosmos, much to its new owner's chagrin. Still, Lord Belial had endured and taught his doggie new tricks, chief among them the ability to possess legions of human hosts at once via infection.
After the New Round Table had slipped through his series of traps and mind games, Lord Belial had tried to resurrect Morgan le Fay as an efreet. It might have worked if someone hadn't gone and stabbed her several times with consecrated iron, rendering her corpse worthless to any number of entities with a knack for possession.
A hand fell on her shoulder. "Sister," Lord Belial said with a note of gravity. "We need to talk." Aradia pushed the hand off of her shoulder. A crowd had gathered around Belial, asking for his autograph. "Don't walk away from me.' A sword whipped out in her direction. Aradia countered, letting that sword pierce through her leather coat.
"You think you can take me on?" Belial didn't have to answer that. The skilled commander of many armies, Belial nonetheless had the trait he most despised in the human animal, a disregard for strategy in favor of intimidation. His tired shock-and-awe tactics didn't work against somebody who had lived in the cutthroat world of fairy politics. Lightning bolts lit up the streets. The bystanders were transformed to ashes.
Aradia grabbed the sword from Belial and knocked him down. Ready to kill her brother, she caught herself and slammed the sword next to his left ear, cracking open the sidewalk. "Next time, it is your head." Aradia morphed into an owl and flew away.
Luther Penn exited the private jet, property of the Order of the Solar Temple under the name of Julien Breyer. Luther carried with him Kladenets, the Sword of Creation that embodied the Element of Water. Luther had to go all the way to Russia for this second-to-last ingredient in the final hope for the survival of mankind.
Luther chuckled as he set foot on terra firma. The Brotherhood of Autolycus gave him a discount of all things for seeing to its transportation. Luther stared at the weapon as it tantalized his senses. One more sword to go. Except he could not go after the last sword. Too risky. He would have to find a way to get the sword to come to him.
"Hello, Mr. Penn," an unfortunate pleasant voice said as he exited the private jet. Luther turned around. Gimel with a dozen of inquisitors at his beck and call. "My boss insisted on the extra security but I don't think I really need it?" Gimel laughed.
Gimel showed him on a live feed on his cell phone. "We have assassins trained on your sons if you resist in any way." Luther Penn stared at Moses and Alex, their heads unknowingly locked in cross-hairs. "Please do not kill your sons. I beg of you."
Bones crushing and teeth gnashing silenced their assassins. "What the Hell?" Luther wasted no words. A dozen inquisitors charged him. The two swords cut them down like branches of a tree. "You will rot in the deepest darkest dungeons for this." Luther knew that. He also knew something else. No witnesses meant no punishment.
Luther scalped Gimel, his skullcap sliced clean off. Azazel materialized on the makeshift battlefield of the airport tarmac. "This changes everything." Azazel had mastered the fine art of stating the obvious. "To clean this mess up, I will require you to make good on your promise a little earlier than we had previously agreed upon." Luther understood the agreement. "Do you have any last requests before we leave."
A soft sigh escaped from Luther's lips. "One." Luther handed Kladenets and Durendal to Azazel. "Make sure my sons receive them." Though a cosmic horror who would sooner eat your face than look at it, he had an honorable side when forced into giving his word. He had given his word by offering Luther a last request. "I'm ready." Without ceremony, Azazel walked Luther Jared Penn through a portal of pure light.
Alexander Julius Penn kept a silent vigil over Hadrian Wallace. Haddy still needed more sleep despite getting nine weeks of it in a coma. The gang had promised his parents to keep an eye on his progress while they relocated to their summer home in Eugene, Oregon. FEMA vowed to evacuate the hospitals in San Uriel, California.
It didn't take FEMA long to go back at their promise. The hospitals were all but overrun by patients seeking a nonexistent cure. If they hadn't arrived in time, Hadrian Galileo Wallace might have ended up a chew toy for a wandering Romero.
Alex heard a knock on the door. Alex gripped a semi-automatic and walked out to greet their "guests." Looters had penetrated into the suburbs. Each time one showed up, Alex had to make an example out of them. Brutality at its most calculating. It reminded Alex of his days in the Miskatonic Desert and that sickened him but it beat the alternative by a good country mile.
Alex looked through the keyhole. Nobody. Alex smirked. Nobody, my ass. The smart looters often resorted to ambushes to trick people out of their houses. Alex fired three shots, putting three holes in the perfectly good mahogany door frame. Satisfied, Alex opened the door. Alex looked down at the two swords on the welcome mat. Hello.
Inspecting the two blades, Alex recognized one of them. Durendal. This sword belonged to their father, Luther Jared Penn. Alex brought both of the swords into the house. Moses, Luis and Abby had gone out on patrol, leaving him to tend to Hadrian.
During his brief stint with consciousness, Hadrian had spun a magnificent tale about the true nature of the universe and their place in it. Alex believed it insofar as he might have pieced it together by himself. The idea of some magic man descending from the heavens with the answers was laughable at best and utterly idiotic at worst.
Alex rattled the two swords. Immediately, he detected a hollow space inside of the golden hilt of Durendal. After a couple tries, he opened the secret compartment. After sorting through the sacred objects, Alex extracted the second most unusual item in the hilt, a thumb drive, a piece of modern technology amid ancient relics. Alex plugged it into the computer. Audio file started up. Alex recognized the voice.
"If you're listening to this, it means I had to go away and I might not see you again for a long time. I made a deal and I must now honor it. I did this for a chance to take part in your lives if only from a distance. None of that matters now. I need to tell you about the creatures you call 'Romeros.' They come from a dark place. Before God lit the first light, the Outer Dark formed as a counterbalance to the Creation to come.
"Because the Outer Dark predates the birth of the universe, if only by a couple of seconds, the Swords of Creation will not work against a native. Severing the brain stem cuts the Dark One off from its host but it doesn't destroy the entity. Even if you killed all the Romeros (as you have likely done many times without knowing it), the Dark One will endure. Fortunately, the Dark One released onto Earth has one flaw.
"It wants to go home. If we open a portal to its native habitat, the Dark One will jump right through it." Alex had never heard his father cry. "To open this portal, you must gather the five Swords of Creation within the radius of the Key of Hecate."
Dad didn't say anything about the Key of Hecate. "Once you have done that, the true owner of Excalibur can bend the portal to his will." Dad groaned. "I do not envy the road ahead of you but I want you to know that I love you two very much."
Abigail Vennard burst into the office and wrapped her arms around Alex. "We are sorry," she said with tears in her eyes. "We are so sorry." Alex peeled Abby off of him and went into the living room. "They came out of nowhere. We barely escaped with our lives." Moses cradled the bloodied bandage covering the stump where the ring finger of his right hand had once resided. "One of them bit his finger clean off."
Moses Penn clung to his humanity as best he could. The five of them had assembled the fleet (Moses' GMC Sonoma and Alex's Chevy Malibu) and taken off to find the Key of Hecate. According to Hadrian, this so-called Eye of Hecate was an event. It happened every year in a different part of the universe. Last year's happened on Olympus Mons on the planet Mars during a ten-hour period in August.
Only the Key of Hecate could harness the total energy output of the baby universe formed by the Earth-Nibiru Alignment in 2012. This year's event would take place for sixteen hours on December 23 in northern Arizona, a fact Hadrian had gleaned from Al-Khidr. Moses could only hope that Lord Belial would rise to the bait.
If not, Moses stood a hundred percent chance of starting a humanitarian diet. "If you do this, I'll count this as my Christmas present." Alex cracked a tiny smile as Moses' attempt at gallows humor. In truth, the thought of turning into one of those things scared the holy hell out of him but what could he do? Only a miracle could save him now and it really go either way. The fleet arrived in middle of the desert.
Moses saw an army of monsters, fairies and demons assembled outside Sedona. In the middle stood Lord Belial in the body of Basil Valentine, brandishing the fifth Sword of Creation, Fragarach. Moses smirked. The Knights of the New Round Table were in their element, outnumbered on a battlefield against the forces of damnation.
In the depths of his mind, Moses could feel the Dark One surfacing inside him. He tried to keep him down like he had done to Nisroc but the Dark One exceeded the abilities of even an arch-demon. Moses could feel the Dark One slowly gaining control of him. "Please," Moses said as Alex pulled into the battlefield. "A little patience and we will have you home in time for lunch, okay?" Dark Ones knew nothing of patience.
Moses only said it to comfort Alex. Luis, Hadrian and Abby exited the Chevy Malibu. Alex left Moses in the passenger seat of his own truck. Moses looked out the windshield as Alex challenge Belial to single combat. Lord Belial gleefully accepted.
As bad luck would have it, Meterbuchus had touched the sword Excalibur after the goddess Diana had used it to kill Lucifer. As such, Excalibur technically belonged to him. To gain ownership of it, Alex would have to defeat the Devil in single combat.
Otherwise, the Lord Belial would open a portal to Heaven and sit upon Throne of God. In other words, Alex could not lose this time. The other three watched as Lord Belial's army pulled them aside. The sword-fight to decide the fate of the earth began.
Alex dominated the fight at first. Moses rolled up the window with the hand crank. "By the way, I did enjoy my night with your queen." Color left Abby's face as Lord Belial spoke those words. "Did she not tell you?" Lord Belial smiled. "I made a whore out of her in Magonia. Your queen might have given birth to my son if your wizard had not stopped me." Alex looked over at him. Moses hide his face in shame.
"That is what makes you weak." Belial clashed his sword against Excalibur. "I do not tolerate traitors but you let them thrive among your ranks." Belial then sliced Excalibur in half as it were made of wood. "Have any last words before we finish this?"
Through gritted teeth, Alex nodded. Lord Belial went for a coup de grace. Alex stabbed the broken Excalibur into the only exposed portion of the demon's anatomy: his scrotum. "Go to Hell." Alex pulled Excalibur up through Lord Belial's torso and out his chest, the exposed entrails of his host sizzling with eldritch electricity. Alex gripped Excalibur and commanded the void. The Dark One left Moses. "All of you."
The five of them stood in silence as the remaining army contemplated their next move. Would they kill them simply to spite their triumph over evil? The round Scottish man held up his hand and signaled a retreat. Face with five humans armed with five magic swords, the troops eagerly accepted the order. "Yeah, you better run."
As the Sons of Darkness fled in disarray, Moses stumbled out of the truck and looked on in amazement. Despite all the losses, the New Round Table had saved the world from absolute destruction. With Belial really dead this time, his armies would need to regroup. Moses Penn smiled as the sun reached the highest point in the sky.