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Dark Streets

"The hero is the one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by." – Felix Adler

Moses Ambrose Penn stared in disbelief. It took his breath away to see their motley crew assembled once again. Two weeks had passed since his brother Alex nearly lost his head to a tag team of two revenge-crazed enemies hellbent on beating the Penns.

The death of Mordred, the sworn enemy of Camelot, had all the earmarks of an anti-climax. Worse yet, they did not possess a working Sword of Creation to take him down with. Mordred was dead but only to this world. That twisted soul had returned to Hell. It was a formidable prison but one he had already escaped from once already.

The efreet midst the demon-possessed ushers fired a fiery blast at them. The other four scattered as Moses stood his ground against the fireballs. "What the Hell are you doing?" Alex asked/screamed. Moses lifted the Staff of Merlin over his head.

The efreet locked eyes with Moses. The efreet explained without words, but in no uncertain terms, what would happen to Moses if he did not get out of the way. The efreet must have figured he had him spooked. Moses simply nodded. Come get some.

Moses closed his eyes and concentrated on the shape of the words forming in his head. In magick, every aspect of a spell was done with exacting precision. Not only did the words need to sound right when they left his mouth, the words needed to take the perfect form inside his head. Moses couldn't just babble the first thing that jumped into his head. He needed to know ahead of time just what spell he would need.

Fortunately, the Londoner Merlin had been during the mid-17th century had acquired the perfect spell for fire-friendly creatures. "Lan bahaw roksu li malprogh … sucker!" Nothing in the rulebook forbade a wizard from adding his own personal touch.

The shield of fires, as its name implied, protected a wizard with a fire barrier. Most wizards ignored this spell since it required a ready source of fire. Moses could only imagine the efreet's shock as the fireballs intended to turn them from original recipe to extra crispy fed into the shield. Moses had hoped it would scare them away.

Far from it, the other demons cobbled together some psychokinetic energy and lifted a popcorn popping machine. The demons aimed it at the center of their group. "Batter up!" Moses tapped the Staff of Merlin on his shoe like a baseball bat. Moses swung the staff as hard as he could, redirecting much of his spare mojo into its shaft.

The popcorn popper flew through the shield of fires. End result: A chunk of fire and metal hurdling at the flat-footed demons and their token efreet. The four demons and the one efreet struggled to get their meat-suits back up on their feet. "Holy crap!"

Moses Penn didn't know their true names and didn't have the time to perform a mass exorcism on the lot of them. Alex seemed to read his mind. "Everybody, fall back!" Alex yelled as the monsters regained their footing. With the shield of fire extinguished into nothingness, the efreet hammered his surroundings with fireballs.

Fortunately, he had not stopped to aim. All his shots went wide of their targets. Emboldened by some unknown force, these monsters would not quit attacking and, with the Swords of Creation powerless, the gang had no means of dispatching them.

"Dammit." Moses looked back at the monsters who, despite not running away, would still live to fight another day. "Next time." Moses growled at him from behind clenched teeth. The laughing efreet smirked at him as if Moses had told a funny joke.

"Saving you for last, Chuckles." Moses stole away into the back of concession into the compactor area. Moses didn't care if Chuckles didn't believe him. The two of them would learn the truth before too long. This battle had ended. A war had begun.

Aradia was on the run from Xynextyur, the regent of the Sons of Darkness. It was quite the promotion for a cut-rate telepathic demon her brother had called in to flush out the traitor. Since he had flushed her out, he should have returned to Qatar.

Then, the New Round Table had to go and kill her brother and complicate the whole thing. Now, a telepathic demon with a gift for innovative management held the reins to an occult secret society second only to the Order of the Solar Temple in terms of power. Nice job breaking it, heroes. Aradia entered the office of Professor Addams.

Elijah Addams. An obvious pseudonym for such a gifted mind. "Knock, knock," Aradia said as she entered, the skinny body of Alicia Alvarado strutting about like a streetwalker on the prowl for johns. "My, my, at last, we meet." The professor adjusted his glasses, a human gesture to hide his fear. Aradia could see his true spiritual form.

The blood in Aradia's veins froze over when she saw the red frog statue staring at her from across the living room. Even in his diminished capacity, "Professor Elijah Addams" had a lot of hoodoo power. Aradia could only hope he didn't know just much.

Aradia regained her focus. It was time to get into character. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Sandalphon." Professor Addams smiled. It was as if she had told an amusing story. Apparently, Elijah Addams didn't know anyone by that name.

"Wow, you don't even know your own name." Aradia laughed at that. "It makes sense." Aradia circled little Elijah. "Sandalphon is more of a title than anything else." Aradia grinned. "When you get back to brass tacks, you only have one name, Elijah."

The professor shook his head. Aradia bared her teeth. "I am not as forgiving as your savior. Deny me a third time and I will tear your spine out and wear it as a belt." The professor took off his glasses and sighed. He seemed more tired than intimidated.

"What is it that you want, Herodias?" At last, little Elijah was talking sense. It took long enough. Aradia collected her thoughts. She had always dismissed the crazy rumors of a former angel on Earth. In her desperation to seek out a core of resistance against her brother's machinations, Aradia had chased down every urban legend and far-flung myth she had ever heard of. After many dead ends, Aradia had hit pay-dirt.

Sandalphon was the one living creature in the entire universe other than God and Lucifer who knew the great mysteries of the cosmos. "Go-roho, Aradia!" Forced to spill her guts, she began to speak. "It must feel weird. You were one of two humans in history to be granted angelic transfiguration. Now, look at you. Reduced to a half-dead meat-bag slinging mud monkey magick." Aradia waited for a response to her critique.

Professor Addams didn't even flinch. If losing his angelic powers bothered him at all, he knew how to hide the fact. Aradia decided to get to the point. "I have come to seek a means to fix Excalibur. I have it on good authority that only five people, in all of Creation, can fix a Sword of Creation." Aradia grinned. "And only you were taught by God Himself. That makes you the divine swordsmith in most people's estimations."

Aradia leaned against his desk and whispered in his ear. "So if you could patch up Excalibur for a friend of mine, I'll be on my way." Sandalphon shook his head. "Or you could just tell me how to fix it and I'll do it myself. Either way, neither of us leave here until we reach an understanding with each other." Aradia smirked. "You got it?"

Professor Addams removed his glasses. "I could not teach you my craft in one night. It took me fifty years to master my craft and God said I was one of the quickest studies ever. A half-wit like you could study for two thousand years without progress. As for helping you out, take care not to cut your fingers when you tear out my spine."

A wicked smile crossed her face. "You put up a brave front. I admire the effort." Aradia shrugged. "To be perfectly honest, your desire to die rather than help me fight the good fight makes you twice the coward in my eyes." Aradia could tell that she had struck a nerve. "What could have possibly happened to an angel of death to turn him into a frightful deserter hiding out on a battlefield, living off of second-hand magick?"

Sandalphon's eyes turned bright red. Bingo. Aradia knew how an ex-angel like him had ended up like this. She knew it was sore topic like that would get a rise out of him. She could almost see the smoke puffing out of his ears. The ex-angel was pissed.

"None of your damn business," Sandalphon growled. His voice hinted at all the specks of angel floating around inside him. "As for this so-called 'good' fight you speak of ..." Addams crossed his arms against his chest. "I have lived two thousand years. In all that time, I have never witnessed nor participated in anything resembling a 'good' fight. It is all blood, gallons of it ... and you cannot wash away blood with more blood."

"Stop saying 'blood,' dammit." Aradia rubbed her sinuses. "So you don't want to get your hands dirty? Fine. Fix Excalibur; then go live in a hippie commune." Aradia took a step towards the door. "I cannot promise you that the Swords will never shed a drop of innocent blood but I can promise you this. If you don't fix Excalibur, you'll see more blood in these next seven years than you have seen in the last seven centuries."

Alexander Julius Penn started the sparring off nice and slow. Luis, Alex's best friend, hadn't seen a lot of combat in the last six months. Indeed, Luis 1.0, the one he had grown up with, had died eight months ago. Alex was not going to get hung up the philosophical ramifications of this identity-challenged efreet taking the place of Luis.

Luis lived … after a fashion. That meant something to Alex and, perhaps, deep down, it meant something to this Luis as well. Still, sometimes, in his darker nights of his doubt, Alex wondered if he had made the right decision to let this creature live. It was his fault Luis 1.0 had died that night in Las Vegas at the Valentine Hotel. An old ex had tortured him to death. It was not part of an interrogation. She was having fun.

This allowed an efreet to enter his corpse. A rarity in this part of the world, the efreet could only inhabit the blood of murder victims. Alex managed to talk the efreet down and ever since then it acted like the perfect copy of the Luis who had died, right down to his unwavering loyalty to Alex, in spite of the grave personal cost to himself.

Alex thrust the rapier at Luis 2.0. Wasting no words, Luis parried and touched Alex in the center of the chest. Luis and Alex returned to their spots. Hadrian Galileo Wallace, the referee and owner of this particular training area, supervised the match.

"Excellent speed, Luis." Luis Lanza nodded as the second round began. Efreets had an unusual ability to supercharge their adrenal glands. It allowed for the sudden burst of speed and strength that made them so deadly. Luis 2.0 also had pyrokinesis, a power he didn't think to use against the efreet in the gang they had fought against.

Alex wondered why but kept his musings to himself. During the second round, Luis' sunglasses fell off. Alex freaked out when he saw his eyes, a reminder of what he had done to him. Alex had signed off on the plan for Moses to go to Las Vegas and use his magick to earn money at the casinos. A little greed, a lot of pride and a run of bad luck later, the lot of them ended up the prisoners of Lord Belial AKA Basil Valentine.

While the rest of them got off with a slap on the wrist, Luis died and Moses had nearly bled out. "Stop staring!" Luis regained his composure. "It's not polite." Luis, in a moment of despair, stepped back and lowered his rapier. In an effort to comfort him, Alex came towards with arms outstretched. "Get back!" Fire flared out from his hand.

"I bet you''re wondering why I didn't smoke that efreet when I had the chance." Luis laughed. "One, it wouldn't have helped. And, two, I don't know, what would that make me?" Luis looked down at his hands. "We've spent eons fighting creatures like this." Luis looked up at him. "Can you say, for certain, that they all deserved to die?"

Luis' teeth sharpened into daggers, another thing that happened when efreets got riled up. "I can see the gears turning in your head." Luis stepped towards Alex in a slow purposeful gait, his rapier in hand. "You think I've snapped and gone nature."

Luis stared out the window. "A demon needs an invitation to enter your home. I don't." Luis placed his rapier against Alex's throat. "I could have killed you, in your sleep a thousand times by now. So I think I have earned a little benefit of the doubt."

Luis screamed that last part. Luis planted the rapier in the mat. "We're done." Considering how many centuries Alex (or King Arthur rather) had hunted the beasts that plagued mankind, he wanted to convince himself that Luis' words hadn't struck a nerve. Alas, he couldn't. Alex often wondered about the innocent lives his blindness and righteous anger had claimed. Even his worst atrocities were for the greater good.

Greater good. People used the phrase to justify evil. Whether he could admit it to himself or not, fighting on behalf of the human race did not often result in morally exemplary behavior. Perhaps, that line of thought would have suited a soldier but for a king? Did he not have a duty to reinforce the philosophical defenses of his kingdom?

Before Dad had abandoned them in favor of an ancient secret society of full-on monster hunters, Moses Ambrose Penn had witnessed this rottweiler in hot pursuit of his own tail. Moses never understood the logic behind that. Did that dumb dog really think he would catch his tail? And, if he did, exactly what did he plan on doing then?

As Moses poured over Simon Blaise's website and scores of dead tree literature, Moses felt an affinity to that determined little rottweiler. His research had found the Glory Road to Nowhere. Nothing he had found lent itself to cross-references or deeper esoterica. All his searches had hit into brick walls the size of the Great Wall of China.

All the written words blurred together like a whirlwind of dyslexic daydreams. "The ruler of this world has returned to claim his throne." Mordred had spoken these after the demon Nisroc departed his body and allowed him to die from the knife in his ribs. Those eleven words taunted him with its hidden meaning and morbid innuendo.

Despite half a mute, Mordred had gotten the last word. Perhaps, his words did not mean anything. Perhaps, he had wanted to say something generic like "See you in Hell" or "Until next time," but opted for something spookier. No. Moses recognized his own words. He heard them in every monster movie since the dawn of horror films.

These were the words of the skeptic who ended dead before the final reel. Those words spoken by their mortal enemy meant something. It was more than just the foul mind games of a former lich aching to put the fear of God in the heart of King Arthur.

Mordred had lost. Moses had seen to that with a knife to the chest. Nothing he could say or do could change that he had moved his forwarding address back to his old retirement home in the bottomless pit. Moses needed to focus on the good he had done, no matter how scant it seemed right now. Moses Penn had kicked evil's ass.

Moses needed to do some routine clean-up to make sure it stayed kicked. That's all. Moses looked at the Staff of Merlin, an ancient relic of cosmic prowess, propped up against the wall like any ordinary walking stick. All this magick and something evil with far superior mojo might rise up and destroy everything that Moses held sacred.

Moses could feel the sweat collecting in his brow as if he could hear the ticking of a Doomsday Clock. The world, depended on him getting his act together. And what did he have? Dead ends. Miles of research and nowhere closer to a solution then it did last night when he had thrown down against four demon lackeys and a hotshot efreet.

Moses Penn jumped at the chance to bury his thoughts in his "homework." The sizzling of meat noise came off the computer monitor. His eyes bulged out of his skull. His ability to PK objects started to activate without his foreknowledge. Normally, this new surge of raw hoodoo would have had him doing the happy prospector dance but it would destroy his efforts, if the computer imploded due to one of his temper tantrums.

Moses caught himself and started doing the breathing exercises he had worked out for just such an occasion. He needed to chill out or he would lose far more than an expensive computer monitor. Perhaps, Alex had hit the nail on the head. Perhaps, all this "homework" would drive Moses to madness before it yielded any workable results.

Perhaps, Moses could take a break before he pressed on into the dark depths of arcana. Nah. The thought of quitting, even for a moment, gave Moses some catharsis but that didn't make their situation any less dire. Moses turned his attention back to the computer, careful this time not to burn a hole through the monitor with his gaze.

Alexander Julius Penn considered insomnia the number one health risk to the modern hero (other than getting sharp pointy objects shoved in all the wrong places). Alex had the a page from the San Uriel Herald stuck to the wall of his room. He didn't cut out the article. Alex kept the page whole in the hope that the surrounding articles might offer up new insights. Alex had circled the article of interest with a highlighter.

After the gang had had their fun at the movies, they took the party downtown. Judging from the article, they disemboweled a homeless vet and then immolated him. The bastards must have laughed their stolen asses off watching a man on fire trying to hold in his guts. The newspaper blamed it on a street gang. Which actually fit the facts. The demons and their one efreet had formed a gang that operated in the street.

Alex couldn't muster the outrage to overcome his exhaustion. His body ran out of juice and crashed. Alex searched his dreams for prophecies whenever he could. In a heroic tale, the future king often received clues to his destiny through his sleep. Alex, so far, had came up empty. If Moses hadn't come through for them last night with the fire-absorbing magick, Alex would have gotten himself and all his friends barbecued.

Alex would already have enough sleepless nights, what with all the secondary members of the New Round Table that got picked off by Nisroc/Mordred. If Alex held even a rudimentary capacity for reason, he would enroll in summer school and leave this reincarnated Camelot nonsense in the past. Alex Penn had nearly lost his head. To make matters worse, none of them even had the weapons to nuke the beasts with.

Roused from his sleep, Alex's ears honed in on the commotion coming from the living room. It sounded like three or fours voices trying to talk at once. It gave Alex a headache. Alex Penn tried to block it out with his pillow. But that noise persisted like the dripping of a leaky faucet or the scratching of fingernails against the chalkboard.

Despite his best efforts, Alex Penn would have to get out of bed. He went to the living room to see Abby, Luis and Haddy huddled around the television. "You'll hurt your eyes sitting that close," Alex quipped. "What the Hell?" It was the news. The big story on the hour, the return of Basil Valentine, the one-time host of the Lord Belial.

Alex remembered the day that he had killed him. Stabbed right in the crotch. Back when Excalibur had a full tank of mojo, the wound sucked the life out of him. In a gesture of chivalry, they had let the Sons of Darkness have the corpse of their boss.

According to Moses, the corpse, contaminated by the Sword of Light, could not host another demon other than Lord Belial. So, even if they wanted to put somebody new in his meat, they couldn't. That left the possibility that Lord Belial had returned.

Then, the truth hit Alex like the proverbial ton of bricks. Meterbuchus (Belial) had returned through the very portal that the Dark One had exited through. The old gang had spent so much time worrying about getting something out of the world they had not even considered the possibility that something might have slithered back in.

"He's not alone," Alex looked at the bald twenty-something-year-old waving to the crowd. That thought, when spoken aloud, sent the tide of fear breaking across the living room. When a Sword of Creation made somebody deader than dead, the Outer Dark held whatever didn't blink out of existence from its primal destructive energies.

Quite a few demons could have found their way into the Outer Dark. In a rush to put down a zombie apocalypse, he had picked the lock of their prison and allowed a shitload of monsters back into the cosmos proper. Even their "great victory" was a lie.

"We must kill him." Alex turned to leave. It didn't matter Alex had no practical means of doing that. It didn't matter Lord Belial had tricked him into unleashing his cronies back into the universe. None of that mattered. Alex tired of having to kill the same damned demon twice. Third time's the charm. Alex slammed the bedroom door.

Moses Ambrose Penn heard the door slam shut. Moses ignored it. The nonstop melodrama of their New Round Table added up to a lot of slamming doors. Abby and Alex must have gotten into another fight again. They fought a lot for two people who claimed to be unattached to each other. Moses decided to run a little damage control.

Hunting monsters had allowed them to develop a steady routine. Dealing with their personal problems required regular revision on a case-by-case basis. Indeed, he often preferred the life-and-death bloody-minded business over mundane melodrama.

The others pointed at the TV. It took a minute to process what Moses had seen. Moses stared with dead fish eyes, hypnotized by the screen. "Oh my God," Moses said in the understatement of the century. He could feel his psyche threatening to lock up.

How did you not seen this coming? Moses asked his brain. No comment, was all his brain could say. Perhaps, all that heavy-duty spell-slinging had rotted his higher brain functions. Perhaps, the defeat of the Romeros and the death of Lord Belial had bred into them all the unreasonable dream of peace. Whatever the case, this was bad.

Belial had slipped right back into the universe through the same hole that he had opened to send the Dark One home. Belial had planned it that way. Belial always planned ahead or, at least, knew how to take advantage of happenstance. Either way, Lord Belial had shaken off the jet lag of dimension hopping and reentered his old life.

That meant serious trouble for the human race, especially if he hadn't brought back some company. Perhaps, the demon lord had led some other deader-than-deadbeats out of the Shadow-Fanged Super-Hell to join his glorious plan to overthrow mankind.

Moses' legs turned into peanut butter and jelly. Moses had forgotten to put on his trunks before his head started swimming. Moses hoisted himself back onto his feet and looked around for the cause of his vertigo. Opening his third eye had made him a more formidable opponent, but it had its drawbacks. The whiplash was the worst of it.

Every time the foundation of the cosmos quaked, Moses lost his balance. If the universe sneezed, he caught the flu. Whenever the cosmic scales tilted, Moses had to tilt too. Moses Penn wanted to know just what had set off his stumbling drunk phase.

Moses caught a glimpse of a skinny Hispanic girl in the hallway mirrors. Then, it vanished. Impossible. It was that word Moses vowed to remove from his vocabulary. Like all New Year's Resolutions, he was backsliding. The peek-a-boo reflection meant a demon was nearby. Moses had laid down some strict rules to prevent the accidental invitation of a hellspawn. Moses heard girlish laughter coming from the living room.

Luis Enrique Lanza (if he had any right to call himself by that name) watched the news report with bated breath. His grandparents hardly ever saw Luis anymore. Luis could not stand the possibility of them finding out that he had died months ago.

Luis Enrique Lanza considered his death his dirty little secret. How could the God-fearing folks who raised him understand how otherworldly events had conspired to turn him into the fiery undead? Luis gripped the consecrated iron blade behind his back. Many nights, Luis had considered the obvious but always chose life over death.

Luis waxed on about his relationship with the spectrum of life and death, The form of a dark-skinned woman appeared before him. "Remember me?" To maintain a tenuous grip on his sanity, Luis had yet to tell the others about the enhanced senses.

Ever since Luis had returned from the land of the dead, he could see things no one else could. Luis could see the hybrid mix of fairy and demon in the woman's flesh. Considering that the universe only had two such creatures, Luis guessed Aradia had arrived to this humble abode. Wasting no words, Alex Penn charged Aradia head-on.

Without missing a beat, Aradia stepped to the side and tossed Alex against the wall. "Can we please do this without the violence for a change?" Aradia moaned. "You killed my brother. If I wanted to kill you for that, I think I could have done it by now." Undeterred, Alex unsheathed Excalibur and stabbed it into her. "That's right, I know all about your limp little sword, and I had half a mind to introduce a solution to your problem but you want to keep poking me …" Aradia pulled out Alex's blade. "I think I should just leave you fine folks to your business." Aradia curtsied. "Good day."

A heavy crash came from the hallways. "You are not going anywhere, Aradia." Moses signaled to Luis. Without a second thought, Luis plunged the consecrated iron knife into Aradia. Luis sometimes forgot that it had Aradia's true name written on it. Aradia winced as the blade settled in her back. "Two minutes. That is all the time you have to explain yourself and then Luis twists the knife a little deeper into your back."

The creature in the dark female meat suit chuckled. Aradia gave Luis a once-over. "You call it Luis?" Aradia shook her head. "How adorable." Aradia tried to circle Luis but tripped from the sheer pain of a true named knife in her back. "You know he doesn't have his soul?" Luis and Moses nodded. "Still, my brother would appreciate it. You going to the trouble of giving an efreet a home in the corpse of your bestie here."

With great relish, Luis twisted the consecrated iron knife and pulled it across her left kidney. "No more crap." Aradia nodded gingerly. "Good." Luis looked towards Moses. "So, you mentioned something about this arrogant bitch explaining herself?" Moses nodded weakly, overwhelmed by Luis' display of cruelty. "Well, get to it!" Luis leaned in closer. "We can't kill you but that's your loss, not ours. Do you understand?"

Aradia regained her balance as the knife continued to rip into her back. "Yeah, I understand." Aradia sighed. "There is a swordsmith. A very special swordsmith. He fixes swords like yours." Aradia handed Alex a Post-It Note. "That's his contact info." Alex's eyes widened when he read the name. "Do you know this fellow?" Alex nodded.

Luis didn't get a clear view of the name. "Sandalphon lost all his angelic super-powers decades ago but, like Merlin over there, he knows a great deal of magick and remembers how to fix a Sword of Creation." Moses sneered at Aradia. "You don't have to believe me. Just ask him yourself when you get the chance." Aradia turned to Luis.

"Now, if you would kindly remove the blade from my back, I have a long night of healing ahead of me." Luis pulled the blade out of her back. No sooner had he done that, the demonic fairy slipped away into the night sky in the form of an owl in flight.

"I seem to have a lot of uninvited guests these days," Professor Elijah Addams answered Alex Penn's knocking. "Alexander Julius Penn, what a pleasant surprise." Elijah smiled amicably. "I just finished rereading your final exam essay." The elderly professor smiled. "Insightful stuff." Elijah adjusted his glasses as he lifted the papers off his desk. "You might even want to consider expanding it, for publication, I mean."

Alex felt a pair of eyes on him. Alex saw a squat red frog the size of a small dog staring up at him. Alex blinked. It's just a statue. Alex needed to focus. He was about drop a Fat Man caliber bombshell on the old professor. He had no idea how he would react. Elijah offered him a drink. Alex could use a drink but that would have to wait.

Elijah spread his arms out. "What can I do for you?" Alex pulled Excalibur out of his backpack. "Oh, that." Elijah reached for the phone. "I'm calling the police." The professor enunciated as if explaining the situation to a nine-year-old. Alex Penn slapped the phone away. "What right to do have to make demands in my house after I politely yet firmly declined to help your party in this matter." Alex needed to focus.

A little girl walked into the foray rubbing her eyes with one hand and towing a yellow teddy bear in the other. Alex hid Excalibur behind his back. "Sarah, please go back to sleep." Elijah kissed Sarah on the cheek. "Daddy's talking with an old friend."

Sarah nodded absently and went back upstairs. "Judging by that look of terror in your eyes, you think Sarah's my biological daughter." Elijah laughed. "Afraid not. Her mother died giving birth. Sarah's real father doesn't even know she exists. I'm all the family she has. Which gives me one more reason to say 'no' to your asinine offer."

Alex shrugged it off. "You might think that but you'd be wrong." Elijah's right eyebrow arched. "You have a responsibility to protect her. I do not see how snubbing me allows you to do that ... Sandalphon." Elijah smashed his bottle against the table.

Alex had struck a nerve. "I thought you might have certain reservations about helping me but I don't give a damn one way or another. Either you help or you don't. But that doesn't make my death or the deaths of my friends any less your fault if you decide not to help me." Alex looked upstairs. "And, when the bad people come to take Sarah, perhaps, you can tell them why you didn't help the heroes slay the monsters."

Elijah tried to start in but Alex held up his right hand. "Don't even start." Alex shook his head. "I don't know your reasons and I don't care about them." Alex circled Elijah. "You can paint this anyway you want." Alex laughed. "I bet you've killed a lot of people in your day and you think going all vegan on violence will make up for your sins. I know what that feels like. I've lived with your guilt for over a year now. I could barely stand it sometimes. But that doesn't make you any less of a goddamn coward!"

Elijah shook his head. "I said save it. You're not going to help us. That's dandy. Just spare me your condescending 'violence never solved anything' lecture. Because, last time I checked, lying down and dying doesn't do a whole hell of lot of good either."

"He wouldn't do it." Moses Ambrose Penn's eyes watered. Without their heavy artillery, these monsters would win not only the battle but the war. Moses tried to go with other possibilities. Luis still had the consecrated iron knife. Against an efreet, it might even the odds but against demons … Moses didn't have the time or the energy to set up a trap for a quartet of demons. They needed these Swords of Creation online.

Without them, even a pathetic five-man band of flunkies would swipe the floor with them. Hadrian Wallace walked in on the meeting. "I think you guys ought to see this." That never equated good news and, while he had expected bad news, he had not expected anything this far south of "okay." The news reports rambled about new fires.

Unless Moses had misheard, the new fires were just a few blocks north of them. "It smells like the efreet." Haddy gave Luis a sideways glance. "No offense." Luis just shrugged it off. Abby had gone home to check on her mother. That left the four able-bodied kids against one efreet. He did not know why he thought the efreet was alone.

Ever since Moses popped the cork on his third eye, a lot of his random hunches had started coming true. Moses could only hope this was one of them. "Let's move out. We got a job to do." Before he knew it, Moses found himself two blocks away, the Staff of Merlin in one hand and his friends gathered around staring at the blazing inferno.

"He's here. Fan out." Moses couldn't say how it happened. As the detective in a film noir would say, the bastard got the drop on Them. Moses hollered as fire roasted every inch of exposed flesh. Moses collapsed to ground, turning around as he did, his descent to the asphalt a downward corkscrew.

Moses looked up the efreet. Clever boy. The efreet had inked his undead flesh with protective sigils. Regardless of how much he had laughed at Moses, Chuckles obviously took his threats very seriously in private. As the efreet prepared to blast him again, Luis sneaked up behind him. Iron in the grace of God jutted out of his chest. The wards on his body glowed. Chuckles bent his arm in a weird direction and yanked the blade out. Chuckles should be dead now.

As Chuckles prepared to knife Luis, Moses reached out a hand. "No!" The knife flew out of his hand and into a nearby eucalyptus tree. Luis grabbed Moses and carried him off as Chuckles ran away, dripping corrosive blood everywhere on the pavement.

"What the Hell happened?" Alex asked as him and Hadrian ran up to Luis and Moses. Gasping for air, Moses tried to summarize the events as best he could manage at the moment. The efreet knew that he might face off against a wizard again, so he'd loaded his body down with a ton of magical symbols. It explained the augmented fire powers and ability to resist fatal injuries. 'Damn." Alex helped Luis carry his brother.

An hour of sleep, he'd have the hoodoo to heal on his own Kentucky Fried ass. Moses had felt like pointing out that even the most potent protective sigils would not have saved anyone from a wounding blow of a Sword of Creation, but why beat a dead horse? Alex had given it his best shot and the former angel had crapped out on them. Moses winced. He witnessed bits and pieces of burnt flesh flaking onto the cement.

Alexander Julius Penn contemplated the paradox inherent to so-called heroes. Heroes regularly broke the laws of the civilizations they wished to protect. Alex Penn wondered if that suspicious line of reasoning made any sort of non-hypocritical sense.

Alex smashed the broken sword through the windows of Elijah Addams' home office. Certainly, a little B&E would not unravel the fabric of decent society. Besides, Alex needed to have another talk with his old professor before going back into battle.

Elijah Addams, formerly the angel Sandalphon, balanced a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk as he walked out of the kitchen. "You heroes, you just don't know when to quit." Alex drew his broken sword faster than the professor drew his mouth.

"If anything besides English comes out of your mouth, I swear to God I will slit your throat and leave you to bleed out on this beautiful carpet of yours." Fire glowed behind the old man's eyes. Of course, Elijah was angry. No sane person would not be.

"Do not take the Lord's name in vain, your blasphemous whelp!" Elijah placed the tray of cookies and milk on the bottom step of the staircase. Alex kept the broken sword on his throat. Elijah was two thousand years old. He must have plenty of tricks.

"Whelp?" Alex asked. "Now there's a word you don't hear everyday." Alex felt it again. The eyes of the red frog statue stared daggers at him. "Why does it do that?" Alex pointed at the statue. There was no pretending that it wasn't angry on him too.

Elijah Addams suggested that it didn't like him. "Well, I don't like me neither. If I have to kill you over this, I'll like me even less." Elijah grabbed the broken sword. Alex strained to remove the sword from his mojo-enhanced grip. Elijah pressed a red hole into his neck. "If you think the threat of death will make me fix your sword?" The professor dragged the sword a half-inch across Alex throat. "You're sorely mistaken."

A girl with her omnipresent teddy bear rubbed her eyes as she stood at the top of the staircase. "Daddy, where's my milk?" Elijah mouthed the word, No, as the gears started turning in Alex's head. Elijah mouthed three more words, You wouldn't dare.

"Wouldn't I?" Alex looked over at the half-asleep little girl. "Millions of Sarahs are going to die and you expect me to care about yours?" The former angel growled as he tossed aside Alex's broken sword. Elijah lifted him by the throat and slammed him against the wall. Sarah screamed. "It's okay, sweetie." Elijah turned to Sarah. "Daddy just needs to finish up this one tiny chore." Alex pulled out the other half of his sword.

Gripping the duct tape handle, Alex stabbed it into the professor an inch below his heart. Elijah stained the carpet as Alex had predicted he would. "Dammit." Elijah whispered a spell that knitted the wound next to his heart to stop the bleeding. Elijah whispered another spell. Sarah went back to her room without a moment's hesitation.

"Alright, you win." Elijah gathered up the pieces of Excalibur. "I shall fix your Excalibur but it will come at a steep price." Elijah looked deep into Alex's eyes. "I will require a piece of your soul. With that, I can repair Excalibur and the others as well."

Alex was floored by Elijah/Sandalphon's asking price. After a moment of silent contemplation, Alex nodded his head. What choice did he have? "You're a braver man than I. Part of you will never die. If you can't die, you can't reincarnate. Understood?"

Elijah placed the palm of his right hand against his forehead. "This will hurt." Alex felt a blossom of knives fan out from his forehead. Every inch of his body felt like it was being sliced up, the acidic burning of a stab wound without the release of shock.

After another minute of this agony, Alex awoke on the floor of Elijah's kitchen. In the former angel's hands laid the sword Excalibur, made whole by Alex's choice to maim his very soul. "Go forth on your righteous path." Alex returned Excalibur to its sheath. It felt like the sweetest of homecomings. "May God have mercy on your soul."

Moses Ambrose Penn mumbled the Old Angelic incantation for summoning a shade. At that moment, Alex walked in, carrying a blanketed bundle. He unwrapped it, revealing the five Swords of Creation. In the middle laid Excalibur, one piece now, shimmering with power and beauty. Everybody called dibs on their favorite weapon.

Moses got up to grab Durendal but the weight of his injuries brought him back down into the couch. Moses cursed his weakness. Chuckles had firebombed him at the last showdown and the damn smiley faced fire freak-job had a hell of time doing it too.

Moses redoubled his efforts to lift himself out of the couch. Moses wanted some payback in the worst way. No amount of fire damage would stop Moses. Like children playing around with toy swords, the group modeled with their blades, falling into the most improbable of stances as they danced about with swords as old as Creation itself.

Moses would have loved to join the festivities but he barely had the strength to stand, let alone revel in his weapon of choice. Moses had a very important question to ask his brother Alex. Moses shook his head as he looked over his energized Durendal.

"How did you get Elijah to fix Excalibur?" Moses had difficulty referring to him by his former angelic title, Sandalphon. Perhaps, the name "Elijah" helped him seem less imposing. "According to what you saying, Elijah was dead-set about not helping."

A slight smile curled on his face. "Let's just say I figured out the right leverage to apply to a former angel." With that, Alex walked into the center of the living room. "Alright," Alex with a clap to draw everyone's attention. "It's good to see you enjoying your new artillery." Alex paced around in a circle. "Now, let's take the fight to them."

After Alex's brief impersonation of General George Patton, Hadrian, Luis and Abigail walked out of the living room, single file. What the Hell? Something big had happened to Alex and it involved the fixing of Excalibur. Moses' third eye strained to get a read from him. Nothing. Moses promised himself not to let this go. He joined the rest of them outside on the lawn. Moses sheathed Durendal and walked out the door.

Alex hadn't discussed the location of "the enemy" before taking a walk out the Wallaces' front porch. Now, Moses knew why. "The enemy," four demons and one efreet, waited for them in the street with bladed weapons of their own design. "Crap."

The monster gang looked ready to bring down some serious havoc. Then, they caught a glimpse of the opposition's new hardware. In unison, the five scattered. With the Swords of Creation in play now, they could fight these idiotic flunkies one-on-one.

"Intercept," Moses ran down Chuckles. His burnt body radiated with strength. Moses caught up with the fire freak in no time. Moses smiled cruelly. The efreet had smiled back. "You think this is fair?" Chuckles asked as he unsheathed his own blade. "To run down your prey now that he has no reasonable chance of defending himself?"

Moses shook his head. "Freaking monsters," Moses said. "You always save the race card for last." Moses had waited for this moment. "Lan bahaw tardarokh dabib."

Around him, the spirits of those who died in the fires appeared. Chuckles shook his head in disbelief. "Speak truth, abomination." The dead crowded the efreet. "Did you give your prey a chance to defend themselves?" Moses shrugged. "I did not think so."

Chuckles dropped his blade. The spirits speared in and out of him. "Remember earlier when I said that I'd kill you last?" Chuckles nodded. "I lied." Durendal dipped into its chest up to the hilt. "I hope you enjoy your stay in the Outer Dark, bitch boy."

"There is no point in hiding, Herodias," Elijah Addams explained as he stared out the window. "I can see you." Aradia assumed the form of Alicia Alvarado, and sat down at the foot of his bed as he sat next to the dresser drawer. Aradia was laughing.

"That third eye you wizards have always catches me off-guard." Aradia mused as she crossed her legs and gave the former angel her best come-hither look. While a wizard could have infinite power with his Logos magicks, Aradia was often tripped up by their latent abilities, the ones that didn't need words. "Now for the seventy million dollar question, ladies and gentlemen." Aradia smirked. "Why did you help ol' Alex?"

Aradia had witnessed the whole thing. Certainly, Alex had threatened Sarah. It had been an empty threat and, even if I hadn't been, Sandalphon could have killed him five times before he took one step in her direction. "I've seen the same look before in the eyes of another young man. Alex wouldn't have stopped until he had his way."

"Kind of a defeatist attitude," Aradia said with a smile. "That why you let Adolf Hitler stomp across Europe?" Aradia knew her question would push his buttons. "The rumor is that is why the old man clipped your wings." Aradia could practically see the blood boiling up in Sandalphon's veins. "Well, care to comment?" Sandy looked ready.

Sandalphon's eyes lit up. "You have no right to speak about that." Sandalphon tightened his fists. "I did what I thought would save the world." Aradia was floored by his response. Was he trying to get a raise out of her now? Or was he gravely serious?

Aradia laughed. "Save the world?" Aradia grinned. "What, in the name of God, made you think a genocidal anti-Semitic has any interest in saving the world?" Sandy calmed down for a moment. The angel man had an answer for her rhetorical question.

"You have obviously never witnessed the sins of the Patriarchs." Sandy took a turn to pace around Aradia. "I have witnessed men of God cause the ruin of cities and the extermination of barbarian tribes and the Heavenly Host smiled upon their good work." Sandalphon glazed over a bit. "Besides, Hitler couldn't eradicate the Jews. God wouldn't allow it." Sandy sighed. "I thought a little evil could forestall a greater evil."

Sandalphon shook his head. "Adolf did not see it that way. He wanted to crush his enemies even if the world paid for his vengeance." Sandy lifted up his shirt. A scar ran across his stomach. "I tried to stop him but he had a very special spear." Sandy's eyes shifted into a gloomy faraway stare. "For some reason, someone up there saw fit to spare my life and give me a chance to atone for my sins. I like to think it was God."

Sandy smirked. "Do not assume that I helped him in the belief that it might fix the damage I have done." Sandy sighed. "I just didn't want to see another young man consumed by hellfire." The Second World War had been a true masterpiece of human suffering. Hellspawn of all stripes took credit for it. It turned out that Sandalphon, an archangel goody two-shoes, had been the one to nurture the rise of the great dictator.

Sandy believed that his dreams of empire would unite the world under a single banner. Talk about backing the wrong horse. Adolf Hitler came into possession of the Spear of Longinus. By the time Sandalphon had realized what he had created, Adolf had figured out the method of disposing of that pesky angel on his shoulder for good.

Except Sandy didn't die. God (or someone high up on the food chain) repaired his otherwise mortal wound by stripping away his angelic super-powers. "I can leave if you so desire," Aradia offered as she turned into an owl form. Sandy shook his head.

"No, you may stay," Sandy said in an empty defeated voice. "No matter what I do, people suffer for it." Sandy stared out the window as if looking for God. It were the strangest thing, seeing a prophet who had met God to now wonder if he was out there.

"Why do you still look after Eric's daughter?" Aradia heard the child breathing in the next room. "The Eric you knew no longer exists." In fact, Eric Weiss was a host of Beelzebub after a lifetime of sin warranted him a trip to the ultimate downstairs.

Sandalphon let the slight curl of a smile. "Eric Weiss," Sandy said with a deep sigh. "He asked me to look after her in case …" In case, those dark magicks swallowed up his soul and aggravated his deteriorating mental condition. "I promised I would."

Aradia hooted. "Eric's dead, you know." Sandalphon nodded knowingly. "Eric's last moments were gripped with insanity. He did not die well either. He died insane." Aradia rested on the windowsill. "Does it ever make you sad to think you always back the truly lost causes?" Aradia winked at Sandalphon. "I'll leave with your thoughts."

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