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Shortest-Lived Profession

"Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth." – Will Rogers

With all the penmanship of a kindergartner, Moses Ambrose Penn drew the shape of a hexagon. Accompanied by nightmarish imagery, the black hexagon looked like the mouth of some carnivorous beast. "Hi, beautiful," Moses said to the hexagonal mouth.

Moses never considered himself much of an artist. So he took his time because one wrong detail and his cage might as well be bars spaced three feet apart. It took a lot to hold a demon. Moses could only hope two weeks in a coin had taken some of the fight out of him. Moses didn't know anything about him other than the fact that he'd allowed himself to be captured when his three comrades fled. What're you angling at?

Moses placed the silver denarius in the center of the hexagon mouth, right on the tip of its tongue. Moses had never gone at this blind before. He did not even know its true name or its biography. Nonetheless, Moses started chanting. Valac joined in.

Moses had opted to invite Valac inside. He was not the Friendly Neighborhood Demon he portrayed himself as. Moses knew that but Valac had what philosophers call "enlightened self-interest." The demon would not betray anyone so long as his loyalty yielded better results. Staying out of the fire rape-fest downstairs was a better result.

That and Moses needed the inside track on this unidentified demonic peon. An ancient demon fluent in Old Angelic, Valac knew these spells inside and out. Moses, a neophyte in the really heavy stuff, had the battery power to fuel such strong magicks.

Relax. Moses loosened his grip on the Staff of Merlin. Moses needed to relax. A demon trapped in that dusty old coin was their prisoner. Moses was the guard with all the keys. Bringing this bag of trouble into the house qualified as an invitation. If this went south, Moses needed to activate the contingency in place for containing or killing the creature. It was hard enough to fight a demon without it having a backstage pass.

The demon slipped into the house as innocent as a breeze. Moses had done his homework. He knew this thing wasn't going to look like a red horned devil. What this demon actually looked like was a chiroptophobe's nightmare, a black bat the size of a Great Dane with only one red wing. His face reminded Moses of a cathedral gargoyle.

"I might not have anything you humans would call flesh but it still feels great to stretch my wing." Its one leathery wing swung around in circles. "Hexagon, huh?" The demon's mouth formed a vicious toothy grin. "Plan on doing any MMA fighting?" The demon looked down at the silver coin. "I see you have no problem with stealing." The demon smirked. "It is good to see modern heroes with such a strict code of honor."

The demon shook his head. "Tell me, chief. If this coin already had a demon in it, would you released him in order to trap me?" Swing and a miss. A demon guilt trip was not going to work on him for the same reason a snail was not going to race in the Indy 500. The demon was out of his league. Moses had done far worse than steal shiny trinkets.

Moses had extracted the old coin from the belongings of the late Simon Blaise. This particular Roman coin had belonged to a set of thirty such cursed items. "C'mon, Moses. Let me out of here." Moses' heart race. "I mean it, let me go or, when I find my own way out, I'm going straight down to the pits to wait in line for Eager Irene's show. Girls like your mom get it a hundred times a day down there. Nonstop performances."

Valac snapped Moses out of his trance. "Don't listen to him. Demons can never resist the dead-blank-getting-blanked-in-blank shtick. They get off on it, especially a worthless piece of garbage like Abezethibou here." The demon's eyes widened. "That's right, I know your name and I know your true name too. So let's skip The Exorcist BS and get down to brass tacks. No more tricks, threats, or lies. What's going down, Abe?"

Abe roared at Valac. Actually roared at him. "Lucifer is what going down, you Uncle Tom human wannabe." The name sucked the air out of the room. "And he will see your death when he finds out what you've done to betray your brothers-in-arms."

Moses twirled the Staff of Merlin over his head. "Recess is over, kids." With the heartstone in hand, Moses the words of entrapment. "You're going back into my piggy bank." Valac dug his chicken feet into the carpet. "This time, you're not coming back."

The demon bared his fangs. "Go ahead, chief. Lock me up and throw away the key. You can lock me up but you can't lock up the truth." Abe chuckled. "Guess who's coming to dinner?" Abezethibou was in stitches as the denarius sucked him up. "And guess who's dinner?" With that, the mouthy one-winged bat demon was coined again.

Alexander Julius Penn wanted the New Round Table to stay online. "We can't back down now," Alex explained to Moses. "People need us." In truth, Alex didn't care all that much about the murders, as awful as that sounded. He didn't know them and they should have known the risks of signing up. Of course, Moses couldn't exactly put up a disclaimer about demons and decapitations. Everyone would think it was a joke.

A distress had came in over the website. Somebody lost his little sister near the Weiss Salvage Yard. Everyone acted like the sister in question never existed. It was a side-effect of getting tossed into Purgatory. Dad had destroyed that wormhole months ago. The entire location was stable now. A new wormhole couldn't have formed there.

Alex drove the GMC Sonoma. The others followed in the Chevy Malibu. Moses eyeballed him from the passenger seat of his own truck. He suspected something. In a last-ditch effort to fix Excalibur, Alex had sacrificed a portion of his soul. According to the former angel wizard who had performed the procedure, Alex might have forfeited his ability to reincarnate. He might have Descended. His next death could be his last.

"The Fleet," as he jokingly referred to it as, arrived in the Weiss Salvage Yard, the site of numerous battles in their war against the Sons of Darkness. When all this was over, someone should this junkyard into a museum. Something doesn't feel right. Like a change in the wind that brought with it radioactive dust. He popped the trunk.

Moses rose the Staff of Merlin in the air. Moses could feel it too. Samuel Nixon, age eighteen, had promised to meet them there. Sonya Nixon, age ten, had vanished. Their meeting was his best chance of finding his little sister and he was running late.

"Perhaps, he has forgotten here by now." Alex went through the portal, Moses, a powerful half-demon wizard, had to fight to keep his memory alive. Sam must have forgotten Sonya. Just like everybody else did ... "Why have we not forgotten her too?"

A shadow here. A shadow there. They moved too quickly. "This is not our first rodeo," Alex reminded the others. "Track them, find them, kill them." Then, a gallery of the dead emerged. Mordred stepped out from behind the rusted-out shell of a black VW beetle. Morgan le Fay hid behind her hulking son/nephew. Eric Weiss appeared.

A veritable Who's Who of everybody they had killed. As Alex just stood there, his brother Moses took the initiative. "Everybody close your eyes." Alex clenched his eyes shut. "That should hold them." Alex looked to see the three blind from the light.

"I thought we killed them." Alex considered using Luis as a flamethrower. Luis was in no condition to be his big gun right now. After all, this was the closest Luis had been to the sorceress Morgan le Fay. That bitch was the reason Luis couldn't take off his sunglasses anymore. That bitch was the reason Luis couldn't be considered living.

If they ran through them, they could get to the Fleet, and drive out of here. Or, if they were feeling lucky, they could make a break for it and lose them in a crowd. He opted for the latter. "Run!" The five of them poured into a surprisingly crowded street for a Monday. It didn't matter to them. An old man with a handlebar mustache got in Mordred's way. He planted his machete in his stomach and then yanked it out of him.

A young couple hit the pavement. Eric had slashed them open with a pair of butterfly knives. Belong long, the three had them cornered in an alley behind what a the PC-minded person might refer to an erotic entertainment retailer. The last stand of the New Round Table, fought in the back alley behind this adult video store. Great.

Moses made a choking noise. Mordred's machete had pierced his chest. "No." It was like a slow-motion nightmare. A butterfly knife dug into Hadrian's left eye. Abby, almost getting the drop on Eric, caught the other butterfly knife right below her chin.

"I guess that leaves me with the leftovers," Morgan le Fay teased. Luis' fire-red quietly challenged them to come closer. Fire filled the alley. Luis stared down the trio of murderers with the eyes of a monster. Luis was ready to return the gesture in kind.

"Leave or die." Could they magick faster than Luis could? Morgan nodded. The old witch signaled the others to depart. Eric's theatrical puff of smoke swallowed them up. A tall gaunt woman stepped out of the back door of the adult video story, a crying, sobbing baby in her arms. The machete and the knives popped out of the dead bodies.

The wounds of his fallen friends knitted themselves. Air filled their lungs. "You are very lucky Tina's babysitter canceled on me." The woman (name-tag read Lailah) cooed as she dried Tina's tears on her red polo shirt. "Her hangover saved your lives."

"What did you see?" Nurses sometimes asked the question to patients who had, for all medical purposes, been dead. Any other answer besides the one with that white light at the end of a dark tunnel gave people the creeps. The patients who saw hellfire probably didn't talk about it much. Much like life, death carried certain expectations.

Abigail Kathleen Vennard hadn't seen anything. No white light. Nothing. Just the blank screen-saver one might expect from full-on brain death. Of course, being an Ascended meant her sojourn to the afterlife would be an unusually long one for Abby.

Much like life, death had a way of defying the simplest of expectations. Spasms of pain jolted through her body. This sensation of life took hold of her. Air rushed into her lungs. Abby opened her eyes. The shadows of a narrow alley wedged between that adult video store and an adjacent apartment complex shielded her eyes from the sun.

Impossible. Abby clutched her neck. Abby couldn't even feel the hole where the knife had plunged into her anymore. Abby saw the bloodied knife resting on top of an equally bloodied blouse. Their gracious host had supplied Abigail a purple tank top off the rack. Abby held the bloodied knife in her hands, unsure of what to do with it. As if possessed by some alien intelligence, Abby flicked the butterfly knife open and closed.

Abby flinched as her own blood sprayed into her face. Weapons and violence, a combination very common among the fairy folk who found themselves mortal for that first time after the Fall. Fairies who could not defend themselves were the first to die. Even after securing immortality, Danu made sure her offspring could hold their own.

Abby wiped the knife clean and pocketed it. She was going to return this to the owner, one way or another. Abby had seen the others waking up. Her death happened last. Which meant she had witnessed the other deaths before hers. Abby had seen the others. An old guy with an old-timey mustache and a young couple were reviving too.

What the Hell? Their host, a strange woman with a baby in her arms, led them through the backdoor of this appropriately named Sanctuary Adult Videos & Books. The woman introduced herself but Abby could not make out the name over the sound of her own skull ringing like a church bell. Stay cool. This is literally all in your head.

Everything around her vibrated in and out of focus. Abby felt like a moviegoer watching an old film on a rickety projector. Nothing was making any good sense. This was beyond pathetic. Reborn Arthurian legends were taking refugee in a sleaze shop.

Never mind that a random event had saved them from certain death. Now, the lives of everyone here depended on some baby momma and her mysterious ways. Not exactly their best outing on record. Still, Abby did not have the wherewithal to judge. Abby could barely walk a straight line, let alone deconstruct this unbelievable savior.

Abby's brain could barely process information and yet her few thoughts flocked to Alex. The jerk never got the memo, but she only dated Xander because of his many improbable similarities to him. He was a dream come true. Alex Penn without all the baggage. So, of course, a mad demon inside an equally angry killer beheaded Xander.

Then, it struck Abby all at once. She had died. That made her dead and yet the show went on with her going through the motions of life like some wind-up toy soldier. Would the world end if she went up to Alex right now and kissed him on the lips? The likely result of that would be Alex suspecting his brother of casting another love spell on her? Abby could care less. Resurrection was turning her into a very horny nihilist.

Hadrian poked at a shelf of adult DVDs. It was a brain-addled yet effective way of regaining his spatial awareness. Moses gripped the sides of his head, and banged it against the wall next to the fire alarm. A Fonzarelli Fix for his half-functioning head. The titles of pornos jumped in and out of her brain. Abby flailed around and fell over.

The spindly skinhead/crackhead planted at the bottom of the stairs gave Alex's motley crew a weary look. The apartment complex where Lailah Loman and her rock and roll boyfriend Richard Skeane lived looked like the setting of all those "scare-'em-straight" anti-drug ads. Lailah Loman raced up ahead of them with Tina in her arms.

Lailah gave the door to her apartment three knocks, two short, one long. High-paranoia spy routine for a couple of down-and-out twenty-something-year-olds. "They know about Tina," Lailah said in a stage whisper. The guy on the other side cursed at the door. Half a minute passed in silence as Lailah waited on a response from her BF.

Rick sighed. "Bring them in, hon." The door opened. Inside resided a tall fellow who could have passed for a Wookiee at a Star Wars convention. The hulk gentleman offered up his phoniest smile and presented him with a cold beer. "Drink?" No and no.

The edge in Rick's voice could have cleave the atoms off a molecule. Clearly, he was trying to be a good host, but was secretly hoping that God was aiming a lightning bolt at them, ready to strike them all dead a second time. Time to play politician here.

Alex cleared his throat. "I just want to say I appreciate what you've done for us and I understand the risks involved in helping us." Rick shook his head. Alex was the king of English. Alex had won over lords. Now, he could not leverage one malcontent.

Rick Skeane laughed. "I don't think you understand shit." A look of panic came over Lailah. "Christina's safety is the only thing that matters to us." Lailah had Rick. Her grip was her silent plea to deescalate the situation. "I would never sacrifice that."

Rick stomped out of the living room into the hallway leading to their bedroom. "Charming." Hadrian laid Fragarach on the coach next to the television. "If you don't mind." Lailah shook her head. "Thank you very much." Lailah put Tina in her cradle.

Alex said nothing. Despite what Rick thought, Alex knew fear all too well. Fear was working overtime. Hours had passed since the first attack. They hadn't retrieved the GMC Sonoma or the Chevy Malibu for fear of walking into an ambush. This place was only a couple black from there. Their second attack was inevitable and imminent.

"How does she do it?" Alex hadn't meant for that question to sound so rude and accusatory. The baby girl had saved their lives somehow. Alex was in leader mode. In dangerous situations, the fewer unknown variables in play, the better. "What is she?"

Lailah looked at Luis. "What is he?" Alex stared at Lailah, confused. "I'm quite the old-timer despite my girlish figure and I don't think I've ever heard of a good guy efreet." Lailah smirked. "So, just between us girls, how did you train your dog there?"

Luis growled at her, a self-defeating reply to someone who thought of him as a dog. Alex shrugged. "The Elvira bitch who killed my brother killed my best friend too. Except, when Luis came back, he had an efreet in him. The efreet thinks he's the guy whose corpse he's inhabiting. It's like a reverse possession ... if that makes any sense."

Lailah clicked her tongue. "It makes perfect sense." Lailah looked over at Tina, fast asleep in her cradle. "As for your question, you better sit down for this." The lot of them found a seat on the couch. The thing was big enough to seat an army. "My baby is only half human." Lailah sighed. "I guess she has me to thank for that." Alex's arm went for his sword without thinking. "Hold on there, Monty Python, I'm not a demon."

Lailah shrugged. "I'm not a monster either. I'm an angel, sort of. It's a bit hard to explain. You see, I drank this potion. I was told it would make me human. I guess it only made me mortal. Technically speaking, I'm still an angel. So, Tina is half angel."

Hadrian nodded. "That potion you drank was made from the apples of the Tree of Conscience." Lailah nodded, surprised that he knew that. "Christina could be cured of her condition. All you would have to do is find some more of those specialty apples."

Lailah smirked. "They're in the freezer next to the frozen pizzas." That look on Haddy's face was priceless. "You have no idea how many times I planned to take away her powers and give Tina a fighting chance to live her life as a normal human being."

Lailah chuckled. "If I had gone through with it, you and your friends would be, as they say in Oz, not only merely dead but really, most sincerely dead." Lailah had a warm smile on her face. "If my Tina wants to get rid of her powers when she grows up, it will be her call, not mine." Lailah smirked. "If you had kids, you would understand."

"What is that?" Lailah Loman looked down at his little art project in progress. Still a little disorientated from his Lazarus makeover, Moses had not thought to gain her permission before defacing her plastic bowl. Moses continued writing on the bowl.

"It's the Bowl of Psyche." It was a piece of fairy magick a former angel wouldn't have had any reason to know about. "The enemy uses a lot of demons. Any hellspawn trying to saunter in here and take us out will have to walk bodily through that door." Moses tapped on the center of his forehead. "And, if they do that, I will know about it."

Lailah shook her head. "I meant your hand." Lailah pointed at the scar where the ring finger on his right hand should be. "It looks like something bit it off." Angels. Tact must have been a human invention. Moses tried not to sound too bitter about it.

"Something did bite it off." Lailah wondered why Moses didn't just grow back a new one. A powerful wizard like himself could have done in a month, tops. "I tried to." Moses laughed. "It didn't take. Monster's saliva contained a hex. I nearly lost the arm trying to get back one finger." Moses still had nightmares about the terrifying ordeal.

Lailah bit her lower lip. "You're wasting your time, you know?" Lailah hunched down and looked him in the eye. "I would never invite a demon into my house." Moses almost laughed at the certainty in her voice. Moses caught it in time. Silly angel girl.

"Demons don't play fair." Moses looked down the hallway. "They play tricks." A casual glance revealed an empty hallway. "You have to play them too or they win and we lose." Moses continued to write down all the arcane symbols in permanent marker.

"That's strange." Lailah circled Moses. "You of all people having an 'us-versus-them' attitude towards demons." Lailah bit her lower lip. "I mean, you are part demon yourself, aren't you?." He tried not to let it show but it scared him that she knew that.

Moses smirked. "Which one of these guys told you that?" Moses looked around. "I don't like spreading the news of my mixed heritage." Moses finished up the last bit. The Bowl of Psyche was ready to intercept demon scumbags. "It complicates things."

Lailah shook her head. "None of them told me. Your auras became visible during revivification. When my Tina raised your friends, they gave off blue auras like any human would. You gave off a purple aura. Since demons have red ones, I figured purple means half and half." Lailah had a good head on her shoulders.

"Clever." Moses got up from his work to retrieve some primer. "Your story ... it's been bothering me." Lailah's left eyebrow arched. "If God kicked you out of His house, how come your blood still had angel mojo in it?" God should have cleaned Lailah out.

Lailah shook her head as if admonishing a kindergartner's math skills. "That's because nobody kicked me out." Lailah laughed. "God begged me to stay. Imagine it." Lailah shook her head. "The progenitor of the known universe begging lowly old me."

Lailah nodded. "Do you know the story of the Crucifixion?" Moses Penn nodded. "Well, as the soldiers led Jesus out of the Garden of Gethsemane, the Son of God shed a single tear in remorse of Judas' betrayal." Lailah paused. "Somehow, I'm that tear."

Moses collected another paint can. "I do not even know if you could rightly call me an angel. I mean, I can do the things the other angels can do. I guess that makes me an angel. God was convinced. He introduced me to the rest of the family upstairs."

Lailah looked over at Tina. "I always wanted a family of my own. To do that, I would have to break with the Protocols of Michael." Lailah smirked. "Trust me when I say, nobody breaks the law in Heaven and gets away with it. Not on Michael's watch."

Moses opened his third eye. The bluish-white aura coming off Christina nearly blinded him. "And then, there's God. He's the good cop to Michael's bad cop. God, he's gentle and merciful but He won't lift a finger to save you if Michael catches you first."

Moses looked at the bluish aura of Christina Loman. "I never understand that. God is ... well, God. He doesn't have to take any crap from some angel with a Napoleon Complex." Moses pondered the riddle out loud. "Why doesn't lock him up or something?"

Lailah shook her head. "It's not that easy, Moses. Michael gets results. People fear God. But, deep down, they know His love outweighs His wraith. Then, there is Michael. His love for God is expressed as unyielding brutality against transgressors of divine law."

Moses clicked his tongue. "A single father too weak to rein in on his sociopath eldest son." Moses finished the last stroke on the Bowl of Psyche. "It's a broken home." Lailah flinched at Moses' glib assessment of the Heavenly Host. "No wonder you left."

Lailah looked over the Bowl of Psyche. "I didn't leave because of that. I believe Heaven would be empty if the angels had it in them to rebel like that. No. Lucifer and Azazel led rebellions and look what happened to them. And, if you did leave, where in the world would you go? To Hell? Trade Howlin' Mad Mickey for the Fab Four? Earth? Getting your wings would take you off Michael's radar but then you would be mortal."

Richard Skeane entered the kitchen in search of alcohol. Lailah looked on with love in her eyes. What could you have to gain that would justify losing an eternal life of heavenly beauty and majesty?" Moses looked over at Rick and then back at Lailah.

Moses shook his head. "You risked getting Michael's Sword shoved up your ass. You gave up the ability to turn water into wine for Chewbacca over there?" Lailah did not see the insanity in that. "Women." Moses pulled up a folding chair next to the door.

Moses hadn't mentioned to Lailah that he had tried the Bowl of Psyche back in New York. It hadn't work. Then again, Moses did not have Durendal back then. It did work in the sense that the demon did have to go through the front door. Granted, that did not slow him down in the least nor kept him from shooting Abigail in the stomach.

Moses could only hope it would work better than it did the last time. Despite an admittedly low opinion of Sasquatch over there, Lailah had a dream. Moses wished to protect that dream. In these moments, he remembered being Merlin, helping out an overwhelmed boy take his place as king, so he might live his dream of a perfect world.

"How did you know?" Alexander Julius Penn asked Lailah, apropos of nothing. "How did you know that you and that guy belonged together." Alex had grown weary. Alex's shift watching the hallway in their apartment yielded nothing except boredom.

"I didn't." Lailah was unusually forthcoming for someone wont to keep so many secrets. "I still don't." Lailah took a seat on the floor next to Alex. "I likely never will." Lailah smirked. "But Richard did something that no one else ever has: Rick made me believe that I would always have someone by my side; that, no matter how hard it got or how many obstacles we faced, Rick would stick it up. My very own guardian angel."

Alex wished aloud that he had somebody like that. "You probably do, and don't know it." Lailah looked over at Abigail Vennard. "That is how these things work. A lot of hide-and-seek followed by truth-or-dare. It'll all end well as long you don't give up."

Alex bowed his head. Therein lied the rub. He had given up. He had given up a piece of his own soul and jeopardized the possibility of another life with his beloved. It sickened Alex. He had sacrificed true love in the name of violence. "That's wrong, Alex?"

Alex took a deep breath. "Nothing," he lied. "You're just the nicest angel I have ever met." Alex could only hope flattery would distract her. Alex did not want the first person he told about his deal with Sandalphon to be a complete stranger. "That's all."

Lailah shrugged. "Well, you're the nicest monster hunters I have ever met." In these quiet moments, it was hard to believe how quickly things could go south. "It is a hard thing to do, always looking over your shoulder, wondering if this is the day your past finally catches up with you. I prepare for ninety percent of everything that is out there. It's not enough. At times ... I do regret bringing my little angel into this world."

Alex shot up straighter than a yardstick. "Don't say that." Alex shook his head. "We'll protect her." Alex unsheathed Excalibur. "It's what we do." Alex had sacrificed. So much. Too much to allow any slaughtering of innocents to take place on his watch. Alex checked the time. Alex went down the hall and knocked on Tina's door. When no one answered, Alex charged in with the sword drawn. Inside was Tina and her father.

Alex recognized Rick's muttonchops and long brown hair. "I'm sorry; you didn't answer, so I thought ..." Rick remained silent. "Listen, it doesn't matter. Are you okay in here by yourself?" Rick nodded without looking away from Tina. "Alright. See you."

Alex returned to the kitchen. A metal object flew at his head. Alex caught it. It was a beer can. "Peace offering." Alex's eyes dilated. Rick cracked open a cold beer. "It was stupid of me to act like such a douche earlier." Rick shrugged. "No hard feelings?"

Alex made a mad dash back to Tina's room, his sword flaying. Alex lunged out. Alex's sword swung wide. The counterfeit Rick grabbed the sword. "No low blows." The fake Rick yanked Alex into the drywall. The guise of Rick vanished. It was the rather noticeable skinhead/crackhead they had meant on the way up here. "It's a good thing, Merlin was too busy with his traps to notice the switch." He lifted Tina out of her crib.

Alex was shocked. There was only one creature in the known universe powerful enough to pull the wool over a wizard's eyes. "I killed you." Moreover, he had sent this demon to the Outer Dark, a one-way trip unless ... "You came over the Key of Hecate."

Lord Belial gave Alex a golf clap. "Bravo." Lord Belial pressed a finger against the baby's forehead. The crying stopped. "I should kill you." Lord Belial grinned. "But I think I could do better than that." The monster jumped out the window with Tina in his arms. He landed, cracking open the sidewalk. "Until we meet again." He got away.

Luis finished melted through the doorknob. Alex waited on the other side, with bad news. Lord Belial had gotten the drop on him. Christina Loman was stolen out of her crib. "Dammit," Moses Ambrose Penn realized. Lailah had bulls-eyed his one flaw in his plans. He had spent so much time focusing on demons that he had not factored in the presence of a half-demon half-fairy god who lorded over an army of the Fallen.

"Bastard tricked me." Moses clutched his sinuses. Lailah flailed about like she had been set her on fire. The deep retching heaves of her sobs reminded Moses of how he had dropped the ball. Her screams at them, condemnations of their incompetence, came out in loud incoherent screams. Her child belonged to monsters thanks to them.

Lord Belial's tactics had changed. Though he had the same abilities of his twin sister, he had never used his shape-shifting like this before. The idea of evil evolving didn't set well with him. Moses needed to make up for lost ground. "Password?" Moses asked as he went to their computer. "Password!" Rick was too busy comforting Lailah.

Rick shook his head and then answered. "Earth Angel." Moses grinned. Clever if a bit on the predictable side. Moses entered the password. Moses could hear it, that familiar tick-tock of a time bomb winding down with each wasted second. Moses Penn needed to get this show on the road. Before the bad guys did something really awful.

Considering they had already kidnapped a baby, really awful would have to be supremely nasty. A crowd gathered around the monitor as he searched for any large nearby cemeteries. "Eric Weiss likes raising the dead and isn't a big fan of subtlety." Moses cracked his neck. "He'll be on the lookout for the largest cemetery he can find. Then, he will raise as many dead people as he can. I just need to find that cemetery."

Moses made it sound so easy. The confidence of his delivery masked the many screaming uncertainties of this plan. So many variables to work out, so little time. In the minutes they had to figure out what to do next, there wasn't even time to consider half the unknowns. Moses Penn surfed the web, hoping against hope to catch a break.

"What do we have here?" Moses clicked the link. "Colchester, a town just a few miles from here. Over two-thirds of the land devoted to fourteen cemeteries. The dead outnumber the living nine hundred to one there." Moses smiled. "We have a winner."

Alex smirked. "How do you suppose we get there." Alex looked around. "None of us have our vehicles and we can't all fit in Lailah's Monte Carlo." Moses nodded. The plan, if Moses could rightly call it a plan, would require more than one automobile. "I think we all know that, if we try to show up there on foot, they will just kill us. Again."

Moses had considered that. "If I'm right, the Sons of Darkness have abandoned their position at the junkyard." Moses turned the idea over in his head. "It is entirely possible that, in their haste, they left the Fleet unguarded and in working condition."

Somehow convinced by the metric ton of horse crap spewing out of Moses' word- hole, Alex went into full deployment mode. A bipartite plan was set in motion. Firstly, they would get back their vehicles. Secondly, we would get to Colchester on the double.

It sounded simple enough. At least, simpler than comforting a grieving mother on the verge of complete hysteria. "We'll get your daughter back and kill the bastards who did this pro bono." Lailah grabbed his right arm. There was a fire behind her eyes.

"Just get my Tina back in one piece," Lailah said in a deep gravel in her voice. "I have no need for revenge and neither should you. I just want what my baby back." Moses weighed her words carefully. They needed to leave. Moses readied his staff and sword. Christina's safe return was the first priority. Everything else, a distant second.

Thank God for small miracles, Alexander Julius Penn thought. The gang did, in fact, find the car and the truck unguarded. Just as his brother Moses had said they would. The plan to rescue Tina from her captors had enough holes in it without losing a reliable means of transportation. Their mission was under way. Colchester or bust.

During the drive to the ominously nicknamed "Cemetery City," Moses took the time to unload upon him his new discoveries. Alex wanted Moses to open up about his wheels within wheels, but learning the many things he'd kept from him left him cold.

Lucifer had returned from the Outer Dark. Moses mow had this magick coin he had stolen from a dead wizard's coffin. All important things Alex should have known before he led his friends into a slaughter. Before Alex Penn had come close enough to Death to smell its breath and know what it had for breakfast. Alex was a bit annoyed.

They had more than a dozen boneyards to sift through to find Lord Belial and Company. Strapped for time and options, Alex went with the most obvious cemetery. Heaven's Gate Cemetery. Surely, Lord Belial would have made the very same choice.

Alex had a gift for thinking like the enemy. Moses had it too. Sadly, his demon heritage made him weary of even the most tenuous ties to his infernal enemies. Alex arrived to a familiar sense, a flat empty landscape beset with eerie silence "It's a trick and I'm not falling for it." Alex looked over at his knights. "Stay frosty. Belial is here."

Luis lit his hands on fire. Alex approved. The enemy had likely developed a bit of a phobia of their efreet, a tangible symbol of everything they didn't know and could not predict. "Belial." Luis paced between the grave markers. "Come out, you son of a bitch."

Luis shut off his fireworks. Luis looked back at Alex. "Nobody here," Luis said. Luis crumbled to the ground, a machete buried in his back. "Help me." Luis fell over. Mordred and the rest of Belial's assassins emerged from a mausoleum. Still holed up in that skinhead from earlier, Lord Belial cradled tiny Tina in his arms. "Let her go."

Lord Belial nodded. "Of course." Lord Belial smirked. "Right after I've drained every last drop of blood in her body." Lord Belial gazed over at Alex. "You're welcome to watch if you like." Lord Belial licked his lips. Eric Weiss screamed. A knife dug into his inner thigh. A glint of satisfaction in Abby's eyes. Eric whimpered as he retreated.

The fight reached an impasse. Alex didn't know why Moses didn't raise shades against Morgan le Fay or why she hadn't done the same. Wizards and witches played their cards close to the chest. Indeed, the masters of the dark arts often supplied their own darkness. Whatever tricks they had up their sleeves, their battle had stalled out.

Moses had once explained the difficulty of learning magick from books, instead of people. Wizards often wrote grimoires as riddles, their true power, if any, nested in pages of gibberish and red herrings. A wizard might have better luck learning spells out of a phone book than a spellbook. Spellbooks with actual spells in them were quite rare.

Lord Belial stepped forward. No matter what happened, a leader's magic came from never letting the enemy know one's thoughts. He should always act as if nothing was a surprise, as if everything was happening according to a plan. Alex had no small amount of trouble pretending that a black Monte flattening a dozen or so headstones, and sending the Lord Belial flying a good ten yards was part of any plan on his part.

Richard Skeane piled out of the passenger seat and grabbed Tina. Lailah took the car out of first gear and tore out of the cemetery faster than the Devil. "You think you've won?" Lord Belial asked as he got up. "I've only just begun." Out of the ancient mausoleum shambled a dozen walking corpses, dead eyes trained on them. "Sic them."

Luis set the corpses ablaze. "I though you could do better than that?"

Lord Belial pointed over Alex's shoulder. "I did." Alex turned around to see his dead mother rotting a few paces from him. "I had to go out of my way for her but I'm a sucker for family reunions." Mom grabbed Alex by the throat as the others saw to the other zombies. "You can't do it, can you?" Mom tightened her dead hands around his neck. "You can't kill your own mother." Alex stabbed her in the heart with his sword.

"My mother is already dead." Alex wiped the congealed blood out of Excalibur. "You had her killed." Moses tossed Alex the coin. Alex flipped it into the air. "I should kill you." Lord Belial snatched the denarius away. "But I think I could do better than that." Alex chanted the magic words. Old Abe looked surprised by his sudden freedom.

Which lasted all of three seconds. Beelzebub's bat-boy slid off Excalibur like a chunk of pork cleaved off a dead pig, Alex palmed the denarius and rose it in the air. "I have your leader," Alex announced. "He gets to live as long as you stay away from us." Morgan readied to call his bluff. "Careful," Alex warned as he pocketed the coin.

"I'm not kidding, you guys. You leave or he dies. I do not care which." Morgan, Mordred and Eric dispersed, not the wiser that Alex couldn't have killed Lord Belial in this state if he wanted to. Abby finished up the last of the living dead with a mercy blow to the head with Kladenets. Alex sighed. The denarius gave off an ungodly heat.

Contrary to popular belief, not all monsters could regenerate instantaneously from non-fatal injuries. For example, sans high-end celestial weaponry, efreets could only die from nerve damage inflicted by consecrated iron. Truth enough but that did not necessarily mean they could just shrug off machetes buried in their spinal cords.

Moses Ambrose Penn examined the scars from where Morgan le Fey had killed Luis after torturing him. Those scars resembled the alphabet of some dead forgotten language. That fresh gaping wound in his back would undergo the same scarification, bringing Luis' body that much closer to a work of art. Luis would be back in business.

It would take a while but there wasn't much he could do to speed up the process other than sew up the hole and laying down a few layers of intensive healing magick. Moses looked over at Lailah Loman, her boyfriend Richard Skeane and their growing collection of suitcases. "Going somewhere?" Moses asked, half-joking and half-serious.

"We can't stay here," Lailah declared. Moses nodded solemnly. Only bad things and worse things would happen if the two love birds and their little angel stayed here in this burg. Alex holding their leader hostage was the only reason they hadn't come back to finish the job. Moses Penn had given Christina Loman a clean bill of health.

Besides a few drops of blood they had extracted to reanimate a few corpses to a state of semi-living, the Sons of Darkness had not harmed their child. "Here," Lailah handed Moses a bag of frozen apples. "I want you to have them." Moses could hardly suppress his joy. "Be careful though; one-way trip to Dudsville for whoever eats one."

Moses could think of a hundred and one uses for this dose of mortality. Lailah patted him on the back. "Take care of yourself, Magic Man. It looks like the fate of the world rests on your shoulders." Moses looked at the others. At least, he was not alone.

Moses reflected on what had happened in the last twenty-four hours. They had died at the hands of their enemies. They had received a Lazarus reboot from Tina Ex Machina. They had risked life and limb to save a miracle baby from a band of devils.

Now, to end this day on a high note, they had Lord Belial, the Big Bad himself, trapped in a piece of silver. Moses caught Abigail Vennard looking over at Alex. This wasn't the first time he had caught either of them checking each other. Moses nudged Alex in the ribs. "It kind of makes you want to start a family of your own, does it not?" Moses patted Alex on the shoulder. "No rush. Who knows what the future will bring?"

Alex had a glassy-eyed look on his face. "I do not have a future." Moses sighed. Alex always picked the worst time to get confessional. "I need to get something off my chest but I didn't know who to tell or in what order. So, I'm telling first. Is that okay?"

Alex drummed his fingers on a kitchen table of Lailah Loman's soon-to-be-ex-apartment. Alex hadn't drummed his fingers since the fifth grade. A sign of anxiety. "When Sandalphon repaired Excalibur, he needed something from me." Alex shook his head. "It was a piece of my soul. Part of me will never die. If I can't die, I can't reincarnate."

Moses' eyes dilated. "It didn't seem like a big deal at the time. The world might be coming to an end. What difference does it make if I don't get another sequel?" The bile in his stomach was rising up his throat. How could he have done this to himself?

"You need to get out of my face. Now." Moses growled. "I died for you. Hadrian died for you. Abby died for you. Luis almost died twice for you. But you didn't do this for us. You did this for you. You wanted out. You found a way out. You obviously don't give a damn about yourself, so why should we?" Moses stomped off, sick with disgust.

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