Death, Disease And War
"A hero is someone who rebels against the facts of existence and seems to conquer them. Obviously that can only work at moments. It can't be a lasting thing. That's not saying that people shouldn't keep trying to rebel against the facts of existence. Someday, who knows, we might conquer death, disease and war." – Jim Morrison
Moses Ambrose Penn closed his eyes for a moment. He tried to focus on the task at hand. His mind kept returning to the deprogramming he had subjected Luis Lanza's grandparents to. I did what I had to do. Hadrian Wallace, Abigail Vennard and his brother Alex had assembled in the Wells' backyard on this sunny August morning.
To add insult to injury, the shoe-box contained none of Luis' ashes. Moses had discreetly hid them in another box buried in this very backyard. Efreet ashes had many supernatural properties. Too many to just put in the ground and forget about them. Moses needed those ashes for his work.
Moses led the group in a moment of silence. Even Valac, a demon-possessed chicken, did not dare to disturb their private universes of sorrows mingling with this mundane setting for a "funeral."
Alex had asked for this ceremony. Even though Luis Lanza proper had almost ten months ago, Alex wanted to commemorate the final departure of his human identity from this mortal coil.
Moses cleared his throat. Moses, the magic man whose words could cleave mountains in half, found himself speechless. "I feel inadequate." The candor of those words sent a shiver through the crowd. They felt like words he should have kept to himself, instead of giving voice to them.
Moses shrugged. Damage done. Moses cleared away a brow of sweat. "I feel inadequate eulogizing this great man."
In a world where they had failed to stop the plague of Romeros, Luis had unified the city's survivors under a single banner. Nobody doubted Luis' greatness.
Whether or not he qualified as a man towards the end, well … Moses decided to leave that debate out of the eulogy. "Words cannot express what he meant to us as a friend or what he meant to us as a soldier."
The word soldier sent a jolt through them all. More and more the language of war permeated their day-to-day life, reminding them of an unspeakable adversary who desired their utter destruction.
"He laid down his life for our cause and, on behalf of humanity, I give thanks to Luis Enrique Lanza for his efforts." Moses' eyes hollowed up all feeling and emotion from his face as he went off-script. "I would have loved to thank his grandparents for raising such a strong and pure soul."
Moses massaged his sinuses. "Instead, I defiled your memory and turned you into a runaway who broke their hearts." At last, tears fell.
He remembered now. He remembered how they had fought the false memories. He remembered how they suspected him of foul play. He remembered how they had threatened to go to the police. He remembered seven hours of systemically breaking down their resistance to the false memories.
"You deserved so much better than that." Moses took a deep breath and straightened up. "When this war's over, I'll make sure the entire world knows what you did, what we've all done, so that they might continue their normal sane lives in an abnormal insane world."
Resentment flared out from his words. Moses didn't want to hate all the ordinary folks who walked upon the skin of the world, ignorant of the dark places where ancient evils dwelt like monstrous Jobs, patiently enduring the infestation of their world by the human pestilence.
King Arthur and his lot had (repeatedly) given their lives to champion the cause of human civilization against the forces of darkness that sought to unravel it.
"I, for one, will celebrate the day when we have struck down their dark master and send them fleeing into …" Moses felt a pull inside of them as if he had expelled the last breath from his lungs. Everyone gathered around him, examining him like an unwanted fleet of doctors, nurses and orderlies.
"I'm fine," Moses lied as he regained his bearings. Moses needed to finish this eulogy. Moses needed to put up a strong front. Many among them, including himself, had forgotten the importance of their mission. "Lucifer has the power of lies. We have the power of truth. We shall over-…"
The group, still crowded him, caught Moses as he fell into their arms. Eyes rolled to the back of his head. Images of dismemberment and mutilation stomped across his visual cortex like a tribe of giants whose every footfall shook the earth for miles around. "Help me!" Moses screamed as he descended into a godless hell.
Hadrian Galileo Wells knew a thing or two about strange visions and enigmatic comas. Many nurses, orderlies and doctors cared for him during his recovery from a spinal cord injury. According to some, Haddy had mumbled things in his sleep. Strange things. Al-Khidr had downloaded an unabridged encyclopedia of unnatural history into his brain. Bound to cause spillage.
Same thing happened to Moses. As he descended into a nightmarish slumber, words or attempts at words free-flowed out of his mouth. In his incoherence, exactly four intelligible words had formed.
Uncle Bob's Family Feast. Hadrian himself had eaten at various members of this gaudy family restaurant chain many times in the past. The Rhode Island one had the best pork-chops on the East Coast. The staff, college students mostly, sang "Happy Birthday" for any birthday boy (or girl) in attendance.
Besides having the best meatloaf in the state, nothing about this Uncle Bob's Family Feast stood out. In other words, a place just like anywhere else. In other other words, the perfect place for a massacre.
Hadrian could only assume that Moses meant a massacre. In fact, he didn't share any details about his visions besides a few references to blood and death. It sound like a massacre to him.
Gunslingers of the Old West could always spot their enemy by their twirly mustache and tall black hat. As the world got civilized, so did the enemy. Now, the enemy could hide anywhere but was always clever enough to take cover in those places people would least suspect.
For this reason and many others just like it, Haddy had always wanted psychic powers. He had dreamed about seeing the future and reading people's minds. About knowing things before they happened. Now, not so much. Not if it could turn him into a drooling vegetable at a moment's notice.
That and Hadrian didn't trust the source of these visions. They had to come from somewhere. Moses had never had visions like these so they didn't come naturally. Hadrian's donor hadn't enough manners to identify himself. Whoever sent Moses this hellish distress call didn't bother to name or show him/herself.
Hadrian Galileo Wells had died less than a month ago. Even if it had only lasted a couple of minutes, he had died bloody in the back alley of an adult video store. Years of feeling invincible due to his healing powers had ended abruptly when a butterfly knife passed through his skull and into his brain. Nothing could change that.
Even the coma hadn't really fazed him. If anything, knowing a blow to his spinal cord couldn't kill him only added to his sense of invulnerability.
Adventure still called his name. No mistake about that. Except now he had to square with that fact that said name could end up on a tombstone if he didn't stop to think every once and awhile.
Hadrian kept his distance from the Penn brothers. The layout of the building was nothing special. If this place was difference, the difference was on the inside.
Luis, Alex's best friend, had died and everyone had designated him as the replacement goldfish for the emotionally absent Luis. Haddy hated their efforts to turn him into yet another Luis Lanza. For one thing, Haddy knew he would never measure up. For another, Haddy didn't want to earn their esteem if it meant he had to steal it for someone else, especially a dead someone else.
Al-Khidr had given Haddy the grand tour of cosmic history. To date, Al-Khidr had yet to return with a sequel series of lessons. Perhaps, he could refine his lesson plan and focus on the finer details of human life.
Haddy didn't even know what the Green Man had hoped to accomplish by giving him all the broad strokes of history. He couldn't remember most of it and what he could remember only teased him about the enormous gaps in his recollection.
Haddy didn't have all the answers although he often acted like he did. Alex listened as Haddy regurgitated the painfully boring routine of running a restaurant. He even had a ratio worked out for how often they took out the trash.
Hadrian left out the part about the two townies and the tales of what they did with their weekend. Those guys either partied real hard or lied their stoner asses off.
Alex gave the order. They would wait on Moses to see if he recovered. By sundown, they would all come back here, with or without him.
Enemies were excellent teachers in the art of survivial. For instance, enemies taught a person how to shore up their weaknesses. Alex Penn couldn't remember the last time they had entered a hot zone without a wizard. Too big a risk.
So Alex made use of what little magick a Muggle like himself could muster. Alex barely understood words like "star jelly" and "hoop snake venom" or what effect combining them would have. The parts he could understand, like having his brother's blood scrolled on his forehead, gave him the hyper-creeps.
Moses had the recipes for these prepackaged bits of magick jotted down in a collection of over a dozen notebooks. Because of the blood-written eye on his forehead, Alex elected himself as the point man.
Hadrian and Abigail would enter as customers, serving as external recon. If anything looked awry, the two would leave and join Alex in the kitchen.
Uncle Bob's Family Feast shook Alex to his very soul. A place like the Hellfire Club had screamed haven for supernatural evils. This place felt like the local diner one frequented on a Saturday night.
Alex drew the hood of his jacket over his forehead. He hoped that no one would notice a nineteen-year-old bundled up for winter on this hot humid August night.
Alex placed a hand on the hilt of Excalibur. Nothing out of the ordinary greeted his paranoid as he circle around back to the Dumpster. Two employees enjoying some "fresh air." "Miss Patel needs to get laid," the goatee guy (Greg G., according to his name-tag) said with absolute certainty.
His friend (no name-tag) who stared off into space. The spaced-out friend ground his cigarette into the asphalt. "Yeah, in a coffin." Greg G. nearly choked on his cigarette. "C'mon. Let's go back inside. It's balls soup out here."
The two moved the cinder-block propping open the door. The two didn't even look back as they ended their break. Alex rushed up behind them and propped open the door with his left foot. Alex got in just as mall security rounded the corner.
"Whew." His near-miss with security pulled his attention to one very strange characteristic of the restaurant. No surveillance cameras. Not really. Alex had looked up at one and thought it had blown his cover. Alex looked even closer.
"You're a fake," Alex told the camera. A decoy surveillance camera designed to move around and look intimidating. Nothing more. A nationwide restaurant chain could have ponied up the dough to the real deal.
Only cheap retail outlets relied on these phonies. Alex continued through the loading dock. Alex walked past four industrial ice machines and saw a door with a keypad lock. An intimidating lock but very likely an empty threat.
1-2-3-4-5, Alex chanted as he guessed the code. The keypad chimed and unlocked. Thank you, Spaceballs. Alex emerged into a locker room with two park benches in the middle. Even here, the cameras captured neither audio nor video.
A slow breath flowed through him. Alex needed to activate the third eye charm on his head. He needed to see what secrets this place held that it didn't want to risk capturing on tape. Here goes nothing.
Alex saw a door where only wall had resided a second ago. Alex stowed Excalibur on top of the lockers. Sephirothic weapons didn't mix well with ghost doors.
Alex turned the knob. Behind the door, Alex found himself in a kitchen area very different from the one visitors could peek into from their dining area.
Alex's nose puckered as it endured the assault of a putrid air. Alex looked back to see the door missing. Alex had arrived in the middle of this rank hidden kitchen.
Dueling voices filled his ears. Alex walked on in the direction of the heated argument. A guy in tortoise-shell glasses and a green work shirt balled his fist as two giant men held him in place. "We had a deal! I take out their wizard! I get paid!"
A Hindu woman in her thirties emerged from the shadows. "There's your money." The lady reached into the breast pocket of her white business suit. "I said you'd get your money." The knife came out and went into the tortoise man. "I never said anything about you living long enough to spend it."
A buck-fifty of bleeding human meat crumbled onto the the kitchen floor. The lady dipped her finger in his blood and tasted it. "Too gamey." The lady shrugged. "Put it on the menu anyways." The lady in white turned to Alex. "Welcome, Alex. You kept us waiting." A cook came in, corralling Abby and Haddy as he did.
Alex recognized the cook as a Black Forest troll, an in-bred subspecies of the faerie kind whose true form made the typical troll look like Legolas from The Lord of the Rings. "I'm Manisha Patel." Manisha smiled. "I'm the General Manager of this fine establishment." Manisha shook her head. "You knew my brother quite briefly."
The name Patel echoed through his head as some half-remembered sin. "You don't even remember, do you?" Manisha tsk-tsked Alex. Manisha held the blade to his throat. "I could kill you." Manisha traced his carotid arteries with the knife. "But I have a better idea." Manisha plunged the knife into the dead guy's skull.
The knife came back with a sliver of gray matter. "You look hungry." The knife danced in front of him. "Eat." The cook held his butcher knife against Abby. The troll cook pushed Haddy onto the floor. Manisha shook her head in disappointment.
"What's the matter? You've had this dish before, deep-fried and smothered in chili sauce; it didn't bother you then." The cook flashed his three rows of teeth. "Eat or Herman over there turns your pretty girlfriend into an entree."
Alex shivered. Alex's tongue snaked out of his mouth. "Good doggie." The puking sensation in his gut rolled his stomach inside-out. Simon Blaise's website wrote about places like these where monsters served up long pork cuisine and tricked people into the ultimate taboo. Tears welled up.
"Ah, what's wrong? Don't like the taste of your own medicine?" Manisha slashed Alex across the left cheek. "It's your fault anyways. You had to kick the hornet's nest. Now, Lucifer walks the earth and, before long, the Four Horsemen will arrive to finish you off. To finish us all off."
Manisha licked the blood off the knife. "So you see, you did more than just kill my brother." Manisha waved the knife like a magic wand. "You killed us all."
Manisha signaled Herman the Troll. The spray bottle's contents bled into her eyes. Hoop snake venom treated with star jelly. It wouldn't kill her but it would sting.
Abby flipped the three-hundred-pound monstrosity onto his back. After gouging out his eys, Abby wiped her hands on his apron. Herman roared. Three more roars replied. "We're done here." The three ran for their lives.
Moses considered the irony of screaming out to God for assistance. Moses knew that God would likely turn a deaf ear the reincarnating soul of a half-demon half-human hybrid. God despised horrid abominations like himself.
The Old Testament pretty much said so. According to the Book of Enoch, God sent the Flood to wipe out the Nephilim, the bastard offspring of angelic fathers and human mothers. In short, God was a prude when it came to interspecies nookie.
Moses often wondered why He made such things possible if they angered Him so much. God didn't have to erect a barrier between his dreams and his realities. He could make real whatever he dreamed (and, in all likelihood, vice versa).
Human beings could do that too but only in a limited capacity. Did God have nightmares? Could that explain the atrocities that found their way into this world?
Moses tried not to waste time on this line of thought. Speculation on the nature of entities beyond conventional comprehension had a funny way of spinning around in circles like a dog chasing its tail.
Moses knew the true nature of the creature standing in front of him. That didn't make Lord Belial any less terrifying even as a wandering vagrant inside of his dreaming mind. "I'm dreaming," Moses stated to Lord Belial. "You're just a dream."
Lord Belial smiled. Sort of. He had no teeth. Only the fangs of a snake jutted over from his gums. "We're all dreaming. Even when we think we're awake, we're still dreaming." Belial marched up to him. "That doesn't make our lives any less real."
"How did you get in here?" The silver piece should have kept his spiritual essence contained. Lord Belial clicked his tongue, disappointed. Moses agreed. He should have known better. His mixed heritage made him unpredictable. He could do things neither fairies nor demons could even dream of. "Why did you come here?"
Moses had never seen Lord Belial's true form. Usually demons resembled some unholy mixture of human and animal parts. Not Belial. He looked like a golden-clad emperor seated upon a jeweled throne. Belial twirled his scepter in his right hand.
"I have come to broker a peace." Moses couldn't resist the urge to laugh. "Scoff all you want; I'm quite serious." Belial rose from his seat. "I'm prepared to give you what you want in exchange for my freedom."
"What exactly do you think I want?"
"Your freedom, of course. From the one prison that bind us all." Moses raised an eyebrow. "The past. Eons ago, a demon impregnated a human. From her womb emerged a nightmare wrapped in flesh." Belial flashed his pearly whites. "Merlin."
A glance at Lord Belial's feet revealed hooves instead of feet. "And due to the final wishes of your king, you must return to this world again and again, your flesh that of a thoroughbred human but your soul forever tainted by a demon's seed."
Moses turned around to face Belial. "You first studied the dark arts to learn to control your cambion soul but time has eroded your will to fight back and the Beast has its hooks in you now." Belial shook his head.
"I saw what you did to the Lanzas." Belial cringed. "Horrific even by demon standards." Moses acknowledged the truth behind his words. Moses hadn't just altered their memories. He crushed the truth and raped their minds with his lies.
Moses didn't even get to the worst part. The part Belial must have known about. He enjoyed it. He enjoyed the power. The absolute power over their minds. The joy he felt sent him into a fit of supreme ecstasy. Their feeble attempts to fight back only heightened the pleasure derived from telepathic dominion.
Moses didn't want to feel like that again. Ever. "Of course, you don't," Belial said, reading his thoughts. "Release me and I can make you fully human." Fires erupted around him as the landscape morphed into an inferno. "Otherwise, I will show you what the demon lords did to half-breeds like us in the pits of Hell."
The strangest feeling of déjà vu overwhelmed Alexander Penn. This had all happened before. A rakshasa had outwitted them and he had lost Excalibur. Alex's thousand-yard stare had no room to maneuver with Hadrian on his right and Abigail on his left in this stuffy foul-smelling cab. Manisha Patel had trounced them good.
The cabbie, a Hispanic fellow wearing a Trilby, didn't know (or care) how three teenagers had gotten from San Uriel, California to Henderson, Nevada in the middle of the night without a vehicle. Hadrian had cash on him for emergencies like theirs.
A good thing too. Eduardo expected a big tip. On the subject of tips, Alex wondered about the day Hadrian would get his big tip. Haddy had bailed him out money-wise more times than he could remember. When the gang put an end to all this madness, Alex would make sure Haddy got back every dime he spent on them.
Needless to say, Alex had made a big mistake leaving on that mission without Moses. Not only they nearly died (again), Moses could have seen right through them with his third eye. An authentic third eye, not like the one Alex had painted on.
It turned out to be a poor substitute, indeed.
The cab arrived in front of the Wells residence. Haddy gave Eduardo his fair plus a generous tip. "Rude cab-drivers." Eduardo blazed out of suburbia. "It's hard to believe they really exist." Haddy looked up at his villa and breathed in the night air.
"Ah, home sweet home." Haddy probably didn't mean that last part to sound so bitter. Alex could relate. Coming home didn't do anything to alleviate their concerns.
If Manisha Patel had a brain in her skull, she might have a bunch of monsters lying in wait for an ambush. Hadrian did a perimeter check and gave the all-clear.
With that, everyone went inside. Alex stared at the microwave's clock. Two o'clock in the morning. Or evening, depending on how one looked at it.
The ghost door had emerged in the subbasement kitchen of an Uncle Bob's Family Feast in Nevada. Haddy had paid the fair on a five-hour-long cab ride plus a generous tip/hush money. A scream greeted Alex as he opened the door.
Mr. And Mrs. Wells slept like the dead. An earthquake could have woken them up but only a particularly powerful one. Alex ran into the direction of the noise. He arrived at Moses' door and barreled through it like a DEA agent on a drug raid.
"Wake up!" Alex screamed between slaps. "Wake up!" The slaps and screams alternated one more time before Moses' eyes fluttered open. Moses caught his hand.
"I'm awake." Alex slowed his panicked breaths. "You okay, bro?" Not a good question. Alex shook his head. Pretty freaking far from okay. Alex explained the situation with Manisha Patel and what Uncle Bob's Family Feast had really served its patrons. "We used to eat there all the time." Alex nodded in agreement.
Not just them. Mom and Dad too and possibly Hadrian and Abigail as well. Millions of people, in fact, tricked in choking down the long pork. Moses froze for a moment. The gang had fought a lot of monsters. Many of those monsters bloodied and scarred them good but they had never accomplished something so heinous.
It made this situation something truly monstrous, an embodiment of pure evil. "Freaking monsters." Moses wrapped his arms around his brother. "Well, I've heard enough." Moses grabbed the Staff of Merlin. "I say, we gather up the troops, go there now and shut them down." Alex shook his head. "Why not?"
Alex hadn't explained the really bad news. Manisha had almost certainly gained possession of Excalibur by now. Alex hadn't told anyone else about that yet.
"Oh, crap." A paradox of strategy. If they attacked now, the bravado of such an attack might catch her off-guard. On the other hand, the stupidity of such an attack might outweigh its shock and awe. In other words, the gang needed to hunker down, go back to the drawing board and come up with a real plan for this.
Hadrian Galileo Wells stared at the lot where Luis Lanza had lost his life the second time. Alex shifted into park and stepped out of the truck. Haddy followed as Alex heaved the duffel bag at him. Haddy retrieved Fragarach.
Even in broad sunlight, this not-so-abandoned warehouse freaked him out. Haddy didn't mind that Alex had left Moses out of this excursion. Moses had begged to come. Alex wasn't the only one against it. Haddy had voted it down as well.
Moses couldn't go a round with a fruit-fly. The guy looked like death and, despite the hellish nightmares he would certainly have, needed to get some sleep.
Haddy did mind the fact that Abby had gotten axed from the roll call either. Alex never explained the rationale behind that decision but Hadrian could guess. Alex couldn't face Abby, especially after Luis' second and final death.
Alex tried to soldier on like nothing happened but that obviously hadn't worked. A nice group we once had, Haddy thought as they pressed through the warehouse doors. What did we have left? Two of them, barely better than strangers, seeking out someone who, in all likelihood, didn't want them looking for him.
Haddy shrugged. Alex couldn't blame his hero worship of his old man. Haddy felt the same way about his own father. As far back as he could remember, Hadrian always sought out his help above all others. Haddy envied Alex's ability to seek out his dad for supernatural problems. Dad would likely freak out if he tried to tell him.
The sight of the warehouse sucked the air out of his lungs. The workplace of tiny bearded folks looked like no one had looked inside this place for years.
Oh crap, Hadrian thought as something flitted out of the corner of his right eye. Crap, crap, crap. Something had followed them to this warehouse. Hadrian didn't worry so much about Nephilim. In direct sunlight, a well-placed blow with an enchanted sword could put one down. At least for a couple hours.
Haddy worried about the hundred and one things that could have done the same thing, everything from almas to zorigami, looking to draw human blood. Haddy couldn't help but laugh. After everything they had gone through, getting whacked by Russia's answer to Bigfoot or a fairy-possessed clock would seem like a cosmic joke.
All-powerful swords of fate counted for nada if the beasties got the drop on them before they could react. Hadrian grabbed the hilt of his sword.
At that moment, Haddy grasped the full insanity of what they did on a bi-monthly basis now. Drawing down on monsters infinitely stronger and faster than them. Hoping their subconscious awareness of centuries of combat training could protect them from the enemy. Haddy tried to imagine those centuries.
Alex grabbed the hilt of his sword. Alex didn't have Excalibur. Instead, he carried Durendal, his brother Moses' sword in battle. Haddy felt the quiet yet potent symbol of doing so. Alex wanted to fight on behalf of those who could not fight.
Just as Mr. Penn had done with Tizona after Luis had died. Hadrian blinked. Eyes closed. Eyes opened. Between those two acts, a man in a police officer's uniform appeared in front of them. The cop flashed a toothy grin at them.
"You're trespassing," the cop politely explained. "Easy way or the hard way." The cop went for his holster. "Take your pick." Then, it flashed. Haddy couldn't describe it any other way. Like a single image spliced into a film reel.
The thing behind the cop's eyes showed its true face. It looked like the skull of a horse with patches of rotten flesh. Eye sockets glowed. Cop pulled out his sidearm.
"Time's up." The demon looked around. "Ah, where's Abby?" Alex's eyes dilated. "I wanted to shoot her again." The demon shrugged. "Oh, well, life goes on." The shot rang out. Haddy looked down to see blood soaking into his shirt from a gaping gunshot wound. "Figuratively speaking, of course."
Haddy walked forward. He slipped on a puddle of his own blood. Alex growled. "Damn you, Eligos!" Alex charged at Eligos. Five more shots followed. Perhaps, the blood loss had gotten to him, Hadrian could have sworn he saw the bullets deflected.
Eligos smiled. "Very impressive." Eligos tossed the gun aside. "I'm so glad you remembered me." Alex kept charging at him. "But do you remember them?" Alex lifted off the floor as he got shoulder-checked by a mountain of a man. "You killed him in the Arizona Territory in one of your previous lives."
Eligos extended a hand as a tall gaunt fellow joined the party. "Same story here." A dirty man with a entourage of houseflies joined them. "And there too." Eligos unsheathed his boot knife. "We've all waited a very long time to have our revenge."
The three others unsheathed similar knives. "I promised each of them a stab at you." The four circled around them like buzzards ready to pick away at roadkill.
The man with the flies glared. "Enough chit-chat," he screeched in a nasal voice. "Let's do this." As Hadrian started to choke on his own blood, he looked around at Alex one last time. Alex didn't looked scared. He looked pissed.
Alex's eyes turned a milky white. Bolts of lightning escaped from the palms of his hand. The demons screamed and disappeared into the ether.
Alex plunged his hand into Haddy's stomach. He showed him the bullet in his bloodied grasp. Haddy felt his lungs fill with air as the gunshot wound sealed up.
After a moment of consciousness, Alex collapsed in a heap on the factory floor. Hadrian sighed. He had no idea how he would explain this to Alex when he woke up.
"Hi, freak." Lord Belial turned his attention to a tiny rose garden along the earthen path. When he had decided to stop bombarding Moses Ambrose Penn with images of Hell, Lord Belial had inflicted the abject terror of Better Homes and Gardens upon him. "Having fun with your new powers?"
Moses rolled his eyes. Of course, he knew about his rescue of his brother Alex and Hadrian from the Four Horsemen. The demon couldn't help but know.
"You know," the demon said as he watered his bed of roses, "I have lived since the dawn of human history and I have never encountered a wizard who could take possession of a human host with all of his magick intact."
Belial smirked. "On the other hand, demons possess this ability quite naturally. It makes you think, doesn't it?" Belial sprayed the roses for insects.
"Of course, if you have no inclination to join our ranks, I could always whip something up and get you back on the human path in no time."
Moses rolled his eyes again. "God, you're pathetic." Moses dragged out the word pathetic so Lord Belial could savor every syllable. "You think just because I'm possessing my brother that I'm ready to take your offer."
Belial smiled. "I used my new powers to protect people. That proves something to me." Belial's eyebrow arched. "It proves that I'm not turning into one of you."
Belial spread his arms in a theatrical gesture. "What's wrong with turning into one of us?" Belial pointed an accusing finger. "Your earliest ancestors would have relished the chance you have now." Belial circled Moses.
"A chance to live free of the confines of the flesh in this life, instead of the next. A chance to walk the earth with a thousand feet. A chance to taste the world's bounty with a thousand tongues." Belial stopped.
"As you humans started figuring things out on your own, you began to value your weakness and saw attempts to remove such frailties as the work of evil spirits.
"Then, you started to hunt us despite your rightful place at the bottom of the food chain. From time to time, we offered some humans the strength they desired. And, with a few exceptions, they turned us down." Belial shook his head.
"Not you though. You want this. No matter the price." Belial laughed.
"So you see, if you embrace your humanity, you embrace weakness and we win. If you reject your humanity, like you're doing now, you join of your free will and we all win. In any case, we win whether you join us or not." Belial shrugged.
"So I make offers because I want you to know that I made every effort to save your life before you left me no other option but to destroy it."
A giant city of metal and concrete arose up around them. "My father doesn't believe in diplomacy." Belial strolled down the block. Moses looked around every corner as he joined the demon. "At least, not the kind of diplomacy you'd recognize."
The demon walked through the gates of a verdant forest tract, the opening of a park. "My father doesn't have my sense of humor." Lord Belial whistled as two joggers walked by. "I, for one, have enjoyed this vacation regardless of my travel arrangements." Lord Belial looked over at a young couple making out under a maple tree. "My father wants me back and will do anything to make that happen."
Lord Belial's hand passed through the young couple as he tried to touch them.
"You see, my father's the reason you can't keep me out of your dreams. He can't yank me out of this magic coin of yours but he can give me a walking tour of everybody's dreams and even slip secret messages through the bars of my cell."
A bright light filled the sky.
"You see, my father's like a strict parent punishing all seven billion of you spoiled little brats." The shadows turned to blood as the light grew brighter. "None of you possess the maturity yet to understand that we're doing this for your own good."
Lord Belial wore a mock expression of anguish on his face. "You just cry about how we're treating you so badly." The two joggers, the young couple and countless others screamed. "It's time to grow up." The blast wave sliced through the city.
Alex knocked on Moses' door. They need to talk business. Magick business. Something weird had happened during the mission. It sounded hinky. No answer.
Back before, Moses not answering his door meant anything. Most of the time, he didn't want to know why Moses locked his door. Times had changed. Monsters could attack them at any hour at the day. Moses knew better than to not answer.
Such lapses could end in death. Alex knocked again. Harder and loud. Still no answer at the door. "Dammit, Moses." Alex really didn't want to bust in on a session of gentleman time but this household had rules. And he couldn't make any exceptions.
Such exceptions undercut the foundation of their orderly little world. The door buckled under the weight of his kick. Alex looked it to see Moses fondling the silver coin. Alex smacked the denarius out of his hands. "Have you lost your mind?"
Any sort of tampering could release someone of Belial's might. Moses had said so himself. "Why?" Alex picked up the coin and shoved it in his face. "Just … why?"
"I'm turning into a demon." Moses said those words in a choppy uneven way. "He can turn me back." Moses grabbed Alex's shoulders. "Make me human so I don't end up killing all of you." Alex removed Moses' hands from his shoulders. "I possessed you." Alex's eyes widened. "What kind of creature possesses humans?"
"Stop." Alex gritted his teeth. "There's always another way." Hadrian, oblivious, walked through the busted door. According to him, they needed to see something. Alex pointed at Moses. "We're not done yet," Alex explained.
Everyone gathered around the television as the reporter spoke with absolute terror with only the thinnest paint job of professional detachment. Alex had watched the Twin Towers fall at the age of three. His parents lied to him and tried to convince him that he had watched a movie instead of a news reports.
Even at that age, Alex knew the difference between real tragedy and a fake tragedy. Fake tragedies had an element of melodrama, a morbid overemphasis of the ghastly nature of the event. Fake tragedies needed that to convey the horror of the unimaginable to its audience. To bring the tragedy to live.
Real tragedies didn't give a damn one way or another if anyone believed in it or not. It didn't have to earn credibility. Everyone could shove their fingers in their ears and deny what had happened forever. It would never make it go away.
Also, people tried to downplay real tragedies. His parents' lying to him only cemented the fact that something terrible and true had happened in New York City.
The woman in the gray business suit described the death toll in the millions. A missile carrying a nuclear payload had vaporized the island of Manhattan. Many early reports blamed terrorists; none of the usual suspected claimed responsibility.
"Lucifer wants his son back." Moses stared wall-eyed at the screen. "And he will destroy every city in this fashion ... if he has to." Alex's heart broke. They had caused this. Imprisoning Lord Belial, his dearest son, had driven Lucifer to genocidal rage.
Holding back tears, Abby ran out of the living room to the nearest telephone. Of course, Alex realized. Her Aunt Chloe lived in Manhattan. How could he forget something like that? Then, again, he had lived many lifetimes and remembered very little from any of them. At that point, Alex realized what he had to do.
Alex pulled Moses aside. "I need you to open my third eye." Moses' eyes widened. "I know the risks." A wizard's third eye could filter out a lot of the background noise of the cosmos, stuff that could make a regular mind insane.
Giving away a piece of his soul had no immediate consequences. Risking his sanity to open his third eye again might reduce him to a gibbering idiot. Even with cosmic power at his beck and call, Moses knew he could not argue with him on this.
If he wanted to throw his life and sanity away, who could really stop him? Moses placed his hand against his forehead and chanted in Old Angelic. "Lan bahaw Arthur odo." Hot blasts of desert air struck his face. He stood. Four demons stood.
"Your time's up, lawman." The leader said as they circled him. "No bullet going to save you now, Albert." The leader grabbed his stomach as a bullet flew into him.
"How about holy bullets, you bastards?" Albert, his name apparently, fired on the other three. Albert unsheathed his longsword hidden in his long-coat. Alex felt the contours of his mind. Albert lived for this. He had nothing else to live for.
"See you in Hell." Alex marveled as Sheriff Albert Loomis eliminated each one of them with steely clinical precision. Adam didn't give a damn how much they pleaded for him to stop. He just killed and killed and killed some more.
When he got to the leader, the demon had scooped out the bullet and jumped ship. Albert killed the guy anyways. Then, it hit him. Sheriff Albert Loomis didn't have any friends or family. Just a crazy old man who followed him around from time to didn't care about anyone, not even himself.
Albert just did what he needed to do. No more and no less. Alex smirked. So much guilt in his life and so little in this one. It felt almost karmic in a way.
Alex realized he couldn't fight that way. He had friends. He had family. Doing horrible things caused him horrible guilt. Alex wanted so bad to let go of all that and he finally got to see what he might have turned into if he had ever gotten his wish.
Alex reentered the living room and explained the plan to all of them.
Moses hated this plan. Moses didn't hate everything about it; it just made him wish they had a back-up plan when this plan went down the crapper of epic fails.
Despite his protests, Moses had posted the message on the New Round Table website. A time and a place. They actually planned on showing up. Moses didn't like that part. It gave the enemy an advantage. Knowing the time and the place might allow them the intel to plan a counter-strategy. A plan of their own.
Alex armed himself with Durendal. Moses kept the Staff of Merlin. Of all his psychic powers, Moses still couldn't see the future. A terrible handicap at this point.
Alex and Moses had walked to the empty lot of Uncle Bob's Family Feast. The enemy would not have a chance to steal their vehicles this way and would lend credibility to the plan's central conceit. The Four Horseman arrived.
Eligos, still dressed in a police officer, reached for his gun. "I want out." Eligos' eyes widened. He had obviously came expecting them to throw down in an all-out no-holds-barred showdown. Alex had other plans. Plans Moses still didn't like.
"I don't like leading people. I don't like getting people killed." Moses stepped forward. "This war started long before King Arthur walked the earth." Alex nodded and sighed. "I'm sure they can find someone else to replace me when I'm gone."
All part of the plan, Moses thought sarcastically as he reached into his pockets. The four demons tensed up as Moses pulled the silver coin from his pockets. Alex had thought of this plan while watching the Masked Magician as he revealed the tricks of the trade. Masters of magic, even with the extra "k," knew the value of misdirection.
How to get the audience to look at the left hand while the right hand did the trick. The demons expected this false surrender to go sour but Alex had gotten them looking at the wrong hand. Moses actually liked this part of the plan.
Eligos, the past and present leader of the group, smiled. "Ha!" Eligos extended a hand. The denarius flew out of Moses' hand and into his. "I always knew you'd crap out." Eligos stared at him. "What does the wizard think of his great king's cowardice?"
Moses averted his eyes as if ashamed to answer. Moses averted his eyes not out of shame but frustration. Moses hated this part of the plan. The plan where they handed over their leader. The four demons wouldn't get to keep it.
Their plan hinged on them staying to gloat. Otherwise, the four of them could leave and never look back. Alex grinned. "Eligos, you don't know crap." Alex walked up to him, Durendal drawn. "You don't know how much we have all lost fighting you bastards." Alex grabbed the collar of Eligos' police uniform.
"And for what? So you and your kind can rule the world? The world wouldn't last two seconds under your leadership. And you know why?" Eligos shook his head. "Because you're dumb as a rock and twice as ugly." Alex gave the signal.
Abigail Vennard stepped out of the shadows. Abby punctuated each step she took with another shot. The demons laughed. Bullets against demons. Moses could understand their incredulity. Then, the truth hit them like a kick to the nuts.
Alex had learned a lot from his blast from the past. Most importantly, he learned that he needed his friends to defeat these monsters. Slightly less important, Alex had learned what holy bullets did to demons. New West, meet the Old West.
Alex had one gold bullet set aside for that rakshasa bitch. Hadrian Wells unsheathed Fragarach and finished off the demons with sword thrusts to the chest. Moses wondered what the families of these possessed folks would think when their missing relatives turned up in an empty lot next to an Uncle Bob's Family Feast.
Moses didn't want to know. Eligos laughed as Haddy drew close to him. Moses asked him what he found so funny about dying. "I'm not going to die." Shadows circled them. "You're gonna die." Eligos stood up. "All of you."
Morgan Le Fey, Eric Weiss, Mordred, three Nephilim and a bunch of demons surrounded them. A practical who's-who of their enemies gathered in one place. Moses raised the Staff of Merlin. Morgan grabbed his arms and cuffed his hands.
Chains of Hephaestus. The newest member of their rogues gallery led the charge. A Hindu woman in a black business suit stepped forward. Manisha Patel unsheathed the sword Excalibur and handed it to the demon Eligos.
"Bravo." The rakshasa shed her human form. "Quite a show you put on." The business suit stretched and warped as her flesh hardened. "Show's over."
Manisha took the denarius from Eligos. "Miss Patel." The call came from the radio at her hip. "There's a spill in the men's restroom and we're out of mop heads."
Manisha rolled her eyes as she lifted the radio to her lips. "Get one of the senior managers." Manisha glared at Alex. "I"m busy at the moment."
Moses watched as Manisha sauntered over to Alex. "As you can see, I'm on two clocks and I'm running behind schedule on both." Manisha caressed the edges of Durendal. "So, if you would please surrender this time, we can get this over with."
Durendal clamored against the asphalt. "Smart move." Manisha picked up Durendal and placed it against Alex's neck. "You … stay."
"That's not part of the plan." Morgan Le Fay's hands glowed.
Razor needles filled her mouth. "I changed the plan." Manisha nodded in Moses' direction. "If you'd please." Electricity went through Moses; he blacked out.