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Heroic Dreams

"We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look." – Ronald Reagan

Of all the crimes Alex had committed for the greater good, arson was, by far, the worst. Crack house or not, watching someone's home turn to cinders never failed to put a knot in his stomach. At four o'clock in the morning, the cover of darkness was yielding to predawn. Alexander pulled the cracked Thoth mask down over his face.

If anyone other than a crackhead saw him, they would see a baboon-headed swordsman. Moses, his younger brother by way of time dilation, insisted on these patrols. Something happened to him as he had lain in that hospital bed. Instead of hunting demonic evil, Moses had directed their attention to the mundane evils.

Not that Alex liked urban crime by any means but this was the kind of craziness that got folks locked up. Moses checked his pocket-watch as Alex dove into the passenger seat of his truck. "What took you so long?" Moses fired up the engine. Did Moses really want to know that? Moses always played Twenty Questions after one of these "night shifts." Alex wondered if he should start keeping a journal.

"They had machine guns, Moses." Alex tossed Excalibur into the back of Moses' truck. Moses, a man with a plan, just shrugged it off. It was easy for Moses to shrug things off. He was not the one who risked a close encounter of the flying hot lead kind. Luis had not returned any of Alex's calls. Losing Abby and finding out he was a bad best friend in a past life had a way of harshing a guy's mellow.

Luis needed time to adapt. Alex thanked God for that. He did not know if he would have been able to explain any of this to the impartial third-party observer. Moses said this was something they had to do. He might be one eye of newt short of a witch's brew but it was Alex's experience that Moses' heart was in the right place. As for Moses' mental health, Alex was better off not thinking on his psyche.

Lincoln Projects reminded Alex of those urban wastelands that ended up on episodes of Cops. A patchwork mesh of chain-link fences and barred windows crisscrossed the tiny houses on their tiny lots. In an ordinary neighborhood, a fire would have brought sirens into earshot by now. In Lincoln, a home could burn to the ground before anybody showed up. Alex made sure nobody was in there when it did.

Alex and Moses spent the trip back to Trevena in silence. Alex did not consider this the silent treatment. Nonetheless, Alex had hoped that two weeks would have shown him how bonkers this plan was. They arrived at an intersection, less than a mile from their home. "Listen. You got the sword, not me. If you don't want to do this, you don't have to. Nobody's making you," said Moses the martyr.

"Pulling that one on me? Make me look like the monkey wrench in your plans?" Moses had the nerve to act confused. "I just burned down my eighth crack house and you act like that is the most normal thing in the world." Alex looked back at the sword. "I feel like I should do something special with it, like slay a dragon."

Moses kept his eyes on the road. "We got no dragons." Moses grinned. "Not yet. If we want to make a difference, we need to start in our own backyard." Moses gave the road ahead his infamous thousand yard stare. "If the baddies don't like that (and they won't), they'll come after us and then we'll have more monsters than we know how to slay. Baby steps first; we'll be running sooner than you think."

Alex didn't want to argue with his brother. Most of the time, he didn't have. Most of the time, Moses made sense. None of this made sense. Alex had burned down eight crack houses and they had likely built eight more by now. No one had died yet because of it. That was the saving grave here. Burning down houses for Moses was one thing. Killing people for Moses was something else altogether.

Moses pulled into the driveway. For two weeks now, Alex had resisted the urge to call up Abigail and sneak in the proposal of a date. Then, their relationship could finally begin. Technically, Abby still had not broken up with Luis. They were just taking a break. Even if this did turn into a breakup, she would need time to rebound. Moses would say Alex had a knack for making the same mistake.

Alex didn't see it that way. He simply wanted to show some good old-fashioned chivalry. Still, Alex wondered if Fate wished them apart, as if God had crossed "Alex/Abby" off His list of approved pairings. Alex heard the neighbors arguing next door. Of all the terrible couples allowed to exist, Alex wondered why he never got his chance with Abby. The two of them could be something special.

The harsh light of day didn't agree with Moses. If not forced to attend school, Moses would usually sleep in and enjoy those extra hours of sweet unconsciousness. Compelled by a full bladder, Moses woke up early and with impeccable timing.

Mom had come within a minute of finding the strange new package atop the welcome mat. Moses wondered if God had handed out their mailing address to every creeper in the cosmos. Their humble abode was turning into a frigging post office.

Taped to the side of the box, Moses peeled a letter free from its masking tape prison. Moses recognized the handwriting. It belonged to an immortal doctor going by the alias of Simon Blaze. Blaise was an ageless wizard specialized in healing magic that often aided and abetted the Ascended (in their ill-defined quest to safeguard mankind). He fished the letter out of the envelope with a box cutter.

It read: Moses, I deeply regret leaving things between us in such an awful place. I suppose I have no one to blame for that but myself. I filled your heart with so much fear of your demonic heritage; you felt inadequate to take on the forces of darkness alone. Believe me when I say so: you will have many allies in battle. Until then, do not draw upon your own life energies for magical procedures.

Moses opened the box and revealed a gnarled walking stick. Moses touched it. It felt smooth as silk despite its outward appearance. It couldn't be. The Staff of Merlin, the one he had fashioned from the branches of the World Tree, Yggdrasil. The unimpressive stick was a conduit to the Deep, a multidimensional hotbed of para-universal energy. Moses gripped the Staff and twirled it end over end.

Moses read the rest of Blaise's note: It may take you awhile to regain perfect control over it, but I have confidence that you will gain your bearing. Best of wishes in your fight against the forces of darkness, Blaise. Moses felt energy crackling off the Staff. Moses ran his hands up and down its shaft. Quite the Babe Ruth fan as a kid, Moses loved baseball and he believed the commercials. The ads made their own brand of baseball bat sound like an eldritch weapon against the forces of shame and defeat. Moses could sense the power of this wooden protector of mankind.

Moses still remembered when Mom had found Excalibur while rummaging through Alex's closet. Mom freaked out until Moses convinced her that one of their friends had gone to the San Diego Comic-Con and bought him the sword. Mom believed that, even though she had zero evidence of her sons having any other friends besides Luis who most definitely did not attend the SDCC last July.

Mom had felt dumb for falling for such an obvious fake sword. Moses did not want to press his luck a second time. Moses wrapped the Staff of Merlin in a towel and stowed the wizard's tool under his bed. Someday, he might require a deadly dose of energy, all at once. He would prefer to do that without endangering his life. Call it cowardice but he favored heroism that did not end with hospital bills. Moses remembered the Miskatonic Desert. He remembered how the ebb and flow of violence had poisoned their souls. Moses did not want their world to end up like that, a kill-or-be-killed wasteland. Doctor Simon Blaze implied that Moses Penn would develop greater abilities in the magick arts. To do so, Moses would have to remember more and more from all his previous lives. Moses could hardly wait.

Moses combed the Sunday paper for signs of trouble. Not a single word of what had transpired last night had reached the newspapers. Everyone had a more prosaic explanation for the recent plague of fires descending on the Lincoln Projects. Nobody had focused on the less-than-ordinary manner in which these fires started.

Roger Lazenby, a dead cop with a chip on his shoulder, was screaming mad, literally. Roger the Angry Ghost straightened up his act when Moses implied that he knew how to send a pesky poltergeist like him packing should he ever wear out his welcome. It was a bluff; Moses was a wizard, not an exorcist. And even if he did stumble upon a spell to boot his ass to the afterlife, he wasn't ready to let a valued asset like a twenty-year veteran cop go over a relatively minor quibble.

Scant reports of a baboon-masked swordsman had reached the police. A few witnesses Alex had pulled from the fires of their burning crack houses saw his face. The cops did not want to hear it. With the Belial Stalker out of commission (thanks to the Penn Brothers), things were different. San Uriel Police Department felt that they had earned a much needed rest from crazy crap like vigilante arson.

"Watch where you're going, ass," said the Soon-To-Be-Dead Guy as Luis was forcibly turned around to face his ugly mug. The Trevena Fashion Center was a cursed place since Darlene Norgaard got iced here. Every time Luis Lanza went here, something aggravating happened. Luis recognized this poseur instantly.

It was David Kobold himself. Killing him was out but the fact that he had to see him at school did not give him a free pass. You could not back down to bullies. If you did that, you would have to keep backing down. In this respect, a little violence now prevented a lot of violence later and Luis Lanza was ready to deal some out.

Luis Lanza didn't consider himself the violent type. That all changed when a god trapped in Purgatory rewired his brain. Call him a reductionist but it looked like the use of violence had been a recurring theme in his past lives. Sometimes, Luis used violence for the so-called "right" reasons. Sometimes, he did not. No matter how he chose to live each life, violence always found a way into his life.

When he was going out with Abigail Vennard, things never bothered Luis. Her kindness washed away negative feelings that could logically drive a person to retaliate in a violent manner. Without Abby around, Luis could feel the negativity coming on hot and heavy. "I could ask you the same thing, faggot." David was a two-hit fighter. Luis would hit him. David would hit the floor. It would be easy and fun.

A pair of snake-like limbs descended on his shoulders. "Well, actually, you couldn't." Luis' shoulders were turning into a popular destination. Likely having the biggest boner of his life, David invaded Luis' personal space. "What are you going to do now?" David's heterosexual life partner, a higher-functioning sociopath by the name of Timothy Hobb, had intervened on his behalf. David made kissy faces.

Luis could have taken these bastards. Luis could haven broken Dave's jaw. Luis could have kneecapped Tiny Tim. The whole thing would have been over in less than a minute. "Is there a problem, gentlemen?" A mall cop rode up next to the three of them in a Segway. Tim and Dave raised their arms and shook their heads.

The security guard was a paunchy sort in his mid-thirties with a young-looking face. Right now, Baby Face was trying his best Clint Eastwood out on them. Needless to say, it wasn't working. "Alright then," he said with a nod. "Move along."

With that, he drove off. David Kobold smiled as he walked backwards away from Luis. DK's Igor, Tim, pointed an imaginary gun at Luis' head. Luis rolled his eyes as the two waltzed. Neither of them realized they had come with an inch of a beating. He would throw a ticker tape parade the day those two apes got expelled.

Then everyone, not just him, would breathe a sigh of relief to not have them roaming the halls of Trevena High. They thought it was funny to mod shoot-'em-ups with the faces of their classmates. Surely, someone with authority didn't share their sick sense of humor. When an angry enough group of parents learned the legend of Trevena High's resident sociopaths, Principal Drake would have to expel them.

At least, that was the hope. It surprised Luis how much havoc these psychos had gotten away with on Principal Drake's watch. This was a guy who hunted down kids for leaving gum in water fountains. Luis had once received an hour's worth of lecturing over a tardiness of two minutes. Principal Drake was what happened when Hard met Ass. And, yet, the Demented Duo was running the place.

"Syncope" was the medical term for fainting. Once upon a time, the future principal of Trevena High, desperate for his father's approval, had entertained the notion of med school. It took his last ounce of endurance to keep from blacking out. The True Voice of the Master was one few mortals had ever lived to talk about.

"What of David Kobold and Timothy Hobb, Mr. Drake?" The True Voice of the Master seemed to reach out through his cell phone and grab George by the neck. The Master had developed an obsession with those two. The Master had entreated him to keep an eye on them. The Master wanted to make sure they developed right. "Answer me." Rarely did the Master enjoy hearing about set-backs.

George quivered in his armchair. "I have to expel them." There was a roar of sorts on the other end. From his left nostril, a trickle of blood ran down his face. A coincidence maybe but not one he appreciated. "I need to do something about them."

George looked at the documented the superintendent had sent over to him. "They assaulted a freshman; boy's parents want to press charges." Just because he served the Master didn't mean he would let him ruin his school. "I have no choice."

A silence came from the other end of the phone. "I should have known you could not handle this yourself." Another silence that felt like an hour ensued and another lingering thread of his precious sanity asphyxiated, withered and died.

"I have no choice either but to bring in help." George did not want to know what the Master's idea of a pitch hitter was. George tried to assure the Master that he had the situation under control. "Do not lie." That bass guffaw filled his office. "That is my job." The boss made a tsk-tsk noise. "He will arrive tomorrow. Show him the same respect you would me. The Master has spoken. Hail, Satan."

People had seen Alex's face. Moses had no idea what that meant to the safety of their group. Paranoid thoughts lingered in the back of his head. What if one of those witnesses tracked him down during school hours? What would happen if they needed to go into full Purgatory showdown mode at the drop of the proverbial hat?

Moses Penn needed an insurance policy. Regardless of how he justified this, nothing could make this any less wrong. Moses had brought the cache to school, the Staff of Merlin, Excalibur and the two Miskatonic scimitars that had survived the journey home. He wrapped them in a blanket. Then, he conjured the glamour of a stack of books to conceal their outward appearance from prying eyes.

Trevena High was a zero-tolerance campus. If not for that glamour, Franklin would have noticed them immediately. Franklin Roosevelt, the All-Seeing Eye of Trevena High, had eyes on everyone and everything at all hours of the day.

While he was a bit on the strict side the same way a shark was a bit on the hungry side, Moses respected Frank. That and Moses felt safe knowing their school had a complete and utter Samuel L. Jackson caliber bad-ass roaming their halls.

Like most of the male student body, Moses Penn had something of a man crush on Franklin Roosevelt. Frank was a legend. Everybody had a pet theory about him. Some insisted Frank had been an Army Ranger, an elite sniper with a lengthy service record. Others claimed that Frank had turned his life around after spending half his childhood in and out of juvie and losing a brother to a drive-by shooting.

Whatever his real back-story was, Franklin Roosevelt belonged to a near-extinct breed of modern-day knight-in-shining-armor. At the moment, Moses was putting the legend of Franklin Roosevelt to the test. Moses nodded in Frank's direction. Moses walked on carrying a blanket full of weapons wrapped in fairy light. He needed to stay calm. Glamours were only as effective as their makers.

A couple of big kids had ganged up on a smaller third kid. Frank was on it. Like a bolt of lightning, he struck. Moses watched as the two big kids endured a brief yet painful lecture. It consisted of him explaining how much he hated bullies and how the two kids were the bullies and the kid was their victim. He told them this wasn't baseball. No three strikes; they were out when he said they were out.

Franklin decided to let them off with a warning. Franklin was like that. Sound and fury, one minute, and calm and cool the next. Moses had opened his double-wide locker and shoved the bag of weapons into it during the commotion. Moses crossed himself. If there was a random locker search today, Moses would be in deep shit. The glamour melted off the blanket like snow at the end of winter.

Moses needed to know that he and Alex could defend themselves. Moses could not leave open the chance of someone tracking them. In a setting like a school, it would have been conceivable for someone to overpower Frank and ice them before they had the opportunity for an intelligent counterattack. Of course, Moses would have to make sure to choose which days he brought these weapons quite carefully.

Between dodging the All-Seeing Eye and random locker searches, there was no guarantee that any day would be entirely safe. The administration had been canny enough once last year to schedule random locker searches three days in a row. Anyone who had thought to time their illicit activities on days immediately after a locker check would have been foiled. It was actually quite the little game.

Moses entered the human freeway of students on their way to first hour. It seemed, for all intents and purposes, like the beginning of a nice day. Of course, the same could probably be said for the day he died or the day the wrong person caught up with him. Moses was a long way off from being able to see the future in a crystal ball. Until then, Moses could only see the future when it finally caught it up to him.

Valac didn't know what business the boss had with this clown, but he had received his instructions for Something Big. Whenever the boss had Something Big planned, he always tried to keep the rank-and-file in the dark as much as possible. It was a common tactic for higher-ups in the Great Below. Nonetheless, Valac was the all-time expert at loosening lips. Somebody always talked out of school.

The boss needed a political platform, Something Big to springboard off of. He needed something to galvanize the voting public, something to get the sheeple to see things his way. In other words, Something Big; that was Valac's specialty. He was the guy who knew how to bring the bad. This school was about to have a bad day.

The boss needed this tragedy and he needed it now. Valac had hijacked an auto mechanic in Kingman. As any moron with half a brain could have guessed, Morgan le Fay was having trouble getting her brute of a son to behave. Mordred just killed and killed until there was no one left standing. Mordred slew everything and everyone he ran afoul of without the slightest hint of hesitation or deliberation.

A valuable asset in an all-out war, Mordred was a through-and-through liability at the moment. While Valac lacked the brute's raw strength and brutality, he had a method to his madness. Valac looked out at their intended cast of victims. "Nice cattle you got down there." Principal Drake's breathing got very shallow.

The guy had no sense of humor. "What do you plan to do to them?" Valac considered the question. A low man on the totem pole, Principal Drake's rank didn't warrant the explanation he was going to get. Still, he found his devotion to the students of Trevena High School somewhat cute in a pathetic and needy way.

Perhaps, the boss would forgive Valac for sharing with Boy George a morsel of the shape of things to come. Valac smiled with his borrowed lips. "George, can I call you George?" George nodded. "Good." Valac paced around. "I would venture a guess that, when you heard I was coming, you were picturing something a bit more intimidating." He nodded ever so hesitantly. "It is alright to say so. I am not a big fan of the whole devil vaudeville routine." Valac cracked his borrowed knuckles.

"I mean, who are we trying to impress? Do we not already own your soul?" Valac leaned back in his chain. "So, my attitude is that we don't need to make your life a living Hell because your afterlife will be a literal hell. Until such time as I am placing the ball gag on your eternally damned soul, I have no interest in tormenting you." Valac stretched out. "Then let us talk turkey. When I am done with this here school of yours, it will be the safest place on earth, even from the real monsters."

Valac flashed George a toothy grin. "So don't worry about it. I have it all worked out. Where's Hobby?" The boss had been hoping to go long on the Timothy Hobb account. High school massacres were so last decade. Nowadays, it was all about the universities. At least, Valac's boss, a naturally angry guy, would not have to get work up about whether or not Tim was smart enough to get into college.

Tim had barely made it this far. Principal Drake shrugged. "I can tell you where he's not." The tall important man in the business suit looked out the window of his office. "He's not in class." George scribbled something on a piece of paper.

"Here's his address." The man sighed. "I never wanted this." Valac rolled his eyes. Valac couldn't go even one day without the sad debtor soliloquy. "I just wanted my little Debbie to live." Bill looked at her picture on his desk. "Is that so wrong?"

That deserved a laugh. "When you make a deal with the devil to cure her cancer, yeah, it is." Valac shook his head. "But none of this affects any of that." Debs was a good-looking gal but nothing he would have sold his soul over. "She will live."

Valac paced the width and length of the office. "The pact cannot be altered, so again, no need to worry." Valac looked up at the ceiling. "Unlike the winged church choir upstairs, devils don't have to lie to get what they want." Valac handed George Drake the paperwork for the work order. "Sign here, here, here and initial there."

Timothy Hobb blew away another Negroid monster with paired sub-machine guns. Tim had once again rewritten the programming of the video game to keep up with his evolving sensibilities. David had bailed on him and went out into the woods for shooting practice. Timothy unscrewed the top of the bottle and downed his pills. The only upside of this day was that Tim didn't have to be in school today.

Timothy heard a knock at the door. Helen told him never to answer the front door when he was home alone. Timothy's reply to her advice: "Screw Helen!" Tim paused the game and answered the door. Outside stood this pudgy beardo; the Pillsbury Dough-Boy had on overalls covered in various stains. So either this guy was a mechanic or he had crapped his pants without cleaning up afterwards.

"Hi there, son." The mechanic had an accent Tim couldn't quite place. "I got something of an embarrassing situation." The mechanic held his wide-brimmed hat in his hands. "Could I, by chance, bother you to use your facilities?" Timothy Hobb rolled his eyes. The old man had gotten his stupid ass lost and he needed to take a dump ASAP. Timothy decided to let the poor bastard in. Lard-ass just stood there.

"Come in." Jesus, it was like the guy needed an invitation or something. The mechanic stepped across the threshold and made a beeline for the only bathroom in the house. For the next few minutes, he was treated to a gastrointestinal symphony followed by the hiss of a Lysol spray can and the sound of the toilet flushing.

The mechanic walked out of the bathroom. "I gotta thank you for that, son," the mechanic said, again with that heavy accent. "Not a lot of folks around here would have invited a stranger into their house, even under these circumstances." The mechanic donned his hat and left. With that long smelly intermission out of the way, Timothy Hobb was free to pick up where he left off, killing Negroid ghouls.

The enemy had him cornered in a broom closet in the school basement. Tim armed himself with a grenade. The ceiling fan was circulating. He didn't remember turning it on. Then the fan switch flipped itself off. The fan came to a full stop. Tim must have been tripping balls. Except these pills were not those kinds of pills.

At least, he didn't think they were. The fan blades spun around but this time in reverse. Then, the ceiling fan started to scat like a DJ at a mixing board, going back and forth. No way. Tim looked back at the screen to see his grenade thrown back at him. Before Timothy could do anything about it, he got himself all blown up.

"Great," Tim said to nobody. "Now, I'm dead." Tim stared up at the ceiling fan. Tim climbed up on his bed. As the fan did its dance again, Timothy grabbed a hold of it. Timothy stared down at his lone pill bottle. Maybe, they were those kinds of pills. What other explanation was there for the fan spinning around like that?

Timothy rubbed his left temple as he walked into the kitchen. For the first time in his life, Tim had to agree with something Helen had said. It was entirely possible that he did spend too much playing video games. Tim caught his reflection in the surface of the microwave. He had not slept in days. Right now, he looked like something a hobo would have taken pity on. A little milk might even him out.

Tim grabbed the closest non-expired milk carton. He held it to his lips. Helen always bitched about him drinking from the carton. If any part of Timothy gave a damn, it was news to him. Years had passed since that broken china fistfight that ended his father's first marriage. Tim's actual mother had been quite the bruiser.

Timothy Hobb didn't know what Dad saw in that woman. Helen had the brains of an autopsy corpse. If not for her fake tits, she wouldn't even have her dead-end job as a topless server at one of those titty bars in the Lincoln Projects. Tim hated thinking about Helen even to curse her name. Helen was nobody, a real nothing-on-her-mind Kardashian wannabe with a single digit IQ on her best days.

"Wow." Tim looked around for the voice's source. "They don't get much more white trash than you, do they?" Timothy continued looking. "Warmer, warmer, warmer," Tim walked into the bathroom. Tim turned on the light. "Red hot, Tiny Tim." Tim Hobb caught another glimpse of his own reflection. Tim's mirror face was twisted into an impossibly wide grin he did not (and could not) currently have on.

"Timothy Hobb, come on down. You're the next contestant on Demon Finger Puppets, the hit infernal game show where one lucky demon enters your body and makes you his Finger Puppet bitch." Tim hyperventilated as he fell away from the bathroom mirror. "There is no point in thinking what you're thinking right now." Mirror Tim winked at him. "You didn't fall asleep playing one of your video games. Trust me." Mirror Tim whipped his tongue across his teeth. "You think you're having a bad dream now?" Mirror Tim shook his head. "Just you wait."

Mirror Tim reached through the mirror and grabbed him by the throat. "Open wide." Mirror Tim's fingers reached all the way down his throat. "Careful, you got a big load coming down your esophagus; I don't want you to choke on it."

Mirror Tim's body flattened and followed his finger down his throat. All the while, Tim was gagging. Tim could not help screaming the moment he saw the worms under his skin, fanning out from his stomach and making their way into his brain. "You suck demon like a pro." Timothy felt his neck cracked against his will. "Now, then, let us get your friend David Kobold on the line and see if he's game."

Tim pressed speed dial on the cell. Tim tried to overcome the demon with everything he had inside of him. Their battle took less time than it took for that mechanic to take a dump. "You done trying to prove you're a bad-ass?" Tim drifted into unconsciousness. The demon was reprogramming him like he was a damn video game. "Now that we have the orientation out of the way, let's get to work, shall we?"

Franklin Roosevelt opened the locker. He had hoped that his taking care of those two bullies made it seem like he had been distracted. Moses never suspected a thing. To the student body of Trevena High School, Franklin was just another adult authority figure. It never occurred to any of them that he had been young once too.

Franklin knew all the tell-tale signs of a guilty conscience: the excessive politeness and the paranoid gestures like looking both ways before leaving his locker. Things like these didn't reveal the whole story but it gave him hints of something out of sorts. If you knew what to look for, you never had to look too far for trouble. He braced himself; he had found some weird stuff in these lockers.

"Oh, damn." Moses Penn belonged to that rare category of teenagers he had never bothered to keep tabs on. In all his years working here, he never received a single complaint about him. "It's always the quiet ones." This was why Franklin Roosevelt kept on eye on everything. It was impossible to know anything for sure.

Franklin couldn't find a single ranged weapon, all hand-to-hand weaponry. Still, Franklin had known his share of D&D nerds and RenFest enthusiasts who didn't realize that their zero-tolerance policy applied to their little toys too.

Frank couldn't stop staring at these weapons. They looked real. He ran his finger along the edge of one. They felt real. The only non-bladed weapon looked like sturdy enough. Frank had seen someone take a nasty beating from a stick like that. Damn thing only snapped after it had split a guy's skull open. Needless to say, it would be a decent bludgeoning weapon, if you had nothing else to work with.

Franklin took a moment to catch his breath. This was some crazy Frank didn't need. Franklin needed to regain his composure. His brother Teddy had been a Navy Seal. Franklin would have probably been one too if not for his condition.

Doctors couldn't make heads or tails of it. He was a healthy specimen who occasionally had trouble breathing. Frank's lungs had got him halfway through Basic when they decided to quit. They discharged his ass and that was that.

During his next renaissance, Frank tried for the police academy. Apparently, they weren't too interested in a guy with trouble breathing. Jobs like mall security were more on the forgiving side but he was careful to hide his condition whenever possible. Franklin Roosevelt had nearly emptied the contents of the locker onto the floor when he heard a noise. "Well, this day just keeps getting more interesting."

It sounded like a rush of air moving down the hallway. Like that vacuum of air any fast-moving object created in its wake. Franklin stuffed the blanket full of weapons back into the locker and slammed it shut. In all the year he had worked at Trevena, he had never even considered using his gun. Frank knew this clown.

It was Timothy Charles Hobbs, perennial troublemaker and former student. "Hello," Tim said as Frank drew his gun. "Goodbye." In a blink of an eye, Tim was gone. Frank ran to the spot where he had last seen him. Tim was in the wind.

Franklin reached for his walkie, unsure of how to call this one in. Franklin Roosevelt's lungs might be a little scatter shot but his eyes were 20/20. Tim Hobb was like a damn ghost kid. He had been there one second and then gone the next.

Of course, what Frank saw could not have been a ghost. Tim wasn't dead yet. Franklin shrugged. Weapons were contraband. That meant Franklin would have to confiscate them, but not before he told Principal Drake what had just happened.

David Kobold sprung to his feet, his underwear around his ankles. Damned cell phone always rang at the most inopportune times. Dave had just gotten done thinking about Emily Barnes from fourth hour. Damn, she had more curves than a mountain highway. He wiped his fingers clean on a clump of tissue paper before removing his cell from the charger. Needless to say, this had better be important.

"Hey, it's me." Tim had a dark tone in his voice. "It's time to implement the Plan." Dave's eyes widened. "That's right; today's the day." How about that? It looked like Christmas had come early this year. Regardless, David was skeptical. "Come on, I'm not kidding." Tim growled. "Move your ass." Like that, David was off like a bullet. He had practiced the ritual and routine of this moment for years now.

David had packed away the weapons Mr. Harris had sold them in the attic. Dave dreamed about the day they would get their moment in the sun. "I'm bringing the package." Tim was even using the code words Dave had gone to the trouble of inventing. "You bring everything else." Tim couldn't see it but Dave was ready.

Dave had read the Plan a dozen times on Timothy Hobb's blog. Dave had fantasized about it. Now, Dave and Tim were actually going to do it. They would kill all those bastards and bitches. David grabbed his keys off the nightstand. According to the Plan, it was important for them to huddle up in the parking lot first.

There were still a lot of details to go over; they needed this to run perfectly. Timothy would have planted the package in the library by the time David showed up. He didn't intend it to cause much damage. The package was a distraction to make the most of the fifteen-minute window the Plan would have to succeed or fail.

Dave Kobold pulled into the parking lot next to Tim. David could not see Tim's truck anywhere. "Package is in place, David. Did you bring the rest of it?" Dave popped the trunk of the yellow Camaro. Tim stared hungrily at the weapons.

"Good, good," Tim said as he probed the guns with his eyes. Tim checked his wristwatch. The shock-wave from the package nearly knocked David off his feet. "Okay, let's make history." Timothy Hobb pulled out a set of paired sub-machine guns. David armed himself with a shotgun, a semi-auto and a rifle. Just in case.

"There's no going back now. Are you ready for this?" Dave couldn't remember a time when he wasn't. The other kids treated him like a freak. Then, David stared wearing the trench coat. He told them what he'd like to do to them if he ever got his hands on a real gun. That only made things worse. Adults had no sense of humor when it came to threatening their little minions. All that would change today.

Whether he lived or died, everyone would know their names. They would join the ranks of legends like Timothy McVeigh. Timothy didn't seem nervous. The kid talked a big game just like him but, besides building a bomb, he didn't have the guts for any real violence. Tim was a schemer but he couldn't kick his own scrawny ass.

Now, Timothy Hobb looked ready to paint the hallways in the blood of his classmates. Any sign of fear or hesitation Tim had in the past had vanished as he marched through the hallways. David was impressed to say the least. On their predestined day of glory, Timmy's balls had finally dropped. No need to hold his hand through the bloody parts. This was going to be fun. No one could stop them.

David saw Franklin, the school's big damn security guard. Bang! Bang! Bye, bye, Franklin. David stared at the late Franklin Roosevelt. He wasn't quite dead. "Are you having trouble breathing?" Dave circled the Soon-To-Be-Dead Guy. "I can fix that, Frankie." David held his hand over his mouth. And, so finally, the legend of Franklin Roosevelt was finally put to rest. Time to continue checking names off the list; this was going to be even more fun than David Kobold ever thought it could be.

Alexander Julius Penn heard the explosion. The two gunshots followed mere seconds later. Mr. Ramerth screamed at everyone to get away from the door. Alex and his fellow classmates gathered in the back of the room. Mr. Ramerth braced himself against the only door in and out of the room. Their teacher had made up his mind. If any gunmen were getting into this room, it would be over his dead body.

Alex looked around to see if Abigail Vennard had joined the crowd. Abby sat in a corner, clutching her knees and rocking back and forth. Abigail, the kind of girl one could rely on to do battle with sun-fearing flesh-eaters from another dimension, usually didn't indulge the emotion of fear in a high-stress situation like this one.

Her reason for succumbing fear this time was simple. She loved Mr. Ramerth. Everyone did. He made Biology a class every student wanted to attend. He cared about each student like his own son or daughter. In a way, she must have been the first to sense what would happen next. "We gotta get outta here." There was no point in them staying behind and invalidating Mr. Ramerth's sacrifice.

"Boo!" A face popped up next to Alex Penn, sporting a handgun. Three bullets tore through the front door and Mr. Ramerth. David Kobold placed the barrel of his pistol up Alex's left nostril. "Say goodnight, bitch!" At that moment, Abigail, armed with a rock from the class terrarium, attacked David. Abby broke a few fingers and disarmed him, all in one blow. David cried as he stared at his crushed right hand.

Timothy Hobb was trying to kick through a bullet-ridden door. Only problem with that was the two-hundred-pound corpse in the way. Alex and Abby jumped out the window as David Kobold retreated back into the school. As the world around the two descended into chaos, Alex tried to think clearly. Unfortunately, thinking in a clear rational way was a lot harder with the possibility of being shot on the table.

Timothy had just killed Mr. Ramerth. David had likely done some killing of his own. They had a taste for blood. That made them both quite dangerous. Alex had faced men like them before. Not in this life but in the many that preceded it. They weren't knights. They weren't soldiers. They were killers. They were barbarians. The only thing that had changed since then was the hardware.

Moses had brought weapons to school. It was their insurance policy for the vigilante activity they had committed in the Lincoln Projects. "Abby," Alex said as he grabbed her by the arm. "We need weapons." Abby nodded. "We have weapons."

Against every instinct in their bodies, Alex and Abby ventured back into Trevena High, a school under attack. "I know where to find them but it will not be easy."

This was the moment Alex decided to be the hero for once. Swinging a sword when you were up to your neck in ghouls wasn't heroic. It was merely the survival instinct kicking in. To be a real hero, one had to face real monsters. This was more than just a bid to put an end to a school massacre in progress. This was Alexander Julius Penn paying it forward. This was a rescue mission. Target: Everybody.

"God, please don't let me die." As Alex and Abigail reentered the danger zone, Moses crashed into a wall after running like a champion sprinter. "Moses," Alex said as he reached out to his brother. "God, what is happening? What the Hell is going on?" Alex knew the score. David Kobold and Timothy Hobb were two ticking time bombs of insanity. Both their timers had finally reached zero on this morning.

It was an unsuspecting beginning to an unsuspecting week in the last month before summer vacation. Moses led the way to his locker as they tried to keep up with him. Moses was the doughier of the two brothers, no argument there but he could run when he needed to. Right now, he really needed to. They said Moses could outrun the Devil. This was not the first time Merlin had the Devil at his heels.

Luis Enrique Lanza waited in the library for the inevitable. The explosion had ripped apart half the library. The other half of the library had all the scared people hiding under tables and behind bookshelves, unsure of where to go. Luis knew that this might mean the end of this life and the start of the next. Luis did not care. If there was an opportunity to go out with some dignity, Luis planned to take it.

At that moment, Timothy Hobb entered the library. Mrs. Aronofsky's head exploded into red as she made a play for the gun. Luis looked into Tim's eyes. Luis could swear he could see flickers of fire burning within those eye sockets. Luis needed to keep his cool. Timothy Hobb, despite the sub-machine guns in his hands, didn't have any special abilities. Luis had offed ghouls without breaking a sweat.

Surely, he'd find a way to kill this clown. "Hey, I know you." Timothy Hobb smiled as he approached Emily Barnes. "You're that religious girl in my fourth hour. You asked me once if I knew that God loved me." Tim grinned. "Does God love you now?" Emily nodded as Timothy trained one of his guns on the space between her eyes. Timothy's eyes flashed red and nodded in the direction of Mrs. Aronofsky.

"How about her, Em? Did God love her? Did He love her so much He took her away from her loving husband? Is that how much God loved Gabrielle Aronofsky?" Emily shook her head in defiance. Timothy Hobb cracked his neck and chuckled.

"Nope," Tim said as he circled Emily, both guns pointed in her direction. "God stopped loving you a long time ago. The first time you disobeyed Him, He cast you out into the wilderness and He didn't give a damn if you survived or not." Timothy rested the guns on Emily's head. Damn freak was enjoying this. "God hates you."

Emily quivered in silence. Tim crashed to his knees as a bullet dug into his back. Luis looked around to see Abigail Vennard with a smoking handgun in her hands. "Shut the Hell up and get out of here now before I put a bullet in your brain." Timothy chuckled as he turned the sub-machine guns on them. A swipe of Excalibur and the two guns split into four pieces. "Give it up, it's over, finished."

Tim reached for his derringer. Before they could react, Tim pulled the trigger. Alex, Abby and Moses noted the surviving witnesses. What would they do with them? It would take less than a minute for them to Tweet, post on Facebook or tell the media what they had seen. Luis knew that they couldn't let that happen.

Still, what could they do about that? Moses reached for the Staff of Merlin. "Ladies and gentleman, if I could have your attention please ..." Moses smiled as a white light from his staff filled the room. Up until recently, Moses had only a few powers at his disposal. For the most part, Moses could create illusions and see the things others could not. Now, he had figured out a way to blank people's memories.

Luis leaned up next to Moses. "When did you learn you could do that?" Moses smiled that guilty sheepish grin. "What?" Luis shook his head in disbelief. "You mean to tell me you just figured that out right now?" Moses nodded. Moses looked around as their memory tracks resumed their regularly scheduled programming. All they could remember was Timothy freaking out and killing himself just now.

"Well, I figured that some of my powers are psychic in nature. So, I took a risk I may have other psychic abilities as well, telepathy, hypnosis, that sort of thing." Moses looked up at the cameras staring at them. "I got something that will work on the surveillance equipment as well." Luis nodded. "Well, let's get out of here." One down, one to go, there was no reason to leave this caper half-finished.

Principal George Drake came across David Kobold. It was a sorry sight to behold. David was leaning against the wall as he cradled his mangled right hand. "We have a problem." David spoke in an unearthly voice. George recognized this sad creature. The hench-demon had possessed David Kobold. It looked like someone had smashed up his host. "Four of your students have top billing of my boss' hit list."

David cranked his head in George's direction and handed him his shotgun. "Kill them or face the boss' wraith." George Ernest Drake grabbed the sides of his head. His precious Deborah had defeated her cancer thanks to the unholy alliance he had formed with the fallen. And though he would not say it in some many words, the boss could easily take away the miracle he had bestowed upon him and his own.

The Master could easily allow the dormant cancer cells to metastasize into her bloodstream. "Okay, I'll kill them. What do they look like?" The demon smiled with his borrowed set of lips. That was the one part of being a demon's slave he had grown accustomed to. George Drake had grown used to that omnipresent miasma of condescension that ruling demons exuded in the presence of their soul debtors.

"Like kids armed with swords and staves," it replied as if answering the question of a three-year-old boy asking if Santa Claus was real. "If all else fails, kill the survivors and I mean all of them and let God sort them out." The demon placed the gun to his left temple. "See you in Hell, George." David Kobold splattered his brains everywhere. David's lifeless husk fell over as the demon abandoned ship.

George barricaded himself in his office and spooled through surveillance footage. Then, he saw it. Tim got shot by Abigail Vennard. Alexander Penn sliced two sub-machine guns in half. Moses, the twin brother of Alex, raised a wooden walking stick. A beam of white light emanated from the top of the wooden stick. Luis climbed out from under his desk after Tim shot himself dead. George could hardly believe his eyes. He'd never heard of Ascended awakening so early before.

Unless he had missed something, he had located the four students the demon wanted him to kill. George considered his options. This was, in many ways, exactly like the night the doctor told him about Debbie's brain tumor. They didn't sugarcoat it. His daughter was going to die. It was going to be a slow miserable death the likes of which science could not avert. A lump the size of a golf ball had killed her future.

Where was God in all this? That was the question that drove him over the edge. He had been willing to make a deal with Him. George Drake would have gladly allowed God to remove her tumor and put it in his head if He so desired. Neither his pleas for mercy nor his wish to die in his daughter's steed provoked the slightest response. God was not the sort to make deals. So, George found someone who was.

Of course, the lowest price he could bargain it down to was far worse than a slow miserable death. To save Deborah, George had to throw his immortal soul into the everlasting flames of the bottomless pit. Deborah was worth it. This was worth it. George weighed all his options. Principal Drake turned on the P.A. system. No reason left to go at this with subtlety, Deborah Drake's life hung in the balance.

"Abigail Vennard, Luis Lanza, Alexander and Moses Penn," George said in his best impression of the Master's voice. "Please report to my office." Principal Drake checked the shotgun for rounds and trained it on the door to his office.

George looked at the picture on his desk. He couldn't help but smile one last time. This was likely going to be the last George Ernest Drake would ever see his daughter in this life or the next. Deborah Suzanne Drake was going to grow up and make a difference in this world. No brain tumor was going to stop that now.

"What the Hell?" Luis asked for everyone present. Principal Drake had never called them into his office before and never during a school massacre. Moses looked at his teammates. In a blink of an eye, their weapons were spirited away into their backpacks. Suddenly, being caught with weapons was not such a bright idea.

The other students barely noticed the anomalous summoning over the P.A. Moses could not ignore the call. They could either go to his office or wait for him to hunt them down. The fact that he knew their names implied that he could see them, likely through the surveillance cameras Moses Penn still needed to take care of.

The four of them shared a nod. They exited the library and entered into the office cubicles next to the principal's office. Moses looked around. As the quartet made their death march to the principal's office, Moses decided to buy them a little insurance policy. Principal Drake must have been desperate to tie their toe tags.

Desperate people rarely planned for setbacks. "I don't really look that fat, do I?" Luis asked Moses as he took a look at the glamour of himself. Unfortunately (and fortunately), this glamour looked exactly like them, only a few yards ahead of them. As the illusory four stepped in front of the principal's office, buckshot sprayed into their nonexistent bodies. Alex and Luis fell back. Principal Drake thought they were dead. Abigail returned fire with the gunman, catching him by surprise.

Abby had emptied the handgun by the time she had hit something. Alex and Luis crept out from around the corner as Moses readied his staff with some combat magick. There in the principal's office sat Principal Drake, slumped over and bleeding out. Moses could have in all likelihood healed him if he really wanted to. "Why? Why would you do this?" Principal Drake replied by eating his shotgun.

Blood, brains and bone painted the walls of his office. Abigail grabbed a rag from Principal Drake's desk, wiped the handgun of prints and deposited it in the nearby trashcan. This should have felt like a victory. The four had averted most of a school massacre. They had defeated a principal who clearly didn't have his ducks in a row. They had applied the skills from their past lives to triumph. They had won.

Still, what they lost in the process far outweighed the benefits. David Kobold and Timothy Hobb had killed, at least, a half dozen people, some of which they had known since kindergarten. Principal George Drake's part in all this would remain a mystery, one he took to his grave. Moses felt a little green around the gills. This was not a ghoul or a junkyard wizard. Drake was a man he had known for years.

Somehow, Moses only felt victory in the sense of winning a battle. A greater war loomed on the horizon and they merely survived the first shot. Then, of course, for Moses Penn, there was the issue of remaining anonymous. No one could know what had transpired here. Armed with his latest power, Men-In-Black style neuralizer type hypnosis, he would have to erase everyone's memories of their triumph over evil.

No thanks and no adulation for the severe risks they had taken, the four of them would vanish off the radar. No lingering thought of what they had done here today. The other three left the office. Moses stayed behind for one final chore. He sent a jolt of white light into the tapes. As far as anyone knew, David Kobold and Timothy Hobb had gone to the trouble of erasing their tracks before rampaging.

Who would argue against it? These guys had clearly planned this for a very long time. Surely, they had worked out all the odds and ends in their plotting of a massacre. Moses looked over the body of Principal George Drake. Moses Penn didn't know what happened to the man who used to compliment him whenever he saw him in the hallway. By all accounts, George Drake was one of the good guys.

His daughter, Deborah, called him (without irony or sarcasm) the nicest father any child could hope for. And yet the World's Greatest Dad tried to murder them all with a shotgun. Moses stared into those dead empty eyes which gave no answers to his questions. He joined the remaining survivors as emergency personnel shuffled in and out of the building. Moses was running on fumes.

Moses couldn't get his mind off of Timothy Hobb. Something in his eyes had disturbed him. It transcended the madness necessary to commit such a random act of wholesale slaughter. The spark in those hollow eyes reminded him of something Merlin had seen in almost all of his previous lives. It remained him of the eyes of an eternal enemy. It reminded him of the eyes of a soulless killer, the eyes of a demon.

"You cowardly crap," the Master scolded as he spoke to Valac through a pay-phone. "You should have stayed behind and finished them off." Valac felt the blood in this human's veins boil at the sound of the Master's true voice. "You left the mission half done. It may require my intervention to set right this comedy of errors." The Master paused. "Do you have anything to say for yourself, imp?"

Valac swallowed the lump in his throat. "One of them had Excalibur." A deep echoing growl came from the other end. Valac knew how well the master handled bad news. "I didn't think I could face him alone." Valac paused. "I figured you would have more use for me alive than dead." Valac chuckled nervously as the silence on the other end of the pay-phone echoed to through all the bones of his human host.

"You made a wise choice," the Master grudgingly admitted. "I have no use for you dead." The Master laughed. "I barely have use for you now." The Master paused to choose his next words with care. "Indeed, your death would have only served to embolden our enemies." Valac smiled. "Do not take that as a sign of my approval. I've known demons who would have freely sacrificed themselves."

It felt weird for Valac to go inside a human female. It felt like cross-dressing. Unlike fallen angels, Valac began life as a human, a Roman centurion to be precise. Picking hosts from the opposite gender felt unnatural. He could not change so easily from one gender to the gender without it interfering with his mental faculties. Valac's inner flesh crawled as he felt all the odd fleshy bits of this female form.

Regardless of the inconvenience, he needed a body to reach the car parked in front of the Hobb residence. Inside the trunk resided the still fresh corpse of an auto mechanic. With any luck, he would still have enough juice left in his batteries to get Valac out of town before the cops showed up. Valac cursed under his breath. Valac had made a mistake wasting valuable minutes to report his failure to the Master.

Due to cosmic constraints placed upon his kind by the divine dictator, demons couldn't stray more than six hundred sixty-six cubits from their host body without picking up a new one. That meant if he ever went more than a fifth of a mile from his host body, his demon soul would get sucked back down into Hell. There, Valac would endure another century of torment before he got another chance to escape.

Valac, a clever demon, never tested the limitations of this but coming within stabbing distance of Excalibur had left him weak of spirit. He couldn't super-speed his way the final block to Timothy Hobb's house. Only his demon form could cross that distance unseen. Valac separated himself from this lady's body and wrestled back control of the auto mechanic's body. Valac punched his way out of the trunk.

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