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Learned Women

"If we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women." – Abigail Adams

"Girlfriend, we need to talk." Abigail Kathleen Vennard opened her eyes and saw a pair of eyes staring down at her from the ceiling. The floating red-haired girl descended on top of her bed. "And by 'talk,' I mean you need to listen to me."

Abigail gripped the object under her bed. "You need to come back with me and let me finish what I started." In the blink of an eye, Abby jammed the iron knife through the ribcage and into the heart. The girl looked down at her chest, more annoyed than horrified. "Iron?" The girl plucked out the knife. "Really?"

Abigail stared in disbelief as the wound healed up. "I don't understand." The inexplicable iron-friendly fairy licked her blood off the knife. "Iron's supposed to …" Abby didn't want to finish the sentence. Of course, she wanted to kill her. As far as she knew, stabbing her with a consecrated iron knife should have punched her clock.

Hell, she took away two months of her life and killing her might not bring them back but it would make her feel better. "Feel better?" Abby nodded sheepishly. "And don't worry." The fairy lady holstered the iron knife. "I don't hold grudges."

The fairy lady smiled. The fairy transformed into an owl and perched her on top of the TV set in her room. "A lot of people try to kill me. I'm used to it." Abby marveled at the talking owl. "I guess I should count my blessings you didn't stab me with the sword Excalibur. Now, that would have killed me proper graveyard dead."

Abby cursed under her breath. Why didn't I think of that? Then, Abby straightened up and eyeballed the owl fairy. "Wait!" Abby pointed an accusing finger. "How do you know about Excalibur?" The knowing owl turned back into a woman.

The knowing woman crouched down at the foot of her bed. Abby considered the possibility that one of Lord Belial's lackeys had kidnapped her but that didn't make sense. A blessed knife would have scalded even a demon lord. She didn't even flinch. The woman stood up and locked eyes at Abigail Vennard. "What did you do to me?"

The fairy lady rolled her eyes. "I did a lot of things to you but it is what I didn't do that matters most right now because …" The fairy lady looked around at the vast mosaic of drawings fastened to the four walls of her bedroom with push-pins and tape.

"You obviously remember something about your stay with us." The fairy woman eyeballed one of her drawings in particular, one of an organic castle made entirely of flowers. "And trust me when I say you don't want to remember this."

Abby shook her head. "How can you say that?" Abby spread her arms in a theatrical gesture. "For two weeks, I have done nothing except sit in my room and draw pictures of your world." A tear rolled one of her eyes. "I would give anything to go back there." Abby sighed. "Why would I want to forget something like that?"

The fairy lady smiled. "I think you just answered your own question." The fairy circled Abby's bed. "Think back to all the myths about the fairy realms. What usually happened to the hapless human who returns from the summer lands?"

The answer hit Abby all at once. "Bingo!" The fairy extended a hand to the drawing of the flower castle. "They spend the rest of their short miserable lives obsessing over it, risking life and limb just for the smallest chance to sneak another peek at my world. That's why we erase memories. That's why I need to erase yours."

The fairy lady sighed. "Unfortunately, because of you and your super-friend, I botched the last attempt at memory erasure. So I need to erase my last erasure which means you will get to have your memories back at least until I can figure out how to erase them again. Sound fair?" Abby shook her head. "Too bad." The fairy lady placed her hand against her forehead. "Life's not fair, girlfriend, and, frankly. neither I am."

Luther Penn sat on his bed with his head in his hands. Somewhere in the Cascades, far from the safety net of civilization, the severed head of the atypical anthrophage sat at the center of a future altar. Azazel, the universe's first geneticist, set to work analyzing this Herbert West knock-off with every magick at his disposal.

Azazel's human followers were equal parts deadly psychopaths and blind idiots. What those cultists lacked in either sanity or humanity they more than made up for in loyalty. They would serve as the bricks and mortar of this occult electron microscope, an extravagant endeavor for what felt like a foregone conclusion.

Luther laid down on his bed, watching at the ceiling fan go round and round. Round and round. When someone glimpsed the future as often as he did, the idea of history as a straight line went right out the window. It went in circles. Sometimes at a leisure pace like an elderly man with his walking stick on a scroll around the block.

Other times with the manic resolve of a dog chasing his own tail. His sons, Alex and Moses, had died before in other lives and would have died again had he left them to their own devices. Still, even without the second sight, he knew they would seek out newer and more dangerous adversaries. At best, Luther had nudged the exact time of their deaths a little ways into that unknown number of tomorrows this world had left.

December 21, 2012. Before pop culture ran it into the ground, there lived only a select few for whom that date had any special significance. The so-called end of the world. Many were comforted by the thought that they lived through the end of the world. But the date itself wasn't the true end of the world, merely the beginning of the end.

Everyone had a pet theory. A few Granola crunchers even got themselves to believe that the world would take a turn for the better. The Age of Aquarius where everyone got naked and lived in a blissful orgy. Common sense ruled out that theory.

When, in all the hundreds of centuries of human history, did anything just get better on its own without any effort or hard worm? People had to bust their humps for their so-called happily-ever-afters and sometimes their lives still ended in tragedy.

After three harrowing years of hopping from city to city, living in apartments no better than this over-sized roach motel and facing the stuff of nightmares, Luther still remembered the things that mattered. Luther still remembered Irene's face from the day he saw her on campus. Irene was like the sun except she was always shining.

Hector Garland had taken a job as a teacher's aid in the USU's anthropology department. The recent dig there had unearthed what appeared to be a relic from the Miskatonic Desert, meaning that an inter-dimensional nexus resided nearby.

Of course, "nearby" could mean anything from a couple blocks down the road to a hundred miles out of town. Still, if the children of Azazel discovered this passage, that could mean brand-new monsters could be set loose on the sprawling metropolis. Hector wouldn't take that chance. The elders gave him free rein on the assignment.

As the token team psychic, Luther Penn enrolled in the University of San Uriel to stay in touch for Hector Garland as he went sniffing around Alice's rabbit hole. Luther had evaded a shotgun-wielding redneck the night before. Weiss Salvage Yard was the kind of place that invited the appearance of shotgun-wielding rednecks.

Fresh off his near-dear experience with a one-man lynch mob, he didn't except to fall in love. Of course, Luther couldn't think of anyone who could predict falling in love. Still, Luther had seen his future many times. He had not seen a lot of candle-lit dinners and white picket fences in the outing. Just enough blood and horror to fill a dozen lifetimes. The pitiful life of a man beholden to the Order of the Solar Temple.

Luther never once believed that the elders would let him have this beautiful life. Each day he had with Irene could end with an ominous late-night phone call from Hector with new orders. Yet, for fifteen years, it never happened. Hector would never admit it but he dragged his feet in the completion of their special mission.

The elders, in the past, had granted agents whole decades to complete special missions. Ancient defenders of the human race, the Solar Temple elders believed in getting the job done right the first time. Even if it took half a lifetime to do so.

A political science major, Irene had a glorious future ahead of her before she met him. Irene gave it all up amidst heated protests. Whenever Luther cautioned her not to throw her career away, she would ask him one question. "Do you love me?" If the answer remained the same, so would hers. Nothing in the cutthroat world of U.S. politics could match of the serenity of true love. So, Senator Mallory never existed.

In time, Hector Garland moved onto greener pastures and left Luther in charge of their special mission which, by now, had more to do with raising a family than plugging up a hole in the world. If Hector hadn't died fighting those damned monsters in the Philippines, this arrangement could have gone on for decades. But Hector Garland did die and one night Luther did receive that dreaded call from Kaph, the one elder who had never liked the idea of the organization "taking in strays" as he had so eloquently put it. He took no small amount of pleasure of ripping away everything Luther had built in that small three-bedroom suburban residence.

"Come now, orphan boy," Kaph had taunted over the phone. "You knew this day would come." Kaph had even laughed. "You should thank me. The punishment of treason would have been decapitation. At least, this way, you get to keep your head on that scrawny neck of yours." Kaph had a sadist streak uncommon among elders. Kaph reveled in the torment of others. "Leave them and join your brothers in battle."

Then, as Luther had turned to collect his things and leave, the truth of the situation dawned on him. Irene would never stop looking for him. And, if she came close to finding him, Kaph would have her meat served up to him in a banquet in his honor. If he wanted her to live, he needed to make sure she would never follow him.

Luther begged Kaph for a stay of one year. The last time he ever begged anyone for anything. The old bastard had refused until he had learned what he had planned to do with that year. If he could not break her spirit, he would break her heart. Planting the evidence he needed to ignite her imagination, he ended that year with a letter that confirmed the suspicions he had planted in her brain. "It's finished."

Azazel appeared in his room. "It's finished." Luther asked the cosmic horror what he had found. "Exactly what you feared I would." Azazel's omnipresent grin seemed to slip from his face. Always the joker, Azazel had reveled in the chance to watch a modern-day paladin choose between the lesser of two evils. Now, the oldest monster realized what Luther's plan would mean to his children. "What do we do?"

Luther Penn smirked, amused by the fear in the creature's eyes. "Whatever we can." Azazel had aided him in the assassination of Kaph, something Luther could not have accomplished on his own. Azazel, the Watcher King, relished the opportunity to tip the scales in his favor by putting the fear of God into those untouchable elders.

In return, Luther Penn got the OK from the elders to come back to San Uriel. Just in time for Irene's funeral. Gimel, Kaph's closest thing to a friend, warned him not to reveal himself to his sons. "Three unmarked graves," Gimel reminded Luther when he left to resume his mission to contain the California-Miskatonic wormhole.

Abigail's eyes fluttered as the memories rushed back in. She remembered waking up to the chill of snow on her pajamas. Herodias (the name of the owl fairy lady that had kidnapped her) had sliced a vertical slash across her palm and drawn the symbol of Janus, one head with two faces, each pointed in different directions.

Abby had asked the obvious question. "Mount Shasta." Herodias had cursed under her breath. "This continent of yours doesn't have a lot of entry points into the fairy realms. Hell, back in England, you couldn't walk two miles without tripping over one." A "power center" according to the New Age Movement, Mount Shasta drew its share of hippies, Wiccans, neo-pagans and even the occasional Native American.

Abigail Vennard remembered visiting Mount Shasta once as a child. Back when her parents still got along. Even years later, Abby never got an honest answer for what happened between them. Neither extramarital affairs nor deaths in the family ever soiled their blessed union. They just drifted away. Then, on a gloomy Morning morning, they made a shocking discovery. "I don't love you anymore."

Herodias had laid down the rules of their journey. "Don't eat any of the food." Abby had asked why. "I can make you forget the sights and sounds of the place but the taste never goes away." Abby had asked how long they planned to stay there.

"Three days. Your kind can last three days without eating, right?" Herodias had neglected to mention what three days would mean to people back home. "And, whatever you do, do not …" Like a bad reception, the memory dissolved into static.

"What happened, Herodias?"

Abigail Vennard returned to the familiar setting of her bedroom. The owl fairy lady smiled. "You remember my name." The owl fairy nodded. Hero (her nickname if memory serviced) placed her thumbs and index finger against Abby's temples.

"As for what happened, i was just another boring complication on the road to your freedom." Abby's ears perked. "Well, the way I see it, the sooner I get done with this, the sooner I can get back to my rightful throne and the sooner you can go back to doing whatever it is you would like to do with your tawdry collection of decades."

Herodias looked intently at Abigail as she pressed against against her forehead. "Now, let's review. I need to erase your memories. To do that, I need to restore your memories first. But you're blocking me. So whatever secret you think you're keeping from me, remember this." Hero grinned. "If you keep blocking me, I will find that dirty little secret and post it on Facebook for all your friends to see."

Abigail nodded. "Good girl." From what little of Hero's gibberish she could decipher, Abby remembered (or sort of remembered) something about her trip to the fairy realms and Hero surmised that she didn't want her (or anybody else) seeing it.

Abby couldn't imagine what she might have done that she might want buried badly enough to risk Hero here turning her brain into nacho cheese. "Now, relax, my pretty. Take deep breaths. It helps. Now, I want you to count backwards from five."

"Five." Soft twilight danced into the bedroom through a window.

"Four." Enormous iridescent mushrooms appeared at Abby's feet.

"Three." What looked like kaleidoscope butterflies fluttered past her.

"Two." The smooth face of a handsome stranger appeared in front of her.

"One." The ugly human world was replaced by the beauty of the fairy realm.

The hands on his shoulders passed through his flesh and into his brain. His hands, no longer his own, tossed the sword aside. The sacred blade teetered on the edge of the bridge. Mom phased through him. "If you believe in your heart that you cannot be saved, then reach for that sword and finish what have you started." Mom's eyes glowed with an unearthly fire behind them. "I will not try to stop you this time."

Then, the epiphany that he had ignored for years caught up with him all at once. Fear. The central conceit of his life, fear dominated and dictated the course of his actions. Whatever he feared, he hid from. Moses feared the world so he hid in his office or his room, building a wall of words between himself and the big mean world.

Then, he learned to fear the darkness. Ergo, he escaped from it into the light. Now, the fear of himself had crept into his soul and what did he do? In the sword of Excalibur, Moses found a way to run from himself, to leave this cursed life behind.

Moses remembered his favorite movie moment of all time. In a fit of rage, Luke Skywalker stood over his father, Darth Vader, ready to kill him. Then, Luke saw that he had the same artificial hand as he did. Humbled by the truth, Luke powered down his lightsaber and told Emperor Palpatine that he would never turn to the dark side.

In many ways, Moses had realized the exact opposite. He might turn to the dark side but so what? Until the darkness obliterated the last ounce of decency left in him, Moses owed it to his family and his friends to keep fighting the good fight. Moses shook his head, refusing her offer to let him finish the dark deed. Mom nodded.

"Now, pick up your sword, young man, and follow me." Moses' famous eyebrows did their dance. "I know someone who needs that sword more than you do." Mom transformed into a ball of light. "Go to her, listen to her story and help her end it."

"Whatever you do, do not leave my side." Abigail Vennard had prided herself on obeying that rule for three whole minutes after the portal had opened. Hero didn't seem to care much about her breaking that rule. Perhaps, the fairy had only said it as a show of good faith, to make believe that she had Abby's best interests at heart.

In the three minutes Abby had obeyed Hero's second rule, she had asked the burning question on her lips. Abby had asked her about deities. Herodias called herself a goddess. What, if anything, did that mean? If she angered her, could Hero send a bolt of lightning crashing down from the sky? Hero had chuckled at that.

"Of course not." Hero continued through the windy trail of the fairy woods. "God status simply means that I can only die or sustain injury from weapons forged at the very moment of Creation." Hero had smirked. "In short, I possess the closest thing to true immortality that Older-Than-Old would allow in this crazy sandbox."

That begged the question. How did one gain "God status" as Herodias put it? "Heredity. Like the ability to roll your tongue." Hero rolled her tongue. "As far how the first gods made the leap from mortality to invincibility, nobody knows." Hero had shrugged. "In truth, nobody cares except for a few god wannabes trying to level up."

Bored of Hero's lecture, Abby had wandered off the forest trail. There, she had encountered the sights she had recalled in her hypnotic descent into these memories. Hero stared hungrily at the giant glowing mushrooms at her feet. Hero had told her not to eat anything. Abby hated mushrooms but these ones probably had some fairy magick in them that made them taste like ice cream sundaes dipped in pure honey.

The skies of the fairy realm (or Magonia as Herodias had called it) remained stuck at twilight, that magical time when day yielded to night. Except here, twilight stood its grounds, never moving from its fixed position even at the command of logic.

As Abby nearly doomed her sanity with a taste of forbidden fruit, a long hand swatted her hand away. "I wouldn't do that." Abby looked up to see the owner of the hand, a handsome stranger, deep inside in her personal space. "Unless you wish to stay here forever." The stranger smirked. "I wouldn't mind the company at all."

Abby giggled as the stranger brushed a lock of hair from her face. "My name's Thomas Learmouth. I came from your world a long time ago." A pair of kaleidoscope butterflies fluttered past her. Then, as if realizing their mistake, the two sources of flickering light headed back towards them. Without a word, Thomas unhooked one of the straps on his belt. Without a word, he sliced the two insects in half with his knife.

"Slake moths," Thomas Learmouth explained. "They feed on human dreams." Thomas smiled a warm nurturing smile. "All things must dream. Nothing can endure absolute reality." A bird's shadow moved across his face. "It is said that even the birds must dream." There came a wistful look on his face. "I wonder what they dream of."

Thomas strapped in his hunting knife. "Enjoy your stay in Magonia." Thomas grinned. Abby looked away, blushing. "However brief." Abby looked up. Thomas had vanished. Abigail didn't bother telling Herodias about the odd Thomas Learmouth.

Aside from his charm and care with words (a welcome change from men who wasted words like bullets from an AK-47), Thomas hadn't left much of an impression. Cute, yes. Significant, no. Abby continued on the path to this castle made of flowers.

Moses Ambrose Penn looked at the light on upstairs in the Vennard residence. A wise man learned from his mistakes but even wiser man learned from the mistakes of others. Luis Lanza, an associate drifting into that category of "ex-friend," had tried to go toe-to-toe with whatever kidnapped Abigail. That much he had told them. If the same creature had returned, Moses would do well to pause and consider his options.

Mom had disappeared as soon as her will o' the wisp form reached the front door, spirited away to whatever afterlife she had earned for her troubles. Moses envied her. Unlike him who would surely return to this world until the end of time, Irene Mallory Penn had reached her well-deserved rest after running one last errand for the forces of good. Moses didn't even have the Staff of Merlin with him. Moses had only taken with him the tools necessary to kill himself and to make sure that he stayed dead. Moses held Excalibur in his hands and prayed. Like that, all the noises and images from the second floor of the house filled his mind's eye.

Moses hated this technique. While he could now experience everything within his chosen area of interest, Moses stood on the front lawn defenseless, a sitting duck to whatever happened along and saw him trapped in this seemingly catatonic state.

"You know the truth now, girly-girl," the foul spirit said with the mouthpiece of a human female. "And you cannot tell them the truth, not without soiling your good name." The monster smirked.."Go to the Morris Bay Bridge." The creature departed, converting its human host organism into an owl. "I except your answer by midnight."

The words of the shape-shifting owl echoed through the night. In a flash of awareness during a night of epiphanies, Moses realized why Mom's spirit had lead him here. To keep history from repeating itself. Luis had waited too long to tell the others what had happened the night Abigail disappeared. The consequences of which they still did not comprehend. Abigail had a secret. Moses needed to get it out of her.

Abigail Kathleen Vennard remembered the rush as Herodias awakened her past lives. Though she could hardly remember her first life spent as a goddess among the fair folk, Abby had recognized two of her human incarnations. She saw a French woman burning at the stake. Joan of Arc. A scheming princess of Greek descent yet Egyptian royalty who died willingly from the bite of a venomous snake. Cleopatra.

From Cleopatra, Abby took more than memories. Abby felt her lust welling up inside of her, the same lust that had doomed her country. Abby did not want to admit it but she needed some sort of release to quell this feeling. Something or someone ...

At that moment, Thomas appeared in her guest quarters within the Oberon Castle as if answering her illicit prayers. While not a man of passion, Thomas made her feel safe, perhaps the only reason for what she did next. Without words, Abby invited him into her bed. Thomas needed encouragement. Abby encouraged him.

All in all, the deed lasted an hour and left Abby leaving drained and lifeless. When she awoke hours later from a post-coital nap, Thomas had gone along with the clothes she brought with her. In lieu of her old clothes, a floral raiment waited in her room. Stunned by what she had done, she raced to clothe herself and leave this room.

Herodias had her ear to the door. "You tricked me," she realized as she felt the changes Thomas Learmouth had inflicted upon her body. "You never needed me to claim your throne." Abby felt a dry heave. "What reason did you bring me here for?" Hero looked at her as if she had lost her mind. "By your true name, tell me, Aradia."

Hero flinched as she spoke those four syllables. Abby did not remember much from her time as the fairy goddess Diana but she remembered whispering Hero's true name into her right ear. "I will ask this one last time. Why did you bring me here?"

Hero smirked. "Bravo, you win." Hero paced around. "My twin brother has grown weak from his dealings with your friends. He seeks a second birth. To do that, he must recreate the circumstances of his conception, same setting and characters." Hero spread her arms. "This place." Hero pointed a crooked finger. "And you, Diana."

Abby shook her head in frustration. "I don't know this brother of yours." Abby sighed. "What business did my friends and I have with him?" During Abby's failed attempt at intimidation, that impish look of self-satisfactions never left Herodias' face. "Speak, demon woman, or I will scream your true name to the heavens above."

Herodias (or Aradia) shook her head. "Poor human, you have known my dear brother Meterbuchus for a long time. Like me, brother has seen fit to conceal his true name. You may know him by his nom de guerre …" Hero giggled. "… Lord Belial."

Abigail took a moment to catch her breath. "No," she said. "Impossible." Abby circled Hero. "Luis killed him." Abby smiled a big toothy grin. "I watched him bury Excalibur in his neck." Abby shook her head. "Not even a god could survive that."

Hero smirked. "Neither could a demon." Hero took her turn to circle Abby. "He did not kill my brother." Hero's expression darkened. "He killed Eligos, the last of four demons my brother had chosen as his generals to command the armies in the wars to come ..." Hero's teeth elongated into fangs. "And those genocidal madmen killed all."

In her moment of shock, Hero bowed theatrically to Abby. "The loss of his generals broke my brother's spirit but you can make amends for trespasses." Hero grabbed Abby. "You can stay in this realm until you have given birth and make sure your friends pay for what they did to him." Hero placed her hand upon her forehead. "But first, I will erase your memories and then I will ease your aching stomach."

Abigail didn't recall what happened next. Abby remembered Herodias arguing with someone named Orbona. A bolt of lightning filled her field of vision; Abby was in her room again, all her memories of Magonia wiped clean by Hero save for a smudge.

In the present day, Hero gave her ultimatum and left through the window. Abigail had only two choices. Tell all the others what had transpired in Magonia and face their disappointment. Or see if she could take on a cross between a fairy goddess and a demon with nothing but Hero's true name and a blessed iron knife at her side.

Aradia waited at the drop site, confident that she had beaten the foolish mortal incarnation, Abigail Kathleen Vennard. Yes, Abigail had learned her true name and, yes, she had escaped her grasp thanks to the machinations of a wizard and a goddess.

All that didn't matter though. Abby would arrive soon and accept her gracious offer. She had defeated her and nothing could change that. Abigail could not go to her friends without revealing her secret. And she could not reveal her secret without losing their respect. Aradia always admired that about her dealings with humanity.

Humans were so predictable. Once she deduced their fatal flaw, she only had to threaten them with it to bend their stubborn ways to her will. Aradia always felt drawn to the Morris Bay Bridge. It had a nice energy to it. A lot of nearby spirits, both human and fairy, gave her a pleasant buzz of nostalgia for her homelands.

Unfortunately, Aradia would not see her homelands for quite some time. Abigail needed to have this child in this world. It would take too long in Magonia. "Well, well, well," Aradia started in as Abigail walked to her spot in the dead center of the bridge. "The whore of Magonia has arrived." Abigail had a suitcase with her.

"Forget those things," Aradia said. "You will not need them." Abigail reached into the suitcase. "You brought that pig-sticker of yours?" Aradia rolled her borrowed eyes. "Defiant to the end." Aradia produced a pocketful of dream dust, a gift from Morpheus (the god of dreams, not Lawrence Fishburn's character from The Matrix). "Stay back." Abigail pulled out her weapon, the sword Excalibur. "Or I will kill him."

Aradia froze in her tracks. "No." Abigail placed the tip of Excalibur over Meterbuchus' two-week-old fetus. "Impossible." Aradia had planned this out to the tiniest detail. "How did you get that sword?" Abigail could not have stolen it and she could not have asked it for. Not without revealing her secret. "Answer me, mortal."

Aradia prepared to throw the dream-dust in her face. "Answer me now or I will visit unspeakable torments upon you!" At the moment, something steel slipped into her spinal cord. She felt no pain, only light-headedness. "What have you done to me?"

In response, a dark-skinned boy appeared next to her. "No." Aradia shook her head in denial. "Impossible." No glamour would have worked on her unless … Aradia looked into the wizard's eyes and saw that smugness that confirmed her fears. He knew her true name. He must have had it carved into the handle of the consecrated iron knife that he had stuck her with. "Big smiles, everyone, you beat the bad guy."

Aradia straightened up, reeling against the restrains of her entrapment. "Or, in this case, bad girl." Aradia allowed her fistful of dream dust to fall harmlessly into air. Abigail and the wizard had her pinned down pretty tight. "What do you want?"

Abigail walked up to her. "I want out." Abigail pointed at her belly with the magick sword. "You take this child out of me or I swore to God I will kill him here and now." Aradia could hear it in her words. Abigail knew she would die if she did that.

Her brother would make sure to severe her spine and mash her organs on his way to oblivion. Abigail didn't care. Brother would understand. Aradia placed her left hand over Abigail's belly and rapidly incinerated the demonic fetus inside her womb.

In concert, the wizard ripped knife out of her host body, giving her the freedom to leave this collection of bones, organs and muscles behind. Aradia didn't have any comebacks or one-liners to offset the humiliation of this defeat. So Aradia just left, leaving Marie O'Dell behind. Aradia would not enjoy explaining this to her brother.

"Yoo-hoo, anybody home?"Abigail didn't respond. Moses Ambrose Penn did everything he could to lighten the mood. Not a lot he could do apparently. "You alright?" Predictably, Abby nodded. No one ever answered that question truthfully. There was no reason to. She had survived. Aradia had seen to her midnight abortion.

Abby pointed her head in the direction of the Staff of Merlin as it laid in the back of his GMC Sonoma. "We'll get to that." Moses unlocked the driver's side door. "Let's talk first." Moses popped open the passenger side door. Abby winced. She didn't want to talk. Who would after what had happened back there? Moses Penn started the engine. "Listen, we talk or you can find your own way home." Abby just nodded.

Right when he thought that she start walking the twenty miles back home, Abby got into the passenger seat and fastened her seat-belt. Abby sighed. "What do you want to know?" Moses didn't know where to begin. Perhaps, it would help if she went through her memories one by one and told him what she could remember.

That would help since she had insisted on having her memories blanked sooner rather than later. "You wouldn't tell anybody, will you?" Moses shook his head. As much as he would want to, Abby needed to make that call. Aradia had brought Rosemary's Baby into the world thanks to a near-successful bid of blackmail.

Moses would have preferred a strict "no-secrets" policy lest another adversary came around with the same bright idea as Aradia. Moses put the car in park. "It's not your fault." Abby looked up at him. "What happened in Magonia." Abby looked away.

"Despite their name, fairies rarely play fair, especially the half-demon fairies." Moses stared back at the bridge where he had almost killed himself. "She spent a long time trying to figure out how to break you." Moses chuckled, catching Abby off-guard.

"She thought she had you figured out. She must have known about you and your aunt and thought she could leverage your latent sexual insecurities." Abigail squirmed, taken aback by his brutal honesty. "She didn't think you'd have the guts to tell anyone your secret. Clearly, she did not know you as well as she thought she did."

Moses took a deep breath. "I know you don't want to hear this but here goes." Moses cleared his throat. "When Mom died, I didn't regret fighting monsters. I didn't regret painting a bull's-eye on all my friends and family in order to preserve the few sparks of goodness in the world." Moses shook his head. "I regret not telling her. I keep thinking, if she had known, she might have stood a chance against Mordred."

Abby wouldn't even make eye contact with Moses. She knew where he planned on taking this conversation. "Alex would forgive you." Abby cringed. "You know that." Against all odds, Abby nodded. "Then, why not tell him?" Moses figured out to his own question. "You don't want to start something you can't handle. You don't want to give yourself to Alex and have it fall apart the way your parents' relationship did."

Moses leaned up close to Abigail. "You want my advice?" Abby nodded weakly. "Grow up." Moses took the car out of park and put it in reverse. "Life's too short to let anything get in the way of true love." Abby glared at Moses. "That's right. True love. You and my brother have it. I never will because I still love a woman who betrayed me eons ago. If I can still love someone like that, you can certainly love my brother."

Moses felt like a hypocrite burning Abigail for wanting to conceal her extra-worldly dalliance from Alex. Moses had done far worse. He hadn't told anyone about his demonic metamorphosis. In fact, he had only had the nerve to write it back once, in a suicide note he needed to dispose of as soon as he took care of all this nonsense.

Moses rolled his eyes and reached for the Staff of Merlin. "Let's get this over with." Moses didn't even know why he bothered. Abby wouldn't even remember this. Moses Penn had hoped for a more thorough deposition before whipping out the brain bleach. Moses could not wait anymore. Abby wanted her memories shredded. Moses wanted to oblige her. "Abigail Kathleen Vennard, you rest and remember nothing."

Luther Jackson Penn looked down from the Morris Bay Bridge, one of San Uriel's paranormal activity hot stops. Something big had gone down here. Luther had only caught the epilogue of it. A huge flux of divine energy had entered this exact point on the bridge. He could feel it. As what it was used for, he had no clue.

Azazel appeared next to him in the form of a slender humanoid shadow. "My loyal bloodhound, sniffing for evidence, I see." Luther duly noted the anxiety in the old monster's voice. Every second spent not talking the results from the severed head of an atypical anthropophage made Azazel nervous. Luther didn't have all the tools to enact his plan of attack. Azazel wanted answers. Luther wanted them too, of course.

Except, unlike cosmic entities, he actually had to go looking for answers. He couldn't wait around for someone with the answers to show up. "Interesting? Azazel tilted his head. "Excalibur." Luther felt the familiar energy pattern flowing through his body. "Someone with Excalibur came here." Luther felt another familiar energy pattern. "Irene." The old signature of Irene's ectoplasm had appeared here as well.

Irene had been right next to the sword Excalibur. The trail of Excalibur and Irene Mallory Penn intertwined and went off in one direction. "Amazing." It almost seemed like Irene's ghostly apparition had lead the Excalibur wielder somewhere.

Then, he felt yet another familiar energy pattern. "Moses." Now, Luther knew the whole story. Moses came here with Excalibur. Irene appeared to him. Moses had followed her spirit. Then, Luther Penn stiffened up as he felt a fourth energy pattern in the close vicinity. It had the parasitic tentacles of a pure demon's aura. "Nisroc."

Alexander Julius Penn watched as his brother Moses entered the Wallace residence. Moses leaned the Staff of Merlin against the wall. Alex flipped on the light and allowed that letter to show in all its glory. "Anything you want to tell me?" Alex locked eyes with Moses. "Anything small thing that might have slipped your mind?"

Moses shook his head in disbelief. "You obviously didn't kill yourself." Alex smirked. "I didn't think you would." Alex gritted his teeth. "Too conceited." Moses tried to cut in with an explanation. "Save it." Alex lit a match and dropped the lit note into a nearby ashtray. "You should have told me the truth. You know that."

Alex shook his head in disappointment. "Do you have any idea what the monsters could have done with your secret? They could have twisted and used it to turn you against us." Moses tried to cut again. "Don't worry. I didn't tell anyone. But, just between you and me, I think I deserve a damn good explanation for all this."

Moses spread his arms in a defeated stance. "What do you want from me? An explanation? How about this? I thought you would abandon me." Alex Penn sniffed angrily. "Don't act all high and mighty. I've seen the way you look at Abigail. You know what it feels like to have your courage fail you." Alex glared at his brother.

"I didn't want you to find out until I figured it out myself. I kinda hoped I could keep this new power-up without turning to the dark side." Moses sobbed. "I'm not like you, Alex. I have spent my whole life weak and afraid and, for once, I had real power."

Seeing Moses as the wise man of the mountain, it always ate away at Alex to see all of Moses' deep-seated fears laid bared in front of him. Moses looked up with tears in his eyes. "Tell me, if you found out that each time you killed someone with this sword …" Moses handed the sacred blade to Alex. "… Somewhere in the world, a hundred people died …" Moses wiped away the tears. "… Would you stop using it?"

Alex didn't know the answer to that. Moses knew he didn't know. "Well, why should I stop using my new powers because it's turning me into something less than human?" Moses gestured to the backyard. "Look at Valac. He's demon and he's okay."

Alex sighed. "Valac's on a lease. I can control him. A few words of Latin and I can send him back to Hell. I can't do that with other demons." Moses held his head in his hands. "If you really believed that you could control it, you wouldn't have had to hide it from me, would you?" Alex could tell he didn't have an answer for his question.

Alex walked up to Moses and held him in his hands. Moses always did this to himself. Even before Excalibur, Moses waited to the last moment to tell anyone about his troubles. By then, it had blossomed to ungainly proportions, making any outside intervention useless. "Brother, I can help you with this but you only if you let me."

Moses looked up at Alex with red glowing eyes. "I don't have to do anything," Moses gripped Alex by the neck and slammed him into the wall. Moses scooped up the Staff of Merlin. Alex tried to look away but it was too late. The Staff of Merlin had fixed his gaze upon Alex. "I will forget this ever happened, Alexander Julius Penn." As Alex tried to hold onto the memories, Moses balled his fist and knocked him out.

Aradia arrived in front of the Valentine Hotel in the form of a hitchhiker. According to what she could gleaned from her, Alicia Alvarado had gone to Los Angeles to seek fame as a movie star. She made it out alive with her dignity intact.

Hardly a success story, Alicia had spent a long time trying to get home. She had happened upon the Morris Bay Bridge in search of a ride just as Aradia had abandoned Marie O'Dell to her enemies. Predictably enough, the wizard wiped her memory drive and directed her to a halfway house. A boring denouement to the most interesting chapter of Marie's life. Me, I would have killed her at the drop of a hat.

Aradia dissolved in a liquid form and slithered across the casino floor. Basil Valentine, the hotel proprietor and general manager, had an office in the back. It was heavily guarded, of course but nothing she couldn't sneak past. Aradia solidified in Basil's office and stared at her twin brother. His borrowed fingers were interlaced as he stared at her with the borrowed blue eyes of billionaire Basil Valentine. Great.

Aradia didn't know how to beg his forgiveness. "I'm sorry, brother. I thought I had the situation under control. I didn't realize she would have the guts to sic her wizard on me." Meterbuchus AKA Lord Belial AKA Basil Valentine sat there barely breathing. "Please, brother." Aradia was panicking now. "I cannot stand this silence."

"Fear not, Nimue." Aradia flinched at the sound of her old alias. Aradia rarely used that name anymore except when doing business with her brother. Meterbuchus liked to taunt her with it. "I bear you no ill will." Her brother smirked. "In fact, I think this will all work to my advantage." Belial got up from his seat and smiled at Aradia.

"You portrayed me as a broken soul, distraught over the loss of my generals." Meterbuchus paced around his office. "Combined with the new knowledge of my true name, this may serve to bloat their egos." The tiniest of smiles crept onto her face. "I did not secure the victory I'd been hoping for but I didn't walk away empty-handed."

A wave of nostalgia crested over Aradia's mind. She had seen that wizard before. The face behind his face reminded her of something. She could not remember what but she had known that wizard. Then, the realization struck her like Mjollnir.

Merlin. Aradia had met her former lover from centuries past. During that endless twilight of Magonia, Aradia often wondered what she might have had with Merlin had her power-hungry brother not ordered her to clean him out. Because of her, Lord Belial's own mystical powers had doubled with the spells she had extracted from Merlin via promises of romance. Aradia sacrificed so much for her family.

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