The Walkers

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Noah's Inferno

Noah Walker could feel his heart climbing its way out of his throat. "Please, Alyssa, I can't do this." Noah tried to reason with his older sister. "There must be another way." Alyssa stared at him like she were looking at a baby.

"What other way?' Alyssa had mastered the art of the pointed question. "You're scaring the crap out of Mom and Dad. You don't have any clue how your clock got unpunched and you don't seem to care one way or another."

Noah couldn't argue with Alyssa on that point. He had experienced a loss of enthusiasm since his supposedly triumphant return from the afterlife. Alyssa had theorized that his time stuck in wolf form had mutated his personality.

While scavenging the city as a wolf might explain some of it, Noah sensed a deeper reason for his recurring ennui. Noah lacked a frame of reference for understanding his situation. For all he knew, all dead people acted this way.

"This isn't complicated." Alyssa shrugged. "Not yet anyways. You like her and she likes you. You're obviously in some kind of postmortem depression and it might help your condition if you came out of your shell for one night."

Alyssa had sensed his "disconnect from the world around him," even before Noah had died. Like so many people did, she felt that his problems could be solved with a girl. "I'd like to hear what Mom and Dad think about all this."

Her arms flung open. "Mom and Dad think it's a great idea." Alyssa held hands with Noah. "You're not the same person you used to be." Alyssa locked eyes with him. "I miss him; I fought tooth and nail to get him back."

As much as Noah wanted to show his gratitude, he knew perfectly well what his lost memories were. Scabs forming in his mind. The ugly yet necessary healing process at work. The more Noah picked at them, the more they hurt.

Noah had not forced out of his mind quite yet how he had reassembled his fragmented identity amidst piles of bones and half-eaten stray cats. He had done terrible things to survive. Things he hoped that he'd never remember.

Jason Newton should have been a warning to Noah. He believed walking the razor edge of the mundane world would be a great way to blow off some steam. Like a real-life comic book filled with supernatural villains to defeat.

Yet the mind could only endure so much tension, so much uncertainty until the high from combat wore off. Noah felt like a junkie who couldn't get the high he needed without killing himself in the process. Which, in fact, he did.

His older sister Alyssa wasn't being progressive here. She wanted Noah to trade the empty thrills of the hunt for the even emptier thrills of sexual conquest. He had no interest going through the motions leading to rejection.

The irony of what had transpired was not lost on him. Noah Walker had been the one who started up gung-ho about killing monsters. He couldn't wait to master his powers and fight hordes of dark forces aligning against mankind.

In the beginning, Alyssa had called them a family of freaks. She struggled to keep being the empty-headed bimbo society demanded of her. Alyssa only participated in family business the way a child might perform a hated chore.

Then, it happened. As battle scars accumulated, Noah felt himself drawn to other distractions besides the hunt. Like the girl next door for example.

At the same time, Alyssa found her bearings and learned ways to defeat supernatural creatures. All that without ever learning to channel or to turn.

Noah was burning out just as Alyssa was lighting up. Noah wanted to cheer his older sister Alyssa on. Still ... Seeing how such obsessions led to death, not empowerment, Noah didn't know whether to feel happy or sad for her.

Noah nodded in defeat. She had gone to a lot of trouble to set him up on a date. A condescending gesture but her heart was in the right place. Maybe.

Victor Chirac and Guillermo sat on opposite ends of a round table in the rec room of this retirement house. Victor had visited his old friend, Guillermo, six times in the last year. This time would be the first visit of the new year.

Guillermo called his bluff. Victor folded. Even after decades of practice, Victor still couldn't penetrate Guillermo's bulletproof poker face. Guillermo let out a hoarse laugh that degenerated into an anguished set of wet coughs.

Vampires had a reputation as being difficult to put down even with the right methods. This was a fact. Victor himself had been baptized in holy water, heaped onto a bonfire and left to bake in the sun once. And yet he survived.

What vampires told pains to hide was that some of these twice-blessed vampires didn't come back a hundred percent. In Guillermo's case, a run-in with a somewhat creative mob in Kiev had robbed him of his eternal youth.

If there was one benefit of being a vampire, it was in the understanding that one would not have to endure the privations of old age. To never fear reaching a point when one couldn't command his bowels, let alone his army.

Guillermo, as he took to calling himself in lieu of his real name, grew up during the Italian Renaissance. Like Victor, he had been of low station and another victim of Lena, a lady with a remarkable cruelty even for a vampire.

Lena's gambit came in forming harems of men. In exchange for the dark gift, her boys promised to slaughter their families and friends after turning. This served to sever any lingering bonds they had formed to their humanity.

After his doomed journey to the New World, Victor had tracked down Lena to Florence at the risk of being recaptured. Lena was nowhere to be found.

Victor had found Guillermo on the same trail, hunting his sire. Guillermo's people, the Italians, had invented vendetta. If anyone could sympathize with Victor's burning desire to have certain wrongs redressed, it would be him.

"What do you know about your enemy?" Guillermo asked in a voice barely louder than a whisper. This very question was one Victor had mauled over every second since tasting Nergal's boot. Its answer was less than inspiring.

"I do not know much about my enemy," Victor confided in the old vampire. "I thought I did but every day he shows me how little I truly know." Demon lore was replete with contradictions, Nergal being the least logically sound.

Demons, for lack of a better analogy, were like snowflakes. Not one had the same patterns of the other. Hell, much of the text had difficulty determining if Nergal was even a demon at all. Some tales referred to him as a sun god.

Guillermo nodded his head in sympathy. "You mentioned once before that you had planned on raising a demon from Hell." Guillermo smiled at Victor. "Is this enemy that demon by chance?" Victor nodded in a defeated manner.

In the roundabout way that an old man's mind worked, Guillermo had tried to warn him about the prospects of summoning a demon. Victor had been an abject believer back then. Victor had believed a demon would be his savior.

Cough crawled up Guillermo's throat. "In the months since you failed to heed my warning …" Guillermo produced an old wooden case from under the poker table. "… I had the foresight to seek the proper countermeasures."

As Victor sat in awe, Guillermo unlatched the rectangular mahogany case and revealed a single bullet inside. "This special bullet has a baby tooth of Jesus, coated in bronze metal from a Vatican church bell, blessed by a priest with water from the river Jordan, jacketed in titanium to give it true flight."

Victor eyed the lone bullet with renewed terror. As a vampire, holy objects were not a few of his favorite things. Luckily, a demon shared his affliction for sacred icons and it sounded like this bullet could kill the Devil himself.

"Be careful how you spend this bullet." Guillermo closed the latches on the case for the anti-demon bullet. "Its power is quite finite and there will not be another of its kind for centuries to come." Guillermo slid the case across the poker table. "This is your one shot." He nodded with a grin. "Don't blow it."

The date was more daunting than all the hunts Noah Walker had been on. To ease his troubled mind, he had started to process the date like a hunt. What combination of flowers and compliments would slay the beast of rejection?

Noah had never been on a date. To be accurate, he never thought he'd be on a date. He didn't even ask Samantha out and the date had already been set up by his sister. It was like a blind date with someone Noah had already met.

Noah fixed his tie and pressed his tuxedo with his hands. To make this first date even more awkward, Alyssa had vetoed the tradition movie date he had in mind. Noah would pick up Sammy to go to a nice restaurant across town.

Noah walked next door, carrying the bouquet Alyssa had picked out for him (or her rather). Door opened. Sammy's father, an imposing figure thanks to his tall wiry frame, looked him over. "What can I do for you, young man?"

The question was more ritual at this point. Sammy's parents knew about the date and had consented to it out of respect for Noah's family. "I am here to pick up Samantha, Mr. Hilson." Sammy's father nodded and let Noah inside.

It occurred to Noah that he had never been inside Samantha's house before. La casa de Hilson had a subtle claustrophobic quality to it like the walls would ambush him as soon as he let his guard down. Noah looked around.

The house had minimal decorations and various unpacked boxes. Samantha had mentioned something about moving around a lot. This house knew it would be changing owners. Mr. Hilson gestured to a couch. "Take a seat."

Noah sat down on the couch, careful not to wrinkle this rented tux. "Sammy is fond of you," Mr. Hilson volunteered apropos of nothing. "I wish that I shared her fondness." The smog of ambivalence was no longer just subtext.

"So do I." Being an avid fan of paranoia, Noah knew there was nothing he could say to ease his distrust, so he just spoke his mind. "Rest assured. If I am treated well, I will return the favor." Noah paused so that could sink in.

"That's not good enough." Before the conversation could go any uglier, Sammy entered the room in a blue dress. Noah escorted her to their chariot.

"Chariot" might have been an exaggeration. The car belonged to Alyssa. It had been Dad's cherished white Malibu. Its age manifested in its low chance of going a month without a new problem. It barely worked as a car anymore.

Alyssa begged repeatedly for a new car but the salaries of a beat cop and an insurance company secretary weren't up to the task. Besides, her having her own car, as the parents often reminded her, was a rarity for someone her age.

The words of Samantha's father echoed through Noah's mind when he should have been concentrating on the road. Why wasn't it good enough? Noah asked to no one in particular. A better deal than anyone ever gave me.

Noah Walker put himself in his shoes. Noah was a stranger and, no matter how much he pretended otherwise, the not-quite-human thing bothered him. For all the man knew, his younger daughter was on a date the big bad wolf.

Noah had mapquested J'Adore. It was an old establishment downtown. Mom and Dad had shared their first date there. "It was magical," they said with prerequisite nostalgia. Both had failed to mention it was a bitch to find.

Worse yet, the closest parking lot was half a block away from the restaurant proper. A concrete monstrosity, the parking lot charged by the hour. Judging by the neighborhood, it wasn't the only thing here that charged by the hour.

Noah yearned to distract Samantha from the crudities of this first date. It was like how the magician got the audience to look at one hand while the other hand did the trick. A poor analogy since Noah did not have a "trick" per se.

It was pretty standard as far as crappy dates went. Flowers that would be dead in a few days. Fancy French cuisine that would probably give him gas. An awkward conversation in front of her house followed by no second date.

Noah had no delusions about this whole charade. That was Alyssa's part. He knew it was an idiot's tale, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It did not take the Immortal Bard to realize that much about his own sad existence.

As the young not-couple waited for their orders to arrive (they actually had cheeseburgers on the menu), they filled the air with inane getting-to-know-each-other crap. Sometime around the tenth question, Noah had had enough.

Noah smirked. "So …" Noah searched his memories for the rudest question he could think of right now. "How far do you go a first date?" Samantha stiffened up so fast her bra nearly popped out of her dress. "That far, huh?"

What had turned Noah off about the hunt was the fantasy involved. He was not the one hunting monsters. It was the wolf he happened to share a body with. On his own, he'd crap his pants right before having his nuts ripped off.

It wasn't real. It was just a show. Just like this stupid date. Noah waited for her reply. "Wow." Sam shook her head. "I mean, wow." Orders arrived. Sam let out a half chuckle. "I don't who that was but it sure wasn't you talking."

Samantha's response to his question shocked him. She didn't call him a pig. She didn't give a joke answer. She reacted like he had turned into someone else. Like there was no way in Hell a nerd like him would cross that line.

Noah spread out his arms in a triumphant theatrical gesture. "In all fairness, we hardly know each other." He shrugged. "This could be me on a bad day."

Having been raised a hunter since birth, Samantha Hilson must have sensed a trap. Sammy cut to the heart of the thing. "Why are you doing this to me?"

Noah shrugged his shoulders. "I am not doing anything to you?" That was a fair enough observation. It wasn't his fault if she wanted to be a prude about this. Noah knew girls who would've answered without batting an eyelash.

Samantha Hilson gripped the sides of her head from an imaginary migraine. A melodramatic thing to do for such a refined setting as this one. "So, you always sexually harass the girl you go on dates with?" He cracked his neck.

"I never 'always' do anything." Noah locked eyes with her. "I've never been on a date before." Noah lowered his eyes to his garlic chicken. "Girls are … repulsed by me." It was a harsh word "repulsed" but, hey, if the shoe fit …

Samantha sniffed at the air. Like so many girls who felt pity for him, she was not willing to fall for his sob story. It was a lose-lose situation. "Maybe they'd show more interest if you weren't so busy feeling sorry for yourself."

Noah mimicked Sam's sniffing at the air. Giving him the self-empowerment lecture crap. Such Pollyanna proclamations were easy for a girl looking the way she did. "Wow. That was glib." Pause. "It didn't sound like you at all."

Sammy smirked at him. "In all fairness, we hardly know each other." Half a dinner left on their first date together and they were already throwing words back at each other like an old married couple. "This is me on a bad date."

Noah looked back and forth to see if anyone was tuning into this episode of As The World Turns. "What's so bad about it?" Noah knew what was bad about it but he was trying to save face. "A free meal's always a plus, right?"

Samantha steered the conversation in a different direction. Noah shivered as her hands touched his. "I thought you were special." Her hands withdrew. "Instead, you're just like every other oily lil' nerd who's 'fraid of women."

Noah rose his index finger like a dagger between Samantha's eyes. "Hold it right there." Noah gritted his teeth. "I'm not afraid of women, you stupid ..."

It took every last ounce of withering willpower not to finish that sentence. Sammy was making Noah out to be the monster. Which, technically, he was.

Sammy leaned towards him. Close enough for a kiss. "Then how come the only real thing you have to say about them is that they are all against you?" Sam dragged out the word "all" if she were conveying some profound point.

He let out a haggard breath. "You know what you're doing?" She shrugged. "You're blaming the victim." Her eyebrow arched. "If I were a girl arguing this point, you'd say that all men are pigs and I'm better off without them."

Noah sighed a bit. "But I'm a guy so it must be something wrong with me." Sammy shook her head as if trying to deny the accusations of his argument. "Because a girl would never pretend to like a guy just to watch him squirm."

Sammy twitched from the sound of Noah's words. "That is what all this is about?" Sammy gritted her teeth. "You don't think I really liked you? I think I was pretending just to watch you squirm?" Noah smirked. If the shoe fit …

She cursed at him. Two words. Seven letters. "Like you'd ever let me." Her eyes widened. "Speaking of which, you never answered that one question."

Noah knew that he was acting like a prick. He didn't care. He was tired of everyone treating him like a social retard. Like asking his crush out on a date was so easy a caveman could do it. "First base," Sam said. "Satisfied?"

Noah leaned back in his chair and smiled. "Immensely." By now, their less-than-polite conversation had drawn a share of looky-loos and eavesdroppers to them. It was making Samantha nervous but Noah didn't care so much.

It was different for girls. Everyone expected them to be brand-new to this dating courtship. In fact, anything else would be intolerable to a less modern mindset. Boys at his age were expected to have snuck a kiss or two by now.

It was the double standard. Right now, nobody was getting the better half. A girl like Samantha had more experience than she had let on and a guy like Noah was a freshly-minted never-been-to-first-base virgin. It was a disaster.

Samantha Hilson apparently regained her train of thought. "Speaking of unanswered questions, you still haven't answered mine." Noah shrugged.

"Which one?" Noah hadn't been in a charitable mood. If he had given her even one straight answer to any of her questions, it had not been intentional.

A sigh issued from Samantha's breath. "Why are you doing this to me?" In that second, Noah experienced what alcoholics called a moment of clarity. A lie had emerged to field that question but Noah decided to tell her the truth.

Noah placed his elbows on the tablecloth like he were explaining a map to someone. "Listen, Sammy." He had gotten her undivided attention. "I like you." Sam smiled. "I hate me." She frowned. "That so hard to understand?"

Noah Walker was past the point of a neat fixer-upper. He was a mess. And maybe when Senator Grimm tore out his heart, whoever brought him back forgot to put a new one in. Noah was torturing poor Sam for no reason at all.

Samantha wasn't done with Noah quite yet. "Well, why?" Noah understood the question. Noah had only played dumb to avoid a rather nasty confession.

"Why what?" Noah knew the moment he spoke those two words that he did not have long before he would spill his guts about the nightmare he had had.

Samantha spelled out what she meant in no uncertain terms. "Why do you hate yourself?" Sammy smirked. "I mean, you're being a prick now but that is not why you hate yourself." Noah smiled. Samantha was one smart lady.

Noah interlaced his fingers under his chin. "Why do I hate myself?" Noah allowed his head to bob up and down. "Well, for one thing, I went to Hell."

Too many times during this conversation, Samantha had trudged through his attempts to bring it to a grinding halt. "What?" Sammy asked blankly. There was no trudging through this. Noah had dropped a bombshell on Samantha.

If he wanted to, Noah could have extended this long silence into the rest of the date night. "You heard me." He wanted to speak. "I died. I went to Hell."

Samantha struggled to regain her composure. Noah had confessed to a fairly traumatic incident. It was not exactly first date material. "How do you …"

"Know?" Noah finished. He pieced together what he could remember from last night. "I had this nightmare last night." Sam nodded, indicating that she was following him. "Of fire. Of horned monsters shoving things inside of me."

Sam shook her head in denial. It was quickly becoming her default setting to rotate her cranium from side to side as if to shake the bad thoughts out of her brain. She fought to summon up the words. "That doesn't mean you …"

"That's not even the worst part," Noah interrupted Sammy. The temptation to follow Sammy's lead and deny that anything had happened was alluring.

Sam stared blankly at Noah. "It isn't?" Noah could understand Samantha's tone of incredulity. Even the PG-13 version of what happened down there scared her. Sammy was lucky that he had left out the more graphic details.

Noah sighed. "The worst part is knowing that I must have done something to deserve it." He smirked. "That this was God's way of telling me I suck."

Samantha groped around for some reassurance for his bleak assessment of his soul. "Well, you're alive, aren't you?" Noah's eyebrow arched. It was the mother of all rhetoric questions. "You might have a chance at Heaven now."

Noah smiled. "It's not that easy." Sam's eyebrow arched. She was intrigued. "God has decided my fate already." Noah clutched his sinuses. "Live or die, I'm Hell's bitch now." Noah bowed his head. "God already gave up on me."

Samantha struck the edge of her right hand hard against the table. That sent a ripple through the restaurant's guests. "So what?" Sammy eyeballed Noah. "You're gonna give up too? Devote the rest of your life to being a jerk-ass?"

Noah shrugged. "What else is there left for me?" Noah was used to being a loser in every single part of life but he was stupid enough to believe that all his suffering was not in vain. Now, he had cosmic confirmation that it was.

"You remind me of my Uncle Tyrese." Noah looked askance at Samantha. "A scrawny kid who got picked on a lot, Tyrese didn't think he was worth his weight in lard. So, he ran away from home to make a name for himself."

Noah sighed. This had been a mistake. Unloading all this turmoil on each other was the opposite of what a date should be. This was more like therapy than a proto-couple getting to know each other. Noah took his turn to listen.

Samantha continued. Her voice deepened. "Uncle Tyrese never realized that if he had held out just a little bit longer he'd learned he was part of a family of heroes with a destiny greater than anything that he could have imagined."

Samantha smiled a bit. "That is why my father told me and my sister Deanna about our destiny at a very young age. He did not want to make the same mistake his own father made by waiting too long to tell us we were special."

While not so much the macho male gorilla that the jocks at his school could be sometimes, Noah still had a healthy disdain for chick flick moments. This one had dragged on long enough. "So," Noah started. "That was … tiring."

What happened next was one of those cosmic jokes like getting a coupon after paying full price for something. Samantha was starting to warm up to him (despite his nihilistic defeatism) and that was when the shooting started.

Victor Chirac materialized out of the shadows. Dusting himself off, he handed the briefcase to his most trusted human companion, Arturo Alvarado III. He was the only human he could trust with this very delicate operation.

Arturo was only now learning the details of the hits. A wise precaution given how casually Nergal could have picked the thoughts out of his head.

Victor gave Arturo the photographs. "Kill these men." Arturo gave him a horrified look. "They're traitors." Victor waved the photos in the air. "They have sided with him over me. When I go to kill him, they'll try to stop me."

Having never given much real thought to how much Victor relied on his human servants to operate, Nergal clearly had. He had gone to the trouble to corrupt Vincent Urbine, Alexander May, Hunter Gibson and Stephen Jones.

These men were months away from becoming vampires themselves. Nergal had turned them into his spies by promising nothing more than to spare their lives. They didn't think that he knew about their betrayal. They were wrong.

Arturo noted that the four targets were seated in the restaurant. Killing them would incur heavy civilian casualties. "Is that a problem, my child?" Arturo realized the error of questioning his orders and shook his head very quickly.

The four kills needed to be as loud and as messy as possible. Nergal needed to have his attention divided when Victor snuck up on the old demonic bastard and deposited the baby tooth bullet into his gray matter via revolver.

Arturo entered the four-digit combination and unlatched the black briefcase. From inside, he produced an Ingram MAC-11 machine pistol with two 32-rounds box magazines. Arturo grinned devilishly as he loaded his weapon.

For a potential blood kin, Arturo Alvarado III had an inordinate fondness for these cumbersome noisemakers. When Victor marked his blood as payment for this mission, Arturo would gain enough killing power to rival any gun.

Victor Chirac had no real choice in the matter. The baby tooth bullet, by the nature of being a bullet, would require a firearm. This would be the first, last and only time Victor would resort to such a vulgar means of dealing death.

Then, things would go back to the way they were before Nergal. Back when Victor had the respect of all his underlings. Back when he did not have to literally lick boot in order to get by. Yes, he thought. It will be perfect again.

The typical infantry machine gun fired (on average) about eight hundred rounds per minute. It was one of those juicy little factoids Samantha Hilson had shared over the dessert after the heat of their argument had cooled off.

Noah mentioned that the Japanese word for a were-spider translated literally as "whore spider" due to their tendency to appear as willing young ladies to lonely young men. "I can't imagine any guy stupid enough to fall for that."

Samantha grinned. "Well, if mythology has taught men anything, it is to fear mysterious loose women they've just met." Noah nodded. "Like me." Noah choked on his orange soda. "C'mon, you were thinking it, weren't you?"

Noah nodded. His choke reaction made any lying a futile gesture. "It's the double standard. Guy can hit on any girl he wants because he's a guy." Sam sipped her root beer. "Girl does it; she is either a slut or about to kill you."

Noah laughed. It was a guilt-ridden laughter but laughter nonetheless. "Is it so damn hard to believe that I'm attracted to you? No tricks? No pig's blood on your prom night?" She placed her hand on top of his. "Well, Noah, is it?"

The spray of automatic gunfire tore through the front windows of J'Adore. Noah grabbed Sammy by the hand and pulled her under the table. Using the table as cover was on par with duck-and-cover during a nuclear holocaust.

The bullets had punched their way through the length of the restaurant in the time it took Noah to blink. An elderly couple hollered as red wet splotches appeared on their clothes. Another couple made the same deathly discovery.

Noah Walker felt the rush of heightened senses as he crawled hand over fist towards the entrance door. He unsheathed his father's silvered boot knife.

A pair of hands pulled at the leg of his tuxedo pants. Sammy glared at Noah. "You brought that knife?" Sammy was hurt by his readiness. "On our date?"

Noah shrugged. "Sure, why not?" He looked at the door. "You brought that gun, didn't you?" Noah looked back at Sam for confirmation. Annoyed, she pulled up her dress to show off her occupied ankle holster. "I rest my case."

Noah took cover under a table festooned with silverware wrapped in table napkins. He hide within the concealment of a right now to the entrance door. "Follow my lead." Two feet stepped through the door. Noah threw the knife.

The tall thin Hispanic clutched his right thigh, his menacing machine gun pointed at the floor. Before he could regain his bearings, a derringer round ripped his neck open. The man propped himself up on the barrel of his gun.

Noah looked up at the ceiling as Sammy emerged from her hiding spot. The gunman had done half the work for them by taking out the cameras. Noah ripped his knife out of the dying man and wiped it clean with a table napkin.

Amidst the chaos of four people in death throes, their timely disposal of the gunman had gone unnoticed. Sammy had already holstered her derringer before revealing herself. Noah returned his father's knife to his vest pocket.

Noah took Sammy into the backroom where they were no more cameras. He moved Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh off its hook. Noah punched in the drywall. Sammy shoved her gun into the hole as Noah deposited his knife.

The son of a cop and the daughter of career criminals knew how to dispose of incriminating weapons. Noah returned the painting to its perch. With luck, his self-made cubby hole would go unnoticed until the heat died down.

Noah looked ahead as a plumb of smoke escaped through the kitchen doors. "Oh, come on," Noah said more exhausted than terrified. "Give me a break."

Sammy put a hand to her mouth. This had to be the worst date in recorded history. The dining room had been shot up and now the kitchen was on fire.

"I'd hate to be the owner of this place," Noah said as a self-conscious effort at humor. Sam scowled at him. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. Let's go."

That's right, Victor Chirac thought as he approached Nergal with the MAS 1873 revolver in hand. You're angry. And when you're angry, things burn, don't they? Victor pointed the gun at the back of his head. Au revoir, dymon.

The bullet bounced off the back of Nergal's head. "Guillermo really had you fooled with the whole baby tooth bullet speech, didn't he?" Victor picked the smashed bullet up off the floor. It was cold to the touch. "What an idiot."

Nergal grabbed Victor by the throat with one hand. A rejuvenated Guillermo stepped out from the freezer, his fangs encrusted with half-frozen blood. He wore a look of shame on his youthful face as he looked up at Victor Chirac.

"I'm sorry, old friend." Guillermo looked over at Nergal as he paced around Victor. "He made me an offer I couldn't refuse." Guillermo's fangs retracted back into his gums. "You have made your point. Now please put him down."

Nergal grinned. "Well … since you said please ..." Victor knew what would happen next. Guillermo was clueless. "You can join him." Nergal's left hand formed into a fist, pushing Guillermo head-first into the fire in the kitchen.

Victor managed a few words while Nergal held him up by his right arm. "You can't do this." Victor struggled to gather his thoughts. "If this place burns down, you will be exposed and defenseless." Nergal's smile widened.

With the blink of an eye, a purple smoke engulfed both of them. When the smoke parted, the two were in the rec room of Guillermo's retirement home.

"Are you starting to get the picture, you sad slow-thinking man?" Victor had no words for his shock. The demon had never needed the sanctuary he had sacrificed so much to build. He was free to come and go whenever he liked.

"I had planned to kill you but now I want you alive." He gripped Victor's forehead like an exorcist driving out a demon. Light with the color of blood emanated from the palm of the demon's hand. "Exposed and defenseless."

"Maybe it's better for both of us if we don't see each other anymore." Noah Walker stood with Samantha Hilson. Firefighters worked to put out the fire before it spread to other buildings but J'Adore was a lost cause at this point.

Police officer rushed about taking as many witness reports as they could. Dad's hunting knife and Sam's mouse gun were still in there, burning away.

"You're dumping me?" Amidst the drama of nearly dying again, he had not taken a moment to realize that was exactly what he was doing to Samantha.

"It's not you, it's me." Samantha pursed her lips, visibly offended by the most predictable break-up line of all time. "It's always me. It's always going to be me because I'm a screw-up, an 'oily lil' nerd who's 'fraid of women.'"

Sammy sighed. "I'm sorry I said that?" She placed a hand on his chest. "You don't give yourself enough credit. And those people in there owe you their lives." She smiled. "You're a hero." Noah winced at the sound of that word.

"'Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.'" Noah spoke the quote like a curse. "F. Scott Fitzgerald." Noah sat down on the sidewalk. "Damn."

Sam took a seat next to Noah on the sidewalk. "Jeez … the way I see it, the hero should still get the girl, no matter how tragic his life is." Noah grinned.

His grin collapsed in a nanosecond. "It is not that simple." At this rate, those five melancholy words would become his new motto. Sam Hilson frowned.

"You're still dumping me?" Noah couldn't believe this girl. He had used up every trick in the passive-aggressive bag and Sam still didn't hate his guts.

Noah shook his head, mimicking her recurring headshake. "Don't think of it as me dumping you." He struggled to find the words. "I'm setting you free."

Sammy rolled her eyes. "So what?" Sammy gritted her teeth. "I'm your slave now too?" Panic crossed his face when he realized what he had said.

Noah Walker waved his arms back and forth. "Oh, God, no." He massaged his sinuses. "I was not going there." Noah blushed. "I was just saying …"

"… You are always 'just saying,'" Sammy interrupted. Sam took a moment to scoot up next to Noah. "So why don't you shut the Hell up and kiss me?"

Noah smiled. "Wow, I didn't know anyone really said that. I mean, you hear it all the time in movies but, in real …" She stopped his mouth with a kiss.

As their lips locked, Noah felt his hands fall on her breasts. Samantha didn't pull away and even helped to position his hands on her chest. Warm and soft and reminiscent of a pair of water balloons minus the awful texture of latex.

Resisting the urge to channel his wolf spirit in order to boost his stamina, Noah pulled away to fill his lungs with air. Thankfully, Samantha needed the break too. Noah smirked. "For the record, Samantha, that was second base."

Samantha Hilson smiled. "I don't follow baseball." They shared a laugh like one of those laughs that sitcoms ended on. A happy moment amidst a life of unhappiness. Noah Walker tried not to overthink this and just enjoy himself.

Victor Chirac wandered through the gates of a junkyard looking for Natasha and Piotr, not just his trusted lieutenants but now his closest living friends. The distinction between the two was important for what Victor had in mind.

Victor had not filled his stomach in months. He had robbed a McDonald's just for an Egg McMuffin. It was a happy accident that he had loaded his revolver with other bullets despite the one he planned to kill a demon with.

Victor Chirac staggered towards a 1976 Chevy Impala covered in the blood of a fast food worker. Victor did the code knock on the hood. Twice. Pause. Once. Pause. Thrice. "What do you want?" Piotr asked. "We're sleeping."

Victor sighed. "It's Victor." He heard Piotr bump his head inside the trunk and curse in Russian. "Nergal made me human. I need you to turn me back."

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