Heroes often had extraordinary births. Hercules was the offspring of a mortal mother and a divine father. Athena sprung full grown from Zeus' skull. So on and so forth. Riley Walker was going to have a birth worthy of a hero.
Noah Walker held the twin holy blades in his arms. Mr. Hilson had been a friend to the Walkers. He had even saved his life from a pissed-off werewolf. Now, Robert Maurice Hilson was hell-bent on killing an unborn child.
Mom was going into labor. Dad had no experience with delivering a baby. If not for the trigger-happy neighbor after them with more weapons than the Vietcong, this difficult birth could be done in the safety of a hospital.
Instead, Dad would have to bluff his way through this. Noah looked over at Sammy and Deanna. This wasn't going to be the usual hunt. The target was already after them and knew all their tricks. He wasn't going to go down easy.
And what to do if they caught him wasn't going to go down easy either. He wasn't a monster. He was a human being who had decided that they were the monsters and deserved to die. Noah hated the thought of killing him.
"I should have finished him off when I had the chance," Sammy said to Deanna. It was sad to see Deanna nod in agreement to such a sentiment. Noah understood why Sammy didn't do it. The man was her father. Simple as that.
If it had been Noah's father turning on the Hilsons, he'd have done the same, regardless of the consequences. Noah held Sammy in his arms. "That man saved my life." Noah smirked. "Least I owe him is the benefit of the doubt."
Sammy gritted her teeth. "That man blasted a hole in her chest the size of the Grand Canyon." Sammy shivered in his arms. "Least I owe him is this." Sammy held up her derringer with the silver bullets in it. "That man is not my father anymore."
Noah had noted the mother's absence. He had assumed that she had escaped separately and waiting to reunite with them. It was now clear now that the only family reunion the Hilsons would be having would be on the other side.
"It doesn't make any sense," Noah thought aloud. "If he wanted me dead, he could have just let me die." Noah looked at Sammy. "If this was always his plan to turn on us, why bother saving me? What could he have to gain?"
Ever since the day that Lucia Delgado killed herself at their front door, Noah realized how little he truly knew about anything. There were forces at work beyond his mortal ken. It would be unwise to disregard them outright.
Noah understood the rage burning in the hearts of Samantha and Deanna. With their mother murdered and their father gone crazy, they were basically orphans now who clung to each other as well as their dreams of vengeance.
Sammy just stared at Noah like he were a man enjoying a sandwich made of hippo meat. He understood her confusion. Robert Hilson had firebombed their house and sprayed machine gunfire through their living room.
Firefighters had struggled valiantly to put out the blaze. The Walkers only brought what they feared being found amidst the wreckage. Everything else, family albums, wedding china and decorative doilies. All turned to ashes.
What remained with the Walkers, weapons and provisions, were the bare essentials. The tools of hunters without a home. Noah had reasons to detest Mr. Hilson. If not enough to kill him, then, at least, enough to allow Sammy to do the honors.
Noah gave his surrounding a weary once-over. The backroom of a vampire strip club was no place for a child to be born. The Darkside Club was a protectorate of Victor Chirac, a vampire lord who owed Dad a solid.
This was their unlikely sanctuary, especially since the one after them claimed to be sent by said vampire lord. Victor Chirac said it was a lie. Dad believed him. But what difference would it make if he didn't? Victor Chirac was the only one who could protect them from this hunter.
The vampire who looked like an anthropomorphic owl glared at Noah. A hot vampire mistress in a catsuit hung off his right arm. This wasn't a charity case for these monsters. They just wanted their chance to rid the world of a hunter. End of story.
That was the moment when Noah realized what had happened to his little world. It had flipped upside-down. The Walkers (plus two) were running for their lives from a trusted friend and ally. And their natural enemies were granting them asylum.
Noah didn't know where to go or who to trust or if even trust was a useful tool in this increasingly chaotic situation. Noah heard the gunfire and the noise of air suction that shadow tendrils made when formed. Mr. Hilson had entered the building.
A dozen excuse came to mind as to how Mr. Hilson got the drop on him. Watching a woman stab herself to death had robbed him of his lust for violence. He still hadn't completely recovered from regeneration flu and had trouble channeling.
Whatever the reason, Mr. Hilson didn't know or care why he had gotten so close to Noah without him hearing his approach. He simply saw the opportunity and seized it. Noah's skull buckled as pistol metal came crashing down on him from behind.
"He said you were off limits," Mr. Hilson said as he placed the gun between Noah's eyes. "He said I had to protect you. He said that you were important." He pulled back the hammer. "Screw him. If he kills my brother, I'll just kill him too." Bang!
Alyssa Walker stood there in her purple nightgown as Mom oversaw her training. "This is embarrassing, Mom." Alyssa felt an arctic draft coming up between her legs. Alyssa paced around the living room. "I'm not even wearing any underwear."
Mom smiled. "Underwear only gets in the way," Mom said as if quoting from Zen literature. "I was afraid that you were human with no Benandanti in you." Alyssa frowned. "I'd have loved you just the same but it would have been different."
Mom always had this streak of brutal honesty. Something about being raised a hunter from early childhood created in her this need to talk about anything and everything. At its best, it was a genuine lifesaver. At its worst, it was a pain in the ass.
Especially now. "Besides, the lack of underwear might be essential to your turning." Alyssa raised an eyebrow. "Every Benandanti has a special trigger. For your brother and your father, it's righteous anger. Yours is something more ... visceral."
Alyssa's laugh came out in starts and stops. "Really? You think just because my first time was while making out with my lesbian not-girlfriend that my trigger is being a slut?" Mom shrugged her shoulders. "Jesus, how could you think that?"
Mom grinned. "I'm not Jesus," Mom said in an attempt at humor. "You're not a slut." Mom paced around her. "How you channel is as individual as you are." Mom smirked. "Sometimes, you will not always like what you learn about yourself."
Alyssa could tell by the tone in her voice that this was no longer about her. Alyssa wanted to say something to comfort her. Cheating on Dad, while not her best choice so far, wasn't the game breaker she thought it was. "Let's keep going," Mom said.
Ever since that night at the movie theater (or behind the movie theater, to be more accurate), Alyssa hadn't been able to channel again. Mom wanted her to channel again and maybe someday learn how to turn. That would be a long time from now.
Alyssa still remembered that visit from the police after Lucia Delgado killed herself in front of their house. Mom had told the cop everything she knew. Alyssa noticed that how often hunters lied was inversely related to how often they knew the truth.
Lucia Delgado, whoever she was (or whatever she was) didn't ring about bells with Mom, Dad or Grandma Laurie. As far as anyone knew, Lucia was just some crazy nurse who went off the rails and decided she would kill herself at a patient's house.
Due to their lack of any occult knowledge about the situation, Mom simply told the cop what he needed to hear. She didn't know anything about poor Lucia and even less about the ongoing criminal investigation against her still-living sister Janice.
Alyssa regretted referring to Deanna Hilson as her not-girlfriend. It wasn't fair to her to characterize their relationship as something less than serious. Still, nothing official had been declared despite the fact they had mutual crushes on each other.
Noah and Samantha were even more behind in terms of updating their relationship status. Though they had gone on dates, the word girlfriend only came up once when Noah was getting Hannibal Lectured by that creepy Pax Lupone sonofabitch.
Such distinctions, like prenups, were not important during the salad days. Nonetheless, as soon as things went south, the fact that none of them had became official couples would influence the really hard decisions. A lot of hearts might get broken.
Alyssa delivered twelve or thirteen blows into the stand-up punching bag in the living room. The hardest part about learning to channel or turn was how little she needed to. She had learned numerous hunter tactics that didn't rely on brute strength.
Thoughts of hunting monsters brought her eyes to Mom's growing belly. Every time she thought about the worst aspects of her life, she thought of Riley. Overrun with monsters and weighed down by tragedies, this world was no place for an infant.
Worse than that, Riley Walker would not get a convenient lag phase between being born and having the life of a Benandanti tossed upon her. She would be born in the middle of this horrible conflict and it just wasn't fair to do that to an innocent.
The punching bag rocked off its center of gravity as Alyssa mixed kicks in with the punches and elbow strikes. Somewhere out there was the reason they had been summoned. If they could find and destroy it, they could be an ordinary family again.
Dad and Noah barged into the living room as Alyssa nearly knocked the punching bag upon its side. The hunt, their idea of a father-son outing, had ended badly. The were-spider had slipped away before it could get its final dose of silver buckshot.
"Tell Robert this weapon was amazing." Dad stared at the sawed-off shotgun. "Too bad we didn't get a chance to use it." Dad tossed the weapon away. Some neighbors borrowed sugar and electric tools. The Walkers borrows monster-killing weapons.
Robert Hilson had been a godsend for the Walkers. He went out of their way to find hunts for them. Even Grandma Laurie had missed the signs of a were-spider cruising the sports bars downtown for eligible and delicious young men to sup upon.
Alyssa continued her training regime. This was their lives now. Combat training, firearms safety, occult history lessons and monster biology. What this family really needed was a decent book club or a PTO meeting. Something to break up the crazy.
"What the Hell is that thing?" Ian Rockwell asked as Nergal held the creature in place with his mind. It shifted between the shape of a woman and some horrific form with mandibles and red eyes. From the correct angle, it kind of looked like a spider.
"There are many names for this entity." Nergal tilted his head from side to side as he stared at the captured monster. "She's beautiful, isn't she?" Ian shook his head in disbelief. He could hardly tell it was a she let alone whether it was beautiful or not.
The demon curled his human lips into a devilish grin. "You judge her because she is a monster in your eyes." The grin widened. "A strange sentiment coming from a vampire, a vicious beast who must feed on the warm blood in order to survive."
Nergal closed the heavy vault door on the spidery girl with his mind. Ian winced as the spider-monster crashed against the walls of its prison, trying to break free. "I say, do you know where the word monster comes from?" Ian shrugged in defeat.
The spider-thing stopped its struggling and must have laid down to rest. "It comes from the word monstrum, one of several Latin words for signs and portents. Another word of its kind was miraculum. It is the source of the English word miracle."
This underground bunker Nergal had chosen for their hideout was pretty badass. It was an abandoned military bomb shelter hundred miles from the city, barely in the same state. Thanks to Nergal's teleportation, the city was always one jaunt away.
"Early depictions of angels were melanges of animal and machine parts, human only in ways clever observers would notice. If someone ignorant of their divine origins were to see them, what do you suppose they would call such bizarre creatures?"
Ian smirked. "Monsters." Nergal could be so obvious when he wanted to be. The guy had a serious hard-on for monsters. Ian Rockwell couldn't be a hypocrite about this. Vampires were monsters but, at least, they looked basically human for the most part.
Nergal smirked. "Correct." He walked down the halls of this claustrophobic domicile. "There were two brothers who fought over this. One wanted paranormals to be adored and worshipped. The other wanted them to live with the shame of secrecy."
The demon shrugged his broad human shoulders. "Indeed, some monsters were clever enough to amass enough power and prestige to manipulate the local human populations into worshipping them as gods but they were the exceptions to the rule."
A breath of fire formed in Nergal's lungs and exited through his mouth and nostrils. "Most monsters were immortals but only in the sense that they could not be felled by the likes of old age and disease. They could still be killed by other means."
Ian snapped his fingers. "Like how I can be killed with fire, sunlight and holy icons. Or you could be cut down by a weapon with your true name inscribed upon it." Nergal tensed when Ian described his mortal weakness but the tension soon passed.
A smile crept across the demon's human face. "Can I tell you a secret?" Ian nodded. "I am not the great mastermind I have often had the misplaced vanity to portray myself as." Nergal sighed. "I have made mistakes and will continue to do so."
Ian didn't understand why Nergal was telling him this. "I was once a god." Nergal groaned. "My demotion to this was the doing of my older brother who sacrificed his own immortality to separate me from my body and cast me down into the fire."
Nergal stared at his own hand like it were a cancerous growth he wanted to shave off with a straight razor. "Being a demon is a curse. Even if I were invincible, demon-worshipping paranormals like yourself are too rare. Most of them despise demons."
Ian smirked. I can't imagine why. From what he had heard about demons and seen with his own two eyes, Nergal's behavior was typical of a demon. He screwed over practically everyone he met, even the ones who had sworn oaths of loyalty to him.
Nergal cleared his throat. "Fortunately, what my brother did to me can be undone." Ian's ears perked. Now, this monologue was starting to make sense to Ian. "My renewal would require a potent spell with rare ingredients and specific instructions."
Ian Rockwell looked back at the holding cell of the spider-lady and realized the truth. The real reason for rescuing her from the hunters was neither mercy nor compassion. "She is one of the ingredients, isn't she?" Nergal nodded and grinned at Ian.
"If I didn't know any better, I would say that you are starting to think like a demon." Ian smiled at the compliment. Demons prided themselves on being devious. "I must bathe in the blood from the thirteen shifter breeds to prepare for the ceremony."
Nergal let out white-hot fire from his lungs. "This is why I am leaving you in charge until I get back from Scotland." Nergal smiled. "There is one more shifter breed I must collect blood from and doing so will be a grand test of my demonic powers."
Ian was in the middle of feeding when Nergal appeared in the room. Despite it not being his true name, it was the only name Ian had on him. Ian could always tell when Nergal was in a bad mood. Things had a tendency to catch on fire when Nergal got hot.
Unfortunately, the thing that caught on fire was Ian Rockwell's snack. An elderly man spirited away from a retirement home, Nergal had the poor sap hooked up to a machine to keep him alive during the maximum amount of feeding sessions. "Aaahhh!"
The old man's screams as he was being into human charcoal were embarrassing. Even in death, he did not know how to maintain his dignity. Why did he scream? Was it to voice his pain? His pain would be over soon. Was it to call for help? Nobody could hear him.
Sharing in his distain for the death throes of a cowardly old fart, Nergal snapped the man's neck by snapping his fingers. That ended his suffering and killed his incessant screams for mercy or freedom or whatever inane concept he had based his life around.
"You are upset." Ian Rockwell had learned that making broad declarative statements were the best way to get a straight out of Nergal. He despised questions but he enjoyed correcting the misconceptions of lesser beings. It must be a demon thing.
"There is no human equivalent for what I'm feeling right now." Nergal extinguished the flames eating away at the old man's corpse. "The blood of the thirteen shifters, when mixed with dragon's palm, yields a protective fluid known as azoth. It was my insurance policy lest I encounter any opposition."
Ian just wanted to know what happened. "It seems the redcap is now extinct." Ian didn't know what to make of that sentence. "As such, I can't make azoth in preparation for the ritual." Nergal gritted his teeth. "Depending on the caliber of my enemies, this may be a minor setback or a major one."
Nergal grinned. "I am often reminded of George Brinton McClellan." Ian arched an eyebrow. "He was a general during the American Civil War." Ian shrugged. "He always waited for everything to be perfect before making even a single decision."
Demons must love drawing things out before getting to the point. "He is remembered by history as a poor battlefield general." Nergal opened the door leading out of the room. "I will not follow in his example. I will not be a weakling in the eyes of history."
Nergal placed his arm on Ian's shoulders, a surefire sign that they were leaving the bunker. "Come, let us make history." Like that, Ian's nostrils filled with the smell of brimstone as the momentary passage across miles of desert happened in an instant.
Demons had a lot in common with ex-girlfriends. They rarely answered his calls and, when they did, that wasn't always a good thing. Robert Maurice Hilson had been attempting to summon Nergal for weeks. Why did he decide to show up now?
Robert stared at the demon overlord wearing his brother Tyrese like a cheap suit. Next to him was his newest lackey, in all likelihood, a vampire, the one race of earthly monsters he admired above all the others. "I have work for you, Bobby Boy."
Robert stared nervously at Patricia as she watched Wheel of Fortune in her bedroom. Dragging her into this awful vocation was one of the great sins of his life. Bowing down to a demon to save his little brother didn't even rank compared to that. "What is your will?"
Whenever he felt cheapened by this arrangement, he reminded himself that this was a hostage situation. Soon, "Nergal" would not need Tyrese as his ur-host. He'd have a newer and more powerful body to work with. Tyrese would be old news.
That was what these negotiations hinged on. Nergal could do anything he wanted with Tyrese's body then. He could set him free and let him rejoin his family or he could set him on fire or feed him to sharks in the Pacific or bury him in some quick-dry cement.
"You're right," Nergal replied to Robert's private thoughts. "I could do all those things to this body once I am through with it." Robert stared at Nergal. "You are wise to think this through. You stand to gain or lose a great deal from this arrangement."
Nergal was always careful not to use the word deal to describe this. A deal was when a human gave his soul to a demon in exchange for a favor. This was different. Nergal was offering to give him back his little brother in return for a couple errands.
Demons were not known for their generosity. For a demon, Nergal might as well be Santa Claus. Robert was going to get his brother back. The second greatest mistake of his life could be undone if he had the courage and patience to see this through.
Hightower. Henderson. Hagerman. Holt. After this, Robert Hilson would be done with aliases and hunts. The entire family would be finished with this awful business. Then, Patty could at last meet her brother-in-law and Sammy and Deanna could introduce themselves to their storied uncle.
In a typical manner of a demon master, Nergal laid out the barest sketch of the caper. He needed to spark the righteous rage of the youngest Walker, Noah, the one he was told to protect. He'd kill his mother and unborn sister as if acting orders from Victor Chirac.
As Robert worked out the details in his head, Patty entered the room. Her reaction was instantaneous. "The Hell are these people? The Hell are they doing in my house?" Patty grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. "You better answer me, Robert."
Not hon. Not Bob. Not sweetheart. Robert. It meant that Patty had lost her patience with him. As Robert struggled with his words, Patty reached for the shotgun loaded with silver consecrated buckshot. "No," Robert screamed as she pointed it at Nergal's flunky. Robert tried to stop her but was too late.
"Most amusing," Nergal decided after he pulled the trigger and floated the murder weapon into Robert's arms. "Don't have much time." Robert heard the kids coming. "Obey me and I will make all this disappear." He looked at his watch. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm late for another appointment."
Samantha Hilson had walked in her parents once. It was always that shock a little kid had of realizing what her parents were human beings and given to behavior outside the perimeters of just being parents. That was not the shock she felt this time around.
As she stared at Mom's bloodied corpse on the floor of the bedroom, she saw in her father's eyes a man she had only seen a couple times in passing. A machine with laser eyes whose soul ebbed and flowed with the rhythm of the hunt. A monster.
Dad slammed the door shut and Sammy could hear the familiar noise of Dad preparing for a hunt. Only in double time. A minute passed and Dad emerged from the master bedroom with a rocket launcher. He went outside to the front yard and fired through the glass windows of the Walkers' home.
Trying to keep up with Dad was like learning to swim by nearly drowning. Sammy fumbled for her weapon as the Walkers' house caught fire. The Walkers must have heard the shotgun from before because they were still alive on the other side of that fiery gap.
Dad trained a machine gun on the front of the house, desperate to finish what he started. "Victor Chirac sends his regards, Noah." His words were barely audible above the bullets peeling out of his gun like race cars down a track. "Riley must die."
All this time, Sammy thought Deanna had frozen up. She had gotten a hold of keys to the family car and was ready to take Sammy and friends away from this nightmare. Sammy fired once. Dad crumbled to the ground as his vest absorbed the gunshots.
Samantha stood over where Dad had fallen. "Sammy, we need to go!" Deanna screamed as the Walkers piled into the minivan. Sammy sighed. After a long pause, Sammy put another bullet into Dad's vest and then joined their great escape.
Bang! Noah Walker should have known the shot wasn't the one fired from Mr. Hilson's gun. He wouldn't have been able to hear that shot. He looked over to see Samantha Hilson as she pointed her tiny derringer at her father's skull. Mr. Hilson just laughed.
"You're not going to kill me," Mr. Hilson said with no small amount of confidence as he pointed the gun at Noah again. "You wouldn't." Mr. Hilson pulled back the hammer again in a bold declaration of intent. "You're not a killer, sweetie." He grinned.
Sammy nodded and shivered. "You're right." Sammy lowered the gun. "I'm not." An explosion of noise and blood detonated next to Noah's right ear. Where Mr. Hilson's gun and hand had been was a tangled clump of veins, bones and various sinew.
Sammy bared her teeth. "But I can take you apart piece by piece." Sammy placed the empty gun into her coat pocket. "And then, you'll wish I was a killer." Speechless, Mr. Hilson staggered away in agony, grasping his not-hand with his good hand.
Just as Mr. Hilson left the Darkside Club the way he came in, Noah could hear the faint noise of a baby crying in the room down the hall. Noah and Sammy ran back as Dad held little Riley Walker in his arms, a proud father if ever the term meant anything at all.
Noah and Sammy stood in front of Grandma Laurie's apartment. This was goodbye ... for now. Robert Maurice Hilson was still out there somewhere. According to Sammy and Deanna, it was only a matter of time before he came back deadlier than ever.
As the words of reassurances and promises rang hollow in his ears, Noah's mind was somewhere else. Whether he had killed him or not, Mr. Hilson had robbed him of his life. Noah would go back to being alone again. "Why do you have to leave? Why?"
Noah knew he was being selfish. He knew exactly why they had to leave but this was the end of his life as he knew it. He could not let that go without a fight. "Noah, please." Sammy suppressed the urge to cry. "If there was any other option, I would take it in a heartbeat."
Noah knew that too. Robert Hilson was only a mere man to the uneducated. In fact, he was a greater force of nature than almost all the monsters they had fought before. His daughters were the only ones alive he might stand a chance of stopping his rampage.
Noah wanted to run and hide. These were the times in life he excelled at. The times when he had to let things go. The times when he had to let his life slip away. Before he had gotten his monster-hunting superpowers, letting go of all the good things in life was the only thing he was ever really good at.
"Do you love me?" Noah needed to know before he agreed to letting Samantha Hilson join her older sister Deanna in the hunt for their rogue father. That fateful question had the worst timing in the universe but, like they always said, better late than never.
"I do." Noah should have known that. The look in Samantha's eyes confirmed that. He had always been one to sell himself short. He jumped at the chance to be a hunter in order to escape his pitiful self. Like any philosopher could have told him, all roads led home.
The sheer weight of this situation overwhelmed him. This was the last time he was going to see Samantha for a while. And there was no promises she would even survive yet another encounter with her trigger-happy father. Nothing was for certain except the fact this was a bittersweet ending of sorts.
Noah had gone through a lot since these powers took root inside of him. He had lost his friend to mental illness, his life to a wendigo and his spiritual well-being to Hell. Noah didn't think there was anything left to take until the Powers That Be took her away as well.
Noah would have loved to say he satisfied his urge for one last kiss as Deanna pulled up in a stolen car and offered her sister a ride. But that was not what he did. He took out his consecrated short sword and handed it to Sammy. "For luck," he explained to Samantha as Deanna honked the horn twice.
Alyssa wouldn't even step outside to say her goodbyes to Deanna. He understood her hesitation. Their love had barely gotten a chance at life before being cruelly cut down by circumstance. It was too much to ask her to understand why it had to be this way.
"Once upon a time, there was a brave knight who fought against horrible creatures who tried to hurt a lot of innocent people." The family had gathered in the living room of Grandma Laurie's apartment. The inside of this apartment looked like a New Age bookstore.
"The brave knight lost a lot fighting this good fight. His best friend was overcome by madness. He even died fighting against a great monster in order to save the family of a fair princess. The knight even escaped from a dark yet fiery prison of tormented souls to rejoin his loyal comrades in the battles yet to come."
As Mom had predicted, Riley didn't have a clue what he was saying. She even laughed a couple times as he were telling a joke. Regardless, talking to the baby put his mind at ease. "The brave knight lost hope until he remembered one very important thing."
The baby giggled again. Noah laughed too. "The brave knight was not alone. He had his family and protectors who would go to any lengths to insure his safety. The horrible creatures, for all their power and terror, were divided by their own prejudices of each other."
The family scooted in closer as Noah rocked Riley in his arms. "The horrible creatures were always going to be ones in the darkness. The ones who must hide. The brave knight and his ilk would be the ones to hunt them down and rid the world of their wickedness."
Noah left out the part that the Benandanti were "horrible creatures" after a fashion and that some humans would hunt them if they had the chance. He also left out the part that some of these "creatures" weren't so "horrible" at all. Some were harmless.
Barring his creative liberties with the source material, Noah had told the story of Riley's life before it happened. A life filled with equal parts terror and heroism. The life of a hero. Noah kissed her on the forehead. "Sweet dreams, my little hero."