Seed Of Destruction
"The twice-born shall slay the twice-dead in the name of blood." Ian Rockwell could have lost his mind trying to figure just what, if anything, those eleven words meant. Nergal wouldn't stop repeating them nor would he give an explanation for their constant repetition. On the subject, he was impenetrable.
"Isn't it a beautiful night?" Nergal asked, perhaps his only words this evening that didn't come from that strange little riddle. "And such a beautiful neighborhood." Ian Rockwell couldn't if he was being ironic or he truly enjoyed the cesspool that had formed around the newly rebuilt J'Adore.
A shady-looking man brushed up against Ian Rockwell. Too high on his own happiness to realize that the man was basically harmless, he clicked his fingers and the man exploded into fire. "Isn't it a beautiful sight?" Nergal asked as he stared as the immolated man fell to his knees and finally died.
Nergal looked watching people burst into flames. Of all his powers, it was the one he derived the most joy from. Of course, these days, it didn't take much to get on Nergal's good side. Something had changed ever since Noah Walker had killed Victor Chirac and made him the new master vampire.
Ian tried not to let his confusion show. Ian was the only one Nergal hadn't screwed over yet. It was a miracle and he saw no reason to question it. He could only hope that the good things would keep right on coming. Ian wondered when he get his opportunity to kill his arch-nemesis Noah Walker.
It pained him to think that that damned little unkillable nerd was his arch-nemesis. He was a high school football star. Noah Walker was a nobody with the good fortune of being born in a really cool family. Noah deserved to die for everything he had done to him. Nergal wouldn't allow him to kill him.
Somehow, Noah Walker was still an important part of the old demon's plans. He didn't know exactly how he played into all these cloak-and-dagger occult happenings but it was clear that Noah was off-limits. At least, for now, Ian took comfort in the fact that Noah was a demon's unwitting pawn.
Nergal didn't seem to care about witnesses anymore. Usually, he would have teleported the man away to a safe place and then killed him there. Now, he was just killing whoever interrupted his manic happiness. Ian Rockwell kept his distance from the man inferno, afraid that he might catch fire as well.
Ian Rockwell looked up in the sky to see a churning of clouds into a purple vortex. Snapped from his unbridled happiness, Nergal stared at the purple vortex, a growl escaping his throat. In moments, a bolt of blue lightning touched down two blocks over. "Saturn," Nergal muttered under his breath.
Ian had the bad feeling that Nergal wasn't referring to the planet Saturn. Nergal grabbed Ian and teleported to where the blue lightning had touched down. From the frantic energy pulsing through his body, something he hadn't planned for had taken place and Nergal was freaking out of his mind.
Riley Walker emerged from the energy vortex, naked with the exception of the Remus Sword. This sacred weapon could withstand the forces of the primal space-time continuum in a way none of her clothes could. Riley didn't have much time to spare before Remus appeared to stop her. She looked around to see a hobo under the bridge wearing an expression of pure shock. He saw one of his blankets was the clothes of a little girl. A little luck.
Getting dressed as quickly as she could, the twelve-year-old Riley Walker walked around the city with nostalgia in her eyes. She couldn't believe it had ever looked this nice. So many buildings and so many people were still here. It was the reason she had coaxed a dying god of time to bring her back to this time. Not just to defeat Remus and allow justice to prevail but for a chance to see the world as it once was instead of what it had been reduced to.
The Remus Sword had taken twelve years to craft. Almost the same amount of time Riley had been alive. It was a masterpiece any swordmaker would be proud to call their life's work. Riley needed to find Remus and finish him off. Then, maybe, all the terror she had witnessed in her time would be unwritten. The world would become a good place and her world and all its unpleasantness, would vanished into a blip of unreality. Here's hoping.
Remus had destroyed the Emerald of Lucifer, a wise move that made it impossible to kill him in her time. The Remus Sword, the only weapon that could have killed him before the change, still lingered on in existence. If she could kill him while he was still a demon, all this would be over.
As the pain from the energy vortex ripped away at her muscle fibers, Riley took a moment to relax. It was a dangerous habit, relaxing, especially where she came from. Monsters were everywhere in her time. No longer secret inhabitants of the world, the monsters took over the world in a matter of months.
Riley steadied her breath. She had hoped that Saturn would have enough strength to bring her back further in time. This was cutting a bit too close. Riley shook her head. It didn't matter how much time she had. As long as Nergal was still a demon, there was still hope of winning this final battle.
"Remus!" Riley screamed at the top of her lungs as she raised the sword above her head. In that instant, Remus appeared, still wearing that dark meatsuit from his days as "Nergal." Riley gripped the blade in her hands. "You and I have unfinished business." Remus nodded in total agreement.
Remus/Nergal smiled. "Remus," he repeated his name with a note of frustration. "I hate it when someone spoils the big surprise, don't you?" Riley, still weakened by the time travel, didn't realize that Remus wasn't talking to him. Riley turned around and caught a shadow tendril across the throat.
From the shadows emerged a young vampire dressed in a cape. "You are in big trouble, girly girl." Riley ran as fast as she could. The Remus Sword glowed as Remus teleported away. Riley cursed under her breath. Her one chance to kill him and she had wasted it. Riley felt where her throat bled.
Riley Walker didn't have much time. The amateurish attack of the young vampire had merely nicked the carotid artery. She would die but it would be a slow death. She could believe it was intentional if not for the fact that she could heard Remus haranguing his vampire named Ian for his sloppiness.
In a moment's desperation, Riley pitched the Remus Sword into the water next to the bridge where a hobo made his camp. She didn't know how long such a miraculous weapon would remain hidden but she needed to make sure that blade wasn't captured when she finally died. Like that, Riley turned.
The mass of floating shadows descended on Riley as chalk-white fur sprouted from her skin. This would be Riley Walker's final battle. The shadows slashed out at her, piercing a hole into her chest. Riley blacked out, knowing full well that she would only wake up on the other side of existence.
Riley remembered the words of her older brother Noah and her older sister Alyssa. This was a good death. She had died fighting for what she believed in. And should Remus succeed in shedding the stink of hellfire from his soul, the Emerald of Lucifer was still intact in this time. There was still hope.
In strange way, Riley also took comfort in the fact that somewhere in the city, she was a baby sound asleep, ignorant of the dark world looming on the horizon. The world around Riley Walker retreated into darkness as the light from her memories of her innocence illuminated her path into the afterlife.
It was happening. Noah Walker could feel it. The memories of his brief stint with the afterlife were finally surfacing. His breath grew short and erratic. This was what he had wanted just a few weeks ago. Ever the self-flagellating masochist, he chose now to have his doubts. Remembering what happened to him in Hell could render him completely insane or cause him to revert to a permanent catatonic state.
Noah tried not to focus on the negative. Knowing what happened down there and why he couldn't remember was important to him. Pax Lupone, in revealing his experiences with the afterlife, implied that memory loss was not part of the deal. Something very unusual had happened Down There.
A surge of memories knocked Noah to the ground as he felt his mind folding into itself. He saw himself as a spirit, floating around his house, before it had burned to the ground. He stared at Alyssa, Mom and Dad grieved over his death at the hands of Senator Nathaniel Grimm, a politician/wendigo.
Suddenly, a piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. He had lingered behind just like Mortimer MacReady had. It meant that he couldn't have gone to Hell involuntarily. People only lingered behind if they were in some sort of moral gray zone. Mortimer MacReady might have killed, eaten and buried his wife (in that order) but he was a good man in life possessed by some dark impulse to this one horrible thing to the woman who had abused his trust.
In short, one action, even a truly awful nigh-irredeemable one, couldn't erase an entire lifetime of goodness. Noah took comfort in the fact that God was a believer in fair play. He wouldn't let you rot in Hell unless the deceased soul had in coming in spades. There was a strong sense of justice there.
Still, it raised the question. His soul didn't get snatched, why the Hell did he end up in Hell? Then, Noah began to remember his thoughts. He didn't want to die. He had too much left to accomplish. He wanted a way back to his life. He didn't know how to find out. As he languished in his empty bedroom, a ghost without a home, the apparition of an elderly dark-skinned man appeared before. "Are you Noah Walker?" Noah nodded in reply.
"I am Nwake Bamgbala." The old man named Nwake extended a long skeletal hand. "I have been sent to offer you a way back." Noah couldn't believe. Here he was, practically begging for a chance to live again and here this man was, offering exactly what he wanted most of all in this bizarre afterlife.
As Noah delved deeper into his resurfacing memories, a knock came on the front door to their apartment. Grandma Laurie's apartment didn't have enough room for everyone. Mom and Dad shared the spare room. Alyssa slept in the office. That left Noah with the fold-out bed in the living room.
Noah ran to the door and opened it. He looked outside to see no one at his door. "Weird," he muttered to himself as he closed the door again. Noah looked around. Through a strange combination of his parents at work and his sister on patrol, Noah, Grandma and Riley were the only ones home.
It wasn't a pleasant thought to consider that he was the most able-bodied person present in this apartment right now. That fact wouldn't have spooked Noah if it didn't occur to him that this apartment wasn't much safer than their old residence which got burned down by a bazooka-wielding neighbor.
A knock came at the door again. Noah grabbed Dad's silvered hunting knife off the coffee table. Someone was trying to wear him down. A classic tactic for setting up an ambush. Noah opened the door. Again, no one was outside. Then, Noah decided to channel. He could see something moving.
Invisibility. It wasn't exactly the rarest power among monsters. The invisible creature could be anything. It could be a wendigo, a je-rouge and, maybe, even a ... Noah heard the hiss as the monster realized it had been made. It scampered onto the rooftop. For all it was worth, Noah Walker gave chase.
In the back of his head, Noah knew this wasn't the smartest way to response to this situation. He hadn't been asleep when Dad taught him the ins and outs of hunting. He told him a number of ways to avoid being the hunted. One was never to give chase against a suspicious quarry. It often led to a trap of some sort. Noah didn't care anymore. Any minute, he could have a memory that rendered him insane. It didn't matter whether he played it safe or not.
Noah jumped from rooftop to rooftop, channeling as much as the wolf spirit as he could. Something about the daytime always interfered with his channeling. The wolf spirit's natural time was the night. The presence of the sun weakened, if only fractionally. Noah continued his pursuit of the prey.
In seconds, channeling just couldn't cut it anymore. Noah stripped off his clothes as he began to turn. He had hesitant to turn ever since his resurrection into wolf form. He had done it a few times alright but the same fear always gripped. The fear that he might lose his human side in the turn.
Noah ran on all fours after the invisible monster as his arms turned into forelegs. Noah growled as he could make out the shape of the creature from its movements. It was a were-spider. Noah cursed mentally. Turning had required him to abandon Dad's silvered hunting knife, a perfect weapon for a shifter. Now, Noah would have to improvise some other means of defeating this rather stubborn breed of shifter. Noah jumped headlong onto its back.
The two of them tumbled into a construction site in the final stages of building. Noah recognized it. This was the J'Adore, still rebuilding from the fire it had endured months ago. Noah looked around as the were-spider decloaked and showed its many feelers and moving parts as if to intimidate Noah.
Then, it happened. The monster went from a were-spider about to attack to one engulfed in flames. Noah instinctually jumped back the were-spider writhed around in agony. Noah's instinct had been right about this. This was an ambush but the were-spider wasn't the main threat. It was just the bait.
"Glad to see you could make it," Nergal said as he materialized next to the dying were-spider. "I thought my little escort would try to double-cross me." Nergal looked at the were-spider as it resumed a human female form. "Alas, it is a pity to have to kill her. Loyalty is a rare quality in this day and age."
With a single look, Nergal smiled at Noah Walker. "I can see you are trying to reconnect with your memories of the pit." Noah suddenly became aware of how easily Nergal could peer into his thoughts. "It is a primitive process you have chosen for the recollection process. It only needs a little push."
Nergal placed his hand against Noah's snout. Held in place by his unseen force, Noah felt a stab of pain jutted in between his eyes. "This will help things along." Nergal paced around. "You see, you double-crossed me. You hid my old body somewhere I couldn't find it. I need to know where it is."
Then, another revelation about his memories took place. Grandma Laurie was right. These memories were gone for a reason. He had done something to suppress the memories to keep them out of Nergal's reach. Now, Nergal was moments away from seeing those memories inside of Noah's brain.
Noah Walker fought back against the flood of memories as hard as he could. It was too late. Combined with the medicine he had bragged Grandma Laurie for, Nergal had opened the floodgates. Soon, he would have his memories of Hell restored and Nergal would know what he needed to know.
No! Noah screamed as the memories flooded his brain. He looked around to find himself in Hell. Nwake Bamgbala had given him instructions on how to return to his body. Apparently, Hell had a trapdoor at the very bottom of it. Next to it, there was a massive source of divine power. If he rode that source to the surface, Noah could use the spare energy to reinsert himself back into his dead body. He would be resurrected, according to the old man.
Noah kept trying to keep the memories down. This body Nergal needed must have been the source of the divine power. The thing he had used to return to the land of the living. Noah couldn't understand why no one had ever used this path before. Why was he the first one to ever seek it out? Nwake smiled at that. "The twice-born shall slay the twice-dead in the name of blood," he replied cryptically as if his magic little riddle answered his question.
Noah groaned and prepared himself for the trip Down There. Nwake Bamgbala could have raised him from the dead himself but this was his price for the gift of a resurrection. Noah didn't care at the time. Life was life. He didn't matter how he regained. He couldn't spend another minute in the afterlife. Not while a war raged on and his family would be forced to face it without him. Noah didn't regain. At least, he didn't until he saw the body.
The long journey into Hell, the source of his earliest memories, was about as unpleasant as he had been lead to believe. These creatures, these demons, existed only to cause pain. Their remarkable spirits were corrupted by the hellfire that they had breathed in through untold eons of smoke inhalation. When a few of them managed to capture or corner him, the results weren't pretty. Even still, they were not the reasons he blanked his own memories.
Seeing the divine body next to the Hell Hole changed his mind. The body belonged to a Roman soldier. Though human, it had bodily hair more becoming of a wolf than a man. Then, Noah saw the mark of his forehead, the spot where Romulus had used the Emerald of Lucifer to separate him from his divine body and cast them into the pit. It was no ordinary god. This was Remus, the brother of Romulus, immortal enemy of the Benandanti.
Now, it all made sense. Nergal wasn't Nergal. He was Remus or rather the spirit of Remus after Romulus spent his immortality to separate him from his divine body. Even in the pits of Hell, the body of Remus had not picked up a single singe or burn mark. It was pristine like it had been thrown into the fiery pit just yesterday. Therein lied the conflict. He needed the body to raise from the dead but if "Nergal" got it and managed to enter it again ...
Noah shook his head. He couldn't fathom the thought of how powerful he would be if he ever found a way back into his old body. As a demon, Nergal was restricted to human meatsuits. Even ones born for the purpose of holding his spirit were nowhere near as powerful as the body of a god. Remus and Romulus had become gods from drinking the milk of the Wolf Goddess. Their demigod offspring became the creatures known as the Benandanti.
It was a lot to take in. Noah remembered what Dad and Paul Utah had said about the summoning spell for the Benandanti. How the Palladian Society were not the ones to use it this time. Noah knew why. Nergal or someone attached to him had used the spell. It was the only way to raise the body of Remus from the pit. He needed an active Benandanti like himself to do the legwork. Pax Lupone must have been offered this same deal and refused.
Noah needed to think. Unlike Pax Lupone who Nergal needed for other purposes, Noah was disposable if he didn't fulfill his end of the bargain. He needed to carry the body to Earth but needed to make sure no one ever found it. Of course, Noah was only now figuring this one. At the time, he knew nothing of Nergal or his plans. Only the ramblings of a dead African shaman. Noah knew that there was evil afoot and did what he thought he had to.
Noah focused hard. He needed to forget. He used his memories of the demon attacks to encourage his memory loss as a natural barrier against trauma. Noah needed to forget. He needed to forget where he hid this body. He grabbed Remus' body and jumped into the Hell Hole. A rush of energy coursed around him as his spirit flew up. With Remus in his arms, he flung the corpse blindly into the air so his own memories would not betray its location.
It was almost perfect except for one fatal flaw. Noah looked. He saw the corpse plummeted to Earth. It was strange plateau visible only from this strange vortex. Its clouds danced about the skies, whispering about the past, the present and the future. Wherever it was, it was thankfully isolated.
As Noah returned to the J'Adore construction site, he could only hope that Nergal had about as much clue as to where this place was as he did. "Aleph Rock," Nergal said. Noah's pulse quickened. Nergal knew the place where Noah had ditched the body. "Thank you very much, child." With that, he vanished. This Aleph Rock looked like a big place. It would take him a while to search the entire area. It gave Noah time to escape and warn his family.
Just as he turned around to leave, he felt a shadow cut across his chest. "Where you think you're going, dog?" Noah turned around to face Ian Rockwell the caped vampire. "Ready for Round Two?" Noah continued his escape. Another shadow lashed out at him. This time, thankfully, it missed to his left.
"You just don't get it, do you?" Ian circled around the wolf Noah. "You never had the guts to face me when you were a little man. You got all big with the super-powers but you never figured out how to stand up for yourself." Ian smirked. "You're nothing but a faggot wimp hiding in wolf's clothing."
Noah shouldn't have let Ian goad him into a fight. He needed to get home and warn his family about the return of Remus. "C'mon." Ian welcomed Noah's attack with his hands. "One good old-fashioned throwdown." Ian smiled. Noah shook his head. This was a mistake. Ian Rockwell was gaming Noah now.
Still, the bully-turned-berserker-turned-vampire had a point. Noah was a coward. He always fought with the overwhelming advantage. His enemies were dead before the fight even started. He died once because he had the courage to face an unknown. His death should have made him more of a coward but it had freed. He was going to die one way or another. Why bother spending his second chance at life worrying about his second death?
More than anything, Noah wanted this fight. This sonofabitch had made his life miserable. And no matter how many things he defeated him. He always crawled back up from his lately defeat. Ian circled Noah. "C'mon, one last fight. Winner lives. Loser dies. No shadow tricks. Just skin on skin alone."
Noah Walker couldn't contain himself anymore. How much longer would he have to fight against this shadow. He had a chance to finish him off once and for all. Noah bared his fangs and growled. "Alright," Ian said with a grin. "Let's do this." Noah lunged at Ian. True to form, Ian cheated, allowing a shadow tendril to beat him across the room. At least, he hadn't used a shadow blade to cut him open. "I'm going to enjoy to finishing you off, Noah."
At that moment, Noah's mind filled with all the petty little things Ian had done to him. Then, his mind filled with the not-so-petty things he had done like trying to kill him and his family or throwing his lot in with the demon who was their arch-nemesis whether his family knew it or not. He growled.
"The twice-born shall slay the twice-dead in the name of blood." Suddenly, those nonsensical eleven words made sense to him. Nergal had arranged for Jason Newton's death, not Victor Chirac. Somehow, the master vampire had been prepped for his death to make the "twice-dead." Noah was the "twice-born" by virtue of his resurrection. "In the name of the blood" was the key element of the riddle. The killing had to be an act of vengeance on his part.
Nergal had been toying with him the whole time. That was why Robert Hilson saved his life when he did. He explained why he attacked their family claiming to be under orders from Victor Chirac. Nergal needed Noah to live long enough to destroy Victor Chirac in vengeance for the death of a friend or loved one. Noah Walker feared that even now Nergal was using Noah's hatred of Ian to coerce him into killing him. Noah shook his head.
All of this cloak-and-dagger crap had rotten away at his mind. Noah no longer knew which of his actions were his own and which ones belonged to a greater and darker power than his own. Ian lunged him. Noah grabbed hold of his neck. Ian screamed and flailed his shadow tendrils in the air. With one bite, Noah pulled Ian's head off and slammed it through a finished wall in the construction site of J'Adore. This sad bitter rivalry was finally at its end.
A hand fell on Noah's back. He turned around to see Nergal in his human form with the body of Remus in his other hand. "I can't believe it was right under my feet the whole time." Nergal smiled as he looked at Ian Rockwell's headless corpse. "I thank you for saving me the problem of doing it myself." A swirl of red light bounced across the room. "A sacrifice of a vampire in the service of a demon was the last ingredient of the revival spell."
Nergal's human body, an able-bodied black man in his early thirties, collapsed as the red light entered into Remus' body. In second, Remus opened his Benandanti eyes and looked over at Noah. It didn't take a genius to know he had no further use for him. "Indeed," Remus said. "You are right." A fire ripped apart Ian's body as he grabbed Noah by the throat. "You are useless to me but you have earned the right to know why it is you are going to die."
Remus tilted his head to the side. "My brother Romulus believed that humanity was worth protecting. I see now that he was right." Remus smirked. "But it is fair to say that humans cannot be trusted with their own survival. We monsters didn't built horrific weapons of destruction. We monsters didn't invent the ten thousand ways that humans brutalize each other on a daily basis. In short, these humans are to blame for your own suffering."
A ripple of energy sliced through the air. "It is time for the inmates to start running the asylum." Remus pulled Noah without biting distance of his face. "It is time we monster had the opportunity to rule the world." Remus smirked. "In the days to come, monsters of every description will converge on its city. They'll be looking a leader." Remus held Noah out at arm's length. "I'm going to be that leader and you can usher in this glorious new era."
Noah snapped at him, his teeth missing Remus' nose by a fraction of an inch. "You can't say I didn't try." Remus let go of Noah but Noah remained trapped by his telekinesis. "You Benandanti have always been so narrow-minded about this whole human-monster dichotomy. So fixed in your views."
Remus shook his head and snapped a couple bones in Noah's back. "You think you are so much better than us because you choose to defend the humans, the only creature on this planet worth of the epithet monster." Remus smirked. "Because, in the end, humans will be the reason this earth is destroyed." Remus smirked. Noah growled as fire erupted throughout his body. "Tell the Devil I said hi when you get back to where you're from."
With that, Noah blacked out as his body broke through a window. All the time, Noah couldn't help but think that this was how it had all come to an end. Being killed by an indestructible god after being told that he had been an unwitting pawn in a former demon's master plan to take over the world. Everything he had believed in and fought for counted for nothing. What he had believed in must been calculated into the plans of the dark evil forces.
In the history books, if there would be any more history books, Noah Walker would be remembered as the thing that started the fall of human civilization. The seed of destruction. Noah felt a tear roll down one of his eyes as his body went numb. Once again, he had died in the body of a wolf.
Wise philosophers believed that it was always darkest before the dawn. What these same wise philosophers failed to notice, it was also darkest right before it went pitch-black. Bernard Walker stared out the window as the two elderly neighbors screamed for help. Bernie had no idea what kind of monster (or monsters) was (or were) attacking but it was clear that there was no saving them. The creature (or creatures) were almost done killing.
Due to his day at work, Bernie knew this wasn't just happening at this apartment complex. It was happening all over the city. "Animal attacks" and "psychos on drugs" were mere ciphers for the root cause of this disorder. The city was finally being overran with monsters. Paul Utah and a few of his fellow Palladians sat down in the living room. They were breaking cover to be here but it didn't seem to matter anymore. The monsters were winning.
Bernard gripped the sides of his head as he looked over his family. Everyone except his son Noah was present and accounted for. His daughter had killed her fair share of monsters out on patrol. The monsters were starting to attack during the day. That was warning sign that things were getting worse. Grandma Laurie and the Palladians discussed options as Michelle went to work barricading the home with every talisman she could think of.
It was like the city had dropped into the Ninth Circle of Hell. Hunters, the most capable and well-armed against the monsters, were trapped in their houses like scared peasants during a vampire plague. Bernard couldn't believe after everything he had done to protect and to serve this city, it wasn't even safe to go out on his front doorstep anymore. Bernard loaded the shotgun Robert Hilson had loaned to him. It was a bittersweet reminder of an extinct friendship.
The Palladians had their own arsenal, mostly swords, knives, bows and arrows. Nothing really high on tech but sophisticated enough to take out a huge swath of monsters. Bernard looked at the silver weapons. Statistically, most monsters would be shifters. Whatever wasn't a shifter could usually be dispatched by simpler means such as fire and removal of vital organs. The sounds of screaming neighbors stopped as the creature growled.
Bernard Walker armed himself with a shotgun loaded with silver buckshot. He brought along a silver-edged machete, vials of holy water and the ingredients of a Molotov cocktail. Whatever this creature was, Bernard wasn't going to let it kill again. After the half hour it took to destroy the creature (it turned out to a je-rouge so it was particularly difficult to kill), he smiled. No matter how bad things got, he was going to fight this. Damn monsters weren't going to win without a fight.