3 Knowing

Friday…. Sebastian dragged himself out of bed. He wasn’t tired; he just dreaded another day of reports and orders. Another day of tracking and responding to an increasingly invisible enemy. How nice it would be to just slip away! Alas, he didn’t have it in him, not even for James, to abandon the fight, to abandon a world he still felt most surely had abandoned him. If he did it, he wouldn’t be the man he was, and that’s really all there was to it. Damn it!

“It’s time to get up, baby,” he said, rubbing James’s shoulder and getting a smile.

“I know! I just wanted to stay like this as long as we could,” James replied, bringing a sigh to Sebastian’s lips. Reluctantly, they both got ready for their days. James gave Sebastian a quick wink over his shoulder as he popped in on Horatio, while Sebastian headed straight for his desk, and a never-ending flow of emails and messages.

No sign of Sekhmet. No sign of Aethon. No sign of Sammael. No new information about Chang’s operation. No idea about what to expect next. Damn it all! It had been almost a fucking week since they’d heard anything concrete about their enemies, and that had been to discover they had lost Sekhmet’s sarcophagus. Sammael could bide his time, planning and getting his ducks in a row: all Sebastian could do was prepare for God knows what! He knew he had to get ahead of this thing, but he had no clue how to do that.

When James, in the afternoon, announced that he and Avery were off to train with William, Sebastian knew what he had to do. “I’m coming with you,” he announced to James.

“Why?” James asked, confused.

“I need to talk to Chase,” Sebastian said.

James nodded. He knew how frustrated Sebastian had been by his inability to get a handle on Sammael. They met Avery by the door, but when the man moved to question him, Sebastian raised a hand and shook his head.


William, Chase and Matt got off the bus and ran to Chase’s house to get a snack. After they made their plans for the weekend, Matt went home and the boys changed into casual clothes.

William left Chase to meet Sam at the door, and together they walked out to his workshop. As they stepped through the door, Sam and William stopped laughing: their eyes zeroed in on Sebastian, who looked perturbed. “Sebastian?” William asked.

“William…. Could you ask Chase to come down here, please?” Sebastian asked.

“Why?” William asked, suspicion in his voice.

“We all need to talk…. About who Chase is,” Sebastian said gravely.

William nodded and left with a reluctant glance, but a few minutes later he returned with a smiling Chase, who greeted James, Avery and Sebastian with an excited hello and hugs.

“Since I saw you last, Sammael has made another move. Sekhmet has joined him, stolen from under our noses! We just don’t know what’s coming next, and I need to get ahead of him now. We’ve got to do something proactive. So I’ve come to you,” Sebastian said, staring at the beautiful blond with something akin to hope, “Chase.”

“Me?” the boy asked with a cute laugh. “What could I…. Oh, the voices!”

Sebastian nodded and allowed a pause to hang in the air, before recounting the story he had given to the others on Sunday night. “Like my relative, in whom the light of true knowledge shined, I believe that you are a prophet.”

When he finished, both boys looked stunned, and Chase started to laugh uncontrollably, almost to the point of rolling on the floor. “I’m sorry,” he said, finally. “That’s just ridiculous!”

Sebastian smiled, sighing, “I know it must seem far-fetched, but….”

“Far-fetched? You just told a puny, gay blond teenager in Virginia that he’s a prophet!” Chase asked.

“And where do you think your voices are coming from, then? Do you think you’re mad?” Sebastian asked.

Chase got a funny look on his face. “I’d half-convinced myself of that, yes….” But it made sense, really— the voices, the messages. To Chase, the thought he might be losing his mind was more comforting than this, which was really more than he was prepared to hear.

“The power I feel is real,” Sebastian said, “so unique and familiar! I’d know it anywhere!”

“Why are you telling me this, now?” Chase asked, hesitantly.

“Because … things have changed! The dark is rising and I can’t get ahead of it! I need … guidance. You are the only one left who can give it. I need you to help me,” Sebastian pleaded, his tone just short of begging.

Chase looked helpless. “They speak to me; half the time I don’t understand it at all!”

“Does it help when you concentrate?” Sebastian asked.

“Sometimes,” Chase responded, “but it’s never as clear as when I was there….”

Sebastian looked at Sam, who shrugged. “Will you come with us?” Sebastian asked the old man, who nodded resolutely.

“Not without me!” William demanded.

“You can come if you want, but it’s easier to hear when I’m away from you,” Chase said, cutting Sebastian off. Chase blushed as he finished, “Thinking of you, knowing you’re there … makes it hard to concentrate.”

James snorted, and when they all looked at him, he shrugged, “What? He said William makes it HARD to concentrate!”

Sebastian rolled his eyes at James with a loving smile before looking questioningly at William, “Anyway! What do you want to do, William?”

“I’ll stay with Avery,” he said, clearly not loving the idea. “If anything happens to him….”

Sebastian put his hand over his heart and nodded, a silent acknowledgment of the sentiment.

William watched silently as Sebastian and Sam helped Chase to the door. Sam was about to begin the complex incantation to open the door, but when the boy reached out and touched it, it opened instantly. Sam looked carefully at the boy before leading him inside. After so many surprises, this made little additional impact.

The door closed, leaving James and William to practice their wizardry with Avery. William looked at James with a frown. “I don’t like this one bit!”

The bigger boy put a big hand on William’s shoulder and squeezed. “I’m sorry, but Sebastian won’t let anything happen to Chase! You have no idea how important Chase is to him…. I’m not sure I do!”

“What do you mean?” William asked, sounding a little jealous and very curious all at once. Avery walked across the room, giving the boys time to talk alone.

James smiled, unsure of what to say. “Well, Chase is, or at least Sebastian thinks he is, our last hope against Sammael, so he will protect him to the end! But there’s something else…. The connection Sebastian feels to Chase is almost primal, because of how the boy reminds him of his relative, his friend. Chase is like a last, long-forgotten connection to Sebastian’s human life, his humanity, and … God.”

Cautiously, William asked, “You aren’t jealous?”

“No,” James exclaimed with a laugh. “I might have been, but one of my powers is that I can feel what people are feeling! I know how Sebastian feels about me, just as I know how you two feel about one another!” William nodded, and the boys talked some more, getting to know each other a little bit. They talked about their former lives, ripped away from them.

At last, Avery approached. “Well, boys, we’d better get to it, then,” he began, and fired off a spell at them, which they were able to deflect. For a while he cast spells and let them counter them, two on one, before teaching them a new set of offensive spells. “This incantation will allow you to conjure a whirlwind! You can do some serious physical damage with this one, and you can control the size. You can make it small enough to destroy a person, or large enough to wipe away small swaths of a town!” Raising his wand, he uttered the spell slowly and clearly for the boys, who watched as the tiniest of tornados manifested in the room. He then showed them how to expand and contract its size and control its motion.

Meanwhile, Chase was led to the altar, again causing Sam to gasp by resting his hands on its polished surface.

“Can you tell us anything?” Sebastian asked.

“No! The voices are too fast, too loud…. Something’s happening, I just can’t,” answered Chase, shaking his head.

“It’s okay,” Sebastian said, stopping him and putting a soft hand on his back. “Calm down…. Quiet your mind and focus!”

Chase sharpened his mind to a point, but nothing worked until he tried counting backward. In a few moments, he was able to focus in and listen. “Amer…. Americ … danger!”

Sebastian waited a moment, before asking, “He is a danger, or he is in danger?”

“Both…. He is in danger and that endangers us all!” Chase said in a hollow tone.

“What can I do?” Sebastian asked.

“Nothing…. It’s too late!” Chase said.

“No,” Sebastian said, “I talked to him this morning….”

“He is already in the clutches of the beast,” Chase said, shaking his head with a quiet certainty. “Go and see!”

Sebastian burst off toward the door and ripped it open, stopping only at the sound of Sam’s cry, “Sebastian, stop!” Sebastian grabbed the doorpost and turned, only just avoiding stepping off into empty space.

“So impulsive!” Chase said, knowingly. “I’m sorry about your friend, I really am!” Sam helped the boy to the door and opened it.

“Too cool!” James was muttering about the whirlwind spell, as the door from the temple swung open. Sebastian stormed into and through the room back to his house, while Sam helped Chase through the door and filled them in on the developments.

“Sam?” William began to ask, but the man shook his head. Chase and Sam filled them in on the details and both men hurried after Sebastian, James worried for his lover and Avery hoping to find out more about what had happened to his old friend.

“It’s bad,” Avery muttered. “I know Americ…. He’s a good person, but he won’t hold up against Sammael. If he knows something damaging, Sammael will know it now!”

“What does this mean?” William asked, not sure he wanted to know.

Chase, with the faraway look in his eyes and staring into the dark corner at the far end of the room, said, “The end of all things draws nigh!” Both William and Sam shivered involuntarily. “Relax,” he added, laughing at their response, though he could not have seen it. “There is so much that you can’t imagine that’s yet to pass!”

“Somehow, that’s not as comforting as you meant it to be, I think,” Sam responded.

“I suppose not,” Chase smiled, returning to himself.

“I hope that they’re okay,” William said, thinking of their friends and what they now faced.

“It ALL depends on what Sebastian does now!” Chase said knowingly, moving toward the door.

“Do you know what happens?” Sam asked.

“God only knows,” Chase said, “but it’s scary how much, from here on out, everything depends on the choices we make! It’s always been that way, I guess, but … there’s so much less wiggle room now! We’ve all got to remember that our choices aren’t just our choices, they ripple through the universe….”

“Like the ripple a pebble makes in a pond,” Sam mused poetic.

A cross look appeared momentarily on Chase’s face as he said, “Like a tsunami….”

***

Back in his stronghold, Sebastian logged onto the network. Without thinking, he typed in the message, “Code Black, Immediate Threat of attack or abduction against Consul Americ Bellanuova….”

Immediately, activity began in a flurry as important leaders around the world received the message and came online. When most of the important dignitaries had logged on, Americ’s screen flashed to life, surprising everyone. Americ sat stiff in his chair, and the first words he spoke were, “Sebastian, I’m sorry….”

A swift hand smacked him brutally, causing most of the assembled to gasp. Then the camera turned to face an unfamiliar figure, a hauntingly beautiful man with the coldest eyes Sebastian had ever seen. It made him shudder. Sammael, he knew without doubt.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen…. Most of you don’t know who I am,” he said, and Sebastian could feel the eyes boring into him. Though he knew they all saw the same image, he felt the special look just for him, both repulsive and, yet, alluring like the siren’s song. “I … am the Enemy! You know what I want, and I’m giving you the opportunity to give it to me! If you do so, I will allow this man to go free, without repercussions!”

“My friends, the hour is drawing near when you shall all have a decision to make! Will you follow Sebastian here, hiding in the shadows and protecting the humans from your own kind, and in doing so run afoul of me? Or will you join me, bringing our kind into the light, and resuming our rightful domination of their pathetic kind? The day is coming when you will decide, and then meet your fate. For now, you have one hour.” The screen went blank.

After a long pause, a younger vampire, a governor, asked, softly, “Who … was that?”

With a sigh, Sebastian shook his head. “That is the enemy, a powerful demon named Sammael, known to the humans as Satan.”

The clamor he expected never came, just a stunned silence. No doubt, no question: they had seen the man, had felt it, and knew it to be true. The young governor answered, “You cannot expect us to stand against him? Our best chance is to give him what he wants, to follow him…. We’re more like him than like the humans!”

“No,” Sebastian shouted, pounding his desk furiously. “We are not! We are free beings, we have choices to make, and we have to decide now: do we fight for existence, both human and otherwise, or do we help him to destroy it all? He doesn’t want to fight for our supremacy; he doesn’t want to lead a dark renaissance! His goal is and always has been the undoing of order, the reign of chaos, the destruction of all!”

“Why?” someone asked.

“Pure, unmitigated hatred, absolute and directed toward all things, and most of all at God, whom he blames for all! It’s the ultimate revenge! It makes no sense; he’ll destroy himself in the process. No matter. Make no mistake, following him leads to no future! So we fight, or we die, but joining him is no option!” Sebastian shouted.

“What about Americ?” Christen Wheeler asked with a heavy sigh.

“I can’t give him what he wants,” Sebastian said with a sigh, “without us all paying a heavy price later! Resheph will bring such savagery. But for my part, I’d give it to him! We can’t keep it from him forever, after all….”

Pedro leaned in and asked, uneasily, “Is Americ … worth the cost? I mean, is any of us?”

“How can you ask that?” Avery shouted at his brother, coming up beside Sebastian. “How far will we go? Who will we sacrifice? Of course he’s worth it! If it weren’t for him,” Avery began, but cut himself off. Even in his anger, he knew he was entering dangerous territory. “Americ helped me arrange for your sire to turn you.”

Sebastian smiled up at him and shook his head, whispering, “It was a long time ago, my friend! As you wish….” He sent a message to Americ’s console, and Sammael appeared on screen.

“You’ve made your decision?” the demon asked.

“I will tell you what you want to know, if you’ll agree not to harm Americ any further, no matter what!” Sebastian said.

Sammael arched his eyes sagely, and he could tell something was wrong. Nevertheless, he agreed. “Very well! I’ll let your man go, and when you have him, you’ll tell me where the head is…. You won’t double cross me!”

“How can you be so sure?” Sebastian asked.

“Because if you did … I’d take everything from you! Everything,” Sammael glowered.

Sebastian was chilled to the bone, but he nodded. Sammael waved his hand and Americ disappeared from the little room. After a few seconds, Musa gasped and announced, “He’s here, Sebastian!”

“Americ, are you alright?” Sebastian asked.

“Yes,” the man gasped. “I’m sorry!”

“Enough…. The head is buried in the crypt of a Buddhist monastery, Wat Chedi Luang, in Chaing Mai! The monks have no idea it’s there, but you’ll recognize it. The box is ornate and carved in Latin,” Sebastian said.

“Thank you, Sebastian! I’ll be talking to you soon,” Sammael said with an icy smile as he signed off.

Silence reigned as the assembled leaders contemplated their future, however short it might turn out to be. Shorter now, they all presumed. “Well, what now?” Pedro asked, exasperated. “Sammael will have his little army, now, and who knows how many will follow them?”

“I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hell was following close behind him,” Sebastian mused to himself, loud enough for all to hear. “That is the stake…. I want to remind you all that, should Sammael prevail, there is no good for any of us to come of it! We’ll all burn! But not today. Resheph will remain in his grave….”

“What?” Musa demanded. “You heard him! You know what he’ll do!”

Sebastian smiled. “What? He asked for the head, and he’ll find it…. But the fangs are missing. So he can come for me, I’ve got the fangs….”

They all knew what this meant. For now, Sammael’s plans would be frustrated, but his fury would be targeted at Sebastian and all those closest to him. James and Avery exchanged a look as Sebastian took a few last questions and shut down the meeting with a deep sigh. Slumped in his chair, he turned to face them. “In the eye of the storm….”

“Nothing new there,” Avery answered, trying to sound confident.

“We’re all going to have to be more careful from here on out,” Sebastian warned.

“How could we be more careful?” James said with a dissatisfied laugh.

“No one leaves the house without either Avery or me, or a squad of wizards…. We’ll have to call upon darker magicks than we have dared harness up to now,” Sebastian said.

“Darker?” James asked, hesitantly.

Avery looked away as he answered, “Black magick…. Blood magick….”

“Sebastian,” James said anxiously, raising his voice. “No!”

“We have no choice,” Sebastian answered softly.

“We always have a choice,” James demanded loudly. “Black magick? What are we trying to win for? If this is what we become, we should just grab a chair and watch Sammael’s great and secret show!”

“Blood magick is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal,” Avery insisted.

“No, it isn’t! It can’t be,” James answered vehemently. “You said you felt great power in Chase! Where does his power come from? Not blood! Not hatred!”

Sebastian shook his head, shrugging his shoulders at Avery. “I don’t know….”

“You do know! You do! Both of you do!” James yelled at the men.

“I can’t put my faith in that,” Sebastian said. “We’ve got to act and act decisively….”

James threw up his hands and walked out of the room. “Perhaps you should listen to him,” Avery suggested cautiously. “Remember the prophecies?”

“Prophecies! Angels! What’s it all for? If He wants it done, why doesn’t He just come down here and do it Himself?” Sebastian didn’t expect an answer to his question, but James hadn’t made it very far and returned at just that moment.

“Maybe He wants us to save ourselves? Maybe we need to save ourselves! Don’t you feel the world changing?” James insisted.

“Honestly,” Sebastian asked sincerely, and James nodded. “No, I don’t…. Maybe I’ve been around too long, but it feels terribly like more of the same to me!”

James looked at him with sad eyes. “I’m sorry! But trust me! It is!”

Sebastian wrinkled his brow at his young love and closed his eyes, nodding. “I do … trust you, that is! We need to talk to Chase again, tomorrow morning!”

Avery got on the phone with Sam Roth, who contacted Xavier and Aiden, as well as the boys and Chase’s parents, to let them know to expect a visit in the morning.

***

After Sam was gone, the boys went upstairs and worked on homework, though neither made much progress. Their minds were elsewhere. At last, giving up, William stood up and changed into some nicer clothes. “I’m going to the synagogue,” he said.

“If you don’t mind, I’m going to stay here,” Chase said, glumly.

“Are you okay? Do you want me to stay home?” William asked.

“No, you go ahead…. I just need to think,” Chase said.

William leaned over and kissed the back of his neck softly. “Okay, I’ll be home soon, then,” he whispered, closing the door softly as he left the room. Downstairs, he found Steve, who gave him a ride and offered to pick him up an hour later.

Chase, meanwhile, sat in his chair and cried softly. “Why me?” he whispered.

“I’m sorry,” a deep voice answered him unexpectedly, making him jump.

Turning, Chase smiled sadly. “Gideon!”

“Chase, I…. If there was any other way,” the being murmured.

“It’s not your fault! It’s not your choice! But, I just don’t get it. Why me? I mean, of all the people in the world, why me?” Chase asked, begging.

With a sad smile that carried in his voice, Gideon asked, “Why not you?”

Chase laughed, “I’m selfish, I’m weak, I’m blind, I’m gay, I don’t know anything about any of this stuff!”

Gideon laughed in return, weakly. “The fact that you think you are selfish only shows how unselfish you are! You are so full of love for everyone you meet!” Chase grunted at that. “Chase, that’s what matters! Love! For some reason, none of you people ever really get it, how important, how powerful it is! If you tap into that, there is no limit! You know, I’ve been with you since you were born, watching over you, just as I have been watching over William. I can’t tell you much, but you’ve exceeded every expectation He gave me for you two!”

“I’m scared, Gideon,” Chase said, starting to weep. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Follow your heart, listen to that, and you’ll figure it out,” Gideon promised.

“What about the voices?” Chase asked.

“They’ll always tell you the truth,” he began, but Chase heard him hesitate.

“But?” Chase asked.

Gideon smiled, “But the truth can be confusing, and it’ll be up to you to know what to do with what you’re told, so listen to your heart! It’s your truest guide!”

“I can’t do this, Gideon!” Chase protested.

“I’m sorry, Chase. You have no choice! Or rather, your only choice is to give the world to him, or resist….” He reached out and stroked the boy’s cheek softly before he disappeared, leaving Chase alone with his heavy doubts. But Chase had cried all he would that day. So he sat down at the computer and worked as best he could, knowing that they would be spending the next day with their friends.

When William returned Chase was feeling a little better, and sighed when he felt the boy’s strong hands on his shoulders. “Feeling better?” William asked as he gently massaged the boy’s shoulders. Chase nodded and put a soft hand on William’s.

Standing, he turned and stepped into William’s arms, whispering. “It’s just … overwhelming!”

William nodded. “I know! But … well, there’s something else. Sebastian and James are coming back in the morning; they want to meet with everybody. That means we ought to talk to your parents tonight.”

Chase sighed deeply and shook his head. “Alright…. This is going to be fun,” he said with resigned sarcasm. He trudged heavily downstairs when they were summoned for dinner, so out of character that both of his parents knew something was up. They figured a lovers spat or something on that order.

After dinner, Chase’s parents would withdraw to their bedroom in shock, the boys presumed to talk about what Chase had told them, so William and Chase went upstairs and lay on the bed to watch a movie on William’s laptop. Chase’s head rested on William’s chest and William ran his finger’s gently through Chase’s golden locks.

“Do you think they’re okay?” Chase asked softly.

“Of course they are…. Just in shock! Aren’t you?” William asked.

“Yeah,” the boy answered softly. “I just wish it would all go away!”

“Well,” William said with a laugh, “ it was all this, the good and the bad, that brought us together! If it does all end up badly, I’m glad we got this for a few months!”

“Don’t talk like that,” Chase chided, squeezing him. “We’re going to grow old together!”

“Yeah, because we’re going to kick the devil’s ass!” William snickered, as they settled in to watch the movie.

***

Peter slipped silently out the side door, eluding passing wizards and escaping into the darkening dusk. He had been slipping away, and only Richard noticed, following the boy and keeping tabs on him. Peter was becoming quite the hunter, but his behavior troubled Richard.

Peter targeted not the dregs that Richard and Sebastian encouraged but the needy and the pained. He had a thing for the suffering. One boy he’d targeted was a gay teen who had been abused by his father, while another was an orphan. Both boys’ pain called out like a beacon, and Richard could feel it. Peter befriended each boy, but had so far repressed the impulse to feed. Richard knew this wouldn’t last, and he had to be ready to stop Peter from losing his head. He couldn’t lose the boy like he had lost his sire.

Richard followed Peter to the park. That was new. Maybe he’d do his hunting here, perhaps a drug dealer or pimp, Richard thought hopefully. But as Peter walked toward the picnic table at the far end of the park, already enveloped in dark shadows, his hopes were dashed. A boy of fourteen sat, his legs splayed, wearing dirty jeans and a tattered shirt. He nodded at Peter with a fake smile.

“20 bucks,” the boy said, his voice just deepening but with the hard edge of worldly knowledge. Richard flinched involuntarily at the boy’s lascivious smile. He could hear the boy’s thoughts as loud as day and he knew Peter got the gist too. ‘I’d do you for free if I wasn’t so hungry!’

“What’s your name?” Peter asked smoothly, sliding in next to the boy. “I’m Peter….”

“Andy,” the boy said, but Peter knew he was William.

Peter smiled and looked into the boy’s eyes, probing deeply this time. The boy had been savagely beaten and disowned by his parents for being gay, put out on the street at thirteen. He’d never make it to seventeen, and he had a rage! The pain was buried so shallowly, was so raw. “What will 20 get me?” Peter asked, putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder and stroking his neck with his thumb.

“Mmmm,” the boy sighed, genuinely enjoying Peter’s touch. “For you, anything!”

Peter reached across with his left hand and stroked the boy’s cheek, lifting his chin to face him. “You’re a beautiful boy, Will,” he whispered.

“Mmmmy nnnname is Andy,” the boy stuttered pitifully. “Yyyou know….”

“I do, but not how you think! I can feel your pain,” Peter whispered.

The boy laughed angrily and pulled away. “Get out of here, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Will,” Peter said, looming over the boy, still a friendly presence, “I can make it go away…. I can make it all go away!”

“You’re crazy,” the boy said, getting scared and backing away, but Peter grabbed him and held his arm tight. Looking deep into Will’s eyes, Peter felt the boy relax and step into him. The boy trembled against Peter’s hard body.

Peter leaned in and kissed the boy softly. “I’m sorry for what you’ve been through, but it’s over now,” he whispered in Will’s ear. As he sank his fangs into the boy’s neck, he felt Will stiffen and then relax in his arms. Richard was on him in seconds but couldn’t pry him from the boy, as the life drained from him.

“Peter, stop! For God’s sake, stop!” Richard’s cries were in vain, and if he pulled any harder, Peter’s fangs would simply rip Will’s throat out.

When Will slipped away, Peter settled him gently to the ground and ripped at his throat with his claws, tearing away the bite marks, while Richard looked on horrified. “What have you done?”

“I took away his pain,” Peter said softly, staring off into the dark. A world full of pain. “I took away his pain!” He scarcely noticed Richard’s arms wrap around him, though he did feel the man shaking. “Are you alright?”

Richard wouldn’t meet his gaze, but managed to cough out, “No.”

“What?” Peter asked.

“You just … killed him! He didn’t deserve it,” Richard whispered.

“Did he deserve to live a life of endless suffering? Did he deserve to be subjected daily to the pain that was tearing him apart? You and Sebastian think that it’s okay to kill to protect others, to kill for the common good! But this was mercy, not vengeance!” Peter yelled.

Peter stormed off into the woods and Richard tried to keep up with him, but the boy was freshly fed and strong. At last, Richard made his way back to the mansion, alone, and slipped inside without being seen. Or so he thought.

“You were out?” Sebastian asked from the kitchen, not needing to see him.

Stepping inside, Richard found his master cooking a light dinner for his inner circle of wizards, as well as a few others. “I was … hunting with Peter.”

Without looking up, Sebastian noted, “He seems to be doing a lot of that lately….” Richard grunted and Sebastian arched his eyebrows. “He’s behaving himself, isn’t he?”

“He’s … covering his tracks,” Richard said, guardedly.

“That’s good … but,” Sebastian began.

“I’m watching out for him, Sebastian,” Richard said, not wanting this to go any further. He knew that the elder vampire could read his thoughts in an instant, but that Sebastian wouldn’t without cause. He didn’t want to give him cause, because he knew Sebastian would find his own inner doubt. Richard thought Peter was sliding off the deep end, and he didn’t know what, if anything, he could do about it.

Sebastian gave Richard a look, but nodded. “Let me know if there’s anything I need to do.”

“I will,” Richard said, feeling guilty even as he lied.

Sebastian walked upstairs that evening feeling every bit as old as he was, weighted down by the day. His shoulders were slumped as he tossed his clothes into the hamper and sat on the edge of the bed. “Are you okay?” James asked as he crawled up behind Sebastian and rubbed his shoulders.

“No,” Sebastian replied heavily. “I’m not.”

James squeezed him and said, “Anything I can do?”

“You’re doing it,” Sebastian said, smiling weakly. Squeezing James’s strong arms, he said, “I always dreamed that when I met you, we’d spend at least a lifetime enjoying ourselves, seeing the world, doing … whatever we wanted! Maybe I’d even step down from the Council…. Can you imagine?”

“Honestly, no…. But it sounds like it might be fun for a few decades,” James said with a laugh. “ I just don’t think you could do it….”

“I suppose not, but it would be nice to have had some peace,” Sebastian laughed and lay back into James, letting the boy hold him close. “But alas!”

James giggled at his dramatics and tickled him playfully as they fell back onto the bed and rolled around, playfully wrestling. James, as always, managed to calm Sebastian and redirect his attention to … more pleasant pursuits.

***

Meanwhile, half way around the world, Sammael, Aethon, and Sekhmet walked into the ancient Buddhist temple at Chaing Mai, Thailand. Before the assembled monks had a chance to respond, they began to die bloody deaths. Severed heads littered the floor, blood splatter covered most exposed surfaces. As the demon and his vampiric minions moved through the complex, they killed the remaining monks going about their chores. In the crypts, they found what they were looking for—a western, Latin-inscribed urn. Opening it, Sammael smiled.

“It’s here?” Aethon asked, excitedly.

“We knew it would be,” Sekhmet hissed impatiently. “Let’s go! I don’t like this, there could be a trap, like in my temple….”

No sooner than she’d said it, Sammael lifted the urn and a loud click was heard as the mechanism engaged and fire filled the room as the bomb exploded, rocking the temple complex.

When the dust settled, the three figures lay on the floor. Sammael had the urn in his arms, unharmed. He had expended tremendous energy shielding himself and the urn from the explosion, but he had been unable to do the same for Aethon and Sekhmet. Aethon had blood trickling from his mouth but was largely unhurt. Sekhmet, however, was blackened and burned, with a deep gash in her neck.

With a last weak wave of the arm, Sammael looked at his companions and transported them back to their arctic base, before doing the same for himself.

***

In the morning, William and Chase dressed before coming downstairs for breakfast. Steve and Sarah were nowhere in sight, and William looked hesitantly at Chase. The boy seemed perturbed that his parents weren’t out yet, as they were always early risers. William poured each of them a bowl of cereal and they sat and ate breakfast silently.

At last William couldn’t take it anymore. “I’ll be right back,” he said, sliding the chair back. He walked to the door to the master bedroom and knocked loudly.

A moment later Steve stuck his head around the door, looking drowsy. “Yeah?”

“I’m sorry,” William whispered, “but you should know, Chase is sitting in here thinking you’re avoiding him because of what he told you last night, and I really don’t care whether you’re comfortable with it or not but you need to….”

“Whoa, whoa! I’m sorry, we just overslept! We’ll be out in a minute….” William nodded and walked back to the kitchen.

Chase smiled weakly. “You didn’t have to do that!”

“Well, you just looked so … down, I couldn’t stand it!” William said.

Chase laughed softly, “I love you!”

“Glad to see you’re feeling better,” Steve said as he walked in, tying his robe. “Sorry to leave you boys hanging this morning, but your mother’s not feeling well….”

Chase looked over at him, confused, and then with a creeping smile. “Is she?”

“We don’t know yet, so don’t get too excited!” Steve said.

“She is, I know she is,” Chase said, boiling over with glee.

William looked at him, “You know, or you know?”

“I know!” Chase said.

William hugged Chase and kissed his neck. “That’s fantastic!”

“We never realized it could happen so fast,” Sarah said as she turned the corner, hand on her stomach.

William smiled at her and said, “It only takes once, you know!”

“Well, we don’t know anything yet,” Sarah said with a frown.

“Yes, we do,” William said, raising his eyebrows and putting an arm around Chase.

Sarah looked at Steve and smiled. “Would you mind running down to the pharmacy and getting one of those early pregnancy tests?”

With a sigh, Steve disappeared in the direction of the bedroom and emerged quickly in jeans and a t-shirt. “Be back in a minute…. Thanks, guys!” he said with a humorous frown at the boys. Sarah watched the boys eat for a few minutes before she had to leave, unable to stand the sight even of cold cereal.

When Steve got back, he asked, “Where’s your mom?”

William put his hand on his stomach and rolled his eyes with a smile. Steve disappeared down the hall to find his wife. It wasn’t long before the boys had their answer in the form of  screams of delight.

When they emerged, Steve asked, “I suppose you boys heard the news?”

“We already knew,” Chase said simply.

His parents looked at him seriously. “We know both you boys are special,” Sarah said. “Maybe in some ways that we weren’t entirely prepared for! But in the end, that doesn’t change anything. It might just take some getting used to…. Be patient.”

Chase ran to his mother and gave her a hug, smiling brightly. “I love you, mom.” Then he hugged his dad. “I love you, too, dad! Oh, and remember, James and Sebastian are dropping by this morning!”

“Ah, yes!” Sarah replied, less than enthusiastic.

“Mom! They’re the good guys,” Chase cautioned.

“Some good guys,” Sarah said. “Vampires!” As if on cue, the doorbell rang. Chase dragged William to the door, and William checked the peephole. It was them. So Chase opened the door and gave both young men hugs as they were invited in.

Sebastian looked at Sarah and smiled. “But, you have to admit, I’m a vampire with an interesting family tree….”

The woman blushed realizing he had heard. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” she began, but stopped as he raised a hand. “But I’m not sure what you’re talking about….”

“Oh,” Sebastian said, raising his hand with a smile. “I was just telling the boys yesterday about why I was so familiar with Chase’s abilities. I was very fond of my relative, Abraham, from your Bible. You actually remind me of him a little too, given your namesake….”

“You can’t be,” she began, before shaking her head. “Of course you’re serious…. You’ll excuse me for being wary. Your kind doesn’t exactly have a positive reputation.”

“Mom!” Chase said.

“Chase,” Sebastian said with a smile, “I’m not offended. Indeed, our kind has, at times, deserved a much worse reputation than we have had…. So many of the evil gods and demons of the ancient world were really just vampires! If people had known what we really were, they would have hunted us mercilessly. And in many cases, rightfully so. That’s part of the reason we have the Council—we police ourselves and avoid attention to avoid open conflict. Point of fact, it’s a conflict we’d probably win, but there is a balance to be maintained….”

“So why are you different?” the woman asked.

Sebastian looked surprised. “I’m not. Not entirely, anyway. For a long time, I followed the way of my teachers, spreading terror. But I never … felt right. Over time, I came to understand what I was missing and it changed my perspective. I suppose I also never lost some feeling of connection to where I came from, both humanity in general and my family in particular! James was the first I turned in a thousand years….”

“Why did you do it?” Chase asked.

James spoke up. “We fell in love, madly…. But my father didn’t like it much. My mother decided to leave him, but before she could, he killed her and tried to kill me. I was … bleeding to death, and Sebastian had to decide.”

“You poor dears,” Sarah said, shaking her head. “I’m very sorry!” Chase smiled so she couldn’t see, knowing she had been won over.

“Thank you,” James said with a cute shrug. “But on the upside, we get to spend the rest of our very long lives together!”

“Sarah, if you don’t mind, we need to talk to the boys?” Sebastian asked, his eyebrows arched in a question. The woman nodded. “Oh, and congratulations!”

Sarah blushed, “How long were you at the door?”

“Oh, it’s not that. We’re just very sensitive to emotions,” James added with a smile. The boys all walked out the back down to the shed and into the training complex.

“So,” Sebastian began heavily, “Sammael had taken Americ hostage, and offered him in exchange for the location of Resheph’s head, which he needs to move forward with his plan….”

“Chase said that pretty much everything depends on how you responded to that,” William said, apprehensively.

“I gave him what he wanted, in exchange for my friend,” Sebastian answered.

“Shit,” William exclaimed, only to be puzzled by` Chase’s laughter. “What?”

Chase shook his head. “You need to get this through your heads! This is a battle between good and evil! You don’t win that battle by doing more evil. A person willing to trade his friend for strategic advantage could never stand against the Evil One!”

“See,” James said, smirking at Sebastian.

“What?” Chase asked, amused.

“Sebastian thought that the way we’d best be protected from Sammael would be to use dark magick to bolster our defenses….”

“Quite the opposite,” Chase responded with a shake of his head. “You need to identify the most powerful wizards and the most powerful white magick available to them…. That will defend us against Sammael best!”

“Any suggestions?” Sebastian asked.

“Angelic magick,” Chase said, simply.

“That’s lost knowledge,” Sebastian declared definitively.

“There is a book, Sefer Raziel ha-Malakh, The Book of the Angel Raziel,” Chase began, but Sebastian cut in.

“All that remains is a medieval manuscript that’s more fiction than fact,” Sebastian replied.

Chase smiled. “We’ll see about that….” With that, the boy took tentative steps toward the door of the Temple. William took his arm and led him to the door, the first time they’d entered without Sam.

William put his hand on the door and nothing happened, so Chase smiled and moved his hand aside, easily opening the portal with a touch. The four stepped through into the Temple, and none of them failed to notice that the veil of the Holy of Holies rustled heavily upon their entry, as if something wanted out.

“Don’t worry,” Chase said quietly. “We’re quite safe!” The rest held back as he walked up to the altar with an easy gait. “Come on,” he said, motioning them forward. Sebastian stood to his left and William to his right, and James stood next to Sebastian. Chase put both hands on the altar and bowed his head. For a long time they just stood there, waiting for him.

At last, however, Chase raised his head and began tracing a design with his finger on the surface of the altar. Sebastian recognized it as a sigil, more complex than any he’d ever seen. When the boy finished, Chase instructed them all to hold hands as he looked up and yelled, “Raziel!”

With a peal of thunder, they found themselves across the altar from a fearsome looking angel. Chase held his ground and held the hands that flinched and involuntarily moved back almost imperceptibly. “How dare you?” the dark angel glared at them with a growl. “You desecrate this place with your presence, and dare call for me! Vampires and wizards, and a mere mortal!”

“Bite your tongue, angel,” Chase said with a commanding voice. “Do you not know that the time of Sammael is nigh? We are all that stands between the earth and the abomination!”

“Well, then,” the angel began, decidedly less confident, but with an air of superiority, “it IS the end!”

“How dare you question the wisdom of the Holy One?” Chase’s word’s stung as the being stepped back.

“I only meant,” the angel stammered.

“I know what you meant…. Gideon!” As the boy spoke, the tall angel appeared at his back. “Perhaps my guardian can convince you?”

Chase was unable to see, as the others did, the haughty being kneel and bow his head. “My Lord!”

“Rise! It is not me before whom you should humble yourself!” Gideon commanded. The angel rose, perplexed, and Gideon laughed derisively. “You, who taught Adam the secrets of creation and who walked with his descendent, Abraham, teaching mysteries, do not recognize your charge?”

Raziel looked at the little blond with curiosity. “Why would you, a prince, be assigned as a guardian?” he mused to himself, until, at last, his eyes opened wide and he fell back to his knees. “Forgive me! You are not what I expected … and you DO keep strange company!”

“Please, Raziel, think nothing of it,” Chase said with a smile, holding out his hand. Feeling the angel take it softly, he squeezed and indicated he should rise.

“Now I would know you anywhere,” the angel said, his eyes on the ground as he rose. “I am sorry!”

“This is not the time,” Chase said, still smiling. “Who knows how long we have to prepare? Please!”

“Yes … let’s see,” Raziel said, deep in thought. “We must begin immediately!” With a look at the others, he asked, “Is there somewhere we can be alone?”

Chase laughed, “Raziel, there is nothing that you can tell me that I won’t share! My companions are our last line of defense against Sammael, and they need all the help they can get.”

Warily, the angel sized up Chase’s three companions, before looking at Gideon, who nodded. “Very well…. Let us begin!”

Like the expert teacher he was, Raziel weaved an entrancing tale of the origin of creation and the power that runs beneath all things, tying matter together and joining everything to every other thing. He told them the now familiar story of the creation of man and the fall of the angels led by Sammael. Sebastian couldn’t help but notice that Raziel kept glancing at Gideon as he told the story of the ill-fated love of Gabriel and Sammael. “The day Gabriel chained Sammael in the great pit … it was as if the divine presence itself dimmed momentarily from the sadness of it! It was the day … we all knew, in the end, it would come to this!” he said with a dramatic flourish of his hand.

“How can we defend ourselves against such a being?” Chase asked.

“It is a difficult thing. Ancient magicks are mostly useless against him,” Raziel said.

“But not angelic magick,” Chase said.

“No,” Raziel smiled, “not angelic magick! But be warned! It takes extraordinary power and control, and it does not come from any dark place like your magicks.” He placed the emphasis on your as he looked at Chase’s companions.

“I told you black magick was not the answer,” James whispered to Sebastian with a smile.

“Quite right, young vampire,” Raziel said, with an appraising glance.

“James,” the boy answered, stepping forward.

Raziel leaned in and reached out a hand, touching his shoulder. “Peculiar, most peculiar! James, you are a strange vampire, born of love!” With that Raziel’s eyes widened again and he laughed a hearty laugh.

“What?” Chase asked.

“I never knew He had such a sense of humor,” Raziel chuckled good-humoredly. One hand on James, the other on Chase, he said, “The bounds of your powers know no limits, if you can tap into the deep wells of your hearts, dear boys!” Turning to their partners, he said, “As for you two, protect them well, for it all turns here….”

With that, he taught them some of the most simple spells, with their complex sigils and incantations, but after a long time, none of them could make any of them work. At last Gideon walked over and pulled Chase aside.

“Chase, clear your mind,” he whispered. “Feel what you felt when you first realized that William could return the feelings you had for him, when you first realized he loved you! Feel that feeling and hold onto it while you make the sigil in the air, while you speak the words….” Turning to the others, he said, “Watch!”

Chase concentrated hard and raised his hand in front of him and began to draw with his finger. As he did, the air was filled with blue light everywhere his finger went. William gasped as he saw the sigil form in blue blazes in the air, and an electric ‘wroom’ sound, something like the sound of a light saber, filled the room.

“Now, cast your most powerful spells at Chase,” Gideon invited. As they hesitated, Gideon encouraged, “Don’t worry, I assure you I’ll let no harm come to him!”

At last, William was the first to do so, casting a powerful fireball at his beloved, trusting the angel to shield him. But the fire was merely absorbed by the glowing blue sigil. James attempted to fire a bolt of electricity at him, but that too was dissipated by the shield. At last Sebastian raised his hand and conjured an extraordinarily powerful bit of dark magick, an ancient and unnamed killing spell, and cast it at the boy. When it struck the shield, the shield crackled and a powerful wave of energy burst back, knocking James, Sebastian and William onto their backs.

“I forgot to mention,” Gideon said with a laugh, “that the more powerful the spell, the more reactive the defense! You can imagine the devastating effect it might have against a demonic attack!” James and William laughed, while Sebastian smiled and shook his head.

“I don’t suppose you might have thought of that before,” Sebastian mused aloud humorously.

“Oh, I did think about it, but I decided to let you see for yourselves how much more powerful magick rooted in life and love is than that rooted in hatred and destruction” Gideon responded with a kinder smile than Sebastian had seen on him before. “Now we just have to work on accessing the source of that power! I’m afraid that it will come easier to Chase than the rest of you, but it is within the grasp of anyone.”

“I have a question,” James asked, uncharacteristically stepping out of the shadows to take part in the conversation.

“Ask it!” Gideon urged.

“How did this happen? How did Sammael get free? After all, he was locked away,” James trailed off. “How easy is it to free a demon from the pit?”

“Very difficult, and the more powerful the demon, the more difficult the conjuring,” Raziel stepped forward and answered. “It is absolutely unimaginable that someone could free Sammael. Even releasing one of the lesser princes would result in catastrophic damage to the immediate vicinity and the death of the wizard. Sammael … would be so much worse. Could it be that this is his time?” Raziel asked Gideon.

“No … well, perhaps! I wasn’t expecting, but who can say but the One?” Gideon replied.

“It is … the only way,” Raziel suggested more gently, but his eyes flickered.

“I suppose,” Gideon admitted.

“What are you talking about?” James asked.

Raziel sighed, “When the rebels were put down, they were sentenced to suffer for a set period, at which time they would be set free and given the opportunity to seduce the world. Mortals will make the choice. They can follow the rebels, in which case we stand aside, or they resist and we join the conflict and put the rebellion down, once and for all….”

“So why isn’t the world crawling with demons?” William asked.

“None of us know exactly how it will happen,” Raziel answered. “Perhaps Sammael escapes and prepares the way? But in any case, we really should get back to work….” They worked with the angels for an hour or so more, until James was able to do the simplest spell, and William and Sebastian were just beginning to be able to carve the sigil. Meanwhile, Chase had learned a couple of additional spells.

At last, however, Chase reminded, “We have plans with our friends this afternoon….”

“Very well,” Raziel said. Waving his hand over the altar, he manifested an ancient book, which he handed to Chase.

“I’m blind,” the boy said with a laugh.

Raziel smiled, “You don’t read this book with your eyes…. Pass your hands over the pages and the knowledge will come directly to your mind! And I will be available to you if you but call….” Looking at the assembled, he apologized again. “I’m sorry for my abrupt manner. I hope you’ll forgive me. After so long a wait….”

They all nodded and smiled, waving their goodbyes as they stepped out of the temple, leaving Gideon and Raziel alone.

“Do they know who you are, master?” Raziel asked.

“Only Sebastian, but he has kept my secret. I’m surprised, actually…. I was most unkind to him,” Gideon said.

“He sees how you protect the boys, and he has some inkling of their worth,” Raziel mused. Gideon only nodded, turning to look longingly at the veil of the Holy of Holies. “You will return to us soon, master….”

“I pray that it is not in defeat,” Gideon admitted, sounding a bit low.

“The boy is so pure, so full of hope…. The wisdom of the One who chose him shines in him!” Gideon nodded at Raziel, but his face remained apprehensive. “You are not losing faith, master?”

Gideon looked at him, surprised. “NO! I’m just uncomfortable putting so much faith in the humans! I’ve never seen what the rest of you see in them….”

“Until now, perhaps?” Raziel asked with a creeping smile.

“Perhaps,” Gideon admitted grudgingly, disappearing.

Raziel smiled and closed his eyes in prayer, before walking around the altar and pulling back the veil, blending into the supernal light.

Back in William’s training room, Chase and William said their goodbyes to James and Sebastian. “We’ll do this again soon,” Chase said with a smile, as he hugged them both. “And we’ll come visit some weekend!”

“Good,” Sebastian said. “Listen,” he began, looking at both boys seriously, “I can’t keep your existence secret from the Shadow Council for much longer. I was wondering if you’d be willing to come to dinner next week. I’d like to introduce you to some of my closest friends and allies…. I need to explain to them how I think we might still get through this! Otherwise, I think we’ll begin to lose people to Sammael. Particularly when he’s realized I still have the last bit he needs to bring Resheph back to life and makes his counterstrike….”

William waited for Chase to answer, but he knew what was coming. “Of course, just let us know when!”

“Thank you, both of you,” Sebastian smiled, giving them each a quick peck on the cheek and taking his leave. James smiled and waved as he followed Sebastian through the door to his mansion.

“What a day!” William exclaimed.

“And it’s only lunch time,” Chase added with a smile, as he took William’s arm and squeezed.

***

Saturday afternoon, Sebastian and James returned from Richmond, drained and tired, but also bolstered, from their morning training with the boys and the angels, Raziel and Gideon. The power they had seen in Chase was magnificent and emboldening.

Sending James upstairs to check in with Chris and Steve, who were playing pool with some of the younger wizard warriors, Sebastian settled into his office and logged on to the Shadow Network, sending Americ, Christen, Musa, and Pedro invitations to join him for dinner on Tuesday night for a “very special meeting.”

Then he checked his system for an update about the explosion that had rocked the Buddhist temple in Chaing Mai overnight. He had already seen photos of the brutal murders of the monks, a sickening display of rage that would soon be plastered over airways and electronic media outlets around the world.

When he had the temple booby-trapped, he also had it wired for surveillance, and the images were now available. While he could see that Sammael and his minions survived, he could tell they were all severely injured in the explosion, offering him no small measure of satisfaction. Sammael and his network would be weakened, perhaps delaying the plan, giving Sebastian time to counter. Sebastian logged off, smiling for the first time in a long while.

Sebastian and his friends enjoyed the rest of a peaceful day relaxing, playing games and talking. Avery and Sarah disappeared for a stretch in late afternoon, reemerging later with a distinct flush in their cheeks. Peter and Richard, however, were not to be seen, as Peter brooded alone under Richard’s constant care. Peter was beginning to feel restricted, restrained, needing an outlet for his feelings, something more dramatic than a mercy-killing in the park.

Ever since he had first overheard conversations about Sammael, he had been intrigued, and had made a habit of snooping. Something dark and massive was congealing in his brain, an inchoate idea he did not yet dare to form but that was already flirting with the darker corners of his consciousness. ‘Sammael,’ he thought to himself. He didn’t even realize that a dark smile flickered at the edge of his mouth. If Richard had seen it, he would have been chilled. But he missed it, as his affection for the boy caused him to miss so much that could have been crucial, early on.

***

Sammael paced back and forth, his body battered by the explosion he had suffered. Defending himself and his minions against the blast, moving them all across the globe, and healing himself was seriously depleting his energy, and it took an incredible amount of energy just to manifest himself in the physical world. For the first time, Sammael found himself at a serious disadvantage. That pissed him off.

He went through his things and looked over some papers. “Where do we stand on the Jennings boy?”

“Sir,” Andrew asked, hesitantly. “What do you mean?”

“Alexander Jennings’s son! Why is he still alive? What are we doing about it?” Sammael growled.

“Sir, the last attempt we made was foiled. The bombs were discovered, and the hit man sent to the school failed,” Andrew reported.

“How could that happen? Even the old Rabbi made it through!” Sammael raged.

“Sir, we know that Sebastian has been slipping away beneath the radar…. It looks as if there are periods of intense communication between him and Richmond before these disappearances. Perhaps he’s been in contact with them?” Andrew suggested.

“Damn!” Sammael yelled.

“What does this mean? William Jennings. Why is he so important?” Andrew asked.

“I’ve been collecting seers and magi, as you know…. One dark wizard with second sight told me that the Jennings family was the key to my downfall! That they, or someone they would lead me to, alone could foil my plan!” Sammael replied.

“So far everything we’ve tried has failed,” Andrew said.

“Then we try something else,” Sammael yelled, bringing his hand down on the desk in a rage. It hurt. That angered him further. “I need more power,” he seethed. “In the meantime, fetch me a few dark wizards!”

“Yes sir,” the young man choked. “You … have a plan?”

“Oh yes, I have a plan! I know just how to go after a group of teenage boys. They won’t know what hit them!” he laughed.

Sammael’s fury was somewhat abated by his decision with regard to dealing with William and his friends. He was rather pleased with what he thought to be a most elegant solution. But his pleasure was short-lived.

Andrew returned. “The priests are ready, sir. They’ll begin the ritual shortly, if you’d like to observe?”

“Why not? I haven’t seen one of these in … ages!” With an evil grin, he led the way down to the ritual space adorned with all the implements one would expect from every tradition of dark magick known to man and many long forgotten.

At Sammael’s nod, the oldest priest began to chant an ancient Babylonian incantation: “Powers of darkness rise, through the earth and across the skies…. Darkest heart and bloodiest intention call you here at this auspicious hour, to bring forth your long dead beloved child, Resheph! Bring in the sacrifices!”

Dark robed priests led in thirteen nude boys and girls in their early teens, mostly twelve to fourteen, all virgins. As symbolically powerful as a virgin sacrifice is, it pales in comparison to the ritual murders of virgins who have been brutally deflowered. Sammael’s face looked blissful as he breathed in the cries of the tormented children. Their pain and degradation was like new life to him and he felt his power swell, just a little. He needed more, so much more, but it felt … orgasmic to him.

In short order, only the sound of thirteen quietly sobbing teens could be heard, and that sound was silenced as the priests drew their blades across the tender necks. The blood was collected and poured into the metal coffin holding the assembled remains of Resheph. The old priest chanted a few more words and all looked on expectantly. Its contents remained motionless and silent.

“What’s going on?” Sammael demanded, suddenly more furious than ever.

“I … I don’t know,” the old priest stammered. “Something isn’t right….”

Sammael had the guards drag the captive Streghe priests over. “What’s wrong, what’s missing? Why the hell isn’t it working?” he demanded, almost shrill.

“Nothing,” the younger priest spat. But then a smile spread over his face, a smile of contempt and loathing, “Unless….”

“Unless what?” Sammael demanded again, striking his beautiful, dark-skinned face.

With a widening smile, the young priest taunted, “Unless you’re missing a part!”

Sammael looked at the old priest, who shook his head, emphatically, “No!” Sammael’s eyes narrowed. “Did you look inside? Organs, bones?”

“Well … no….” the priest answered him. Sammael struck the priest hard and fast, and the old man fell dead to the floor, his throat in Sammael’s clawed fist.

“Check him!” the ancient demon hissed at the younger priests. After a careful examination, they reported that they could find nothing missing.

Sammael thought and smiled a grudging smile, walking up to the casket and prying open the rotting jaw. “Damn you, Sebastian!” Still, he laughed his evil laugh. He had to give it the upshot—he had taken Sammael for a ride and not even broken his word. Sammael got the head, but Sebastian kept the fangs.

Sammael was too weak to retaliate, and he needed to think. How could he get what he wanted? He knew, eventually, he’d have to hit his foe much closer to home, where his weakness was magnified: James. That could be fun, he thought to himself. But then he reminded himself that Sebastian had shown himself a more capable foe than he ever imagined. He needed more power before he’d go after them directly. And power meant drawing on fear, chaotic overriding fear, and pain. And his best tools for spreading that fear and pain were fairly injured themselves. Damn it all!

***

As William and Chase made their way through the back door, they found Steve and Sarah waiting expectantly.

“Well?” Steve asked.

“Well, what?” Chase responded with a smirky smile.

“What happened?” the man asked with a frown.

“Nothing much! Sebastian filled us in on what the Council’s doing about Sammael, then we went to the Temple and I called up a powerful archangel who taught us ancient mysteries!” Chase said, as he might describe his school day.

His parents looked at one another apprehensively, too sure he wasn’t joking but not knowing how to respond.

William, seeing their faces, suggested, “And we worked up a sweat, so we need to go change before everyone gets here!”

“Sure,” Steve said. “What are you guys doing today?”

“Matt and the others are coming over and we’ll probably just go to the mall or something, catch a movie and all,” Chase said.

“Okay. Don’t forget your phones!” Sarah added.

The boys ran upstairs and took turns showering and put on fresh clothes. William showered second and returned to find Chase napping on the bed. The boy’s face was as peaceful as an autumn evening and William sat down on the edge of the bed next to him and leaned in to kiss his cheek before stretching out next to him. Feeling the presence next to him in his sleep, Chase rolled over and curled into William’s nude body. Soon both boys were sound asleep.

Luckily, William wasn’t very tired and heard Matt slam the door downstairs and had time to slide under the covers before the boy burst into the room. “Hey guys! Oh, wait, is it nap time?”

Chase rubbed his face and smiled. “You’ve really got to start knocking! What if we had been naked?”

“In the middle of the day? Horn dogs!” Matt teased.

“Actually,” William said, blushing and looking down his bare chest toward the covers, “I did lay down after my shower so….”

Matt laughed and said, “Well, get dressed! Everybody will be here soon!”

William shook his head and laughed, “Get out!

“Whatever,” Matt said, rolling his eyes and closing the door on his way out.

Chase leaned over and kissed William on the cheek, running his hand down William’s chest beneath the covers. As his fingers tickled over the boy’s hip and thigh, William gasped and rolled onto his side, grabbing Chase and pulling him into a deep kiss. “We’ve got to hurry! Matt won’t give us long,” Chase warned.

“I know,” William sighed, trying to ignore his Chases teasing fingers. “If you don’t watch it, I’ll have my way with you, and if Matt can’t wait, he can watch!”

Chase giggled and kissed him, removing his hand. “Get dressed, stud!” As William stood and walked away, Chase sighed. “I wish I could watch you walk away, watch you dress….”

William quickly pulled up his underwear and sat down on the bed, grabbing Chase’s hand. “I know, baby…. Me too!” William paused for a moment, before continuing, “I did some research…. There’s a doctor in Switzerland, Dr. Victor Sibelius. If anyone can help, it’s him.”

“But?” Chase asked.

“Sam doesn’t think there is anything he can do. He thinks the cause of your condition is something … higher than magick,” William said.

Chase drew a breath and squeezed William’s hand. “Maybe if we get some time and can get away, we could go there and … just see what he can do?”

William felt his heart break as Chase tried not to look hopeful, and failed. “Chase, we’ll find a way, somehow, if there is one. I promise we’ll try everything. I wish I could promise we’d be successful, but….”

“I know,” Chase whispered. “I love you!” He hugged William tight. “Finish getting dressed!” A few minutes later they ran downstairs to find Matt talking to Edward and Susan.

“Hey guys, that took a while! Squeeze in a little afternoon lovin’?” Matt asked.

William blushed but Chase responded, “Squeeze in is right: I’m huge!”

“Excuse me young man?” Sarah asked from the living room. Now Chase did blush and everyone laughed at his expense.

“Hey, guys,” Edward laughed as they got to the bottom of the stairs. Chase hugged him tightly and William did the same. Susan stood by smiling and got the same treatment. They talked for a while before Charles and Maria, and then Amy, arrived. Matt gave Amy a quick peck on the cheek and blushed when the others laughed.

“So what do you guys want to do?” William asked. They agreed on the mall and a movie, and took off in two cars. They had a good time and no one bothered them this time. Edward and Chase had lagged behind talking, so William was chatting with Susan.

“Edward told me all about what he talked to you guys about,” Susan said. “I’m surprised he opened up so fast, but you guys are something else….”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” William said, smiling and looking straight ahead. “To be honest, I’m surprised you’re taking it so well. Edward I mean….”

She pursed her lips. “He’s a sweet guy! Between you and me, I don’t think we have a future. I wish we did, but … I think Edward’s repressing the better part of himself from the pain, and we’re a safe thing. But he deserves more, and I do too.” William nodded and grunted. “I love him, but … I wish we…. Well, anyway….”

“I’m sorry, Susan,” William said softly. “I wish I could say I thought you were wrong….”

Susan’s smile was enigmatic as she whispered, “I think he has a crush on Carl….”

“Susan, I,” William began.

“It’s okay, William, really! We’re more like brother and sister, anyway, no matter how much I wish it could be different,” she said, cutting him off.

William took a long look into the distance and thought things over quickly. The thought that there might not be much time haunted the shadows of his mind. “Susan, I think that you ought to talk to him, soon. Let him know how you feel and that it’s okay for you two to be happy! You do deserve to be with somebody who feels about you the way you feel about them. I think Edward’s a stronger person than … he was a few months ago. He’s got friends, too, now. We can all help.”

“I’ll … think about it,” Susan said, thoughtfully.

“I don’t mean to overstep, but … think fast, Susan,” William said.

“What’s going on, William?” she asked.

“Let’s just say, life’s too short to try and be something you’re not,” William replied.

“Hmmm,” Susan huffed. “Anyway….” William laughed. “Everything good with you guys?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“But,” Susan asked, drawing out the question. “Come on, tell me!”

“Chase has been having a harder time dealing with not being able to see, since I came along,” William said.

“I can see that,” Susan said, drawing William’s look. “Well, you’re gorgeous, and he knows it, and it’s sort of cruelly ironic that that the one person in the world who can’t see you is the one guy who has you!”

“Well, I found a doctor! I want to take him and see if there’s anything they can do,” William said.

“Where is this doctor?” Susan asked.

“Switzerland,” William replied.

“Oh, shit…. That’ll be expensive!” Susan exclaimed.

“That won’t be a problem. I’m just worried about how disappointed he’ll be if there’s nothing they can do,” William worried.

“Chase … seems a lot stronger than most people give him credit for,” Susan said.

William nodded, “But I’m a lot weaker than most people give me credit for,” William quietly admitted with a sad smile. “I … don’t know what I’ll do if I find out there’s nothing I can do for him!”

She draped an arm across his shoulder and said with a smile, “I know how you feel! I’ve been there…. But you can’t fix everything. Hell, not everything needs fixing. I know it doesn’t seem fair, but … maybe it’s just the way things are?”

William nodded and they walked on silently for a while, until Chase and Edward caught up, laughing and talking loudly.

“Why so serious?” Edward said as he walked up and put an arm across Susan’s shoulder.

“Ah, nothing,” William responded, “just talking….” Chase got a funny look but let it slide, as he intertwined his fingers into William’s. They browsed around for a while and all joined up for the movie. After it was over, though, Susan asked William if she and Edward could come by the house and talk.

“Sure, we can talk upstairs when we get home,” he said, leaving Chase, Matt, and Edward looking confused. Most everyone was quiet on they went home, and Amy went back to Matt’s house for a while, after everyone said goodbye to Charles and Maria.

Edward and Susan said hello to Chase’s parents and they all went upstairs to Chase’s room. “What’s up?” Chase asked, as he closed his door.

“It’s … it’s what William and I were talking about tonight,” Susan began, looking decidedly nervous. Looking to Edward, she took his hand and squeezed. “Edward, I don’t know what to say. But I know you don’t feel the same about me as I feel about you, and I can’t help but feel like I’m … holding you back, or helping you hide or something….”

“You said you could deal with me … liking guys, too,” Edward said softly.

“Edward,” Susan said, trying to be patient, “you don’t like guys too…. You like guys! Be honest with yourself! What happened to you, it … it made you gun-shy! Girls are safe. I’m more like your sister than your girlfriend, and it’s not good for either one of us!”

“Susan, I … I need,” Edward began.

“No you don’t,” she said with a smile. “I’ll always be your friend! And you’ve got a lot of friends, now! And you don’t need to hide behind me anymore! I,” she faltered, looking at William briefly, “I need to be with someone who can love me back, completely….”

Edward began to cry softly and Susan wrapped her arms around him. She whispered, “I wanted to do this here, so you’d have the guys to talk to! I love you, Edward, like a brother, and I … always will!” With a quick kiss on the cheek, she got up and walked toward the door. She hugged both Chase and William, asking each of them to, “Take care of him?” They both nodded and William walked her to the door. Then he called Edward’s house and told his mom Edward had crashed out at their house. A little white lie.

Back upstairs, he found Edward in Chase’s arms, stretched out on the bed. Sitting next to the boy, he put a hand on Edward’s shoulder and said, “You know she’s right?”

Edward nodded, crying a little harder. “It’s so hard!” he said through his tears. “Why does it have to be so hard?”

“I wish I could tell you,” William said, looking at Chase, too. “I really do….” Chase ran a hand softly over Edward’s hair and just held him.

“Are you going to be okay?” Chase whispered.

Edward nodded softly. “I … guess I knew eventually….”

William leaned in and said, “I’m kinda to blame. When we talked earlier, I told Susan she really needed to think about what she wanted and how she felt about you. You don’t know how much time you’ve got left, and….”

Edward looked confused, “What do you mean I don’t know how long I’ve got left?”

“Well, look how close you came! That guy almost killed you! You’d never have had a real relationship, not something mutually fulfilling. You’d never have held a guy you want, the way you want,” Chase jumped in, covering for William’s slip.

Edward nodded. “I guess you’re right….”

“Let’s go to bed,” William suggested. “We can talk more in the morning.”

“I should get home,” the boy said, but William put a hand on his chest to stop him from getting up.

“I called you mom and told her you fell asleep here,” William said.

“Guys, I don’t want to be in the way. I know the last thing you want is to have me in the way!” he said in tears.

“Edward,” Chase said, squeezing him again, “I owe you my life! And besides, you’re a great friend. You’re never in the way!” Edward relaxed somewhat and leaned back into the thin arms holding him.

William smiled and nodded, getting up to toss his clothes into the hamper. Chase did the same, and at last Edward folded his clothes and put them in Chase’s computer chair. When Edward lay down, the boys crawled into bed, one on each side, surrounding him. Chase cuddled up to his left side, while William wrapped an arm around him. They were all emotionally exhausted and soon fell into fitful sleep.

In the middle of the night, William woke up and looked around the room, surprised to see Chase standing at the window, his pale skin bathed in eerie moonlight, his blond hair practically glowing. His icy blue eyes stared sightless into the infinite distance, glistening with uncried tears. He didn’t move as William stood and walked up behind him, hugging him gently and resting his chin on Chase’s shoulder.

“What are you looking at?” William asked, falling silent when he realized what he said as his ears burned with a fierce blush.

With a deep rumbling chuckle, Chase leaned back and kissed his cheek, resting a lot of his weight on the athletic boy’s chest. “I know what you meant! I can feel the moonlight on my skin, I can hear a hum behind everything! At night, it’s hypnotic,” he whispered.

“You’re so beautiful in the moonlight,” William whispered.

“I bet you are too,” Chase said, softly. “It really isn’t fair!”

“I didn’t mean to be so discouraging. Maybe the doctor can,” William began.

“Not that, William,” Chase said with a soft laugh. “That too, though. No, it’s just … I know it seems like we’ve been together forever, but we’ve had … so little time!”

“I’m not following you,” William said.

“I hear the voices, I feel the message, but … I can’t be sure they are what everyone thinks they are! And now they’re frantic, they’re … I can’t describe it … there is an urgency to it! It’s not reassuring,” Chase said.

“So what are you telling me?” William asked.

“The hum, the background pitch is rising! I’m scared! The world is scared!” Chase said.

“Oh, baby,” William said, squeezing him tight. “We’ll win, I know we will….”

“Maybe,” Chase said. “But right now, we’re so close to the end, the end of all things. I just don’t know,” he finished, at last letting the tears fall. He turned and buried his face in William’s chest, his tears running down the soft skin of the boy’s chest. As Chase cried in the moonlight, Edward pretended he was still asleep, but his blood was icy cold with terror at what he was never meant to hear. He knew, in an instant, that he had heard the truth; he knew what William had really meant, and there was no going back.

The next morning, Edward was withdrawn and quiet. At last, while William was out of the room, Chase put a hand on his shoulder and asked, “Are you okay?”

“You don’t have to worry! I’m going be okay. I’m not going to hide anymore…. Life is too short!” Edward said.

“What do you mean?” Chase asked.

“I … I wasn’t asleep last night,” Edward responded, haltingly.

“Oh,” Chase said carefully. “I’m sorry….”

“No, really! I just…. What are you guys?” Edward asked.

William spoke from the door, startling the boys. “I’m a wizard, and Chase is … special.”

“I already knew that last part,” Edward said with a smile. “A wizard, eh? I … well, wow!” He fell silent for a moment. “I guess that’s a secret?”

“We’d appreciate it,” Chase said, softly. “Not even Matt knows….”

Edward looked at them appreciatively. “Thanks for trusting me….”

The rest of the morning and most of the day, they just hung out and talked. William and Chase joked around with the boy and talked about the boys he liked, and confirmed Susan’s suspicion that Edward had a little crush on Carl, the basketball player who’d befriended them.

As evening fell, they walked him home.  They walked home leisurely, pretending that there wasn’t a contingent of wizards flanking them on both sides, keeping its distance. They held hands and walked in the light of the setting sun. Back home, they turned in early and made love until nearly midnight, falling asleep naked in one another’s’ arms.

***

By Sunday morning, Sebastian had arranged for his advisors and a couple of others to arrive Tuesday evening for William and Chase’s “coming out” party. He thought of asking Richard to prepare something nice, but the man was very distracted, so Sebastian decided not to bother him.

Instead, he pulled Jean-Philippe aside. The vampire had joined his household, silently helping out and keeping his head down. “Jean-Philippe, I’d like you to do some shopping and preparation for a dinner part on Tuesday night, if you don’t mind?”

“Whatever you require, master,” the man said diverting his gaze subserviently.

“Jean-Philippe, I’m afraid I’ve neglected you since you joined us,” Sebastian said, looking cross. “Otherwise you’d know. Call me Sebastian. You are bound to my service, but I do not consider you a threat, or a former enemy. You were misled, a hapless accomplice thinking you were doing the right thing. I don’t blame you. You are part of my household!” Sebastian said. “I appreciate the help you’ve already provided!” Sebastian projected his kind feelings, grasping the man’s shoulders. “In time, I hope we’ll become friends….”

The young vampire didn’t meet Sebastian’s gaze, but Sebastian felt his gratitude. It would simply take time for Jean-Philippe to forgive himself and open up. Sebastian gave the man a shopping list and sent him out with a small contingent of wizards, taking no chances after Peter.

Peter, Sebastian thought, and his feet carried him to Richard’s room. He knocked and, hearing no response, opened the door. Richard was out at the moment, and Peter sat staring at the wall.

“Are you alright, Peter?” Sebastian asked.

“I wish everyone would stop asking me that,” Peter retorted.

“We only ask because we care,” Sebastian answered softly.

“No, everyone asks because they want to feel better,” Peter responded sullenly.

“Peter,” Sebastian said, trying to remain patient, “I know that something terrible happened to you, but the world is so much more than that! Don’t turn everyone away….”

Peter turned and looked at Sebastian with hollow eyes ringed with deep, dark bags. “How can you believe that the world is anything more than a sinking pit of suffering, a stinking mass?”

Sebastian, trying not to look startled, responded, “Because I have friendship, love, affection—hope of redemption….”

Peter smiled absently. “Redemption? There is no redemption…. Just suffering and the end of suffering! Everything else is a lie!” In less serious circumstances, Sebastian might have joked that the boy had been reading too much Schopenhauer, but Peter wouldn’t have gotten it and was, in any case, deadly serious.

Sebastian closed the door behind him coolly before letting a bit of panic slip in. He rushed upstairs and pulled James out of the game-room.

Back in their bedroom, Sebastian said, “James, something is wrong with Peter! Do you know where Richard is?”

“What? Is he okay? He hasn’t done something to himself,” James worried.

Sebastian shook his head. “No, nothing like that…. But I was talking to him before and the look in his eyes, the hollow feeling: I felt absolutely nothing coming from him. I’m … worried!”

James looked at him in tears and said, “No, you’re scared! I can feel it…. You saw something that scared YOU!”

Sebastian tried to look away, but James held on tight. “Darkness—blank, empty darkness! Sammael I understand: pure congealed hatred. Chang I understand: greed, ambition, pride. But absolutely focused and passionlessness? The way he looked at me was almost pitying!”

James looked at him then burst into action. “Let’s find Richard, quickly and quietly….” The man wasn’t to be found in the house, so Sebastian went out into the garage, and none of the cars was gone. James found him sitting in the gardens behind the house and sent a message to Sebastian telepathically.

“Richard, we’ve been looking for you,” James said as he sat down beside him on the bench. “Why didn’t you come to us?”

The man was anguished as he put his head in his hands. “I … didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until it was too late!”

“What has he done?” Sebastian asked as he approached from the house. Richard hesitated, and Sebastian got testy, “Richard, I talked to him this morning! Good God, it gave me the creeps!”

“He’s been going out hunting on his own! He has a type: young, small, weak! They’re,” Richard explained.

“Suffering?” Sebastian asked and had his answer by Richard’s expression. “Has he…?”

“Yes, Friday night. I … cleaned up after him!” Richard said.

“That’s not the point Richard! You should have come to me! I asked you and you lied to my face!” Sebastian said.

“I … I couldn’t tell you! I couldn’t risk … like before!” Richard cried.

“Richard,” Sebastian exclaimed with an anguished half-laugh, half-sob, “how could you think…? Young vampires have accidents all the time! Regrettable but….”

Richard looked away and said, almost too quietly to be heard, “It wasn’t an accident! He wouldn’t let go! He put him out of his misery, he said…. I was scared!”

Sebastian wrapped his arms around the man, “It would have been alright! He went against my way, but not the rules! No witnesses! I’d have helped!”

“I’m just so afraid there’s nothing any of us can do! I think … I just don’t know what I’d do!” Richard said.

“Well, we can’t let it come to that. We’ve got to keep him from making a spectacle of himself, from violating the big rule!” Sebastian said.

Richard nodded and the three got up to go inside, to find Peter and confront him. But they found Richard’s room in disarray, Peter’s things gone. On the desk, a note:

Dear Richard, I know you mean well, and I know you love me. But … what I am, what I’ve become, what happened to me, I can’t bear to be here with all of you…. I’m going, please don’t come after me. It’ll all be over soon; all the pain will be gone. I am sorry. Peter

The note fell from Richard’s fingers as he read it.  James picked it up to read it before passing it silently to Sebastian. “We all failed him,” James murmured as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“I should have come to you,” Richard sobbed. “I should have … GOD DAMN IT!” His scream, and the punch he delivered to the wall, brought a squad of battle wizards into the room at full alert. Sebastian waved them away and put his arms around Richard. “What do you think he’s going to do? Do you think he’ll hurt himself? It sounds like a suicide note….”

Sebastian said, weakly, “I don’t know! I don’t think so,” he trailed off. He hoped not. On the other hand, he remembered the look in Peter’s eyes. He had a very bad feeling. James and Sebastian spent the rest of the day comforting Richard and making sure he didn’t do anything brash. Sebastian did send some men to track Peter if they could. By the middle of the night it became clear—for now he was avoiding them. They had lost track of him.