5 Open War

After Chase and William departed, the group fell silent. “They’re so young,” Americ said softly.

“Perhaps,” Sebastian said with a smile and took a sip of wine.

“Can we pin all our hopes on youth?” Musa spurred.

“No, not all our hopes,” Sebastian replied, “but our best hopes! Youth is relative, as has recently been pointed out to me by an angel…. Compared to me, you are all infants, despite appearances!”

“What is our next move?” Avery asked.

“We need to figure out where Sammael’s operating from and attack, strike quickly and boldly, destroy as much of his infrastructure as possible, maybe even kill one of the old ones he’s collected,” Sebastian said.

“How would we manage that?” Christen asked.

Sebastian smiled. “Good old fashioned human ingenuity. A bomb, a big bomb….”

They discussed strategy late into the night, before returning to their posts with reluctant goodbyes. They all had the faintest feeling it might be the last time they’d all be together. Only time could prove that feeling wrong, as they hoped it would.

***

Peter stood in a small but comfortable room in the arctic base. He could lie down, but he felt full of nervous energy, and jumped when a voice startled him.

“Do you have everything you need?” Sammael asked him from the door.

“Yes…. I’m afraid I just don’t know what to do with myself now,” Peter said.

“I could help with that,” Sammael said, putting a hand softly on the boy’s neck, “but I think that you’d not be comfortable with…. Oh, well!”

“Is there some work you need done?” Peter asked.

Sammael considered him carefully. “I already owe you a debt,” he paused, “and I’m still not sure I trust you completely!”

“I’ve thrown away everything for you! What more could you possibly want from me?” Peter asked.

Sammael smiled. “Just one more thing,” he said, softly. “Just one more thing.”

Sammael sat him down on the bed and sat next to him, explaining what he wanted. “I’m not sure I can do it….”

“I think you can, but, if you can’t, I can’t trust you,” Sammael responded with a note of finality. Peter nodded. Given that he had committed himself to a course of universal destruction, it seemed a small price to pay, at that moment.

“So when will you do it?” Peter asked, almost timidly.

“Do what?” Sammael asked, almost coyly.

“Whatever it was you wanted the fangs for?” Peter asked.

“You don’t know? How precious,” Sammael laughed, clapping slowly. “The fangs belong to an ancient vampire, Resheph! Besides being a tremendously destructive and bloodthirsty monster, he’s also Sebastian’s sire…. Sebastian killed him many hundreds of years ago, and boy is Resheph going to be angry!” Peter blanched at the suffering he was unleashing on James and Sebastian, but knew he’d see people he really did care about get hurt if he was going to succeed. In the end, all the pain would end. “But the answer is soon! As soon as I can gather enough power….”

“Gather? I thought you could,” Peter began.

Sammael put a gentle hand on the back of the boy’s head. “I was once the most powerful angel in heaven, my boy. And so beautiful….” Peter looked shyly at the angel and blushed bright red. Sammael smiled and ruffled his hair. “Too true,” Sammael laughed. “But then…. Ah, my fallen form! Had you seen me then, you would have fallen to your knees in tears at the beauty!”

“I’m sorry,” Peter whispered.

“Dear, dear. Why in the world?” Sammael asked.

“You must have suffered!” Peter said.

“Peter, Peter!” He smiled but he paused. “I suppose I did, but it crystallized into rage and hatred! I longed for nothing but to throw all that power back in His pathetic face!” Peter shivered at the waves of feeling he felt flowing forth from the near-eternal entity, but Sammael simply squeezed him across the shoulder and leaned over to kiss his cheek. “You are different, boy, from most of the mortal creatures I’ve ever encountered. And your form is not … displeasing,” he said, letting his gaze linger as he stood. “I could make you,” he said over his shoulder, “I could, but I won’t….” With that, he was gone, and Peter was more confused than before.

***

At school the next day, William held Chase’s hand as they walked into school and met their friends, who were sitting with the newcomers, Katrina and Daemon. Chase squeezed his hand tight, and William blushed at the look Daemon was giving them. Somehow, he found the boy less alluring; not that if he wasn’t free…. But he wasn’t drawn to him to the same degree. The feeling was enough that he didn’t notice the sigil grow warm against his chest, fairly buzzing with energy. Chase, however, couldn’t miss it and became instantly agitated.

“William,” he whispered, as they sat down. “Something’s wrong!”

“Chase,” William whispered back, leaning in so no one could hear him. “Not this again!”

“It’s not that, it’s just,” Chase began.

“Chase, you’re the only one for me. I’d never,” he began, but Chase stood up and pulled away before he could finish.

“I’m going to the library! See you in class,” he said to no one in particular, an edge in his voice. Normally Matt would have followed him, but Matt was fawning over Katrina while Amy fumed. William watched helplessly as Chase walked away.

“Trouble?” Daemon asked quietly.

William looked at him and risked getting lost in his dreamy eyes before shaking his head and sighing. “Just a thing! Anyway, how are things going? Getting settled?”

Daemon’s smile could have lit a room, and even Matt turned momentarily from Katrina to gaze at him. “Yeah, it’s great! And you guys have been so nice…. Listen, why don’t we all do something this weekend?”

William felt the ‘sure’ rise to his lips almost involuntarily, but cut himself off as the vision of Chase came to mind. “I’d love to, but Chase and I….”

“Come on, William,” Matt said. “You guys can hang out some!”

William glared over at him with a look Matt couldn’t ignore, but shrugged. “We really shouldn’t change our plans!”

“It’s alright…. If I had a boyfriend as cute as yours, I wouldn’t change my plans either,” Daemon said, his eyes twinkling.

“So you’re,” Amy asked, tearing her glare from Katrina.

“I prefer to avoid labels,” Daemon responded with a wink.

Carl, who had remained silent, felt Edward shiver a little, and wrapped a protective arm around him, earning his own set of shocked looks. He whispered to the boy, who was relaxing in his arms, “I’m going to find Chase….”

Edward nodded and watched the boy walk away, which left Daemon feeling frustrated. None of this was going according to plan, and the only person responding predictably to him was Matt, and he’d only have limited success with him in any case. ‘What is it with these fucking boys?’ he fumed to himself.

In the library, Carl didn’t see Chase anywhere, so he walked around the book stacks and found the boy sitting with his back to a bookcase, arms around his legs, resting his chin on his knees. “You okay, Chase?” he asked softly and the boy jumped a little in response.

A little tear rolled down Chase’s cheek, but he nodded yes. “I’m alright…. Just need some time alone!”

Carl knelt down next to him and wiped the tear away with his big hand. “No you don’t…. Now what’s wrong?”

Chase huffed and hid his face, partially in embarrassment, as he said, “It’s that Daemon, and Katrina too! Nothing’s been right since they showed up…. They’re messing everything up!”

Carl felt a surge but restrained his tongue. “What do you mean?”

“It’s like everybody’s under a spell or something! Everybody’s like … fallen in love with them or something … and Matt’s messing up with Amy and William’s making me jealous and everybody seems to think they crap golden bricks! Everybody except the girls and … you,” Chase said.

“I’m not going to lie; I don’t like the guy,” Carl said.

“Why not?” Chase asked softly.

Carl sighed, a moment of truth at hand. His nerve failed at the last minute. “Edward is going gaga over Daemon and I’m kind of jealous too!”

Chase laughed, “Edward is totally in lust over you, and I think he likes you too!”

“Yeah, well, William loves you absolutely, but that doesn’t keep you from being jealous,” Carl retorted.

“There’s something else, I just don’t know what it is yet,” Chase said softly, becoming suddenly thoughtful again.

“Yeah, I think so too,” Carl added, wrapping a friendly arm around Chase’s comparatively small shoulders. They sat in silence until the bell rang.

At lunch, William and Chase sat down to a table buzzing with nervous chatter. “What’s up guys?” Chase asked.

Matt spoke excitedly, “This guy, Robert Patterson, from the basketball team….”

“Yeah?” Chase asked.

“He went out last night and never came home…. The police were here this morning,” Matt answered, and William saw something, almost a smile, pass between Katrina and Daemon. Weird, he thought, but let it slip as Daemon caught his eyes, momentarily erasing all directed thinking. Again, his chest warmed beneath the amulet around his neck, but this time his hand rose to the spot and he was shaken from his daze.

“His parents must be worried sick,” Chase said softly. He knew the boy, not well, but better than he wanted. Robert wasn’t the nicest to him and Matt.

“He’ll turn up with an STD somewhere,” Matt said, obviously not worrying. Then he shifted to a plaintive whine. “Why can’t you guys change your plans?”

“What?” Chase asked, confused.

“Daemon and Katrina wanted to hang out this weekend, but William said you guys had plans. Can’t you change them?” Matt asked.

Chase’s face changed almost imperceptibly and he squeezed William’s hand under the table. “I don’t think so…. There’s always next weekend, or you guys can do whatever without us!”

Matt’s face lit up at that suggestion, but Amy pointedly shook her head. “We’re busy too, Matt!” Her look said, ‘Cross me and die, boy!’

Daemon’s patented smile faltered ever-so-slightly before he turned to Edward, but Carl had positioned himself between Edward and Daemon and kept the boy distracted with a strategic game of footsy. Carl had never been one for public displays of affection, but he knew what could happen if he let his guard down: he’d slowly lose the boy. Katrina, however, had begun weaving her web around Matt pretty thoroughly, and that infuriated Daemon even more.

Lunch passed pretty quietly after that, and the day went on without incident. After school, though, Carl shadowed Daemon for a moment until he realized where the boy was going. Before Daemon could turn onto the hall Edward’s locker was on, Carl grabbed him, spinning him around. Daemon smiled coyly, his eyes raking over the big boy’s body. “Can I help you?”

“Shut your mouth!” Carl snapped quietly and Daemon’s smile instantly disappeared, replaced by a cold and calculating look.

Punctuating each word, Daemon hissed, “WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM WITH ME?”

“What you’re doing is wrong!” Carl answered, angrily.

“What exactly is it you think I’m doing, jock-boy?” Daemon asked.

“Magick…. You’ve done a love spell, haven’t you?” Carl watched him closely and did not get the response he’d expected—either a sputtered denial or a claim that he was insane. Perhaps he was.

Instead, Daemon’s eyes smiled and he cocked his head cutely. “What’s it to you?”

“These are my friends! You and your sister, you’re going to hurt people I care about! If you don’t stop, I’ll,” Carl stopped.

“You’ll what,” Daemon said with a curious smile. He wasn’t angry or defensive, but amused. That pissed Carl off.

“I’ll bind you and stop you myself!” Carl said.

“You’re a wizard too? It must be going around,” Daemon muttered to himself, giving Carl pause. There were others?

“Not a wizard, Irish Druid!” Carl said.

“Close enough,” Daemon sneered, raising a hand full of energy to smash into Carl’s chest. Carl never saw it coming, but he felt the silver knot beneath his shirt pulse with energy and saw Daemon fly back on his ass.

Reaching beneath his shirt, he pulled out the pendant and smirked at the boy. “Stay clear of me and Edward…. This isn’t over, Daemon!”

Daemon’s look was withering, but he smiled as Carl walked away. He’d been underestimated and that was a good thing. His cover wasn’t blown.

***

Wednesday found Sebastian pacing around his little war room with the Colonel while conferencing with his top advisors, making a string of calls he had hoped to avoid. The first was to the queen of the witches. The woman who appeared on his screen was an unlikely candidate to be the spiritual leader of a worldwide magickal movement. Christen Wheeler, with her fiery hair and green eyes looked like a witch. The queen was a young woman, for her position—looking perhaps forty—with brown hair and brown eyes, pretty in a non-descript, girl-next-door sort of way. She appeared on the screen in a t-shirt and blue jeans, her hair pulled back in a pony tail. “High Consul,” she said with a wink, her accent classic upper-class English.

“Your majesty,” Sebastian answered with a wry nod. “I hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time?”

“It’s always a bad time these days….” Looking down at her attire, she smiled. “I’m just out in the greenhouse tending the plants. How are you, Sebastian?”

“Feeling my age, Dora, feeling my age,” he replied.

The woman chuckled and said, “Is it that bad, then?”

“As bad as it gets,” Sebastian said, leaning back. “Christen’s kept you up to date, I’m sure….”

“Sammael, yes…. I never thought I’d see it in my time,” she said, plucking a little weed up and mumbling something. “Sammael…. What are you planning to do?”

“Find him and bomb him. We’ve got to get the upper hand. Right now he just sits there and pulls our strings. I want him to be thinking on the run for a while.”

“But that means,” she said, leaving the sentence hanging in the air with a questioning smile.

“It means that I’m calling the humans. I can’t very well drop a bomb without letting them know. Not a bomb of that size, anyway!”

Arching her eyebrows, she said, “That sounds serious.”

“You’re enjoying this too much,” Sebastian said to her. “Will you call him?”

“Not on your life,” she said with a laugh. “But I’d love a ringside seat for that meeting!”

“Very well…. But I have your support?” Sebastian asked.

“Of course, my dear! Anyone who wants to see next year is with you!” Dora said.

“Be well, Dora,” he said.

“Blessed be, Sebastian,” she said, grabbing her clippers with a wave. If Martha Stewart were a pretty brunette, Sebastian thought with a wry smile. And could make Vermont disappear. Dora Spencer was the only living wizard to rival Avery’s power, and she was much younger than he.

Next, he placed calls to numbers he hadn’t used in six decades, and red phones rang in the Washington, D.C., Moscow, Paris, London, and Beijing. In each place, leaders were, at first, incredulous, until advised of the state of the world by close advisers. Each country gave its uncomfortable support to Sebastian to do what was necessary to stop the coming conflict, and in return he promised they’d be kept informed.

At last, Sebastian decided to call him. He dialed the number, and the phone rang and rang until, at long last, an old man answered the phone in Italian. “Petrus Marcus D’Angelico,” the man spoke, his voice weak with years.

“Father Peter,” Sebastian said, “I need to speak to him….”

“That is not possible, vampire,” the old man answered without the slightest bit of judgment in his voice.

“Father, this is important or I wouldn’t call,” Sebastian said.

“Sebastian, he will not listen to you!” Father Peter replied.

“Peter, I have to tell him, whether he listens or not! It’s his conscience when he realizes I’ve spoke the truth!” Sebastian said.

The old man sighed. “Alright, old friend…. One last favor before I go home to God! Hold on a moment!” The old priest stood and walked out of the room, his heels clicking on the cold marble and echoing down the hall.

Father Peter knocked heavily on the ancient door and a voice called, “Come in!”

Bowing his head, the old man spoke with urgency, “Your holiness, I have received a phone call that requires your urgent attention!”

“From whom?” the pope inquired in Italian, but with a thick German accent.

“Sebastian van der Meer, consul of the Shadow Council.” Peter replied.

“What have we to do with the Council of the darkness? Tell him,” the pope began.

“I’ve already told him you’d take his call. I’m sorry, your holiness, but it really is urgent!”

The German grunted and reached for his phone. “Mr. van der Meer?”

“Thank you for taking my call, your holiness. I am calling you because we have identified a situation that threatens to spill between our worlds,” Sebastian began.

“Has one of your … creatures gotten out of control? We trust you … beings to keep your kind under control, consul. If you can’t handle your people, perhaps we should resume our ancient roll?” the pope replied angrily.

“You speak hastily Father Ratzinger,” Sebastian snapped testily. “The peace that exists between us is old but tenuous, priest, and threats will not be taken lightly!”

“Go on, then,” the old man responded curtly. “I haven’t all day….”

“A few weeks ago, strange things began happening all over the world, a pattern of unexplainable paranormal events,” Sebastian began, but the old man cut him off.

“We are well aware of these occurrences…. Hardly a pattern, and many of these events trace back to your organization!” the pope smirked into his phone.

“We discovered and neutralized the traitor; he was, however, working for someone else we have since definitively identified as the archdemon Sammael,” Sebastian said.

LIES!” Benedict barked into the phone. “What sort of trick is this?”

“No trick, father. Even now, I am transferring a mass of evidence to your intelligence service for confirmation. The evil one is here, now! We must work together if we are,” Sebastian began.

“Thank you for the information,” Benedict barked, “but we do not need your help…. This is our affair and none of yours! The side of light cannot be aided by the forces of darkness in this fight,” he said, slamming the phone down.

“Old fool,” Sebastian yelled as the connection broke. A few minutes passed as he fumed before the phone rang.

“I told you he would not listen! If our holy father were still alive,” the man said simply, letting the comment fade. “So it is the end?”

“Only if we fail,” Sebastian said.

“Then God go with you my friend,” Father Peter responded. “I cannot hope we shall speak again in this life, but perhaps the next?”

“Perhaps, father. I have been thinking lately … perhaps God and I are not so far apart as I used to think,” Sebastian said.

Sebastian could practically hear the old man smile across the phone, a long restrained I told you so. “Be well, then, and we shall meet again….”

“Goodbye,” Sebastian said as he put the phone down with a smile. When Avery and James returned from their evening training, they peeked in on him.

“How were the boys?” Sebastian asked.

“Okay,” Avery said.

“Something’s wrong,” James said, shaking his head in disagreement.

Sebastian leaned forward, “What?”

“I don’t know … some tension, it doesn’t feel quite right! I don’t know what to make of it. William seems … not himself, somehow!” James said.

“Now that you mention it,” Avery said, “he didn’t seem like he was completely in control. He seemed distracted somehow!”

“Hmmm,” Sebastian mused, “let me know how things are going the next few days….”

“How about you, how are you doing?” James asked softly, stepping in behind Sebastian to massage his shoulders.

“I called the humans today, preparing for war. I’ve got the tentative approvals of the Security Council to do what’s necessary. Now we just have to find the bastard!” Sebastian said.

“Calm down, sweetheart,” James practically purred in his ear. “Let’s relax tonight and let people do their work?”

“Relax,” Sebastian asked, running his hand up James’s strong arm. Avery rolled his eyes and walked upstairs as Sebastian turned his chair around and James disappeared behind it with an impish smile.

***

Chase was sitting at his desk at home working on homework when William trudged through the door from training and slumped onto the bed, tired and sweaty. “How is everyone?” Chase asked, not slowing his fingers on the keys.

“On edge. Sebastian plans to strike out at Sammael’s headquarters as soon as possible…. Things are….” He broke off with a deep sigh, and Chase stood up and came to his side, laying his head on William’s shoulder. Chase’s golden locks tickled his ear and William smiled.

“I love you,” William said.

“I love you too,” Chase answered. And then, “Thanks for this weekend….”

“It’s been a while since we got to do anything alone. And I figured you needed a break from Daemon,” William said.

“That’s the truth,” Chase said, exaggeratedly. “Now go take a shower! You stink!”

“Yes, master,” William said, grabbing a clean pair of shorts and heading for the shower.

He returned about fifteen minutes later, damp and wearing soft shorts that clung to him, and Chase jumped up into his arms, nuzzling his chest and inhaling deeply. “Much better,” he said softly, the skin of his cheek feeling like heaven against William’s chest. William jumped as Chase grabbed him with both hands and giggled.

“Down boy! Your mom has dinner ready!” Chase sighed and saved his work on the computer, while William pulled on a pair of lounge pants and a loose t-shirt. They went downstairs together, and joined their family for dinner.

That night, after Chase and William fell asleep, exhausted and glowing in one another’s arms, Chase drifted into a dream-state he recognized. “Gideon?”

“No,” a voice answered, and another figure stepped out of the shadowscape.

“Raziel,” Chase smiled. “So we’ll pick up where we left off?”

The angel smiled softly and nodded. Raziel was more businesslike and standoffish than Gideon, but he could see how even an angel of Gideon’s status was drawn in by the boy’s nature. “You’ve not told anyone of our private training sessions?”

“No,” Chase frowned. “Not even William….”

“I’m sorry, it is necessary! Much that I am teaching you … is for your knowledge only. It would pose a danger to anyone else!” Chase nodded, but he clearly didn’t like it. “The things I’m teaching you represent the most powerful magicks in creation…. You have been prepared to wield such power! William was prepared for you.”

“Will we make it?” Chase asked, softly.

“What do you mean?” the angel asked, sincerely confused.

“William and I … will we make it together?” Chase asked.

Raziel cocked his head and wrinkled his brow. “Your love for one another is … uncommon. I do not doubt it. Do you?”

“No! Not exactly…. There’s a boy and William … notices him,” Chase said.

Raziel rolled his eyes. “Teenage boys,” he said with a sigh. “He loves you, without doubt!”

“Will we win?” Chase asked.

“Against Sammael?” Chase nodded. Raziel continued. “That is a harder question…. Sammael cannot prevail unless your kind, mortals, support him! Sammael will do everything he can to seduce the wicked and terrify the righteous! But if you stand against him? Yes, yes you will…. But the cost will be … unimaginable!”

“The cost?” Chase asked.

“Sammael will unleash plague and famine and war, he’ll destroy the innocent, he’ll pervert and corrupt the weak! Every day he survives once he begins will be a human tragedy of terrible proportions!” Raziel explained.

“Then let’s get to work!” Chase said, smiling resolutely.

“Tonight I’m going to teach you … something I’ve never taught a mortal. It’s terrible magick, terrible but awesomely powerful! No human, much less one like you, should ever have to use it, but you should know it,” Raziel explained.

“What is it?” Chase asked, swallowing hard.

Raziel didn’t meet his eyes as he said, “The annihilation matrix….”

Hours later, Chase’s eyes snapped open and he sat up in bed, a cold sweat covering his bare chest. He jumped when he felt William’s strong warm hand on his lower back. “You okay, love?”

Chase gulped and caught his breath. “Bad dream,” he whispered as William sat up in bed and took him in his arms.

“Want to talk about it?” William asked.

“No,” Chase said as he cuddled into him, curling up into William’s arms. Softly, he began to cry. “I’m so scared!” he whispered.

“Sammael?” William asked. Chase nodded yes, but it was a lie. He had mastered the annihilation matrix. He was scared of himself.

***

Early in the morning, Sammael’s compound came alive as a transport plane dropped two large containers. Armed men opened the containers and found dozens of huddled teens quivering in terror. “Inside,” they yelled. No one moved, until gunfire drove the children into the driving snow up to the door inside, where they were met by the icy smile of a beautiful man.

“Hello! Welcome to hell!” He laughed as the youngsters screamed and cried. Every ounce of terror, every drop of pain, was pure energy to him. Children were such rich sources of both. Turning to his men, he said, “Take thirteen to the holding room for the ritual! Take the rest to the dungeon….”

“Yes sir,” the dark soldiers barked, marching the children off to their private dooms. Sammael waited a few moments while the captives were divided, the majority going to dungeons in groups of three or four. Then he followed, picking a cell at random to begin a marathon of torture and cruelty that would recharge his dark energy in preparation for raising Resheph. “It’s good to love your work,” he laughed, opening a door and backhanding a teen who charged, attempting escape. “Feisty! I love it,” he said, licking a drop of the boy’s blood from his hand. For hours a chorus of screams echoed through the dungeon, each cry increasing the terror of the rest, all swelling Sammael’s power.

***

When Sebastian and James left their bedroom in the wee hours, they kissed passionately and James winked as he went off to join his friends. Sebastian walked downstairs with almost a skip in his step to check on his messages. Finding little news, he checked in on Richard, who was sitting silently in the living room with Avery, who smiled over at Sebastian but shook his head. Sebastian grimaced, but his phone summoned him to his office.

“Good morning, Sebastian,” Americ said with a grim smile. “I think I’ve got him, the bastard….”

“Sammael?” Sebastian asked, his heartbeat quickening. 

Americ nodded. “I’ve been monitoring air traffic. A flight just flew over an abandoned arctic research station a few hours ago, and this isn’t the first one. There are regular cargo flights over the station, and the base is definitely occupied fully,” Americ explained.

“Whose is it?” Sebastian asked.

“An abandoned United States Naval Research outpost,” Americ said with a smile. Of all the countries with interests in the arctic, the United States was the one with most regular relations with the Council.  They wouldn’t protest the destruction of a closed research outpost.

“Do you know it’s him?” Sebastian asked, knowing Americ was intent on revenge.

“No…. We’re trying to decrypt some messages, but that will take time,” Americ said.

“I’ll move, but not without evidence, Americ. We have to be careful!” Sebastian said.

“Understood, Sebastian: I wanted you to be ready when I have those messages decrypted,” Americ replied.

“Thanks, Americ,” Sebastian said. “I hope to hear from you soon….”

“Goodbye,” the man said with a serious nod.

Sebastian sat down and called his central command, instructing the wizards to get ready to deliver the bomb. He provided the location so they could prepare a portal to deliver the bomb directly into the compound.

***

A deep throaty scream, which began low but expanded until it echoed through Sammael’s compound, brought chills to the heart of all who heard it. The tall masculine figure sat up on the ancient stone altar carved with arcane symbols, tearing at the enchanted cords that bound him, until he realized he couldn’t break out.  Then he glowered coldly at Sammael, his eyes boring into his captor.

“WHO ARE YOU?” he demanded in an ancient tongue Sammael couldn’t recall the name for. No matter, he understood them all.

Sammael took a step forward and said, softly, “I am Sammael, the one who has resurrected you from dead!”

“Why have you done something so foolish, mortal?” Resheph demanded.

“You mistake yourself, Resheph,” Sammael said, his eyes glowing with disdain as he leaned in and whispered acidly. “I endured an eternity of fire before you first cowered in fear in front of your human father, you simpering beast! Do not mistake yourself, for  I know what you are!” Resheph’s eyes betrayed shock and fear. He had no idea who Sammael was, but it couldn’t be pleasant. “Better! Now, your pet, Sebastian, slew you on the field of battle. I have brought you back because it pleases me to torment him, but do not imagine that you are free! You are here to do my bidding, do you understand?”

Resheph’s lips trembled with rage, but he nodded stiffly. When Sammael released him, however, Resheph flew at him like the monster he was. Sammael rolled his eyes just before the ancient vampire impacted him. The towering figure crushed into Sammael, who, like a brick wall, was unmoved. Resheph lay sprawled in the floor, dazed, and Sammael reached out a hand over him and muttered something fierce. Without warning, Resheph howled in pain, feeling as if his heart were enveloped and squeezed by a fist of flame. “You’d be amazed at how long I can manage this without tiring…. Indeed, your pain is exceedingly sweet to me, vampire! The quivering of the strong carries so much power: you fuel your own destruction!”

“Stop,” Resheph whispered. “I yield!”

“Good,” Sammael said, removing the spell. “Enough of this silliness! Rise, Resheph, we must hurry….”

“Oh?” Resheph asked.

“Your little Sebastian won’t be long now, I think! He’s been searching for me, and if he finds us he could really put a kink in my plans, so you and I and a few friends are going to make our exit soon,” Sammael announced.

“Sebastian is that powerful?” Resheph asked with a smile. Despite their ‘disagreement,’ there was still a bit of parental pride there.

Sammael nodded. “He is full of surprises. He rules the world of the shadows!” Resheph nodded. He had known the little teen was special, and knew he should have listened to the boy all those ages ago, so he saw red when Sekhmet stepped out to meet him.

“Hello, Resheph,” she almost purred, but her words dripped venom.

“Bitch,” he answered, looking ready to pounce. “I should….”

But he felt Sammael’s hand restraining him. “You both serve me now!” Resheph nodded grudgingly. “There is another,” Sammael said, haltingly. “Restrain yourself!”

Aethon stepped forward, his hands in front of him as if in prayer, laughing and shaking his head. Resheph’s knees trembled and nearly faltered beneath him as contradictory feelings coursed through him like electricity. “Hello my child!” Aethon said, allowing only a subtle hint of insanity to enter his voice.    

“Father,” Resheph whispered as he fell to his knees before the vampire who was not his earthly father but his vampiric sire. Thousands of years earlier, beyond the dust of ages, he had watched Aethon torture his real father mercilessly for days. Resheph, then a mortal boy, had watched fascinated as his life’s tormenter suffered a fate almost as terrible as he deserved. The boy’s feelings had so intrigued Aethon that he had taken the boy as his own child and raised him as a human until he asked to be turned when he had become a tall, handsome, powerful man. By then, Resheph had long since become a monster—vampirism was merely a formality.

Aethon’s long elegant fingers ran through Resheph’s hair as the man grasped his waist, before he whispered, “Come now! We have much to do!” Resheph rose obediently and stood at Aethon’s side.

“We are one more then we must go,” Sammael announced, phoning to summon two young men to the temple room.

When Andrew arrived, he shivered. The terrible company was complete. But he was obedient and approached when Sammael summoned him. Peter was one step behind him. “Andrew, you and Peter have met,” Sammael said. Looking at Peter, he added, “It’s time….”

Peter looked uncertain, but he looked deep into Andrew’s eyes and had the boy in his thrall in no time. He moved to drain the cute boy, but Sammael grabbed him by the hair. “NO!”

“What? You said you wanted me to kill him!” Peter said.

Sammael smiled. “You kill painlessly, slipping off to orgasmic bliss! Most people will never have that option, boy! I want you to look into his eyes, his free mind, and kill him painfully. I want you to see what it’s like to take a life without the numbing bliss!”

Peter looked to the ground but nodded. He let his control over Andrew slip and reached out quickly, grabbing him around the neck. Andrew grasped and clawed at his arm furiously, but Peter squeezed harder and harder, cutting off the oxygen and blood keeping Andrew’s brain alive. Peter saw the terror, felt the fear and panic flowing through the boy. Andrew rebelled against death. Despite all he had suffered, he did not sink into oblivion but struggled endlessly against the rising darkness of death. But in the end, there is no resisting. He fell limp and ceased to struggle. When Peter released it, Andrew’s body crumpled into a pile on the ground. Sammael smiled and put a hand on his shoulder. “Good. Let’s go,” he said, leading his little team to a portal he had prepared in his office and slipping away without anyone in the facility knowing.

***

“It’s confirmed,” Americ announced proudly, sending word to Sebastian via text.

Sebastian immediately called the wizards responsible, who had prepared to deliver the weapon. They transported the bomb into the facility unseen and began a countdown. “Five … four … three … two … one….” On his screen Sebastian watched as the facility exploded in a flash of white light. Minutes later when the debris settled, he could tell that the building had been destroyed at ground level, and that all the out-buildings had been leveled.

“Get some teams in there to explore the rubble. Make sure there are no survivors…. Unless you find any of Sammael’s prisoners alive, kill everyone,” Sebastian ordered, addressing the wizards, who prepared another portal for the strike forces to enter.

“Yes, sir! We’ll report back to you as soon as we can!”

“Thank you,” Sebastian said, signing off.

He was about to get up when he was hailed to video conference. He accepted and a man filled the screen. “Sebastian! Good try, my little friend, good try…. But you missed!”

“You! Well, your base of operations and your staff,” Sebastian said.

“No longer relevant in any case,” Sammael announced with a knowing grin. Stepping aside, Peter came into view. “I believe you’ve met my new friend!”

“Peter,” Sebastian whispered, getting a sinking feeling and reaching for his desk drawer. Sammael’s smile told him all he needed to know.

“It seems Peter and I have a common interest,” Sammael announced. “And there’s someone else who wants to say hello,” he added, stepping aside a bit more.

Resheph’s smile was an enigma. “Hello, Sebastian….” At his elbow, Sekhmet smirked, and Sebastian’s heart sank.

“Peter, how could you? You have no idea,” Sebastian said.

“I’m sorry, Sebastian, but … I do!” Sebastian saw Peter’s eyes, saw that, despite the uncertainty, he did have an idea, a dark and cancerous idea. In that moment Sebastian understood that Peter was one of the few people on earth who could sympathize with Sammael’s actual cause. Sebastian had had one of the most dangerous people on earth under his own roof.

“Sammael, one day, one day soon, you and I are going to settle this,” Sebastian whispered coldly.

“I look forward to it! In the meantime, I’m hungry,” Sammael said with an evil smile, and the screen went blank. Somehow he’d expected it to be more climactic. The end was one step nearer and he didn’t feel more scared; he just felt wearier. Slowly, he typed the message to send to the Council:

“Strike failed. Sammael escaped with Sekhmet, Aethon, and a resurrected Resheph. Prepare for open war.”

***

It was around 3:45 in the afternoon and the bus was mostly full of high school freshmen and sophomores. The bus driver rounded the corner of her rural Alabama route and slammed on the brakes—a fallen tree was blocking the road. Her reaction was not quick enough and the bus slid into the obstruction. Kids were tossed around and fell into the aisles, but everyone was alright. A few were bleeding from minor cuts.

The sound of the front door being ripped open drew everyone’s attention, but the bus driver’s scream of alarm was cut short as Sekhmet’s claw fell on her throat.

When a passing motorist found the vehicle an hour later, he couldn’t see inside. The windows were obscured by sticky red. The most seasoned police officers who arrived on the scene puked their guts out at the gruesome scene. The teens inside had been torn to pieces, some ripped limb from limb, girls and boys alike sexually violated, some having been forced to violate each other. No special effects magic could reproduce it. When the photos finally made their way to Sebastian, he burst into tears at his desk. The old ones were loose, and Sammael was drawing power. No one was safe; nothing was sacrosanct. All hell was breaking loose, and his best efforts were still one step behind.

None of his advisors had any news that could help or any suggestions for getting ahead of Sammael, so as days passed Sebastian grew more and more morose.

***

James and Avery filled William in on the situation that evening at training. Sebastian had struck, but Sammael and his minions had escaped, Resheph had been resurrected with the help of a friend of James’s, and the evil had begun to act.

After dinner, William reported as much as he could to Chase and his family, as well as to his Uncle Xavier, who had joined them at William’s request. “Soon the Council’s going to have to move, once we find a way of tracking them….”

Xavier arched his eyebrows at William’s use of the word ‘we.’ With a sigh, he said, “You consider yourself part of the Council?”

“They are the only people standing against Sammael, so, yeah!” William looked at his uncle pointedly. “Don’t you?”

“My history with the Council is long and … rocky. But Sebastian needs all the help he can get! Yeah,” Xavier said. “I’m with them.”      

William nodded, almost thankfully. “When the fighting starts, I’m going,” William said. Xavier had expected as much, and just shook his head, then nodded.

Chase, however, dropped his fork, which clattered against the plate, tears welling up in his eyes. William wrapped an arm around the boy and whispered, “I’m sorry, but you had to know it was coming! In the end, both of us will have a part to play. I know you’re scared, but you’ve got to believe!”

“I do,” Chase whispered tearfully, “I do! It’s just too soon! Why couldn’t it just leave us alone for a while? Just a little while?” William squeezed him but said nothing.

There was a long quiet at the table, until Xavier stood and knelt between the boys wrapping an arm around each, kissing them on their heads. “I’m sorry boys,” he said. “It sucks! But it is what it is! We’ll get through this and then … who knows? Maybe a little peace?”

***

Friday saw the gory news spread through the school. Morning classes tuned in to CNN. “Reports are flowing in from this rural Alabama school district, Scott…. As we’ve been reporting overnight, a school bus full of high school students was found yesterday evening: all of its occupants had been killed!”

“Do we know exactly how many students were involved here, Katy?” the male anchor asked the correspondent.

“Tom, no exact numbers yet, but the bus was the largest size and nearly full…. Probably over forty students and the bus driver.” Around the classroom, students could be heard to inhale sharply and one girl burst into tears.

“Do we know any more about the circumstances of the attack, Katy?” Tom asked, blanching visibly.

Sighing, the woman answered, “Police have confirmed that there were no guns involved, no gas…. The attack was brutal. An unidentified source in the medical examiner’s office reports that the wounds appear almost consistent with a mauling….”

“Excuse me, Katy, did you say mauling,” the man interrupted.

“Yes, Tom, it would appear that some sort of blades or perhaps … even teeth were involved,” she reported.

Katrina shot Daemon a glance across the room and nodded slowly, her eyes knowing. It was the master’s work.

The atmosphere at school was grim for the rest of the day, and the bus ride home was fast and silent. Fast, because many parents picked their children up at school that day, or students got rides from older friends, and silent because everyone was on the lookout.

By Monday, kids were still avoiding buses however they could. And Daemon was again on the prowl. This time, he caught Chase alone in the library during his study period.

“Chase,” he said, channeling every ounce of his appeal into his voice, hearing being the boy’s second most powerful sensation.

Chase turned with a deadpan face and said, “Daemon,” without a hint of warmth, without a trace of a smile.

“Chase, why don’t you like me?” the boy asked, surprising Chase and throwing him momentarily off-guard.

“I … I….” Chase stuttered as a blush spread across his face. For a second, he had felt it, the irresistible pull, and he understood something in an instant. It wasn’t William’s fault, it was Daemon—Daemon was somehow causing this. His chest burned beneath the angelic sigil, and he took a step back. “I guess I was just a little jealous….”

Daemon smiled, sensing the tug, but missing the realization Chase had come to. “That’s silly! You’re gorgeous,” Daemon exclaimed sensually. “Any boy would be lucky to have you,” he added, reaching out with a delicate hand which caressed Chase’s arm lightly. But as he met the bare skin of Chase’s hand, rather than heaven, both boys felt electricity. Not that romantic spark of romance novels: the kind of surging electricity that makes electrocution victims unable to drop a live wire. In fact, Daemon’s hand gripped Chase’s arm with almost bone-crushing strength as both boys tensed up and time slowed to a crawl. It took just a few seconds, but it seemed like years. When the moment passed, Chase jerked away violently, falling back onto the floor and hitting his head hard on the ground. But it wasn’t the head injury that made Chase lose consciousness; it was the sheer horror what he’d seen.

Daemon was momentarily stunned as well, but when he realized no one had seen the incident as yet, he called out, “Someone, help!”

The librarian came rushing over and saw Chase lying on the ground. “What happened?” she asked, panicked.

“He jerked then fell and hit his head! I think he had some kind of seizure,” Daemon replied.

“God!” she exclaimed, feeling his head and discovering a little trickle of blood from his scalp. “Run to the office and tell them to call 911,” she yelled. Kids passing in the hall were crowding around, and the assistant librarian reached into her pocket and pushed a red button on a little key ring, sounding a security alarm with wizards on-sight and at Sebastian’s headquarters.