7 Carnage & Terror

William carried Chase upstairs to the main floor of Sebastian’s manor and started to lay him out on a couch, but James led him up to the master bedroom and pointed to the huge, silk-dressed bed.

“Are you sure?” William asked.

James nodded and said, “As long as he needs,” before shutting the door on his way out.

William laid the boy down and took his shoes off before covering him with a light silk sheet and stretching out next to him, watching him sleep for a while. The weight of the last week, and the day, pressed in on William like tons of water, and he struggled to keep his breath.

Steve and Chris stepped into the hall and caught James. “What’s going on?” Chris asked.

“Demons infiltrated William and Chase’s school…. Their friends are downstairs.” Chris and Steve followed him downstairs and said hello to the guys. They sat down with James and all the boys and talked to them about the whole situation and how they, too, had gotten involved in the whole mess. Then Carl told about his past and his abilities, which he repeated for Avery and Sebastian. No one wanted to talk about what they had just seen, and the tension was palpable.

After a long silence, Steve looked at Matt and asked, “So have you joined our team yet?”

Chris looked really serious for a moment before breaking into a smile. They’d been working on things apparently, James noticed. “We could show you what you’re missing,” he added, waggling his eyebrows.

When Matt’s face turned pink, everyone laughed. “If Matt ever wants to try that out, we’ve got first dibs,” Edward said, wrapping his free arm around the fiercely blushing boy.

“Guys,” Matt said, laughing, “I think I need more straight friends!”

“No,” Avery said, patting him on the shoulder, “take it from me, these guys are more fun!”

“Yeah, but we’ve gotten you between the sheets more than once,” Sebastian corrected from across the room, winking.

But Sebastian jumped when James smacked him on the behind.

“That’s enough of that kind of talk,” James said with a faux pious smile. “Would you guys like something to drink?”

James and Sebastian brought out sodas and tea, and they all caught up and learned more about each other. They had met at least briefly at Chase’s birthday, and enjoyed getting to know each other. When William emerged, he followed the voices downstairs. Everyone looked at him when they heard the footsteps and he shook his head.

When he got downstairs, he said, “He’s still asleep…. I’m going to call his parents and let them know we’ll be late.”

Sebastian nodded, and asked, “Is there anything we can do?”

“No, I’m glad you’re all here, though…. Could you call Rabbi Roth?” William asked.

“He’s on his way,” Sebastian said. William nodded his thanks, stepping into the kitchen to call Steve and Sarah. He gave them sketchy details but assured them Chase was safe and sound and that Chase would call as soon as he woke.

William sat in the living room by himself and the conversation revived, though somewhat more subdued. But William couldn’t sit still, so he stood and stepped into the back garden through the door in the living area and walked out to the wall. He pressed his hands against the cold rock and leaned in, stretching and pushing, exerting his muscles to the maximum against the old and immovable masonry. He wanted to scream, to let out all the frustration and pain, but he didn’t want to disturb the others, or to wake Chase. He pushed all that tension into his already aching muscles, tensing them further and further, pressing harder and harder.

“It doesn’t help, does it?” Sam asked quietly, causing William to jump, all that tension releasing in a single burst.

“No, sir, it doesn’t help,” William sighed.

“Sebastian filled me in,” the old rabbi said, leaning heavily on his cane. “The incubus did quite a job on your mind, did he?”

William shook his head, “I’m such a fucking idiot!”

“William, a succubus, or an incubus can destroy a person in an evening, can break a man’s will with a glance! Your love shielded you to a degree, and the bond cushioned that further…. But no one can hold out forever against the sustained attack of these creatures!” Sam assured him.

“Chase could,” William said, his shoulders slumping like a defeated man.

‘It’s so hard to remember he’s just a boy,’ Sam thought to himself. “The incubus’s strongest weapon is sensation! Chase’s blindness protected him further…. After sight, touch is the most direct method of working their temptation, but Chase’s gift turned that weapon against Daemon. Chase could hold out forever, not because he’s better than you but only because he’s perfectly positioned to resist that kind of temptation!”

“He is better than me,” William said, not defensively, but with certainty.

“He is different than you, to be sure…. He’s pure in a way that none of us is! Innocent….” Seeing William blush, he laughed, “Not like that! If I had to wager, though, I’d guess that everything he does is with such love that it doesn’t touch his innocence. But, in any case, if Sebastian or Avery, or even you or I, were able to do what Chase did this afternoon, we wouldn’t feel too conflicted about it. She was a demon, and it needed to be done: and because of that, because we wouldn’t think twice about it, we couldn’t do it. Chase is different from us, but he needs you! He needs your love to be strong, just like you need him to lean on so you can be strong! And we all need you both to be strong!”

Sam motioned for William to walk with him and they walked along the wall for a long time before William spoke. “I don’t know if I can forgive myself,” William finally whispered.

“He’ll forgive you,” Sam said.

“He probably already has,” William sighed, exasperated. “It’d be easier if he didn’t for a while at least….”

Sam smiled and shook his head. “No it wouldn’t, but it’d make you feel better because he’d be doing wrong too!”

“I just feel so unworthy,” William said.

“That’s good,” Sam said. “That means you love him! I’m sure he feels the same!” They walked in silence for a long while before heading back inside. William was smiling and so they didn’t interrupt the good humored conversation this time.

Shortly, William crept back upstairs to check on Chase and found the boy quite deeply asleep, though clearly not a peaceful sleep. The sheets were a mess and Chase was on the other side of the oversized king. William sat next to him and ran a hand through his soft blond locks. Chase barely stirred beneath his hand, so William watched the boy for a few minutes before returning to his friends. Grabbing his backpack, he handed the boys the amulets he’d been sent home with for their protection. He’d been trying to figure out how to get them to wear them without telling them his secret, but the cat was out of the bag.

“How’s Chase?” Matt asked, clearly worried about his friend.

“Tired,” William said. “He barely moved when I sat next to him….”

“Can I go up for a minute?” Matt asked.

“Of course,” William answered with a smile.

Matt went upstairs and, as he shut the door behind him, Chris whispered, “He IS a cutie,” making everyone laugh again. William called Chase’s parents back to let them know Chase was still asleep.

Sarah sighed. “Why don’t you boys … spend the night? Have Chase call as soon as he wakes up, even if it’s the middle of the night!”

“Thanks Sarah,” William said. “I don’t think he’ll wake up before the morning.”

“Take care of him,” she said softly, before putting the phone down.

William waited for Matt to come back downstairs then took Matt, Carl and Edward downstairs and through the portal to his training room and out into Chase’s back yard. “Matt, make sure these guys get home safe. Sebastian has people watching you, but still be careful.”

The guys looked at him and nodded, somber and scared. Before he could turn and get back to Sebastian’s, Edward stepped up to him and hugged him tight. “You be careful too,” he said softly before stepping back and taking Carl’s massive hand in his own. William waved and returned to Sebastian’s house, settling back in with Sebastian, James, Chris and Steve for a late meal. Afterwards, they relaxed in front of the television until William was too tired to stay awake.

“Sorry about this,” William pleaded as he headed off to Sebastian’s bedroom.

“Think nothing of it,” Sebastian said, patting him on the back. “Strictly speaking I don’t sleep: I have little need for it … most times. James and I’ll camp out somewhere. Not with you, Steve,” he added, catching the boy’s sly grin.

William slipped into the room and put his clothes over the back of a chair. He gently undressed Chase and crawled in next to him, so close they took up less than twenty percent of the bed together. William hadn’t realized how tired he was, and soon drifted into deep sleep.

When morning came, the sun, filtered through Sebastian’s special windows, bathed the room in a soft light. Chase woke and stretched carefully, before rolling over half on top of William. ‘Where are we,’ he silently wondered, looking around the sumptuously appointed bedroom and feeling the silk sheets around him. Smiling, Chase put a hand on William’s tight stomach and ran it beneath the sheets until he heard William groan. “Where are we?”

“Sebastian’s,” William answered.

Chase’s body tightened, as he exclaimed, “Mom! Dad!”

“Chill! I called your parents and kept them updated…. Your mom okayed us staying here last night,” William said.

“Mom? What happened?” Chase asked.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” William asked, rolling onto his side and looking into Chase’s eyes with deep concern.

“I was in the library and Daemon touched…. Oh,” the boy broke off as his mouth began to salivate and his stomach cramped. He rolled out of bed and tried to make for the bathroom, but made it only as far as the little waste basket by the night stand. Luckily, he hadn’t eaten since lunch the previous day, and he mostly dry-heaved. “After Katrina?” he asked, as the queasiness passed.

“I held you and you passed out. Exhaustion I think…. So we brought you back here and got you into bed. We explained everything to Matt, Carl and Edward. Well, Edward and Carl, the parts they didn’t already know. He didn’t let on to the others he already knew anything; I think he didn’t want Matt to feel like we trusted him less….”

“He’s a sweetie,” Chase nodded gravely. “What have I done, William?” he asked pathetically, his small frame beginning to tremble.

William hesitated, “What did you do?”

“It’s a spell, a secret Raziel taught me called the annihilation matrix,” Chase said.

“Cool name,” William said, raising his eyebrows. “What does it do?”

“Just like the name says,” Chase said, his face falling. “Everything within the matrix is … annihilated. Not destroyed so much as … uncreated.”

William drew in a sharp breath and released it slowly, before dragging the boy into a deep hug. “I … I’m so sorry, Chase, for everything!”

“I’m a monster,” Chase sobbed, his tears running down William’s chest. “I’m as bad as him!”

“Chase,” William said, half-sobbing, half-laughing, “You are not a monster! You are so good, so … wonderful! I wish I could live up to deserving you for just a moment! Don’t ever call yourself a monster again!” Chase squeezed him tightly but spoke no more as they held each other.

After a long while, William whispered, “We need to get dressed. I want you to talk to Rabbi Roth….”

“He’s here?” Chase asked, wiping his eyes on a graceful, pale arm.

“He came yesterday afternoon when he heard what happened,” William confirmed, as they began to pull on their clothes. “Oh, and call your mom!” Chase smiled and nodded, grabbing his cell phone.

“Chase?” the woman answered after one ring.

“Hi, mom,” he said softly, and tried not to start crying again.

“Are you okay?” Sarah asked.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I hit my head in a fall yesterday, and there was some excitement. I was just tired, but I’m fine!”

“Alright, mister,” she said, trying to sound strong. “Be careful, and we’re talking about this tonight! You boys be home by five! I’ve called the school so they know you aren’t coming today….”

“Thanks, mom! I love you!” Chase said.

“I love you too, baby…. See you tonight.” Sarah replied.

“Bye,” Chase added as he hung up.

“Everything okay?” William asked.

“Yeah,” Chase said, “but I think we’re gonna be talking about it more tonight….”

“Fun times!” William joked.

They heard Chris and Steve playing in the game room, so they stuck their head in.

“Hey, guys! Get a good rest?” Steve asked.

Chase nodded, but was interrupted by a big hug from Chris. “I’m glad you’re alright,” Chris said and Chase squeezed him back.

“Thanks Chris,” Chasee said, smiling and blushing a little from the warm feelings he got from the boy, just pure concern and positivity.

“Is Rabbi Roth around still?” William asked.

“He’s training with James and Avery in the basement. You should go join them! Want to hang out, Chase?” Steve asked.

“Sure, why not?” Chase replied as William went off to find the wizards. In the basement, he found them, practicing with various magickal implements, from swords, to staffs, to wands, and joined in.

Sam tossed him a sword and then set to teaching him some basic technique, before teaching him how to use it as a magickal focus for power. When it was charged with magick, the sword hummed with energy and sounded ominously like a light saber. As they worked, William asked the man to talk with Chase after they finished.

“He’s alright?” Sam asked.

“He’s torn up inside,” William answered, shaking his head. “He called himself a monster.”

Sebastian visibly flinched, and William guessed he must be thinking, ‘If Chase was a monster, what would that make the rest of us?’

***

“What do you mean you can’t get Daemon to answer,” Sammael snarled.

“I mean, sir, that when I attempt to communicate with him, I get no response,” the man replied.

“Like Katrina?” Sammael asked.

“No, sir. Katrina has vanished. Daemon is clearly in the pit, refusing to respond to my summoning,” the man answered.

Sammael’s eyes narrowed. Katrina had been right to be worried. Daemon was one of the least predictable and most troublesome of hell’s denizens. Sammael had always figured it was because he was more “human” than the rest, so close the the monkeys’ physicality. He was so rebellious!

Sammael picked up the summoning mirror and said, “He might refuse you, but he won’t refuse me!” Sammael focused on the mirror until his attention was perfect, then dipped one finger into its reflective surface, penetrating the seemingly solid glass. “DAEMON,” he roared. The surface flickered and rippled, but no one appeared. “DAEMONNNNNN!”

At long last, a figure appeared, but it was not Daemon. “Sammael,” the fell spirit Belial responded, taking Sammael aback.

“Belial,” he sneered.

“It has come to our attention that you no longer reside in your royal … palace. My … lord….” Belial’s smile was the smile of a thousand jackals, dripping with serpentine venom.

“My royal prison, you mean?” Sammael responded drily.

“Safe and sound, safe and sound we kept you these many eons, master…. We cannot protect you out there,” Belial grinned.

“You treacherous rogue, Belial! You sound almost as if you believe that! My time has come, and I’ll wreak my vengeance on this world, and yours too! You should have followed me!”

“To our own destruction? Sammael, you never understood! We don’t want to perish! WE LIKE WHAT WE DO! We are well fed on the pain and suffering the humans are so expert at inflicting on one another! Why should we wish to end it all?” Belial asked.

“Don’t you hate HIM? What He’s done to us?” Sammael asked.

YES!” Belial hissed. “But better to torture and lead astray His favorites, to bring pain into his design, than to end ourselves in a mad process of self-destruction!”

“So Hell remains neutral?” Sammael asked, on the verge of eruption.

After a long pause, Belial’s smile spread into an evil and consuming grin. And then he laughed. He laughed in Sammael’s face. “Daemon already brokered one deal with Sebastian! Perhaps we can work out another? Perhaps this time even Hell will fight on the side of the angels?” Belial’s cackle raised in pitch and intensity.

Sammael’s veneer began to crack, and he screamed “Belial!”

But before he could go on the demon stopped laughing, fell silent, and his face became dead serious. “Silence! I warn you, MASTER! Your end is nigh! This war isn’t about stopping you; it’s about destroying you, now!”

“Impossible,” Sammael sputtered, but deep within him something stirred, something he’d not felt since the day he puffed out his chest and raised a hand against the throne of God: doubt.

Belial’s eyes cut into him, and saw it at once. Then he knew. “Sammael, how’s Katrina?”

“What happened to her?” Sammael asked, his voice low and fierce.

“One of Sebastian’s has recovered the lost arts of Raziel,” Belial smiled. “The annihilation matrix?” And after a pause for effect, Belial smiled and winked. “Fare thee well, dark spirit!” And he was gone. Sammael’s rage was bursting from every seam, but that nagging doubt began to swell into cold fear. The annihilation matrix, an end-game he had not foreseen. An eternity of planning and the one thing he’d not foreseen: a mortal with the ability to unravel the fabric of a created being.

Something broke in Sammael. Holding together the physical form and the mortal mind attached to it took tremendous concentration and power, and at that moment things began to unravel, the wall between demon and mind. The chaotic madness of Sammael the demon mix with the cold calculating being that was Sammael the destroyer.

He entered a new address into the GPS and redirected his command unit to a very visible target: on a cool but cloudless afternoon the Nashville zoo would be busy with school groups, stay-at-home moms and their kids, and tourists. And demons ready to blow off a little steam.

***

Sebastian pulled out a cell phone flashing with a code-black alert from the shadow network. He sprinted over to his office as the others stopped and followed him.

“Get ready to go. Sam, you and Avery are with me; James, William, you stay here with Chase. Do not leave, do you understand me?” James and William nodded but James hurried to his side and whispered something in his ear. “I’ll leave the computer logged on. You can read the reports and follow us on surveillance,” Sebastian answered.

James gave him a quick kiss as Sebastian’s squadron of wizards began to assemble outside, and the Colonel opened a door to the Council agent who had sounded the alarm.

In a dank room in a construction area, a lanky man in a zoo-keeper’s uniform welcomed them. “Consul,” he exclaimed surprised. He was a fairly low-ranking vampire, and had never seen the likes of Sebastian or Avery.

“Status,” Sebastian demanded.

“I recognized him from your alerts…. Sammael, he’s here with his three vampires and some dark wizards. The wizards are blocking the exits and the vampires are roaming the park….”

“Were you able to take any measures?” Sebastian asked cautiously.

The man smiled. “They’re too powerful for me, sir, but….”

“What did you do?” Sebastian asked, worried.

“I released the tigers….” Sebastian gasped, but then smiled too. In any circumstances it was a risky move, but with supernatural powers on the loose, the tigers would stalk and attack them as they were able. Demonic energies like those around Sammael and his people were like blood in the air for wild animals.

“Brilliant,” Sebastian said, patting the man on the shoulder. “But now you stay here and hide. If anyone but us comes here, step through the portal and close it behind you. Understand?”

“Yes sir!” the vampire nodded.

“Avery, you and I are going to find the bastards. Sam, Colonel, take your men and secure the gates so any survivors can flee, before joining us with any men you can spare from that task. Your job is find and rescue survivors. Avery and I are search and destroy!”

“Yes, high consul,” the soldier said, saluting smartly and leading his men toward the door.

“Wait a second,” the keeper called. “I got you these, thought they’d help….” He handed them maps of the zoo, and Sebastian nodded his thanks. The man was a clear thinker in a difficult situation.

Avery and Sebastian headed for the western part of the park, where trails cut through bamboo forests and winded up hilly paths. If caught between two monsters, entire groups would be trapped up there. Eviscerated corpses were strewn casually over fences, and littered the concrete paths. In one of the snack vendor’s huts, a young woman’s head rested on the grill, giving off the scent of burnt meat and burning hair. Avery’s face was etched with disgust, but a rage was building in Sebastian, stronger and more intense than he had felt in nearly a thousand years. The last time he’d felt this way, he’d destroyed an army. As much of a monster as he’d ever been, he’d fought men.

“Monsters!” Sebastian snarled quietly. Coming to a fork in the path, he suggested warily that they split up.

“Sebastian,” Avery hesitated. “I’m not afraid of a fight, but this seems overly risky!”

“Avery, there are children here! And those monsters! Remember that school bus?” Sebastian asked.

Avery’s jaw set and he nodded, eyes seething bloody hatred. He remembered. Avery headed off toward the petting zoo, while Sebastian made his way up toward the zebra exhibit. As he passed the African wild dogs, he noticed that the creatures were huddled in the far corner barking ferociously toward the next curve in the path, so he slowed and took out his sword in one hand, a gun in the other. Huddling low, he peered around the next turn and saw that a couple of vampires were taunting a mother with a double stroller and a third child crouching behind her.

“Get away from her,” Sebastian called, hiding his weaponry. There was a good chance they wouldn’t recognize him as anything more than a foolish human male engaging in suicidal chivalry until it was too late.

One of the vampires broke off and moved toward him menacingly. “What’s one little fairy gonna do about it?” the other taunted. Just a little closer, he thought to himself.

And then he was close enough. “This,” Sebastian said almost sweetly, bringing his arm around and revealing the glistening silver blade for just a second. It moved too fast for the young vampire to see before his head was severed from his body. The vampire’s partner froze for a second, looking like he was going to attack, but turned to run. “Can’t let you do that,” Sebastian said, twirling the blade in front of him like a wand and muttering a spell. An invisible blast of force rushed out of the blade and knocked the vampire off his feet. In seconds, Sebastian closed the distance and dispatched him.

Sheathing the blade and holstering the gun, he walked to the woman and asked, “Are you alright?”

“I … I think so,” she whispered.

“Follow this path down toward the snake and frog exhibit, but when you get to the snack vendor, head into the woods and make your way toward the parking lot as best you can. You might have to wander, but they’re probably guarding the main walkways….” The woman nodded and tried to go in a hurry, but her little boy held back.

“Are you a knight?” the boy, perhaps five, asked.

Sebastian knelt and smiled, “In a manner of speaking….”

“You talk funny. Where’s your shining armor?” the boy asked.

Sebastian ruffled his hair and said, “If you stay real quiet and follow your mommy and be a good boy like she asks, I’ll show it to you sometime, okay?”

The little boy answered him, “Okay,” and raised a single finger to his lips, following his mother very seriously.

***

James and William read the preliminary reports of the attack with anger and terror. This was utterly gratuitous and on an unprecedented scale. Unfortunately it represented only the latest escalation.

William ran upstairs to get Chase, Chris, and Steve. All of them were brought up to speed.

“What are we going to do?” Chase asked quietly.

“We promised to keep you safe,” James said as he struggled to get access to the proper surveillance programs and tap into the zoo’s security system.

“We all have powers that can help,” Chase complained. “We can’t just….”

OH MY GOD,” James said, as the zoo’s security cameras flashed on his screen.

“What?” Chase asked.

“Bodies,” Chris said. “Too many….” But he couldn’t finish.  He puked into the trash and carried it out to the hall. He didn’t return.

So what are we going to do?” Chase demanded with helpless passion.

James looked at him, then at William. “This is too big for us!”

Fiddling around with the system, James managed to hail Christen and Musa to a chat.

“Sebastian?” both asked, but blinked as they saw James.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know what else to do,” James said. “Avery and Sebastian deployed to the zoo…. You read the reports?” They both nodded. “I hacked the security system,” he said, hearing their gasps as he sent the images to their consoles.

“My God in Heaven,” Musa declared. “What can we do?”

“They need backup, and they need it fast,” James said. “It’s too much for two men, even those two, even backed up by wizards as competent as Sam!”

Christen sent out a universal alert asking all able members of the Council to rally to the gates of the zoo and coordinate with Sam and the colonel. “Thank you, James,” she added before they logged off.

“I hope that’s enough,” William said.

But shortly, a smile spread over James’s face as he watched the zoos main gate. Christen and Musa stood over a map with Sam and the colonel. Musa had arrived with his own guard of vampiric swordsmen, while Christen had brought an entire brigade of battle wizards. As quickly as possible, they moved out, with the goal of finding and rescuing survivors, as Sebastian had ordered, and “sanitizing” the eastern part of the park before rendezvousing with Sebastian and Avery.

***

Avery found the petting zoo quite empty … of living things anyway. He fought back the urge to vomit at the scene, and even when he closed his eyes he could not wipe away one image in particular: a tiny bloody hand on the ground, all by itself.

Forcing himself onward he found the bathrooms, and some people hiding within. “Come out,” he called as he walked inside. “I’m here to get you out….”

“Are you one of them?” a little voice asked.

“If I was, would I be waiting out here?” Avery frowned.

The door opened and a few kids, brothers and sisters, hurried out. He repeated the process in the other bathroom and found a mom and a teenage girl, her daughter. He led them out behind the bathrooms through construction to a wall. To the woman he said, “Get them out, pile them in your car and get them out of here. Once it’s all over we’ll sort out who they are and whatnot….”

“What about you?” she asked.

With a dark look, he said, “I’m going to find what did this….”

“Then what,” she asked, and by way of an answer, he raised an energy ball in his hand, small by his standards, and blew a hole in the wall ten feet across. Her eyes widened and she nodded, leading the children away. “Be careful,” she called over her shoulder.

When Avery returned, he saw the path forked again. The right would take him more immediately back toward Sebastian, while the left was a wide loop that would bring him back here. He decided to head toward Sebastian and they could take the last together. But then, to his left he heard a little group of terrified gasps, near the snow leopard enclosure. He began to creep up toward it, but froze in terror as a hand grasped his shoulder and another covered his mouth.

“Shhh,” Sebastian said quietly. “What’s up?”

“Kids,” Avery nodded at the little shack that looked into both the snow leopard and red panda enclosures. They could see it was a lot of kids. It looked like an elementary school group was inside and a figure, neither could see who, was blocking them.

Sebastian crept around one side, while Avery snuck up the other, until a woman’s voice froze them both. “I’d recognize that smell of terror anywhere,” she said, smiling derisively. “Little Hesed, who so worries the Master!”

“Sekhmet,” Sebastian said, trying not to tremble as she turned to face him. He tried to draw her attention. “Let the kids go … bitch!”

“Such language! Think of the children, Sebastian!” She nonchalantly reached out her left hand and a small child was forced into her grasp by an unseen power.

Avery got a clear line of sight and raised his hand, whispering with feeling, feeling driven by the image of a child’s severed hand, “Ignis solus!”

Sekhmet was taken by surprise as she burst into controlled flame which never burned her hostage. Sebastian raised his hand and with brute magical force drew Sekhmet toward himself and away from the children, calling, “Get them OUT!”

Avery did just that, ushering the children away, pointing them toward the hole he had created before hurrying back to Sebastian.

Avery sound that Sekhmet had turned the tides: she was no longer burning and Sebastian was on his back. “So you killed Resheph? Impressive! And even in my sleep I’ve heard tales of you, Wizard Salazar! You won’t get the drop on me again,” she growled, as she kept Sebastian on the ground with a force from her left hand and blasted Avery against a tree with her right.

She kept them both pinned and didn’t seem to have any trouble doing so, as her laughter began to rise in bloodcurdling peals. Then she knelt by Sebastian, moving the hand that held him motionless up to his throat.

***

The pressure Sebastian felt around his neck was extreme, and he knew the ancient vampire wasn’t trying to choke him. She was trying to manually decapitate him. Just when his world started to go black, however, and his pain reached its peak, he felt the pressure abruptly lift, just before Sekhmet howled in pain and terror. A nearly deafening roar was her foe’s response, as it slashed at her back with its heavy paw. Wherever it struck, her flesh sizzled as if in flames.

Sekhmet rounded on the white Bengal tiger, giving it all her attention, and it thanked her with a quick slash to the face that blinded her in one eye before she knocked it to the ground with a ferocious blow. The beast was stunned, not dead, however, and Sekhmet was seriously injured. She fled quickly back toward the east side of the park where her compatriots were meeting heavy resistance from Christen and Musa and their forces. Sebastian and Avery took off after her, but even injured and even in the sunlight, Sekhmet was a formidable foe. Resheph and Aethon were facing off against Christen and Musa when Sekhmet joined them.

Aethon, between blasts from Christen, quipped, “You’ve seen better days, girlie!”

“You’re not doing so hot yourself, for a god,” she retorted, conjuring up a fireball to throw at Sebastian. So they stood facing off, four consuls and a band of wizards against three of the Old Ones, one almost incapacitated.

“It could be worse,” Avery muttered.

“Never say that,” Christen whispered sharply.

“Indeed,” bellowed a loud voice echoing off the concrete walkway. Sammael walked toward them clapping his hands wickedly. “It almost invites trouble, does it not?” As if to illustrate his point, Sammael lifted two fingers and pointed them at Avery, before giving them a little flick. Avery flew back, crashing into the wall of the nearby gift shop and crumpling to the ground.

Sebastian reacted instantly, raising a hand at Sammael, but his eyes narrowed and he pointed at Sekhmet and yelled, “Incindere!” drawing deeply on his rage. At first nothing happened and his supporters and enemies alike looked on in surprise. But then Sekhmet began to scream. She could have been a tornado siren, it was so piercing. “How important is your plan, Sammael? The fire is inside of her…. You can still save her, but not here, not now, not fighting us!”

Sammael glared at him, then looked at Sekhmet, then back at Sebastian. “This is not over, vampire! This is just a taste of what’s coming!” And then he and his compatriots were gone, simply vanishing with a wave of the demon’s hand, again at a huge expenditure of energy. More would spent saving Sekhmet.

“Get this place clear and sweep the parking lot for stragglers…. Any vampires or wizards he brought with him are still here,” Sebastian called. They had precious few minutes before swat teams and authorities would show up. Sebastian could deal with them but some things were best done without oversight. The Council’s forces disposed of three more vampires and two dark wizards, and helped the human authorities clear the zoo.

In the parking lot, they made a key discovery: Sammael’s mobile command unit, with its communications systems and trackers operational. Sebastian made sure his people transported the unit away to a secure location for study. With any luck, they would get enough information to begin striking out at Sammael’s operation around the world.

***

The consuls returned to Sebastian’s manor with their troops and collapsed, exhausted, in the living room. “Well?” the waiting boys demanded.

“We beat them back,” Sebastian said, his voice heavy with disappointment. “But they’d already done so much damage! And we wouldn’t have stood a chance in a fair fight….”

That scared the young men. Sebastian was arguably the strongest, most knowledgeable opponent arrayed against Sammael. Musa saw their faces fall and tried to reassure them, “Have faith, young ones! God is with us!”

“To bad he didn’t show up with a big-assed sword today,” Avery grumbled under his breath, earning a frown from Musa, Chase, and, surprisingly enough, Sebastian. “Well, it would have been nice,” he added grumpily. “Sekhmet could have taken us both,” he said, indicating himself and Sebastian, “if it hadn’t been for the damn tiger….”

“Tiger?” James asked with a wry smile. “This has got to be good….” So the men filled them in on the whole story, leaving out none of the horrific detail. They all knew that, sooner or later, these … boys … would have to fight.

“But having their command unit, won’t that help,” William asked, sitting forward.

“Yes,” Sebastian allowed. “In time, it should give us access to their communication, and perhaps even an archive of information. But it probably isn’t the only one, and Sammael and his minions have the power to move around at will, just like we do….”

“But,” Avery corrected, “they expend tremendous amounts of energy to do it their way, unlike us…. Unfortunately,” he began, but broke off.

“What?” James asked, but Chase had already discerned.

“They feed off of chaos…. So the more energy they expend, the more they need to feed,” Chase said, grimly.

“I’m afraid so,” Sebastian added. “But our best people are on the unit, studying it…. We’ll know more very soon.” After a pause, Sebastian looked at Chase and William. “I suppose we need to get you boys home?” They nodded. “Alright,” he said, pushing himself up. He and James led them downstairs, along with Sam, who took them through the portal and saw them safely to their door, after Sebastian and James said their goodbyes.

Musa said, “It’s hard to imagine sending those boys into battle against these … creatures!”

Sebastian nodded, but said, “No choice, Musa!  William is nearly as capable as most governors, and Chase….” He paused briefly and shook his head. “It takes a terrible toll on him, but Chase is able to do things no one else is. Yesterday afternoon, we saw him … destroy a demon.”

“Banish?” Christen asked.

“No…. Destroy. As in nothing, matter or spirit, remained,” Sebastian said.

“Impossible,” the woman replied.

“Indeed,” Sebastian nodded, raising his eyebrows to indicate that, nevertheless, the impossible had happened. Musa grunted and returned to his pondering silence.

Shortly, Musa and Christen moved to return and said their goodbyes as well. Avery had gone looking for Sarah, leaving Sebastian and James alone. “We’re going to have to get into it soon, you know,” James said when no one was left to hear the rebuke. “You can’t protect us from it when the whole thing looks like it might turn on what we do!”

“I know,” Sebastian said with a deep sigh. “But … I’m glad you weren’t there! It was terrible….” After a pause, “There are many things that I’ve done that were more destructive of life, but they treated the weak, the defenseless as targets in a sick game! I could never have done that! I suppose it’s why I never got to be as powerful as they are!”

“Their power is stolen,” James insisted. “Gaining power that way, they’re parasites! Better to be weaker than them than get power that way…. You’ll still be strong after they’ve expended all the power they’ve got!”

Sebastian smiled and took James’s outstretched hand. “I hope you’re right…. Maybe I’ll let William and Chase go on a mission soon.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” James said smiling. “I’ll take good care of them,” he added.

Sebastian smiled and raised his eyebrows. “I’m sure you will….”

James poked a finger into his ribs and laughed. “Don’t push me,” he chided. “But I’m going too!”

“I know,” Sebastian responded. “I don’t have to like it….”

“No more than I do watching you go off without me?” James asked, raising his eyebrows.

Sebastian nodded and smiled.

***

“Clearly, we weren’t ready,” Resheph complained as Sammael worked carefully over Sekhmet, trying to mend her wounds. He’d put out the fire, but the damage done by the tiger was persistent.

“Clearly,” Sammael scowled. “I wasn’t prepared for them to respond so quickly! This was meant to strengthen us, not weaken us further!”

“Perhaps … we should separate for a while? Spread the destruction around?” Aethon asked, longing to have his leash loosened. Sammael’s glare was unsympathetic.

But Resheph added, “It would distract them! Divide their forces….”

“Perhaps,” Sammael allowed. After a moment’s deliberation he looked back at them. “Tomorrow. Go for two days…. Be as visible and destructive as you want, but return here by the end of the two days!”

“Where would you like us to go?” Aethon asked with an excited grin.

“Europe, Asia, anywhere you please. Just make it bloody and visible! And take Peter with you. Make him … participate!” Sammael smiled to himself. The boy had proved he was willing to kill, but could he do the work? Terrify and torture? ‘He can learn,’ Sammael thought to himself. “First thing tomorrow,” he muttered as he returned to his careful work.

***

Chase and William returned home exhausted and scared. What had happened brought them face-to-face yet again with how real the situation was. William had lost his parents, and they’d all been targeted for death, but the mutilation, torture and abuse that was beginning to unfold…. They were about to leave for the house when William grabbed Chase’s arm and pulled him into a tight hug.

“Chase, I’m sorry…. I love you!” William said.

“Sorry?” Chase asked as he melted into the welcome embrace.

“I know I was under the influence … but I should have listened to you. You shouldn’t have been on your own in standing up to them!” William said.

Chase squeezed him and shook his head. “I understand…. When I touched him, I saw what he was in my mind’s eye! It was terrible!”

“Are you okay with … everything?” William asked quietly.

“You mean the Katrina thing?” Chase asked. “No, no I’m not,” he said.

“I meant for you to talk to Sam, but it didn’t work out with the crisis situation…. When we can, you should talk to him!” William encouraged.

Chase nodded and they walked up to the house hand-in-hand.

Steve and Sarah met them before they closed the door behind them, and the boys gave them a version of what happened at the school, editing out Chase’s magick. “We were so worried about you boys,” Sarah said, putting an arm around each of them and drawing them in for a hug.

“We were fine, mom,” Chase said. “Sebastian and James were looking out for us, and Sam Roth came up….”

“Well that doesn’t mean we can’t worry,” Sarah said. “Now are you boys hungry?”

They both said no, but almost instantly changed their minds. They’d eaten very little. So Sarah started working on dinner while the boys changed into clean clothes and relaxed. They were just sitting down to dinner when the bell rang. William went to the door and peered through the peephole before opening the door for his uncle Xavier and Aiden, who was in town for a short visit with Xavier.

The men entered and Xavier pulled William into a big hug before kneeling by Chase and doing the same. “Thank God you’re alright!”

“We’re fine!” William exclaimed with a wry smile at Sarah, who shrugged and got up to grab a couple of extra plates. “We were never in any danger…. Well, no real danger!”

“The hell you weren’t! Daemon is an upper-level demon,” Xavier exclaimed impatiently. William just gave him a look and a little shake of the head to let him know they’d discuss this later, elsewhere. Sarah missed the exchange, but Steve caught it. William looked over at him, expecting him to object, but the man nodded quickly, and William understood. Steve preferred that Sarah not be stressed out, what with the babies and all.

Chase and William repeated the sanitized version of the story while they ate, but before they got to the end, the doorbell rang again. William again went to the door and let Matt, who looked relieved to see him, inside. “Thank goodness,” he said as he rushed in. “I’m glad you guys are okay! I told Carl and Edward I’d call when you got home,” he added as he walked to the phone and started dialing numbers.

Soon, Matt had dragged Chase away and they were whispering together in the living room. Meanwhile, William asked his uncles, “How’s the move coming?”

Xavier smiled. “I’ve got some crews coming in to start renovations on the new building next week. We’ll start with the gallery space and get that ready as soon as possible before moving on to the offices upstairs.”

“Where is this building?” Steve asked. William and Xavier told him about the place. Steve nodded and said, “I was thinking, now that I’ll have Dave working for me, it might do to have some offices and be a little more official.” Sarah snorted and William laughed.

“I’ll give you a good rate,” Xavier offered, “and you can design your own suite, as I’m redoing the whole building anyway….”

“Great,” Steve said, “I’ll bring Dave down one day while you’re there! We’ve got at least one full-time client with deep pockets,” he added, smirking at William.

Xavier shook his head and said, “That’s pretty much every day from here on out, so just let me know. You’ve got my cell….”

“What about you, Aiden?” William asked. “When are you going to be able to spend more time in town?”

“As soon as we’re in our new house, I’ll open a portal from my office to the basement. What with you boys traipsing all over the interdimensional spaces, I’ve got no excuse to blame it on the air commute anymore. Mom’s been giving me a hard time about leaving Xavier here so much, though she doesn’t want me so far away,” Aiden answered.

“Yeah, well, she knows your dad could conjure you up in his sleep…. And of course, I’m her favorite,” Xavier added, poking his ribs.

“It’s true,” Aiden added with a shrug. “She always wanted a little girl!”

Xavier punched his arm not-so-gently, and his cute smile showed his relation to William. Their love scuffle was interrupted by a heavy knock at the front door. “Hell,” William exclaimed as he pushed himself up one last time. He’d barely opened the door when Edward rushed in and embraced him tightly, while Carl stood by grinning.

“I told him you’d be alright,” Carl said with a shy shrug.

Bringing them inside, William asked, “Uncle Xavier, Uncle Aiden, do you remember Edward from the party? He’s the one who saved Chase?”

“Of course,” Aiden said, rising to shake the boy’s hand. Xavier gave him a big hug, making Edward blush.

“And this is Carl,” William said to all the adults. “He was also at the party. He’s on the basketball team, and he and Edward are sort of dating….”

“What are they putting in the water over there?” Steve asked, to general laughter, and everyone introduced themselves to Carl again. Then the boys all went to sit with Chase and Matt, leaving the adults to their own devices.

They found Chase and Matt talking about the magick “stuff,” and Chase was smiling. He backed up a little and told them all about how William had collected the materials for their Bond, and what had happened in the ceremony. Carl, who had never gotten a good look at the rings, grabbed William’s hand and was awed by the metal’s swirling gold and black, and the intricate detail of its design.

Carl opened up about his background a little, to everyone’s surprise, and it was easy to see even Edward look at him with new eyes. There was a lot lurking beneath his cool exterior, and he got misty remembering his grandmother, which was endearing.

At last, Matt asked, “So, Edward, are you like a druid warrior, or a samurai, or some other brand of secretly ass-kicking superman?”

“Does English count?” Edward responded with a slight blush.

“Thank God,” Matt exclaimed with a laugh. “What? I’m just glad I’m not the only puny mortal among my friends!” Everybody laughed at him and they talked a little more. Mostly Matt talked about how he was trying to make everything up to Amy. With a cheeky grin, he said, “But I’m not worried. There’s this thing I do that just drives her….”

OKAY,” Chase said, “Ew! And on that note, it is a school night!”

“Sheesh,” Matt said, shaking his head and laughing. “I am glad all you guys are gay though…. I’m the only nice straight guy left,” he concluded with a wink. “See you all tomorrow!” Edward and Carl soon followed. Then Chase and William kissed their uncles and parents goodnight and headed upstairs to get some sleep. The adults talked a while longer, before they too broke up, happy to have their boys back safe, knowing that it wouldn’t last. But they’d be happy while it did.

***

Chase and William enjoyed a normal day at school. Amy was clearly holding it over Matt and enjoying his groveling, but her wink to Maria, seen only by William, said that Matt’s punishment was soon to be over.

Amy looked at William and asked, “So are you guys going to the Valentine’s Day Dance?”

William’s eyes went wide and his mouth opened silently. After a moment, he said, “To be honest … I hadn’t … uhm…. Chase?”

Chase blushed. “Everybody knows about us, but I don’t want to cause any trouble….”

“Come on, guys!” Edward exclaimed. “If you go, maybe Carl will ask me,” he said with a cheeky grin at the big boy who held his hand in his lap.

Chase leaned over and whispered in William’s ear, “It would be nice to have some normal fun,” his breath tickling William’s ear sensually.

William shivered and smiled, and Edward said, “Yeah!” Matt just laughed and rolled his eyes good-naturedly.

Chase gave William a quick peck on the cheek, and William and Carl got up and went to get the tickets to the dance. It was still a while off, but they were committed now. “Do you think anybody’ll make a stink?” Carl asked as they walked toward the girls selling tickets.

William shrugged, but then thought better of it. “Probably.”

When they reached the table, the girls smiled and the one in the middle asked, “Are you coming to the dance?”

“Two please,” William said. The girl handed him two tickets and took his money.

“Who’s coming?” she asked with a brittle smile.

“William Jennings and Chase Abernathy,” William responded.

“So that’s two singles?” she asked.

One of her cronies looked at her and said, “No, that’s him! They’re a couple….”

The girl gave him a strange and appraising look and nodded. “What about you, Carl?”

“Two…. I’m bringing Edward Boyle!” he said with a bit of a challenging tone of voice.

“Hmmm,” she said with a frown as she marked it in the book and handed him his tickets. As they walked away they heard a malicious giggle from the table behind them. “With friends like ours,” William whispered to him as they walked back to the table, “it’s easy to forget that … there are people like them around.”

“True,” Carl said, his voice grudging. As they returned to their table, everyone watched them expectantly, as their faces were not at all happy.

“Bitches,” William explained, and Maria and Amy burst into giggles.

“Don’t worry about them,” Amy said. “You guys have a lot of friends, and all the worst bullies are terrified by William. I’m guessing not many of them would be willing to tangle with Carl either….”

“We’ll see,” William said glumly. “It still pisses me off!”

“Get used to it baby,” Chase said with a good natured laugh. “You can’t beat sense into everyone who doesn’t like it that we exist!”

William chuckled. “I sure would like to though….”

Matt, Chase and William got off the bus together that afternoon, and Matt said, “I’m gonna need something new to wear to this dance! You guys help me pick something out this weekend?”

“Sure,” Chase laughed. “Queer eye for the straight guy!”

William laughed and shook his head. “We can get matching suits too,” he added.

“It’s going to be fun, I promise,” Chase said, grabbing his arm and bouncing lightly. “I’ve never been to a dance with anyone before! Well, anyone but Matt, and we didn’t dance!”

“And why not?” William teased.

“I didn’t think it would be good for my image,” Chase replied with a grin, leaving Matt open-mouthed on the path to his own house.

***

Sebastian and James showered early and joined the others, getting back to their daily routines. Sebastian and Avery visited the site where Sammael’s command unit was being studied between James’s training sessions.

As they entered the little facility, the guards snapped to attention. “High Consul! Marshall!” The soldier barked with a salute.

“At ease,” Sebastian said, smiling and rolling his eyes so that only Avery could see. But Avery just smiled. He had been a part of the wizard-warrior structure, so he understood.

A young woman in a lab coat emerged from the unit and smiled. “Sebastian!”

He gave her a quick hug, and asked, “How are you, Meg?”

“Enjoying myself with this thing! It’s amazing!”

“I’m glad,” he laughed. “You’ve met Avery Salazar?”

“No,” she said, giving Avery a thorough looking over. “Pleasure,” she said, extending a hand. “Megan Fortier….”

“Now, what can you tell us,” Sebastian said, getting back to business.

“Well, there’s good news and bad news,” Meg replied.

“Bad news first,” he sighed.

“We can’t break the encryption yet,” she reported.

“Damn! What’s the good news?” Sebastian asked.

The woman smiled cutely. She had been a coed at Radcliffe studying science when she was turned in 1914. She had finished her studies and earned multiple advanced degrees in physics, mathematics and computer science over the years. But she would always look like a bubbly, busty, blond nineteen-year-old.

“Damn fools forgot to log out! As long as we keep the unit powered up and running, we can monitor communications on this channel,” she said with a grin.

“But?” Sebastian asked.

“There are seven alternate channels of information we don’t have access to…. But an eighth of their information is better than none. And that’s real-time intelligence! We’re decoding documents fast now, so we’re beginning to piece it together….”

“Good,” Sebastian replied, the hope returning to his voice. A moment later, he asked, “Identified any low-risk targets, like research facilities or inactive safe-houses?”

LARRY,” Megan yelled, making Sebastian laugh and shake his head.

WHAT?” came the gruff reply of an older man.

BOSS IS HERE!” Meg called.

They heard quick, heavy footfalls and a middle aged man in ridiculous clothes with a little bulge around the belly waddled into view. “Sorry about that, consuls! I thought it was just another unnecessary interruption!”

“Not at all, Larry,” Sebastian said, smiling at the man. “I was just asking, have you identified any targets so we can begin our counterstrikes?”

“A couple of heavily fortified safe houses in Europe, packed with dark mojo-slinging bastards and some mean old blood-suckers…. No offense,” Larry added, though he clearly didn’t care if there was some offense.

“None taken,” Sebastian said with a laugh. He liked the old fool. “And excellent, get me the coordinates as soon as possible! Any low risk targets?”

“There’s a boat in the Atlantic they’re using for something,” Larry said.

“Too tricky for what I have in mind,” Sebastian said, shaking his head.

“Well,” Larry said, “there’s a communications center in Canada, somewhere in the fucking permafrost. Doesn’t seem very well defended but it could be important…. Disrupt their com and maybe give us some clues about decrypting their channels!”

“Perfect,” Sebastian said. “Get some of your best people on pinpointing its location, and begin feeding me locations of potential targets. It’s time to make some dark mojo slingers and mean old bloodsuckers bleed!” Larry laughed and nodded, waddling off.

“What’s the deal with him?” Avery asked when he was out of sight.

Megan’s smile faded. “Human…. Used to work for the NSA. Little boy was killed by something dark and scary. Sebastian’s organization helped kill it, and he wanted on board, so I agreed to train him up for our needs. Good man, but he’s got an axe to grind with the darkness, so he’s loving this!”

Sebastian laughed darkly and nodded. “It’s time for the bad guys to learn that there are consequences….”

Shortly after Avery and Sebastian returned to the manor, they got an alert and logged on to the shadow network. Americ had posted an alert of violence in Prague. He’d posted a screen shot of two figures leaving a popular youth hostel. It was Aethon, with a mad grin on his face, with his arm slung protectively across the shoulder of a sick-looking Peter, whose face was, nonetheless, smeared with blood.

Sebastian closed his eyes and exhaled, cursing. Avery hailed Americ, asking, “What’s happened?”

“The youth hostel?” Americ asked.

“Yeah,” Avery said.

EVERYONE!” Americ replied.

“What?” Sebastian asked.

“They struck before dawn…. Everyone was in for the curfew. Every single resident who made it home was killed, along with every employee on duty. Right now it looks like Peter did four, Aethon did … dozens,” Americ reported.

“How can you tell?” Sebastian said, getting a sick feeling.

Americ sighed, “Because Aethon makes a mess, or leaves his victims looking like they died of starvation. Peter strictly drains them, or kills them quick and clean….”

“Small fucking mercies,” Avery barked. He remembered the handsome boy and shook his head. The boy was gone.

“Get people on the streets there and in nearby places. We need to know where they strike next, and be ready!”

About that time, a young Indian man, Governor Prabhu, hailed them. “Consuls,” he said, exhaling heavily, “We have an attack in progress in Delhi, sirs!”

“Exact location?” Sebastian asked, grabbing a cloak and wand, as well as some weapons, as the man answered.

“Outside the main entrance of the Lotus Temple, sir!”

“Very well, Governor Prabhu! Contact other consuls, as well as General Roth, directly and let them know where we are going! I’m taking my personal retainer, as well as Avery Salazar, into the field immediately.”

“Thank you, sir!” Governor Prabhu replied. Avery had already summoned Sebastian’s men and opened the portal. Sebastian led them through.

Immediately, the stench of blood and death filled his nostrils, but something else, too, and Sebastian pushed back against the door to close it, preventing the wizards from coming through. Taking cover, he called Avery’s cell. “Tell the men, full hazard gear! There is a biological agent…. It’s Resheph!”

“Plague,” Avery muttered and passed word. “Take care while I put a notice out!”

“Sure thing,” Sebastian muttered quietly and pushed the phone back into his pocket. Screams announced that Resheph had moved into the Temple complex. Looking at his watch cursing, Sebastian rushed ahead, passing huddled groups and following the scent of fear. ‘Poor bastards,’ he thought to himself, ‘they probably think they’ve been spared!’

Long before Abraham’s birth, Resheph had been feared and revered as a god. Sebastian had no idea how old the monster was, but he knew that by the time Resheph turned him he was powerful enough to conjure and control diseases. Local populations served him faithfully, lest ultimate destruction befall their whole communities. In a city like Delhi, Resheph could wreak the kind of havoc he never could have dreamed of in Mesopotamia.

“Resheph,” Sebastian called loudly when he got closer.

“Sebastian! You move quick, my pet,” the vampire replied with both rage and desire.

“Not anymore,” Sebastian spat in disgust.

Resheph laughed a hearty and familiar laugh. “Oh the things I used to do to you! The things you used to beg me to do to you! I enjoyed you longer and more thoroughly than any monster I ever made or met….”

“I am not a monster,” Sebastian cried, closing in on Resheph’s position, taking little heed about how out-classed he was.

“Tell that to the male temple prostitutes in Jerusalem,” Resheph laughed. “Or perhaps we should inquire about your memory amongst the Romanians?”

“I was misled by a master,” Sebastian replied, turning the corner and coming face-to-face with his one-time lover.

“I’d forgotten how beautiful you were,” Resheph sneered. “Being dismembered will do that to you!”

“I kept you contained for centuries…. Were it not for Sammael, it would have been forever!” Sebastian barked.

“Evil is strong,” Resheph answered, “and determined! You should have destroyed me completely, when the technology became available…. Why didn’t you?”

The question was legitimate. Why hadn’t he? Why hadn’t he at least put a small piece on a rocket to the sun, or at a nuclear test site? “I don’t know….”

“Perhaps,” Resheph smiled, taking a step forward, “you wanted to be able to put me back together if the situation called for it? Or perhaps there was still a little of that old affection…. Tell me do you still cry out my name in the dark?”

“I rarely sleep anymore,” Sebastian answered coldly, “and when I do, I never think of you….”

“Ah, yes, James! Handsome specimen…. I could teach him so many things,” Resheph grinned.

“Don’t you ever so much as say his name to me again, or I will destroy you!” Sebastian’s anger seethed as his eyes narrowed.

“Ferocious, like a little dog in a handbag! I ate one a few moments ago, just to watch its master cry…. I don’t fear you, pup! And if you could destroy me you wouldn’t be standing there!” With a swift move, Resheph threw a flaming ball of energy at Sebastian.

With intense concentration, Sebastian caught it between his hands and poured his hatred into it, swelling it to the size of a basketball and chanting a little spell before throwing it back. Resheph was surprised when he caught it and taken aback by what he did with it. But he wasn’t suspecting that when Sebastian launched it at him and he dodged it, the ball would change course and strike him hard in the back, knocking him on his face.

“Don’t mistake me, Resheph,” Sebastian hissed. “I may not get you today, but I’m much more powerful than the last time we met and that didn’t go well for you. You were always good with the big punch, but I’ve learned finesse!”

From beneath the floor, vines erupted and wrapped themselves around the ancient vampire’s arms and legs. At first he broke them as he writhed, but they grew stronger and tighter until he was almost contained. But at just the wrong moment, a bolt of lightning rushed down at Sebastian from a nearby warlock and caused him to jump. His concentration broken, the restraints failed.

Sebastian lashed out in fury at the warlock with a killing blow, before facing off again with Resheph. “You have grown,” the ancient smirked. “I underestimated you!”

“In that case,” Sebastian laughed, “you’re really going to love him!”

Resheph laughed as if Sebastian’s attempt to distract him failed, until he felt his feet leave the ground. Turning his head, he saw Avery standing, his arms outstretched, ropes of energy pulsing from his palms and wrapping around Resheph, squeezing tighter and tighter.

Suddenly, the humans’ screaming renewed, and Sebastian looked back and forth between the direction of the cries and Avery. “GO!” Avery cried, straining from the effort. With one last look, Sebastian ran off to save the civilians from the dark forces attacking them. Slowly, Resheph pushed back against Avery and began to free himself.

“You are strong wizard! Killing you is not a waste of my talent,” Resheph laughed.

Avery laughed and raised a hand, murmuring, “Be silent, beast!” Suddenly Resheph fell silent, unable to speak, or vocalize noise. “All this silly banter. You’d think you were a television super-villain, when, in reality you are just a relic of a bygone age, an old vamp with a little skill in weird magicks!” The air around Avery crackled and the light dimmed as he paused for effect. “The age of man has come, and I am the most dangerous man on earth!” Black fire shot out of his hands toward the vampire, crashing into him with a roar of power in a billion angry, destructive impacts. Resheph’s voice returned, and he roared in pain and rage. The clothing and skin was ripped from his chest, leaving the bone and flesh of his ribs bare.

Resheph fought against his desire to retaliate, instead throwing a energy ball at Avery and running as Avery avoided it. Before Avery could focus on him, he had opened a portal and disappeared. So Avery ran off to assist Sebastian in finishing off the warlocks and vampires.

***

Changing out of his school uniform, William was ready to go meet James and Avery when Chase grabbed his arm. “Television,” he said, gasping. “Turn on the news!”

William turned the television on to find a CNN correspondent was reporting, “We have reports of a terrorist attack in progress in Delhi, Tom! Scenes of carnage are visible all around the Lotus Temple complex…. We’re still hearing small explosions from inside, and it seems that the terrorists are under counter-attack, though New Delhi will not confirm that government forces have been dispatched. At this moment all we can tell you is that hundreds are dead or injured outside the complex….”

Tom, the anchor, asked, “Is there any chance that this attack is related to events that occurred overnight in Europe?”

“We just don’t know, Tom! Czech officials are remaining tight-lipped about the cause of death at the youth hostel…. If it turns out to be terror related, we’ll have to reevaluate.”

William turned the television off and called up Sebastian’s manor, and a harried James answered the phone. “James? It’s William…. I just saw the news!”

The young vampire responded, “They hit a Prague youth hostel overnight…. Avery and Sebastian have gone off to fight Resheph in Delhi…. I just … it’s so infuriating!”

“What can we do?” William asked.

“Nothing, now,” James said, exasperated. “But Sebastian promised that you and I could get involved soon!”

“Hmph,” William said. “You don’t need us to come there?”

“No, but thanks…. I’ll let you know if there’s any news,” James replied.

“Call us when they get back! Thanks,” William said, hanging up. He filled Chase in on what he knew. “I’m going down to my lab to work out,” he said tensely.

“Are you okay?” Chase asked.

“I just feel so … helpless!” William replied.

“If Avery and Sebastian can’t handle it, I just wonder what we can do?” Chase responded.

“We won’t know ‘til we try! And it won’t do anyone any good if the world goes to hell while we wait! We’ll still be just as dead!” William vented.

William walked out with a heavy stomp and went out to his inner sanctum, where he lifted weights hard and fast, burning off steam and anxiety, and making his muscles scream. After about an hour, he walked to the center of the room and crossed his legs, settling himself onto the floor. He cast a circle around himself and tried to center his mind. He thought back to Sam’s advice to him that Sabbath evening service, and tried to capture the power and peace of the Sabbath. It wasn’t the day, but if he could just touch it with his mind.

He knew from experience not to try to relax. He just let his mind flow. Any thought that came to him, he didn’t dwell on it but let it slip away. Shortly, he felt himself like a sponge floating in a wide open sea. Spiritually, his worries again began to wash away. Though the “waters” weren’t as pure as they had been and the effect wasn’t as clarifying, he could again feel the energies all around him. Those he was seeking were the faintest, but some of the most powerful.

He allowed himself to rise to the mental surface of the great ocean, and projected his voice, “Mom? Dad?”

Those indistinct energies which surround his world began to coalesce into forms and gradually, and through a terrible expense of energy, they took the familiar shape and form of Alexander and Leah, his parents. His mother smiled at him sadly and knelt by him. “You shouldn’t do this baby,” she whispered. “It’s very draining on you!”

William’s heart felt like it was breaking as he burst into tears and felt the familiar, but ephemeral arms embrace him. “We’re proud of you, son,” Alex said, ruffling the boy’s hair.

“Chase makes me so happy, and his parents and Uncle Xavier have been so good…. But I miss you! I don’t know if I can do this!” William cried.

Alex knelt by his son and took his other hand. “Son, you’ve already changed the world in ways you can’t imagine. You know, every Bond unleashes a power that pierces through the cosmos and ripples through every reality. If you had not forged your bond with Chase, he would never have come into his full power, and without Chase, not only this world, but all worlds were in danger!” Alex looked at Leah and smiled softly. “You don’t know this, but I once tried to assemble the materials for a Bond, too! I loved your mother more than my own life, but I wasn’t strong enough to pass through the fire….” Alex kissed the boy’s head and stood, holding a hand out to his wife, who also kissed William before standing.

Before they dissipated, permeating the atmosphere again, she said, “Lean on Chase. He is strong enough! Rely on your friends. Trust yourself….” And then they were gone, and William knelt on the carpets blanketing the floor of his work space, tears in his eyes.

William wiped his eyes and started as he saw a shadow in the corner of his eye and turned to face a dark figure. “Gideon,” he said with a sob. The angel walked to his side and sat down, something William had never seen him do.

“I am so sorry, William! It isn’t fair, it really isn’t, but it’s yours to carry,” Gideon said.

“I’ve got Chase,” the boy said firmly.

“That’s something,” Gideon said, “and no small something! To be around him! I’m older than the world, and he almost makes me wish I was human….”

William smiled up at him and nodded. “But it is hard….”

“It will be so much harder! I wish I could take it away but it is not in my power,” Gideon sighed.

“I’m scared,” William said.

“You’d be stupid not to be! But listen to your mother! You can lean on Chase, and he will lean on you…. Chase is … what you’ve seen so far, what you’ve seen him do, is like a drop of water in an infinite ocean compared to what he is capable of, William. He’ll need you to rise to that, and you’ll need him to do your part. Just, have faith…. In yourself. In Chase. In God.” And Gideon was gone, like that, leaving William teary, and shaking his head in laughter.

“Angels,” he muttered to himself, lifting himself to his feet, his muscles quite fatigued. Dragging himself up to the house, he found Chase and Sam talking quietly in the living room.

“Are you alright?” Sam asked, voice full of concern when he saw William.

“I just … lifted too hard,” he said, and Sam frowned but said nothing of the tears.

“Go take a cold shower,” Chase suggested. “It’ll help your muscles. And you stink!”

William laughed and did as he was told, leaving Sam and Chase talking about what had happened in the library.

“I’m just having a hard time coming to terms with it,” Chase said. “Black magick is destructive and fueled by destruction of life! How is what I did any different?”

“You didn’t destroy a life, you destroyed a demon!” Sam exclaimed.

“Yeah, I destroyed a creature of God! I undid a portion of the creation! I unmade it Sam!” Chase exclaimed.

“Chase,” the old man said with a gentle voice, putting a hand on his shoulder, “you have been taught a great and mighty secret. No other human before you possessed Raziel’s final secret. And I think I know why it’s you!”

“Why?” Chase asked, sounding miserable.

“Because you hate it! You alone! Chase, most men, even good men, wouldn’t think twice about ‘fixing’ God’s world by eliminating what they view as evil and good for nothing. Even the best of men would destroy hell without batting an eye. But you look at a demon who must be destroyed to save the whole world of beauty and life, and you cry tears of pain over destroying a destroyer of men. Chase … you’re so amazingly good hearted, it’s almost painful to think!”

“Oh Sam!” he exclaimed, bursting into tears. “It’s such a burden….”

“And you alone, in all of creation, in all of time, are prepared to carry it. I’m sorry for that. But I feel better knowing it’s you. I’m sorry!” Chase hugged Sam, who returned it with feeling.

After a moment, Chase sat back and asked with a whisper, “Sam, one day, will you marry William and me?”

Sam smiled brightly and laughed, drawing the boy in again. “Nothing would please me more, my boy, nothing would please me more…. Normally, I can’t perform intermarriage, but in this case….”

Chase leaned back and looked at him seriously. “It won’t be intermarriage…. I’ll convert.”

“Chase, you can’t do that for William, only for yourself,” Sam said.

Chase looked down at his ring and held it out to Sam. Sam had seen it before, but again it transfixed him. “Would this ring be designed for anything but a Jew?”

Sam sat quiet for a minute and exhaled. “No, I suppose not….”

“It knows what I am; it knows where my heart is,” the boy whispered, and Sam nodded. “You’ll teach me?”

“Yes,” the man responded. “We’ll study while William and James train with Avery, except when they need us.”

“Thank you, Sam!” Chase said.

The man nodded and rose. “I’ll see you both Friday night, then,” he said with a laugh. “I should get back. Tell William I said goodbye and that I love you boys….”

“We love you too, Sam,” William said from the stairs, in a pair of sweatpants drying his hair with a towel.

“Bye,” the man waved on his way to the door.

William settled into the couch next to Chase, who tickled his shirtless stomach playfully. “Did you two have a good talk?” William asked.

“Yep,” the boy said with a smile as he cuddled into William. “And we’re going to study some together while you guys play in the training room….”

“Oh, cool,” William said, running his fingers through Chase’s golden hair.

William and Chase called Xavier to report some of the stuff they didn’t want Sarah and Steve to worry over. Xavier surprised them by saying, “I know…. I talked to Sebastian last night.”

“Sebastian?” William asked, surprised.

“I know, I know! I’ve been silly, and it’s not been fair. I’m working on it! I’m back with the Council, part time at least, but I’m working under Christen Wheeler’s authority,” Xavier explained.

“I guess you’re not making quick progress,” William noted dryly.

“You’re my nephew,” Xavier snapped with humor, “you should know we are a passionate people! We love hard and we hold on to things too much….”

“Too right,” Chase laughed at them both. “Ooh, I’m making William take me to the Valentine’s Dance, Uncle X! Carl’s taking Edward too!”

“I hope you boys can have a good time,” the man chuckled. “You deserve it….”

“How are things at the house?” Chase asked.

“A mess! What would you think of getting your friends together and helping me arrange the furniture on Saturday?” Xavier asked. “Tell them there’s some dough in it for them!”

Chase laughed. “Sounds good, but it’ll have to be afternoon…. Saturday morning,” he added, thinking about Shabbat services.

“I know, I know,” Xavier said, biting his tongue. “Around 2?”

“Sounds like a plan,” William responded.

When they hung up, Chase lay down on William’s lap and listened to the news, quickly dozing off. Sarah got home a few minutes later and called out to William but he put his finger to his lips and she walked over to see her son sleeping.

“Everything alright?” she asked.

“Just relaxing…. I pushed my work-out a little too hard today, and Chase is all worked up over the Valentine’s Dance, so,” William shrugged.

“Oh, so you’re going?” she asked with a strange tone.

“Yeah, why?” William asked.

“I got a call from school today asking me to come by tomorrow. Very cryptic, but I’m guessing,” she said, trailing off.

“Someone doesn’t want us there,” William finished. “Bitches!”

“William!” Sarah chided.

“I’m sorry, Sarah, but those girls who sold us the tickets…. I bet they called their parents!” William muttered under his voice. “Chase is going to be so disappointed….”

“What are you talking about?” Sarah said. “You don’t think we’re just going to take that?”

“Private school is a business. I don’t see how there’s a lot we can do about it if they make a big stink of it,” William said.

“We’ll figure something out! Don’t you worry about it,” Sarah said, patting him softly on the head.

But as William looked down at Chase sleeping in his lap, the knowledge of what would happen the next day was heartbreaking. William vowed in advance to make it up to him. A deep anger swirled in his belly, mixed with … something sad. William brushed the hair from Chase’s face and for some reason he chuckled. For a moment it crossed his mind that the peaceful face was angelic. But he had seen angels. Chase wasn’t angelic; angels didn’t hold a candle to the boy in his lap.

Sarah gave him a half-hour warning and William woke Chase with a kiss. “Sweetie, dinner’s almost ready….”

Chase put a hand on William’s chest and smiled, “As much as I like you like this, you should run up and put a shirt on for dinner, babe!”

William slid off the couch, running upstairs to fetch a shirt. Over dinner, Sarah explained things to Chase, who shrugged it off, saying, “Whatever…. It’s no big deal.” Only the slight fall in tone of voice and the brittle smile gave away his disappointment. And William hated it.

That night in bed, William curled up to his back and stroked his chest from behind. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Chase said, softly. “They aren’t going to let us go, are they?”

“I don’t think so,” William sighed, running his hand down the boy’s flat belly, tickling the soft blond fuzz on his lower abdomen

Chase shivered and moaned softly, melting back into William. “You’re distracting me!”

William laughed. “There’s nothing we can do about tomorrow, but wait and see! We don’t have to mope!”

Chase giggled. “I was enjoying moping!”

“You’re enjoying this more,” William whispered, nibbling his ear.

“Oh, yeah,” Chase giggled, rolling over and wrapping his arms around William. “Why don’t you roll over and let me give you a massage? You had a hard workout today….” William smiled and did as he was told.

***

Sebastian and his men were exhausted physically and psychically. Both Sebastian and Avery had expended tremendous energy in the process of beating back Resheph; between the two of them, they had nearly finished him twice. They’d taken out ten warlocks and as many vampires, but thousands of people were infected, and dozens were already dead. Upon their return, they learned that Aethon had struck again, this time in a village near Prague, quite publically. The news of the village’s demise was running on CNN, with some grainy video of what looked like people ripping into the villagers with tooth and claw. The fear would spread worldwide: secrets things were spilling into the open, and that was good for no one. No one but Sammael.

There was little more to be done, however, for the day, as Avery and Sebastian were spent. Indeed, James had to help Sebastian upstairs to bed and see to his feeding personally. As they lay sweaty in bed—the feeding had prompted a bit more vigorous activity—Sebastian lay his head on James’s chest and explained that he would let James lead a group, including William and Chase, to capture the communications outpost as soon as its exact location was pinpointed.

“It’ll be fine,” James said, running a hand down Sebastian’s back, making him shiver. “We’ve got to get in the mess if we’re gonna finish this thing,” he added.

“I’d hoped I could protect you all! You’re all so … good! This kind of war can change a person,” Sebastian warned.

James stared deep into Sebastian’s eyes, his cheeks dimpling at the corner of his smile. “It won’t change us…. Not for the worse anyway!”

“How can you be sure?” Sebastian asked.

“Because we are all in love! It may not be everything, but it’ll keep us grounded,” James said.

“Unless,” Sebastian began, but James put a finger on his lips.

“Don’t,” James cautioned, slipping a hand from Sebastian’s waist to his ass, drawing his body flush to his own. “Not now….” James replaced the finger with his own lips.

***

“Sebastian did this?” Sammael asked, dismayed.

“No,” Resheph said, with a painful exhale. “Salazar did the worst of it, but … Sebastian could have killed me by himself if that warlock hadn’t distracted him! Last time he had an army of hundreds and barely succeeded!”

“I warned you,” Sammael said as he continued to work on Resheph’s wounds. Then he called for a few young sacrifices to fuel the vampire’s recovery. It wouldn’t be fast if the black fire was what he thought it was.

“What now?” Resheph asked.

“Aethon is successfully spreading terror, and your action was quite grandiose, if ultimately thwarted. I’m about ready to send the council a message,” Sammael said.

“Sounds bloody,” Resheph said through gritted teeth.

“It’s not that kind of message,” Sammael said with a cryptic smile. “But it might destroy the Council!”