25 A Last Protest

David was frantic inside, but outside he wore a mask. Shock overcame him, and he drifted through the day with a pit of horror in his stomach. Over lunch, Catherine put a hand on his thigh beneath the table and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I … I’m not feeling well,” he lied. “Must be coming down with something!”

OH NO!” the girl cried, wrapping an arm around his muscular shoulder. “I hope you don’t miss the dance!”

“Nah,” he said, swallowing a deep sigh. “It’ll pass!”

“I hope so,” she said. “Your costume is really sexy!”

He smiled weakly and said, “Yours too.”

“I was thinking maybe after the dance we could … get up to some trouble?” she said, smiling suggestively. When David barely responded, Catherine got pissy and said, “I thought you might like that idea! I guess it runs in the family!”

“You know what?” David growled. “Fuck off!”

“David, I’m sorry,” Catherine begged as David got up and stormed off.

Over his shoulder, David said, “I think we need to take a break!” No sooner than he reached the door, however, did his phone buzz in his pocket.

‘Don’t make a scene,’ he read on the screen. David looked around and saw no one. Then the phone buzzed again and he read, ‘Library, five minutes.’

David stood still before walking into the men’s room and splashing water on his face. ‘What am I doing?’ he screamed inside. He punched the wall and began to cry softly. Time slipped away though, so he washed his face, dried his eyes, and headed for the library.

He didn’t know what he expected to find there, but it wasn’t an iPad connected to the wireless internet. The video was live and the man was waiting for him. “Hello, David,” he said in his cool, smooth voice. “You are looking every bit as lovely as when last we met!”

“You!” David whispered frantically.

“Me,” the man smiled, pleased. “You haven’t forgotten!”

“Forgotten!?” David demanded, raising his voice.

“Quiet, quiet! Think of young Sebastien!” The man smiled and continued, “He’s so beautiful. More feminine than I like. You know I prefer masculine, muscular boys, but I’ll enjoy hurting him!”

DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH HIM,” David growled.

“I’ll tell you what, David,” the man said, smiling, “I’ll give you the boy to do with as you will, but you must do something for me. You do … want the boy, do you not?”

David sneered at what the man was implying, but he knew he had to get Sebastien back, knew it with a sickening certainty. “I just want him back….”

“You want him, David, don’t you?” the man asked with a disturbing smile.

“You’re disgusting, you bastard!” David said, eyes watering.

“Oh, call me Lincoln,” the man grinned like death. “And don’t be silly! I’ve seen you watch him! You say you want his sister but I know! He watches you, too, David!”

“What do you want?” David snapped.

“I want you to tell me you want him, David!” Lincoln Pryce demanded.

I WANT MY FRIEND BACK!” David answered stubbornly. Lincoln nodded off camera and soon David heard a high-pitched boy’s scream. “For God’s sake, stop! Yes I want him!”

“That wasn’t so hard was it?” Pryce asked with a smile. “What do you want to do with him?”

“I … I,” David stammered. Lincoln began to motion again, and David hurriedly said, “I want to kiss him, hold him in my arms!”

“You don’t want to tie him up a little, watch the rope burn that soft, creamy flesh?” Lincoln prodded. “I know there’s a little of me inside you now,” he smiled.

“You disgust me,” David yelled, thankful there wasn’t anyone in the vicinity.

“Very well,” Lincoln smiled. “I want the book.”

“What book?” David asked.

“Your guardian has an ancient tome, the Azazel Codex. That is my price,” Lincoln said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” David lied. He’d heard furtive mention of the book and knew it meant dark magic. “And I wouldn’t know how to find it if I did!”

“You have no idea where Tom would hide a book?” Pryce, an experienced interrogator, asked, and he saw the look of awareness on David’s face. “See, I think you might just have an idea of where to look!”

David was caught, and he knew it. “They’re keeping it from you for a reason. I can’t just….”

“David, you have a choice. Let them keep the book and delay my plans, or give me the book, in which case Tom still can try to stop me! But if you don’t give me the book, I will do so much more to Sebastien than I did to you: I’ll do it to him every day until he dies!”

NO!” David said, starting to cry. In the background, he heard a muffled scream, and David begged. “Stop! Stop! Just don’t hurt him, please!”

“That is in your hands, David,” Pryce smiled, spreading his hands.

“What does it look like?” David asked.

Pryce’s smile widened but he said, “You really don’t know? This does pose some difficulties! It looks ancient.”

“Most of them do!” David complained.

“This one will look thousands of years old. It may not look like much of a book at all. And you won’t be able to open it,” Lincoln added.

“The house is huge! It’ll take me forever,” David said.

“You have until tomorrow night,” Lincoln said.

IMPOSSIBLE!” David whined.

“Use magic if you have to. Just find it!” Lincoln said with a sinister smile, adding, “And remember, don’t tell anyone!”

David felt like he was outside his body as the screen went blank His mind was completely still from shock and terror, and he just kept saying to himself, “Use magic if you have to?”

Tom and Aiden lay in bed talking, until Tom said, “I should go! Things are getting bad.”

“I’m going with you,” Aiden said.

“You aren’t well enough,” Tom said. “You’re better off here!”

“Tom, we’re safer all together!” Seeing Tom stiffen up and prepare an argument, Aiden said, “Tom, I’m afraid! I want us to be together, in case….” Tom hugged Aiden, who put his hand on Tom’s neck and squeezed. “I’m sorry Tom,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean….”

“Aiden, I think we’re going to lose,” Tom whispered through his tears. “The world is going to burn because I can’t stop it….”

“Tom, it’s too much for one man. It isn’t fair for this to get put on you,” Aiden said.

“The world isn’t fair,” Tom whispered. “There’s no justice! The whole thing got put on the shoulders of one weak, insignificant man! I can’t stop it!”

“But you can make them hurt,” Aiden said. “Now help me get my shit. We’re leaving!”

Tom laughed bitterly. “Okay!” Tom picked up little things around the room and put them in a bag. He was helping Aiden into his clothes when a nurse popped in and asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m checking out,” Aiden said.

“That’s not possible!” the woman said, “You’re not well!”

“I’m signing myself out on my own recognizance,” Aiden said. “You can’t keep me against my will.”

“Let me get your doctor,” the woman said, annoyed.

The men waited for the graying but handsome gentlemen to return, wearing a concerned and scolding look – the look of an unhappy father. “I really must advise against this, gentlemen,” he said, knowing his pleas would fall on deaf ears. He’d dealt with stubborn men before. But it was his duty to say it.

Tom stood by Aiden, who sat impatiently as the doctor explained the dangers of leaving the hospital. When the doctor fell silent, Aiden smiled and said, “Where do I sign, doc?”

The man grabbed a clip board from outside the door, stuck a new page to the outside, and directed Aiden to sign. “If your wounds have trouble healing, or you have recurring pain that isn’t controlled by the medication, come back in immediately. No need to die of pride,” the doctor chided. He couldn’t understand that it wasn’t pride, but fear, that drove the courageous young man to leave the hospital too soon.

David shunned Catherine completely for the rest of school, ignoring her apologies. He had more important things to worry about than the girl’s guilt. She’d hurt his feelings, yes, but in the aftermath of his conversation with ‘the man’, Lincoln Pryce, David had to wonder: was he hurt because she’d hit him in a soft spot, or because she was right? Did he really want Sebastien, as the man had suggested? And, on a darker note, was something of Pryce inside him, a disease eating away at his mind?

He had years of therapy to worry through that, though. Right now he had to figure out how to save that soft, sweet, and, yes, beautiful boy from the monstrous man. David’s mind conjured the thin, pale face, and he smiled thinking of the boy’s glasses slipping down his nose as he grinned. It made David want to … think about something else.

When David arrived back at the house, releasing the team shadowing him to perimeter duty, he ran inside and up to the library. Casually, he browsed the entire library. Nothing. Of course there was nothing – Tom wouldn’t leave a demonic grimoire on a shelf.

“Hey, David,” Cho said, a smile in his voice, passing by the library.

“Hey,” David called. “Any news?”

“Tom’s bringing Aiden home!” Cho called. “They’ll be here in an hour!”

“Great!” David said, before quietly muttering, “Shit!” He didn’t need Tom in the house. ‘You should tell Tom,’ David’s conscience whispered. But Tom wouldn’t trade the book for Sebastien. And David needed to get Sebastien back.

Shortly, the phone rang, and Misha answered. “Hello?”

“Hi, this is Peggy Peabody!”

“I’m Misha,” the young man replied. “I’m a friend of Tom’s! What can I do for you?”

“Well my daughter came home in a tizzy, and Sebastien didn’t get home this evening…. I was wondering if he’s with David?” Peggy asked.

“Let me check,” Misha said. He found David poking around the living room and asked, “Is Sebastien here? His mom’s calling….”

“Yeah,” David said. “He’s just reading. Can he spend the night?”

Before Misha could convey the message, Peggy, having heard the conversation, approved. “Just tell him to be good!”

Misha put down the phone and asked David, “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, why?” the cute, muscular teen asked, looking annoyed.

“Well, you’re being a little gruff,” Misha smiled, “and Catherine went home upset….”

“I broke up with her,” David said, barely registering as he looked around.

“What’s distracting you?” Misha asked, concerned at David’s lack of emotion.

“I lost an assignment for school,” David said. “If I don’t find it, I’m screwed!” Misha didn’t look convinced, so David walked over to him and gave him a hug, feigning tears. “Can’t you help me?” David felt Misha harden against him. ‘Like magic,’ he thought to himself.

Misha said a little incantation and soon returned holding one of David’s school papers in his hand. “WOW!” David gushed, being as touchy feely with Misha as he could. “HOW DO YOU DO THAT?”

“Tom would kill me if I taught you any magic,” Misha blushed, smiling and sitting on the couch. David slid in close and said, “He’s shown me things,” elaborating on the afternoon with Tom in the park, making it sound more extensive than it was. The young Russian began to spill his secrets as soon as David laid his head on his chest.

Sebastien sat in the corner far from the door. The former police chief turned cult leader, Lincoln Pryce, had him imprisoned in a nearly empty room after the call to David. True to his word, the man had not harmed him since that conversation, but what Lincoln had said, and the way he looked at Sebastien, chilled the boy to his core.

The way Lincoln had talked to David scared Sebastien as well: Sebastien knew David was harboring terrible pain, and this man was a big part in that. Lincoln had made David say he wanted Sebastien, to hold him and kiss him, and Sebastien hated himself for being a little pleased. While he’d always found Peter extraordinarily beautiful, Sebastien had come to long for David’s embrace more than anything in his daily life, and David had been so free with his affection. David happily fed Sebastien’s deepest-seated needs, and Sebastien would feel lost without him. He hoped to God that forced confession wouldn’t take David away from him when they reunited.

In the dark room, Sebastien sat and rocked, hoping the door wouldn’t open until David got him out. And he knew David would get him out.

Once Aiden was settled in his and Tom’s bed, being tended by his mother, Tom went looking for David. He was nowhere to be seen. “Misha,” Tom asked the man, who was sitting in the library, “have you seen David?”

“Why ask me?” Misha demanded defensively. “I’m staying away, like you said!”

“I didn’t mean anything by it, Misha,” Tom said. “It’s just … I can’t find him.”

“I’m sure he and Sebastien are around here somewhere,” Misha said.

“Sebastien shouldn’t be here,” Tom said. “It isn’t safe for him….”

“Like I said, I’m sure they’re around here somewhere,” Misha reiterated.

Tom picked up the phone and called David’s security detail. “What time did David and Sebastien arrive this afternoon?”

The young wizard from Alasdair’s coven answered, “David arrived alone, sir.”

Tom hung up the phone and called Shirit. “Have you seen Sebastien or David?”

“No,” she replied. “We were told the boy was with David.”

“God damn it,” Tom said. “I need to talk to Alasdair….”

Tom slammed the phone down and called the man. “Alasdair, check Sebastien’s class attendance today!”

“Tom, what’s this…?” Alasdair began.

“Just do it,” Tom demanded.

Tom heard the man gasp: “He disappeared mid-day, Tom…”

“Get the security tapes. I need to know what happened!” Tom said. “I’m gonna start searching for David….”

“He’s missing too?” Alasdair asked.

“Yeah,” Tom barely muttered. “Call me with anything….”

“I will,” Alasdair said, getting off the phone to get to work.

Tom turned to Misha and said, “Gather everyone! David and Sebastien are missing.”

Misha’s face fell instantly and his heart seized up. “Was Sebastien ever here?”

“No,” Tom said. “Why did you think he was?”

“David…. Sebastien’s mom called and David told me he was here. He was looking for something frantically, Tom,” Misha said, a feeling of dread passing over him like a storm.

“What did you do, Misha?” Tom asked softly, his eyes closing.

“I helped him find his paper,” Misha said. “With a locating spell….”

Sebastien missing, David missing, a furtive search. Tom walked over to the shelf and stood on the step to access his magically cloaked collection. When it came into view, Tom’s chest collapsed. “Misha,” Tom sighed. “Get the others, including Alasdair and his people. We need to find David NOW!”

“What did I do, Tom?” Misha asked, not wanting to hear his fear confirmed but needing to hear it all at once.

“David’s brighter than anyone gives him credit for, Misha,” Tom said, reality sinking in slowly as he sank to the floor. He sat and let his nerves settle for a moment. “He watched you and learned the spell.” Misha didn’t offer that he’d taught the boy everything. “He took the Codex to trade for Sebastien!” Tom had tears in his eyes as he wondered, “Why didn’t he come to me?”

“He was afraid you wouldn’t trade the book,” Judah said from the door, having arrived in time to hear the worst. “And he’d trade the world for Sebastien, you know that!”

“Trouble is, Judah, he did trade the world for him,” Tom said.

“No, Tom,” Judah said. “We just have to win.”

Tom snorted bitterly before rising. “Bring everyone here. Now!”

David had no idea how to find Pryce, but he snuck out the back yard, scaling the fence and running across to the nearest street. He had barely made it four blocks before a big car pulled up. “David, get in the car.”

David didn’t recognize the man, but knew he was working for Pryce by his cold and calculating professionalism. David had tasted his efficiency firsthand. The man had beaten him mechanically, like a robot playing violin. Even the rapes were conducted as if by a coolly distant intelligence observing what David might do when violated. The only humanity David had ever felt from the man was at a moment of unavoidable weakness: when Pryce shot deep inside him, David had always felt the unbridled hatred in the man’s fists.

“Not until you let Sebastien go,” David said.

The man didn’t even look at him. He merely let his arm hang out the window nonchalantly, holding a cocked pistol. “I could just take it,” the man said coldly.

David got in the empty back seat. The man drove for about thirty minutes to get the boy all turned around. At last the car pulled up in front of a dilapidated old house and the man said, simply, “Get out.”

David did as he was told and the car drove away before the house door opened. Pryce stepped out, his hand on Sebastien’s shoulder, smiling. “David! To think you doubted yourself!” he called with a laugh. “I for one NEVER doubted you!”

“Let him go!” David growled angrily.

“In good time,” Lincoln said, not caring that gloating to a teenage boy was beneath petty.

NOW!” David snarled. “NOW!”

“My, my,” Pryce snickered. “Aren’t we the eager beaver? Will you make him whimper like I did you? When it hurts him, your cock will jump and you won’t think of anything but me!” And then Pryce released the boy.

Sebastien looked at him in fear and took a few tentative steps forward. When it was clear the man wasn’t going to stop him, Sebastien ran to David and threw his arms around the boy, hugging him tight. He whispered, “You can’t give it to him….”

“You will,” Pryce said, his hearing almost supernatural, “or you both die now.”

David held the ancient volume and asked, “Why are you letting us walk out of here?”

Pryce laughed. “I want you to suffer. I want you to wish you’d been killed here today. I want you to tell Tom that he is coming and that there’s nothing Tom can do about it. And they’ll all know that it was your fault!”

David blanched but tossed the book unceremoniously across, hearing its hollow thud at Lincoln’s feet. “Run along now, little ones. When it gets dark this is a dangerous neighborhood,” he laughed. “Wouldn’t want to get violated, would you? Or maybe you would!” He picked up the book, turning his back on them.

“You shouldn’t have,” Sebastien began.

David squeezed him tight and said, “I couldn’t do anything else!”

As the boys made haste toward a nearby service station, David made the unhappiest phone call he’d ever make. The phone rang twice before Tom picked up.

“Hello?” Tom barked.

“Tom?” David said hesitantly.

“God,” Tom sighed. “Tell me you have the book?”

“Not anymore,” David said. Hearing no response, he added, “I’ve got Sebastien. Can you pick us up?”

“Sure,” Tom said, taking down the address of the station. “Three teams coming your way. I doubt we’ll catch him at the house, but perhaps we can track his signature….”

“I’m sorry, Tom,” David said. “I didn’t have any other choice.”

“You always have choices,” Tom said, then softened. “But I’m glad you did what you did, David. I wouldn’t have had the courage.”

“Courage?” David asked timidly.

“We’ll talk tonight, David,” Tom said.

Moments after receiving the book, Pryce was startled by Malphas’s arrival. The demon smiled its terrifying smile and took the book. Pryce observed Malphas’s childlike awe as the book glowed in his hand.

“You have no idea,” the being said with wonder. “I have sought this knowledge since the beginning of the age. This is the most coveted object beneath heaven!”

“This demon you seek,” Pryce asked in a timid whisper, “what is his power?”

“My master knows all deep things,” Malphas whispered. “He understands every hidden recess. But his power? His power is the purest of evils: absolute chaos. There is none darker. Even his father fears him!”

“God was afraid?” Pryce asked.

Malphas laughed deep and hard, harder than he ever had in the mortal world. “There is no being farther from God than my master. His father is Lord of Hell, Satan!”

“Doesn’t that mean he’s weaker than the rest of you?” Pryce asked.

“No!” Malphas smiled. “We are all angels of the Lord most High,” he explained with a sneer. “The Master, the Bearded demon, whose name is soon to be revealed to you, is the child of perversity, one step more removed from grace than us. His evil is purer.”

Pryce shivered and nodded. “As you say, my lord.”

“Oh petty mortal!” Malphas smiled. “You shall see depravity beyond your darkest nightmares. My master is to me in evil what I am to you!” That analogy brought the reality home to Pryce. Whoever Malphas was bringing was a new level of horror.

Malphas brought the book to his lips and whispered something Pryce could not hear, and the book’s pages fluttered open. The pages were filled from margin to margin with a demonic script, and Malphas began to read, his smile widening from page to page. Power unimaginable was opening itself to him, perfecting him in perversion. There were so many things written in it never heard of in even the most wretched corners of hell.

And then he found the spell he was looking for. Malphas knew all that remained now. He’d need a very special knife, one he’d forge himself even as his human minions completed a last night of summonings. Everything would happen, as planned. Despite everything, he would at last achieve his goals, and heaven and hell would be turned on their heads. Malphas smiled again, leaving Pryce to make his own escape.

After Alasdair’s young wizards swept Pryce’s safe house, Judah and Avram examined the building. The noxious odor of sulfur announced a recent demonic incursion, and that prevented them from tracking any magic. Malphas’s signature was simply too strong. So they’d lost Pryce and the demon. And the book. And the cult was covering its tracks with the newly conjured demons.

Meanwhile, Tom got the boys back to his house as quickly as possible. Tom knew what he wanted to say, but couldn’t yet get the words out. David was too ashamed to speak. Thus the ride was silent, and, as Tom drove, the boys held each other in the back seat.

When they arrived at the house, Tom said, “Hurry inside.” And the boys did.

Tom sat in the car and put his head against the wheel. Inside it looked to the boys as if he was crying, but in reality he was just so tired he couldn’t move. When he sat up and got out, and they saw his eyes were dry, they both sighed and couldn’t help but laugh at each other.

When Tom entered and saw them smiling, he put a hand on each of them and said, “I’m glad you’re both home safe!”

“Tom,” David began.

Tom just shook his head and said, “I’ve been watching you boys for a long time. I am not surprised that you did what you did, David. You have more courage than I do, because I wouldn’t have given them the book. But I’d have died wishing I had. You boys go upstairs and rest, now….”

David looked at Tom who smiled and nodded almost imperceptibly. At last David put his hand on Sebastien’s shoulder and led him upstairs to the library where they collapsed on the couch. Only then did Sebastien begin to cry. “I thought they were going to kill me. But I heard you, and I knew you’d save me,” he said when he could speak again. David held him and ran his hand through Sebastien’s wild hair. “David?”

“Yeah, Sebastien?” David asked softly.

“I know he made you say those things, but,” Sebastien said, his words trailing off.

David looked down into his sparkling, glistening eyes, and said, “I didn’t lie.” Then he pressed his lips softly against Sebastien’s, feeling the boy stiffen, then collapse beneath him.

“Catherine?” Sebastien whispered, a last protest when the kiss broke.

“She blew it,” David said. “I’m sorta glad….”