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Pryce was assembling supplies in the barn for the evening’s festivities when Malphas’s head jerked violently. The demon snarled and said, “NOT NOW!”

“What is it, my Lord?” Pryce asked.

“Corman!” Malphas hissed. “He’s found another one of my demons!”

“Shit,” Pryce whispered. “We don’t have time to play this game anymore!”

Malphas’s eyes flashed fiery and he roared, “NO WE DO NOT!” And then he disappeared in a column of flame, reappearing in Dryden Woods in the crossfire, as Tom and Alasdair, Judah and Avram began praying and spell casting in earnest. Judah was doing so one-handed; his other hand held a cell phone.


Tom just laughed, infuriating him. “You are beneath me, vile beast! I do not fear you!”

“Then you are stupid,” Malphas said, sending a shockwave through the earth, knocking the wizards onto their backs. Turning to his demonic servant, Malphas whispered, “GO!”

“He’s still place-bound,” Tom laughed, causing Malphas to growl and turn on him.

“No matter,” Malphas said, launching a curse at Tom before returning to his servant.

Tom dodged and fell. It took him a moment to recover. Tom raised his hands and called up a brilliant bright light. “Dark spirit, blackest night, feel the illumination of divine light!” he called before launching the orb into Malphas’s back, making the demon lord howl in pain and hatred.

Malphas kept at his work and Tom struck him again, and again, and Avram and Judah began to do the same. Meanwhile Alasdair worked symbols in the sky above. Suddenly the air around them crackled with sudden intensity, and then a crack split the quiet gloomy shadows of the park.

“What is this?” Malphas said, his eyes flashing insanely. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”

Tom simply smiled resolutely and began, “In the name of the GOD Most High, I cast you out you unclean spirit, Malphas!”

NO!” Malphas growled. He couldn’t escape: The circle was too powerful. Only then did Malphas realize that he had stepped into a trap. Corman’s people had closed a gigantic magical circle around the park. Six wizards stood over pillar candles in a great circle chanting an ancient Babylonian spell to trap the demon prince.

“By the power of the God of Israel, I cast you down, fell spirit, to the outermost reaches of hell!” Avram proclaimed, drawing Malphas to face him in a rage.

“Dark-hearted fiend, it is the power of the One who compels you, the One who cast you out at the beginning of your misdeeds, who chained you and your kind for all time in the dark prison of the universe,” Alasdair began. “We look upon you with the pity of the righteous, but do not be fooled. There is no peace for the wicked!” As the exorcists took turns invoking the power of the One, Malphas faced them each in turn, wracked by rage and pain.

Hell’s potentates gathered around a pool of fetid water that shimmered like an ancient polished-silver mirror: despite its gloom, they could see all clearly. “It is hard to believe,” Adramelech said in his whiny, nasal voice, “that these monkeys could corner one so powerful as our little brother. There is no escape for him now!”

      “Don’t be so sure,” Lilith dismissed the most narrow minded of the upper levels of Hell’s hierarchy. “Malphas is wily, and don’t forget for a moment whom he serves….”

      “Is there no aid we can render the human, my Lord?” Moloch asked.

      “It is out of our hands,” the devil responded darkly, from beneath his black cowl. A rumbling in the earth beneath them startled the other demons, but Satan remained unmoved, calm and steady.

“Is that?” Beelzebub asked, a slight tremor in his voice.

“My son,” Satan nodded. “He too is aware of these proceedings….”

“He is bound too well to influence,” Adramelech said, refusing to consider the obviously impossible, that the demon deep beneath their own prison might be able to influence the world above, whereas they could not do so even from a less powerful prison.

      “We knew when we put him down there,” Satan said placidly, “that our magic could not hold him forever. And today of all days, the wall between the spirit world and the material world is weak.”

“Shouldn’t we try to use the opportunity as well?” Beelzebub suggested softly.

“No,” Satan said with a shake of the head. “We must not … yet.”

“But,” Adramelech began, but fell silent as he felt his nearly unflappable lord’s anger.

“We would exhaust ourselves, leaving us defenseless against him,” Satan insisted with final authority.

“But the plan,” a soft new voice complained, sounding so human. “What about the plan for me?”

“Hush, my child,” Satan said paternally. “Your day shall come too!”

The spirit of malevolence, named by the Christians Antichrist, pouted openly and shamelessly, as his brother threatened his birthright.

Aiden was relaxing in bed, while his mother sat in a chair reading, when the door creaked open. “Can I help you?” Aiden asked, looking at the young man who appeared.

“Just doing my rounds, sir,” the young wizard said softly.

“The house is secure,” Aiden said. “No offense, but anything that can slip past Tom’s spells isn’t going to think twice about you.”

“I know,” Dylan said softly.

“Come in and have a seat,” Aiden said, and his mother silently took her leave as the hesitant young Mr. Pettyfer walked over and settled uneasily into the comfortable chair.

There was an awkward silence before Dylan asked, “Was there something…?”

“You’re Dylan, right?” Aiden asked. The young man nodded. “Right. Tom told me about you.”

“Oh,” Dylan said, looking ashamed. “I know that’s why they left me behind!”

“Why is that?” Aiden asked, his face bearing a kind but amused look.

“To punish me for what I said to the boy,” Dylan said with a deep sigh.

“What you said was stupid and unkind,” Aiden said, “but that’s not why they left you here!”

“Why did they then?” the younger man asked.

Aiden smiled and said, “Because I asked them to.”

“Why?” Dylan asked, confused.

“I wanted to talk with you about what you said,” Aiden answered, and he could tell by watching Dylan that the young man was nervous now. “Relax!”

Dylan knew better than to do that. “What more is there to be said about that?”

“Calm down, Dylan,” Aiden said seriously. “I just wanted to talk about you.”

“What about me?” Dylan asked, trying to look calm though, in reality, he was in knots on the inside.

“Well, when did you realize you were gay?” Aiden asked, and Dylan turned pale.

WHAT?” Dylan asked indignantly.

“Well, the casual and cruel way you spoke – so many homophobes are really just self-loathing homosexuals aren’t they?” Aiden asked, his face a mask.

Dylan’s face was red, and Aiden couldn’t tell whether it was with embarrassment or fury. “I’m not a homosexual,” Dylan growled. “My brother is! And I caught hell for it, just so my little fag of a brother could kiss boys behind the gym!”

“Your situation wasn’t your brother’s fault,” Aiden said, trying to be sensitive.

“He could have stopped it,” Dylan said. “He could have been normal!”

“Dylan! Do you hear yourself?” Aiden said. “You shouldn’t have suffered for who your brother is, but he shouldn’t have to suffer to keep you from it either, should he? The only people to blame are the bullies!”

Dylan leaned forward and put his head between his knees. He was shaking his head as he said, “Aiden, it’s … I try to control it, but I’m so damn angry!”

“What happened to you?” Aiden asked with sincere concern, and listened as Dylan told his story.

Malphas was striking out wildly as the four mystics closed in on him, beginning to weave a second circle around him. “By the power of the One, who cast you down into the pit of iniquity, I command you, demon prince Malphas, depart and be gone from the world of the living! It is not for you!” Tom declared with a voice ringing with authority.

I WILL NOT BE PUT DOWN BY THE LIKES OF YOU!” Malphas roared. “Help me you fool!” he added, crying out to his servant watching from the trees. “Or when he comes you’ll feel his wrath!”

Whoever was coming, it scared the demon more than Tom or even Malphas. The demon burst out, attacking them from behind, and Malphas broke free. “I can do this without ceasing, Corman! Getting trapped inside with two demons wasn’t a very thought-out plan, was it?”

Tom grunted and reached out his arm toward Malphas’s servant, casting a powerful orb into the creature’s chest, causing brilliant, holy light to burst from its eyes as it screamed in agony. “I think I can manage,” Tom snarled. “Where is your helper now, Malphas?”

The shaking beneath their feet announced that an answer was forthcoming, and Tom’s friends looked afraid, though they never ceased their assault on Malphas and his minion. There was a deep rumbling from the horizon and the sky darkened visibly, though there were no clouds in the sky. It was as if a visible darkness was manifesting itself to be seen in broad daylight.

Tom yelled for his friends, “On the ground, and cover your eyes!”

“What?” Avram asked, but Judah grabbed his arm and dragged him to the ground. Alasdair followed suit as Tom erected a last defense around their position and covered his own eyes, reaching for his cell phone. The message was already typed and ready to send with the push of a single button: ‘Abort. Cast a circle, and let them go!’

There was no reply but momentarily a crack split the air and the pressure lifted. The hospital roared through the park, “SOON WE SHALL MEET AGAIN!”

Shortly, Tom uncovered his eyes and called an all clear. Then he sent another message: ‘Rendezvous at my place!’

“What the hell?” Avram asked. “WE HAD THEM!”

“They had us, Avram,” Tom said. “Didn’t you notice the darkness?”

“It was nothing, just a cloud,” Avram insisted.

“No, it was manifest darkness,” Judah said. “The plague of darkness….”

“That’s right,” Tom said, nodding.

WHAT?” Avram demanded.

“You’ve read about it,” Tom said with weary sarcasm. “It happened in Egypt.”

“I know that, damn it, but that means,” Avram said, trailing off. “I didn’t think another angel could do that….”

“None can,” Tom nodded. Seeing Avram’s lost look, he explained, “The destroying angel sent to plague Egypt manifested the darkness. Only an angel given leave by God could do so powerful a wonder.”

“So that mean’s God wanted Malphas to escape?” Avram asked, horrified.

“No,” Tom said, shaking his head. “It means the Bearded Demon is able to work wonders no angel could without divine authority, even from within his prison!”

“It’s over,” Avram said simply.

“Not so fast,” Judah said. “This demon expended an unimaginable amount of power to make that happen. Perhaps enough to give us an edge. If we find him fast enough, before he can fully harness his power in this world….”

“Easier said than done,” Avram said bleakly.

“How hard can it be to find a pulsating source of dark energy?” Alasdair asked. Soon they all walked to the car to head back to the house to regroup. The sun was already sagging toward the horizon, announcing the coming of the night of All’s Hallowed Eve.

David and Sebastien read in the back seat as Peter drove and Billy napped. David looked over at Sebastien’s face, as he concentrated on his book with his glasses resting precariously at the tip of his nose. David chuckled softly to himself.

Sebastien looked over and nonchalantly pushed the glasses back up with the middle finger of his right hand. “What?”

David shook his head and smiled. “It’s so cute,” he laughed softly.

“What?” Sebastien asked again, pleased but confused.

“The way your glasses slide down your nose when you concentrate, and you get this cute little scrunchy place between your eyes,” David whispered. Sebastien blushed fiercely, and David took his hand.

“I can’t believe you noticed that,” Sebastien whispered back. In the front seat, Peter blushed and tried to pretend he couldn’t hear.

“I didn’t realize until you were taken,” David admitted, squeezing Sebastien’s hand softly. “Thinking of you, that was the first thing that came into my mind, how cute it was. That’s when I realized I’ve been taking you in since we met.” Now David was blushing too.

Sebastien admitted, “I was stuck on Peter, but you made me feel something … new.”

David undid his seatbelt and slid over next to Sebastien, making as much contact as he could. “What are you doing?” Sebastien asked. “You should be buckled in!”

“It’s the end of the world, little man,” David said. Then he kissed the boy deeply. Sebastien tilted his head back and let David’s tongue slip between his lips. Soon his hands were roaming David’s back and Peter adjusted his mirror so that he could see nothing of what was going on. David knew he’d been seen: he just didn’t care anymore. As the car cruised through the unlit local roads in a deepening darkness, David lost himself in Sebastien.

Peter cast a quick glance at Billy, whose sleep was relatively fitful, and again felt a deep pang in his own chest. He was to blame for bringing Billy into all of this, he knew. And he cringed at the thought of what might await them all.

He reached across and put a hand on Billy’s thigh and squeezed softly. Billy’s groans ceased at the gentle touch.

Suddenly, something imperceptibly fast flashed through his headlights, and Peter slammed on the brakes hard. The wheels screeched on the pavement and they all flew forward in their seats. Billy was shocked awake violently, but David, who was unbuckled, flew forward. The car hadn’t been going fast enough to do any major damage, but David’s nose crashed into the headrest in front of him, cracking sickeningly.

At first David thought he was blind, but it was just the tears. The pain was excruciating, but David felt Sebastien trying to get him to move his hands to see his nose. “It’s broken,” David moaned.

“Christ,” Peter exclaimed, turning in his seat, “are you alright?”

“I’ll live,” David groaned. “What happened?”

“Something ran across the road,” Peter said, still looking back. But then he noticed the look of abject terror on Sebastien’s white, bloodless face. Peter turned slowly, fearing what he’d find. The tall black figure stood motionless in the midst of the road. It took one step toward the car, and then another.

“Go, Peter,” David urged, and his brother put the car back in drive and pressed the gas so hard that the tires squealed again before catching on the road and propelling the car forward.

Suddenly, the thing raised a hand, like one might to stop a small child from crashing headlong into something. The figure was unmoved, but the car again came to a crashing stop as its front end crumpled around the figure violently.

As steam boiled up from the destroyed vehicle, the figure stepped back and walked slowly around to the driver’s seat, wrenching the locked door open.

“Malphas,” a coughing Peter whimpered.

“Peter,” the demon smiled. “So good to see you again!”

The level of quiet panic at Tom’s house was reaching new levels as hushed angry conversations bubbled up. Tom sat quietly behind his desk staring at his hands.

“Tom, I’ve got to go to the school to supervise the dance tonight,” Alasdair walked over and whispered.

Tom nodded and replied. “I understand. The defenses at the school are good?”

 “You can’t think they’d still come there with the boys gone?” Alasdair asked.

“They could, if they want to draw us into something,” Tom said. “And murdering children would be right up their alley. Besides, they may not even know the boys are gone.”

“We should be so lucky,” Alasdair nodded heavily. “Contact me with any news.”

“Of course,” Tom said, following him to the door. His formerly happy-go-lucky friend and onetime lover walked with a heavy step, giving the impression of the weight of years.

Before Tom could close the door, he again felt the presence that had drawn him out the day he’d found Peter. He stepped onto the porch and a now-familiar voice said, “Professor Corman!”

“Demon,” Tom said, turning to face Malphas.

“Now, now, Tom!” Malphas laughed. “It’s no time to pout! After all, you did so well! Better than anyone ever thought you could!”

“You disgust me,” Tom snarled, raising his hand.

“Enough, wizard,” the demon said, knocking Tom down with a weak burst. “It’s over!”

“Why are you here then?” Tom asked.

“One last offer, Corman,” Malphas said. “You have until noon tomorrow.”

Tom glared at the demon, but swallowed hard and said, “Go ahead.”

“I have something you want,” Malphas smiled. “And you are an unneeded distraction from my proceedings. If you and your little band of wizards will simply leave town and not look back, we’ll let you be. None of us or ours will trouble you again directly.”

“Directly,” Tom snorted.

“Well, I can’t guarantee you won’t suffer from the conditions of the world under our rule, but you will live,” Malphas smiled.

“That’s it?” Tom smiled over his rising anger. “Be and let be, is it?”

“No,” Malphas smiled. “Then one more thing to sweeten the pot.”

“What could you possibly,” Tom began to ask, but the being’s smile froze him.

“That’s it, Tom. That’s it!” Malphas nodded. “Once you’re a few hours drive away, they will be delivered to you, safe and sound!”

“How?” Tom asked, breathless.

“My master, in his infinite wisdom, alerted me to their location, after freeing me,” Malphas smiled. “Don’t you see, Tom? You will be unable to stop me, but you can save these people, those boys. It’s something, Corman! You’ve done better than any human should have been able to: now, let go.”

Tom stood silent as the demon disappeared. This, at last, was more than Tom could bear, and he collapsed to the floor of the porch. Moments later, his eyes closed as he passed out. It was Roy and Dietrich who found him about fifteen minutes later, as the German accompanied the PI outside for a smoke break.

Dietrich rushed to Tom’s side, while Roy opened the door and yelled, “Some help out here! It’s Tom!”

Aiden heard this from the bedroom and struggled to get up. “Lay down, sweetheart,” his mother said. “I’ll go check and let you know.” Moments later the woman led the way back into the room as Dietrich, Cho, and two of Alasdair’s young wizards carried Tom to bed.

“Jesus Christ,” Aiden gasped, “what happened?”

“Found him this way on the porch,” Roy said, shaking his head. Moments later Judah and Avram pushed through and laid their hands on Tom, trying to get a diagnosis.

Judah looked at Avram and both men nodded. Judah explained to Aiden, “Sheer emotional exhaustion. Honestly, it’s shocking he lasted this long.”

“What do we do?” Aiden asked.

“Besides wait?” Dietrich asked.

Avram said, “Alasdair.” Grudgingly, he added, “No one can work with energy like him.”

Aiden grabbed Tom’s cell and dialed Alasdair while the senior wizards and mystics conferred quietly across the room. “Tom, is everything alright?” Alasdair asked.

“Alasdair, it’s Aiden. Tom collapsed, and we need your help.”

“Is he alright?” Alasdair said.

“Judah and Avram said it’s just exhaustion,” Aiden said.

“I need some people to come over to the school to relieve me,” Alasdair said, his duty to his children overcoming his desire to rush to his friend’s side.

“I’ll tell them,” Aiden said. “Thanks.”

“Of course,” Alasdair replied, before hanging up. “Tell them to hurry.”

“A couple of you need to go over to the school and take his post,” Aiden said.

Dietrich said, “I’ll go with Cho….”

“No,” Avram said, shaking his head. “Stay here, guard the house. Judah and I will go: the school is not as secure as the house.”

“You think they’ll,” Cho began to ask.

“We still can’t rule it out,” Avram said. “We’ll call you if we need backup.”

On their way out to the car, Judah said, “Avram?”

“Yes, Judah?” Avram replied.

“Why do you suppose He hasn’t helped us? I mean, it’s his world too,” Judah said softly as they sat in the car and buckled themselves in.

“Who?” Avram asked.

Judah gave him a wry look and said, “Really?”

Avram put the car in gear before squeezing Judah’s hand. “God’s been at this fight a great deal longer than we have….”

“That,” Judah chided, “is no answer! My congregants would never let me get away with that!”

“Luckily,” Avram smiled, “You are not one of my congregants! But, honestly, I don’t know! It is a mystery. I sometimes wish I knew why God hide’s God’s face, but other times I am rather sure I don’t want to know his ways.”

“What do you mean?” Judah asked the younger man.

“To know, to understand God, even a little, is to stand in the midst of an inconceivable power. It robs you of something,” Avram said, a sad tinge of experience in his voice.

Judah nodded and squeezed Avram’s hand back. After a moment of silence, Judah asked, “Is there any good at all?”

“If we want it to be,” Avram said, “then the good is devastating!”

“Here’s hoping,” Judah responded.

It took them a few minutes to arrive and park. Inside, they found Alasdair waiting near the door tensely. When he saw them, he nodded and said, “I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

“Alasdair,” Avram said, pausing. “Be careful.” The man nodded and hurried on his way.

While Alasdair was working on Tom, the others left the room, leaving only Aiden to watch and wonder at the man who had so expedited his own healing process. But at last Alasdair said, “Hmmmm.”

“What?” Aiden asked.

“He’s resisting,” Alasdair muttered.

“That can’t be right,” Aiden said. “Why would he?”

“Where did they find him?” Alasdair asked.

“On the porch,” Aiden said. “Why?”

“What was he doing out there?” Alasdair wondered out loud.

“Do you think something happened to him?” Aiden asked.

“Something happened, that much is sure. But what,” Alasdair wondered. Then he said, “I’ll be back. Talk to him about the future: places you want to go, things you want to see.”

Alasdair found the others and motioned for Dietrich and Cho to join him in the kitchen. He explained the problem to them. “What happened on that porch?” he wondered aloud. “After so much, what could push him this hard?”

“I have no idea,” Cho said.

“No,” Dietrich said, “Aiden’s here so he’s protected, and the boys are hidden….”

“The boys,” Alasdair said, turning and hurrying back to the bedroom. Aiden looked up as Alasdair hurried around the bed, the two wizards hot on his heels. Alasdair put his hands on the sides of Tom’s head and closed his eyes.

‘Tom,’ he projected into the man’s mind, ‘Tom you have to let me help you!’ He felt Tom strengthen his psychic defenses and put up a wall against him. ‘Tom, we have to help the boys! We have to do something!’ Alasdair couldn’t grasp why, but he felt anger at that statement. ‘TOM! FOR FUCK’S SAKE!’ Alasdair raged. ‘THIS IS IT! THIS IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT, WHAT IT ALL COMES DOWN TO! WE NEED YOU! AIDEN NEEDS YOU! I NEED YOU! I CAN’T DO THIS BY MYSELF!’

Alasdair felt Tom relax, and began funneling energy from the cosmos into the man’s battered aura. It took tremendous toll to perform such work, which is why he had done it little by little for Aiden. But time was short, and they needed Tom back, so Alasdair pushed himself to the brink. Only when he himself reached the point of utter exhaustion did Alasdair let up and open his eyes, collapsing back onto the bed with a deep sigh at about the same time Tom’s eyes snapped open.

“Thank God,” Aiden said, grabbing Tom’s hand.

Meanwhile Tom looked to Alasdair and said, “You did too much!”

Alasdair sighed and said, “We can’t do this without you.”

“We can’t do this at all,” Tom sighed. Then he explained the deal Malphas had offered.

“You can’t really mean we are going to let this happen,” Alasdair said, shocked.

“I’m in an impossible position,” Tom said. “What can I do?”

“We can go after them!” Alasdair said. “If we can find them, we can get them. They won’t risk the ritual to hold onto the boys!”

Tom sighed and shook his head. “If we go, they’ll kill you all.”

“That’s on our heads, not yours, Tom,” Avram said. “And those boys were always going to die. You can still try to give them life!”

“God damn it,” Tom muttered and moved to stand, rising uneasily to his feet. “Once again into the breach then!”