29 Abomination

“Are you okay, Judah?” Tom shouted. His ears were still ringing from the explosion.

      “I’m fine,” the rabbi said, pushing himself to his knees. “We need to move, though.”

      “Do you need help?” Avram asked, appearing at Judah’s shoulder.

      “Stop worrying about me, and let’s move!” Judah said, brushing him off. Soon they began to meet the first resistance as they fought their way toward the ritual site. Avram glanced at the barn, where a fierce battle had been underway, before following Tom.

      As they began to move up the hill along an old path, which was narrowing gradually, they met only the occasional cultist. “This is not what I was expecting,” Judah whispered.

      “It’s good,” Tom said. “It means Malphas has no one to spare. His demons are bound, his cultists are involved in the summoning, and….”

      But Tom couldn’t finish the sentence, as a huge, lumbering figure appeared in the middle of the little path. It crouched low and growled before letting out a massive roar in their direction. “Fuck,” Avram said, leaping off the path and drawing Judah along behind him. Tom ducked behind a tree on the other side of the path just in time, because the second roar brought with it a tongue of flame thirty feet long. It was hot enough that Tom’s face burned for a moment, until the fire was gone.

      “Is that what I think it is?” Judah yelled from behind a nearby rock.

      “I don’t know,” Tom answered, “but it sure as hell looks like a dragon!”

      “Not how I imagined,” Judah replied with a laugh as the creature growled and unleashed a new wave of fire in his direction.

      Tom thought for a minute and then called, “Any ideas guys?”

      “Not many,” Judah answered from the darkness of the forest, which suddenly turned red-orange. When the light of the blast dimmed, burning limbs and leaves littered the floor of the woods. “Tom, you’ve got to go ahead,” the rabbi yelled at last.

      “We’ll cover you,” Avram added in agreement, leaping from behind his cover to draw the hideous creature’s attention. Tom had no time to argue: given the risk the men were taking, he had to take the opportunity. As Tom took off, he heard the men casting powerful spells at the ancient beast.   

      As they hurtled through the woods at breakneck speeds, Misha and Alexa flanked the boys and prodded them along. Cho and Dietrich carried the wounded Elise as Shirit covered their rear and fretted over her bleeding partner.

      Luckily, all attention was on the fighting near the ceremony, so they met no resistance.

      “Get in my car, boys,” Misha commanded as they exited the woods a hundred feet from the vehicles. “HURRY!”

      Alexa hopped in the driver’s seat and yelled, “Come on!” to her brother.

      “Give me a minute,” he responded. Then he turned to the others. “Shirit, drive Elise to the hospital! Do you need help?”

      “No,” the woman said, as her comrades loaded her lover into one of the extra cars. “You two get back and help Tom and the others,” she said to Cho and Dietrich with a flash in her eyes. “Let’s end this.”

      Misha said, “Call us from the hospital,” and ran to complete his mission. As he drove away, Misha glanced in the rearview mirror as Shirit pulled out and his friends blended back into the forest.

      Tom felt the pull of the powerful dark forces gathering in the distance as he grappled blindly through the thick underbrush. He met no resistance – all the remaining wizards and demons were on the main paths and surrounding the ritual itself. As the energy grew stronger in the thick night air, a light in the distance flickered angrily. Then he could hear the droning voices of the cultists, deep and monotonous.

      Creeping closer, Tom’s eyes were momentarily dazzled by the blazing bonfire. Quickly he counted the demons around the circle: seven accounted for, number eight on the way. “Still time,” Tom muttered. He very much wished he was not alone as he prepared to stand.

      Repressing all signs of fear, Tom stepped out into the clearing, clapping loudly and slowly. “Wow,” he said shaking his head. “To think, you almost had this huge plan interrupted by a tweed-clad college professor! You must be so embarrassed!”

      “Corman,” Malphas said in a controlled roar. “I must say, I find you very surprising.”

      “Thanks,” Tom smiled hatefully.

      “I hate surprises, mortal,” Malphas growled. “I should destroy you now!”

      “You could try,” Tom said, extending his arm toward the nearest group of cultists. “But I’m not an easy target, and you’ve got so many balls in the air already.”

      “There are always more maggots waiting to serve my will,” Malphas said, rising to his full height, eyes glowing bright and reflecting the fires of the summoning.

      “Trained for tonight? Ready to die for a summoning which will not succeed?” Tom asked, trying to keep the fire between the demon and himself, while watching for minions.

      “So you’re here to … what, Tom? Banter? Deal?” Malphas asked. “I already offered you the only deal I’ll be making, and you rejected that in grand form.”

      “I’m here to give you the option of stopping this now,” Tom said. “Go back whence you came, Malphas. Stop this madness!”

      Malphas laughed loudly, even as his eyes burned with insane hatred. “I’m glad you’re here, Tom. You should be one of the first to see him in all his glory! What a sight!”

      Tom raised his hand toward the fire and called up a whirlwind out of the embers, flinging flame and sparks in a wide circle. Human screams filled the hollow night as skin and eyes and hair sizzled beneath tiny flying coals.

      Suddenly a man with a sword lunged out of the shadows behind Tom and made as if to run him through. A bolt of lightning out of the woods dropped the man in a steaming heap, dividing the attention of the cultists and terrors of night.

      Suddenly, the eighth demon appeared in its circle and the ninth summoning began. Tom turned to where the ritual was being performed and raised his hand to cast a powerful spell, but Malphas appeared between him and the cultists and with a flick of his finger tossed Tom aside like a rag doll.

      “Take them out,” Cho yelled to unseen allies as he grabbed Tom and dragged him out of the path of Malphas’s next curse. Judah unleashed a barrage of powerful spells from behind Malphas, as Avram appeared near the twelfth group and dropped one of the cultists with a killing spell to the back.

      “YOU CAN’T STOP THIS! THIS IS INEVITABLE!” Malphas roared with hatred. He turned in circles, eyeing each of his enemies with contempt.

      “Where’s Dietrich?” Tom whispered to Cho.

      “What did you say?” Malphas demanded. “What?”

      “With Roy,” Cho replied.

      Tom pointed to the sky and snapped his fingers, sending a red flare into the sky.

      “I’m not impressed,” Malphas smiled. Roy was so far away that the ninth sacrifice hit the ground before the crack of the rifle reached them. Before Malphas’s smile faded, the tenth was hit. The eleventh died before the demon could respond. And the twelfth perished before Malphas, with a terrible expense of energy by his master, dealt with his enemies. There was nothing Roy and Dietrich could do about what they saw except begin to run as fast as they could away from their position and hope they wouldn’t get caught.

      At Tom’s house, the contingent of wizards guarding the civilians inside jumped at the fierce knocking at the door. A quick look confirmed that it was Misha and Alexa with the boys, and Dylan threw the door open.

      Misha pushed him out of the way and ushered the boys inside. “Lock the door behind us,” the young Russian ordered.

      “Where are you going?” Dylan asked.

      “We’re going back,” Misha said. “This isn’t over, and I’ve got a great deal to pay for yet….”

      “Don’t talk like that!” David said, grabbing his arm. “This isn’t your fault!”

      “More mine than yours, my young friend,” Misha said wearily.

      “Stay here with us?” David asked, pleading.

      “I can’t leave my friends out there,” Misha answered. But, no sooner than he said it, a loud crash drew all attention to the yard. They all rushed to the front window to find the yard heaped with steaming piles of bodies.

      They all looked at one another for a long time until one of the forms moved. “What the hell is that?” Mickey asked.

      “Good Lord,” Dylan said, recognizing the figure. “It’s Judah!” The young wizard rushed for the door, only to be grabbed by Misha. “What the hell?”

      “It could be a trap,” Misha cautioned. “We have to be sure! One of us has to go out there and check. I know them better.” Dylan looked angry that he was being left out of the action again, but nodded. Misha did know the wizards better.

Misha cracked the door and slipped out, securing it behind him. He smiled grimly to himself as he heard Dylan engage the bolt. The boy was a good soldier. It occurred to Misha for the first time that Dylan was quite attractive. “Not the time,” he whispered to himself as he carefully made his way over to the bodies.

He knelt by the one that had moved and recognized Judah instantly. He put his hand on the man’s neck and felt a strong pulse. He rolled Judah off of Tom and saw that Tom, too, was breathing. They were all fine. And a quick scan of their energies revealed that they didn’t just look the part: these were his friends.

Misha looked over his shoulder and signaled the all-clear, motioning for Alasdair’s men to come help him get his friends inside. Everyone was alive and had strong vitals, so all present set about attempting to wake the unconscious wizards.

Judah woke first, and Misha was quick to ask, “What the hell happened?”

“Malphas,” Judah coughed. “Tom had a backup plan. He didn’t tell any of us….”

“I don’t understand,” Misha complained.

“Give me a moment you impetuous boy,” Judah barked. Then looking embarrassed, he apologized. “Forgive me! We’ve been through a great deal, but you meant no harm!”

“I’m sorry, Rabbi,” Misha whispered. “Take your time!”

Judah raised his hand and waved the boy off. Everyone drew close and he recounted what happened at the ritual site in detail. “Suddenly, just as Tom had Malphas’ attention, and the rest of us were attacking randomly, Tom set off a flare and the sacrifices began to fall to sniper fire. Tom must have worked out a failsafe with Roy. If we couldn’t stop the ritual, Roy would kill the sacrifices….”

“Dear God,” Misha said, even as Tom groaned and opened his eyes.

“What? Where?” Tom gasped. “I … we’re alive?”

“Seems so,” Avram said, also reviving. “I’m in too much pain to be dead.”

“Unless this is hell,” Tom laughed, groaning.

“Don’t be silly,” Avram countered. “We’ve got too many enemies in hell to be this comfortable!”

      “So,” Misha asked uncomfortably, “the back-up plan?”

      “There was no other way,” Tom said sadly. “Those people were going to die.”

      “Still,” Judah said, his voice tired, “it was an impossible decision. We understand Tom, we really do. It’s just … I’m sorry.”

      Tom nodded. “It was my decision, I made it and I own it. And I’ll live with it for the rest of my life.”

      “Tom,” Judah sighed, “just go rest! I’m sure Aiden would like to see you.”

      Dylan added, “He’s waiting up. He’ll sleep if you let him know you’re home safe. The boys are with him now.” Judah shot the young wizard a thankful look.

      Tom hobbled to his bedroom, where he found Aiden cuddling with three scared teens. Tom smiled when he saw them and tears began to flow freely down his cheeks.

      “Tom!” David cried ecstatically and hopped off the bed, hugging the man tight.

      “Owww, David,” Tom laughed. “Sorry, but I’m sore!”

      “Sorry,” David said sheepishly, even as Tom felt Sebastien join David.

      “Help me to bed, boys,” Tom said softly. Tom groaned as he settled on the bed, leaving the four boys standing around the big king awkwardly smiling. “Come on then,” he said with a shake of the head.

      The boys carefully joined the men, and it was Aiden who was first to cry, tears of relief and deep tiredness. “Is it over?” he asked, coughing.

Tom said, “For now. We stopped the ritual, but that just buys us time to expel Malphas and his coven. But, for now, yes.”

      “Will it ever be over?” David asked plaintively, through his tears.

      Tom hugged the teen and said, “I promise, son! We’ll make this world safe again for you boys.”

      “Safe for the first time,” Peter whispered, prompting Billy to embrace him protectively.

      Outside, a similar conversation was unfolding. “What now?” Avram asked. “He’s only bought us time.”

      “At least a year,” Judah said certainly. “We can worry about that war tomorrow. Tonight, we should rest thankful for another year.”

      “He could come after us tonight,” Avram cautioned. “We should set up a guard.”

      “Dylan and his comrades can handle the night watch,” Judah said wearily. The young man nodded proudly and went about organizing his compatriots, placing them strategically at windows that gave them the best vantage points.

      “Alright,” Avram said, “is everyone accounted for?”

      “We’re waiting for Roy and Dietrich to get back,” Misha responded. “No word from the hospital yet.”

      “Who’s at the hospital?” Avram asked. When the young man didn’t answer immediately, Avram’s mind went into overdrive. “Where is my sister?”

      Misha averted his eyes and said, “Your sister took Elise to the hospital, badly wounded.”

      Avram closed his eyes and said, “Alright, I’m going to the hospital.”

      Judah nodded and said, “I’ll come with you….”

      “Stay here, just in case,” Avram said. “Tom’s exhausted, and we don’t really know what’s going to happen next.”

      “This house is a fortress,” Judah objected. “You’re going out in the open! I’m coming with you!”

      “STAY HERE!” Avram insisted. “Please? For me?” he asked more softly. “I … have a bad feeling about the whole situation.”

      “Alright,” Judah said, nodding begrudgingly. “But I want regular updates, and if there’s any sign of trouble, I’m coming!”

      “Agreed,” Avram nodded, grabbing his coat. “I’ll call you when I get there….”

      The fire raged in the pit in the midst of the circle, a swirling wind drawing a reverse funnel of sparks into the night sky in a fierce show reminiscent of a more demonic “Night on Bald Mountain.” A swarm of frantic activity all over the grounds of the farm filled the atmosphere with tension, as Malphas roared with rage and hatred at his minions.

      “We didn’t kill a single one of them?” he asked a low-level soldier demon.

      “One severely injured just arrived at the hospital,” the demon reported.

      “We’ll take care of that in due time,” Malphas growled with seething anger.

      “We have yet another problem,” the demon minion added with hesitation.

      “Only one more?” Malphas snarled dismissively. “How many of the sacrifices were killed? Our prisoners and their friends all escaped us! And the Master’s power was tapped yet again! This … complicates matters infinitely!”

      Avram walked into the emergency room and texted Shirit to let her know he had arrived. Then he walked to the desk and tried to browbeat a nurse into directing him to where Elise was being treated.

      “I’m sorry sir, but only family are,” the big woman interrupted his tirade. But she herself was cut off by a doctor with Shirit at his elbow.

      “That’s fine, nurse,” the young doctor said. “He’s the brother…”

      “But,” the woman said, indicating Shirit, “he said he was her brother.”

      “And she is the patient’s legal partner,” the doctor said. Before the woman could interrupt, he added curtly, “You’ll recall the staff training, Nurse Collins?”

      “Yes doctor,” the woman snapped crisply, handing Avram his visitor’s pass with a frown.

Normally Avram wouldn’t have let the moment pass but he was so worried about his sister and her girlfriend that he immediately rushed over to her. “How is she?”

“Touch and go,” the doctor said. “What happened?” The way he asked implied that he’d already asked and was entirely dissatisfied with the account he had received.

Avram looked to Shirit who said, “Live wire….”

“But the tissue damage is inconsistent with electrocution,” the doctor said. “I can’t understand how an electrical burn could cause this kind of wound.”

“Well, we were both there, doctor,” Avram said. “I’m not a man of science, so I can’t speak to issues of medicine. But what I saw was an electrocution.”

“Well that wire must have had teeth!” The doctor exclaimed before adding, “Alright. We’ll monitor her closely, but her condition is critical. We’ll know more in the morning.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Avram said, shaking the man’s hand. When the doctor was gone, Avram turned to his sister and asked, “What have you done for her so far?”

“Basic healing,” Shirit said, exasperated. “I think she’s stabilized, but could you?”

“No,” Avram said, surprising his sister. “I’ll call Alasdair…. He’s the best.”

“Are you sure? He’s still very weak from healing Tom,” Shirit worried.

“True,” Avram nodded. “I’ll see what I can do and we’ll go from there.”

“Thank you,” Shirit said, putting her head on her brother’s shoulder for a moment before he hurried off to perform as much healing magic as he could manage.

      Satan, the lonely spirit, stood near a wide, shallow vessel full of blood and stared at its still, unmoving surface. From behind him, a refined, soothing voice said, “Allow me to go to him once more, master?”

      “To what end, little brother,” Satan whispered to Beelzebub, not turning to face him.

      “It’s not too late to warn them,” Beelzebub began.

      “It is too late. There is no way they can stop it now.” Satan said with finality. “Knowing would only rob them of one last night’s sleep.”

      “That is not our concern,” Beelzebub answered somewhat harshly. “And who knows what they might yet accomplish, if they had the right information.”

      “It is truly remarkable what they’ve managed thus far,” Satan said with a note of sadness. “The nobility, the sacrifice, the love…. It’s a shame we’ll never have the chance to corrupt that now,” he added wistfully.

      “But he will,” Beelzebub said, as if it were a consolation prize.

      “No, he won’t,” Satan replied. “If he’s smart, he’ll dispatch them immediately and without hesitation.”

      “He has no reason to fear them!” Beelzebub declared, the sting of insult driving his rage. “We barely survived him after the fall!”

      “Never underestimate them,” Satan said. “I may have refused to bow down to them, but I never underestimated them.”

      “But Sal…,” Beelzebub began, but fell silent mid-syllable as fear spread crossed his face.

      Satan spun on him, arm outstretched, and Beelzebub’s feet left the ground unceremoniously as the invisible hand of the Lord of Hell closed about him. “DON’T. YOU. EVER. SAY. HIS. NAME.” Beelzebub struggled against the hand enough to nod his assent, before Satan let him fall crumpled to the ground. “Not now, not tonight with him so close. Why not just invite him over for tea and our blood?”

      “I’m sorry, my lord,” Beelzebub whimpered, his head lowered.

      “Leave me,” Satan said, staring into the crimson window on the mortal world. “It’s begun again. There’s little time left.”

      “Yes, my lord,” Beelzebub said, scurrying off to report to the others that the end of all things drew nigh.

      Back at Tom’s, Judah sat in the large study pensively. Something felt wrong. Everything felt wrong, really. But as the minutes ticked by, he convinced himself more and more that he was just being paranoid.

      Thus when the clock tolled 3 a.m. Judah was completely surprised by what he’d been half expecting all night. With a sudden rush that only the most mystically attuned would have recognized, but that people and animals everywhere felt in the form of instant and generalized anxiety, a vacuum opened in the world and for a moment there was a kind of negative pressure as energy flowed back out of the world. And then it was gone and everything stabilized, leaving a lingering feeling of dread.

      Judah had felt that vacuum before, though only up close and on a much smaller scale: a summoning opens a portal, and as something comes through into our world, something from our world departs. Given the scope of the energy drain, there were only a handful of options for who might have been summoned.

      Judah was so wrapped up in trying to decide whether to wake the others that he was startled by the sound of a voice behind him. Turning, he saw the mirror on the far wall was swirling red that bore the smoking image of a dark indiscernible character. “Maleficent evening, isn’t it, Rabbi?”

      “Surely you mean magnificent,” Judah snarled with disdain. “Which are you? Beelzebub has already come and been rebuffed.”

      “We are deeply concerned by this turn of events! And I am aware, Rabbi, of your leader’s moral rectitude…. And see where it has brought us?” the figure demanded with a laugh totally devoid of humor.

      “Enough,” Judah. “Who are you and what do you want?”

      “I have come to try to help you as much as I can without violating the Order,” the figure said calmly, causing the blood to drain from Judah’s face. “That’s right my dear Rabbi. I’ve known many names, and given myself countless more that have never sat upon the human tongue. You may call me Satan, after the custom of your folk….”

      “I’d rather prefer not to call you at all,” Judah replied sagely.

      “Not unwise, Rabbi,” the figure said with something now akin to affection. “I cannot give you much information, and I cannot interfere directly in your world. Now that he has been released, the options available to me have been minimized…. But I can point you to the information which will be perhaps most salient. My suggestions are more than literal directions, they are clues.”

      “Understood,” Judah nodded.

      “You are a people of the book,” Satan began. “Rely on what you know. And if you were to have a prayer, it should best be received at Father Tim’s church. The answers you receive there should be eye-opening.”

      “That’s it?” Judah asked incredulously.

      “There are some key elements missing from the story, but the name of the bearded demon will be found there, and some clue as to why we fear him so,” Satan responded. “The full story may yet be told if you lot survive to write it on a new scroll.”

      In an instant Judah was left staring at himself in the placid, unmoving face of the mirror. “Dear God, what do we do?”

      “Let them sleep,” Dietrich said wearily from the door. “There’s nothing to be done tonight.”

      Roy, standing at his shoulder, asked, “So it was all for nothing?”

      “Those people were going to die anyway,” Dietrich chided. “You spared them something terrible, something worse than death.”

      Judah collapsed into an armchair and said, “Before you two rest, could you find Father Tim and send him to me? I want to solve this riddle.”

      “What riddle?” Dietrich asked, as Roy said simultaneously, “We can help!”

      “You two run along and leave this to old men and clerics,” Judah said with a weary smile.

      The two men nodded, then scoured the house until they found the priest praying alone. “Father, the Rabbi is looking for you,” Roy said.

      Father Tim nodded and stood. “You men take my room,” he said, voice trembling. “I won’t be sleeping tonight.”

      Dietrich put a hand on his shoulder as he passed and said, “Thank you, Father. And I’m sorry.”

      “Sorry?” Tim asked. “Why sorry?”

      “We failed,” Dietrich answered.

      “No,” Tim said, shaking his head sadly, “God failed! The world needed him today, again, and again, nothing….”

      “What were you praying for, Father?” Dietrich asked.

      “The release of this world from the grasp of suffering,” Tim replied, walking off into the dark hallway. “It’s the best left to us.”

      When he arrived at the library, Tim asked, “What can I do for you, Judah?”

      “I have a bit of a puzzle that requires men such as us. And part of it pertains to you directly,” Judah responded.

      Perplexed, Tim asked, “Puzzle?”

      “I just received a quite obscure message,” Judah smiled darkly. After he’d repeated it verbatim, he asked, “What do you make of it, Father?”

      “Obscure is right,” Tim, grumbled. “Source?”

      “He is a liar, and the Father of Lies,” Judah said, taking some last bit of amusement from the shock that registered on Tim’s face.

      Tim’s knees shook and he collapsed into a nearby chair, putting his head in his hands. “I don’t think I can take much more of this, Judah!”

      Judah nodded and whispered, “Yet we must soldier on, resisting as long as we can the onslaught of the darkness.”

      Tim nodded and sighed, deep and exhausted. “Let God clean up his own mess!”

      “That is exactly what he’s doing, and why I believe we cannot stop,” Judah smiled, the serenity somewhat put on for the young priest’s sake. “Now what do you make of that message?”

      “Well it seems as if we’re looking for a book, and a book that has something to say about demons,” Tim said with a shrug.

      “That’s an incredible leap,” Judah teased kindly.

      Tim raised his eyebrow wryly at the older man and stood confidently, walked to the bookshelf, and put his finger on the spine of a thick volume. “Perhaps I can do you one better then,” Tim said, pulling the book off the shelf and opening it to pass to Judah.

The rabbi looked up at Tim, perplexed. “The Gospel of Bartholomew?”

“I guess they don’t teach arcane Christian texts in rabbinical school?” Tim asked. “This one’s got a lot to say about the fall of the angels, among other things….”