30 The End Has Come

“My Lord?” Malphas asked tentatively as he stood over the diminutive body at the middle of the larger ritual circle. The form did not move or make a sound. Malphas examined it with exceeding interest. Few things in the world surprised him, but the form taken by his master took him aback.

      Lying in the dirt was the dirty, nude body of a 12-year-old boy with straw-blond hair. The boy looked exceedingly peaceful, and excessively beautiful. Malphas reached out a hideous claw to touch the boy but, at the last moment, felt the violent arc of energy and pulled back before it could fully link him to his master with devastating results. As yet unconscious, it could not yet control its power.

      “What do we do?” a lower level demon asked Malphas fearfully.

      “We wait,” Malphas growled, “unless you’d like your essence ripped apart?”

      Judah read silently, on the edge of his seat, with Tim looking over his shoulder. Tim explained, “According to legend, the Apostle Bartholomew questioned the devil, who explained to him the events surrounding the fall. The first part of the story is common: Satan, ordered to bow down to man, refuses, and is cast out of heaven for his disobedience. The story the fiend tells Bartholomew is a bit more … adversarial.”

      Judah read softly, “Satan said, ‘I am fire of fire, I was the first angel formed, and shall worship clay and matter?’ And Michael said to me, ‘Worship, lest God be wroth with thee.’ But I said to him, ‘God will not be wroth with me; but I will set my throne over against his throne, and I will be as he is.’ Then was God wroth with me and cast me down, having commanded the windows of heaven to be opened.”

      “So Satan actually rebelled in more than his refusal. He actually proposed setting himself up as an anti-God,” Tim explained. “As in other versions, more angels followed him. Six hundred according to Bartholomew.”

      Judah read on a few lines as Satan’s story continued, “And when we were cast down upon the earth we were senseless for forty years, and when the sun shone forth seven times brighter than fire, suddenly I awaked; and I looked about and saw the six hundred that were under me senseless. And I awaked my son Salpsan and took him to counsel how I might deceive the man on whose account I was cast out of the heavens. And thus did I contrive it. I took a vial in mine hand and scraped the sweat from off my breast and the hair of mine armpits, and washed myself in the springs of the waters whence the four rivers flow out, and Eve drank of it and desire came upon her: for if she had not drunk of that water I should not have been able to deceive her.”

Tim sat perplexed. “What is this supposed to tell us?” he wondered out loud. “It seems as ridiculous as it did the first time I read it in seminary!”

“He said it would tell us the name,” Judah said, pointing to the word, ‘Salpsan.’ Tim began to ask, but Judah cut him off. “Don’t say it,” Judah warned. “The name is powerful with the demon on our plane.”

Tim nodded, and asked, “Besides a name, what does this give us?”

“He said it would explain why they were afraid of S.,” Judah mused.

“The son is more dangerous than the father,” Tim blurted out after a minute’s silence, “because he is wiser!”

“What?” Judah asked. “But … of course.”

“Satan would have been unable to overcome Eve if it weren’t for the advice he received from his son. That kind of knowledge carries terrible power! The book must have been his grimoire, the only wisdom powerful enough to call him back into the world,” Tim mused, the pieces all falling together.

“He said we’d learn the whole story if we made it through,” Judah said, sitting back in his chair. “How are we supposed to deal with an entity with darker wisdom than Satan himself?”

      Tim sighed and said, “There is only one hope now, and precious little reason to hope.”

      “What is that?” Judah asked.

      “If God is on our side, perhaps there is still a way out of this,” Tim said. “But He’s left us alone so many times.”

      Judah nodded, half defeated. But there was a tone of defiance in his voice as he declared, “We are never alone, Father!” Seeing the man’s lost look, he continued, “From the first day, the order of things brought these boys to Tom. And Tom had been prepared by a lifetime that has no natural explanation. Tom came to you and me, and called upon a worldwide network of wizards, who nearly thwarted one of Hell’s own Lords. All of that should be impossible!”

      Tim nodded and took a bit of courage from Judah’s words. As he rose, however, Judah cautioned, “Don’t wake them.”

      “I won’t,” Tim said. “I’m going to my church to say Mass….”

      Judah said, “Take one of the young wizards with you. We shouldn’t travel alone.”

      Tim shook his head and said, “What is there left to fear in the world that that would solve?”

      Judah smiled grimly and said, “Alright, I’m not going to sleep tonight, and Avram wouldn’t let me go with him. I’ll come with you?”

      Tim teased, “Ready to take the plunge, Rabbi?”

      Judah chuckled, shaking his head. “I always have loved watching a holy man interact with his God. I have a feeling I want to be there tonight,” he concluded with a smile. Tim nodded and they gathered their coats and hats as quietly as they could.

      Tom lay in bed paralyzed. The vortex had awakened him from deep slumber and left him with a pit of terror in his soul too deep to fathom, a terror deepened by the nearness  of all the people he loved more than he’d ever thought possible after Jamie’s death. The stakes were so high, and his faith in himself was ebbing fast. He considered slipping away to go prepare, but in the end, he wrapped his arms around the two bodies nearest him and cried softly in the dark.

      Alasdair was wide awake when the call from the hospital came. “Hello?” he asked, answering on the second ring.

      “It’s Avram. Is Sarah safely away?”

      “Yes,” Alasdair said with a sigh. “So we failed?”

      “We thought we’d done it but he must have had spare sacrifices,” Avram answered.

      “It was only ever a stop-gap,” Alasdair said with a weary sigh. “The boys?”

      “Home, safe and sound. All of us are now, except Elise,” Avram reported.

      “She’s not,” Alasdair began.

      “No! No!” Avram responded. “She’s in the hospital. She took a nasty bite from a hell spawn.” After a moment’s hesitation, Avram added, “I’ve done all I can, Alasdair….”

      Alasdair sat silently on the line for a moment longer than he intended. He and Avram had never gotten along. That was an understatement – on their best days they didn’t get along. “I’m nearly spent, Avram,” he said softly. A few more seconds ticked away before he added, “I need to get dressed. I’ll be along in about half an hour….”

      Avram sighed deeply, his gratitude expressed in the relief he showed at learning his colleague was coming, despite their history. “I cannot….”

      “Enough said, Avram! In times such as these, such things are forgotten,” Alasdair said, setting the phone down and leaning forward numbly. And then he rose and strode purposefully up to his closet for his uniform of Savile Row tweed.

      The eastern sky was brightening as Malphas’s demonic henchmen gathered closer to consult with their leader. But they were wary too. They had seen the conclusion of the ritual, and knew what their demonic overlord was capable of.

After dispatching the humans, Malphas had completed the summoning of his demonic coven using additional sacrifices he’d had prepared. All in attendance besides Malphas had been under the illusion, however, that a demonic coven was all that was required for the summoning of Salpsan from his sub-infernal prison. That, however, marked only the beginning of the real ritual.

      After the entire coven had been summoned, Sendor, the first member of the demonic coven demanded, “Release us, brother, so that we may complete the task!”

      Malphas smiled wickedly and said, “If I release you, I have no guarantee that you won’t simply flee into the world and enjoy your newfound freedom.”

      “Reasonable concern,” Sendor growled. “But I won’t help unless you release me!”

      “And I won’t break your circle until the ritual is complete,” Malphas said.

      “Then we are at a stalemate,” Sendor declared rancorously.

      Malphas just laughed, deeply and menacingly, before replying with a stony cold face, “We would be … if I required your help. But I require only your blood. Brother.”

      Sendor’s face became a mask of horror as he realized, at last, what would transpire. “But you can’t,” he stammered, until he was silenced by the site of Malphas’s dagger, forged according to the plans in the Codex.

      “It seems,” Malphas said with a deadly grin, “that I can! And I will.” Malphas approached Sendor’s circle and said an ancient incantation in a secret demonic language known only to the most ancient and powerful in Hell. Then, with the enchanted dagger, he drew a mystical sigil in the air around Sendor – the sigil of the first sacrificial demon. Finally he stepped into the circle and seized the lust demon and stabbed him in the chest, slicing him open down to his pelvis, spilling putrid sludge and unmentionable horrors on the earth.

The ground beneath them shook mightily and a small crack appeared in the earth at the middle of the circle, revealing an otherworldly, red fire deep within. A muffled roaring could be heard, angry and impatient. It was coming. Malphas had resolutely moved to the second circle and begun again.

Thus Malphas’s remaining demonic soldiers had watched him murder twelve demons in order to raise the frail boy who still lay prone in the dirt at their feet. At last Malphas had spilt his own blood as well, but his death wasn’t necessary. A small amount spilled from his hand into the crack in the earth was required to break the last lock, the one installed by the lowest of Hell’s greater lords broken by the blood of his little brother.

      As the sun crested the highest hill on the horizon, one of the legion asked, “How long must we wait? The sun drains us. If they come back, they could end this before it begins!”

      Malphas snarled and said, “I am aware of the danger.” Even he could feel how weak he was in the sun’s rays, particularly after the draining events of the preceding evening. While killing his coven had little impact on his conscience, insofar as a demon has something analogous to one, the struggle was demanding, and the ritual taxing.

      “We could bury him, come back tonight after dark,” one suggested.

      “NO!” Malphas roared. “If they found him defenseless, they might figure out a way to bind him, or even return him to….”

      A soft, boyish voice with a slightly British-sounding accent declared, “I am never defenseless, Malphas….”

      “My Lord Salpsan,” Malphas said, falling to one knee.

      The demon, in his boyish form, rose and walked over to Malphas and placed his hand on Malphas’s shoulder, saying, “You have done well, child. Very well. And your reward shall be proportional.”

“Thank you my Lord, but I serve you for a purpose, not for reward,” Malphas said with an almost pious tone in his voice.

“I know. Long you have sought me, and I know your inner being,” Salpsan said, receiving the reverence graciously. “When the war comes, you’ll serve with honor at my right hand. And you shall be rewarded ever more greatly because you do not seek it….”

“Thank you, my Lord,” Malphas said.

“Stand, we have much to do,” Salpsan said softly.

“But Master,” Malphas said with too much concern, “you need to collect your strength!”

“I have strength enough to deal with any who would resist me,” Salpsan said dismissively. “Surely you do not doubt that, having chosen me over my father, and his Father?”

“No, my Lord. Never!” Malphas declared. Then he glared at his fellow demons and added, “Any who will not accompany us shall die this very day!”

Morning found Tom’s house silent. Usually not long after sunrise the place would be buzzing with activity. This morning, however, things were quiet, as most of the inhabitants remained in bed much later than normal.

      Tim and Judah returned after eight, after Tim said a second, morning mass for his congregants. The two men were subdued but in better spirits. They found Roy and Dietrich sitting quietly at the dining room table drinking coffee.

      “Any news from the hospital?” Judah asked.

      “They called fifteen minutes ago,” Roy reported. “Elise is doing better after Alasdair came over. He’s still with Avram and Shirit watching over her.”

      “Good,” Judah said. “They know?”

      “They know,” Dietrich said with a somber nod.

      “Why are you guys so grumpy?” a drowsy David asked, standing in the doorway rubbing his eyes and stretching his nicely developing teen muscles.

      Dietrich looked to Judah who said, “There’s still a lot to do.”

      “Yeah but you’ve got a year now,” David said. “Juice in the fridge?” he asked rubbing his smooth stomach unselfconsciously.

      “Well, call us worry warts,” Judah said with a strained smile. He wanted to consult with Tom before talking to any of the ‘civilians.’

      The boy chugged his juice, then went to rouse Sebastien, Peter, and Billy. “Let’s give them some privacy, guys,” he whispered and led the boys to one of the now empty rooms where they piled into bed and went back to a comfortable sleep, blissfully unaware of the trouble brewing for them.

      It was almost lunchtime when Tom awoke from the fitful slumber he’d fallen into just before dawn, and he found his entire team gathered in the kitchen after showering and dressing. Alasdair, Avram, Shirit, and Elise, who was weak but looking much better, had not yet returned from the hospital. Besides the boys, only they were absent.

“Have you brought everyone up to speed?” Tom asked Judah, assuming he’d know.

“No, I thought it best to wait for you,” the rabbi answered.

“Alright, everyone, we failed and,” Tom began, but was interrupted by the doorbell. “It’s probably Alasdair and the others,” he said. “Let me go let them inside….”

“Oh, Tom,” Judah called after him, “we know his name!”

“Great!” Tom called over his shoulder, and walked through the living room and looked out the peephole of the front door. Seeing a small, frail-looking boy facing away from him, Tom cracked the door slightly and said, “Can I help you?”

“I do hope so,” the young boy said very properly. Only when he turned did Tom realize his mistake. When the boy smiled, his milky white eyes were deep wells of despair and chaos. His grin would have been adorable on a human child. “Hello, Tom!”

      “You?” Tom whispered automatically.

      “Me,” the boy nodded with a smile. Tom raised his hand in an attempt to reinforce the magical defenses – already strong enough to withstand Malphas – but the boy shook his head and stepped forward. At first it was like he was walking through molasses but with effort he stepped right through the first set of barriers, which broke with a great and energetic snap. The boy waved his hand at Tom and the man flew back into a wall and crumpled to the floor.

      “Tom?” Judah called, stepping out just as Tom was struggling to stand.

“It’s him,” Tom gasped. A flicker of recognition passed over Judah’s face as the second layer of protection fell with greater explosive release.

“Names are a silly thing, and fear of a name,” the boy said with a smile. “Who am I kidding? Fear my name — Salpsan!” But as the boy uttered his own name, everything went black as all the magical defenses collapsed and Tom fell to the floor unconscious.

      Alasdair stood in the hall outside the room trying to call Tom. Avram stuck his head out and Alasdair reported, “No answer. Again.”

      Avram dialed Judah’s cell, which also rang to voicemail. “No answer.” Dietrich’s and Cho’s numbers did the same.

      “This is bad,” Alasdair said, hitting dial again and knowing that it would be no more successful this time than it had been the previous.

      Before Avram could try to console him with hollow words, a voice said, “I’m sorry, the numbers you are dialing have been disconnected!” The demonic glee in the announcement announced the arrival of Malphas.

      Alasdair and Avram both spun, raising their hands to cast defensive spells, but Malphas already had his claw around Shirit’s throat. “We do not have time for these games, wizards,” the demon growled with malicious glee. “Hands down! She’d be dead already but the master wants you two alive. But I’ll still kill both the women if you don’t come easily!”

      When Alasdair and Avram lowered their hands, Malphas’s henchmen immediately bound the men and slipped black bags over their heads. Immediately Shirit’s scream split the silence in the room and chilled both men to the core. And then they were all gone, leaving behind a single set of eviscerated remains.

      “Tom! Wake up!” a silky smooth voice said gently. “TOM! You’ve got to wake up!”

      “Who? What?” Tom asked groggily, his eyes still closed and his head throbbing from his impact with the wall. He tried to orient himself and recall exactly what had happened, while simultaneously determining to whom the soothing voice he was hearing belonged.

      “Tom!” the man said more sharply. “Open your eyes!”

      “My head hurts,” Tom complained. “How did I get in here?” he asked from his bed.

      “This is where I found you,” the man said. Tom saw him then, a kindly looking man in his early fifties, with salt-and-pepper hair and piercing grey eyes, wearing comfortable looking clothes and a cardigan. He was handsome in that distinguished sort of way. “What do you remember?”

      “Just,” Tom began and fell silent. He had to think for a long while before he could continue, “The bell rang, and I went to the door, and…. Oh no,” Tom said, bounding out of bed, embarrassed to find he was wearing only his underwear.

      “Don’t look at me,” the man said softly. “Not that the view isn’t interesting, but whoever put you in here must have gotten you ready for bed. Now what happened?”

      “The last thing I remember is a boy, teen or preteen, small…. His eyes were milky white and so full of chaos,” Tom began, lost in those eyes even as he recalled them.

      “Tom!” the man said, breaking the spell. “Focus.”

      “Wait,” Tom said, eyes narrowing. “Who are you? Why should I tell you anything? And how did you get in here?”

      “I’m afraid the answer to those questions might set you on edge, Tom,” the man said. “I’m going to make some tea. Why don’t you get dressed and join me when you’re more composed? I’ll explain everything then.”

      Tom was reluctant to let the man out of his sight, but he did want to get dressed so he’d feel less out of his element. He could hear the man knocking around the kitchen noisily, which he was sure was intentional, to set him at ease. Tom pulled on a button-up shirt, pants and a sport coat, then laced up some comfortable brown shoes. He checked his hair in the mirror before emerging to meet the stranger who sat at the table in front of two steaming mugs. The stranger’s tea was a cinnamon herbal, while the man had prepared Earl Gray for Tom.

“That’s my favorite,” Tom mentioned casually.

“I know,” the man answered without hesitation.

“I asked you some questions,” Tom said, smelling his tea before taking a very small sip.

“There’s nothing in it,” the man smiled.

“I know,” Tom said, with arched eyebrows. “Now….”

“Well,” the man said with an engaging smile, “you can call me Satan.” Tom stiffened slightly but took a quick sip from his mug and managed to stay seated. “I would expect more of a reaction from lesser men,” the devil said with a smile.

Tom smiled weakly and said, “I’m afraid that you may be the least of my worries.”

“Quite right you are,” Satan said. “I had hoped that the friendly visit Beelzebub paid you would set you somewhat more at ease so that we could speak calmly, like rational creatures.”

“So you’re projecting yourself here to … what? Offer me more dark magic? Teach me a few tricks?” Tom asked sternly.

“No,” Satan said. “I’ve simply come to speak to you, and there’s precious little time. I need to know everything that’s already happened if we have any hope to turn back the tide.”

“What’s your interest in this? What do you care where the end comes from, or who brings it?” Tom asked.

“This is not how it ends, Tom,” Satan said. “Before I fell, I could see to the edge of eternity, and the last I enjoyed of that clear vision was when, in the moment of my rebellion, I saw the full cascade of effects that my decision set off. The end will come, Tom, but this isn’t what I saw. With his vast knowledge, Salpsan could easily change the course of that path forever. And one thing I know to be true: Salpsan’s end game goes worse for all of us.”

Tom nodded and began recounting all the events that had occurred from the beginning of Malphas’s ritual, with as much clarity as his memory allowed. Occasionally Satan grunted, or nodded, but he did not interrupt.

“There is only one way to stop him, Tom,” Satan said pensively. “We must join forces!”

“I told your lackey, I’m not coming over to the dark side, so stow it,” Tom snapped.

Satan laughed and said, “I’m not asking you to compromise now, mortal! I’m offering my power and assistance.”

“Why?” Tom asked.

“I thought I’d already made this clear, Tom!” Satan said, beginning to lose his patience. “THIS IS NOT THE WAY IT ENDS! THIS IS NOT THE PLAN!”

“The plan is God’s,” Tom said. “How do you know it hasn’t changed a great deal based on the innumerable human choices that have been made since you lost your sight?”

“I have no doubt it has changed, but not to this, Tom. Humankind may merit all kinds of horrors, and I gladly dispense them, but this is not something my Father would allow to play out to the end! I know Him well enough to know that! And as best I can still see, you are the only weapon in play. So I must support you,” Satan said with a note of resignation.

“But you’re bound to the pit,” Tom said. “What can you do?”

Satan stood and said, “Well, it’s a long shot, but there is a way to get me out of the pit.”

“I don’t have anywhere near that kind of power,” Tom said, throwing up his hands. “And I’m not willing to do what it takes anyway!”

“I’m afraid you have the wrong idea entirely,” Satan said with a laugh and patted Tom on the chest. Being the Father of Lies, Satan was able to slip what he intended into the man’s pocket without him ever noticing. Then he put his hands on Tom’s shoulders and began gently kneading. “I’ve got a lot to explain in a short amount of time.”

The cave was cavernous and dank, with water dripping irregularly from a ceiling that resembled the upper jaw of an alligator. A huge fire in the middle of the main cavern cast hideous shadows all over the room. From a smaller chamber just off the main one, whimpering could be heard, as Malphas stood by Salpsan’s shoulder, watching the boyish demon stare into the fire.

All the prisoners were being held together. The boys huddled together in the back, comforted by Aiden and his family, while Shirit wept inconsolably. The last thing she’d seen before being transported to the cave was Malphas’s sharp claws ripping Elise from breast to pelvis. Avram sat holding her hands, but Shirit was somewhere else. Judah and Alasdair, meanwhile, consulted with the small clumps of wizards that sat around whispering.

At last, Judah pulled Alasdair aside and whispered, “Why are we alive?”

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?” Alasdair answered.

“Seriously, Alasdair! Why didn’t he kill Tom and the rest of us at the house? Why take us and put Tom in bed to rest? It doesn’t make any sense!” Judah declared.

“The answer is simple, Rabbi,” a creepily boyish voice answered, clearly despite the great distance. “I want something from you that you cannot provide if you are dead! I want the opportunity to stand face to face with you humans who withstood my servants so valiantly and take your measure. And make you suffer. And make you watch your world burn.” Then he giggled boyishly and tossed his straw blond hair. “It’ll be the best fun I’ve had in an eternity!”

A full text of the Gospel of Bartholomew is available online at: http://www.ricter.com/wordline/barth.htm.