32 Losses

“Where are we?” Sebastien asked Billy softly.

“I have no idea!” Billy replied.

David hugged Sebastien tight and whispered, “It doesn’t matter. We’re alive, and it’s over.”

“Is it?” Alasdair asked, approaching with a limp. He grabbed David’s wrists, having seen David’s brow furrow when Sebastien touched him. A cursory examination revealed extensive burns on the boy’s hands. “We’ve got to get these checked on,” Alasdair said.

“Let’s get everybody home first,” David replied, and Alasdair nodded. “And it is over….”

Alasdair nodded and checked his cell phone. There was just enough battery left for the GPS to give him a reasonable idea of his location – the farm Malphas and the chief had procured. Alasdair wanted to call the police so he yelled, “Tom?” When the man didn’t answer, Alasdair asked, “Has anybody seen Tom?” The injured looked around their immediate areas, while the more or less healthy searched the field.

“Oh God,” David wailed as the weight of it struck him.

Judah struggled to his feet with Avram’s help and hobbled over to the boy, who was being squeezed tightly by Sebastien now. “What is it, dear boy?” Judah asked, grabbing his shoulder.

“At the end, Salpsan was dragging me down, but I knew I couldn’t let go,” David began, and Judah already knew. He choked down a sob as the boy continued, “I heard someone chanting beside me, and then I fell – I was pushed – and then it was all over….”

Sebastien squeezed David harder and broke into hysterical sobs as he realized what had happened and what had very nearly happened. Alasdair’s head snapped over to Aiden, still unconscious but now lying in the arms of his mother, who looked horror-stricken.

“You’re not saying what I think,” she began to ask, and the pain on Alasdair’s face silenced her. “Oh Aiden,” she whispered. “Please sleep for a while longer,” she added in a prayerful tone. Alasdair walked over, an effort required just to hold his tenuous reality together, and asked, “May I take your son’s phone? I need to summon the authorities.”

She nodded and, as Alasdair was dialing the first number, he glanced over at David and his heart caught in his chest. On David’s shoulder sat a winged centipede with the eyes of a spider and the sting of a scorpion. Without even looking, David brushed his shoulder and the creature took to flight, hanging over David for a few seconds before soaring off the the south and catching a current of air to who knows where.

Alasdair said nothing. He simply completed his call to Jim, who made a few phone calls to Aiden’s friends on the force, bringing a very quick response. Evidence would quickly implicate the chief and some other powerful local government officials. But first came dealing with the bodies and taking care of the survivors, which at this point included Tom’s family and friends and few besides.

As he, along with all of the survivors not in need of immediate medical care, was taken into protective custody before answering some immediate questions, Alasdair felt a numbness creep through him. There was a hole in his heart that swept his mind clean, and he could think of nothing but loss. Then he shook his head and asked the officer nearest him, “May I make a phone call? I need to let my wife know I’m alright. She’ll be worried and she’s pregnant.” The man hesitated but asked Jim, who frowned and gave Alasdair a phone.

As Alexa helped guide Misha to an EMT, the man smiled a moment before collapsing yet again, this time falling hard to the ground without resisting. She knelt by him and screamed for help. Billy hurried to her side and pulled her away as EMTs loaded him onto a stretcher and rushed him to the hospital, where they were met by a trauma team. Avram meanwhile accompanied Judah and Shirit to another hospital, where the rabbi would be treated for injuries to his body and Shirit would be put under psychiatric observation to insure her safety.

Tom’s little Victorian mansion became more of a hospital than a hotel, as almost every bedroom held at least one convalescent. Aiden’s mother was hovering over him to the point of annoyance. Aiden had been completely inconsolable the first few days, and then her presence had only infuriated him, as he had wanted to be alone with his hurt and hatred. Now that he’d move to a new stage and had begun demanding answers, her flittering caused him anxiety. Judah and Avram were struggling to find answers to satisfy his mind, but to no avail. They had a partial narrative and nothing more to go on.

Avram’s attention was split between seeking information about what had happened to Tom, and seeing after both Judah and Shirit. Alexa had not left Misha’s side since he had collapsed in the field. The beautiful young man spent his waking hours alternating between acute paranoia and chaotic delirium. Doctors were at a loss, of course, as to the cause of his malady, and searching for some way to help him was yet another drain on Avram, Misha’s father in mysticism. Alasdair spent as much time as he could with Misha, trying to keep him together to the extent possible, but Alasdair was weakened tremendously by the emptiness in his soul. Cho and Dietrich remained to help their master and their friends, as well as to give as much of their energy for Misha as Alasdair could safely use. Roy offered his life force as well, having stayed in town at Dietrich’s request. All of them had moved to a nearby hotel though and gotten separate rooms so they could spread out, relax and enjoy a little privacy.

Peter sat nervously on the edge of his bed and picked up the phone for the fourth time in half an hour.  At last he called Billy, who had moved back home, the danger having passed.

“Is everything okay?” Billy asked, answering on the second ring.

“Yeah,” Peter sighed. “No, not really….”

“Any word about Tom?” Billy asked.

“No,” Peter said. “They can’t find the cave either. Judah’s been out with Roy and Dietrich a few times.”

“He’ll be fine,” Billy said, trying to comfort Peter.

“If I’d never come here, he’d still be alive,” Peter said with a certainty that insisted Billy could give him no logical response.

“Peter,” Billy sighed, having had this conversation before, “you don’t know that! The coven might have gotten what they wanted much more easily and the whole world would be in danger! Tom might well be dead, but a lot of us and our friends would be as well! All our days would be numbered,” he added, getting fiery. This time, Billy barely pulled his punches. “NONE OF THIS IS YOUR FAULT!”

Peter was somewhat startled, if only temporarily, from his guilt-induced stupor, and yet he opened with a “But….”

“No buts,” Billy demanded. “We’d all be on our way to being dead! No ifs! No ands! No buts!”

“Billy,” Peter began.

“Peter,” Billy cut him off, “Tom made a choice, the choice to trade himself for your brother! And he’d do it again every time! If you think about it for a bit, you’ll know that!”

For a long moment Peter was quiet, then he asked, “Will you stay here tonight?”

“I told you last night, I would come stay with you whenever you needed me to,” Billy said with a smile. “And then some!”

The house’s final patient sat in his room staring out the window. David was mostly fine, but he had suffered some worrisome electrical burns on the palms of his hands from the energy that coursed between him and Salpsan. The best Alasdair could tell, the flow had not been completely unidirectional. Salpsan’s life force had attacked David even as David’s energy poured into the demon. Alasdair was trying his best to conceal from David how much this revelation concerned him, but the boy could tell something was wrong based on his headmaster’s demeanor. The man had suddenly become standoffish, distant even, so that David intuited immediately that the man was trying to hide something.

That something was a deep and abiding fear that something had passed from Salpsan to David, or that some of the demon’s energy had somehow corrupted something in the boy. Alasdair’s deepest fear was that this had occurred and he would be unable to help David overcome the damage, that he would fail Tom yet again in being unable to save the man’s adoptive son.

One afternoon, Alasdair was sitting in Tom’s study when Judah tromped in heavily, leaning on a big cane. “What are we going to do?” the man asked the rabbi hollowly.

“The world’s gonna keep on turning thanks to the residents of this house!” Judah said. “The rest, we’ll work on with all we have. What’s on your mind now?””

“It’s David,” Alasdair said. “His having had contact with Salpsan….” With some sadness and he added, “The boy has touched the face of deepest chaos….”

“Alasdair, the boy’s goodness beat back the dark. If he wants it to survive, if we support its survival, it will survive! Have a little more faith in the boy! After all Tom put the whole world in his hands once, and look how that turned out!” Judah said with a confident, but lying smile.

Later that evening, Alasdair was at the hospital when Avram dropped in to check up on Misha. “When’s Sarah getting home?” Avram asked.

“Monday,” Alasdair said with a wistful smile. “Monday….”

“Good!” Avram said. “Get the maid in over the weekend. Those young wizards do make a mess!”

“True,” Alasdair nodded, pulling out his smartphone and sending a quick email requesting special weekend service. “How’s Aiden?” Alasdair asked then, dreading the answer.

“Oh, he’s distracting himself to keep from losing his mind,” Avram said. “On the mend, physically. He’s been on the phone constantly the last few days. The department’s in shambles, and as the investigation into the chief, the assistant chief, and other high-ranking officers moves forward, Aiden’s been filling in a lot of details. That keeps him from thinking about Tom every moment.”

“No it doesn’t,” Alasdair said grimly. Then he asked. “Won’t they think he’s involved?”

“They did at first,” Avram said, “but he’s given them what they need to clear him. Now he’s just the guy who put it all together. I’m sure when it’s all over they’ll make him a detective and put him in some position to parade him in front of the cameras.”

“He’s got a good face for television,” Alasdair noted humorlessly. Then with a sigh, he turned grim again, and said, “Misha’s no better, and I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up….”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Avram asked.

“We need more healers,” Alasdair said. “A lot more.”

“I’ll make some calls,” Avram said. Then he looked guilty and turned away.

“What, Avram?” Alasdair asked with

“Shirit,” Avram said and Alasdair sighed with yet more weight.

“I’ll come by tonight,” Alasdair promised

“Thank you,” Avram said with discernible relief.

Alasdair, with a thick voice, observed, “I’m going to need a vacation soon….”

“David?” Misha asked from the bed, ranting feverishly. “Need to talk to David!”

Later that evening, when Alasdair knocked on Shirit’s door, Avram answered and stepped out into the hall. “Thank you for coming again,” Avram said, casting his glance toward the far corner. He was swallowing a lot of pride, Alasdair knew. Again.

“Of course,” Alasdair responded. “How is she?”

“Physically, she’s fine. Better than fine. But she won’t speak,” Avram complained. “She won’t even get out of bed. Soon she’ll have bedsores if we aren’t careful.”

“She’s lost the will to live,” Alasdair reflected. “Avram, you know as well as I do that healing spells don’t work on the mind….”

“Could you … talk to her?” Avram asked, a tremor in his voice few had ever heard.

“No,” Alasdair said. When a shocked look crossed Avram’s face, he explained, “I’m entirely out of my depth here. I’m too weak to invade her mind now if I wanted to, and who knows what harm I’d do? Your sister needs a psychologist and medication, or at least meditation, Avram. We can’t just wave our magic wands and make everything better!”

“I know that!” Avram replied petulantly.

“If anyone could talk to her, it would be Tom,” Alasdair declared, his eyes moistening. “He was the only one here who’s close to understanding what she’s going through.”

Avram nodded, his own tears actually flowing, but at last he coughed and said, “You’re there too.”

Alasdair shook his head and began, “Aiden….”

“Alasdair, you know it kills me to say it, but I know you loved him. At one time you loved him best of all of us, except Aiden and Jamie!” Avram said, looking away. “Please! Just talk to her?”

At long last, Alasdair nodded and slipped into the room, where he remained for a long time. Outside, only the sound of muted conversation and a lot of crying could be heard indistinctly.

In the study, Judah was where he’d been sitting for hours. He was half reading, and half watching the mirror from which Satan had spoken with him. At last, when he was sure he was alone, Judah said to the empty room, “You said you’d tell the whole story….” Silence. “I’m waiting.”

“I’m sure you are,” came a voice from the mirror. “What do you wish to know?”

“The whole story: Salpsan, his origins, how you defeated him, how he escaped – the whole lot,” Judah declared, pulling out his notebook to record the words. Across the top of a fresh page, he wrote somewhat ironically, “The Apocalypse of Satan.”

“I like your style,” the first of the demons smiled. “You’ve pieced a lot of it together. I’ll just…”

“I want it all in your words,” Judah replied, cutting him off.

“Very well,” Satan said, his grin widening. “You’d best have a seat then!” Judah sat down and nodded, prompting him to begin. “Well the whole thing was entirely unexpected, and it should have been impossible. After all there is nothing new under the sun. But God only made us able to turn our backs and sin. He didn’t make the sin. So when I first did it, something entirely new entered existence. And the afterbirth of that crime fell to the earth and congealed into something hateful, entirely outside of heaven and earth … my child, and oh his dark wisdom. The humans would never have fallen before me without his wise teachings.” And from there the dark tale was woven, recorded dutifully by the scribe.

When he completed his tale, Satan smiled and said, “Is there anything you’d like to ask now?”

“What happened to Salpsan?” Judah asked hesitantly.

Satan grimaced and said, “He is here, with us.” After a pause, the Prince of Darkness added, “For now….”

“You don’t believe Hell can hold him?” Judah asked.

“The Angel of the Face weakened him tremendously,” Satan answered. “He suffers mightily now from our torments, but the day will come when we shall all pay for it.” Judah shivered and the being said, “Why don’t you ask the question you really want to ask, rabbi?”

“Because I’m not sure I want to know the answer,” Judah replied honestly.

“You don’t honestly believe he could be allowed to come here?” Satan laughed.

“I have no idea how these things work,” Judah began. “I was afraid….”

“No,” Satan said. “You’ve seen his power in your world, so full of light! Allowing a light such as his to enter the twilight regions of torment would be a terrible mistake on our part. I separated him from my son, myself.”

“So he’s in heaven?” Judah asked.

“No,” Satan answered.

“But he’s dead,” Judah began.

“No,” Satan replied.

Judah, his excitement rushing to the surface, demanded, “He’s alive? Where,” he began to ask.

But Judah was cut off by Satan’s cryptic, “Also, no. Not exactly….” And then the mirror was empty of all but the image of a weathered rabbi.

Much later, Avram found Judah sitting alone and silent, reading from his notebook and making a few notes and corrections. “Where’ve you been all afternoon?”

“Oh,” Judah said, closing the notebook with a smile, “just making some notes about the last few weeks. I’ve got to start crafting an account before the details start to fade. I’ll start interviewing everyone soon…”

Avram laughed and said, “Ah, rabbis and their writings.” Judah smiled and Avram asked, “How’s your hip?”

“Sore,” Judah admitted, then changed the subject. “How’s Shirit?”

Avram shook his head. “Alasdair’s with her now.”

“He agreed?” Judah asked. When Avram nodded, Judah said, “Good idea. Now how are YOU?”

“Tired,” Avram sighed, sitting next to Judah. “More tired than I ever imagined possible.” After a moment of silence, Avram’s voice took on a confessional tone. “I never really gave her a fair chance, or a fair shake, and now?” he laughed bitterly. “Now I miss her!”

“Of course you do,” Judah said, putting an arm around him. “If nothing else, she was your sister’s happiness….” Tears in his eyes, Avram put his head on Judah’s shoulder.

Later, Alasdair found them still there, relaxing in the silence. “Sorry to interrupt, but Misha’s been asking for David.”

“He did while I was there today,” Avram nodded.

“I mean a lot,” Alasdair replied. “He’s working himself into fits over it. It’s not good for him, and it makes my life more difficult,” Alasdair added with a weary testiness.

“Do you think it’s a good idea to expose David to a raving Misha?” Avram asked. “He’s been through so much already….”

“Misha did nearly die trying to save his brother,” Judah mused. “And given what he’s already been exposed to, maybe we ought to just give him the opportunity to decide for himself.”

“You all figure it out,” a grumpy, drained-to-empty Alasdair said as he turned to go. Then he grumbled, muttering, “If those baby wizards have made another mess of my house, you’ll all feel the black magic from here!”

“We’re asking too much of him,” Avram observed when the man left.

“If we asked any less,” Judah replied, “he wouldn’t know what to do with himself. I’ll be glad when Sarah’s home with him, personally. The sight of that belly will give him some much needed perspective on life.”

David was sitting in front of his computer staring at the screen, zoning out, while Sebastien lay on his bed. He’d fallen asleep reading, though it was still relatively early. Sebastien was back over in David’s bed because, in the aftermath the traumas of Malphas’s and Salpsan’s attacks, Sebastien suffered from what verged on night terrors. The first night he’d tried to stay home alone after Tom’s disappearance, Sebastien had awoken, screaming in terror, thrashing like he was fighting for his life. He had accidentally struck his father, who was trying to awaken him to reality, with such force that the man’s eye was nearly swollen shut. Only proximity to David seemed to ease the severity of the terrors. Sebastien’s parents were understanding, or at least so concerned for Sebastien’s state of mind that they allowed the boy to begin spending his nights at Tom’s house. This understanding, however, was not shared by Catherine, who still stung from the turn of fate which had handed David to her little brother. Her protests over Sebastien’s being allowed to sleep with his boyfriend, her ex, fell on deaf, but increasingly frustrated ears.

David hurried to the door when he heard a soft knock and he slipped outside, urging Judah and Avram to be quiet. “He’s sleeping comfortably right now,” David explained.

Judah nodded and said, “Misha’s not doing well, David.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” David responded, confused. He’d made up with the man, but wasn’t what was expected of him.

“David,” Avram said, “he’s been asking for you. You don’t have to, but if he could see you it might put his mind at ease….”

David was about to answer when they were startled by a scream. David had already been on edge, wondering if this would come, and he looked torn between hurrying into the room and answering. “In the morning,” he blurted and rushed back into his bedroom, closing the door behind him.

David hurried to the bed and scooped the boy into his arms. “Shhh, Sebastien, it’s just a dream!” he whispered vigorously. “Wake up, buddy,” he said louder. Sebastien’s eyes opened, full of panic and fear. “It’s David, buddy!”

Slowly, Sebastien’s eyes filled with recognition and relief. “Nightmare,” he whispered.

“I figured,” David chuckled. “That or a really weird sex dream.”

“I wish,” Sebastien laughed softly. He wrapped his arms around David and asked, “Will I ever stop having these dreams?”

“Maybe,” David said. “I hope so. But I still have nightmares about my brother, and….”

“What happened?” Sebastien asked.

David looked in his eyes and looked away. “One day, Sebastien, I promise. But there’s been enough badness for now….”

Sebastien squeezed him and fought back tears at the thought that something hurt David so badly. David, his hero, David, his savior, David, who put hands on the child of the devil and only got burned. If there was something in the world that could hurt him, Sebastien wasn’t sure he’d ever feel safe again.

In the middle of the night, Avram was awakened by a phone call. “Hello?” he mumbled.

“Avram, it’s Alasdair. I’m at the hospital with Misha.”

“What’s going on?” Avram asked, waking a bit. “What time is it?”

“Around two,” Alasdair said. “The night nurse called me. Misha’s out of his mind, and wailing, and all he can talk about is David…. Can you bring him?”

“What good can it do?” Avram asked.

Avram heard steps and a door closing, and Alasdair whispered into the phone, “He’s dying, Avram! It’ll be no help, but there’s something he wants to say….”

“I’ll ask David,” Avram said. “I’m sure he’ll come.”

Avram hurriedly pulled on some clothes and went to David’s room, where he found Sebastien awake, holding on to David for dear life and staring at the ceiling. “What’s wrong?” the boy whispered.

“It’s Misha,” Avram said. Then louder, he said, “David, please wake up! We need to go to the hospital!”

“What?” David asked groggily. “Why?”

“Misha,” Avram said. “He’s not doing well, and Alasdair thinks the only way to ease his mind is to let him speak with you.”

David got up as quickly as he could manage after emerging from a deep sleep. Sebastien joined him in getting ready and asked, “Can I go?”

Avram nodded and said, “You can ride with us, but you probably won’t be allowed back.”

“Ok,” Sebastien acknowledge. “I just want to be there for David … and everyone.”

They all hurried out to the car, and made the quick drive in silence. At the hospital, Avram remained with Sebastien while Alasdair escorted David to Misha and gave them some privacy.

“David,” Misha said with a sigh that expressed inexplicable relief. “Thank you….”

“For what, Misha?” David asked, sitting carefully by the struggling patient.

“I needed to talk to you before,” Misha began, his eyes darting back and forth in terror, “before they take me!”

“Before who takes you Misha?” David said soothingly. “You’re going to be well soon!”

“The shadows,” Misha whispered. “They’re coming for me, and I couldn’t let go until I talked to you.”

“I don’t understand,” David said. “You don’t know what you’re saying, it’s the sickness!”

“David,” Misha said, calming tremendously, “I’m dying! Just listen to me! It may not make sense but I’m not crazy!” David nodded and Misha grabbed his hands and squeezed them earnestly. “I need you to tell Tom something for me? When you see him?”

“Misha, Tom’s dead,” David said, a lump in his throat.

“No, gone,” Misha said with a hint of the madness in his eyes. “Just gone! Be back! Soon enough? Maybe!”

“Misha?” David said, getting a bit afraid as Misha devolved.

“Not … crazy! Listen! When he comes back … tell him I did it for him?” Misha asked, taking on at last a pleading tone.

“I don’t understand,” David cried.

“I broke my circle,” Misha smiled. “I took me and put me between him and them … I threw myself away!” he explained with a laugh, as if that explained anything. “For Tom! To show him who I really am behind the me that was! The me I saw through him was the me I couldn’t want to be,” Misha said, straining mightily to put some structure onto the words which were spiraling off of the oblivion in the remnants of his mind.

“I don’t know what to tell him,” David said, crying now with tears that fell onto Misha’s face, as he ignored the voice in his head that cried out that Tom was dead. “I don’t know how!”

Misha’s face bore a look of frustration and fear – terrible longing to be understood against the odds – and he held his breath for a moment as his eyes rolled back in his head. Just when David thought he was having a seizure and was preparing to call a nurse, Misha’s eyes opened and he said, with the most intense look of concentration David ever saw, “I loved him like a brother, because he was the only one who showed me what I could be, not just lived with what I was! I hope he’s proud of me….”

When Misha allowed himself to relax and exhale, his body went stiff as a board and his lower back arched up off the bed about a foot, as a real seizure overtook him. He was no longer able to control his muscles and an alarm went off over his bed. No doubt nurses would arrive soon and send David away. So he was shocked when Misha groaned through the immeasurable pain and growled, “DAVID, MY BAG! TAKE MY BAG! IT’S ALL FOR YOU!” And then he screamed, and his body collapsed to the bed, still and silent, and at last at peace.