Rona, Donny and Terrence sat kneeling in the bushes just outside of the construction site. Each of them focused intently on the front door of the courtyard. The lights were off and there was no sound coming from inside.
Rona turned to Donny. “When is he going to do it?” Donny had called one of his contacts who knew a way to knock out the power to the entire grid, thereby shutting down the electricity of the entire neighborhood. Donny hoped that by shutting down the power of the surrounding area, Pitroth wouldn’t have enough electricity to draw on and would be unable to complete the spell he was attempting to cast.
“I don’t know,” said Donny, shaking his head. “Perhaps the closer to the ritual the better. Hopefully it will buy us some time before Pitroth regroups and figures out another way to complete the spell.”
“And there’s always another way, isn’t there?” said Rona, to no one in particular. Donny nodded anyway. “I’m finding it hard to believe that you don’t have any contacts that could help us fight.” She shot Donny a dubious look. “I find it very strange that the Templar Knights would only send three guys to recover the most precious of their artifacts.” Donny said nothing. “Very strange indeed.” She turned her attention back to the front door.
Donny cleared his throat. “How many of them do you think we’ll be dealing with?”
“I don’t know. I counted about a two dozen the first time I encountered them. There were more when they came to nab Ward. I suspect there will be even more now. More than fifty, hopefully less than a hundred,” said Rona.
“How do we kill ‘em?” asked Terrence.
“Stab through the heart, maybe. Decapitation for sure. Burning them should work. It also helps if you have a special blade,” said Rona flashing her dagger. “Bullets will only slow them down.”
“And the big guy, how do you plan to kill him?” asked Terrence.
Rona showed him her new invention, the chain wrapped around the handle of the heaviest kettlebell she could find. “I have a couple of ideas.”
An approaching siren blared in the distance.
“Police,” said Rona, “That’s the last thing we need.”
“I thought some of your best friends were cops?” said Donny with a sly smile.
“Yeah, if you want backup so bad, why don’t you call that shmuck?” said Terrence.
Rona shook her head. “The police won’t know what they’re up against. They’ll only get themselves killed.”
“If cops want to play soldier, that’s the risk you take,” said Terrence with a shrug. “Once we start shooting and burning some demons, the noise is sure to attract the attention of the police, or somebody.”
Sudden realization rushed over Rona. “No. It won’t.” Both Donny and Terrence looked at her in surprise. “An…old friend of mine has a spell on one of the chambers in his nightclub-whorehouse. The spell blocks sound to the outside world. Noise attracted the police the last time Pitroth and I tussled here. I’m sure he learned from that and will have prepared for it this time.”
“Could that explain why we can’t hear anything going on inside?” asked Terrence. “I mean, maybe the ritual has already started.”
Crap, thought Rona.
“Is your phone working?”
“It’s dead,” said Donny.
“Mine too,” said Terrence.
“How are we supposed to contact Isaac? What if something goes wrong? How are we supposed to find out?” asked Rona, a bit of panic in her voice.
“Relax. If something goes wrong, Isaac will find a way to let us know.”
Just then a police squad car pulled up, lights flashing. The front end was smashed as if it had recently been in an accident. The front tire ran up on the curb and the siren clicked off as the car came to a halt.
The driver side door opened and Isaac stepped out. He closed the door and stood in silence. For the first time, Rona understood Isaac’s wordless expression.
Pitroth had Virgil.
Rona screamed in frustration. She slammed her fists down on the sidewalk repeatedly, cracking the concrete. She buried her head in her hands and shook her head back and forth rapidly. “I’m screwing this up. I’m screwing this up. I blew it. He needs a new guardian. He needs a new guardian. I failed,” she said to herself in distress.
“Hey, calm down little lady,” said Donny placing his hand on Rona’s shoulder. Rona sniffed. “We still have a chance to save him.”
“It’s all over,” moaned Rona. “It’s all over…”
“It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings,” said Donny.
“And I don’t hear that bitch, do you?” said Terrence.
Rona managed a chuckle. She lay with her face buried in her palms for a solid minute to regain her composure. “Okay.” She lifted her head up, took a deep breath in and let it go slowly. A look of sheer determination swept over her features.
“There she is!” said Donny.
“Nice ride, Isaac. Where’d you get it?” asked Terrence. Isaac walked around to the back door of the squad car and opened it, revealing the limp, unconscious form of Jay in the backseat. “Isaac, you’re the man!”
“Oh my God, did you hurt him?” asked Rona, running over to the car. Isaac didn’t answer. Rona leaned in to check on Jay. He was a little bruised up and his hands were cuffed behind his back. Rona snatched the keys from Isaac and unlocked the handcuffs. Jay barely stirred as she did so. She closed the door in a slow and smooth motion before going back over to where she’d been kneeling before.
“Okay we’re going in. I should have thought of it before, but I’m sure Pitroth has a secret entrance that allows him to get in and out. He wouldn’t need to use the front door. We can find him on the roof—along with Virgil and the Blood Gage,” said Rona rising to her feet. Terrence tossed Donny and Isaac an assault rifle from the duffle bag. “Kill as many Infernal as you can; leave Goliath to me. I’ll meet all of you guys on the roof. Good luck!”
As soon as Rona finished talking the chanting started. The front door of the building opened. Goliath, thought Rona. Her body tensed up in anticipation. She was ashamed of the relief she felt when she saw that it was just a dozen or so Infernal that came rushing out of the door. Rona took a deep breath. “Hold on, Teenface, I’m coming for you.” She leaped over fence and launched her ball in chain in the direction of the oncoming Infernal.
“You alright, kiddo?”
Virgil opened his eyes to find that his arms had been shackled to a wall. He looked to his left and found the familiar face of Ward. His face was bruised up, his lip was busted, and there was dried blood under one of his nostrils—but the Brit was still smiling. Virgil looked around the dark room. The other faces didn’t seem to share Ward’s jovial demeanor. They looked malnourished and dirty but he recognized a few of their faces from the pictures in Jay’s car…they were the missing teens.
“Where…where are we?” asked Virgil groggily.
Ward’s face wrinkled in thought. “I don’t know. Somewhere downtown I believe.”
“The construction site?” said Virgil.
“Perhaps,” said Ward. “Where’s Rona?”
“She should be somewhere around here, I guess,” said Virgil, glancing around the room and feeling relieved not to see Rona shackled next to him.
“Oh great!” said Ward. “So the rescue mission is already underway then?”
“No one is coming to rescue us,” said one of the teenage girls. Her hair was matted and her face was caked with dirt. The area around her wrists where she had been shackled was bruised and discolored.
“Yeah, they’ve been here a little while,” said Ward, leaning in to whisper to Virgil. “Debbie Downers—the lot of ‘em—but you and I know better, right, my friend?”
Virgil didn’t know what to think.
All he could do was hope.
The kettlebell hit the group of Infernal like a bowling ball, splitting the group down the middle. Rona rolled to her left and swung the ball and chain in a helicopter motion, knocking down a few Infernal that had been charging her. Shots rang out as the Templars entered the fray. Rona put down her ball and chain and pulled out the Elnign Dagger. She swung the dagger around and around by the rope, using it to strike oncoming Infernal. She leaped into a crowd of them, jumping and spinning with the dagger, cutting Infernal and sending them fleeing from her path. More Infernal rushed from the front door of the building. Rona swung the dagger by the rope, tripping three of them. She ran by and stabbed them all one-by-one until they all burst into flames, then disintegrated.
Terrence led the other Templars across the courtyard. He used his assault rifle to stun enemies, as Donny and Isaac came up behind with their swords, decapitating them. The bodies converted to ash. Terrence shot one of the Infernal on full auto until his gun clicked. The Infernal charged him. He stopped the demon by hitting it in the face with the buttstock of his rifle and then kicking the creature in the gut. That stunned it just long enough for Isaac to run it through with his sword from behind. He tossed the demon over his head, and Donny leaped up and decapitated it in midair. The body incinerated before it hit the ground.
Rona found herself surrounded by Infernal. She kicked and punched them as they got close enough, while still swinging her dagger. She mirrored the spinning motion of her dagger, whirling her body through the air, landing spinning kicks and scissor kicks on approaching Infernal. She threw her blade through the air and it found its mark in the heart of one of the demons, incinerating him. She yanked the rope back and sent it flying into a demon that had been approaching her from behind, turning him to ash as well.
“Rona, look out!” called Donny. Rona dodged to one side as Donny shot a demon with pinpoint accuracy.
Rona rolled backwards toward the demon, sprang to her feet and stabbed it through the heart.
This time it was Donny who was doing the shooting and Terence and Isaac who were doing the chopping. Donny had a different style of shooting than Terrence; one that favored accuracy over volume. He picked his shots, finding the perfect place to shoot the demon to get it off balance just long enough for Isaac or Terrence to finish it off. Terrence too, had a different style of sword fighting than Donny. He rushed in swinging, often not waiting for Donny to stun the demon first. He severed arms and legs in order to get in close enough to sever the head or run it through the heart. Isaac was having success, pistol in one hand, sword in the other. He shot demons in the gut and then finished them off with one quick swing of his sword. One of the Infernal managed to knock the sword from Isaac’s hand. Isaac whirled around to the back of the demon and wrapped one arm around its neck. He shot two oncoming demons with his other hand. Terrence lopped the head off of one of them while Donny hit the other with an uppercut-like motion with the buttstock of his rifle, before whipping out a knife and stabbing it through the heart. Isaac pushed the demon he was holding away, then leaped up into the air and dropped kicked it. The demon stumbled back, tripping over Donny who laid himself on all-fours behind the demon. Terrence came up to the felled demon, and ended it.
Rona dodged a blow from one of the Infernal, flipped around to its back and ran her dagger around the full circumference of its neck. She tore the head from it and it burst into flames and then fell to ashes. She found herself fighting back to back with Donny who was still using well placed shots to knock the demons off balance.
“Duck!” said Rona. Donny obliged. Rona swung her blade by the rope in a helicopter motion, severing the heads of at least six demons at once.
“Rona, your friend is here!” said Terrence, eyeing the doorway.
He was clad in in battle armor. Something that resembled a modern update of what Goliath might have worn five thousand years ago. His helmet was gold, with slits just big enough for his fiery eyes to be seen beneath. The rest of the armor seemed to be made of some sort of thick hide and metal alloy. It covered the entire right side of his body, down to his hands that had been fitted with gloves of the same material. The left side of his body, including his left arm was bare. Rona guessed this was to allow this arm more movement to wield his weapon: a giant saber, too big for an ordinary man to lift.
Goliath waved it with ease.
“Warrior Female, shall we commence?” asked Goliath.
“I’m waiting on you,” said Rona, recovering her ball and readying it.
She took a deep breath. It was tempting to plan in attack on Goliath’s lightly armored side, but that meant running into the giant sabre he was carrying. It was a trap that him look more vulnerable than he was in order to draw in enemy towards danger. She had to wait for the right opportunity to present itself.
Goliath charged, his sword at the ready.
Rona waited until the last possible second to dodge Goliath’s swinging sword. The blade missed her by inches as she rolled to her side. She had to leap again to dodge the follow up. She’d been hoping the attacks would leave Goliath off balance and vulnerable, but this was no plodding giant. He was a seasoned fighter; quicker and better coordinated than his lumbering appearance might suggest. He must have sensed her strategy. He approached more cautiously the second time. Rona knew that she couldn’t wait for him to make the first move. She whirled her ball and chain around and around and launched it full force at Goliath. He deflected with his sword. The kettlebell slammed into an Infernal that had managed to mount Terrence, knocking him over. Terrence rolled over and pressed his sword through the demon’s neck, turning it to ash.
Luckily for Rona, even in deflecting the blow, Goliath was knocked a little off balance. Rona rushed him, pulling her dagger from her pocket. She dodged to the side, just out of the way of one of Goliath’s wild blows. She rolled as Goliath tried to follow her movements, making him even more off balance. Rona saw her opening. She sliced Goliath’s Achilles tendon as she rolled by his ankle. The giant cried out in pain and fell to one knee. Rona climbed on his back. She wrapped the rope around the giant’s neck, then somersaulted over his head, pulling him forward. She thrust the dagger up, hoping to use his falling momentum to press into the heart. She had been aiming for Goliath’s least protected side, but her dagger had found his breastplate instead. The giant cried out in agony, as Rona gritted her teeth and struggled to hold the giant’s weight above her while pressing up, she heard the breastplate crack. As the weight became too much for her she rolled to one side, allowing Goliath to fall face-first into the dirt.
His body convulsed. It seemed as if all action had stopped to see what would happen next. All eyes were fixed on Goliath, who lay convulsing. Then he stopped. There was a long few seconds as all onlookers waited.
Then Goliath got up.
Rona’s eyes widened with terror as Goliath made his way back to his feet. He gritted his teeth and then ripped the handle from the blade of the Elnign Dagger and threw it to the ground. He unwrapped the rope from his neck and dropped it at his feet. He grimaced as he removed the breastplate from his torso. Rona could hear the skin ripping as he pulled off the breastplate with the blade of her dagger still poking through. Goliath let it fall to the ground. His massive torso heaved as he let out a primal yell.
“Ow,” he said. “I think I’ll kill you now.”
Rona was afraid he’d say that. She darted over, ducking under Goliath’s fist and recovered the blade of her dagger. She placed it in her pocket. Goliath looked prepared for another assault. He twirled his sword around expertly. Rona grabbed her ball and chain, gave it a good few twirls and launched it at her enemy.
“So you’re the one they’ve been looking for,” said one of the boys, chained across from Virgil.
“I guess,” said Virgil, his wrists beginning to hurt from the manacles. “I have no idea why, though.”
“Maybe you’re an Oracle,” said another of the girls, “Like the rest of us.”
“I don’t know,” said Virgil. He looked up at Ward. “Am I?”
Ward gave him a studying look. “I don’t know. You ever have visions?”
Virgil shook his head. “I have weird dreams sometimes, but they never come true or anything, at least not the way I dreamed them.”
“Tell me about one of them,” said Ward.
Virgil told him about the one with Miss Tilley, going on to add that it was actually the principal that was after him.
“Don’t expect things to happen exactly how they did in the dream. Sometimes people who are important to us or who care about us will appear to us in our dreams in order to warn us,” said Ward.
“That explains why my friends were in the dream, but Miss Tilley isn’t special to me. I barely know her,” said Virgil.
“Perhaps she will be someday. Dreams also know nothing of time and space,” said Ward.
“It could all be nothing,” said Virgil.
“Or it could be something,” said Ward. “All I know is that they went through a lot of trouble to gather us all here, and you are their crown jewel, so there must be something special about you.”
That made Virgil feel anything but special.
Ward must have sensed this. He gave Virgil an apologetic look. “Cheer up, mate. It could all just be a big misunderstanding.”
“Do you think it is?” asked Virgil rhetorically.
“No,” said Ward. “but demons have been known to be less than honest. They also screw up from time to time.”
“Are they going to screw up tonight?”
“Perhaps they already have.”
“As an Oracle, shouldn’t you have known this was going to happen?”
Ward let out a hardy laugh. “Knowledge is a funny thing. To ‘know’ something suggests that it is a fact. When often the things that we truly think we know for a fact, aren’t in fact, truth. Sometimes we know things with our mind, that we know in our hearts aren’t true. Sometimes we confuse knowing with hoping or believing. And sometimes we know things that are just plain wrong. We rarely ever know anything infallibly. Knowledge is just a combination of our experience and our imagination. Never confuse knowledge with truth.
“That being said, I did know that this outcome was a possibility, but I also knew that it wasn’t the only possibility. Frankly, I was hoping for one of the alternative outcomes—preferably the one with strippers and booze, but that’s neither here nor there—nothing is written in stone. Being an Oracle is not like watching a rerun of your favorite sitcom, it’s more like looking at a chess board and trying to guess the next move. There are so many possibilities. You know what you would do were you in your opponent’s shoes. You know what the smart thing to do would be. But every once in a while your opponent does something so unexpected that you’re caught unaware. Something that you have never seen before and had never thought of. That’s kind of how the universe works. And I’ll tell ya’ the universe is a better chess player than any of us. Please tell me you play chess or that reference is not gonna’ make a lick ‘a sense.”
“I do,” said Virgil with a chuckle. “But I think Pitroth is about to checkmate us.”
Ward gave Virgil a sly smile. “The game is not over yet, mate. You’re the only one with a queen still in play.”
The door slid open, allowing light into the chamber. Infernal rushed into the room and began unshackling Virgil and the others. Panic rushed over Virgil, but he stopped himself from resisting or crying out. Some of the kids screamed and cried as the Infernal muscled them out of the chamber and into a large, dome-shaped room. The ceiling was made of glass and Virgil could see the night sky. They must have been on the very top floor of the building. Burning candles decorated the room. Virgil passed a spiral staircase as he was shoved along. He chanced a look down. The staircase seemed to go on forever, spiraling down until the floor below looked like a square on a checker board. Virgil and the others were marched over to the center of the room. Each was positioned on their own individual metal plate, several feet apart. Their shoes were removed. Virgil was positioned in the center of the others. He looked up and saw directly in front of him, a stage with ten Infernal, standing shoulder to shoulder, their heads down and arms outstretched at ninety degree angles. They were chanting in a language that Virgil didn’t recognize when he was brought in, but once he was positioned on his plate, he could understand what they were saying.
We, the Infernal
Children of fire
Body of The Eyes
Bringers of order
Warriors of Perdition
Lend us your great power
The Eyes are upon you!
The words sent a chill down Virgil’s spine. He looked down at the floor, only to see a pair of feet walk up to him. A staff hit the ground with a bang, snapping Virgil’s head up until he was face-to-face with Pitroth. Pitroth’s face was hidden behind a hood and all semblance of humanity was gone from his voice as he spoke.
“I have waited so long for this moment. We have waited so long.”
One of the Infernal walked up and opened a small chest, revealing a glowing, ruby-red stone. She presented it to Virgil. He knew instantly that it was the Blood Gage. He could feel the power emanating from the stone although it was something he couldn’t explain. He was taken aback by its beauty. Suddenly the glow stopped and it looked like an ordinary, fist-sized ruby.
“You will hold the Blood Gage during the ritual,” said Pitroth.
“That’s what this was all about? You need someone to hold the Blood Gage while you cast your stupid spell?” spat Virgil. “Why don’t you do it yourself.”
“No demon can touch the Blood Gage. Its power can only be unlocked by a human,” said Pitroth.
“And if I refuse?” asked Virgil.
Pitroth sighed. He raised his staff and pointed it at one of the teenage girls. A light erupted from the tip of the staff, followed by a small blast. The blast hit the girl and she cried out and fell to her knees. She continued to cry as two Infernal lifted her back up to a standing position. Tears welled up in Virgil’s eyes as he snatched the Blood Gage from the chest and held it with both hands. He stared daggers at Pitroth.
“I knew you’d come around,” said Pitroth.
“So you’re just going to kill us?” asked Virgil, hatred boiling over in him.
“I’m going to kill them, after the ritual,” said Pitroth pointing to Ward and the others. This elicited a cry from one of the boys. Pitroth ignored him and continued speaking. “You, on the other hand are not mine to kill. I’m simply borrowing you. You belong to Him.” Virgil didn’t know who “him” was, nor did he want to. “You see, Virgil, we’ve infiltrated your life since you were a child.” As if on cue, one of the Infernal on stage, pulled down her hood to reveal herself as Virgil’s kindergarten teacher. The others followed suit. There were other faces he recognized: his dentist, the owner of the hamburger place where he frequently ate; Lee was there, as well as the police officer and construction worker. The Infernal that had handed him the Blood Gage revealed herself to be Mrs. Vale, the school psychiatrist. All of their faces had taken on demonic characteristics.
Pitroth removed his hood to reveal a face so terrifying that Virgil couldn’t look away. His bone structure had shifted in a grotesque manner. The shape of his skull had narrowed in an impossible way, while his cheek bones had sunken in. What appeared to be horns, protruded from the top of his head. His canines had grown to the length of a predator’s. The once pale, white skin of Mr. Goodman had melted away, replaced by a yellowish tinted mask that appeared rough to the touch. And his eyes…
They burned red, glowing with the same fury of the ones he had seen in his dreams and outside his window. Virgil let out a scream and attempted to collapse, but two Infernal held him in place.
“I’ve been tasked with delivering you to Him, but I figured I could use you for my own little pet project first,” said Pitroth. “It is time. Hold the Blood Gage above your head.”
Virgil did so as tears streaked his cheeks. Suddenly, a shock of electricity surged into him from the metal plate. He cried out as the pain hit him, but it was brief, soon all he could feel was the electrical energy coursing through him as if he were merely a perfect conductor. He couldn’t move. His head was tilted back and he was forced to stare up at the night sky through the glass ceiling.
“Ah, electricity, what a marvelous energy source,” said Pitroth. “Now, repeat after me!”
Goliath caught the kettlebell in midair. He yanked the chain—and Rona with it—towards him. Rona sailed through the air, only to be kicked by the massive foot of Goliath and sent flying backwards. She crashed through the door of the building and slid across the floor of the lobby. The blow made her head spin. As she gathered her senses, she began to realize what was going on. The inside of the building was bursting with energy. Rona could hear the crackling of electricity all around her. She could feel that some evil energy was gathering. The sound of chanting echoed from the top floor even though Rona knew it was several hundred feet above her.
The ritual had begun.
Rona attempted to sit up but only managed to lift her head. She gazed through the whole she had made. The momentum of the action outside was shifting. The Templars were running out of ammo, and the superior physical strength of the Infernal was beginning to take its toll on the three men. All the while, Goliath was walking up to her, swinging her ball and chain.
The fat lady was clearing her throat.