Do not mistake my silence for lack of activity. 🙂 Aside from the usual distractions of life, I have been contributing to Book 2 of the War of Shadows series (the sequel to Soul Census.)
As proof, I’ve decided to post snippets of the first two chapters for any hungry fans. Bear in mind that these are are raw (unedited.) However, I think it will give you an idea of the direction the story is taking and the current plight of the characters. Enjoy!
The following work is (C)opyright 2019 by AJ Vega:
Chapter 1: Chasing Shadows
Earth Date: 11th of December 1940 CE
Location: Florida, USA, Earth
Maddock knelt by the edge of the stream, his scimitar laying across his leg. He reached into his bag and pulled out a stone. He then dipped it into the water and began running it up the dark blade’s edge. The familiar sound of stone against steel broke through the cacophony of buzzing insects. For a moment, it made him forget the misery of his surroundings.
How could anyone live in this sticky, gooey and smelly swamp? How he missed cold, hard pavement under his feet. Sure, New York was not without its own pests– slums, bums and pigeon shit; but it was at least a familiar form of misery.
That morning they had landed in Sarasota and then took a cab from the airport to this insect sanctuary. They came to Florida to follow a lead about a supposed miracle that took place here. Something about an orphaned baby that could breath underwater. Sounded like a load of malarkey to him, but then it would not be the first time he brushed against the unbelievable.
Not long ago they were literally in hell and he held a flaming sword and had wings. It all went away when he returned to Earth. Maybe if he still had those wings he could fly above this miserable swamp; away from the onslaught of mosquitoes. Perhaps he could even use the flames of his sword to shoot down the pests. After all, it would be a shame to end his war record with only 73 air victories.
“That blade does not need sharpening,” a voice said to him.
Maddock looked to his side.
A familiar form stood there– a man covered in hard leather armor and metal spikes. Fur lined his shoulders and a horned helmet adorned his head. Spatterings of blood stained both his face and clothing. Set against the background of these green swamplands, he could not be more out of place.
“I know it does not need sharpening, Bolormaa,” Maddock said.
The Mongol warrior knelt down beside Maddock. “Then why do it?”
Maddock ran the wet stone up the sword, deeply aware of the futility of sharpening a blade that will never dull. Almost as futile as talking to a shadow.
“It brings me comfort,” he said.
Bolormaa nodded. “I see you need much comfort in these days, Taylan Chagatai.”
Maddock tried to ignore the many parallels in that statement. Three months ago, they got their asses kicked by Vero and his master. The traitorous monk nabbed his girl, Saryana. Maddock shut his eyes hard– trying to forget that memory. He had to get her back. Yet, he was stuck here on this mission.
Since that time in Tartarus, the echoes from his past lives stepped forward to reveal themselves further. Not any new introductions– the same lives he had remembered. Only now, they were more than just memories; they were sometimes unwelcome companions.
“Why so sad at seeing an old friend, tsereg?” Bolormaa said. “Would you prefer Ganbold instead?”
Maddock tried not to look at him. They seemed to stay longer if he paid attention to them.
Bolormaa knelt beside him, putting his face uncomfortably close to his own. Close enough to smell his fowl breath.
“You’re not really here,” Maddock said, averting his stare. “Both you and Ganbold are long dead. May you rest in peace.”
Bolormaa shot up and threw his hands in the air. “You keep saying that, but I am here now,” he said, slapping his chest. “I have never felt more alive!”
Maddock ignored him and continued to sharpen his blade.
“Oh that now,” Bolormaa said. “The game of silent tongue again.”
The Mongol drew his sword and slowly leveled it to the back of Maddock’s neck.
“So you think me a dream?” he said. “Do you think a dream can kill?”
Maddock fought the urge to parry the sword away, as he had done on previous occasions. Maybe this time he would see how far this goes instead.
“Answer me!” Bolormaa barked. “Or I’ll cleave off your head, khulchgar!”
Maddock ignored the insult. He patiently wet the stone and ran it up the blade.
Bolormaa let out a yell, pulled his sword back and began to swipe–
“Maddock,” another voice called.
He turned around. Bolormaa was gone and he could see Wolfe emerging from the shrubs. His partner looked sweaty and uncomfortable. For all the abilities the Census Agent’s four piece suit and watch possessed, fighting off the humid hot temperatures of the Florida swamp was not one of them.
“Hello, four eyes,” Maddock said.
Wolfe looked around suspiciously. “I heard voices,” he said.
“More than one?” he said, putting the wet stone in his bag.
“No, just yours,” Wolfe said, then pointed to the scimitar. “Why are you sharpening it? You know the blade will never–”
“Dull,” Maddock interrupted. “Yes I do know. Bolormaa said the same thing. Do we know where we’re going now?”
Wolfe gave him a long look. “Yes,” he said slowly. “I’ve picked up a trail.”
Maddock slung the knapsack over his shoulder and slid the sword down a hidden sheath on his back.
“Good. Then let’s get moving before the next shadow manages to chop off my head.”
Earth Date: 11th of December 1940 CE
Location: Wewelsburg, Germany, USA, Earth
“Twenty minutes,” the radioman announced.
Director Samantha Black sat in the passenger seat of the flying DH 91 Albatross. An aerial map of Castle Wewelsburg lay in her lap. She should have been studying it, but the map just served as a canvas for her other thoughts.
The Nazis were colluding with forces from Tartarus. Medusa and her Abaddons were likely somewhere on Earth. Vero had control of the Axis Mundi and used it to start a Reaping– causing all the Elders to be reborn as babies on Earth. And without them, the Spirit Realm was in chaos. Not to mention the Oppressor himself was incarnated on Earth and helping the Nazis. The end times were definitely approaching.
“Fifteen minutes,” the radioman said.
She folded the map and shoved it into her knapsack. She then reached for the scabbard next to her and drew her sword out, laying it across her legs. In the spiritual plane, it was made from a branch of the Sacred Tree. But here on Earth, it was a Persian Shamshir sword. Not quite as curved as Maddock’s scimitar, but of similar heritage and power. It had been with her for thousands of years– following her from her time as an Elder to her incarnate life on Earth.
She squeezed the hilt tight. Census was in trouble. Humanity was in peril. She did not want to worry Wolfe, Maddock or the rest of the agency. It was important that she remain confident and resolute. But if it is true that the Presence has abandoned this realm… they were on their own against Tartarus.
“Five minutes,” the radioman said.
Black looked out the window. The setting sun painted the clouds with orange and purple hues. Their shadows crawled up the green forest below, casting dark omens of what is to come. Further beyond, she could make out her ultimate destination. Seemingly pristine and untouched by the ensuing war, Castle Wewelsburg looked back at her.
Angrily, she returned the sword back to its scabbard and secured it. The plane suddenly shook and creaked. Turbulence– at least it wasn’t from flak guns…
“30 seconds,” the radioman said.
One of the crew came back and gave her a nod. It was time.
Black put on her goggles and did final checks on her straps and hooks. She then handed off her static line to the crewman and got into position in front of the side door. He opened it. A deafening rush of cold wind hit her as the opening revealed the naked skies.
The crewman gave her a final look over and then nodded. Black gazed into the skies, took a breath and jumped.
She kept her body tight, counting off the seconds. A sudden jerk signaled the opening of the chute. The serenity of being airborne replaced the sounds of loud wind and engines. She looked up at her canopy verifying it was undamaged. She then scanned in all directions to get her bearings. Below she could see the signal fire that marked her target. Pulling on her risers, she spun herself into the proper trajectory.
A few moments later, the snowy ground came rushing up to meet her. Black gripped the risers and pulled as the balls of her feet hit the earth. She let herself collapse and roll to the ground. Black laid there a moment, making sure she was not injured before getting up. She stripped off the deployment bag then strapped her sword’s scabbard to her back along with her knapsack.
Oddly, there was nobody at the signal fire waiting for her. The area was a small bald spot in the middle of the forest. It was cold and snow peppered the ground all the way up to the tree lines.
She walked over to the fire pit to warm herself. Several minutes passed before she heard a rustling from the trees. Too dark to see what it was, she moved away from the light of the fire and drew her sword.
Emerging from the dark, various multi-sized figures came out to greet her. Leading the pack, a short and stout humanoid atop a black striped unicorn. The Pooka’s yellow eyes sparkled like sapphires against the fire. Beside him, she could see the towering figure of a Fury along with a couple of Census agents taking up the rear.
Black lowered her sword as recognition hit her.
“Salutations Elder Cyra,” Ninian greeted.
“I’m not an Elder anymore,” Black said, as she sheathed her sword. “Why was there no one here when I landed?”
Ninian made a twirling gesture with his hand. “Unsafe it was,” he said. “Unsafe it remains former Elder Cyra.”
“We were about to pick a different location,” another familiar voice said. Coming up from the rear she recognized Gareth Wright.
“Didn’t know you would be here already,” Black said.
Wright gave a weak smile. “I was not about to miss the festivities.”
Black studied him. “You don’t look so great.”
“The British Agent ate what he should not have,” Ninian said.
Wright nodded glumly. “I’ll be fine.”
Black turned her attention to the Fury.
“Chief Adam of Clan Blemm,” she said with a bow. “I am pleased you are here, yes.”
The Fury stomped his spear on the ground as a salute.
“Clan Blemm never forgets its oath,” Chief Adam said. “We will be here till the war is won or the will of the Presence takes us, yes.”
Black and Ninian exchanged looks. The Pooka seemed to know the truth. The knowledge about the Presence’s departure was not shared. Yet, these Pookas seemed to know. Fortunately, the Furies did not. Best to keep it that way.
“Thank you, Chief Adam, yes,” Black said. She turned to the rest of them. “Alright, let’s get to it then. We have a castle to raid.”
Earth Date: 11th of December 1940 CE
Location: The Axis Mundi
Inside the Tower of Making, arteries of sparkling energy traversed across its floor leading up to the fountain in the center. An endless supply of power fed into the fountain, allowing the creation of anything that could be dreamed up by an Ethereal Artisan.
Vero’s monk form held his hands up in the air, pushing the torrent of energies over the fountain of creation. The streams shot up to the ceiling, its power reinforced by the fountain below it. Vero felt vibrations run up his body as he struggled to keep the energy in motion. The weight of it bore down on him. He grunted, pushing up with all his might, keeping the ethereal structure from collapsing.
The scattered energies began to coalesce, forming a skeleton of crisscrossing beams. The next stage began as another wave of ethereal matter shot up from the fountain, covering the skeleton with a membrane. It began to take the shape of a sphere, with details etched onto its surface– land masses, oceans, and even clouds. A new world was manifested.
From beneath the depths of the fountain, a bright green branch rose up. It arched up over the forming world and attached itself.
“Yes,” Vero said aloud. “That’s it…”
The branch swelled and pulsated, breathing life into the dormant planet. Its skies became clearer and its oceans more blue. It was ready.
Vero dropped his hands and the whirlwinds of energy fell back down into the fountain’s waters. He then turned to the only other occupant in the Axis Mundi, his new companion, Arakne.
“You may enter it now,” Vero said.
Arakne crossed her arms over her human-like torso with a doubtful look.
“It looks no different than the last one,” she said. “Why discard more time into this pursuit.”
“The time invested will reap rewards,” Vero said. “Do as I command.”
“Very well,” she said.
She glided across the ground with her eight legs, approaching the edge of the fountain. The branch twisted, swinging the world closer to Arakne.
Letting out a sigh, she hesitantly reached out to touch the world. The moment her hand made contact, her body winked out into a tiny point of light and fired off into the planet’s surface. The branch then rose, carrying the world back up into the air.
Vero waited, allowing the minutes to pass patiently. Each time she entered these worlds, it would consume years, sometimes decades of her time. While here in the Tower of Making, it would only be a moment of passing thought to him.
During her time there, she would make contact with the budding human population. She would present herself as a deity, showering them with food, shelter, education and gifts– a paradise without suffering. A new Eden without the perils of death and reincarnation. No Cycle– a single life for all to live an eternity in bliss.
The branch shook, catching Vero’s attention. It then swung over, lowering the planet to the edge of the fountain again. A point of light floated out from one of the continents. It grew in size and materialized on the ground into Arakne’s form.
She was adorned with elaborate jewelry, a silver cape that matched the stripes in her hair, and even a small crown on her head. It was not quite as extravagant as in previous experiments, perhaps a good sign.
“Well?” Vero said.
Arakne squinted her eyes at him. Her white striped pupils beamed an angry look at him.
“Another failed Eden,” she seethed.
“Tell me what happened,” Vero said.
She explained to him the time line of events– from her initial contact with the humans to their growth as a civilization. They worshiped her as a deity, accepted and appreciated her teachings and gifts. They lived in harmony… for a little while. Eventually however, groups within the populace formulated their own philosophical differences and fractures began to develop.
“And that is when the fighting started,” Arakne said. “When they began creating their own gods and then sacrificing their enemies to these false gods, that is when I departed.”
“How long were you in there?” Vero said.
“I do not know! Years. Years wasted!” she said, taking the crown off her head and tossing it across the room.
Vero looked up at the world he created. His vision focused in on the land masses beneath the clouds. He saw the population of humans that he incarnated with virgin souls from The Source– now charging at each other with weapons trying to kill one another.
Disgusted, Vero waved a hand over the world. The branch shook, a wave of brown shot up its shaft replacing the vibrant green. The failed world lost its blue color and began to melt and deform. He turned away as he heard the screams of thousands perish.
The branch snapped and the deformed sphere fell into the fountain with a splash, consumed by the black waters– its energy returned back to The Source.
Vero silently walked over to an adjacent passage. Behind him, he could hear the clicking sound of his companion follow.
“What do we do now?” Arakne said.
They approached the end of the passage, which then opened up revealing a new chamber. Inside, the room contained rows of crescent-shaped tables and columns with glowing etched symbols. Bookshelves lined the walls which towered up seemingly into infinity. Spiraling stairways led to the upper levels. In the center of the room, a pile of scrolls littered a table.
Vero walked up to the table and opened one of the scrolls. A constellation of stars glowed from the fabric. He took it and walked to a nearby column, flattening the scroll against it. The glowing text on the column shined through the fabric, aligning with the constellation lines of the scroll. It contained instructions in the language of The Presence. A language only he and the Elders would be able to understand.
“There is something missing,” Vero said.
“So the Presence left incomplete instructions,” Arakne said.
Vero tossed the scroll back onto the table and shook his head.
“It does not make any sense,” Vero said.
Arakne came up to the table and thumbed through the scrolls lazily.
“Perhaps he did not have an answer,” Arakne said.
“No,” Vero said. “He left this dimension for a reason. He had to have found–”
“Or he found nothing!” Arakne interrupted, then motioned around the chamber. “He may have simply given up and departed.”
Vero stood silent for a moment. He had hoped to have a way to make this work. Show the universe that a new Eden could be possible. That harmony was not limited to only the Spirt Realm. Instead, he came to the painful conclusion that left him with only one avenue.
“Very well,” he said, finally.
They walked out of the chamber and back into the main area of the tower. Vero approached a series of columns that formed a curving passage. He ran his hands over them, causing the writing etched on them to glow.
From the fountain’s waters, something shot up into the air– sending ethereal energies splashing down. It was another branch with a bright blue world attached to it.
Vero walked over to inspect it.
“Our actions will now have to realign to a new plan, on an old world,” Vero said.
Arakne skittered up beside him, staring at the familiar planet.
“Will I get to go there?” she said, her cadence betraying her excitement.
Vero turned to her and nodded.
“Yes, you will,” he said. “But not as a deity. And not as a Chthonic demon.”
She looked at him and then back at the world.
“But what else is there?” she said, confusion evident in her words.
Vero waved his hand, awakening the branch to his will. It shook and lowered the world down to them.
He smiled. “You will go down there as… something else. It is time we finish what the Presence intended for this world. Once and for all.”
Earth Date: 11th of December 1940 CE
Location: Florida, USA, Earth
Maddock followed behind Wolfe as they plowed through the greenery. It was midday and the sun bathed the landscape with heat plumes. Squishy sounds wracked his ears like annoying gnats as his shoes sunk into the swampy ground. That by itself should have been enough to remind him of his current whereabouts, but there were plenty of other reminders buzzing around.
“37,” Maddock announced as he slapped his neck.
“What?” Wolfe said.
“Kills,” Maddock said. “37 glorious kills. How about you?”
Four eyes said nothing. He was either impervious to the relentless dive-bombing attacks of these pests or he was so transfixed on their destination that he ignored them altogether. At least he seemed to know where they were going. Or moreover, Wolfe’s watch seemed to know where they were going– he kept all four of his eyes on that gizmo the whole time.
“I can’t believe people actually live in this place,” Maddock said.
“It’s not all like this,” Wolfe said. “There’s actually some pretty beaches near the coast.”
Maddock could not remember the last time he even saw a beach. After all the things he encountered in the Soul Sphere, Nyack, Wewelsburg, the Axis Mundi and the underbelly of Tartarus– it was hard to imagine the sight of a pretty blue ocean. When this was all over, he was going to need to find some peaceful surroundings… if peace was ever going to be a part of this life at all.
They eventually broke through the swamp and emerged into flat grasslands, greeted by the sound of clucking chickens. Ahead, he saw a wood and wire fence surrounding a dilapidated farmhouse. A small pier extended into a lake that seemed to snake off into the adjoining swamps. Looking around, there did not appear to be anybody working the farm. The chickens were on their own.
Wolfe walked up to the porch and knocked on the door.
Maddock reached into his pocket and plucked a cigarette out of a deck of Lucky Strikes. Lighting it, he took his first puff. It tasted damp– no thanks to this humid bucket of shit they were walking through.
The door opened and a man emerged wearing a straw hat. He looked in his mid 50s and dangled a pipe from his mouth.
“Good day,” he said, his pipe bouncing up and down. “You must be them government fellas.”
“Gee, what gave us away?” Maddock said sarcastically.
“I’m Agent Wolfe,” Wolfe said. “This is my partner, Agent Maddock. We are with the U.S. Children’s Bureau.”
“I’m Bill,” he said, extending his hand to shake.
“Nice to meet you,” Wolfe said, taking it. “May we come inside and speak?”
Bill motioned to Maddock. “Yeah, but you put that out. No smoking inside.”
“But… your pipe?” Maddock started to protest.
“Yeah? What about my pipe?” Bill said, letting out a billow of smoke.
“Pipe down, friend,” Wolfe said to Maddock, a hint of sarcasm at the pun.
Reluctantly, Maddock flicked the cigarette to the ground and stomped on it. “Moldy anyway…”
They followed the farmer into the home. The floor creaked as he stepped inside and the smell of damp pine and tobacco filled his nose. Old paintings and portraits adorned the walls. A coupled wooden stools, along with a rocking chair crowded the front of an unlit fireplace. The farmer immediately claimed the rocker, sitting in it.
As Maddock surveyed the room, he noticed an urn on top of the fireplace with a strange symbol drawn on it– two intersecting compasses with a letter G in the center.
“That’s my late sister’s ashes,” Bill said. “She passed away last summer.”
“I am sorry for your loss,” Wolfe said as he took a seat.
The farmer let out a puff from his pipe. “Sorry? Why? Did you actually know her? She seemed to know everybody.”
Wolfe glanced at Maddock a bit dumbfounded.
Bill let out a laugh. “The woman had vinegar in her veins.” He gestured to the urn on the mantle. “Surprised her ashes didn’t melt through that thing. Probably best that she died giving birth. She would have been a horrible mother.”
The three sat in an uncomfortable silence for a moment. Maddock cleared his throat, trying to break it.
“Well. So uh, you said something about her having a kid?” Maddock said.
Bill nodded and stood up from his chair. “Right. That’s why you’re here.”
He walked over to a window and pointed at the lake. “You’ll find him out there.”
Wolfe and Maddock exchanged looks.
“You left a baby out there? Alone?” Maddock said.
“Nooooo,” Bill said. “He’s just hiiiiiddinnnggg.”
He walked up to the window and gave it a long look before speaking further.
“She swore there was no father,” he said. “I cursed at her. Told her she was a whore… she had a reputation you know. The baby came quick– her belly got big so fast. From day to day. It was like months, but only days passed. It was unnatural.”
The farmer turned to them.
“Are you religious men?” he said.
Wolfe looked pensive for a moment before answering. “I once walked a holy path.”
Bill then turned to Maddock and scoffed. “You– I don’t even have to ask.”
The farmer walked to the fireplace and put his hand on his sister’s urn.
“When I saw that baby… the eyes. Like white pearls,” he said. “Maybe she really was touched by God.”
Maddock stood up and decided to lite up a Lucky Strike. Despite the earlier objections, the farmer did not seem to notice.
“So tell me mac,” Maddock began, “Is this kiddo alive or what? Because conversation is starting to run dry real quick here.”
Bill pointed again to the water. “He’s out there.”
The farmer then went back to his rocking chair and silently puffed on his pipe.
Wolfe and Maddock exchanged looks and then stepped outside together.
“That one’s screwy as can be,” Maddock said. “We’re not getting anything out of him.”
He turned to look to where the farmer kept gesturing. Just a winding lake near a pier.
“If there’s anything left of that kid, it’s probably been shit out a gator by now.”
Wolfe rubbed his chin in thought. “Not necessarily.” He then began walking ahead.
Maddock followed behind him. As he stepped onto the pier, he looked at the sandy planks of wood and the blades of grass and weeds that stretched out through the cracks, trying to find any signs of a baby or more likely a burial mound.
Wolfe knelt down by the end of the pier and surveyed the still water.
“I wouldn’t get so close,” Maddock warned.
“I’ll be fine,” Wolfe said nonchalantly.
Maddock rested his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Have you, uhh, ever seen one?” Maddock said.
“Seen one what?” Wolfe said.
Wolfe stopped walking for a moment and shot Maddock an amused look.
“You chopped the head off a giant snake, killed demons and came to face-to-face with the devil himself in the pit of hell– but you’re worried about alligators?”
“I’m not worried about them! I’m just,” Maddock said then abruptly bit his tongue.
Wolfe raised his eyebrows and silently returned trekking through the swampy muck.
They continued to inspect the area together. Maddock kicked over rocks and nervously whacked away at shrubbery. He expected a gator to jump out at him at any time, but there was nothing. No gators. No baby. Just miserable swamplands. This was a waste of time.
At that moment, Maddock heard a strange sound. Something wet and crackling from the shrubs. Cautiously, he got into a defensive position with his sword– ready to slash down at whatever reptilian swamp creature was coming for him. Instead, he saw something that sparked a haunting memory.
Rising from beneath the ground rose a thick tree trunk with roots shooting up like wet spaghetti and flailing onto the dirt. It struggled to pull itself out from beneath the earth and then suddenly stopped and became motionless. From the center of the trunk, he could make out what looked like something encased in amber– it almost looked like an egg.
“Uhhhh, Wolfe,” Maddock called.
Agent Wolfe walked up beside, Maddock. He held a heater in his hand, but did not seem too concerned about… whatever this was. He studied it silently as Maddock nervously glanced at him and the tree.
“Is that… Medusa? Or an Abaddon or something? Maddock said.
Wolfe walked up and knelt down in front of it.
“No,” he said. “But it’s an important piece of what we came here for.”
Just then, Maddock heard a noise. He whirled around to see farmer Bill standing there, holding a gardening hoe.
“Oh– hello there,” Maddock said, easing up a bit.
“You sure have a light step,” Wolfe said, coming up beside Maddock.
Maddock heard a suspicious tone in Wolfe’s voice– he decided to keep the scimitar in his hand.
Bill looked at both of them in turn, almost as if sizing them up. It was at that moment that Maddock noticed blood dripping from the farmer’s hoe.
“So, uh, you been hunting with that?” Maddock said.
Bill gave an emotionless smile. “Just raking flesh.”
“What happened to the baby,” Wolfe said. “And the real farmer?”
The farmer gestured with his chin to the pier. “Told you the truth– the elder baby is somewhere in that water. I have yet to find him though. The water bends to his will and shrouds him from our many eyes.”
His gaze shifted from them to the strange tree trunk. “I see the Sacred Tree has brought something into this plane.”
Wolfe leveled his gun at the farmer. “That does not belong to you, demon.”
The imposter angled the hoe up with both hands. “The Presence has abandoned this world, Census. It is now ours to claim and there is no room for Elders and Angels. Not any more…”
Before either of them could react, the demon let out a roar and a flash of light erupted in front of them. Maddock felt himself blinded and knocked back by the force of it.
Stumbling, Maddock regained his footing and raised his sword. As he readied himself for an attack, he saw the demon double over and cover his face, making grunts and growling sounds. His body began to swell. Muscles tore through clothing as he swelled up and grew taller. The exposed skin darkened to an inhuman dark bronze color. Black talons stretched over his wrists like an extra set of fingers. A pair of bat-like wings emerged from its back with sharp bony protrusions along its fingers. Its lower body stretched and grew– its legs became thick and hooved.
The beast dropped its hands revealing a monstrous face with black eyes and horns on its head. It then focused its attention on Maddock, approaching with one arm holding the hoe and the other sporting black talons.
Maddock turned to Wolfe.
“Alright, how we dealing with this jam?” he said, only to see that Wolfe was nowhere in sight… great.
The monster arched its back and roared into the sky. A thick tail rose up and then slammed down onto the ground between them– sending something wet spraying into the air. It was then Maddock realized it had a scorpion-like stinger– poisonous no doubt.
Maddock backed away, sword raised high. He looked around and became aware that his back was to the water. With each step, the creature approached and his avenues for escape diminished. The beast smacked away a tree branch with its horn and snarled at him.
He tightened his grip on the scimitar– it was time to build up some moxie against this piker.
With a yell, Maddock lunged forward slashing with his sword. His blade grazed the demon’s torso.
It swiped at him with a taloned hand– Maddock ducked and weaved away. He then jumped up with his sword in the air, coming down to slash at its body. But his attack was met by a hooved foot kicking up, smacking Maddock’s sword and knocking him back.
Maddock recovered and jumped to the side, dodging a hit from the demon’s hoe. It swung again at him. He leapt away to a nearby tree, just as the creature charged forward.
Maddock kicked off from the trunk, somersaulting away and landing in the wetland to the side. He then immediately swung his scimitar at the exposed creature– but it turned away and a scorpion stinger rose up to meet him.
He jumped back and sidestepped a spray of yellow poison from its stinger. Where the venom landed, the ground sizzled.
Maddock twirled his sword tauntingly. “I was wondering when I’d have an opportunity to add to my kill score.”
The creature sniffed the air and smiled– revealing rows of serrated teeth. It then unexpectedly stopped its attack.
“Uriel, the Guardian,” the demon said, its voice deep and rattling. “We remember your scent, but do you remember your purpose?”
Maddock felt a chill brush against his skin. The grip on his sword became numb and he felt dizzy. Something stirred in his mind.
“There,” the demon said, its eyes widening. “There it is… come out of there Uriel. Remember your true allegiance.”
Maddock lowered his scimitar and he stumbled– struggling to see straight. He gazed up at the demon and saw its face was different. It had blue eyes now, with black hair and silver streaks. A female form replaced the demonic one. She held a hand out– beckoning him.
“Saryana…?” Maddock said in disbelief.
At that moment, gunfire erupted and he saw a blur of movement before collapsing to his knees.
Woozy, he gazed up to see Wolfe and another figure rush in front of him. Everything was dizzy– a ringing in his ears pierced through his head. He seesawed on his knees, unable to focus. There were noises and blurry movement. A demonic roar. More gunshots. Crackles of lightning and what sounded like steel against flesh. Then suddenly the haze lifted. He shook his head, and wobbly got up to his feet.
As focus returned, he saw something flapping on the ground. It was a thick tail with a stinger– the demon’s, but no body to go with it. Hovering over the flapping appendage, Wolfe stood with his heater in one hand and a longsword in the other. It was the first time he saw Wolfe with a sword… at least in this world. Standing beside him was a small boy in the nude, covered in mud.
Wolfe sheathed his sword and walked up to Maddock, trying to give him a hand up to steady him.
“I’m fine,” Maddock brushed him away.
Wolfe studied him a moment. “You sure you are okay?”
“Yes!” Maddock snapped. “What the hell just happened? And who’s the kid?”
“That,” Wolfe said, holstering his pistol. “Was our first encounter with an Abaddon.”
Wolfe then smacked Maddock on the shoulder and grinned. “But don’t worry,” he continued, “there’s 199 fully-limbed ones lining up for you to kill.”
Maddock thought back to what he saw– the image fresh in his mind.
“But… it looked like Saryana,” Maddock said.
“They will do that,” the kid suddenly spoke. “They will use her against you– at every opportunity.”
Wolfe turned to the boy. “You remember?”
“Who is this kid?” Maddock said.
“An Elder,” the boy said. “At least, that’s what I seem to remember.”
Wolfe knelt down beside him. “What else do you remember?”
The boy looked up at him. Other than his eyes missing any color and being completely white, he looked like a normal boy of about twelve years.
“Not enough,” the boy said. “Not yet.”
“Wait a minute,” Maddock said. “Why are you so old? If you’re an Elder, you should be less than a year old.”
The kid shook his head and shrugged. “I do not know.”
“It could be the Axis Mundi’s doing,” Wolfe said. “It might be part of its… design in the event of a Reaping to accelerate the growth of the Elders.”
Maddock looked at the kid in disbelief.
“Alright, if that’s true,” Maddock said. “It means Black is in Wewelsburg for nothing. We don’t need those Nazi incubators anymore.”
Wolfe looked at his watch then shook his head. “It’s too late to stop her. She’s probably already there by now.”
The boy abruptly walked past them to the strange tree trunk Maddock observed earlier. He put his hand on the amber egg in its center. It began to glow from his touch.
“We need this,” he said.
“What is that?” Maddock said.
“It is a gift returned to me by the Sacred Tree,” he said, then gestured to Maddock. “Use your sword– pry it out of the tree. We must leave this place before the Abaddons return.”
“Why should we trust you?” Maddock said, feeling apprehensive.
“Trust is all we have to bind us,” the boy said.
“It’s okay Maddie,” Wolfe said. “He’s one of us.”
Maddock peered at them both unconvinced, then walked to the tree. He pulled back with his sword and plunged it underneath the amber. After some shimmying and repeated stabs, the egg rolled out of the trunk and onto the ground.
The Elder kid picked it up, and as he did so, the tree trunk suddenly shook and exploded– disappearing in a splash of brown leaves.
“Time to go,” Wolfe said. “We have ten more to find.”
Maddock looked around. He felt a twinge of anger at how the Abaddon used Saryana against him. He won’t fall for it next time. Whatever spell they put on him– it won’t work again.
“Next time,” Maddock said, sheathing his sword slowly. “Don’t steal my kill. The next one… is mine.”
Chapter 2: Edens Of Old
Earth Date: 11th of December 1940 CE
Location: Florida, USA, Earth
The trio, led by a naked boy who revealed himself to be the Elder Neptune, walked for what seemed like miles toward some unknown destination. As they trekked on, Maddock could feel and hear the wind picking up and rustle through the shrubs. In that moment, his instincts alerted him to an imminent threat.
Maddock swung his scimitar high in an arc, cutting through something solid. There was a loud cracking sound followed by thumps. They all stopped to look down at the fallen foe at his feet. On the ground, staining the grass and dirt with clear blood, lay two halves of a coconut.
Wolfe walked over, his expression suppressing any amusement. He bent down and picked up one of the halves.
“Good aim,” Wolfe said, carefully. “These things kill people all the time you know.”
Wolfe then irritatingly looked Maddock’s suit up and down, causing him to inspect himself– coconut juice painted his jacket and trousers.
The boy god dropped his egg and bent down to pick up the other coconut half. He began drinking the juice, sloppily letting it spill down his cheeks, neck and body as he slurped it up.
Wolfe raised the other half to Maddock. “Thirsty?”
Maddock snarled at him as he walked past. They continued on and appeared to be approaching a different landscape as the trees became sparse. Maddock peeked in between the last row of trees and caught sight of the boiling sun setting over something sparkling. The swamp forest gave way to golden sand and blue ocean– the sounds of buzzing insects replaced by the roiling of waves against the shore. Maddock could not believe his eyes.
“A… beach,” he said aloud.
Wolfe walked up beside him to gaze at the waters.
“I promised you a nice change of scenery,” Wolfe said, slapping him on the shoulder as he went on ahead.
Neptune hurriedly trotted with his egg straight to the water, with Wolfe close behind. Maddock followed, each step plunging his shoes into sand and seashells. By some miracle, his feet were somehow spared from any invading water or sand. Perhaps another one of those mysterious abilities bestowed on his Census-issued clothing. Yet for all its protection, it did nothing to prevent the countless swelling mosquito bites over his body.
Maddock reached Wolfe, who seemed fixated on something Neptune was doing. The Elder held the amber egg nestled in the water. As a wave showered over it, the egg began to shimmer and lose its structural appearance. Another wave washed over it and when the foamy water retreated, it revealed an egg without its gemstone luster. In its place, a gooey puddle of amber resin sat on the sand.
Neptune scooped it up from the ground and turned to them. The boy’s eyes emitted a familiar blue glow– the same one Maddock remembered from his time in Tartarus with the Elders.
“Take some,” Neptune said.
Wolfe gave Maddock an uncharacteristically sheepish look. For his entire time since joining Census, Wolfe had always been one step ahead of Maddock. Always knowing the unknowable. Always knowing details that he would have to discover for himself later. But since embarking on this mission to round up the Elders, he seemed as clueless as Maddock.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” Wolfe said.
“Nothing four eyes,” Maddock said with a smirk.
Neptune raised the amber goop up to them. “Take a piece,” he insisted.
“So just scoop that crap up?” Maddock said.
Maddock got closer and peered at the contents of the Elder’s hands. Within the thick goop, he could see black swirls that swam inside it like tiny snakes in an amber broth.
“So, take a piece of it… with my bare hands?” Maddock said.
“You can use your mouth if you prefer,” Neptune said.
Maddock grimaced and hesitantly reached into the goop and scooped some up. As he held the amber in his hands, he felt a strange sensation from it that made him grit his teeth.
“What’s wrong?” Wolfe said.
“It tickles,” Maddock said.
Wolfe reached over and plucked a handful of goop for himself.
“Alright kid,” Maddock said. “Now what?”
Without saying a word, Neptune rose his hands up to his mouth and began to drink up the amber.
“No way I’m dunking this down my pipes,” Maddock said, directing his protest at Wolfe– only to find his partner was already swallowing the contents of his own portion.
Maddock looked down at his hands. The tiny swirling snakes continued to tickle his skin uncomfortably.
At that moment, he heard a gasp from Wolfe. His partner dropped to his knees, covering his throat– he was choking.
Maddock threw the goop down and rushed over. Wolfe’s eyes were wide as he gasped for air.
“Alright, don’t panic– try and cough it out!” Maddock said, unsure of what else to say.
He slapped Wolfe’s back hard, hoping to help him upchuck it, but his partner continued to choke. Maddock reached his arms around Wolfe’s midsection in an attempt to squeeze him from behind, but a powerful hand grabbed Maddock by his suit collar and another shoved a handful of something into his mouth.
Shock took over and he felt himself unable to breath. That same tickling sensation he felt in his hands from the goo, enveloped him; only now it was more like burning electricity sizzling his skin. Fighting his own body, he struggled to his feet and stumbled toward the only other occupant on the beach– the Elder kid. His legs felt like he had cement shoes on. He forced one foot in front of the other, all the while fighting the need for air. Each step felt like it would be his last, but he wasn’t going to let this bastard get away unscathed.
He weakly pulled his sword out, trying to raise it for a strike– but it fell from his hand and he dropped to his knees. The boy’s cold glowing eyes stared at him.
The sands disappeared. The sounds of the waves faded. Darkness started to engulf him. Consciousness began to abandon him, leaving him with his last thought… we were duped!
Earth Date: 12th of December 1940 CE
Location: Wewelsburg, Germany, USA, Earth
The sun exploded over the distant horizon with a bloom of yellow splendor. Its rays washed over the forest as if trying to remove the taint of Nazi scum from the Earth. Sunlight bled at the edges of Castle Wewelsburg and the shadows that crawled over its stone walls retreated into hiding. Even in the light of day, the castle still looked dark and sinister.
From atop her unicorn, Black gave the order to stop. She looked back at her caravan. A couple of Census Agents rode a transport truck flanked by Chief Adam and two of his fellow Furies, while a handful of Pookas on unicorns took up the rear.
It took the group what remained of the night to reach the castle and a new day had dawned. There were no encounters along the way, and from this vantage point, it appeared there may not be any at the castle either– it looked abandoned.
“Your inside man appears to have been correct,” Wright said.
Black tried to suppress amusement at the sight of the lanky Brit. Despite her suggestion that he should ride in the truck, he was on top of another unicorn. And whether it was from his apparent food poisoning, or just the discomfort of the ride, he looked quite miserable.
“It’s actually an inside woman,” Black said. “Or at least, she was once a woman.”
“Ah, yes of course,” Wright said, then let out a belch and swallowed. “So sorry,” he said, holding his stomach. “Trying not to chunder it all out.”
“You’re staying behind, Sir Wright,” Black said. “You can help look after the mounts and truck.”
Wright looked as if he was going to protest, but another belch followed by a mouthful of vomit spoke for him. The unicorn he rode on snorted and actually growled. It apparently did not like puke on its fur.
“So, so sorry,” Wright said, trying to suppress the embarrassment. He hunched over and and looked as if he was going to fall off the mount.
Black motioned to the Census agents.
“Help him off and let him rest inside,” she ordered, pointing to the truck. The agents got out and hurried over.
Black slid off Lenaverse and walked over to Wright and the agents aiding him.
“Don’t become a liability,” she said. “Get some rest.”
Wright nodded as the agents helped him away.
Ninian pulled up with his mount and slid off, coming down close to Black.
“Former Elder Cyra,” Ninian began, “wish to know the Pookas the Census plan for obtaining another Ouija Boarder.”
“Don’t call me that,” Black said. “Just call me Director Black– and why do the pooka care so much about the Boarder?”
Ninian gazed at her with those mischievous yellow eyes for a long moment.
“Families and friends,” Ninian said. “Wait for us they do and worries abound the pookas. Home is far away.”
Black sighed. With the destruction of their Ouija Boarder from their first time here, the ability to return these beings, and bring in any more reinforcements, has been effectively shut off. She sympathized with their plight, but there were more pressing concerns.
“There is another Boarder,” Black said. “And we will need it– but right now, the priority are these incubators. Keep your people focused on the mission.”
Ninian shook his head slightly and walked away.
Black grabbed a pair of binoculars from her saddlebag and peered through them. She scanned the nearby village to the east, the snow-covered roads and triangular-roofed homes showed no activity. A winding road that turned into a bridge led up to the castle. Just before the bridge, she saw a uniformed German soldier standing in front of a guard post conspicuously looking in her direction.
“How do we proceed, Census Director Black, yes?” Chief Adam’s rumbling voice spoke standing beside her.
Black put the binoculars away and reached behind her neck to pull out her sword.
“With force and caution, yes,” Black said. She then ordered two of the Census agents to stay behind with Wright and the unicorns, while the rest formed up behind her.
The group made their way out of the forest and into the open. Black led them straight to the guard post, without any attempt at concealment.
“Force over caution, yes?” Chief Adam said.
“No, Chief Adam,” Black said. “This guard is one of ours, yes.”
The young German soldier looked at the group wide-eyed, then trotted up to Black, clapping his hands in excitement.
“Samantha!” the German said, his voice somewhat effeminate.
Black blocked him from giving her a hug.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the soldier said. “I’m just so glad you are here. I’ve been waiting for so long. Do you think you can put me back into a suitable body now– preferably a mother with a small child? I don’t know if I can bear the idea of childbirth again after what happened… but I do want one.”
“One problem at a time, Rose,” Black said. “Tell me first what have you learned?”
Rose recounted how after the original castle raid, the Germans were ordered to vacate Wewelsburg and take the incubators with them. Most of the soldiers and officers did leave, but they ran into logistical problems getting a couple of the incubators out. So they left them and a few scientists and guards behind.
“It should be a cakewalk,” Rose said. “Some of the guards are not even here now– they went to the village last night to get… ‘soused up.’” The last she said with a whisper.
“Where are the incubators now?” Black said.
“They are being kept in the SS Generals Hall,” she said. “That big tower over there.”
Black looked at the empty road to the castle, then back at the town. Despite the morning sun beating off their triangular roofs, and the sound of a rooster crowing, nothing seemed to stir.
“How’d you manage to be the only guard here?” Black said.
Rose put his hands on his hips. “Well, I was not interested in any ‘lady action’ or drinking in the town. So I volunteered to be at this post. Nobody objected. So here I am.”
Black nodded. “Very well,” she said. “Can you take us inside the tower?”
Rose’s eyebrow quivered. “I, uhh, maybe… but, it’s just right there!” She pointed. “I’ll give you the key, just go in–”
Black grabbed the young soldier’s shoulder– trying to remember it was actually a delicate soul in this body.
“Rose, calm down– we just need you to get us close, then you can go into the forest where we came from. There will be people waiting there to help you.”
Rose wiped his brow and nodded.
“Okay okay,” Rose said, straightening up. “Follow me then.”
The group walked the bridge leading to the castle entrance. Snow stained with a strange orange color littered the cobblestone path. Black looked up at the windows of the nearest tower as they walked by. Although she could not actually see anything or anyone in them, she did feel the presence of unseen eyes staring back at her.
“Looms this place with the scent of Tartarus,” Ninian said. “That which lurks on these grounds is not gone, but only sleeps.”
Black spotted a section of wall that was broken open and in a state of partial repair. It had been part of the damage from their last fight here against the Germans and the Reaper. It was a fight that cost them most of their agents’ lives.
“Once we have what we came for,” Black began, “we need to end this castle’s dark history.”
They soon reached the entrance and passed through the gateway into the courtyard.
Black scanned the area, her sword at the ready for anything. There was nobody visibly inside. The only signs of a German presence were a military supply truck and motorcycle parked along the nearest wall. A chill wind whistled through and she could hear the sound of creaking metal overhead from a swaying lamp.
“This way,” Rose whispered, briskly walking ahead and looking back at them every few steps.
Without incident, they reached a door leading to the north tower. Rose reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a key that he used to unlock the door. He then stepped back cautiously.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m the only one with the key, so there’s not going to be anybody in there. But you better hurry before they start waking up around here.”
“Thank you,” Black said.
Rose nodded and wasted no time scurrying his way out of the castle.
Black turned to the group
“Ninian– you and your people stay here and guard the door. Rest of you, with me.”
She put her hand on the door handle.
“Be ready for anything,” she said, then pushed it open.
Earth Date: 12th of December 1940 CE
Maddock opened his eyes and gasped for air. He was laying flat on his back and there was complete darkness. He tried to sit up, but something unseen was hugging his body and prevented him from moving from this position. He shifted himself, kicked and punched as best he could, but to no avail– he was stuck in this invisible coffin.
He took a few deep breaths and managed to calm himself down. Yes he was trapped, but at least he was not choking now. He noticed a feeling of being in motion, as if this coffin were actually traveling along a current.
Was that it? Did some bastards stuff him in a coffin and dump him in the ocean? He staved off the ensuing panic with more deep breaths.
After several minutes went by, he noticed bits of light penetrating the darkness. It took a moment for his eyes to focus, but there was no mistaking it. Not only was it light, it was amber-colored light. Was he trapped in an amber coffin?
“Quite the predicament, huh Willem?” he heard a voice suddenly say to him.
Maddock jumped and now noticed a creeping figure inside the coffin with him!
“Who the hell are you?” Maddock said.
“Forgot about your old friend already?” the figure said.
Maddock could feel it crawling up from the dark, moving up his legs and slowly getting closer. As it moved, slivers of amber light painted a gruesome sight– protruding bones, skeletal face, decaying flesh, along with a torn Royal Air Force pilot uniform.
“Eddie?” Maddock said.
The undead ghost from his past was nearing his chest now, the smell of old death suddenly hitting Maddock’s senses.
“It’s okay buddy,” Eddie said. “Don’t be afraid.”
Eddie was now up to Maddock’s face. His dead friend’s brown eyes were the only thing that looked alive on him.
“Get out of here!” Maddock said. “You’re not really here. You’re just another shadow!”
A disfigured skeletal hand grabbed Maddock by the shoulder. If not for the grotesque visage of death, it would have felt like a sympathetic gesture.
“Willem, there is another war coming,” Eddie said. “It will be the next great war. And you are going to need the help of all your shadows…”
At that moment, Maddock felt a sudden drop and a crunch sound. A bright flash of light illuminated his amber coffin and then he heard a crash. A rush of cool air hit him and when he opened his eyes, both Eddie and the coffin were gone.
He now found himself in a round chamber. He sat up and felt the touch of cold stone floors on his hands. Looking down, he saw bits of broken amber shards littering the ground– what was left of his coffin apparently.
Around him, the walls seemed to be made of an organic texture that reminded him of the seashell structure of Census. Looking up, he saw a clear round ceiling that shimmered with blue light from beyond. The light illuminated the chamber and he realized it was passing through water. Were they under the ocean?
“Almost like being baptized again isn’t it?” he heard a familiar voice say.
Maddock looked over to find Wolfe standing nearby. He walked over and offered a hand up, which he took.
“You’re alive,” Maddock said, standing up. “Where the hell are we? And where’s that Elder kid? I have a score to settle with him.”
“I apologize for the crude journey,” a third voice said.
Maddock turned to find the Elder, now clothed in a white silky robe, standing near a passageway.
“But,” Neptune continued, “it was necessary. I sensed Abaddons were nearing our position.”
Wolfe put a hand on Maddock’s shoulder– for some reason, it reminded him of Eddie’s skeletal hand.
“Don’t do anything rash,” Wolfe said. “He wasn’t trying to kill us.”
Maddock scowled at them. “It sure didn’t seem that way.”
“You would not be here if I wanted you dead,” Neptune said. “But death is by your side. It has been by your side ever since your return from Tartarus.”
Maddock took a breath in. Was he talking about the talking shadows?
“Ease up, Willem,” Wolfe said. “Elders are sometimes… crude, even when they are doing the right thing.”
Maddock glance at his friend. Wolfe had told him many stories about the Elders and their methods.
“Come with me,” Neptune said. “There are things I must show you before you return to the surface.”
Earth Date: 12th of December 1940 CE
Location: Wewelsburg, Germany, USA, Earth
The group spilled through the door of the tower, quickly flanking out with weapons drawn.
Inside, they found themselves in a room with twelve pillars arranged in a circle. At the center of the circle was the Black Sun symbol painted on the floor in green marble. Sunlight from the windows reflected off the glass enclosures of the incubators– four of them, each situated between pillars. As promised, no guards waited for them.
Black motioned to a pair of her agents.
“That transport truck outside will save us time,” Black said. “Get it started and we will load these up.”
The agents nodded and headed out. Chief Adam and one of his clan each picked up an incubator and walked them out of the tower, while the other agents muscled together to get out the remaining two.
Black followed them outside and watched as they loaded the contraptions onto the German transport.
“Make older those beds our child Elders will make?” Ninian said.
“That is what they are supposed to do,” Black said.
Ninian pulled on his earlobe, a contemplative gesture for pookas.
“And knowledge of their magic is known by Census?” Ninian said.
For some reason, Black felt annoyance at the obvious question.
“We have smart people, we will figure it out,” she said dismissively.
Black stood staring at the transport. A thought occurred to her– something that did not make sense.
“Why did they have logistical problems moving these?” Black said, mostly to herself.
The German truck sputtered to life as the last incubator was loaded.
“Outside of this castle the logistical problems may have been,” Ninian mused.
Black motioned to the group to get underway, when a sudden rumbling sounded. Birds squawked and darted away in flight as the ground shook and the trees creaked. Snow tumbled down from the top of the walls and rained on them. The rumbling continued for several more seconds and then stopped as suddenly as it started. A cold breeze blew through the entrance gate in the distance, spraying flakes of snow onto the courtyard.
The group stood in guarded silence with their weapons tensely held.
Something illuminated from Ninian. Black looked down to see the pearl globe he held lighting up.
“What is it?” Black said.
Ninian pointed the globe toward the main gate at the end. Emerging from beyond the entrance, a single figure came into view– it was Rose.
Black gave a gesture to stand down.
“Why are you back?” Black said. “Is something wrong?”
Rose continued to walk toward them wordlessly. When he got within a few feet of them, Black leveled her sword at him.
“That’s close enough,” Black said.
Rose stopped. He looked at the truck, then at each of them in turn before turning a stony gaze to Black.
“Welcome, Elder Cyra,” he said, his voice was flat and emotionless. This was not the Rose they met earlier.
At that moment, something fell from the sky and impacted the ground behind him hard, splashing snow up into the air. Unfurling from a balled-up position, a giant muscular and demonic figure began to emerge. Bronze-colored skin, bat-like wings with bony protrusions, thick legs with hooves, and a scorpion-like tail. It towered even over Chief Adam.
Behind the demon, another fell from the sky into the snow, followed by another and another. Soon a half dozen of these demons lined up behind Rose.
Black quickly surveyed the area, trying to determine a strategy to escape, but the demons blocked their only exit from the castle.
Rose lifted his hands into the air.
“Thy only path is into the jaws of mine Abaddons,” Rose said, then gestured toward the group. “Thy mission is over.”
The Abaddons roared and rushed toward them, their hooves trampling the ground like an angry stampede.
One of the demons barreled into the transport truck, flipping it over onto its side. It then leapt on top of the truck and harpooned its tail into the window– Black could hear the gurgling cries of the men inside. Another pair of demons crossed to the side, attempting to flank around them.
Ninian rose his orb and projected a beam of white energy in their direction. The beam burned their skin and they each tried to block it with their arms. It did not step their advance, but it slowed them down enough for some of the agents to get into position. They then began to lay down suppressing fire from their guns, keeping the foes at bay.
There was a roar from above. Black, sensing danger, jumped away just in time to avoid being squashed by another Abaddon. Chief Adam rushed the demon, swinging his spear with one hand, while wrestling the demon’s scorpion tail with the other. The two muscled each other in a seemingly even match of strength.
Black rushed forward to help the Fury, but another Abaddon jumped in between them. It swung a taloned hand at her, she blocked with her sword and pushed it off. She then dove forward with her blade at its exposed forearm, but missed.
The Abaddon plunged in with its fang-jawed mouth, Black ducked away from it, but lost her balance and fell to the ground. The demon’s scorpion tail rose up and sprayed a stream of yellow venom– Black rolled away, but some of it managed to get on her leg– she growled in both pain and anger.
Ignoring the pain, Black jumped to her feet. She lifted her sword into the air, red pedals of energy rotated up from the shaft of the blade to the tip. With a yell, she shot its power at the demon, who attempted to block it. Instead, the sword’s energy blast exploded on the demon’s wrist. The Abaddon roared as one of its hands came burning off to the ground.
Pressing the attack, Black went in to make a fatal stab at the enemy’s torso, when a hooved foot came up and caught her in the chest– sending her flying back.
Black landed on the cobblestone ground with a thud. Her ears rang and she felt herself go into a daze. Around her, she could hear the sounds of her agents fighting for their lives and dying. Chief Adam and his Fury clansman seemed to be holding their own– but barely. Only a few Census agents were left standing.
The pookas used their orbs on the demons, but it was not enough. Two of them were swatted down by the Abaddons, while Ninian and two other pookas fought alongside the Census agents. The odds were too against them– they needed to escape.
Shaking it off, she shot up to her feet. A nearby door caught her attention– she kicked it open.
“Inside! Now!” Black yelled.
Three agents ran for the door, but a scorpion stinger impaled one of them from behind before he could make it. The demon threw the agent’s body into the air, where it bounced off a stone wall and landed lifelessly onto a pile of snow on the ground, painting it with the red ink of blood.
Chief Adam had one of the Abaddons on the ground, trying to force his spear into its throat. Another of the demons was about to attack him from behind when his fellow clansman tackled it before it got close enough. The two wrestled on the ground for control.
Black moved forward to try and assist, but as she got close another Abaddon launched itself onto the Fury and began slicing through his back with its talons. The Fury swung around with a fist and knocked the demon on the head, but then the other Abaddon took advantage of the distraction and bit into his arm. The two Abaddons jumped onto him and took turns eviscerating him– claws, stingers and jaws all taking turns on the helpless Fury.
Chief Adam dug his spear out of his enemy’s throat and rushed the other two Abaddons, but it was too late to help his friend.
“He’s gone, Chief! Get inside!” Black yelled.
Ninian and two other pookas fired beams of energy from their globe at another Abaddon that was rushing Chief Adam from behind– giving the Fury enough time to make a run for the door.
The pookas and two agents piled in, with the Fury squeezing through behind them. Black ducked inside just as one of the Abaddons attempted to follow. The wooden door smashed into splinters, but the Abaddon could not fit in through the stone doorway. It reached its arm inside, trying to snatch at Black, who stepped out of its range.
She turned around to look at their surroundings. It was an ornate room with wood floors and sparse furniture. A spiral staircase in the center seemed to lead to the upper floors.
The Abaddon at the door suddenly stopped trying to get in and took a step back. A lone figure walked casually past the demon and into view of the doorway. It was Rose.
Black got into a fighting stance, red energy twirling around her sword’s blade.
“What happened to Rose?” she said. “What are you?”
The imposter walked up close, but stopped short of entering the room. His expressionless face began to change. It contorted and spasmed. His eyes went wide and he began to cry hysterically.
“Samantha! Help me– it burns! I can’t move–” he said, and then suddenly stopped. His expression returning to its stony, emotionless gaze.
“As thee can seeth, Rose is here with me now,” he said. “Along with many other of thine friends.”
The pain in her leg made Black wince angrily. She knew what this demon really was– but she was not strong enough to stop the Oppressor alone.
“I will see thee soon, Elder Cyra,” The Oppressor said, then stepped back away, just as one of the Abaddons tackled the doorway. The castle wall rumbled. The demon backed away and again tackled the doorway. Dust fell from the ceiling and the bricks seemed to buckle. It would be a matter of time before it broke through.
Black moved to the stairway and ushered the group.
“Get up there, all of you,” Black said. “Keep going as far up as it takes you.”
More Abaddons joined in on the attack to break in. More rumbling and she could now visibly see the bricks buckling in the walls.
Chief Adam stood waiting at the foot of the stairway.
“Go up there, Chief Adam,” Black said. “I will take up the rear, yes.”
The Fury’s eyes looked down and seemed to hesitate.
“Chief Adam will stay and fight,” he said. “Making a last stand to provide for Census escape, yes.”
The pounding became louder, and even the stairway began to creak from the impacts.
“We need you, Chief–” Black said, but the Fury put his hand on her shoulder.
“Chief Adam of Clan Blemm’s destiny is at end,” the Fury said. “It is by the will of the Presence that I must remain.”
Black looked at him taken aback.
“But, Chief… the Presence,” she struggled for words.
“The Presence speaks to us all in different ways,” the Fury said. “My destiny is complete, but Elder Cyra’s destiny is yet to be fulfilled. Let me fight for you one last time as the Presence wills it. And then I will join the great warriors of my tribe in the life hereafter, yes.”
Black looked at him and was reminded how this transformation into a Fury was not voluntary. Chief Adam and his American indian tribesmen sacrificed their humanity to help Census thousands of years ago and paid the price by living their lives in these non-human forms. Perhaps, it was selfish to keep them in this service. Perhaps, it was time to let him go…
She put her hand on the Chief’s arm and nodded.
“Goodbye, Chief Adam, yes,” she said.
“Till the next life, may the Presence look after you, yes,” the Fury said.
Black turned her attention to the stairway, trying in her mind to forget what those last words reminded her of– the Presence was no longer looking after anyone here. They were alone and on their own against the Oppressor.
She walked up the spiral stairs and cast one last look down at Chief Adam– he held his spear at the ready, waiting for the Abaddons. She hoped his sacrifice, and the others that died today, would be worth it. She would have to make it worth it. Whatever it takes.
Earth Date: 12th of December 1940 CE
Location: In The Deep, Earth
Neptune led them through a winding, jade-colored passage. The veiny-looking walls looked fleshy and reminded Maddock of the Well of Souls, the room he was baptized in back at Census. As they walked down the passage, Maddock caught sight of what at first looked like an amber statue, but as he got closer, he realized it was a person stuck inside an amber egg embedded into the wall.
“What the hell is this?” Maddock said, walking up to it.
“They were once the inhabitants of this place,” Neptune said.
Maddock studied the figure. It was a woman wearing a long silver robe, similar to the one the Elder was wearing. Her hair was braided and wrapped inside an elaborate headpiece. Something strange on her neck– appendages that looked like another pair of ears. Her skin also had a glittery almost metallic reflection to it.
Looking further down the path, Maddock noticed more amber coffins with more of these inhabitants trapped in them.
“Did you Elders put them here?” Maddock said. “Are they dead?”
Wolfe walked ahead, putting himself in between Maddock and Neptune. Apparently, he was wary of Maddock’s temper.
“They put themselves in there,” Neptune said. “To escape an uncertain future.”
Wolfe walked up to the amber and put a hand on it. As he made contact, his hand began to sink into it and the structure changed from solid amber to a thick liquid.
“I would not do that,” Neptune said. “They are not meant for this world anymore.”
The trapped woman’s eyes fluttered open and she reached her hand up to grab Wolfe’s wrist, who pulled away just in time. She snarled at him, revealing pointy fangs that looked to be made of glass. Her eyes were set in a deep jade color with a stone-marble texture orbiting her pupils. She looked more like a work of art than a real person.
Neptune walked up to the amber and touched the liquid. It became solid again and the woman’s eyes closed, returning to her previous slumber.
“This place,” Wolfe began, “is it what I think it is?”
“It was once a great city– an empire,” Neptune says. “Great advancements in the Cycle took place here. Advancements in technology, physical and spiritual evolution.”
“Atlantis,” Wolfe said. “This is Atlantis isn’t it?”
Neptune nodded. “That is the name that survived the Fugue and gave way to the stories.”
“I’m not referring to the human myths,” Wolfe said. “I’m referring to the teachings I received in the Spirit Realm.”
“No doubt from your guide, Vero,” Neptune said. “I do not know what he told you, but I would not believe all of it.”
“You seem to be remembering a lot all of a sudden, kid,” Maddock said.
Neptune motioned to their surroundings.
“This place accelerates the lifting of the Fugue,” he said. “You should not remain here longer than you need to. Come.”
The Elder continued on ahead of them. The two agents paused and did not follow.
“What do you know about this place?” Maddock asked Wolfe.
Wolfe pursed his lips. “It was before my time, but I was told it was part of a very early Cycle on Earth, one of the first Harvests. Elders reincarnated here and helped progress the inhabitants for centuries.”
“Well, what happened?” Maddock said, pressing him.
Wolfe looked up at the amber-encased Atlantean.
“They advanced in ways the Quorum did not approve of,” Wolfe said. “Their technology became so evolved that they changed their bodies to defy death. No diseases, no aging, no dying. They became nearly immortal physical beings walking the Earth.”
It began to make sense to Maddock now.
“And that’s against the rules, isn’t it?” Maddock said.
Wolfe nodded and looked down sadly.
“The Elder Quorum ended it,” Wolfe said. “But they were so advanced, that they defied the Elders’ plans and rebelled.”
Wolfe turned to Maddock.
“These are the royal elite of Atlantis,” he said. “They imprisoned themselves like this to avoid being recalled back to repeat the reincarnation process. They preferred this to losing what they accomplished in incarnate life.”
Maddock whistled. “Oh that really must have pissed off the Elders.”
“Why do you think it’s underwater?” Wolfe said.
The more Maddock learned about the history of the Elders, the more he wondered how moral they truly were.
“Neptune is right though,” Wolfe said. “We can’t stay here long. Let’s go.”
The two left the passage and walked ahead to join the Elder. Ahead it opened up into a stadium-sized chamber. In the center, twelve crystal structures arranged in a circular pattern surrounded a pool of glowing water. The crystals painted the surroundings with a kaleidoscope of different colors.
The smooth stone floors dipped into a concave shape leading to the center. Above it all, a dome shaped roof showed what looked like a view of a night sky. The Elder walked them down to the center and began touching the crystal structures.
Maddock peered into the water. Although the water appeared clear, the bottom was a smoky white haze that did not seem to end. Trails of blue flakes rose up from its depths. Once they touched the surface, they created swirls of vapor that danced on top of the water.
“What is this room for?” Wolfe said, as he was inspecting one of the crystals.
“It was the Atlanteans’ last, great achievement,” Neptune said. “A gateway to escape this world.”
Wolfe looked around at the chamber and slowly nodded.
“An Ouija Boarder,” Wolfe said.
Neptune moved to another crystal and began touching it. Where he made contact with the surface, a bloom of purple energy danced around each finger. As he lifted his hands to move to another section, it left trails of energy behind that slowly dissipated.
“It uses a different technology, but yes,” Neptune said. “However, it is not yet fully functioning.”
“What happens when it is?” Maddock said. “What will we do with it?”
The Elder turned around and moved to the pool. He dipped his hands into the water, as if washing them, then went to another crystal and repeated the strange pattern of touching its surface.
“We will use it to open a Rainbow Bridge to other worlds,” Neptune said. “To bring help for the coming war.”
Maddock noticed the starlit sky above them began to rotate and move. It then shifted and focused in on a single bright, blue planet– it looked like Earth.
“I will remain here to complete the repairs,” Neptune said. “The two of you must go back and find the rest of my kin.”
“But the Abaddons are still after you,” Wolfe said. “We need to keep you somewhere safe.”
“I will be safer here than anywhere else,” Neptune said. “The Abaddons cannot reach me here.”
Maddock and Wolfe exchanged looks.
“One less kid to babysit,” Maddock said with a shrug.
At that moment, two of the crystals lit up brightly and the pool of water began to bubble. Streams of blue vapor swirled up from its surface and began spilling onto the ground like fog.
“You must both go in now,” Neptune said. “The portal will take you home.”
Maddock looked at the pool and grimaced.
“Is that the only way out of here?” Maddock said.
“You can be cocooned in amber again if you prefer that mode of travel,” Neptune said.
“No thanks, pal,” Maddock said.
Maddock walked up to the pool’s edge, but hesitated. He did not like the idea of possibly choking under water.
“It may bring you comfort to know that it’s not water,” the Elder said.
Maddock shot the kid an annoyed look. It’s as if he could read his mind or something.
“There are no secret thoughts in this place,” Neptune said.
So he could read his mind– the idea of invading his private thoughts steamed him up.
Wolfe came up beside him and smacked him on the shoulder.
“Come on, Agent,” Wolfe said. “Let’s get out of this place. We have a lot yet to do.”
With that, the two agents jumped in the pool and vanished into its hazy broth.