Allen Crowley and his friends must face a challenge of biblical proportions.
|The Shadow. The side of reality that never showed its face in public, the deep dark secret the universe held in its heart, the land of fantasies and nightmares and only the insane or damned didn’t roll up their windows when they drove through it. My name was Allen Crowley. Yes, that Crowley and you won’t call me Al, if you know what’s good for you.
I had another name, one that people only said in a whisper. The Believer. Like my father before me and his father before him, I had the power of utter belief. Anything I believed came true and anything I didn’t vanished, which came in handy when ex-girlfriend’s were stalking my Facebook page.
I was from Evercity, the magical city, the one that truly never slept; where everything that didn’t fit in anywhere else ended up. It wasn’t the only city though, there were others in the Shadow. Port Innsmouth, dark and silent and best left that way in case the things that slept beneath its waves ever awoke. Lake Olympus, ski resort for the Gods, beautiful, otherworldly, and every bit as pretentious as it sounded. The Flipside, where the Fae let it all hang out. I would have preferred to be in any one of them instead of where I was, with the possible exception of the Flipside. That place was just too crazy, even for me.
My current job had brought me to Futuretown. Towering spires, gleaming in the twilight of the Shadow, stretching into the clouds above, dizzying in their majesty. The streets were clean but crowded with all manner of alien and robot, tourist and traveler. There was no traffic on the ground, instead all the vehicles flew through the sky in vast, ever-morphing rivers, silver streams, transportation, red in thruster and wing. You weren’t anybody in Futuretown if your ride actually had wheels. That was only for the tourists.
I leaned against some sort of kiosk selling fourth dimensional newspapers and magazines and waited for my contact. As I waited and with nothing better to do, I indulged in a little future people-watching. There were the unusual assortment of space pirates and time travelers wandering about on their inscrutable missions, voluptuous sex robots selling little bits of their battery life to the highest bidders - love for sale and none of it completely virus free, aliens of all stripes, some hideous, some gorgeous, some that looked as normal as I did and all of them far too stuck-up for their own good.
I recognized a few people by sight or reputation. Dr. Clockwork, steampunk supervillian who probably could have ruled the world like he always wanted too if he had chosen a better power source for his specialty. Commodore Hawkins, whose ships had conquered galaxies and whose libido had conquered him. Taryn D’Amour, half-Rigellian, half-French, dread pirate and as deadly with her blasters as she was in your bed. None of them were my target. I hoped.
Sure, I was powerful. I was the most feared assassin in the Shadow and with good reason. I could bend reality to my will, wipe the slate clean with a thought, change the world in whatever way I wanted but that didn’t make me special. Not here. In the Shadow, in the night that never ended, everybody was special. Everybody was a power or a dominion, a God or a Monster and sometimes they were all of them at the same time.
My power of belief wasn’t my only gift though. I could also freeze somebody by locking eyes with them, using my willpower alone to paralyze them. My coat could snatch a bullet out of flight, which came in handy when I couldn’t believe a gun away fast enough. I always filled my pockets with various items I thought might come in handy, silver crosses and holy water, salt and wolfsbane, and anything else I could think of.
I had a fairly mean right cross and a natural tendency to fight dirty. Being an assassin for as long as I had and surviving had gifted me through pain and fire with an almost sixth sense about being watched. I could feel it tingling and glanced up to see a form materialize out of the crowd a few feet away.
He grinned at me in that easy way that only friends or enemies have. His brown hair was long and shaggy, his face lean and wolfish. His suit was sharply tailored and his nails expertly manicured. He moved with a predator’s stride, as if he was constantly stalking something. He was Harry van Helsing, the Night Slayer. At least most of the time, he was.
Harry had contracted lycanthropy through some means that he had never really elaborated on but you just knew involved the words menage a’trois. So, when the full moon came out, he became Harry van Helsing, the Wolf-who-walks-the-night and pray to whatever Gods you hold holy that Little Red Riding Hood was somewhere safe.
“You’re slipping Allen. I got within claw’s reach that time.” Harry smiled wolfishly.
“If anybody is going to be able to sneak up on me, it will be you.” I grinned back. “Why are you here? You aren’t the type to accept messenger duty. Don’t tell me this is some lame competition thing where we have to run around town finding clues and the winner gets the Maltese Falcon, or at least this week’s reasonable facsimile. I am not in the mood for any treasure hunts tonight.”
“I got a message. It said there was a big money job here tonight. I didn’t have anything better to do, I’m in-between seasons of Teenwolf so here I am.” he shrugged. “If it does turn out to be a competition, let’s just tell whoever is running it to kick rocks and go grab some drinks at the Grassy Knoll.”
“Now, that is my type of plan Harry.” I said and we probably would have kept bantering back and forth, Harry was one of the few people I counted as a friend, if our contact hadn’t arrived. Both of us felt him coming long before we ever saw him, tricks of the trade and all that. We swung our gazes simultaneously to track him moving through the crowded sidewalk.
He crashed to a halt in front of us, as his kind was wont to crash. His simple yet expertly crafted red robe stood out, even in the gleaming chrome and steel of Futuretown. It marked him as a member of the Balancers. The Balancers, acolytes of the Temple of Balance, keepers of the status quo except when they were intentionally disturbing it. We tended to not get along, old history never truly went away. He threw back his cowl and we could see that this was no normal Balancer, this was the head of the order, the big man himself and that was worrisome. He definitely wasn’t the type to do fieldwork. That meant this particular job was high-profile, dangerous, and more than likely impossible even for people like us.
“Helsing. Crowley.” he said without preamble. “We are waiting on the last member of the team and we can begin.”
“Last member?” Harry asked.
“Team?” I asked. “I choose my own teams. You know how I work.”
“I do know how you work, that’s why you are on the team. When you hear what is out there, you will be glad I got who I did as your backup. You are going to need some heavy duty firepower. Speak of the Devil, and she shows up.”
Harry and I looked up, following his gaze. She floated gently to the ground on the wings of an angel. It would have been hard to pinpoint what physical characteristic caught my eyes first, the lustrous brown hair, the liquid depths of her brown eyes, her slender body barely covered by the traditional little black dress but it was her aura that captured our souls. She was glorious and divine yet stern and regal and in that moment she changed. Her angels wings morphed into scaled dragonskin, her halo faded and in its place stubby horns grew, claws sprouted at the tips of her perfectly manicured hands and from somewhere I tried to not imagine, a long red tail with an arrowhead tip peaked out.
“The name is Sarah Phim, demon-girl. The bastard offspring of an archangel and one of the fallen, bringer of blazing judgment and dazzling temptation, and the most fashionable party girl on the scene.” she said with a bright and toothy smile as she lightly touched down on the pavement. “It’s definitely your pleasure to meet me.”
“Very definitely.” Harry said with a wolfish smile.
“Stick to business Harry.” I said sideways as I elbowed him.
“This is my business, Allen.” he replied indignantly.
“Why have you called us here? What’s so important that you called two of the greatest assassins in the Shadow and the legendary Sarah Phim. Yes, I’ve heard of you.” I said in her direction as she flashed a smile full of fangs at me. “I didn’t see End-of-the-World on my calendar this morning so what’s the deal?”
“The Insomniac is waking up.”
“Okay. Count me out.” I replied without missing a beat. The Insomniac was serious business. The closest thing to a true immortal in a land when immortality was as common a gift as freckles, unstoppable for all intents and purposes, and homicidal on the best of days. The Insomniac had only two states, blissful coma-like sleep and rampaging, raging wakefulness. Guess which one I preferred him in?
“As usual, Crowley, your cowardice is legendary in a land of Legends.” Harry grinned pointedly at me. He had a bit of a point.
“ I prefer to call it an over-refined sense of self-preservation.” I said with mock indignation.
“Call it whatever you like, I tend to agree with Crowley. Count me out too, just for different reasons. I am far too glamorous to bother with rounding up some nobody I have never even seen on a dance floor. Who is this Insomniac? Wait don’t tell me, I don’t even care.” Sarah said with a dismissive sniff and if you have never been sniffed at dismissively by a demon-girl, count yourself lucky.
“The Insomniac is chaos and destruction, pain without remorse, a gleeful Armageddon in somewhat human form. Some say he is the oldest living mortal. That he cannot die, no matter how hard he tries. He cannot even sleep. If a person goes without sleep long enough, without dreams long enough, they go insane. The Insomniac stays awake for centuries unless somebody lulls him to sleep. Somebody like you three.” the Balancer explained.
“Why me?” asked Harry. “I can understand Crowley. He’s the damned Believer and I can even understand Sarah Phim, if she is half as powerful as she seems, but me? I’m just Harry van Helsing, Dr. van Helsing’s grandson with a pocketful of tricks and a slight condition. What good will I be against somebody like the Insomniac?”
“A slight condition?” I stammered in astonishment. “You aren’t just a werewolf. You are an Alpha werewolf, twelve foot tall if you are an inch and savage as the storm. You really are walking, talking nature, red in tooth and claw.” Harry shrugged at me because I was telling the truth, in fact I was probably underestimating him. I turned to glare at the Balancer. I glared well. “Still he deserves an answer. We all do. Why us?”
“It’s not for us to wonder why…” he began and I glared at him harder. “Listen, every oracle and soothsayer, fortune teller and precog has been screaming their bloody heads off about this all day. I don’t know why it has to be you three but suffice to say, all the timelines say you are destined to be here. Now, you can either accept my contract and get paid or you can just let Lady Destiny drag your sorry butts back here and do the job for free. Your choice.”
“Well, when you put it that way, what choice do we have.” I said.
“The price of wolfsbane went up seven cents yesterday. I’m in.” Harry said.
“Oh fine. It was getting a little boring at Where Angels Fear to Tread, all the same old immortals trying to buy me the same old boring drinks. I might as well tag along too, if only to get some extra shoe money. Being the most fabulous demon-girl in the Shadow is hell on heels.” said Sarah as she spun in place, her voice like your first kiss, like your greatest heartbreak.
“So, fill us in. Why are we in Futuretown? This is not really where I would expect to see the Insomniac. His idea of technology is a rock that is shinier than normal.” I said.
“Well… We… sort of were trying to put him in suspended animation.” the Balancer stammered. “The number one research firm in the Shadow came to us with a proposal, a stasis chamber for the Insomniac and it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Anything involving the Insomniac is a bad idea. Where is he now?”
The Balancer gestured across the street and there stood a building that hadn’t been there before, because we hadn’t needed it before. That was the thing about the Shadow, everything was always were it needed to be except when it wasn’t. It was a tall, gleaming structure with the massive letters spelling out the name of the company.
“N.E.R.D.S.?” asked Sarah. “Seriously?”
“Neurologically Engineered Research and Development Solutions. The greatest minds of this and any other time. If there is a way for science to solve it, they will find a way and when they are the ones looking? Science can always solve the problem.” said Harry.
“Or create it. Whichever pays more.” I replied.
“The Insomniac is inside. Speak to Dr. Lowell. He will tell you what you need to do.”
“Where will you be?” I asked.
“As far away from here as is possible without coming out the other side. And no, don‘t expect any backup from me or mine, you three are on your own.” he said and waved his hand. Air rushed back into the spot where he stood with an audible pop.
“Say what you want about the Balancers, they do know when to duck and cover.” Harry said.
We crossed the street without bothering to look both ways, ground traffic being a lot more forgiving in Futuretown than in Evercity. A small device on the front of the building scanned us from head to toe before we could even consider getting close to the door. Harry and Sarah both enjoyed it, Harry because he felt it was his due and Sarah because she just enjoyed attention. I scowled, more for anybody watching than from any distaste at the intrusion. A brooding assassin had to keep up appearances.
The doors slid open ominously, like a giant maw waiting to devour us. Inside the facility, we were met by Dr. Richard Jones, also known as Dictionary Jones for his photographic and photogenic memory. He stumbled to a halt in front of us. He had dark brown hair, curly and unkempt, an open face with big innocent eyes, and more than a little bit of a potbelly growing. He was wearing a dirty lab coat and an expression of worry.
“Right this way, Mr. Crowley, Mr. van Helsing, and Ms. Phim. Dr. Lowell is waiting for you.” he said in a rush, his voice showing tension and fear.
“Dictionary Jones, so good to see you again! How long has it been?” I said, genuinely happy to see him. He was one of the few pure of heart people walking around the Shadow that I could stomach talking to for more than a few minutes.
“Not since that demon tried to destroy half of Justiceville. That was a hell of a day.” he said with a grin. Justiceville was a medium sized city in the Shadow where all the superheroes and villains tended to congregate. It was wholesome and hearty and I found it just a little too black and white for my tastes. There were no shades of grey in Justiceville, just primary colors.
“That it was, let’s not do that again.” I grinned back easily.
“Do you know everybody in the Shadow, Crowley?” asked Sarah.
“Everybody who matters and don‘t ask how. You really don‘t want to know.” I said dismissively, it was always good to be a little mysterious with the major Players like Sarah. It kept them off balance. Let somebody like Sarah Phim know you were bluffing and she would eat your soul as an appetizer. “This is Dr. Richard Jones but everybody just calls him Dictionary for short. He is known as Dictionary because he remembers everything he sees, touches, tastes, hears, and smells. He is the go-to-guy for information in Justiceville, one of the smartest minds in the Shadow, and dates the hottest little street vigilante there is, the gorgeous and deadly Stiletto. Did I miss anything?”
“Got it all in one, Crowley. I must say it is gratifying you recall me, remembering inconsequential things is usually my job.” he said, self-consciously.
“If you date Stiletto, you aren’t inconsequential. I have long considered a life of crime just to get her to look in my direction. Those silver daggers of hers always change my mind though.” Harry said, nodding at Dr. Jones.
“I think you have considered everything to get any woman to look in your direction.” shot back Sarah.
“You would be right. What would I have to do to get you to?” he grinned back easily.
“You really don’t want her attention. You couldn‘t handle it.” I said as Sarah smiled sweetly, and dangerously. “Back to business, what’s the deal Jones? Fill me in.”
For a moment, he balked. I was a little worried that he wouldn’t tell me what he knew, that he would clam up and not be helpful. With an exasperated sigh, he looked me in the eyes and began recalling what happened.
“The head of the Balancers came to us with a proposal…” he began.
“Wait. Stop right there. He came to you? He said you came to him with the idea.” I interrupted.
“Never trust a Balancer, take it from a demon.” said Sarah.
“We came to him with the solution. He came to us with the problem. Who is telling this story anyway?” he said and I gestured for him to continue. “He came to us with a problem, the Insomniac was major trouble and was due to awaken soon. He wanted to prevent that, wanted to get ahead of the disaster. We put our heads together and invented a way to put the Insomniac on ice, if you will. We would surround him with a special gel that would insulate him from outside stimuli but also disintegrate if he started moving around. And no, don’t ask what it is made of, you really don’t want to know. We hoped this would help keep him asleep as well as stop him from waking up in a restrained state, because everything usually ended in tears when he did.”
“But it didn’t work?” Sarah asked.
“No, it worked perfectly. I still don’t know what all the fuss is about. He hasn’t stirred one millimeter since we put him in the chamber. Personally, I think this is all some sort of mistake. That’s why I don’t trust oracles.” Dictionary replied.
“That makes two of us. Either way, we are getting paid to make sure the Insomniac goes back to sleep peacefully if he wakes up. Take us to the stasis chamber.” I said.
Dictionary led us deep within the bowels of the N.E.R.D.S. research facility. We passed sights unimaginable, wonders never to be believed. There were perpetual motion machines and free energy batteries, warp cores and artificial intelligences, and weapons the likes of which none of us dreamed existed. Laser and Masers, plasma rifles and photon torpedoes, energy swords and ion cannons, and jetpacks, why does somebody always build a jetpack? They were death, shiny in chrome and thruster.
There was every kind of invention you had never dreamed of and all of them being tested by men and women who looked less than confident in their use. Explosions were commonplace, damage was extensive, and pray for the insurance companies because they were going to be paying out the ass.
We reached a lab on the lowest level, the most remote and secure level. The security here was ridiculous and extensive. Everything from laser security grids to massive blast doors, this place was ready to be locked down. And with good reason, if the Insomniac woke up, he would tear through this place in minutes. The security precautions would serve their purpose though, they would slow him down long enough for at least a few people to evacuate. Though, there was only so far one could run when the Devil himself, or at least a reasonable enough facsimile, was chasing you.
We entered the lab, after a extraordinary amount of scanning and alarms and security checks, and stopped dead in our tracks. Before us, the tableau was something like we had never seen before. The room was huge, another spatial distortion spell, the scientists at N.E.R.D.S. were not above using magic when and if it suited their scientific purposes. The walls were lined with equipment I could not hope to fathom with a guidebook and an engineering degree.
Dominating the room was a massive machine. Within its mechanical depths, I could see a mountain of a man floating in some sort of frozen amber-like substance. Looking closely, I could see that the guys at N.E.R.D.S. had dressed him in a suit of footie pink pajamas. Floppy rabbit ears rose from his head to be frozen in place by the suspension gel. Welcome to the Shadow, good taste and a rational sense of self-preservation were optional.
Standing in front of the huge machine was a tall and slender scientist in a pristine lab coat. Dr. Lowell, democratically elected head of N.E.R.D.S., far more than a genius with computer systems, and if rumor had it, even more of a genius with the ladies. His hair was blonde and receding, but his blue eyes were crisp and his fingers a blur as they flew over the console he was manning. He turned as we were gawking and upon recognizing us, walked briskly over.
“Gentlemen, Lady, Dr. Jones. Welcome to the Stasis Chamber. Everything is working properly, the specimen has not shown any signs of awakening. I really don’t see why you are here, except to bother me and distract me from my important work. I swear, it’s enough to make me want to give this all up and go back to Adams College to teach.” He said in one big, rushed breath. “And who did they decide to send to interrupt me? Harry van Helsing, the Gigolo-who-walks-the-night. Sarah Phim, Armageddon guaranteed or your money back. And last but not least, Allen Crowley. The Great and Terrible Believer, Mr. Scorched Earth himself. I swear, this day just gets worse and worse.”
“Dr. Lowell. Good to see you again.”
“It’s not good to see you again, Crowley. Not good at all. They are still cleaning up the mess from the last time you were here.” he lamented and with good reason, I had destroyed a large amount of the facility a few months ago. My target had taken refuge here to arm himself with something that could slow me down. It wasn’t my fault, that was just the way thinks worked out, in the Shadow.
“How many times do I have to apologize for that? It was an honest mistake. How was I to know that rail gun was experimental? It’s not like there was a big sign on it telling me not to use it to kill a rampaging alien worm the size of a subway car.” I said indignantly. “You guys should consider investing in some signs. Big ones. With easy to sound out words.”
“Just do whatever it is you are here to do, see whatever it is you are here to see, and whatever happens, don’t touch anything. I am just going to go over here by my station and wait for it all to turn to tears.” he said and wandered off, defeated. That was usually what happened when I was involved in an assignment, I was the Believer. People tended to do what I wanted, if they knew what was good for them. This was doubly true when I was with heavy hitters like Harry and Sarah.
“We will let you know if we need you.” I called out to Dr. Lowell’s back. It was always good to get the last word. I motioned to Sarah and she began sauntering around the room, looking at dials and screens without even the slightest bit of understanding about what they were for. I nodded at Harry and he immediately began transforming.
Few people had ever seen Harry van Helsing transform into the Wolf-who-walks-the-night, fewer still wanted to. Harry wasn’t just a simple werewolf. Harry was an Alpha werewolf, twelve feet tall if he was in inch and nasty in disposition. Before my eyes, he suddenly towered over us all, his skin sprouting long, wiry brown fur. Wolf’s fur. His fingers lengthened and grew sharp black claws. His already lupine face morphed into a huge vicious wolf’s head. Harry was nature, red in tooth and claw and when he was like this? Nobody was truly safe.
Even me and I carried around a set of silver knuckles specifically designed to knock Harry ass over teakettle. He had crafted them himself and given them to me, just in case he ever lost control. He wanted somebody he could trust to put him down if he needed. I considered it an honor, in my own twisted and demented manner.
Harry’s eyes swept over me with a predator’s hunger, a killer’s rage and in spite of myself, I shivered inside. The moment passed and Harry swung his massive head in a circle, smelling for the Gods only know what. I gave a little nod of satisfaction, Harry was a professional. He knew what he was doing. His wolf senses let him see and smell and hear things a normal person wouldn’t. When Harry van Helsing was the Wolf-who-walks-the-night, no man, woman, or beast could escape him for long. That was why he got paid the big bucks.
That was why he was here, I suddenly realized. As the Wolf-who-walks-the-night, Harry would never give up, would never stop chasing whatever he was after. As the Wolf, he was virtually invulnerable or at least, he healed so quickly he might as well have been. He was savage and wild and he would rip and tear and bite his way through anything in his path. That brand of savagery, of animal determination, would stand to slow the Insomniac down. It wouldn’t stop him, maybe nothing would do that but Harry could keep him occupied. Keep him busy while the rest of us hoped and prayed for a miracle.
I wandered over to where Sarah was staring at a computer screen much to the chagrin of the tech who was working in front of it. I couldn’t blame him, I wouldn’t want Sarah Phim looking over my shoulder while I did anything, much less work to keep somebody like the Insomniac under wraps. Taking pity on the poor man, I motioned for Sarah to step over and join me.
“So, what do you think Crowley? Think Big Pink over there is going to wake up?” Sarah said flippantly. She wasn’t worried, she was glamorous, powerful, and immortal and even something as terrifying as the Insomniac better think twice before crossing her. “At least it will be less boring than all this standing around.”
“I am perfectly fine with standing around. My biggest wish is that this is the shortest, quietest assignment in history. I hope it’s so boring we all fall asleep.” I said.
“I never sleep, darling. The eternal and the infernal have no need of it. Sleep is for you mortal creatures, so the dreams of man can come and comfort or terrify you. I don’t envy any of you in the slightest, sounds more like a curse than a blessing to me.” she said in the peculiar way she had that made you both glad you were mortal and jealous of her immortality.
“You never sleep?” I asked, that was news to me.
“I can sleep. I choose not too. I did it once back in the Middle Ages and I woke up with the meanest headache you have ever seen. Lasted all the way through the warm period and that was the only period worth paying attention to then.” She said. “The fashions and dances and music were far more free and happy and more to my liking than the rest of that time and I had to spend it with a pounding migraine. Sometimes, being a demon-girl can be a real bother.”
“I imagine so.” I said, even if I didn’t. Sarah was just a little too powerful, a little too immortal for us regular people to really understand. It wasn’t a weakness because Sarah could not understand our mortal pursuits and dreams either. It was more of a trade-off, everything being fair and all that.
Still, that was interesting. Sleep, or more to the point, waking up from sleeping caused her pain. That got gears to turning in my head, ideas flitting in and out of my consciousness. I didn’t know what it was, it was something I had been doing for so long it was second nature to me but my mind would often piece together a puzzle for me. Taking all the different parts and putting them together in such a way that I could understand, that I could see a path. I could feel it happening now, feel myself starting to deduce something, starting to understand.
“Sarah, let’s you and I go check out the Insomniac and then check in with Harry. If he hasn’t found anything and I pray to the Gods that we don’t either, we will call it a day and go home to collect our easy money. Sound like a plan?” I asked.
“Sounds like a plan.” she said smartly and began marching towards the stasis chamber.
Sarah and I approached the stasis tube. The Insomniac had his back to us as the tube slowly rotated on the dais. I glanced around for anything out of the ordinary as Sarah stared up at the slowly rotating form.
“He’s big.” she said finally, stating more than the obvious. “I like them big.”
“You would. Though, the Insomniac may be a little too big, even for you.” I shot back.
She was right, he was big. He stood at least 8 feet tall and even with only his back facing us, you could see muscles piled upon muscles. He wasn’t just big, he was built like an animal, like a monster, an ideal of a man, cords on cords, veins standing out even when he was at rest. He slowly came to face us and Sarah gasped in shock.
“Is he looking at me?” she said in a soft and frankly, scared sounding voice. “His eyes are open.”
And all Hell broke loose. Klaxons began wailing, lights began flashing. The dais stopped turning with a final lurch and a sound like your coffin lid closing on top of you. The amber like substance enclosing the Insomniac suddenly webbed like safety glass and collapsed in a glittery cloud of particles. I took a couple of bounding steps and grabbed a very terrified looking Dr. Lowell.
“What is going on, dammit?” I yelled in his face.
“I know that. His eyes opened.” I sneered.
“No, his eyes were open already. That’s how he sleeps. Some thing else moved.” he stammered. “I was right. I knew it would all end in tears. Why did they have to send you? They know how you handle problems, you make them worse.”
“Don’t worry about me right now. Worry about him. Find out what moved, what woke him up while I try to contain this situation.” I said.
“It always ends in tears when you are around.” he shot back but hustled over to his console and began typing furiously. I glanced around the room. Harry was standing in one corner, his hackles raised and a very suspicious, yellow, puddle at his feet. Sarah was standing in front of the Insomniac, her head tilted to look at him in the same odd way a bird looks at a worm. The Insomniac stood on his dais, his eyes staring straight ahead, unfocused, dead and then suddenly, they moved.
He looked around the room and when his eyes passed over me, I suddenly knew how the mouse felt when the shadow of a hawk passed over its head, how the antelope felt when the wind changed and it smelled a lion right beside it, how the damned felt when they saw the Book of Judgment open.
They were deep brown, almost black, like a shark’s eyes but with less compassion and kindness. His teeth were blocky, like a plant eater but his incisors were pointed and looked razor sharp, like the first and greatest predator. His hands were massive and brutish and flexed as if hungry to rend and tear this feeble mortal world. A blood-red birthmark rested on his brow, marking him for eternity. He was the Insomniac, destruction in something-other-than-human-form, and we would all pay for waking him.
The Insomniac roared and it seemed as if the very pillars of the earth shook. It also jolted me out of my stupor and I concentrated hard and fast, solid and sure, and the air around him turned into diamond. He stood there, frozen in time, rage and insanity etched upon his brutish face. Sarah and Harry rushed to my side as small noises began to sound and tiny cracks began to form in the clear mineral.
“That won’t hold him for long. We won’t be able to stop him ourselves. We need a plan.” said Sarah. “I looked into his eyes. He is the real deal. He has a touch of the divine about him. I felt it and that mark on his forehead? I have seen it before. I don‘t know where or when but I have seen it.”
“Okay, here is what we do. Harry, you keep him busy when he breaks out of that cage I believed up for him. Sarah, you hit him with everything you have, as often as you can, for as long as you can. Fire, brimstone, boring sermons, I don’t care what. Just throw everything you have at him.” I said as I started towards Dr. Lowell’s station.
“And what will you be doing?” Sarah yelled at my retreating form.
‘The same thing I am always doing, saving the day.” I yelled back.
A thunderous crash sounded and I didn’t have to look back to know that the Insomniac was free and I didn’t have to hear the thunderous roar that sounded to know that he was pissed off. I heard a rumbling growl and the fast ticking of claws on concrete and I knew that Harry was charging at the Insomniac, throwing himself at the Abyss, fighting madness with madness. I heard a low chanting of Words that were painful to hear, like red hot pokers in your ear, like a voice whispering insane and terrible truths in your mind. Enochian, the language of the angels, Words old before man was cast out of the Garden, and I knew that Sarah was bringing her arts to bear. I didn’t worry about them, couldn’t worry. They were powerful, and deadly, and professional. They would do their jobs and I needed to do mine.
I grabbed Dr. Lowell and he spun to face me, fear etching his face, making it into something ugly and horrifying. His eyes moved wildly in their sockets, trying and failing to desperately focus on something, on anything. His was the hollow look of a man who suddenly had the rug pulled out from under him, of a man who always had the answers before but now was mystified. He had the look of defeat.
“What is it?” I demanded. “What do you know?”
“It can’t be. It doesn’t make any sense.” he said softly.
“What doesn’t make any sense?”
“I found out what moved. It wasn’t his eyes like I said. It was his… thing.” he said.
“His thing? Oh! His thing!” I said, realization dawning on me. “Thanks Doc! You may have just saved us all.”
I turned back to the battle in time to see a massive brown form go hurtling past me to slam into the wall with the smack of bruised meat and the crunch of bone. I looked and saw the Insomniac still standing on his dais. Faint red marks glistened on his chest through tears in his pink bunny suit before swiftly fading away, claw marks from Harry. At that moment, Sarah unleashed Hellfire and bright orange flames that reeked of brimstone flared up around the Insomniac’s massive form. Sarah, at least, was holding her own.
I turned back to where Harry struck the wall and he was painfully rising to his feet. I could hear the snap of bone as his broken frame repaired itself, I could see pain and madness in his eyes but I could also see something else. Fear. Harry van Helsing, the Wolf-who-walks-the-night was frightened and that was something you didn’t see everyday.
I gestured to him and he gave me as reassuring a look as an Alpha werewolf could. With what could have almost passed for a grin, he bounded back towards the Insomniac, who had now started to slowly advance his way through Sarah’s blistering Hellflames. With a sigh, they winked out, no longer able to rage against the Insomniac’s invulnerable flesh, no longer able to burn brightly against his madness. He seemed to hesitate as he felt a sudden lack of opposition then he started to reach towards Sarah’s hovering form. At that moment, Harry leapt upon his back, howling and slashing and his unexpected attack staggered the Insomniac slightly.
I called out to Sarah and over the sound of combat she heard me. In the space of a heart beat she was hovering next to me and I leaned over to whisper in her ear. She pulled away at what I had to say and looked at me disbelievingly.
“I’m completely serious.” I said.
“Oh, I know you are. I am just surprised and with good reason.” she said.
“Are you okay with this?” I asked, my mental fingers crossed.
“Sure, Why not. It might even be fun.” She said as turned to look at the Insomniac‘s muscular form. “For both of us.”
As we finished speaking, the Insomniac finally tired of Harry riding his back and he leapt high in the air, slamming Harry against the ceiling. Harry’s body went limp as the blow forced all the air out of his lungs and released his opponent and that was all the opening the Insomniac needed. He spun in midair, grabbed Harry, and hit him a dozen times on the way down hard enough to level a building. By the time the two of them slammed into the concrete floor, Harry was long past unconscious and the Insomniac had no intention of stopping. He would tear Harry apart and in his unconscious state, Harry would revert back to human form within seconds.
I had to Do Something. I preferred to not Do Something. I preferred to use my power sparingly, preferred to let my reputation do the fighting but there was no choice, no other recourse. Sometimes, when the Devil was nipping at your heels, you had no choice but to look back, whether he was gaining or not.
I concentrated hard and fast and dirty, reaching deep within myself, finding my depths of power. There, far below my conscious mind, I found the wellspring of my power, and with glee and fear in my heart I plunged my mind into them. My power blazed white hot. All around the Shadow, those sensitive to such things felt the very fabric of the world shudder, as if in abject fear or sinful pleasure, felt the world change, felt it bend to my will.
The floor heaved and a massive hand made of dirt and gravel, concrete and steel shot up out of it and grabbed the Insomniac. If everybody’s life had not been on the line, if the world itself hadn’t been threatened, the look of surprise on his face would have been comical. In his long life, this was new. This was the first time that the very ground, the earth itself had risen up against him and I was happy to say, it startled him. He didn’t remain perplexed for long, with a shrug he shattered the grasp of the ground but it was too late. My power had done its job, just like it always did.
The room we were in shook and streamers of dust fell from the ceiling. Walls partially collapsed and from the mound of rubble, a form began to grow. It reached its full size and stood up straight, a thirty foot high Golem. Called forth by my power, made living by my will, it was the building itself, rising up to contain its charge, rising up to stop the Insomniac.
He looked up at it and it turned its ponderous and monstrous head to regard him back. For a tense moment, silence reined, for a split second, I thought we had a chance. Then the Golem turned to me, shrugged once apologetically, and fled this mortal plane. It wasn’t stupid enough to tangle with the Insomniac, which made it far smarter than any of us.
The Insomniac looked across the room at me, his eyes burning with hatred and madness. He would rip and tear, violate and destroy, he would take out his pain on all of us, starting with me. Except he wouldn’t. I wouldn’t let him. He was the Insomniac, yes but I was the Believer and I backed down from nobody. It was bad for my reputation.
My friends had barely slowed him down, my Golem had deserted me, but I wasn’t powerless. I had one more trick up my sleeve. I locked eyes with him. Let his madness meet my resolve, let his insanity face my belief, and he froze where he stood. I could feel him raging against me, pressing inexorably against my will. I wouldn’t be able to hold him long.
He took a slow and halting step, then another. Then he smiled and started walking through the force of my gaze as if I were tissue paper, as if it wasn’t even there at all. He reached his hand out for me and Sarah dropped between us. He froze mid-step, puzzled and Sarah glanced over her shoulder at me.
“Let me take it from here, Crowley.” she said and her power of temptation flared bright and powerful. She wasn’t aiming it at me, she threw all she had at the Insomniac. All I got was whatever tiny amount rebounded off of him and it was enough to make me want Sarah more than anything I had ever wanted. She was my world and I would have died for her, would have killed for her, and most terrifying, I would have lived for her.
I gathered control of myself, that may have been my greatest power of all, knowing myself, understanding who I was. Finally in control of my thoughts, my mind turned back to Sarah’s display of power. If it had hit me that hard and all I had gotten was a little spillover, what had it done to the Insomniac? I looked at him and he was on his knees before Sarah, reaching up to obediently touch the hem of her short black dress. His eyes showed nothing but adoration and I couldn’t blame him one bit. I knew exactly how he felt. She smiled gently down at him and then glanced over her shoulder at me.
“He’s mine, for as long as I want him. I will take care of him for now. I have a few ideas on how to put him back to sleep.” she said with a twinkling in her eye.
“You don’t mean to..” I began.
“Oh, I most definitely do intend to, several times in fact until he passes out.” she grinned. “I know who he is now. Cain. The first murderer. Cursed to forever walk the worlds, marked for his crime. And when he saw me, he knew me for what I was. One of the infernal, One of the holy. He knew me of Olde. So, I’m taking charge of him. He, at least, may be able to keep up with my infernal libido. At least for a few weeks.”
With that said, she grabbed his hand and angel wings sprouted on her back. With a mighty beat, the two lifted off and she flew him through a nearby hole in the wall created by my Golem. Dr. Lowell sat in the ruins of his multi-billion dollar laboratory and wept. I just knew he was going to blame this all on me. I knew one other thing, I wasn’t paying for the damages. Blame me all you liked, it didn’t matter. Collateral damage was all part of the service.
“I don’t get it, Allen.” Harry said as he came up to me, finally awake and looking very worse for wear. “How is she going to put him to sleep?”
“When do you sleep the soundest, Harry?” I asked.
“After… Oh! I understand now. Lucky bastard.” he lamented, looking forlornly at the hole she had flown through.
“You couldn’t handle her.” I said.
“I know, but it would be so much fun to try.”
“You have a weird sense of fun, Harry. Weird but true.” I said. “Just goes to show..
“Show what?” asked Harry.
“Fighting isn’t the only way to beat monsters, in the Shadow.”