The creature howled in agony, clutching it's still seared paw to it's chest. The master was less than pleased at it's mistakes, but this wasn't simply punishment.
It was an attempt to take advantage of a slim, slim opportunity. "We cannot afford to trigger his latent powers, you idiot!" the master had roared, then gotten a thoughtful look on his face. "But perhaps, just perhaps... the trace you left might trigger his powers, make them bloom quicker... or maybe we can use it to taint them, forever..."
Unfortunately for the creature, the only way to use them in that manner required it's participation. And by participation, the master meant 'pain'.
Billy stared at Jer, still clearly in shock. "Dude, what the hell was that?" he asked, awed.
"I guess I lost my temper," Jer tried to shrug it off.
"Jer," Billy said in disbelief, "I have never heard anyone talk like that. Much less to a grown-up!"
"The way he acted-" Jer started.
"The way he acted?" Billy laughed. "Snot-rag, you just gave him a chewing out like you were the grown up and he was the kid!"
"Well, he was acting like one!" Jer giggled back. "Was I really that bad, turd-head?" he asked.
"Jer, I don't think I have ever heard anything like it," Billy told him. "You weren't just bad, you were scary bad! Hell, you were so focused on what you were doing you didn't even notice me running to use the restroom! You scared me and I wasn't even the target!"
"Wow," Jer shook his head. "And I don't even remember what I said!" he complained, throwing himself back into his bed.
"Yeah, well, it was good. I can't remember half of it myself, but... wow man, I mean, wow!" Billy said. "You did good, snot-rag."
"Thanks, turd-head," Jer said softly, then sniffed. "What is that smell?"
"Smell? What smell?" Billy asked, confused.
"How can you miss it, it reeks!" Jer complained, staggering to the window. "Ew," he gagged, staggering backwards. "It's coming from outside!"
"I don't smell anything," Billy repeated. "Nothing," he added after sniffing at the thankfully still closed window.
"Well, I do," Jer told him. "Here, I'm going to light some incense, try and cover it up."
"You and your incense sticks!" Billy complained. "What is up with that!"
Jer looked at his friend evenly as he drew the candle lighter and the incense from a drawer. "We've had this conversation, Billy," he said evenly, squashing his anger.
Billy grimaced. "Sorry; I forgot."
"In memory of those we love, we light this flame," Jer recited slowly, just as his mother always had. "In prayer for protection, we call upon the Lord. Let this pleasing scent rise unto him, and remind us always of his power," Jer continued, taking the incense stick and waving it at each of the cardinal points..
His mother had always laughed this ritual off. 'Something my mother taught me, not a real prayer. But it's comforting, and fun, so why not?'
"I call upon that power now. Shield me and those I love. Shield this room and this place from Darkness, and drive it always out," Jer finished, waving the stick at each of the corners of the room. Suddenly the stick stopped smoldering and smoking and burst into a livid green flame, and Jer felt something reaching out. The dark, oily, loathsome scent he sought to cover up grew stronger in his nose, and he felt it trying to reach into him. But something was blocking it. Something fought back. And that something suddenly grew stronger. A soft, comforting something flowed through him, and Jer swayed in shock as it did so. The incense stick wavered in his hand, on the verge of falling to the ground, when Billy grabbed hold of it.
"Dude, don't drop it!" Billy told him, pulling him around. "Hey, snot-rag, what's wrong?" he asked, noticing Jer's face. "Hey, Jer!" he snapped. "Earth to Jer!"
"Don't let it go out," Jer forced out. The powers conflicting inside him were immense, and he was squashed between them. But he felt the dark power being torn away by the flame of the incense stick, purified by the holy fire that he had somehow summoned.
It was nonsense, some dark corner of his mind screamed. The prayer was a joke, a family tradition not some actual calling upon the Lord. But another corner of his mind argued back, reminding Jer that he'd always believed in it. Not because it was a part of the Church, or that incense and prayers were needed. No, it was something to believe in because the Lord always heard your prayers, always answered them -- if only with 'No'. Even those spoken half in jest, and purely in memory of those who had passed away.
And now that power flowed through him. And through him was exactly the right word, Jer realized. With eyes to see the walls of his room fairly glowed with power now. "Do you see it?" He asked Billy.
"Dude, your incense stick is on fucking fire, of course I see it!" Billy told him.
"Don't let the fire go out," Jer told him, falling to his knees. He was still squashed between the two powers, and sweat rose on his brow as he felt some essential part of his being giving way. He fought, oh God how he fought, but it was too much. He hurt, he hurt, and if he knew which side he wanted to win-
A thing climbed up the side of the house... Jer shook his head, trying to clear it. ...the touch of the glass, of the ward imbedded over the course of years, pained it... Jer fell backward, convulsing in unfelt agony as the battle reached the climax. The Light blanketed him, shielded him, ...but the loathsome stench of the beast, of pure Darkness remained, summoned by... and he would not yield, he would not yield to the Dark that hammered in ...but the ritual of pain could only use the Darkness already there, not create more, and the boy was proving too strong... but the light didn't need to do so much all at once.
Jer gasped as the incense stick, only burned halfway down, suddenly stopped burning.
"Are you alright," Billy asked, kneeling beside Jer, incense still in hand. "It just stopped burning, I didn't let it go out," he reassured his friend.
"Light 'er back up," Jer told him, pointing unsteadily at his desk, where the lighter still waited.
"No," Billy told him. "That hurt you, and I'm not about-"
"Billy," Jer broke in, eyes pleading for Billy to understand. "The alternative is worse. Light it back up" he begged.
"Not a chance," Billy told him. "Look at yourself! What the hell happened?"
"What the Hell indeed," Jer giggled. He was shivvering and shaking, and perhaps... Billy really did have a good point. "Listen, don't tell my Dad about this."
"Snot-rag, what turd has crawled into your brain and called itself an idea?" Billy asked.
"Well, do you really think he'll believe you when you try and explain it to him?" Jer asked. "Especially when you try and tell him all about what I think it was?"
Billy opened his mouth to argue, then sealed it. "And what do you think it was?"
"You said it yourself: 'what the Hell'," Jer said thoughtfully. "Darkness. Evil. It was... trying to take me. And the Light -- God, or one of his angels, I guess -- fought back when I called on them."
"Jer, are you insane?" Billy snorted. "God, Devil, angels and demons, next thing you're going to do is start checking to see if you're bleeding from your..." Billy looked at Jer's hands. "Look at your hands," he whispered.
Jer pulled his hands up, looking carefully. "What?" he asked.
"Made you look!" Billy giggled.
"You... you..." Jer stammered, then fell over, laughing. "So, you going to tell my dad?"
"Jer, do I look stupid?" Billy asked. "You're right; he'll never believe me, not without some kind of evidence."
"We may just have that," Jer realized. "Look!"
Billy glanced over at the window. "Shit," he swore softly. There was a paw print, etched into the glass, clear as day. Only it wasn't formed of grease or some kind of surface coating. The outside of the window had burned where the paw had rested, blackening and cracking.
"Dad!" Jer called in instinctive panic. That paw print was wrong. It wasn't a hand. It couldn't be a hand. But, God have mercy, it couldn't be anything else: four fingers, and a thumb left no doubt. Even if the form, the shape, was all wrong for a human hand.
"Jer? What's wrong?" Da thundered into the room, head snapping from left to right as he surveyed the situation in an instant. "What the hell?" he swore as his eyes fell on the window. "What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything!" Jer told him sharply. "I smelled something rotten coming in from outside, and decided to light an incense stick to try and cover it up. And we just noticed that thing just now!"
"How the hell did an incense stick do that?" Da asked, leaning in to take a closer look at the window.
"Mr. Young, look at it, it's on the outside of the window," Billy noticed, shocked.
"It's what? On the-" Da looked and blinked in surprise. "Well, I guess the incense stick couldn't have done that... did you open the window or something?"
"It's been closed," Jer assured him. "As soon as I smelt that whatever it was, was coming in from outside, I left it closed."
"Alright," Da said softly. "I'll go to the hardware store and get some supplies, replace your window tomorrow."
"Can we do it tonight?" Jer asked, edgily.
"Something wrong?" Da asked.
"I don't like it. I don't want it here. I want it gone!" Jer told him, panicky.
Da spun around and went to one knee in front of Jer. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"I don't... it's wrong, Jer said, revulsion rising from inside. "That print belongs to something that should not exist. An... an... what's that word, the pastor used it last week... An abomination before the Lord."
"Jer," Da asked sternly, "what do you know about the thing that left that paw print?"
"I..." Jer shook his head. "I don't know anything, but... I know that thing is wrong. It should not exist. And I want the damned paw print, the window, gone!" Jer didn't even think. He grabbed the cross hanging over the post of his bed by the chain and gave it a quick circular swing over his head. Just one swing, and he released it to fly point force into the window.
It sank into the window up to the crosspiece with a flash of light that hurt the eyes, then sat there for a bare moment, simply imbedded into the window without so much as a crack. Da had barely had time to mutter in shock under his breath before the window exploded. It seemed to take forever, but happened in a single instant. They all saw, felt, the cracks radiate outward from the cross in slow motion, but in less than a single heartbeat a thousand pieces of window erupted outward. The cross seemed to hang, motionless, for a bare instant as gravity took charge and brought it bouncing off the windowsill and back into the room with a clatter.
"How did you do that?" Da asked, shocked.
"I don't... did I do that?" Jer asked, shaking his head. "I... I don't understand. I did it. I know I did. But I didn't do it!" Jer tried, and failed, to give voice to the conflict within him. His hand had done it. But he hadn't done it. No one had come into his body and taken control, either. It was... it was...
Jer shook his head. It made no sense! "Da, I know I did it, but I didn't do it," he tried again to give voice to the contradiction. "It wasn't... no one controlled me, no one made me do it, but I didn't make myself do it either. It was... like when a doctor hits you with a hammer. You kick. You can't help it."
"You threw your cross into the window," Da asked, bending down to pick up the offending object. "Shit!" he swore, dropping it.
"What's wrong?" Jer asked.
"It hurt me!" Da said, surprised. "It didn't burn. It was... it hurt to try and pick it up!" Da shook his head, unable to give voice to an explanation. "It wasn't a cut, it wasn't a burn, my muscles didn't cramp, but it hurt." Da sounded confused as much as anything else.
"I vote we leave it where it is then," Billy giggled nervously.
"No," Jer walked over. He reached his hand out, and the cross jumped up into it.
"Jer!" Da bellowed, instinctively trying to knock his son away from something he knew was painful to touch. But Jer just... swayed... and somehow Da missed him entirely. It wasn't even a sway, really, it was... it was...
"Dude, you just rippled," Billy said, almost calmly. After so many surprises, he was just beginning to loose the capacity for shock. "Part of you was just gone for a second."
Jer slowly lifted the chain of his cross up and slipped it over his neck. His hands glowed where they touched the chain, and as it fell against his chest the cross took on the same glow. "I'm too young," Jer whispered.
"What?" Da asked, confused. Jer turned to face him, eyes seeming older than should be possible.
"I'm too young," Jer repeated, calmly -- serenely, even. His eyes weren't the only old thing about him; his voice held the timbre and pitch of youth, but the tone, the cadence of wisdom and age. "In moments of stress and need, that can be set aside, but I am too young. I will be damaged if I try too much, too soon."
"Then don't," Da ordered. "Stop it, whatever you're doing."
"What has been begun cannot be stopped," Jer shook his head. "It runs too great. Too strong. It can only be slowed. Barriers placed, like dikes to direct the water, not dams to stop it."
"I don't understand," Da complained.
"Neither can I. Not yet," Jer looked to the side, brows furrowed. "I have to vent. Too much has come forth to block completely, but I may be just old enough..." Jer turned back to the window, and reached out his hand. Slowly he lined it up, as if he was pressing against the glass that was no longer there. He bent his head, and the glow focused around his outstretched hand, and the age that seemed to cover him diminished.
The moment stretched out. Billy and Da would have screamed, but they couldn't move. It was impossible. It seemed like hours passed in the time it took to complete a single thought. Time had no meaning, no purpose. And then the window reappeared, the shattered fragments of glass flying back and aligning themselves just so.
But where the paw print had been burned, seared into the window pane, only clear, untainted glass remained. Jer pulled his hand away from the window and then swayed. He would have fallen had Da not caught him.
"We need to get you to the hospital!" Da said after taking one glance at him.
"No!" Jer ordered, hand darting out to catch his father's. "Listen to me. What happened tonight was an attack. Do you understand? An attack! We can't let them know what happened."
"Someone attacked you?" Da asked, eyes narrowing.
"Yes, but I don't know who. I don't know how to find them," Jer told him. "But it was an attack. One that triggered something. The reaction... it was over eager, too strong, because whatever was triggered..." Jer shook his head. "It's like my body. Something is changing with my body, deep inside. Something else is changing in me, in my... soul. My mind?" Jer shook his head again. "I can't explain it. But the attack, combined with that change, it acted... it..."
"'Too soon' you said. 'Too young'..." Da looked at the window, thoughtful. "Like being forced to engage in..." Da cut himself off, frowning. "I think I understand. The attack short circuited something, jump-started a process that had just begun and forced it to move quicker than was healthy, quicker than was right."
"Yes, exactly!" Jer agreed.
"But how do you know that?" Da asked, staring into Jer's eyes.
"I... don't know." Jer admitted, trying to shift out of Da's grip. "But I know it to be true."
"You're going straight to bed," Da said, holding on tight. "Billy, I'm going to call the doctor from the hospital about your meds, but both of you need rest and sleep, understand?"
Billy yawned. "How did you guess?"
Da laughed quickly. "Actually, that was less of a guess and more of an instruction," Da told him. "I'll cook some burgers on the grill; if you wake up in the middle of the night, hungry, they'll be in the fridge. They should be easy enough for you guys to reheat even if I'm asleep, or unavailable."
"Unavailable?" Jer asked.
Da looked at him, eyes hard. "Someone attacked you, Jer. I don't know who. I don't understand how. But I am not going to sit and wait for them to do it again," he growled.
"But what can you do?" Jer asked unhappily. He didn't want to point out his father's helplessness, but...
"I can make a few calls," Da told him. "And those people can make a few more calls. And a few more calls. And there are some people -- people who can help -- who owe me favors. And they will answer, or by God I'll know the reason why!"
"Da, this isn't-" Jer began.
"Jeremy Dereck Young, I am your father," Da said firmly as he lifted Jer up.
Jer took the hint and shut up. "Alright, alright," he submitted, "but please remember, we don't want to tell the bad guys anything."
"Son, I know a lot more about war than you do. I'll make the calls from somewhere else, where the phone can't be tapped or traced," Da assured him as he placed Jer gently in the bed.
"And can that phone unexplode exploded windows?" Jer asked.
Da opened his mouth for a moment, then closed it thoughtfully. "Dangit, I hadn't thought about that," he said slowly. "Hell, the 'bad guys' could be listening to us right now!"
"No," Jer assured him. "I'd know if they were, and they can't anyway."
"They can't?" Da asked.
Jer closed his eyes and leaned his head back. The walls glowed, faint tracings like spidery writing drifting and dancing across them in long, unbroken strings. He could see it through his closed eyes. "This room is protected, and through it, like an echo of the defenses here, so is the rest of the house," Jer said softly. "I did that. I didn't even know I was doing it, but I did it. And I'll do it to the rest of the house tomorrow,"
"You'll do it to the rest of the-" Da cut himself off. "Fine, fine. If I take you with me, can you block the bad guys from listening in using magic?"
"Magic?" Jer asked, eyes snapping open. The light-show faded almost instantly from the walls. "I'm doing magic?"
"This isn't the first time I've seen it son," Da said softly. "That's one of the reasons I have to-"
"No!" Jer interrupted, grabbing Da by the arm, eyes widening. His voice echoed inside itself, reverberating across the room. "Don't call them!"
"Jer?" Da asked, moving back as he jerked his arm fee.
"No, that wasn't me," Jer said. "I got some... help, earlier," he explained softly. "Whoever you were going to call, wait. It's important. Something is happening."
"What do you mean, something is 'happening'?" Da asked.
"I'm not sure," Jer said. "But..." Jer looked at Da. "Something went wrong. Horribly wrong."
"Something went wrong? Were? With what?" Da asked, frustrated.
"Prometheus was bound for his crimes," Jer's mouth was moving, but it wasn't his voice coming out.
"General Wilson," Da sneered. "The no good son of a bitch..." Da shook his head. "I don't understand, though, what does... he..." Da's eyes grew wide as his voice trailed off. "Oh God no!"
"What is it, Mr. Young?" Billy asked.
"I'm going to make some calls tonight," Da told them. "Not about the attack. They won't raise any questions in anyone's mind, but... I need to know. Now..." Da swallowed. "This is too big for me. To big for anyone!"
Jer's snores were the only answer he got. Billy and Da glanced at each other and smothered a laugh that, in Billy's case, turned into a yawn. "Into bed with you," Da ordered. "I'll be back shortly with your meds."
Billy nodded and started to undress.
Terrance Thompson stood by his window, fingering the crystal amulet his father insisted that he wear. They all had one just like it, his brother, his mother, even his father. Terrance didn't think Peter knew about what they did, but he wondered about Mom sometimes. His father, naturally, had to know. Why else insist that they wear them?
The clear, cool crystal was inert under his hand now. But earlier it had been warm. Warm, not cool, to the touch. Warmer against his chest, and warmer against his hand. And when he'd looked into it, bent his will to see through it, he'd seen... he'd seen...
Something. Something dark and terrible that he had recoiled from, almost run screaming from the room to get away from. Terrance looked out into the night sky and wondered. He needed to talk to Dad sometime soon anyway; maybe he should ask Mom to call. Maybe he should get Dad home sooner, rather than waiting for later.
Playing with the crystal, Terrance pushed his untrained mind into the night. It was difficult, like trying to push a square peg through a round hole. He couldn't manage it. Without any additional information, any reason to worry, he decided that he'd probably imagined it. Well, not imagined whatever it was, but just that it was so close, so... personal? "That's the right word," he whispered, eyes focusing on the scene outside the window. "Personal. As if I knew whoever it was."
Closing his eyes, he tried once again to see what he'd seen the other night. For a bare moment he managed, lines of fire tracing themselves around the house like a protective screen. Some of the lines were bars of fire, strong and sturdy to resist any attack. And that they were defenses, the foundation of powerful protections, he did not doubt. Others were finer, but closer placed. As you reached the finest, hair-thin lines the entire house was wrapped in a cocoon that would allow nothing through.
But tonight they weren't a cool blue. They were an angry, dull orange over most of the house, with a section of bright orange that coincided exactly with the direction that he was looking out toward. He'd had the right bearing, at least.
Thinking hard on who lived that way, he stiffened. Wasn't Billy...? No, Billy didn't live quite in that direction. Close, very close, but... it wasn't the right house. Couldn't be. A few blocks off, at least! Billy might know whoever it was, but Billy's house wasn't there.
Satisfied that everyone he really cared about was safe, he decided to start his schoolwork. He really should have done some already, and his mother wouldn't accept the excuse that he'd been distracted by an attack that couldn't be seen, heard, or otherwise sensed by mundane senses.
Or, worse yet, she would believe him. He wasn't sure why he was so certain that was bad, but on some level he believed it with utter, bedrock certainty. Letting his mother know what he could do was not a good idea.
He needed to talk to Dad, but Dad was never around. Always busy and off on 'trips' without his family. And some part of him didn't want to talk to Dad about it. Not until he'd learned all he needed to learn, all he should learn on his own. So much to learn, so much to do. And for the moment, he had the time.
Marcel Van Havel hissed as the black flame died out. His hand was seared from the wrist out by the titanic struggle he'd stepped too closely to. "Cursed boy!" he howled, thrusting his hand into the bowl of distilled water he'd had close by. He'd planned to curse the water, to taint it forever with the Darkness he'd served, but this was a slightly more urgent use. And the pain of his injuries might even strengthen the resulting unholy water; there were precedents for and against that. But it hurt, and the Dark was never as apt as the Light at healing. He would regain the full use of his limb, of that there could be no doubt. But it would take time, and it would hurt.
At his feet, beneath the altar he'd worked at, the creature didn't howl or thrash any longer. It was too spent, too weakened, to manage more than a feeble whine. But it would survive, and be the stronger for the experience. That was why he'd made it, all those years ago. Creating a bound servant such as it had been a worthwhile challenge in its own right, and he'd proven several of his theories in the process. Beyond that, his choice in test subjects had forever sealed his commitment to the Dark, proof of his loyalty that could not be questioned.
As the thing started whining he was reminded of the disadvantages of his choice: the thing had never quite let go of what it used to be, never quite yielded that last bit of it's once-human soul. And sometimes that last bit would show itself and annoy the hell out of Marcel. "Shut up!" he kicked the thing in the side. "I do not want to hear you cry like a damned baby, you hear me? You keep this up, and I'll give you something to cry about!"
The thing hissed and shifted away, and whined what might have been a question. "Fine, go, go!" Marcel told it. "Just come when I call!"
This plan had failed, but it didn't look like the boy had actually understood what had happened. If he had, he would have sent a counter-attack, and with all his defenses down Marcel would have been completely open. Since he was still alive, clearly the boy had just gotten lucky, so the primary plan might yet work.
If it didn't, Marcel would likely envy the thing he'd created before the end, as his own masters dealt with his failure as harshly as he'd treated the thing.