Dec 30, 2016

The Road To Armageddon - Ed

The Last Coven - The Tome of Bill 8 - is coming FEB 10 to all major ebook platforms. It's the end of this crazy road, so to speak. To help celebrate this grand finale, I'll be posting short stories detailing snippets from the lives of various characters from series.  We've heard from Bill, Sally, and Sheila.  Now it's time to get inside the head of some of the others, and let them take center stage for a few moments.

-The below story takes place immediately following the events of The Wicked Dead.

It's hard to be surrounded by idiots

I so fucking hated playing the damsel in distress. Yet, somehow, that seemed to be the card I'd drawn as of late. Shit, I mean in the last day alone I'd been adopted by Sasquatches, kidnapped by a guy who looked like the second place winner in a Glenn Danzig lookalike contest, and now I was being carried like a ragdoll by Bill's fucking dungeon master of all people.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

Still, maybe I shouldn't complain. After all, I was alive. That's more than I could say about a lot of people. Hell, I couldn't even say for sure my friends survived, being that the roof of a fucking cavern had been dropped on top of them.

No. That was the wrong attitude to take.

Say what you will about my friends, but damn if they weren't survivors ... amazing as that might be at times. Besides, I had to hold out hope. From the look of things, it was all I had ... aside from the company of rock monsters, compelled vampires, and some psycho chick who, up until a short while ago, I'd assumed was no more than a middle manager in the vamp hierarchy.

"I can walk you know."

Dave gave no response, continuing to march forward like a mindless android. I let out a sigh. It wasn't his fault he was currently enslaved. Sure, he was an abrasive ass, but I doubted he'd willfully ever fall in line with this lot.

I couldn't see much from my vantage point, slung over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes. Go figure, I was apparently the only one in this traveling freak show without night vision. The only illumination in the tunnel came from the glowing eyes of the Jahabich marching with us and it wasn't much. I could barely make out the walls on either side of us, much less how far back our procession stretched.

Where my eyes failed, however, my ears did not. I could tell there were a lot of us - not from the witty banter going on, mind you, but from the footfalls of many feet marching along. Amazingly enough, it wasn't so much the company that creeped me out, nor the fact that I was being kidnapped again for whatever the fuck reason. It was the silence. My voice had been the first since we'd started this trek through the bowels of the Earth.

Other than footsteps there had been nothing except ... hold on. I had to go and think that, didn't I? No sooner had I rued the silence than came a low rumble from somewhere behind us. I was no spelunker, but that sure as shit sounded like something collapsing.

"Um, you might want to walk faster, man," I said from over Dave's shoulder.

Again, no response. I looked around at the vacant eyes of the vampires who'd been unlucky enough to have been ensnared, hoping to see a glimmer of ... anything really. But they might as well have been mannequins from the uncanny valley looks on their faces.

"I don't suppose it's any concern to you fuckers, but I'm pretty sure that's a cave-in we're hearing."

"Of course it is, child," an unconcerned female voice replied from somewhere up ahead. "Who do you think ordered the tunnel to be collapsed behind us?"

I guess that made sense. Would keep us from being followed. Speaking of behinds, though...

"As much as I appreciate you talking to my asshole, it's kind of hard to carry on a meaningful conversation this way."

Before I could say anything further, Dave bent down and deposited me onto my feet - where I was almost immediately bowled over. The procession as a whole didn't bother to stop moving, forcing me to quickly match pace or be trampled.

I spared a quick glance at his slack-jawed face. "Thanks for nothing, asshole."

The tunnel lit up ahead and I turned to see the source. Unsurprisingly, it was the woman in the white dress who'd recently kicked everyone's asses upstairs ... Calibra. A small orb of glowing energy floated next to her.

"My concession to your frail mortal eyes."

"You're too kind."

She was leading the way ... somewhere. The light cast by her magic trick didn't illuminate much, just enough for me to keep from tripping over my own feet.

Unless I decided to take my chances at being a human gopher, there wasn't much I could do but bide my time and hope for a chance to run later. Where to? I had no idea. Hopefully a plan would present itself. Until then...

I caught up to Calibra, being she was both holding the flashlight and seemed the lone other person in the group whose tongue the cat hadn't gotten.

"Hey. What's a nice guy like me doing in a shit-hole cave like this?"

"I see you're a flippant one, like your friend the Freewill," she replied, still facing forward. "Tis a sign of this age, I suppose. Once upon a time, men knew their place when among their betters."

"Ah, I see. I'll be sure to add m'lady when I tell you to go fuck yourself."

"You dare?!" a different voice snarled from somewhere behind us.

I spun to see one of the vamps from Bill's coven pushing her way through the crowd … the hot redhead who seemed to put out for everyone but him. Mind you, she looked a bit less hot with her eyes blackened and her fangs bared.

"There will be no need for that, Elizabeth."

The redhead stopped dead in her tracks. I expected her to offer some sort of protest about not being allowed to play with her toys, but all she did was nod respectfully and fall back again. Wuss.

"Got that one on a short leash, I see."

"She knows her place," Calibra replied. "Something you might do well to consider."

I decided to try my luck. After all, there was obviously a reason they'd taken me. "See, that's the thing. I don't think I need to."

"Oh?" she asked, a bemused quality to her voice. That was fine. Amused was potentially a lot less painful for me than enraged. Still, it helped reinforce what I'd been thinking.

"Yeah. I can't help but notice how everyone seems intent on using me as the trophy in a massive game of capture the flag. Translation for the ancient monsters in the room…"

"I know what you mean," Calibra said. "Unlike some of my children, I have made it a point to stay abreast of current affairs."

Oh. Well, that saved me the trouble of explaining the finer points of online gaming. "Good to know. Anyway, I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume it's not my charming personality that you're all after.

"Your insight is truly fascinating."

"Be that as it may, you need me for something. I don't know what that is, but since I'm still breathing I'm going to assume it's important to you."

"Oh, it goes far beyond me, I can assure you, boy."

She stopped short of telling me what that was, though, leading me to believe I wasn't going to get some super villain soliloquy outlining her evil plot. Nevertheless, she seemed to be in a conversing mood, which was a fuck-load better than a killing one.

"Whatever it is, you have to know it's not going to work."

"I assume you are speaking of your friend the Freewill. How do you even know he's still alive?"

"Bill seems to have a guardian angel hanging over him, several probably, in the form of that big prophecy you all seem to like crowing about. Oh, and I'm not just talking about him. You didn't get to meet her up above, but trust me when I say a certain girl with a flaming white aura will probably be very eager to make your acquaintance."

"The Icon and the Freewill?" she mused.

"Yep. Despite what you might believe, they're working together, and don't doubt for a second they're going to come looking for me." I left out a silent I hope. No point in showing her that in actuality I was pretty close to shitting my pants.

"And that's the best you've got to threaten me with?"

"You're kidding, right?" I asked. "Need I remind you that those two are kind of a big deal in your world? Their big showdown during the end times and all that. Oh, and since I haven't heard anything in those prophecies about you, that tells me maybe you should be worried about still being around to see it."

"I would remind you, child," she replied. "That the prophecies, and I can assure you I am far more intimately familiar with them than you are, also fail to mention you."

"Why would they? Effervescent as my personality is, I'm not a player in this supernatural circle jerk."

For the first time, she turned to look at me, her eyes gleaming in the dim light. "Oh, how wrong you are. You, my child, are the harbinger of a new age. Despite everything you've heard, your friends are the inconsequential ones. Freewills and Icons, their kind have come and gone before. Aberrations they may be, quirks of magic, but nothing more. Why, did you know that the very first Icon fell to my hands?" She shook her head dismissively. "Of course you wouldn't. But it's true. It was an amusing altercation, truth be told, an interesting diversion, but nothing more. Do not think your friends will be any different."

I tried not to show it, but the utter confidence in her voice was causing a bit of a pit to form in my stomach.

"You, on the other hand, are unique," she continued. "Nothing like you has ever appeared on the face of this world. Trust me, I have been looking."

"I like to think I'm..."

"I don't care what you think. Your wants and needs are irrelevant. You will foster a new beginning, but do not think that makes you its master. You are a pawn and will be used as such."

"And if I refuse?" There. It had to be said. Mind you, I was alone and surrounded by a small army of beings of which I was physically the weakest. As far as bluffs went, it was pretty goddamned pathetic.

"Is this supposed to be the part where I threaten the lives of your friends?"

"You could, but there isn't anyone present I'm willing to take a bullet for."


"Oh, so then we've reached an impasse?" That's me, the eternal optimist.

"Hardly," she replied with a grin, eyeing me up and down.

"What are you doing?"

"What is the colloquialism? Ah, yes. I am ... checking you out."

What?! That was her gambit? I mean, sure, she was cute in a crazed sort of way, but seriously? "I'm flattered, really I am. But, unlike at least one of my other friends, I'm not about to sell out the world for a quick lay."

She let out what sounded almost like a genuine laugh. I tried not to be insulted. "Oh, silly boy, that wasn't what I was looking at."

"What then?"

"Your arms and legs, of course. Limbs are an interesting evolutionary achievement. They allow us to walk, run, fight, build, all of the things that have allowed mankind to rise above the muck."


"And," she replied, her eyes darkening, "they are entirely superfluous for the purpose for which you are here. You would suit my needs just as well as the equivalent of a human slug. And if you think I am in any way bluffing, I implore you to say another word to the contrary."

In the last year I'd helped face down monsters for whom I wouldn't have hesitated to flip off at such an ultimatum. This time, however, I didn't get the vibe that there was any sway whatsoever to the threat laid out before me.

I didn't consider myself a coward, but I'm not a fucking idiot either.

Considering the alternative, I zipped my lips and fell into stride beside her.

I had no idea what Calibra had planned for me, but at least for now I was alive and whole. I hoped to stay that way, but that didn't mean I wouldn't keep my eyes open for an opportunity. If one arose, I'd take it. And if not, I'd do what I could to muck things up for her while patiently waiting for my friends to come for me.

Now to only hope they didn't take their sweet fucking time doing so.

The Road To Armageddon:

Dec 22, 2016

Grinching the Christmas Cookies

They say there are two types of people in this world - those who are awesome enough to selflessly bake cookies to share with their friends, and then there are the assholes who contribute nothing to society but eating those cookies and casting baleful judgement upon them.

This is a tale from the latter.

Every year, my wife goes to a Christmas Cookie swap party, and every year I wait eagerly for the tribute she returns with. This year the bounty was plentiful.  But I am an angry god and my judgement is harsh. Thus, I thought it fitting to be a total cock-nozzle and post my thoughts for your amusement.

I didn't know what most of these were called, so rather than be industrious and look it up, I decided to give each it's own name based on appearance and/or taste.

Let the judgement begin!

Dingleberry Chip - You can tell when someone knows their chocolate chip cookies are good when they give absolutely no fucks to how they look. This cookie tells me "I am the baker of chocolaty goodness and you better well fucking know it. Here! Eat what I have shat out for you and enjoy it."

Surprise Turd - Normally, I'm neutral on rum balls, or things like them. But these motherfuckers throw you for a loop with a big chunk of caramel inside. It's like getting a lump of coal for Christmas, then dropping it to find a diamond in the center. So awesome.

Satan's Twat Waffle - In keeping with my fine tradition of being a piss-poor Italian, I can't stand Pizzelles. I don't know who first thought, "Gee, what the world needs are licorice flavored cookies", but I can tell you they had a soul as dark as the underside of the Devil's scrotum.

Cavity Bar - A cookie bar drowned in caramel.  My teeth are rotting just thinking about this. If diabetic shock were given cookie form, this would be it.  Damn good, but pretty sure more than one of these would have instantly kill most people.

Petrified Man - A basic gingerbread humanoid from the Paleozoic era. His kind were known for their sloping foreheads and hunter / gatherer lifestyle. Sadly, they were eventually wiped out by tastier cookies who had the evolutionary advantage of frosting.

The Fuck?! - A not-cookie, covered in caramel, chocolate, and what appears to be mercury shavings. My tongue wasn't upset upon eating this, don't get me wrong, but it was left very very confused.

Intestinal Tract Diorama - Nothing says Christmas Spirit quite like a sonogram of your innards in generic sugar cookie form. 

Nuts To That! - A generic sugar wafer ruined by the addition of lots of crushed walnuts or whatever the fuck they are. Don't know, because I find nuts to be an abomination on the face of a cookie.  Damn you to Hell, cookie nuts!!!! Still better than raisins, though.

Edit: I have been yelled at that these are actually mint chips, not nuts. Oops. Still looks like nuts to me, though. 

Snow Poop - Covering a relatively tasteless ball of dough in powered sugar just leaves it a slightly more sweet tasteless ball of dough. Speaking of which...

Blob of Dough - No idea what this was or what it was supposed to taste like. Nearest I can tell, they ran out of time to actually bake these, just said "fuck it"and hoped nobody noticed.

Who Ate Half The Fucking Chocolate?! - Screw dipping your chocolate bar in my peanut butter. This is a linzer tart dipped in chocolate. A surprisingly kick-ass combination.  And much Christmas cheer was had.

Bizarro World Who Ate Half The Fucking Chocolate?! - Pretty much the mirror universe version of the above, minus the linzer tart filling. Tasty, but lack of filling shall always equal a wee bit of heartbreak.

Festive Snot Ball - These kinda look like someone sneezed  into a jar of sprinkles, but they were surprisingly good. Lemon cookies that simply do not give a shit what you think of their appearance. Peering into my wardrobe, they're kinda like me in cookie form.

Chocolate Distraction - I find that cookies with big lumps of chocolate in the middle of them are often there to hide the fact that the cookie itself is pretty meh. Oddly enough, I am seldom wrong in these matters.

I'm a Tree, Damnit! - Really I am!  No, what you are is a pretty generic sugar cookie. Fortunately, generic sugar cookies are still more than fine in my book. Know that there shall always be a place in my stomach for Christmas Tree deformities.

Rudolph The Red Nosed Spear-Tip - Cute to look at, but pretty meh as far as eating goes. Problem with generic chocolate type cookies is that they really don't taste like much of anything.

Goddamn It! We Ran Out of Sprinkles! - I hope nobody notices. Sadly, yes I did. Although, I may keep a few of these around in case I need replacement googly eyes for my kids' stuffed animals.

Did I Forget To Clean the Cat Box Again? - It is said these cookies are deceivers. They murder men in the night. I know nothing.  Don't be fooled by it's appearance. It is definitely no brownie.

Spooge Wafer - I imagine that this is what DVD covers look like when they're returned to the adult video store. It's like St. Nick decided to bake some cookies and then got overly jolly while doing so. I am forced to admit, though, his "icing" is pretty darn good. I can see why Mrs. Claus stays with him.

Dec 14, 2016

The Road to Armageddon - Gan

The Last Coven - The Tome of Bill 8 - is coming FEB 10 to all major ebook platforms. It's the end of this crazy road, so to speak. To help celebrate this grand finale, I'll be posting short stories detailing snippets from the lives of various characters from series.  We've heard from Bill, Sally, and Sheila.  Now it's time to get inside the head of some of the others, and let them take center stage for a few moments.

-The below story takes place roughly halfway between Holier Than Thou and Sunset Strip.

It has been too long, Beloved.

"You are acting the part of the fool."

Silence descended in the room. Such disrespect would have never been uttered in the presence of my father. But then, considering the would-be usurper who sat upon his throne now - looking down upon me - I should have expected no better.


I knew this was coming. It was only a matter of time.

All assembled were waiting to see how I would respond to this challenge. It was time to play my part. "What would you have me do, uncle?"

* * *

Arghun's stance bespoke of arrogance, of one who was certain of his station. For centuries, he sat at my father's side, advising him. He'd even served as a tutor to me in matters of state. Although, I would have to have been blind to not see, even then, that he felt such tasks beneath him.

All of that I could easily forgive. What I could not, though, was his belief that he and he alone was heir to title of Khan.

And yet he dared call me a fool.

My father had always been an outlier amongst the First Coven. Under him, our lands were ruled in the traditional manner of our great heritage, eschewing their methods. Fear has always been part of the equation of leadership, but others of our kind rely on it exclusively, ignoring loyalty and honor. So drunk are they with power, they don't see how weak it ultimately leaves them.

I could see this same weakness in Arghun's eyes. He wished to lower us by conforming to their ideals. And why not? Such a thing would benefit him greatly. It was common practice among those who served the First that the strongest, the oldest, should lead. What they all failed to realize was that age simply turned one who was born a fool into little more than an older fool.

Arghun was older than I. He was stronger, more experienced, and could compel more to his side.

What he did not see, though, was that this did not make him better.

* * *

He leaned forward in my father's seat and tented his fingers, as if what he was about to say had not be rehearsed a hundred times. "I would have you call off this search for the Freewill, quit wasting resources that could be better spent elsewhere. I would have you admit that you still have a great deal to learn, child."

I glanced over my shoulder at the spoils of war I had returned with. The gleaming skulls appeared to be smiling, as if laughing at the foolishness playing out before them. Fitting in a way. "The Children of Erlik might disagree, had they still tongues with which to speak. I have not wasted so many resources as to be unable to defend our borders."

"You think a single victory over our ancient foes means you are ready for the burden of leadership? What would have become of us had your rash offensive failed?"

"I would be spared this tiresome folly."

Arghun's face contorted in rage at my reply. That alone should have told him and all present that he was unfit to rule. All around us, my followers - servants and soldiers alike - stood in silent attention; unmoving, unblinking, refusing to allow their emotions to show through. Low as some of them might be, they were more worthy than he.

"Your father would see you whipped for such insolence. Perhaps I should too."

There it was, the challenge I'd been expecting. What my dear uncle failed to realize, though, was that he was too late.

Had he openly expressed a desire to lead immediately following my father's death, perhaps he could have made a serious case for such. But this, waiting until I was away leading our troops in battle?  It spoke of treachery. Even if he was able to persuade those who remained behind, a dubious proposition at best, he had to know that the soldiers I led to victory would not so easily flock to his side. They were men of action, warriors who knew of our grand history.

I had seen these same men bristle at my father's inaction these many long years, ruling his lands from the shadows. However, the part he played in history as heir to the great Temüjin spoke for itself. None would have ever raised a hand against him. But with his passing, the time for sitting idle so too ended. It was a lesson Arghun had failed to learn.

I stepped forward, holding his gaze. "You are welcome to try."

* * *

Though the dictates of the First lacked wisdom, there was one tradition which even I would not dare deny - the right of ritual combat. Though I knew my men would have cut Arghun down where he sat, had I given even the slightest sign, that would not do. I had earned the loyalty of many who once followed my father, but it was not enough. I would not allow there to be any doubt among them.

I only realized now, as loyal subjects and cattle alike spread out around us, forming a wide circle, that the room had already been cleared. They had been expecting this. That meant Arghun managed to convince himself he actually stood a chance.

Still, it would have been foolish of me to dismiss him entirely. He had long been trained in the art of war, as were all of my father's advisors. But, where he spent many a night by my father's side drinking wine and telling tales of past glory, I continually trained, honing myself. My father would have me do no less.

Perhaps he foresaw this day coming.

Arghun stepped forward and attempted to stare me down, no doubt hoping to win this battle before it had even begun. Feh! Hope was the bastion of fools. A true leader took what was theirs by divine right.

He smiled, thinking to intimidate me. "I could compel you to your knees."

"Perhaps," I replied. "Indeed, you could compel many of those present to their knees. But you cannot command them all. For those who remain standing, there shall be doubt. And where there is doubt, there will always be a hidden dagger waiting to slit your throat."

"Spoken like a true student of your father," he said with a curt nod of his head. "But a student is all you are.

In a way he was right. But there always came a day when the student became the new master. Arghun did not realize it yet, but that day had come.

My silence was answer enough for him, though. Predictably, he broke eye contact fist, closing the distance between us with all the speed his age afforded him, unaware that he had already lost this battle.

Nevertheless, I would not underestimate him. Interestingly enough, for all I learned under my father's tutelage, that was a lesson that could not be attributed to him, at least not in a manner I could fully appreciate. No, that honor fell to my beloved. I had seen foes demean him, treat him with all the respect an elder would treat a youngling - all to their eventual detriment.

True fools failed to realize that even the youngest of vipers still possessed venom.

Arghun's attack was sloppy, off balance. His form belied the fact that his knowledge had not been put to practical use in some time. I let him strike me regardless, wishing to know the mettle of my opponent. The blow itself was formidable, although, far less so than it could have been.


I dutifully took a stagger step back, allowing him to think he had injured me - a small concession to him on my part. Arghun served my father faithfully for many years. Such service should not be so easily forgotten. I owed him an honorable death, one that would allow him to be remembered as a warrior.

He quickly stepped in, hoping to press the advantage, but my respect had its limits and he had reached them. With one quick move, I sidestepped and delivered a blow of my own.

His was sloppy, mine was not.

Arghun fell to his knees, the base of his spine severed with one quick swipe of my claws. Though his death would be more honorable were I to draw this out, there would be little benefit to me. Ending this quickly would dissuade other pretenders to the throne. All present would accept me as the new Khan and know my rule was absolute.

My opponent, however, was not quite finished yet. "SURRENDER!! BOW BEFORE YOUR RIGHTFUL MASTER!!"

I had thought it best to not underestimate Arghun. As it were, I had done quite the opposite. I attributed to him enough honor to accept his fate with dignity. Instead, he wasted that with one last pathetic gambit to compel me into submission.

For a moment, I felt my legs buckle beneath me, but I quickly steadied myself. The fool. His greater age afforded him the power, but my father had prepared me well. Decades of compulsion from him, building up my defenses, forcing me to develop the will to resist all but the most powerful of our kind. It all culminated in one final test – being left bound in the desert, sunrise only minutes away, compelled to lie there peacefully and accept my fate.

I survived, stronger for the ordeal.

Arghun would not, nor would any who dared challenge me.

The Road To Armageddon:

Dec 7, 2016

The Road to Armageddon - Christy

The Last Coven - The Tome of Bill 8 -  is coming FEB 10 to all major ebook platforms. It's the end of this crazy road, so to speak. To help celebrate this grand finale, I'll be posting short stories detailing snippets from the lives of various characters from series.  We've heard from Bill, Sally, and Sheila.  Now it's time to get inside the head of some of the others, and let them take center stage for a few moments.

-The below story takes place roughly halfway between the events of Bill The Vampire and Scary Dead Things

Tom finds her ... bewitching

I step outside and spot my quarry. He’s sitting on a concrete stoop in front of a fountain, enjoying a hotdog he must have purchased for lunch. He looks so normal, so mundane, but I know he’s not. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a slave to darkness, a thrall.

I know that what I am doing is necessary for the survival of my people. If I fail in my mission then disaster could strike. Our lives, our entire history, could be erased, scorched from the face of this world in a torrent of white fire. The prophecy is quite clear on that point.

Nevertheless, I hesitate in approaching him. Though I know what must be done, a part of me resents the role I am forced to play. For over a decade I’ve studied the art under Mentor Decker. I have worked hard to perfect my craft, spent many a sleepless night invested in one form of advanced spell-crafting or another. I have been called a prodigy, a natural adept. Indeed, my master has often told me that I am his favored pupil, his trusted second in our coven.

Yet, here I am, being asked to play the part of the whore, to willingly give my body to this shell of a man who sits before me. None of my sisters have drawn such a demeaning task. Most of them sit and wait – scrying the portents, looking for signs. The master has assured me that he too is forced to suffer for this task, gathering intelligence so as to fend off our fate. Yet, I’ve seen him. He used his magic to secure a place of power within the beast’s workplace, supposedly a facade until he was ready to strike.

Despite his claims otherwise, I have caught him admiring the expensive suits he has procured for his new station, the shiny Rolexes he now wears. I asked him why not just create the illusion of such, a glamour to fool the lesser minds, but he waved me off. He told me illusions can be defeated, that the stakes were too high for such. We must make this as real as possible so as to remain undetected.

So, too, was his logic upon my suggestion to simply ensnare this human thrall. Mind magic has always been a specialty of mine. Such a thing would be child’s play.

“No!” Mentor Decker had roared. “Do you not understand what is happening here, child? The Freewill, the dreaded Night Spawn, has been reborn. Their power is reputed to be legendary. Who knows what foul compulsions he has placed upon the minds of the humans who serve him? If you are found out, it will be our undoing, for his rebirth heralds the coming of our destroyer!”

The fury in my master’s eyes convinced me to question him no further. But now, with my assigned task finally at hand, I find myself wondering whether there was something else in his eyes too. It is nearly heresy to think it. He is my mentor, my teacher, practically a second father to me. But I can’t help but wonder if he is being driven mad by the events that are transpiring.

I almost turn around and go back to the desk that has been my daytime home for the past three months. It is not nearly as prestigious a position as that which my mentor procured for himself. My job is that of a mere marketing coordinator in the firm within which my quarry bides his time. However, since day one, I have been continually surprised to find that I actually enjoy my work assignments. Not only that, but I’m good at my job too. It shouldn’t be surprising. As a Magi, I have been continually taught to think outside the realms of the box that humanity seems intent on sequestering itself in. Nevertheless, I would be lying to myself if I were to claim I wasn’t growing fond of this façade of normalcy I have undertaken.

That thought stops me in my tracks. If I fail, there won’t be any normalcy – not for me, my sisters, my mentor, or any of the other Magi who live in the shadows of this world. They will all burn in the white fires of so-called faith. None of them deserve that fate.

I turn back and steel myself for what is to come. Fear grips my stomach, not only for what I must do, but what it could mean for me. This human is the thrall of the Freewill. There is no telling what dark machinations have been put in place in his mind. I will defend myself if needed, but I have no delusions. Mentor Decker has warned me of the power against which I am positioning myself.

Collecting my will around me, focused on protecting my mind against the evil influence I am about to make contact with, I step forward and offer a tentative, “Hi.”

He looks up at me mid-bite, his eyes widening in surprise. Despite knowing what he is, I can’t help but think he has a comical look about him thanks in part to the smear of mustard on the side of his mouth. “Um...”

“You’re Tom, right? From Accounting.”

An almost panicked look appears on his face. Perhaps it was a mistake to announce that I knew his name. He’s no doubt been warned against such things. I brace myself for whatever comes next. My mentor has prepared me well. Despite lacking the power of their masters, thralls will not hesitate to fight or die to protect those pulling their strings.

He stands up, facing me. I begin to gather power inside my closed fist, but remember that it’s midday in the busiest city of the country. I need to be careful. I prepare to cast a glamour around us, one that will let me deal with this fiend should the need arise.

The thrall raises his right hand and holds it out toward me. “Nice to meet you. I ... think I’ve seen you around. Marketing, right?”

“Yes. Christy, Christy Fenton.” I play along, tentatively grasping his hand with my own. I’d been dreading his touch, wondering whether it would corrupt me. I’ve never had direct contact with either a vampire or those under their spell. Despite what I’ve been taught, I don’t know what to expect. But his hand is warm, surprisingly normal feeling – if a bit clammy. Unfortunately, in my nervous haste, I forget to dismiss the power gathering in my own. He jumps back at making contact with me. My cover is blown. Combat is only moments...

“Whoa. Holy static electricity, Batman!” He laughs. “It’s nice to meet you. Shocking, too.”

Something about his voice is disarming. My paranoia insists it’s some dark thrall power I’m not aware of, but somehow I don’t think so. His tone is so ... innocent.

An awkward silence ensues between us as I try to process this.

After a moment, he steps back, and asks, quite matter of factly, “So ... would you like a bite of my hotdog?” I open my mouth to reply, but can’t think of an answer to that. “I mean, not mine. I ... could ... get you your own,” he stammers. “That is, unless you really want to bite mine.”

My mouth stretches to a grin, then to a full blown smile. Within the next second, I’m laughing. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am.

“That was lame, wasn’t it?”

“It was,” I reply, but the smile on his face tells me he’s not insulted in the least. “And you have mustard on your face.”

That sends him into a near panic of using the sleeve of his sports coat as a napkin, leaving a yellow smear on it. “Oh, fuck me sideways with Man-At-Arms!” He turns and smiles sheepishly at me. “Sorry. So much for first impressions, eh?”

The funny thing is, he’s wrong. A part of me still insists I should keep my guard up, be prepared for anything, but nevertheless I just can’t seem to summon that earlier dread I was feeling.

The Road To Armageddon: