Paladin looked over the dark cityscape he was supposed to be protecting. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary so far and he began to hope he could make an early night out of it.
This job takes way too much of my time, he mused to himself. I could be snuggling with Kira or finally getting that overdue paper done for Professor Tompkins, but NOOOOO I have to be freezing my balls off waiting for evil to happen. Why can’t it be like in the comics, they never seem to freeze or suffer serious shrinkage when patrolling, and trouble usually finds them instead of making them wait around.
“Ya know lad,” the thick Scottish brogue belonging to Rory cut through Paladin’s wandering thoughts, “ya could do somthin’ different for a change and actually patrol. Ya jus’ might stay warm and find that trouble you’re lookin’ for.”
Paladin sighed the sigh of the long suffering and pondered whether to answer back. The problem being if he did an argument would invariably break out, and if he didn’t the others would start chiming in with their unwanted two cents any second. Carrying around the souls of the six previous Champions of Heaven on Earth, while sounding cool, was more often than not a pain in the ass of epic proportions.
What the hell, he decided. It’ll give me something to do. As he geared up for the mental fight to begin a scream rang out.
“About damn time,” Paladin muttered, as he took off running at a speed that would make NASCAR drivers envious. Thank goodness for Akagi’s speed and reflexes, without ‘em I’d be dead and stuck in the sword with the others, and wouldn’t that be a wonderful experience for eternity.
“We heard that,” all of them said together.
“Good,” Paladin replied mentally, “Now shut up and let me concentrate.”
Paladin paused for a second and called up Rory’s senses. Extending his hearing out, he filtered out the normal night sounds of big city life and found what he was looking for, the sound of a girl crying and begging for her mother. Three blocks east; time to call up Akagi’s speed again. Letting go of Rory and filling himself with Akagi’s ability Paladin took off like a shot and reached the area in 45 seconds.
“Careful lad, time to slow down and approach with caution. We have no idea what we’re going to meet,” came the warning from inside his mind.
“M’butu, who’s the Paladin here? Let me do my damn job and just be ready when I call on you. Sheesh, my own mother disowns me and now I find myself with six old hens instead.”
Paladin took off the cross he always wore pinned to his breast and called forth his sword. Suddenly the surrounding buildings and alleys surrounding him became bathed in a bright silver glow coming from the sword in Paladin’s hand.
Three feet long with a beautiful jewel inlaid cross hilt, the real spectacle was the blade itself. Made entirely of the Silver Flame of Heaven, this holy sword was the bane of evil in any form.
Paladin barely knew what all of sword’s powers were, but was glad he had it. With it he could banish demons, wound the souls of the evil, heal the good, and generally kick ass on anything in between.
Of course it also held the souls of its six previous uptight, self-righteous wielders, but that was a minor price to pay.
In the glow Paladin spotted the source of the crying. A little girl, no more than twelve, was scooting backward on her behind as if trying to get away from something in the alleyway. Great, an invisible one, he thought.
He steeled himself, took a deep breath and shouted, “REVEAL”, while pointing the Silver Flame toward the general direction the child was facing. What popped into view made him wish he hadn’t done that.
Fully twelve feet tall, with a savage wolf-head, protruding fangs, clawed hands and feet, burning red eyes, and a huge axe, this thing wasn’t going to be easy.
Then again, if it were easy I wouldn’t be needed, Paladin mused.
Paladin started to pull up M’butu’s strength, but at the last second changed his mind. “Giovonni, time to play wizard,” he called out mentally.
Feeling the mystical power flow through him he called up a solid invisible wall, cutting off the Narwolf from the girl. Now calling on M’butu, Paladin crouched and leaped to the top of the building on the right side of the alley. The Narwolf howled and Paladin felt his entire being go weak for a moment.
“Nice fear effect, asshole, but not really the best thing to throw at me,” Paladin called.
Then his eyes widened and he scrambled for cover yelling, “Shit!”, as a ball of fire headed towards him. Instinctively he held out his sword and it drank in the raging inferno around Paladin and converted it into healing energy.
Mental note, don’t taunt the big scary wolf thing, Paladin thought as he called up Giovanni and fired off his own magic salvo. Lightning streaked from his hand and caught the Narwolf, blasting him back against the opposite wall of the alley. “That should do it.”
Paladin called up Chang and floated down off the roof thinking, If only those guys that make wuxia films knew they’re closer than anyone to the truth about what people are capable of.
“With God’s help, Paladin,” Chang’s voice chided.
“Yeah, yeah, all glory to God and whatever. Let’s just check on the girl shall we?”
Paladin dispelled the forcewall he had created and started towards the girl, who was staring at him apparently dumbfounded at being rescued. “It’s alright honey, I won’t hurt you,” Paladin assured the girl as he got his first good look at her.
She was one of those tall, thin, gawky girls with dirty blonde hair and blue eyes. Here’s another one who’ll be made fun of or ignored, that is until she matures and I bet the boys will beat a path to her then.
“What’s your name, kiddo,” he asked. She just shook her head, and then her eyes widened and Paladin noticed a hint of red showing. As he went on his guard, he heard a growl from behind him. He whirled and brought Silver Flame up just in time to parry a cut that would have cleaved him two.
Mental note two, make sure big scary wolf thing is dead before I look to victims.
“Time for the show, Lance,” Paladin thought.
Suddenly the Narwolf seemed as if in slow motion as Lance filled Paladin with his skill. Paladin fell into the battle and within three strokes saw his opening.
Paladin cried out, “I send thee back to hell, demon,” as he swung the Silver Flame in a horizontal arc and severed the Narwolf’s head sending a spray of greenish blood flying.
Panting from exertion and shaking with adrenaline Paladin turned back to the girl only to find she was gone. Snorting with indignation he muttered, “Your welcome,” to the empty air.
“Let’s get back, if I’m lucky Kira’s still up and if I’m really lucky her parents aren’t,” Paladin told the others.
“We should find the girl and investigate this!” Rory exclaimed.
“What’s to investigate, girl gets scared and runs away as I kill demon, case closed. Hell, at least she had the good sense to run from trouble,” Paladin shot back.
“What about her eyes boyo, ya saw the red.”
“I saw a reflection of the Narwolf’s eyes in hers, that’s all and that’s it. It’s time to go.”
As he was about to leave he noticed a piece of metal lying on the ground. Curiosity got the better of him and he took a look. Squatting down he picked it up and found it to be an old, broken iron pipe. It had some type of viscous fluid covering the sharp edges. Holding it up to the light Paladin saw the fluid was gray with dark swirls rippling through it.
Screw it, probably from the Narwolf. Dismissing it from his mind, he called on Akagi and raced to Kira’s house.
Racing through the city at a speed that left him a blur to normal people, Paladin soon reached the university campus where both he and Kira lived. Unfortunately not together, but at least I don’t have far to run if her parents catch me.
“Sinful,” came Akagi’s voice.
shocked silence “Well, I never…”
Paladin cut her off. “You should, might loosen that stick up your ass. I don’t need lectures on sin, thanks. I’ve committed and had committed on me more than enough sin to damn me to Hell a hundred times over, so I may as well get what fun I can out of what life I have left. You chose me, not the other way around. Don’t like it, tough, ’cause I’m in charge. Anything else?”
Silence greeted his tirade and Paladin took that as a sign of assent or disbelieving anger.
Either way they were quiet and that’s all that mattered.
He stopped outside a modest two-story house that Kira lived in with her parents. Kira had received numerous academic scholarship offers from various prestigious schools, but with her mother ailing she chose to go where her father was a faculty member so she could help him take care of things around the house.
Paladin really had no idea what she saw in him. If anybody in the world was too good for him it was her. Still, there must be something; she had been with him for two years.
Stepping behind a large oak just outside of her window Paladin looked for signs she was awake. Extending Rory’s senses he heard the faint sounds of that pop garbage she liked to dance to. Good, she’s still awake and if I’m extremely fortunate she’s dancing. Dancing always gets her in the mood.
Taking a deep breath, he exhaled slowly and a faint silver shimmer flowed over him changing his clothes, cleaning off any grime and blood, and turning him back into just plain Jay Morgan. Taking his glasses out of his pocket, Jay couldn’t help but think, if it’s good enough for Superman its good enough for me, as he put them on.
Stepping closer to the tree Jay started climbing and quickly reached her window and knocked softly. The curtains whooshed back as Kira gave him that smile she reserved just for him, the one that made him think of marrying her every time. She opened the window and Jay started to say, “Am I too late…”, when she grabbed him and kissed him, pulling him in at the same time.
Long moments later they finally broke apart and Jay asked her, “Should we move this to the bed?”
Kira grinned and replied, “Only if you have that paper for my father’s class done.”
“If I promise to get it done right after, can we move this to the bed?”
Holding her arms around his neck she kissed him quickly and said, “Get your lazy, but cute, ass over to my computer and get done. I’d rather not be cold while you work afterwards.”
“Fine,” Jay sighed as he gave her his best suffering look. “If go crazy and jump you I can’t be held responsible.”
“It shouldn’t take you that long, besides its better when you have to wait for it.”
“Somebody’s been feeding you a pack of lies.”
Kira giggled and said, “Come on, get busy and I’ll make you some coffee.”
Kira looked at him and said, “Did you really just say groovy?”
“Nobody says groovy.”
“Well I can think of three, me, Austin Powers, and Shaggy.” Jay tried to do his best Shaggy voice, “Like groovy, man.”
Kira laughed, telling him, “Your Scooby is much better.”
“If I do Scooby, can I see your Shaggy?” he asked hopefully.
“Keep your mind on your paper, perv, you’ll get done faster,” she said while rolling her eyes and giving him a playful slap on the shoulder. She turned to go, but turned back, put her arms around him, and whispered in his ear, “If you hurry, you’ll find I’m not Shaggy at all.”
A few hours later Jay found himself lying in bed with Kira, holding her while she slept.
He had finished his paper in record time, maybe not his best work, but he got it done. Kira was true to her word and it was great, but something kept nagging at him. Normally he would be fast asleep by now; still he lay there wide-awake and thinking about the earlier encounter with the Narwolf. Jay thought about waking up the Rory to talk, but decided against it.
After his earlier explosion he doubted they would be talking to him for a couple of days. Well, it was fine with him. He could use the peace and quiet.
“Why do I keep thinking about that piece of pipe I found? And that girl, who was she, and what was she doing in that neighborhood at that time?” Suddenly it came to him and he breathed out, “Shit!”
Easing himself out of bed so he wouldn’t wake Kira, he went to her computer and pulled up information on dark fey.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit, how could I have been so blind? Dark fey find iron painful, poisonous even. They can summon a demon for protection while they take the form of the person they decide to go after. Damn it all, she wasn’t afraid of the Narwolf, it was her guardian. She wasn’t crying for her mother, but praying to the Fey Mother for help. Goddamnit, how could I be so stupid?”
He knew why as he turned in the chair to look at Kira sleeping.
“I need to find out whose form she was wearing.”
Turning back to the computer he started going through school websites, hoping he could get lucky and find her. He started with the schools closest to the area he first encountered them. He struck pay dirt on the third website. The school had posted its yearbook online and he found her in it. Quickly finding an address corresponding with the school district, and writing a short note for Kira, Jay dressed and headed out the window quietly. “I’m coming Lucy Gramerling, I just hope I’m not too late.”
Once down the tree and a few houses down, Jay stopped and called upon the energies that made him the Paladin. Doing this woke the souls and Rory asked him what was going on. Paladin quickly briefed him and the rest on what he had learned.
“You were right Rory, I should have stayed and investigated or found the girl or, or…,” the thought choked off as he realized what he had probably done.
“No time for that lad, what’s done is done. We need to move fast.” Calling upon Akagi the Paladin took off. He reached the Gramerling’s building a short time later. Using skills he had picked up in his past, Paladin quickly got the security door open.
“Gramerling, 4C.” Racing to the apartment Paladin felt a strong sense of foreboding. Stopping at their door, Paladin extended Rory’s senses and smelled a scent he had become too familiar with.
“Blood,” he muttered, “We’re too late.”
M’butu’s voice came forward in his mind, “You don’t know that! These people may need our help still.”
Closing his eyes, he bowed his head and then reached for the door handle. It was unlocked so he stepped inside and was greeted by a sight that would haunt him the rest of his days.
Lucy Gramerling’s parents had been pinned to the wall with great swathes of skin peeled away, leaving muscle and viscera exposed. The muscles had bite marks that showed they had been gnawed upon, and the expressions on their faces meant they were kept alive, and awake, during the whole ordeal.
Paladin didn’t know whether to cry, vomit, or collapse, so he did all three at the same time. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he managed to get a grip on his emotions.
“We need to find the girl,” Rory said more quietly than he had ever said anything before.
Paladin stood up, nodded his head, and consciously averting his gaze from the poor souls on the wall, walked towards the bedroom area.
Opening the door, knowing what he would find, Paladin saw the real Lucy Gramerling lying in her bed perfectly still, the kind of stillness that only comes from death. Walking over beside her, he looked her over, but couldn’t find any marks on her.
“She stole her soul,” Lance’s voice somberly informed him.
Paladin leaned close and ran a hand gently over her hair. “I failed you, Lucy, and your family. Through my own selfishness, anger, and arrogance I failed you. I can’t promise you that something like this won’t happen again, but I can promise it won’t be because I didn’t try. I will avenge you and find a way to set your soul free. I am so sorry.”
“We’ll find the bastard that did this, boyo, and then we’ll send her back to hell!” Rory vowed.
“There’s something I have to do first.”
The Paladin made his way back to Kira’s house slowly. When he finally reached it he made his way inside through the kitchen door. Kira and her father were in there making breakfast, and looked up in alarm at this strange man walking through the door.
Paladin smiled sadly and walked on without saying anything, heading to Kira’s mother, Anna.
Professor Tompkins started to say something, but Kira stopped him by saying, “Jay?”
Paladin nodded briefly, and then activated the Silver Flame. Professor Tompkins surged forward, but was restrained by Kira. Paladin positioned his sword over Anna’s cancer-ridden body and did something he had never done before. He prayed.
In response the Silver Flame spit silvery sparks that sought out the cancer in Anna’s body and eliminated it.
Anna, who had been sleeping, awoke and sat up with a look of wonderment on her face. “The pain, it’s gone, oh thank you God, the pain’s gone. Paul, Kira it’s gone!”
Paul and Kira raced to her side, hugging her in a way that had been impossible for so long. All three wept with joy and happiness. Paladin just stood back looking on stoically, he knew what he had to do. Finally Kira pulled herself away from her mother, ran towards Paladin and hugged him. “Jay, how did you… Will it last? Why do you look so different?” she stammered out.
“Kira, my name is Paladin and I am the current Champion of Heaven on Earth. I healed your mother as my way of saying thank you for taking me into your life. Before you I had never known any type of love from family to friends. I can never repay you for what you’ve done for me.”
“I’m sorry Kira, but I have to leave. I wanted so bad to have a life with you that I allowed my desire to cause others to lose their lives. What happened isn’t your fault, but I can never let it happen again. I hope you understand.”
With that he disengaged himself from Kira and turned to walk out the door.
Crying, Kira screamed out, “Don’t go please, I LOVE YOU!!! Please come back. Please.”
Paladin stopped at the door. He turned his head slightly rearward in her direction and said in a shaky voice, “I love you too, Kira. That’s why I won’t bring you into this life, but if you should ever truly need me, pray and say my name.”
With that, Paladin walked out the door, out of her life, and into his new one.