Genesis had come to the City of Endless Night, and Leviathan stood by him.
An alley black as freshly burned pitch yawned before the assassin like a portal to the abyss. A subterranean hive of evil, Nyx lay concealed behind a secret door that he had yet to find. He stared into the gloom, scuffing his boots in the remains of a wet Russian newspaper. Near the wall, a trickle of cold water slipped past trash, rotten leaves, and slush that only now turned red.
The source of the color bled his life into the gutter only a few paces away.
A gurgle escaped a sucking wound; the pickpocket gasped. Even as death clutched his jugular, the man reached out with blood dripping from his fingers to a woman who ignored him in passing. Oksana walked up to her boss and shook the snow from her jacket.
“Ve should dispose of him and quickly.” Behind her shoulder, the Hard Rock Café beckoned tourists from the terrible Moscow cold that smothered Old Arbat Street in a Napoleonic-like winter.
“Levi, could you take care of that for us?” Genesis asked, his breath pluming forth from between his lips. Because of the cold, the skin of his cheeks felt as dry as rice paper.
The man without a surname wore futuristic black Mjolnir riot armor and stood almost seven feet tall. The buckles, breastplate, helmet, and pads concealed Leviathan’s impressive physique from head to toe. Neither man nor beast, Leviathan lifted the visor that perpetually covered his fish eyes, and a horrific black light shone forth from irises Genesis wished he could forget. Levi wasted no time, knelt beside the man, and covered the dying pickpocket’s mouth with his massive glove. He uttered one last muffled scream that abruptly ended in the crunch of many snapping bones. A wet slurping sound soon followed--the kind a large mouth makes when it gulps down food.
This feasting lasted half a minute--longer than Genesis intended--but he could think of no better way to dispose of an unwanted corpse.
Genesis stared at the back of Leviathan’s head as the thing finished; watched him replace his helmet. A pair of bloody valenki remained; a puddle of steaming blood spread amongst the cobblestones. The demon prince had hair the color of the deep sea after it swallowed the light of the sun.
Not black but something else. Is there color in the dank places of the earth where the vile creatures of the world go to live?
Oksana made the sign of the cross. When she did so, Levi’s shoulders seemed to stiffen. Genesis turned to his companion, regarded her lovely ginger hair with a passing fancy, and gently shook his head in warning.
“Vy do ve travel vith him?” she whispered. “You are the best in the vorld. Ve do not need him.”
“Shh,” he cautioned. “Levi has his uses. And our employer insists that he accompany us. Let’s just find out what Charon has to say, shall we? After all, he does make us rich.”
Oksana trembled but dutifully nodded with respect to his judgment. He saw her grip the handle of the gun she wore on her hip underneath her favorite mink coat. Truthfully, Genesis had his doubts as to whether traditional bullets could kill such a monster. He kept a clip of incendiary rounds just in case and recalled the wisdoms of Master Dawa who had taught him how to slay demons.
He and another young man with hair as blond as harvest wheat trained for fifteen years with the tattoo warrior monks. Together, they had washed in the tears of the moon at the base of their sacred temple. They grew up in the sacred home of Shangri-La, hidden deep within the Himalayan Mountains. Genesis recalled that Kolin chose a purple rose and had placed it at the nape of the neck. In contrast, Genesis had chosen a red one. Each of course came with its own power.
All demons fear the light. In the least, incendiary rounds should prove a distraction should I need it.
Genesis beckoned to Oksana with his hand. Follow me. He swallowed and moved forward with caution, measuring the thick gloom that lay before him with a baleful eye.
Soon, shadows swallowed the glow from the street.
They flickered around him and made the path murky. He took heart in his task, walked deeper into the row known by those who dwelled here as the Alley of Ashes.
Genesis made out the shapes of people that huddled together in the frigid dark. Homeless souls that had drifted away from god’s light, the assassin viewed the scattered masses with disdain. They crouched around him like so much chattel. Instead of human beings, Genesis saw alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, and thieves.
Genesis thought of himself as a refined evil. He grew up in a privileged home with two loving parents whose only fault lay in their contempt for those without means. Even when he engineered their deaths to lay claim to their estate, the prejudice of such an upbringing failed to acclimate him to the offensive smell of the destitute.
“I’ve waited long for you, brother,” a voice said in greeting.
Genesis examined the crowd and saw garments that reminded him of an Orthodox priest though they had been altered in places. In the end, he could not name the religion from which they hailed. The voice belonged to a brown face framed in wiry steel-colored whiskers and round spectacles that crouched atop a bulbous nose.
“I’m Kragar, Israfil of the Horcus. It’s my pleasure to meet someone so well respected. Still, you shouldn’t have killed poor Simon. It’s not wise to make enemies. Not in this place. Even those hired by our Master must rest…am I right?”
A veiled threat. He speaks as if he knows me. But how can someone know anything of another without knowledge of their true name? Israfil…a title? He wears a gold ring on his finger with the chalice and the blade…the cult of A Deo et Rage.
Genesis placed his palms together and bowed respectfully to Israfil Kragar. “I see your wisdom my brother, but he meant to mug me and perhaps his intentions were even darker. Who can say for sure? It’s better to make an example now than to waste time and perhaps lives later. This flock has been given a second chance and through our Master’s good will, they live yet another day. However, sometimes the greatest lessons come with a little loss of life. I beg your forgiveness on this matter, but I must say that I was guided to do what I did.”
“Guided by whom, brother?” When Genesis refused to answer, Kragar hung his head but did not pursue the matter further.
There is a bulge under his robe…a weapon of some kind. He leans ever slightly to one side as if unsure of its weight.
The priest joined Genesis on his right. Oksana walked silently to his left, and behind them all, walked Leviathan who took slow but lengthy strides, watching the beggars who cowed in his passing. Hundreds of dirty faces looked toward them as they made their way to the portal of Nyx. It lay concealed behind a concrete slab at the end of the alley.
Kragar walked toward the door and disappeared through it as if a ghost.
Illusion? A hologram of some kind?
Genesis looked at Oksana. She shrugged her shoulders and indicated for him to go first. He set his jaw and walked into the wall which had no substance, yet warmed his skin as he passed through it. On the far side, a metal staircase descended into the labyrinths of Moscow, now overrun by more of the cultists who did some dark business within the shadow of the Kremlin. A lingering haze of steam floated about in the still air. Despite his misgivings, he welcomed the moisture into his lungs.
The assassin followed Kragar down into the throat of the world. Near him, glass spiders threw off silver light and scurried about on eight legs. Some followed the path Kragar made for Genesis and his companions. They danced lightly upon glowing webs of silver thread. Beneath their crystalline skin, he saw tiny gears moving through what looked like pools of pink blood.
When they reached the last step, a swarm of glittering spiders parted before the priest. Humanoid shapes mummified in thick webs clung to the walls of the tunnel. Kragar escorted the assassin to a pair of double doors and threw them wide.
A magnificent chamber lay before them.
Glowing lights built into the door frame created four continuous lasers that barred their passing much like a translucent gate. A vermillion throw carpet extended from the entranceway to a raised dais on the far side of the room some 100 feet distant. Mounted atop this platform sat a throne of frosted glass, inside which he could see many multi-colored blinking lights. Seated atop the throne on a crimson cushion, Charon looked upon each of them and bid Genesis enter with a single bony finger clad in skin as transparent and hard as diamonds. Fiber optic cables transmitted information to this strange throne to and from all places in the world.
Genesis swallowed and stepped through the lasers. Behind him, the others followed.
He looked to the left and right and saw purple storm clouds playing along flat-paneled television sets. Charon had arranged them to look like tall windows amidst massive stone walls that ascended to a vaulted ceiling high above.
“Welcome to Nyx,” Charon said with a slow and deep voice. He smoothed the blood red hair back from his shoulders; the sight of his beating heart pumping blood through his immortal body unnerved Genesis for a moment.
“What is this place?” the assassin asked.
Charon studied them for a moment before answering. “We’re far beneath the streets of Moscow--catacombs where our followers assemble the army of the dust men. But we’re also in a sacred place, entirely sheathed in the protection of the Shadow. The storm clouds you see in the windows…they’re the dreams of my Master.”
Charon blinked his metallic silver eyes as if lost in reverence.
Next to him, Oksana moved to the edge of the carpet and eyed a concrete floor that, to his surprise, lay strewn with human bones. Rivers of blood and gobbets of flesh still clung to some. And beyond the shadows that darkened each of the four corners of this immense hall, he heard an omnipresent grinding. It sounded like stone upon stone, as if a mill worked to reduce seed into flour. It went on and on with a terrible and methodical purpose. Only then did Genesis truly realize that the gate he had passed through at the door had taken him to another place. Perhaps even, another time, a dimension that lay beyond the curtains of known perception and unto a world ruled by horrors of immense strength.
Genesis spotted a movement in one portion of the chamber. A thing of pure darkness approached. It maintained the outline of a muscular man of some eight feet in height, but the whole of this thing emanated a far reaching power that left footprints of vaporous black flame with every step. It carried within its left hand a huge sword made of hell fire. Genesis felt tremendous hunger emanating from this being; he felt hatred, pain, and hopelessness. How all these terrifying conditions could exist as a sentient being defied the ability for his mind to rationalize. Yet here they strode, and they stared at him with eyes that comprehended only one thing, the mortality of everything else that lived within this universe.
Charon paused in his narrative and stayed the creature with a single word in a language that Genesis did not recognize. Yet, its awful pronunciation drew blood from his ears.
“The Horcus would see you consumed,” Charon stated with almost smug indifference. “But, if you stay on the red carpet, you’ll come to no harm.”
“What…is…he?” Genesis managed to ask.
Charon’s eyes became reflective. “It’s hard to describe the Horcus in terms you can understand. He is the mightiest servant of the Shadow, greater even than I. But unlike him, I and the demon princes he commands can walk among the mortals. Zero created him from the anger and hatred of a million destroyed worlds forged into a hologram and suspended forever on the event horizon of a black hole somewhere in deep space. These things are gateways to Hell, a place from which light itself cannot escape. If you must understand the Horcus, think of it as the last terrifying scream before the great silence that will one day consume your universe when the last of the stars burns out and all becomes black.”
Oksana swallowed nervously and took a step back from the edge of the carpet. “You consort vith Lucifer.”
“Yes,” Charon whispered. “But that’s just a name given by men who could never understand the true nature of darkness. The Horcus has many names, could be called many things, but by all countenances and cultures there’s one commonality…evil has many faces. You’ve much to fear young woman; it shows you possess wisdom.”
“Why have you brought me here?” Genesis asked.
“Belle hired you several months ago in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul on the Kalpakçılar Caddesi for a million American dollars. Tell me what she hired you to do? She’s no longer with us, so I cannot ask her myself.”
A dreadful silence filled the hall while Charon awaited his answer.
“She hired me to bring her the names of the Priory of Angelus and to kill the archeological team excavating the site of Tall el-Hammam near the Dead Sea.”
“And what pray tell is the Priory of Angelus?” Charon asked.
“It’s a secret organization headed by a Malik Aquariel, and I do not have all of their names. They have three international branches. One is in London, a second in New York, and a third in Rome. I killed the team digging at the site believed to be an important biblical location associated with the kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah. But Malik escaped with an engraved jewel they found in a clay pot. Hakim, a man who begged for his life, told me that it might be one of the twelve jewels said to belong to the original Hoshen—a breastplate depicted in The Books of Samuel. Many believe the vestments bestowed a power to commune with a higher consciousness, perhaps even unto God. The Books of Samuel describe David as having worn it as he danced before the Ark of the Covenant in ancient times. The jewel stolen by Malik was inscribed with the words ‘The tribes of Jeshurun’ in Hebrew.”
Charon tapped fingers on the armrest of his chair and stared at the blinking lights flowing into his throne. A glass spider crawled across the floor and scurried up his silver garments and settled near his palm. Charon picked it up and gently stroked the crystal belly of the orb spider with an index finger.
Above them, the image on the television screens shifted to a still photograph taken from a video camera in what Genesis thought might be some kind of medical facility due to the white walls. It displayed a smug yet familiar face. This young, tall Brit possessed an athletic build, platinum blond hair, and sky blue eyes. He could not see it, but he knew a tattoo of a purple rose decorated the man’s skin beneath his collar.
“Do you know this man?”
Genesis nodded. “Yes. He’s an Avalonian assassin by the name of Kolin Lightfoot. I trained him for thirty years, and we performed many killings in the Middle East together. He’s an expert in all melee weapons and martial arts. I learned about liquid life from him and about this other, shadow world that mirrors our own. I thought we had something together, but he left me to rot in a North Korean prison following the war. I owe him for that. He’s the only man alive with reflexes superior to my own. But I’m the better killer. He once told me that he was the result of genetic manipulation by a robot who wanted to create a perfect human pair to restart life on his home world…an Adam and Eve story.”
Charon interlaced his fingers and steepled them before his chin. “Good, you’re now under contract to fulfill that promise.”
“Kolin is dangerous,” Genesis stated. “I’ll require twice my normal fee, and I want three vials of Life Green. But, I must ask, why don’t you have the Horcus or Levi kill him?”
Charon leaned forward in his chair. “There are things you don’t understand. I sent a tzitzimitl to slay the Avalonian. It tracked him down as I instructed, and it waylaid his truck on a barren road in northern New York. But he survived the accident; my pet moved to devour him and Aquariel thwarted me.”
“Yes,” Charon said. “Aquariel’s an angel who has walked the earth for five centuries. He lives within a human skin and goes about his mission to inspire humankind with transcendent and cosmic understanding. Aquariel doesn’t have great power, but it’s believed he can transcend the barriers of consciousness to allow two-way communication into the mind of anyone who touches him.”
“How could this Aquariel defeat your minion?”
Charon blinked and tilted his head to one side. “Were you not listening? He can open a channel into your mind. What creature of darkness can survive when a doorway is opened to the wonders of heaven? Aquariel can choose to show you what he wants to see. He filled my poor tzitzimitl with absolute light, and it burned him to ashes.”
My master was right. “What does he mean to do with the Hoshen jewel?”
“I’m not sure,” Charon stated. He set the spider upon the floor where it moved across the stones with a click clack noise. The television screens on the walls shifted once more to show images of purple storm clouds. “By the time I learned that Kolin still lived, he’d rejoined his teenaged lover.”
Genesis scoffed. “A boy? I don’t understand how this changes anything?”
“This boy slew Belial and all of her children in a tornado of white fire on Thanksgiving night. He’s after something powerful; something my enemy has told him about. And mark my words, he has found it in New York City. This boy manifests strange powers that defy my explanation. He may seem harmless to you, may even look it, but he and his sister are dangerous. A wake of absolute destruction has followed him wherever he has gone, and the minions we’ve sent against him have all but disappeared from the very fabric of the universe. How he does this, vexes me. His sister turned my most cunning ghost machine into a pillar of salt, and he killed a powerful human ally with a gunshot to the back. Only the Horcus has enough power to face either of them one-on-one. But the Horcus cannot enter your world without a vessel.”
“What kind of vessel?”
Charon smiled. “He’s called by prophecy ‘The Boy Who Hears the Cries of Heaven.’ But in reality, we know not who he is.” He paused to gather his thoughts. “We have in our possession, a crucible of the shadow. She’s a woman whose mind occupies three worlds. The Shadow, my master, speaks through her, but so does the Oculus of Heaven. This woman refers to him by only two initials. They are ‘R H.’ We also know he’s eighteen and wears a red sports cap. You must kidnap him without doing harm to his physical body. You’ll bring him here to Moscow to be the avatar of the Horcus. Only in his skin, can the Horcus cross through the Chaosphere. Only by wearing his flesh, is the Horcus guaranteed to triumph. It’s written that Jordan cannot raise a hand against him. We don’t fully understand why, but if this is true, then it’s a weakness we cannot afford to overlook.”
“Do you have any idea where this ‘Boy Who Hears the Cries of Heaven’ can be found? The initials ‘R and H’ aren’t much to go on,” Genesis stated.
“He’ll have a mark on him. We’ve been using ancient blood rituals to prepare this vessel to withstand the embodiment of the Horcus. The mark will be a human palm print on the skin. We know not from what. Only that he did not always carry this mark. I’d suggest that you shadow Jordan Pendragon, a freshman hockey player at Cornell University. He’s the boyfriend of that assassin, Kolin, with whom you’re familiar. If you suspect you’ve found the Boy Who Hears the Cries of Heaven, it’s imperative that you bring him here for final preparations. We will take care of everything else. Remember, he must not be harmed. Kill anything that stands in your way.”