Owen maneuvered his car through the
maze of emergency response vehicles abandoned in the road and he finally parked
up on a sidewalk covered in blood. It was midday but this section of the city
was shrouded in darkness, illuminated in patches by streetlights struggling
against the encroaching void. There was blood everywhere, like a flash flood
had washed over the neighborhood and left behind glittering streams of viscera.
Random clumps of hair and fur dotted the swirling pools.
Owen's trainee, Marcus, stepped up
and opened the car door, extending a pair of wading boots as Owen got out.
"I have the kit ready, sir," he said.
"Ever diligent, Marcus. Train
to live, live to serve. We are the Keepers of Order. Quite a night." He
slipped on the boots and walked to the front stoop of a building at the
epicenter of chaos. "This can't be good."
"No, sir. It is not good.
Everything, every living thing in a three-block radius melted. I guess it
stopped right before I arrived. Lucky me,"
Marcus said with a shrug. "The team is on its way."
Owen glanced up at the apartment
building, taking in the shattered windows on the top floor as he clenched his
jaw. He looked back over his shoulder at Marcus and said, "It's bad. I can
smell that it's bad."
As if on cue, oily black smoke
oozed from those shattered windows and coiled down the side of the building,
carrying wafts of sulfur and burned blood; metallic and sour. A bonus scent of burned hair completed the trifecta
of effery this night.
Marcus winced as the smell rolled
over him and said, "The blood didn't give it away? Yes. Looks like it's a
381 with a Category Five event."
Owen motioned for the trainee to
follow as he headed for the lobby doors. "Of course it is. Idiots.
Accidental or ritual?"
"A little of both. It was a
writer. He was doing research for a novel and one thing led to another, and
here we are. He posted a Tiktok about a weird antique tchotchke he found in
some basement curio shop in Akron. I think it's Sumerian." Marcus held up
his phone and pressed play on the video.
"Lugal nam tar ush-ak-ne
i-menden," the writer said, his voice thin and reedy as he spoke the words
etched in cuneiform on a stone carving of a cat painted Day Glo Green.
Owen slapped the phone out of
Marcus' hand and shouted, "Are you an idiot?! What part of 381 do you not
understand? DON'T READ THE ANCIENT TEXT, ESPECIALLY OUT LOUD!"
Marcus bent over and picked up his
phone, checking for cracks, while the video kept looping. "I didn't read
it. He did...already." Marcus wiped
sticky blood from the phone case with a wet wipe from his pocket.
"Turn it off, moron!"
Owen barked at him. "Yes...it's Sumerian. 'We are the Kings of fate and
death.' What the hell were you thinking?"
"It's already done, sir. I am
wearing the amulet so it's safe. I'm following protocol."
Owen smirked. "Is the video at least
Marcus nodded. "The team was
pulling it, and it should be gone by now. Train to live, live to serve,
"Right. Good. These Category
Fives are usually a one-off but sometimes the invocation can start again. It's always the same, though. Near
apocalypse. Let's get up there and get the artifact." Owen took two
re-breathers out of the pack, handed one to Marcus, and then gloved up before
he pulled open the door. A cascade of blood and still-melting bits flooded out
over the steps.
A flap of face, a young hipster by
the look of the chin scruff and the mouth caught in an eternal OH of surprise,
snagged on Marcus' boot. He brushed it away with his other foot and mumbled,
"Sorry, lad," as it floated down the stairs and joined the jumble of
other tenants co-mingling in syrupy red puddles in the gutter.
Marcus hesitated. "Should we
wait for the team?"
"Absolutely not. This is what
I trained you for." Owen started up the steps. "Marcus, watch your step. It's a
They started the long climb up to
the top of the building, their boots making disgusting slurping noises in
counterpoint to their heavy breathing.
"Question," Marcus paused
on the sixth floor landing. "How did he manage to read that
"The internet. There are codex
everywhere on the web these days." Owen kept sloshing up the stairs.
"Perhaps it was just a case of the stars aligning and he had a tag in his
RNA that was triggered once he held the artifact. Maybe he was part of a cult.
An archaeologist. However, they know Rule 381 so he could possibly be a failed
"I told you that he was a
writer," Marcus interrupted.
"Yes, well...writers are the
worst. Imagine if he would have put this in a book that actually sold and got
popular. What a nightmare. We may be too late to stop whatever is coming
through. If you haven't noticed yet, the fabric of reality is tearing a
bit." Owen gestured at the walls,
which were peeling away in sections to reveal pulsing veins where there was
once steel and wood framing.
"Oh. Yes. Now that you mention
it the stairs do feel a bit spongy through this muck."
"Classic Sumerian Demi God
move. A living temple." Owen
started up the stairs again.
"Is it just me or do the lumpy
bits seem to be moving on their own now?" Marcus nudged a mass of hair and
fatty parts with the toe of his boot. In response the lump scuttled backwards.
"Yes. Indeed. We are running
out of time." Owen touched the amulet hanging around his neck. "If it
weren't for these we'd be adding to the muck."
"No thank you." Marcus
took the steps two at a time and passed Owen. He sprinted to a door and
pointed. "Apartment 1313. We're here."
The writer was surprisingly intact,
mostly. His body was reclined in an office chair at his desk, head lolled back
and only slightly melted, the rib cage shattered outwards like something had
forced its way through, and the Sumerian Day Glo Cat was clutched in his right
hand in a literal death grip.
"We're too late," Owen
said as he reached into the kit bag and pulled out a pair of iron tongs and a
crude leather bag. "Whatever was summoned already came through." He carefully pulled the artifact from the
dead man's hand and placed it in the bag.
Marcus leaned over the hole in the
chest and cocked his head. "Sir, do you hear that?"
"Marcus," Owen's voice
was quiet. "Marcus...you need to step back."
"Don't you hear it?"
Marcus leaned in closer. "It sounds like purring."
"My god, man! Get back!"
Owen grabbed Marcus' arm and yanked, but he wasn't fast enough.
A small, black ball of fur with
glowing green eyes burst from the hole and hit Marcus in the chest. The man
tumbled backwards and then lay still as the creature uncoiled and proceeded to
start cleaning itself. It was a kitten. A kitten covered in blood from chewing
its way out of the writer and into this world.
whispered. "It's a demon...get it
"Don't move, Marcus."
Owen held out the tongs ready to grab the kitten, but he stopped when the
little beast looked up at him and said, Mewww.
He dropped the tongs. "Oh!
Dear me...you are the most adorable little murder floof I've ever seen!"
Owen crouched down. "It's a Demi God, Marcus. Just look at how cute it is!"
"Sir, Owen...you have to kill
"It's immortal, Marcus. We
can't kill it." Owen reached out and stroked the kitten's back. It leaned
into the pet and started purring.
A loud bang from downstairs
startled them all. The building shuddered from the blast.
"That's the team, sir. You
need to secure the demon, I mean Demi God, and let them secure the area before
anyone else melts. You can take it to the facility. Protocol, sir."
The kitten turned and hissed in
Marcus' face. It reached out with one tiny paw and touched the chain on Marcus'
amulet. It made eye contact with Owen and flicked out one claw.
"No! Bad kitty!" Marcus
said as he flinched away. "Don't you do it!"
"Marcus, you'll tell on me. I
know it." Owen looked at the kitten. "He might not say anything. Let
me be Guardian and I'll make sure you're safe."
"Sir...Train to live, live to
serve. I can't let you keep that demon."
The kitten hissed again.
"Naughty!" Owen said as
the kitten snapped the chain and the amulet slid onto the floor.
Marcus didn't have time to scream.
His face caved in and the rest of his body melted into a shiny red pool of
lumps and hair.
"Sorry, lad," Owen said
as he picked up Marcus' amulet and put it in his pocket. He reached out and patted the kitten. "My
gods you are adorable. Naughty, but adorable."
The kitten hopped into Owen's arms
and again said, Mewwww.
"Right then. Ready to go?' He
placed the Demi God in his inside jacket pocket just as the team burst through
Owen held up the bag. "I have
"Where's your trainee?"
the team leader asked. He looked down and saw he was standing in a pool of gore
and shook his foot clean as he stepped to the side.
"Ummm, it's just me and this
artifact." Owen started for the door.
"Sir...protocol. Did something
Owen pointed at the dead writer.
"I think it tried, but..."
"We'll sweep the area. Good
"Yup." Owen said as he
patted his pocket. "Train to live, live to serve."
"We are the Keepers of
Order," the man replied.
"Sure. You bet." Owen
waved over his shoulder as he headed for the stairs, the kitten contentedly
purring in his pocket.
"Live to serve, live to
serve..." Owen repeated as he stepped out into the void.