By late morning, the dark clouds were passing over the house. The serenity that had so far dominated the day was soon disrupted by distant claps of thunder. Roderigo continued to stare out at the fading sunlight, taking a swig from another cup of coffee. From the timing, it was clear that the storm hadn’t arrived yet–his guess was that it would be another thirty minutes before the rain reached them.

     Yet he still felt uneasy. Even the previously quiet voices were now clear in his head, and they were growling at him to take action. Don’t let her do it, they said. Don’t let her go. Don’t you dare let her walk out that door–

     There was another clap of thunder, and Roderigo’s face twisted into an exaggerated grimace. He reached into his pocket and removed an opaque bottle, twisting off the cap and dropping a single blue and white capsule into his hand. He quickly popped it into his mouth and washed it down with the last of his coffee, before heading to the kitchen to grab a saltine.

     The uneasy feeling did not subside. He hadn’t expected the voices to go away quickly; the medication would need to build up in his bloodstream, and missing one dose alone wasn’t really enough to affect them anyhow. He would just have to push through it.

     One more clap of thunder, this time followed by the sound of breaking glass. Roderigo instinctively slid back into the living room, grabbing his Bulldog off the coffee table. The sound had come from Devon’s office. He was sure it was only in his mind, but he wasn’t about to take a chance.

     Then Carlton rose up from the floor and asked, “What was that?” A look of fear must have been visible on Roderigo’s face, as Carlton silently grabbed his shotgun from the nearby chest. The thunder cracked once more, and the power failed; the sudden darkness woke the others almost instantly.

     Roderigo pulled Steven aside and motioned toward the stairs. “Take the others to the attic,” he said. “Do it quietly.”

     “Right.” Steven began moving the others toward the stairs until only Yvonne remained. “Coming?” he asked.

     She shook her head, and reached inside her jacket’s pocket. From there she removed her pistol, and after a quick push-check, she mouthed go after them. Steven nodded and headed upstairs.

     “Good thing I’ve got this,” Carlton said. He tightened his grip on the shotgun’s pump, and a beam of light burst from the end of the slide. “Eighty bucks at the dealer, but so worth it.”

     “Right,” Roderigo said. “You check it out, then. We’ll guard the stairs.”

     “Watch my back.”

     Roderigo nodded, and pulled back toward the wall as Carlton advanced down the hallway. As he reached for the doorknob, Carlton dropped the barrel and the door flew open in front of him. Before he could respond, Carlton was thrown back with tremendous force, his shoulder crashing through the wall behind him.

     The sound of footsteps followed. Slowly a shape appeared at the entrance to the hallway, and the flashlight’s beam seemed to highlight a mouthful of glistening teeth. “It’s a pleasure to meet you again, Soldier,” the voice said, filled with a sadistic glee.

     Yvonne emptied her clip, and each shot tore through the figure’s chest. While it was forced to step back, it didn’t stop its advance for long. Rather, the entity shook its head for a moment before it stepped fully into view, revealing its hairless skin and familiar milky-white eyes.

     Roderigo trained his revolver on the target. His eyes were drawn to the belt worn on the outside of the figure’s tuxedo, where a long, curved saber was sheathed. He recognized it as a kilij, a particularly nasty variant of scimitar with a weighted tip.

     He emptied all five rounds into the figure’s chest, but it barely slowed the fiend down. As soon as it stepped into the living room, the creature grabbed the hilt of his sword and said, “That was rude.” In a single motion he unsheathed the sword and sliced deep into Roderigo’s side, stopping only when the blade hit bone. Roderigo grasped the blade in his hand as his blood poured onto the floor.

     “It seems my sword needs sharpening,” the ghoul said as he ripped the blade from Roderigo’s gut. Roderigo collapsed into a heap, his face pallid and blood gushing from the wound.

     “You really should let someone introduce themselves before you shoot them. Killing is a personal act–knowing your victim’s name is only fair. But,” he said with a shrug, “that rule applies to me as well, doesn’t it? So let’s get back on the right foot. My name’s Blades.” The figure turned to face Yvonne. “And what’s yours, sweetpea?”

     Roderigo gazed weakly at Yvonne, who still had her pistol trained on Blades’ chest. He tried to pull himself up, but the pain was so severe that it crippled him. Roderigo could only watch in horror as Blades began moving toward her.

     A beam of light enveloped the creature, followed by the deafening report of a shotgun. A cluster of pellets tore clean through Blades’ side, knocking him to the ground. Roderigo heard Carlton screaming for Yvonne to run, followed by the sight of her racing toward the door. Roderigo’s voices began to scream, No! Don’t let her go. Don’t let her step outside–

     Within seconds Blades was already up. As he turned to follow her, Carlton fired again. This time the shot struck his skull and ripped it apart, dropping the fiend back to the ground. Roderigo heard the sound of the slide being racked and turned to see Carlton moved in for the kill. However, Blades kicked upward despite his injuries, striking Carlton hard in the chest and throwing him backward. Blades then rose to his feet and left in pursuit of his target.

     Minutes passed, and Roderigo began to feel blood flowing through his body. Pulling himself up, he stumbled to the closet, where he grabbed the White Flame and strapped it to his waist. It was hard to follow the path at first; Blades’ blood was too thick to leave a definitive trail, and Roderigo’s body had not yet recovered enough to allow him full mobility. With a few minutes’ time, however, he began to regain his composure, and while following the trail was still difficult, he managed to keep on track.

     He followed the droplets for almost a mile. By then, Roderigo’s full strength had returned, and he was moving at full speed. As he reached the path’s end, he found himself in front of an abandoned gas station, where he saw Blades sitting on an old milk crate, running a whetstone over his sword. “You missed it,” Blades said. “The Beast left just a minute ago.”

     “Where is she?” Roderigo said. His monotonous voice barely drew a reaction from his foe.

     “As I said, the beast was just here.” Blades stood and grinned. “I haven’t seen her so pleased with a meal in a very long time–”

     Before he could finish, Roderigo lunged forward, grabbing Blades by the throat and slammed the fiend into the building’s wall. His expression tightened as he fixed his eyes on his target and began to choke him. He was horrified–he knew what Blades meant, but he wasn’t ready to accept it. “What,” he asked, his words suddenly filled with terrifying wrath, “did you do?”

     Blades choked. “But you can’t….”

     “I can’t what?” Roderigo growled. He didn’t realize how threatening he was.

     “You can’t feel–” Blades said, only for Roderigo to tighten his grip.

     “Oh really?” Roderigo asked. He drew the White Flame and placed the tip under Blades’ chin. The ghoul’s skin began to sizzle.

     A twisted grin crossed Blades’ face. “I fed your pretty wife to the Goddess of Fear. But what are you going to do? You can’t kill me. That’s not the part you play.”

     “I can’t?” Roderigo asked, drawing the tip of his sword across Blades’ chin, letting loose a trickle of blood. “Good.”

     “Good?”

     Roderigo rammed the sword deep into Blades’ gut. The fiend screamed in agony as blood began to pour from the wound. A hellish crackle filled the air–along with the smell of burning flesh and fat–as the scorching blade began to fry his flesh and organs. “Because I don’t want to kill you,” Roderigo said. “I want you to suffer. I want you to beg.”

     “Have mercy!” Blades screamed. With a quick twist, Roderigo ripped the sword from Blades’ gut and dropped him to the ground. The wretched creature began to cough and sputter as blood oozed from his mouth. Then, with one final movement Roderigo slashed Blades’ throat, and a flash of lightning filled the sky followed by the sound of thunder.

     As the rain began to fall, the blood that poured from Blades’ wounds began to mix with the dirt and oil. Roderigo watched for a moment as it ran across the asphalt and into the sewer. He stared for a moment at creature in front of him, still choking and holding his torn throat, and without another word he turned to walk away.