They could see the pillar of green flames from the highway. Dr. Griffin Wells, the teams scout and forensics expert, had joked from the back, “it’s never easy is it?” After a groaning pause, everyone in the back began putting on their tactical armor. Each standard SWAT suit, originally designed to be bullet proof, was also inscribed with sets of sigils and runes, up the arms and across the back, to ward of more incredible threats.
Rabi Adam Stein, expert in religious studies and heavy weapons operator, drove the truck, “I guess this confirms he’s not a crackpot, Albert,’ he said indicating the pillar of green flames still some two miles away.
Wells called from the back, “yeah, thank god he’s not crazy. He’s just screwed.”
Captain Albert Card, the teams leader and sorcerer, swiveled his seat around to face the back of the weapon lined command truck, “I think that’s quite enough, don’t you Griffin?” Wells placing the tactical helmet over his head, the visor obscuring the insides nodded silently, “excellent.”
Douglas Wulf, close quarters fighter and wilderness survival expert, was gathering up guns and handing them around. “What munitions you want Captain?”
“Let’s wait till we get closer. It’s quicker to outfit there than it is to get it wrong and have to redo it.” He started to swivel his seat back towards the front. Albert ran his fingers through his jet black hair, made even darker by his pale skin. Wulf noted that he ran his thumb and middle finger over the sides of his widows peak, a sure sign he was thinking “Actually, belay that, green flames is a good indicator, get the blue clips with the cold iron slugs ready. If we need anything else I’ll decide once we arrive.”
“Will do,” Wulf cried out moving to follow the order. While busily at work he looked to the last and newest member of the team, “Lagoona, you OK?”
Blake Lagoona, trained in aquatic operations and a gifted sniper, already in full gear, a slight gurgling noise coming from his respirator, gave Wulf a double thumbs up as his answer. Wulf wasn’t entirely convinced, he had hoped for a smaller job to break in the rookie, hoping to see if Blake’s inability to talk would hinder the team.
As they grew closer to the Donovan home they noticed the runes on their armor beginning to glow a little bit brighter.
* * *
Jim Donovan had just regained consciousness when the command truck pulled up to the house. He was lying in the street, everyone afraid to move him, not sure exactly what had gone wrong. His neighbors anxious to ask questions. Albert wasted no time and leapt from the truck and approached the crowd, parting them with a gesture and stern glance.
The back door burst open and the team leapt out taking stock of the burning home. Wulf, moved to the middle of the lawn and began staring at the house, his eyes moving from window to window. Occasionally, he appeared to sniff, as if a clue as to the families whereabouts could be drawn from the very air itself. Dr. Mullan, one of Jims neighbors, approached the back of the command truck where everyone was waiting getting the last few pieces of equipment ready. It was Adam who turned to face him, “You’re Dr. Mullan, correct?”
“Yes, I am Dr. Mullan and who are you folks, your certainly not any of the local rescue crews.”
Adams seven foot plus frame loomed over the doctor, the specially ordered set of tactical armor barely fitting over his heavily muscled arms. “Rabi Stein,” Adam smiled easily while adjusting his helmet under the other arm, reached his hand out and shook the Doctor’s, “We’re specialists. Margret Donovan called us in to consult a week ago, and clearly, they ignored our advice to get the hell out of the house.” Adam paused and adjusted the collar of the green turtle neck that stuck out of the top of his armor. “I hate to ask this Doctor, but are Margret and the kids still inside?”
“Call me Seamus, and sadly, aye they are. But I’m not sure how helpful you’ll be here, son. Some of the lads have been trying to fight their way through the fire, but this ones not taking to water right.” Adam looked around and noticed that some of the local men had run hoses to the neighboring houses and were fighting the blaze with the quick efficiency of Chicago firefighters. “I’ve never seen green flames before, I fear the only thing you’ll be doing tonight Rabi, is last rights.”
“Adam. Once the Captains done talking to Jim and finding out exactly what were dealing with, well head in. Feel free to use any of the medical supplies in the truck to treat his injuries, we have neck braces and a stretcher so you should be able to move him.” Adam turned and looked at Albert, who was failing to keep a disgusted look from his face. “He looks like he’s about done,” turning to the rest of the team, “let’s form up.”
As Albert approached the back of the truck he called to Lagoona in the back, “Grab the white clips with the silver slugs, we may need those too.”
Wulf turned back from watching the house, “Captain…”
“I know Wulf,” Albert interrupted, holding his hands up, “not a great sign, but I’m not sure what were dealing with in there. We’ll start with standard munitions, and see where we need to go from there. So everyone should have 7 clips.”
Wulf nodded, “I appreciate the concern, but that’s not what I was going to say. The house, it’s not burning, it’s sinking.”
Everyone turned to face the house, and it was true, the foundation was a good foot below what it had been a week earlier when Wulf and Adam had been out to look around. Wells was the first to speak, “I heard the bottom was dropping out of the properties market, but this is a bit much.”
Adam ignored the remark, “So Albert, what’s going on?”
Albert sighed, “Let’s head in, I’ll catch everyone up as we go.”
“OK,” agreed Adam, “you want me to grab Mary?” Albert turned to the back of the van where Adam’s Gatling cannon hung in its cage, the only weapon locked up.
Albert thought for a moment before answering, “no, the walls on the house are to thin. We’ll just end up killing the neighbors. Let’s go.”
As they jogged off across the lawn, Wulf and Adam securing their helmet’s in place, Albert began the quick description of the nights events. “The evening started weird, furniture moving itself, random noises, flickering lights, and then the dog flew. That’s when he called us. I told him, tell the wife and kids your going for ice cream and head to a hotel until we clear the house. He decided to tell the wife what was going on so her and the kids could pack. Whatever’s in the house heard, and decided that was not how the evening was going. While he was getting the car this happened, everyone else is still inside.”
As they reached the steps Mike Flynn, the local Fire chief, called out to them, “You can’t get in there it’s to hot.”
“It’s OK sir, we’re professionals,” responded Wells.
Albert stepped up to the house, pulled a small icon from around his neck and called out, “Klaatu. Barada. Nikto.” The flames pulled back from the door and parted allowing a way inside. Wells, readied his sawn off shotgun and dashed inside.
Adam, Lagoona and Albert flipped the safeties off on their assault weapons and Wulf drew his two pistols. Adam leaned over to Albert, “Really, the Day the Earth Stood Still?”
“You have to put on a show, if people knew how easy magic was, everyone would be doing it, and where exactly would that leave us?” Albert paused and then in a more serious tone, “are you going to be OK in there? I know how you feel about fire.”
“There’s kids in there. I’ll be fine.” Albert decided to drop it not wanting to push his friend.
The team quickly followed Wells into the house, staying just behind him, but always with a clear line of sight. The house was filled with an eerie green glow from the flames dancing across every surface. As they moved through the foyer and into the house, they watched as Wells opened every side room and closet door, checking the contents of each. After five agonizingly slow minutes, they had cleared the ground floor and found no one. Wells signaled the group that he was moving to the stairs up to the second floor.
As the team crouched at the base of the stairs, Wells slunk along the wall, the runes on his sleeves brightened as green flames danced across his armor. It took only a few steps for him to reach the top, and move just past the lip. The rest of the team prepared to follow him when then sudden bark of his shotgun filled the silence. There was another shot and Wells quickly backed into view, and down the stairs keeping his shotgun aimed up through the opening.
“Report,” Albert’s voice was crisp and quick as the team fell in to guard positions around Wells, watching every direction.
“The house has stated a serious objection to us going onto the second floor, by way of a walking corpse.”
“God I hate zombies,” Wulf groaned.
Adam paused, “one of the family.”
“Too old, who ever it was, they’d been dead a while. Not a zombie either, I’m packing rock salt for the run through, didn’t want to accidentally kill one of the kids.”
“Are you sure you hit it?” Albert queried.
“Both shots, upper mass. Second shot tore it’s head clean off, and it kept coming. Now that I’ve backed down stairs, it seems to have lost interest.”
Wulf chimed in, “So how do we stop the house?”
“Switch to white ammo,” Albert commanded, everyone quickly complied. “Whatever it is, it’s not the house.” Albert nodded up the stairs and Wells and Wulf moved forward in tandem. “The house is only two years old, the Donovan’s are the original owners, nothing has happened here to make it the house.”
Albert went up next with Adam and Lagoona following behind guarding the rear. Adam asked, “was the house built on a graveyard or did some sort of tragedy happen here?”
Albert took position at the top of the stairs while Wulf and Wells moved forward. “No I checked, I even interviewed the inspector who checked the land and they did some pretty extensive surveys of the area, they came up with nothing but a dead squirrel.”
“This is one pissed off squirrel,” Wells called out moving into a bedroom at the top of the stairs. Just as he was most of the way around the corner an arm, bathed in green flames, reached out of the room and grabbed his shoulder. Wells shotgun barked and the arm flew back into the room. “Silver works.” Wells fired his shot gun twice more emptying the chamber, “Wulf, two more.”
Wells ducked down and backed into the hall as Wulf stepped forward and raised his pistols through the opening, he fired four quick shots, then after a pause one more. “They’re down,” he moved forward and Albert moved up while Wells reloaded. Wulf holstered a weapon while crossing into what appeared to be the boys bedroom. He quickly flipped the bed on it’s side then moving to the closet flung the door open.
He turned back to the group, “It’s clear.” A burst of green flames erupted from the floor in the center of the room, and a huge rotted body launched upward into the room between Albert and Wulf. It hovered between the comrades wreathed in green flames and then settled down and rushed towards Wulf with a burst of speed. With the creature between them neither Albert or Wulf wanted to chance hitting the other. Wulf ducked down and with his empty hand drew one of the long bowie knives strapped to the small of his back. He moved backwards out of the creatures grasp bringing the weapon with the deep red runes etched into it’s surface glowing bright enough to change the color in the room. The beast moved in again pushing Wulf towards the wall, and swiped at him with a clawed hand. Wulf raised his arm to fend off the blow, bright sparks showered the room where the beast claws touched the armor. The runes on Wulf’s armor flickered and their light died away. Taking advantage of his speed Wulf moved inside his opponents reach and drove the blade of his knife deep inside the creatures chest. The creature paused a moment suspended on Wulf’s blade, then slowly dissolved into a puddle on the floor.
Adam who had moved up to the door to support the outside of the room looked inside, “Albert, the runes are red. Whatever this is, it’s not evil.”
Wulf looked at the blade, “if they’re red he’s right. If this were evil it would be white. Hell, background evil alone keeps this thing white most days.”
Albert took the knife from Wulf and looked at the runes flicker across it‘s surface, “everybody holster your weapons.” Handing Wulf his knife Albert slung his own rifle over his shoulder. He moved out into the middle of the hall holding his hands up in a gesture of nonaggression.
“Hello, I don’t know who you are and I don’t know what you want. We’ll do what we can to help you, but these are good people, they haven’t hurt you. Let them go and let‘s see what we can do.”
The green flames on the wall began to move towards the center of the hallway just ahead of Albert, they leapt along surfaces, leaving no trail of destruction, they gathered before him piling on top of one another forming a great hulking shape, barely contained by the walls around it. It formed before him, standing as a man wearing long ceremonial robes, where it’s head should have been rested was a miniature sun with a blocky face looking down on Albert.
Albert stepped back from the sun faced monster in a brief moment of panic he moved his hands to ward his face. When nothing happened he paused and took a deep breath and regained his composure and said, “Show me what you need.”
The Sun faced monster looked at Albert and then without warning let out a deafening scream that was accompanied by the sound of shattering glass, car alarms and emergency sirens. The creature reared back and then dove towards Albert, relinquishing it’s form and forcing itself down Albert’s throat. Albert’s face contorted into a look of pain, his body convulsed as if trying to expel something horrible and alien, yet nothing came. When the last of the creature disappeared into his mouth, a tortured shriek of pure suffering echoed from Albert’s lips.
* * *
It had been a whole fifteen minutes since the flames disappeared and the screaming had stopped. No one was sure what to do, broken glass covered the grass and streets. Local fire trucks had arrived and the men had hooked the hoses up and had headed in, even though the fire appeared to have been put out. Some of the fire fighters emerged a few moments later carrying the children.
Once they set them down, Katie and Danny Donovan ran across the lawn towards their father. He was so overcome he just sat there in shocked silence until they ran up and hugged him. Margret walked out with the team, Albert was leaning against Adam. In his left hand Adam held a purple and red cloth with something metallic dangling out of it. Margret walked past him Jim and went to talk to her sister, Jeanne and her husband Officer Mike O’Malley.
Seamus approached the men as they crossed the lawn, “is there anything I can do to help?”
Albert looked at the man about to say something and then seemed to change his mind, “can you take the children to their mother, we need to talk to Jim.” Seamus agreed and gathered Danny and Katie and walked them to their mother.
Adam passed Albert off to Wulf and Lagoona who helped him into the back of the van. Adam then held the rag up in front of Jim and let a small, ornate, obsidian amulet dangle out the bottom. “So, this was the problem. It’s an old Incan talisman, belonging to a priest of Inti, the God of the Sun. It was in a cursed tomb, and your wife was the first person to actually touch it. Dug up in Peru, travels a couple of hundred miles, personally carried by messenger, hand delivered to you, wrapped in a box, left as a gift for your wife, and some how no one touched it but her. Fortunately, we have a friend whose an expert on cursed tombs and such, so he should be able to take care of this for us.”
Adam pulled a velvet cushioned, lead lined, teak box, fashioned by Irish Druids, specifically for this sort of thing, from inside of the truck and placed the amulet inside. Then with a quick twist of his fingers he secured the wrought iron lock, and for a moment, the box glowed slightly. “Two quick pieces of advice. First, the next time you plan on killing someone with a cursed Incan artifact, don’t talk about it in front of the artifact. Second, don’t cheat on your wife in front of the artifact, either. Mostly because that’s just tacky.” Adam walked around to the front of the truck and pulled himself up.
Jim stuttered, “You can’t prove, I mean, I didn’t…”
Albert rolled over on the bench in the back of the truck and looked at Jim, “you’re right, we can’t prove it, there is no way to arrest you for murder, since sorcery isn’t recognized as an actual thing in this country. However, your wife knows your cheating on her, and with who, so, get a lawyer. Also, when I’m better, if I’m still this pissed, I may come and find you.” With that, Albert collapsed, the last remnants of his strength escaping his body like an icy breath on a cold day.
Wulf and Lagoona looked out at Jim from the back of the truck, Lagoona still in full gear, shook his head in disappointment. Wells, also still in armor rested his hand on Jim’s shoulder. Jim turned to look straight into the mirrored face plate on his helmet. “Expect our bill, dumb-ass.” Wells climbed into the back of the truck and closed the door.