The Anakim Are Coming
Far above the crags of the polar sea, titanic greyness folded the horizons. Every nook of sky was stuffed with cloud, and neither wave nor crevice of the heavens glimmered blue. Beyond the ocean’s reach, the grey grew dark; beyond the Western hills, a subtle shade of violet dimly glowed. Gar, son of Thrug, had seen ill-omened days—but this was bleak and black past all recall.
As the grim dusk flexed its talons overhead, the old and weary dwarf raised his father’s tomahawk and tested the edge with his thumb. A crimson prick against the pallor of the shade: the metal was keen. It was only a matter of weeks since he had come to this lonely mountain cavern to live out his days in peace, hearkening to the surf and the strange, sad ballad of the gulls. But now—
Night came: Christmas Eve, the night when the lord of the Dwarves entered his inscrutable trance. In his left hand, Gar clutched the Seal of Warding with which he had been entrusted; in his right, the ancient steel glittered. A cold wind blew. He knew not what was coming, but his heart forebode.
And then he saw. Horrible beyond anything he had imagined, vast beyond anything he had conceived. In the infinity of the sea, a form was rising. A mountain like a continent, a swelling dome of water like the arch of a rainbow after tempests, spanning the unthinkable gulfs of air. Rising, rising, rising, over the colossal peaks where Gar had made his dwelling place, a mammoth looming over anthills. And then the water broke, and flowed, and flooded, and the form beneath came clear: a face. A bearded face, a neck, and massive shoulders—slowly, slowly, rising from the sea.
“By all the gods that ever were and ever yet may be.” Gar raised his tomahawk, a speck of dust in a tsunami’s path. He opened his mouth to bellow out a challenge. But then he saw. Behind the face, behind the body that blotted out sea and sky, a dozen more were rising. He saw the crash of mighty waters, felt the quaking of the stone beneath his feet, and knew that there was no escape. He felt a dwarven smile upon his face. Death in honored battle, by the mercy of the Mightiness. His time had come.
But one last task. He raised the Seal of Warding. A bright green flare went up, warning the intruders that this land was protected, sending the image of the enemy back to his lord in the Houses of the Helpers. And he uttered his final words: “The Anakim are coming!”
As the foot came down upon the mountain range, he swung his blade and spilled a drop of blood.
“Oh holy night. . . the stars are brightly shining. . .”
They weren’t, actually. The sky above Boston was the yellow gloom of city lights on smoke. Carolers meandered, their music falling flat in the bitter wind. There’s no such thing as a good night for demon-hunting; but if I could’ve picked one evening out of the year to be home in front of the fire with herald angels harking and a splash of egg nog in my bourbon, this would be the one. Sometimes, everything just sucks.
But hey, where’s my manners. Thomas Belmont, freelance retrieval expert, at your service. If you’ve got a friend or family member who’s suffering from Demonic Possession, and no amount of nagging will get them to the exorcist, I’m the guy you call. And please note the fine print here: I do not perform the exorcisms. I just grab the poor host body by the scruff, drag him or her to the Latin-speakers, and limp my way to the bank. The pay’s not bad, but nobody offers medical in this line of work. At the end of the day, you do it for one of two reasons: you love the Lord, or you love the action. I respect the Almighty, but we’re not that close.
Ash Overlook, senior at Boston College, had apparently dabbled in witchcraft and gotten himself in too deep. Fr. Haven, the kid’s confessor, had hired me to track him down before the thing inside of him started using his teeth to tear out unsuspecting jugulars. I found one poor schmoe clutching his clawed-up face on the banks of the Charles, and he managed to point me east, the direction my quarry had run off snarling when a couple of off-duty Santas came running over to break up the melee. I sprinted off into the snow, and my five-and-a-halfth sense began to tingle just a little. I was getting close.
As I rounded the corner of a long-familiar side street, I saw a tall, broad-shouldered figure standing in the glow of a shop window. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and nothing else, and he was grinning eerily into the darkness. A few stray shreds of skin dangled from his fingernails.
“Ash,” I called, slowing to a walk. I raised my hands in peace, and paced in his direction very slowly.
He kept grinning at nothing, but his mouth muttered, “Belmont.”
“Yeah, yeah.” They always know your name. “No one’s talking to you. Ash, can you hear me? I’m here to help you, man. You’re gonna be okay.”
“Am I now.” I could hear the creak of vertebrae as his head swiveled toward me. “What day is this?”
Pretty strong demon in there, I saw, but I’ve fought stronger. “It’s okay, kid. It’s okay. You’re gonna be fine.” Edging closer, my hands still up in the air.
“What day is it, orangutan?”
“It’s Christmas Eve, Ash. It’s a good day. A lot of people care about you.” Almost there. “Everything’s gonna be all right.”
Aaaand the inevitable: an explosion of hostile qi. Thing was fast, faster than I expected, but I do this crap for a living. Could’ve ducked that backhand in my sleep. Whiff of cold air overhead, whoosh of blue-shifted boot as he threw a field-goal-scoring kick at my skull. I leapt high into the air, twisting like a greasy cat to slip the kick, and slammed a knee into his jaw as I floated at the apex of my jump. Dropped to the sidewalk, whipped around the ice like a figure-skater, and threw a spinning leg-sweep at the back of his knees. Neither the demon nor poor Mr. Overlook had the Capoeira to backflip his way out of that fall—he hit the concrete like a meteorite.
“Sorry, pal. I promise you’ll thank me once—”
I stopped. Another figure was coming down the street. It had a qi like a brick wall, a qi I’ve only seen from one other living thing: a man named Dill, who was one of the Nephilim.
Maybe I should’ve mentioned this earlier: I’m just a mortal man, but I’ve got one special gift. I see can qi. It’s how I can tell if someone’s Possessed, because the host and the demon have two separate energies. And I can spot non-humans at a glance; in fact, I can’t help spotting them. But I’d been told by reliable sources that Dill was the only nephil in the western hemisphere.
The oncoming figure strode to a halt about ten feet away. In the light of the shop window, I saw a short, squat man with a beard and strange green squinting eyes, dressed in layers of brown. “Well, well,” he said. “I didn’t expect an inquisitor.”
Already in battle mode, I bared my teeth. “I know what you are, feathers. This kid’s coming with me.”
“I’m afraid I must dissent. I’ve gone to extraordinary trouble to arrange this palaver, and I won’t have some junior Torquemada blundering a swath through my stratagems.”
Overlook—or the thing inside of him—gave a hair-raising hiss. “Half-thing. Angel-blood. Hate you, hate you, hate you.”
The newcomer pursed his lips. “Yes, well, we don’t need to be friends, do we. I simply need to pass a message to your Master.”
“Hey scumbag,” I growled. “He’s not a deposit box. No one’s using his soul to pass notes, understand?”
The newcomer—the nephil—spared me a glance. “You bother me, friend. I think it’s time you died.”
And with that, he came at me. Thank God (or whoever) that I’ve encountered his ilk before, and knew his secret. Nephilim, you see, have no great strength or speed—but they regenerate so fast that it’s almost pointless to hit ’em. This scumbag could’ve been thirty years old or a hundred and fifty thousand, and he’d obviously picked up some skills along the way; he lunged at me with a blur of hand-strikes garnered from the cities of Southern China. Luckily, I know my history: you see, Wing Chun developed in the narrow alleys of Hong Kong, and it’s a compact linear art. As my enemy drove forward, I therefore slipped to the side, invoking the wide-open circular movements of T’ai Chi. Slipped his thrust-punch, swung myself through every available dimension, and caught him in the back of the neck with a spinning heel kick. His feet literally left the ground, and he face-planted in the frozen dirt. Any mortal would’ve been stunned or unconscious, but this guy rolled calmly to his feet and smiled.
I was about to be worried—but suddenly, Overlook leaped up and sprang at the son of a bitch. “Hate you, angel, hate you!” The nephil caught his wrists a hair too late, and Ash’s nails left a slash down his face. The nephil popped Ash’s hips up with his own, and Judo-flipped him like a rag doll, head over heels, to the icy stone. The cut was already healing as I sprang past him and tried to grab a hold of Ash before he recovered. Whoever this guy was, it wasn’t my concern. I just wanted to save this poor lost kid and get the hell out of here.
Overlook clutched frenetically at my windpipe, and I palm-heeled him twice in the temple, hoping to knock him cold. Then the half-breed interloper caught me around the waist and lofted me into the air, trying to suplex me into the asphalt. I managed to hook one foot around the back of his leg before I went over the top, and the both of us went sprawling into the street. Overlook rolled to his hands and knees like a wolf, and launched himself at the stranger’s face. I scrambled, dazed and winded, to grab him, and the stranger clawed reflexively at me. A perfect little hate triangle, we three.
Then a gunshot. One round right between the stranger’s eyes, and he flopped like a mackerel in the slush. Ash, with his thumbs on the stranger’s eyeballs, froze; I, with my arms about to lock in a Jiu-jutsu rear naked choke on Ash, did likewise.
“The hell’s goin’ on here, Belmont?”
For once, I was grateful to hear that voice.
“Jones! Merry Christmas.”
“Back atcha, brother. Who’d I just kill?”
“Actually, no one. He’s another nephil.”
As I spoke, the half-man, half-angel sat up and groaned, and a lump of steaming lead popped out of his forehead. “Whom shall I be murdering now?” he rasped.
“Violence Jones.” My sort-of friend is the bouncer at Dill’s bar: the gathering place of every mystical being on the eastern seaboard. As I mentioned, Dill himself is an angel-human hybrid, but Jones is just a man. A badass, shoot-first-and-never-ask-questions, man. “You want a piece of me, bring it on. I guarantee you, tougher’ve tried.”
A beat went by in silence. “I know that name. You work for Graeladyl.”
“My kinsman. I believe he now goes by the name of Dill.”
“Yeah, that’s my boss. Don’t know about no kinfolk. Don’t care, neither. You don’t wanna die, I can put you in a cage and empty an ammo box into your face every day for the next fifty years. Buddy of mine gives me bullets for free.”
“Uh, Jones?” I spat out some blood. “You mind if I ask what you’re doing here?”
“Boss man sent me. Said he ‘felt a presence’.” He rolled his eyes. “You know how these mystics talk.”
I do indeed. See, there’s this thing called the Nephilim Effect. Because these creatures represent a nexus between the mortal and the heavenly realms, they radiate a sort of magnetic field that draws any mystical being in their direction. Otherworldly folk of every stripe congregate under Dill’s roof, not only because his bar is a legendary place, but because his aura subliminally signals them. But I guess if you put two nephilim in the same city at the same time, things are bound to get weird. And yeah, I’m one of those troublesome word people, so I use “weird” in a double sense: weird as in destiny and weird as in what the hell is going on?
“I suppose I should have known,” said the nephil. “I could never come to his city and escape another confrontation.” He rose to his feet. “Very well, Violence Jones, let us go. Take me to your master.”
“Ain’t got a master, mutt. But you will. Let’s march.” He gestured with the barrel of his pistol. “Belmont, you comin’?”
“Yeah. Gimme a minute.” I got my feet under me. Stood, unsteadily. Looked around the street. “Aw, man.” Overlook was gone.
“What, that kid? Don’t worry, bro, you can find him anytime. We got bigger fish.”
“. . .S’pose.”
Far below the stars, an endless pale expanse. The tundra-white of leagues upon leagues of empty snow, stretching away to every possible horizon. Hill and tree and rock and dale, mere pockmarks on the featureless sweep of whiteness in the cold pale gibbous moonlight. Elladonna Mirielavay, half-elven spy of the Elven Council, precariously seated on the dragoness she had once robbed and betrayed, gazed down in apprehension at the vastness below, fearing they would never reach the Khazilim in time.
“So tell me, elf,” said Kraaaaaa the dragon as they flew. “Is it true you’re not an elf?”
“A lyril, I’m called,” said Ella. “One of the Lyrilim: half-elf, half-angel.”
Fiery snort in the night wind. “Strange peoples fill the many worlds.”
“So it seems.”
“You’re fast, then. And you heal.”
“And what of your eyesight? Is it keen?”
“Keen enough, mayhap. Why ask?”
“Tell me, then, what you make of those shadows up ahead.”
Ella frowned. She’d been staring mostly downwards up till now. Raising her gaze, she peered through the mist and shade at the starlit horizon. At first, she saw only a great dark form like a distant mountain range. And then she realized that the mountain range was moving.
“What in the Ultimate Powers?”
“I know not, lyril-lass. It is an oddness, and I fear it. And that which gives me fear, I hate. Our business with the Claus may have to wait until I see this fearful hateful thing up close.”
Ella opened her mouth to protest, then closed it. Misgivings, dark forebodings, stirred and muttered in her heart. Whatever was ahead of them, she felt, must be connected with the nightmarish tidings that she bore. A giant tower in the Goblin Lands—a giant something trespassing in Dwarf Domain—both revealed on the same Yule eventide. What was this nameless walking abysm blotting out the land and sky?
Closer and closer they came. And Elladonna heard the she-worm growling curses in her ancient fork-tongued speech. From afar, it seemed that fireflies were swarming around the slow, ponderously moving forms. But as every wingbeat brought them nearer to the scene, it became clear that the flickering dots were Dragons: darting, soaring, blazing through the air like gnats in the path of titans. But no titan, no colossus, ever dreamed by bard or lunatic was anywhere close to the size of those oncoming forms. There was only one thing they could possibly be.
“The Anakim,” whispered Ella. “The Anakim are coming.”
If you’ve ever wondered what the Platonic form of a Christmas party looks like, go to Dill’s. It was like twenty minutes to midnight when we shoved our way through the door, and the denizens of a dozen cosmic realms were just hitting their festive stride. The food and drink and music, the dancing and the fellowship, almost made me forget that we were hauling an unkillable asshole into that broad, wide chamber of unearthly joy. For a moment.
“Graeladyl,” our semi-captive uttered as we entered.
From behind the bar, Dill looked up from the beer stein he was wiping, and his face was grim. “Samaelion. I had hoped it wasn’t you.”
“But hope is the fare of the foolish.”
“Bartholomew,” Dill said to some big fat guy at the bar. “I’ll take it as a kindness if you would tend to the revelers for the next few minutes.”
“Oh, I’ll sling the spirits, but counting cash is neither wheelhouse nor bailiwick of mine!”
“Our friends will leave the coins they ought to leave. Jones—the back room. Hello, Thomas.”
“Heya, Dill,” I said. “You want some privacy? I could, uh. . .”
“No, dear friend, please join us. It’s not by chance that you’re here tonight.”
’Fraid he was gonna say that.
Behind the bar, closed off by curtains, was a small pine door. Dill opened it and the four of us passed through. I’d never been back here before; few had, I suspected. All I saw was a round table with a knife embedded in its center, and a candle burning on the pommel of the hilt. The walls were painted black, and shadows pressed upon us as we sat.
“Well, Sam, what brings you here?” Dill asked wearily.
“Don’t call me that. I don’t hide from my true nature as you do.”
“My question stands.”
“The Anakim have risen from the Deep.”
Dill’s eyes squeezed shut. He looked like a man in pain.
“Anakim,” I said. “Isn’t that the giants from the Bible?” In my line of work, it pays to know your theology.
“Indeed,” Dill said, his eyes still closed.
“But um—aren’t they the same as the Nephilim?”
Dill exhaled through his nose, and Sam rolled his eyes like a testy toddler. “A very, very common misconception,” Dill said, finally looking up. “The Anakim are the offspring of the fallen angels—the Nephilim, of the unfallen. We are, in a certain sense, related; but we are absolutely not the same.”
“Okay. Uh. Sorry.”
“It’s all right,” he sighed. I wondered how many times he’d heard that over the centuries. “Samaelion, tell me: what do they seek after all this time? I had almost begun to believe they would not return.”
“The Goblins build a tower. A tower to the heavens. Only the Anakim can finish it.”
Jones jumped in his seat. “The Goblins! Boss, I bet that’s what—”
“Yes. That must be what Elladonna learned from Goblin McGreth. How long since she departed here?”
“Dunno—maybe two hours?”
“Then the Claus is almost beyond our reach.” Dill turned and looked at me. “Thomas—I grieve to ask you for this sacrifice. But we need your help now.”
Oh, bloody hell. “What do you need.”
“Your gift. Your sight. You’re the only one who can tell us who is free of Demons.”
“It’s not too late,” said Sam. “We can make a pact with the Giants, the Demons, and their Master. We can be on the winning side.”
“Mr. Jones,” said Dill. “Please take the prisoner downstairs. Feel free to be ungentle.”
A lot of shouting and gunfire ensued, and then it was just me and Dill. “It’s something I should never ask,” he said. “It’s something no sentient being should have to ask of another. But our world, our universe, is broken. I have to ask you, Thomas. Will you help?”
Come on, folks. Who could say no to that?
“Sounds like a good fight, Dill. What do you need me to do?”
He reached into his vest and produced a strange-looking key. “Do you believe in Santa Claus?”