Ursula gave Kyle a small office she had converted into a bedroom. It consisted mostly of a semi-comfortable bed and a desk. Like most rooms in the church, the windows were covered with steel shutters to prevent any sunlight from getting in. An antiquated lamp on the desk was on, bathing the room in a sickly light.
He currently lay on the bed, but he had missed his chance for sleep. Now, his brain was operating at full speed.
Why had God allowed this? Why hadn’t he stamped out these monsters long ago? Sure, Ursula seemed nice, but the rest were, indeed, monsters.
He desperately tried to avoid closing his eyes, because when he did, he saw his butchered friends lying in that hotel room. He had heard about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Now, he knew full well what it felt like. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. Every gory detail assaulted him again and again, repeatedly coming around like a carousel of horrors. He was breathing rapidly, his heartbeat a ball bouncing between two surfaces only inches apart.
His friends were dead. He was a vampire. But the hardest thing of all was having to abandon his family. It crushed him beyond words to have to do that. They were the rock on which his life was built. Ursula had promised him strength, but right now, he couldn’t imagine ever being strong enough to cope with this.
He thought back to the Trivial Pursuit game earlier. He heard Jerry’s words as his friend sang to the tune of Queen, only this time, they were twisted. God is truly awful, anyone can seeeeee. He instinctively tried to banish that thought, viewing it as heresy, but a part of him welcomed it. After all, God had allowed his life to be so thoroughly annihilated in the course of just a few hours.
But this wasn’t really unprecedented, was it? God had done the same with Job. Just said to the Devil, “Yeah, go ahead. Job’s all yours.” Maybe the Lord would replace Kyle’s whole life when this was over. So sorry, Kyle. Just had to prove a point to someone and you were just the lad to do it with.
He managed to push the thought out of his mind, but it was replaced once again with the image of his dead friends, their body parts lying around, their blood choking the carpet.
* * *
The other shahid milled about, looking for clues as to where Kyle Falconer had gone. Chloe stood next to Kyrios in the abandoned garage as he held the steel shutter and examined it. This was Ursula’s work. It had to be.
“Apologies. The kid escaped,” Chloe said. Her left arm hung limply; her body hadn’t finished repairing itself yet. There was a gash across the top of her robe which extended from right arm to left shoulder also.
“It makes no difference,” he replied. “No matter where he goes, he can’t escape the fate I’ve set for him. By now, his faith is shattered. He saw firsthand what God will do to protect his children: nothing.
“I’m more concerned about our plans. Ursula has him now, and if they figure out what our agenda is, they may do something to oppose it.”
Chloe remained silent. There was nothing she could add that he did not already know. She would go along with anything he said anyway.
The shahid known as Mikhail came up to him. “Shouldn’t we be more concerned with Guide? If they find out what we’re up to, they’ll sanction us,” he said in his Russian accent.
“You all knew the risks when you decided to follow me,” Kyrios said. And they had. Except for Chloe who was his slave and had no say in the matter. “All of us have been hurt by Christianity. That plague must be eradicated by any means necessary.”
“Yes, but doll letting kid escape poses unnecessary risk.” He stared icily at Chloe. She showed no reaction to this.
“You fail to see the potential of soldiers like Kyle Falconer. When faith is broken, it becomes just as strong going the other direction. He and others like him will come to fight against God with everything they have. And with the shahid strength I’ve given him, he will do much damage.”
“If the Guide doesn’t find out and put a stop to it,” Mikhail clarified.
“Do not question him.” The petite Frenchwoman, Amalie, stood stern-faced behind Mikhail.
“I am simply saying we should not take on needless risk so close to our operation.”
“Enough,” Kyrios said. “Everyone, fall in line.”
All the shahid lined up in front of him with their arms behind their backs. The exception was Chloe who remained by his side.
He continued. “Chloe, what is our mutual goal? What is the one thing that binds us aside from the spoiled blood of Christ?”
Without hesitation, she said, “Annihilation.”
“The rest of you,” Kyrios said. “What do we exist to accomplish?”
“Death and rebirth,” they said in unison.
He nodded, satisfied. “Good. Never forget our mission. All right, let’s move out. We can’t stay here now that Ursula knows our location.”
* * *
It was daytime. Not that Kyle could tell in his room in the church. His circadian rhythm was decimated on this new schedule. Ursula was sleeping in her room, but while exhausted, Kyle could not achieve this. He lay on his bed trying to shove away the relentless image of his dead friends.
The conference was in two days, but there was no way he could attend now. Just try it. “Hey, I know I’m undead now and everyone else in my group has been butchered, but it’s cool, I’m still the same on the inside.” He might be set ablaze just by entering.
He laughed hysterically. He didn’t know why he found that funny aside from his growing insanity. He laughed and then burst into tears in span of a second.
I can’t live with this. He suddenly realized there was an easy way out: Just run outside. The sun would obliterate him in short order.
Suicide is a sin. God would send him to Hell for that. His mood, having been relatively stabilized by the brief option to end his misery, was again crushed. But was there a god? He just didn’t know anymore, though he found himself unwilling to take the risk. How could Hell possibly be any worse than this? He didn’t know, but the Devil, if he existed, would find a way to make it so.
His cell phone was on the desk. He picked it up and contemplated calling his parents. His hands were shaking; he wanted to call them but was terrified. What would he tell them? Surely, by now they had heard about what had happened at the hotel and were out of their minds with worry. He wanted to tell them he was… what? Not alive, as he was undead now. And definitely not okay. The only thing he could say was he still existed.
That’s a bad idea, Kyle. Kyrios has agents all over the country. He’ll try to use your family to get to you. Ursula’s words hung over his head like a cloud of absolute darkness. It was a risk he couldn’t take no matter how much he wanted to.
Morbidly curious about the news coverage of the massacre, he streamed the latest newscast. A woman appeared onscreen with the headline “Mass Murder at NYC Hotel.”
She reported, “New York citizens have been horrified by another mass killing, this time of Christians at Lexington Excelsior Hotel. A college group that had arrived in town for the Empire State Christian Conference were found brutally slain in their advisor’s room. Neither police nor FBI are releasing many details out of respect for the victims and their families, but they have confirmed one student is missing and they hope to find him alive soon.” The irony was not lost on Kyle.
She continued. “In a follow-up to our previous story, the radical Christian group David’s Purge released a video detailing their reasons for the killings at Islamic Devotion Society.”
They cut to a close-up of a person wearing a mask. Only the eyes were visible. Kyle immediately noted the white eyelashes. “We are hereby calling upon all our brothers and sisters to rid the world of non-believers. As it says in Deuteronomy 13: ‘ If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.’
“Muslims worship a false god. Therefore, we must show them no pity.”
He had only been with her a short time, but her presence was permanently burned into his brain.
It was Chloe.
* * *
Angelica stepped out of the elevator onto the eighth floor of the Lexington Excelsior Hotel. She was immediately hit by the putrid smell of death. To her, it was the most familiar scent in the world.
An ashen-faced cop, who was standing immediately to the right of her, turned to face her. “This area is off-limits and an active crime scene. Who are you?”
She flashed her badge. “Angelica Brassi, Special Crimes Unit of the Vatican. Fatima Protocol has been invoked. Under Special Treaty 789, you are hereby ordered to cooperate with me in this matter.”
His face registered confusion. His eyes looked up and away, an obvious sign of trying to remember something. “Uh… yeah. I think I remember being told about that at the academy. They said we weren’t supposed to talk about it unless absolutely necessary.”
She put her badge away and smiled. “Believe me,” she said, looking at his badge, “Detective Rourke, it has just become necessary.”
He was perhaps just tall enough to be a cop, with a buzz cut of dark hair. “I guess if they let you in here, you must be the real deal. Never thought I’d get a Church bigshot. Suppose I should feel honored.”
“You’re pale, Detective. Is it that bad?” she asked.
He was visibly uncomfortable. “Worst anyone here’s ever seen. We had to bring in every CSI we’ve got for this. Three of them couldn’t take it and had to leave. Same with the maid who reported this to us; she won’t be coming back any time soon. Matter of fact, I think there are more than a few openings now.
“There’s no nice way to say it, so I’ll just say it: It’s a slaughterhouse in Room 809. The other rooms aren’t as bad, just some blood, but 809 will give you nightmares.”
“A nightmare in real life is simply an unfortunate situation,” she said.
“Say that after you see it. Watch where you step.”
She followed him down the hall. They were careful to avoid CSIs taking blood samples. The smell became stronger the closer they got to 809. One of the downsides of enhanced senses was getting hit harder than normal people. Nevertheless, she had trained for this.
They soon arrived at a scene of indescribable horror. CSIs had put several corpses in body bags, but numerous others still littered the scene. “What was the cause of death?” They stood in the doorway.
“Hard to say right now, but we haven’t found any evidence of gunshots. Nobody heard any, anyway. Nor have we found any sharp or blunt objects that could have been used. By all appearances, it looks like they were ripped apart. But who would have the strength to do that? It’s like a scene out of a monster movie.”
You have no idea how right you are. “Did security cameras catch anything?”
He shook his head. “No, the lights went out briefly, so it was dark on this floor. The monsters must have carried this out during that time.”
“So far, no. But really, our problem isn’t a lack of evidence, it’s too much evidence. “This is… Oh, god.”
He moved past her to the other side of the door where he wouldn’t have to look.
She asked him, “So, in your opinion, could this have been done by humans?”
“Honestly? No. Like I said, this is a monster movie.”
She continued to study the scene, connecting the dots in her head. “How many victims are there?”
“We believe sixteen. They were part of a college church group. We’ve locked down the hotel as I’m sure you noticed, but we can’t account for the whereabouts of one member of the group. Kyle Falconer. We’ve found parts for everyone else, but not him.
Interesting. “Do you happen to have a picture of him?”
* * *
“Are you sure?” Ursula asked. Night had fallen and they had reconvened in front of the altar. They stood facing each other.
Kyle nodded. “Yeah. I could never forget her. She made a serious impression.”
She pondered this for a moment. “If that’s true, it means Kyrios is behind David’s Purge.
“Does that mean he’s also behind E…. Eel…”
“Ealim al’Ahlam. It’s unlikely. For one thing, it’s unnecessary. He only needs to control one side to instigate a war.”
“This is bad,” Kyle said. “All he has to do is keep killing Muslims and taking credit for it. We obviously can’t protect every single Muslim.”
“No. Not the way we are now. That’s why I must train you.”
Huh? “Train me in what?”
“Alraqsa, the ancient art of vampiric combat.”
Kyle sighed. “What’s the point? I can’t attack Kyrios without being willing to cut off my own limb, which I’m definitely not.”
Ursula raised her index finger in an educating motion. “Not yet. But you can attack everyone else. The protection doesn’t extend to them.”
He shook his head. “I’m no fighter. I was raised to believe violence is wrong. Besides, those psychos probably have centuries of experience.”
She replied, “That’s not as big a problem as you think. Sooner or later, everyone reaches the peak of their prowess. Even vampire brains can’t record information endlessly. The more time that goes by, the more you forget. Besides, you have a mental edge.”
“What do you mean?”
She waved a hand at him. “Look at yourself. You’re a far cry from last night. Now, you’re stable and composed. You’re not thinking about suicide.”
“How did you…?”
She smiled. “You’re far from the first to go through this. Anyone in your position would be wishing for release. At any rate, you’re smart enough to figure out what will happen if I don’t train you.”
He turned around and stared at the window depicting Jesus’ crucifixion. “I’ll be a sitting duck. And if anything happens to you, I’ll be screwed.”
“Yes,” she said. “Which is why we must begin immediately. Sit down.”
He did so in front of the altar while she turned off most of the lights, shrouding the room largely in darkness. “What exactly am I going to learn?”
“The Satanic Feats.”
“Don’t worry; that’s just what the Church calls them. Remember: At the end of the day, they’re merely tools. They can be used for good or evil. However, I must warn you that the first one I’m going to teach you is rather unpleasant. That’s why we’re getting it out of the way now.”
Gulp. That didn’t sound scary at all. “What do I have to do?”
She sat down in front of him with her legs crossed. He mimicked her position. “This first one is called ‘Thief in the Night.’ It will enable you to disappear into the shadows. Close your eyes.” He did so. “Regrettably, this skill requires a great deal of inner pain that most vampires carry due to the trauma of their turning. Think back.”
“Last night. Remember what happened. Call upon as many details as possible.”
Fear shot through him like high voltage. “What? No! I’ve been doing everything I can to avoid that!”
But she replied, “The nightmare won’t end unless you confront it. Make the pain your own weapon to use against your enemies.”
“I don’t want to!”
“I’m sorry, Kyle, but you can’t afford to be spared this. You must learn every Satanic Feat. But I will help you to direct your rage.”
In spite of what she was asking of him, his eyes remained closed. Maybe that meant something. He had to fight against instinct and summon the memory. He was shaking like crazy and having trouble controlling his breathing.
“What do you see?” she asked.
“My friends… Tom… they’re…”
“You have to say it,” Ursula said.
“They’re dead! They killed them! I can see… Their blood is… God, it’s all over the place!” The images were as fresh as they were last night and he had to fight back a sob.
“Who killed them, Kyle?”
“K-Kyrios. And Chloe. And all those other monsters!”
“Good,” she replied. “Now, imagine the darkness this ordeal has plunged you into. Imagine the darkness surrounding Kyrios and his followers. Can you see it?”
“How could I not? They made it so fucking obvious!” He never swore, believing it unchristian. But he felt like he could break any rule now.
“Okay, now take that darkness and wrap it around you like a cloak.” Like the very real cloaks of Kyrios and his bastards? “It’s not your hell anymore; it’s your weapon.”
In his mind, he held a cloak of intangible darkness in front of him. With a flourish, he wrapped himself in it.
“Open your eyes,” Ursula said.
He did so. “Everything looks the same.”
She was smiling. “Ah, but it’s not everything else we’re trying to change. Look at yourself.”
He held up his hands. They were shrouded in the darkest black he had ever seen. Like small black holes, they seem to consume all light. “Cool.” He drank in the satisfaction of knowing he had taken one of their weapons for himself.
She stood up. “That’s one down, Kyle. And, as I said, it’s the hardest to learn. Emotionally, anyway.”
“What do I look like?”
“Midnight, Kyle. You look like the darkest depth of night.”
“Okay…? Umm, how do I go back to normal?” This was getting weird.
“You do that by doing the opposite of what you just did. You remember all the good things in your life. All the things you have to live for.”
Sadness stabbed him again. “But I don’t have anything like that now. They took all of it from me.”
She went over to the light switches on the wall and flipped them, once again illuminating the room. Kyle’s hands became fully visible again. “Fortunately, you can also banish it with literal light.” He continued to sit there. “I’m sorry, Kyle. But you’ll find your raison d'être again. Just give it time. God never closes a door without opening a window.”
“Yeah, except it feels like God dropped the entire house on me.”
She came back over to him. “It felt like that to Job. And to Moses. And to David. And to Christ. And to Mary when he died. God drops a lot of houses.”
Wasn’t that the truth.