The pain was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. All the injuries I’d ever received; my appendix, breaking my arm the first time, getting my tonsils out, getting the crap beat out of me in karate class, my run-in with Jonathan back when this all started, the four months of preparing for the Newbie course, the course itself, and the grievous injuries Robert had just inflicted on me – all of them combined paled in comparison to the pure, unbridled agony that now coursed through every fiber of my body. I tried to pull myself up, but something was pinning me down. More pain arced through me. I wrenched my eyes open and saw a giant hole in my chest. A blood-soaked feather was poking out. I realized that the bolt must have passed through me and into the marble floor. It was held in place inside my body only by the fletching.
I dimly heard Odette screaming my name, then a roar of absolute fury. I hazily recognized that as Robert. I felt an impact, then more pain as the bolt was ripped free from my body. Then came the sensation of flying, followed by a crash, more pain, the sound of glass shattering, something big hitting the floor, and then even more pain. It hurt to move, hurt to breathe, hurt to think, hurt to exist.
I painfully unscrewed my eyelids and looked around. I was surrounded pieces by broken wood, metal and glass. No, I realized, the pieces of metal weren’t broken, they were swords. Old medieval swords that the knights had carried in the Crusades.
“YOU WILL BE MY QUEEN!”
I slowly craned my head over towards the sound, every millimeter of movement an unspeakable agony. Robert had his arms wrapped around Odette and was trying to press his mouth against hers, forcing her to partake of his blood. She was fighting back, trying to push his face away from hers, trying to worm her way out of his grasp, but she might as well have been fighting against a hydraulic press. Robert’s incisors drew closer and closer to Odette’s lips.
I collapsed back against the destroyed display, silent tears plowing fiery trails down my face. It even hurt to cry.
I’d failed. I’d made my choice, chosen Odette’s life over mine, put a crossbow bolt into my own heart, all for nothing. Robert was going to turn Odette into a slave of evil, damning her for all eternity. And it was my fault. I’d thought that I could defeat Robert on my own. I’d been wrong, and now I’d doomed us both.
“You won’t be able to defeat him alone.” Doctor Bryson’s words echoed in my mind yet again. And I knew he’d been right. I hadn’t been able to defeat Robert alone. And now I was going to die here, watching Odette be transformed into a slave to darkness. I tried in vain to rise to my feet, but my body wouldn’t respond. I was bleeding out, dying. I had nothing left.
“But you aren’t dead yet, Stephen,” Doctor Bryson’s voice said, “And you do have a weapon left. You know what it is. Use it!” I closed my eyes in defeat. I did know what his “weapon” was. And I’d used it before, only to have it fail spectacularly each time. But I had no choice, and I knew it. It was Odette’s only chance.
“Dear Lord,” I whispered, “I’m going to die here. I know it, and I don’t care. But Lord, before you take me, please give me the strength to defeat Robert. Please, please help me to save Odette. Don’t let him make her a slave to darkness. Use me as Your instrument. Please, God, help me.”
Nothing. I lay there, spurting blood and leaking tears. It was over.
Then, the strangest thing. The pain began to vanish. It seemed to radiate away from my core, down my arms and legs, and out my fingers and toes. I looked down my arm. My armor was still ripped open and the fabric was soaked with blood, but my wound appeared to have stopped bleeding. I wiggled my fingers. They responded perfectly, no trace of pain. I slowly rolled over, picked up one of the swords, and shakily got to my feet. Robert saw me out of the corner of his eye.
“You just won’t die, will you?” he asked, finally releasing Odette. She stood there, rooted to the floor in shock, unable to believe that I was still standing. “Well then,” Robert continued, “this time I’ll finish you for good. No more holding back.” His incisors grew even longer, his features became contorted and swept back, his ears grew larger and pointed upward. His body contorted and elongated as he shed his false hope of humanity and revealed his true form. Most people would say vampires look like bats.
Personally, I think they look like exactly like demons.
Robert lunged at me, moving at impossible speed. I calmly raised the sword, not into a fighting stance, but held it by the blade so that the pommel was pointed at the ceiling and the tip of the blade at the floor.
The design of the Crusaders’ swords was not born out of practicality or effectiveness, but out of symbolism. The sword was meant to be a symbol of their Christian faith.
The sword in my hand had been deliberately formed in the shape of The Cross.
Robert stopped so fast it looked as if he’d slammed into a brick wall. He let out a shriek of pain shrank back from me, holding up his hands in front of his head, as if trying to ward off the holy symbol. I advanced on him, holding the sword high. He skittered backwards like a roach fleeing a flashlight as I recited words that had been etched in my memory as a young boy.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdome come. Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Robert let out an unearthly wail, each word like a dagger tearing through his undead flesh. “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from Evil.” Robert clenched his hands over his ears, futilely trying to block out The Lords Prayer. “For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and The Glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
“NOOOO!!!” Robert screeched. His skin had begun to smolder as the room suddenly filled with light. He shrank back into the shadows. “This is impossible! You cannot defeat me! I… I am more powerful than any human!”
“It is not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, sayeth The Lord.” I replied. He shrank away from me, away from the Light, until he’d backed into the corner.
“NNNNOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” he screamed. “YOU CANNOT DEFEAT MEEEEEEEEE!!!!!” I drew the blade back for the final strike.
“I can do all things,” I told him, “Through Christ who strengthens me.” I plunged the blade into him, sliding it between his ribs and spearing his black heart.
Robert’s inhuman screech pierced through the room, shattering every single window and display case in the entire museum. The flesh around the sword’s blade smoldered, smoked, and then erupted into white flames. He bent his head back, mouth open wide in a protracted wail. The flames spread across his flesh, then erupted from his mouth, nose, ears, and eyes. The high-pitched scream reached a crescendo as Robert’s body was completely consumed by fire, then abruptly cut off as the flames suddenly extinguished themselves, leaving behind only bones that quickly disintegrated into dust and a blackened skull with incisors as long as my middle finger.
I finally released my grip on the sword, which had been driven deep into the marble wall. The light that had filled the room, and I fell to my knees as my new found strength faded away.
“To You be the victory and the glory, O Lord,” I said, “Thank you.” Then I collapsed to the floor as darkness consumed me once again.
I was standing on the shores of the lake again. The sun was low in the sky. The smell of pine was thick in the air. I walked over to the waterline, climbed atop one of the ancient boulders, and crouched down on one knee to watch the sun paint the sky and water brilliant shades of gold and crimson, adding in wisps of violet for clouds.
After a few moments, I felt a familiar presence next to me. I smiled.
“Hello, Doctor Bryson.”
“You did it, Stephen,” he said with a warm smile of his own, “I’m very proud of you.”
“Though I must admit, for a moment, I thought you were…”
“Dead meat?” I asked. He nodded, “Yeah, I thought I was toast too.”
“But you pulled through.”
“I had help,” I said, “Thanks.”
“Don’t thank me. He is the one who gave you the strength.”
“But you pointed me back in His direction,” I reminded him, “And you taught me to trust Him in the first place. I know that He was the reason that I could defeat Robert, but you still deserve a little credit.”
“Just a little?” he asked with that impish grin of his.
“Well, okay, a decent amount of credit.”
“I’ll take that,” he replied. For a long moment, we just sat there on the rock, watching the sunset.
“So…” I finally asked, “What happens now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do I go to the Pearly Gates now, or… do I get the Eternal Barbecue Pit?” Doctor Bryson burst out laughing. “What?”
“Nothing,” he chuckled, “I’ve just never heard that particular phrase before. ‘Eternal Barbecue Pit!’ Oh, that’s good, Stephen. That’s very good.”
“Thanks,” I said, unable to hold back a smile of my own. “But seriously, what’s going to happen to me?”
“Why, you’re going to go back.”
“Back? You mean, back to the world?” He nodded, “But… ah, I mean… I’m pretty sure I died back there.”
“You did die,” He said, “You bled out after Robert threw you into that display case.”
“You’re kidding.” He just looked at me. “You’re serious? I’m really dead?”
“As a doornail.”
“No, I mean, I was? As in past-tense? As in ‘am no longer dead’?”
“That would be correct.”
“But… how?” He shot me another look. “Okay, sorry, stupid question. I know He’s done that before. Lazarus, the official’s daughter, and I’m probably forgetting some more. I mean why? Why me?”
“Well, I mean… I questioned and doubted Him for years…”
“But you returned to Him. That’s all that mattered.”
“Do you want to be dead?”
“No! I mean, uh, yea- yes, I want to go to Heaven, but not now. Uh, I mean…”
“I know what you meant, Stephen,” he said, unable to hold back his laughter.
“So… if I’m not dead, anymore anyway, why am I here? Why’d I pass out?”
“You need to recover,” he explained, “You had His Power channeled through you, remember? The human body isn’t equipped to have that power start and stop running through it that suddenly. You need to detox for a few days.”
“But I’ll wake up?” He nodded.
“You will, don’t worry. It isn’t your time yet. There is still plenty of evil in the world that needs to be defeated.”
“I know,” I said, “but I was actually…”
“…thinking about Odette,” Doctor Bryson finished. He smiled at me again.
“She’s suffered enough through this. She’s lost so much.”
“That she has.”
“I just… I don’t want her to have to suffer anymore.”
“I know, Stephen,” he said, “I know. That’s why you’re going to wake up.”
“Now,” Doctor Bryson said, pointing at the sun. It had begun to slip below the horizon. “Goodbye, Stephen.”
“Wait, will I get to see you again?”
“I’ll still keep watch over the two of you, but hopefully we won’t have to meet like this again for a very long time.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means that hopefully, you’ll live a very long, happy life.”
“No, I mean… you said ‘the two of you’? What’s that supposed to mean.”
“You’ll see,” he said with that impish prankster grin of his, “You’ll see. Goodbye, Stephen.” The sun fell out of sight.
I was laying on something soft. Something else – a blanket? – was draped over me. There was something soft under my head too. Was I in a bed? I slowly opened my eyes and saw…
“Heaven,” I said, “I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because,” I said, “There’s an angel standing over me.” Odette playfully swatted my arm.
“That’s really bad,” she laughed.
“It’s true,” I insisted. “Where am I?”
“Temple University Hospital,” she said.
“How bad is it?”
“How bad am I hurt?”
“Your body was completely healed somehow.”
“I know. Oh, I almost forgot; Jon and Dominique figured that you’d want this once you woke up.” She reached into her purse and pulled out my baby SIG P220, the pistol that Robert hadn’t destroyed.
“Thanks,” I said. She handed me the pistol and slid it under my pillow. “So if I’m not hurt, what am I doing here?”
“You’ve been in a coma.”
“A coma? For how long?”
“Three days? Seriously?”
“Yes. Why?” Now it was my turn to start laughing. “What? What’s so funny?”
“It’s a long story,” I said, “But you’d better sit down first; you’re not going to believe—” At that moment, the door to my room swung open. “Forget what I just said about Heaven.” In stormed none other than Agents Willard and Simpkin.
“What do you two wa-HEY!” she shouted as Agent Willard shoved her against the wall and leveled his Glock at her face. I immediately snatched my SIG from under the pillow and pointed it at Willard’s head. Simpkin instinctively drew his customized Delta Elite and aimed it at my nose. Odette already had her S&W 457 out and leveled it at Simpkin’s nose. Safeties were snapped off, hammers were thumbed back, fingers touched triggers. We were all ounces of pressure away from death. For what felt like an eternity, no one moved.
“What the hell is going on here?” Simpkin finally asked.
“Well,” Odette said, “I’m not really into action movies, but I think this is called a Mexican Standoff.”
“I know that, Miss Meyers,” Simpkin said, “Willard, what the hell are we doing here?”
“Exactly like I told you,” Willard replied, “We’re taking out a newly-created vampire.”
“Bullshit. He isn’t a vampire and you know it.”
“So what? It’s a bureaucratic screw-up, and if we get two less ‘Hunters,’ out of it, I’m not complaining.” He said the word ‘Hunters’ like you or I would say ‘vermin.’
“Bureaucratic screw-up my ass,” Odette said, “Like it would take three days for the paperwork to terminate a potential Master Vampire to come through.”
“How dare you bark at me like that!” Willard roared, “I am a Federal Agent!” He pressed his pistol against her temple and wrapped his hand around her throat.
“Let her go,” I growled.
“Or what?” he scoffed, “You’ll kill me? You don’t have the balls.”
“You sure?” I asked, then lowered my point of aim a few feet.“You want to risk yours?”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“Put the weapon down,” Simpkin commanded.
“Or else I’ll shoot her!” Willard added.
“I wasn’t talking to him,” Simpkin said. He took his Delta Elite off of me and aimed it at Willard’s head. “Put it down, Thomas.”
“What? Donald, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Arresting you on two counts of attempted murder, for starters, along with misuse of government resources, forging reports…”
“You son of a…” He released Odette and spun towards Simpkin, trying to bring his Glock to bear on the younger agent. He never made it. Simpkin’s fist caught him square in the left temple and he dropped like a sack of potatoes. Simpkin quickly snatched Willard’s Glock away and tucked in his own waistband, then pulled a pair of handcuffs off his belt and cuffed his partner.
“Sorry about this,” he said as he slung the unconscious Willard over his shoulder and fireman-carried him out of the room. “Get better, Mister Andrews.”
For a long moment, Odette and I could only stare at the door. Then she holstered her Smith, and I decocked the SIG and slid it back under my pillow. I looked over at Odette, who was rubbing her throat where Willard had grabbed it.
“What the hell just happened?”