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The Warrior's Beckoning

 

The Warrior’s Beckoning

Patrick Allen Howard

Copyright 2015 © by Patrick Howard

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine, or journal.

All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

ISBN: 1480245941
ISBN 13: 9781480245945

Library of Congress Control Number: 2015909933
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
North Charleston, South Carolina

CONTENTS

Part I

Prologue

Log 1

Log 2

Log 3

Reconnaissance

Daniel’s Sacrifice

David’s Sacrifice

Frank’s Sacrifice

Ghost Hunter’s Descent

The Soldier’s Descent

The Last Stand

The Survivor’s Ascent

Part II

The Beckoning

The Separation

The Burial

Smelting and Forging

The Ghost Hunter’s Epilogue

The Reckoning

The Beginning

Gabriel’s Watch

About the Author

Part I

Prologue

Preparation

SCREAMS ECHOED ALL around me as I ran. My team…they were being torn apart behind me. We had set out to investigate the unknown, as ghost hunters, only to fall into a trap. They had summoned us there, to a town lost to the world and buried deep within a bizarre forest, luring us with a dream—my dream4

I had learned the address in the dream. When I awoke, I searched for information, cross-referencing it with a few names in old newspaper stories, and found little. The town had been growing when the nineteenth century ended. So many people…so much potential…all of them lost within a single night. No one knew what had happened, and no one who investigated ever returned. At least, not of whole mind. The police closed the town off from the world, yet my team and I walked right past their warnings. I regretted that now as I ran into the endless night. I began to recall it all…how it had been before the massacre.

• • •

At the edge of the forest rested the line between light and darkness. It was midafternoon, yet within the trees awaited darkness. The forest seemed barren of all life; even the trees carried the appearance of death, their leaves as gray as their bark, covered with rotted moss. The EMF meter spiked as we approached. Looking at my team in this memory, I felt a pain and sorrow I had not known.

“Take a temperature reading,” Joe said, turning on his audio recorder. Sarah aimed the infrared thermometer toward the forest. We could see the gauge dropping rapidly as she approached it. Joe wore his usual ghost-hunting uniform: baggy T-shirt and shorts, in blue and black. He was skinny and soft-spoken. Sarah always wore blue jeans, often with a dress shirt. Of average size, she was quick to smile and joke. I personally preferred military gear, having long contemplated joining the service…yet always waited. For investigations, I favored black camo BDUs, as I like having the pockets standard on battle dress uniforms. People think of me as dark and distant, at least at first glance. A mystery even to myself.

“Fifty degrees and dropping,” Sarah said, looking around.

Joe played back the minute of audio he had recorded as we approached: silence…then a distant whisper…then a scream.

“GET OUT!” a strong voice yelled in the recording. We glanced at each other before turning back to the forest.

“It would be pointless to say there’s something lurking in there. Let’s skip that and go in deeper,” I said, pulling my duffel bag from the car.

“What do you think we’ll find?” Joe asked. He slung his bag over his shoulder.

“Who knows?” Sarah said. She slipped into her backpack.

I activated the camera I’d attached to my hat. When I switched on my flashlight, the trees seemed to react to our presence, shaking as we passed them. Shadows danced outside the beams of our flashlights, whispers beckoning from the dark. Figures appeared on and off Sarah’s camera, down the path before us. Within minutes, we reached the skeleton of a home, where it all began…

I was advancing slowly, playing the flashlight in wide arcs, when I felt the icy grip on my ankle. I fell forward, dazed. I tried to crawl forward but found that I could not escape. I could only roll onto my back and watch the creature that stood over me. It was as gray as the mist around it. No, the mist was part of its form, gray mist, with two arms, two legs, and no evident eyes. Its voice, a distant whisper in the fog, mocked me.

“You are so pathetic. Did you believe you would step into the unknown and return unscathed? You must pay the price for your curiosity.” It ran its cold fingers along my cheek, smiling.

I could feel its evil. Its touch…so cold. It rose and began to walk away. In its place came a being made of shadow, walking on four legs, resembling a large dog. Within its eyes rested an aura as black as its flesh. It opened its mouth, releasing a fog as it howled. Then it growled, looming over me, poised to rip my throat open. I closed my eyes.

Just as the creature lunged, gunfire ripped through the air, louder and louder as the shooter advanced. More footsteps and orders followed. “Go, go, go!” a man yelled, firing what sounded like an assault rifle. Another man, clad in a white shirt and body armor, ran to me. An EMT appeared at my side, followed by someone in a security guard uniform. The guard fired his 9 mm MP5 submachine gun into the distance, and the EMT pulled me to my feet, wrapping my arm around his shoulders to support me as we moved toward a soldier who was firing an M4 carbine past us. I glanced behind me; the security guard was close behind us, firing into the shadows that approached.

The EMT handed me off to a priest, who helped me hobble forward while the EMT grabbed up my bag of gear. “He’s been tainted!” the priest shouted. “We need to get him inside!”

I could barely move. It was cold…so cold. My mind felt heavy, oppressed by visages filled with horror and despair. One soldier took point, and the guard followed behind us. The others half carried me. We turned from the main path to a narrow one, moving into the dense trees, and soon we approached what appeared to be a bunker. A police officer stood at the entrance, firing his M16 past us at the shadowy creatures that charged. Another soldier rushed out and supplied suppressing cover.

The priest and the security guard carried me down the stairs and laid me atop a long table. The others filed in behind us, closing the heavy door. The priest hung a cross on the center of the door. The creatures slammed against the door but could not penetrate past the power of Christ. The priest stood by my side and took my hand as I shivered and trembled.

“Do you know who Jesus is?” he asked, staring into my eyes. An unnatural voice that was not my own shrieked at the name of Jesus, and I struggled to reply. “Y-yes…”

“Who is he to you?” the priest asked, placing his other hand on my forehead.

“M-my…savior…” I said. As I spoke, the other voice became violent within me.

“Do you accept him?” the priest asked. I could not speak at first—I could feel a force attempting to block me—but Jesus was stronger.

“YES!” I cried out in defiance to the evil force. A wave of energy dispersed, causing the others to stumble.

Peace and tranquility fell upon me, and I slipped into a dream in which a voice called to me.

“I have sent these warriors to you. Your team is not lost. Forge ahead, standing together on the foundation I have laid before you. You are in Jesus. You are my body in this world.” The voice was so soft, so loving. I became lost within it. “Awaken!” the voice said to me, and I opened my eyes. The priest still stood beside me, smiling as I looked to him.

“Welcome back,” he said. The others approached.

“How did you get here?” I asked, sitting up.

“We each shared a dream, a dream that linked us. The Lord called us here to aid you,” the priest said, motioning to the others. “I am Daniel.”

“The name’s Rick,” said the police officer.

“Jason,” said the EMT.

“I’m Frank,” said the security guard.

The engineer stayed quiet, and the others glanced at him. “What?” he said. “It says it on the patch.” He pointed at his shirt. Joel.

“Call me David,” the soldier said. He handed me a pistol and holster.

“Thank you. All of you,” I said as I slid off the table and onto my feet. I took the holster and attached it to my belt. “All that I was is gone. I am now just a ghost hunter.”

“Thank the Lord,” Daniel said with a smile. “So, what’s the plan?”

We each looked at one another.

“We’ve been gathered here for a reason. I say we go deeper and find out what happened here,” David said.

The EMT gave me a questioning glance. “What were you doing out there?”

“I had a dream about this place, too. My team and I came out here to investigate the paranormal activity. Everything seemed standard until we entered the house. Rather, what was left of the house. Even then, everything was fine until we descended into the lower levels,” I said, shivering. “We found decayed remains inside the basement. Sarah found an entrance to a tunnel, and she and Joe went to investigate. I stayed behind to read this diary I found there.” I pulled an old book from my bag. “I heard screams from the tunnel entrance. When I went to investigate, the bodies—the remains!—rose up to attack.”

My voice became weak. “I…I ran. Sarah and Joe were right behind me when…when the creatures took them…” I trembled, and Daniel placed his hand on my shoulder. “They tore them to pieces! I was helpless. They would have gotten me, too, if you guys hadn’t showed up.”

Daniel took the diary from me gently and began to read it. “What page were you on when this happened?” he asked, flipping through the musty pages.

“The last one. Why?”

Daniel turned to the last page and laughed softly. “We’re about to have some company.” He drew a sword from under his robe.

“Form a circle in the center of the room, backs to each other. Move!” David ordered, moving into position. We obeyed. The room began to shake. Our flashlights flickered, and a cold air entered the room, although there were no openings in the walls. My EMF meter spiked in all directions. Weapons drawn, we readied ourselves.

“Anyone know where they’re coming from…or what’s coming?” Joel asked.

“Well, judging by these EMF readings and the current temperature…I have no idea,” I said.

The room shook more and then stopped briefly. “Okaaaaay?” Joel said, as if anticipating the worst. His anxiety was rewarded as shadows leaped up from the ground in the form of cloaked figures, tall and carrying scythes. “Ah, crap!” He opened fire.

Figures charged toward each of us, swinging their scythes with inhuman speed. The scythes they wielded went straight through us, drawing no blood but draining our energy. Daniel charged one, swinging his sword into the one before him. The figure screeched and hurled a mass of dark energy at him. Daniel blocked it with his sword but fell to the floor.

Still weak from the previous attack, I could barely stand after the first touch of the scythe, but I fired my pistol into the oncoming figure. David slammed the butt of his rifle into one of the figures, knocking it back, then fired several rounds into the hood of its cloak. The figure dissipated. Frank sank to one knee in exhaustion, though he continued to fire repeatedly at the figure attacking him.

David moved to assist Jason, who was wrestling hand to hand with one of the figures. He fought defensively, dodging its attacks, then striking with a kick or a jab. He kicked it square in the chest and knocked it to the floor. Joel ran to put a foot against its chest and fired into its hood. Joel blasted one of the remaining figures, dissipating it.

Those standing turned to the last one, and Rick finished it off. “That was fun,” he said, holstering his pistol.

“Yup.” Frank pulled me to my feet. “You OK?”

“I’m not sure,” I mumbled.

I surveyed the area. We appeared to be in an old bunker stacked with crates of supplies and ammunition and lined with gun racks filled with Browning automatic rifles, M1 Garands, FG 42s, MP40s, and pistols—mostly World War II weaponry. Someone had been prepared for war—more than half a century ago.

Frank smiled and turned to Daniel. “So, any idea what just happened?”

“I’m not positive,” said Daniel, “but the last page of the diary contains an incantation, along with the notation that reading it summons the Spirits of Decay to sap the life-force from everyone they find.”

“An incantation…got it. So, you’re not going to read it again, right?” Rick joked.

“Not unless you guys want another party,” the priest replied with a grin.

“No, no. One was enough, thanks,” Rick said humbly.

“OK, kids,” David said sternly. “Reload your clips with the rounds from the crates. And you”—he pointed to me—“grab one of the long weapons off the rack.” He held his hand out, motioning toward the pistol. I handed it to him, and he slid it into the holster on his vest. I decided on the Browning Automatic Rifle. It was big and had a big kick.

“You gonna be able to handle that Browning, kid?” David asked.

I shrugged on a tactical vest and slung the rifle over my shoulder. Holstering another pistol and lining every pocket with clips, I turned to him with a smile. “I’ve always wanted to use one.”

“Yeah, but—”

I cut him off before he could finish. “Don’t worry. I work out.” He shrugged and turned to the others.

“So, what’s going on here?” Rick asked.

“From what I’ve researched so far, this town was built over a series of mining tunnels. The town was attacked long ago and nearly wiped out. The survivors rebuilt, and a few built their homes underground, connecting them with the abandoned tunnels,” I said. The others listened intently. “No one knew what the creatures were, only that it took a priest to kill them.”

“Like Daniel?” Frank asked curiously.

“Like anyone who follows Jesus and believes,” Daniel said.

I nodded. “They found that out too late.” I pulled my laptop from my bag and connected my POV camera to its USB port. “You can watch some of what happened to me and my team.” The video played shortly after the computer booted up. Initially it was quiet, with occasional comments about EMF spikes and temperature changes. “This is where we entered the old house. Here, we’re finding the decayed bodies. See the large gashes on their chests? The breaks in the rib cages probably came from whatever made those claw marks on the door. Whatever it was…it was big, and powerful.”

The group was silent, watching the screen.

“The EMF meter spiked. Little by little, the readings intensified. You could feel the room getting colder. Before Joe could activate the audio recorder, some sort of shadowy apparitions appeared and interacted with each other, as if we did not exist. Here—you can see the point where one of them handed me the diary, just as Joe and Sarah go off into the next room. The apparitions looked human, and they seemed to be at peace. I felt a brush of cold air from behind me, though, and that seemed to scare them and cause them to flee. I turned to see a glimpse of the entity that had grabbed me. I saw its gray hand grasping the empty doorway, with the fog billowing from it. A distant laugh echoed all around me…then silence. The EMF stopped, and the diary I held vanished.”

“What the—” Rick said. He was sniffing the air. We smelled smoke. “Whoa!”

The diary burst into flames, though it did not seem to be burning away. It was still completely intact. I activated the EMF meter, and the readings spiked instantly. Another cold gust of air brushed past us, and the lights flickered off. An all-too-familiar fog entered the room, and the entity appeared.

“You are all fools,” said the entity menacingly. “You delay the inevitable. He is mine.”

“The Lord’s will shall be done, and you will be banished from this world,” Daniel said strongly.

The entity laughed.

“Fools…” it said as it approached. David raised his assault rifle and fired a burst into the entity. The bullets passed straight through it.

“I will be watching…” it said before vanishing once more.

“Great. Our guns don’t faze it. So, how do we stop this thing?” David asked.

“Well, even an ethereal entity can’t escape the laws of physics. This entity seems to have a semicorporeal form,” I said, thinking out loud.

“So, we need an energy-based attack,” Frank said, catching on to my line of thought.

“Or another spiritual being,” said Daniel.

“In either case,” David said “it seems to be stalking us right now, toying with us.

“Guess we’re just going to have to wing it until we know for sure,” Jason said.

“It said, ‘He’s mine.’ Any ideas who ‘he’ is?” Joel asked.

“Probably a survivor. Satan requires an anchor into this world to enter it—by taking control over someone gifted by God. The reason this town was attacked was to bring forth the Destroyer,” Daniel said softly. We were all silent as the situation sunk in.

“Whoa,” Rick said softly.

“Yeah,” David added.

“We can’t allow that to happen,” Daniel said. He pulled a book from his robe, setting it on the table. It was a logbook of demonic encounters. “It’s not the first time this has been attempted. But it’s the first time on this scale.”

I picked the book up, and I began to read through it. I had heard about some of the events, or at least their cover stories. As I read, the words felt like memories, flashing through my mind as if I had been there.

Log 1

This took place in ancient times.

Unbeknownst to the common knowledge of man lie beings shrouded in legend and myth. Long have they sought a direct conduit into our world, and long has been their struggle. Whilst the Lord remains vigilant, man is tested of his faith. Herein, the encounter from the scribe’s eye.

CLAD IN PLATE armor with swords and shields, four knights approached, their silver armor shining beneath the moonlight. Two aged men in white robes stood before me, bearded and experienced. Each held a staff, and each staff seemed to react to the moon’s midnight gaze. A pretense immersed itself within the night, and I knew it followed these men. Or me. They would serve a purpose not their own.

“Scribe,” the eldest of the sages said to me. “I know full well what you sense, even now. An encroaching darkness is forcing itself into your mind.”

To this, I merely gave a nod.

“You are chosen,” said the other sage. “You often wonder which you would choose, light or dark. However, your choice was made in another time.”

I knew of what he spoke, though I thought I could hide from it. Evidently, I might only face it. In my right hand I held a book, the record of all of my encounters and all that I had foreseen. The air around us grew colder and colder. Whispers in the dark emerged from the shadows. The time was nigh.

“We are out of time, my friend.” The first sage motioned to the knights, who turned toward the unknown, shields and swords raised. They were the only barrier between us and the atrocities that awaited us.

“There is no escaping this?” I asked the sages. In unison, they shook their heads.

“We must stand our ground…and pray,” the eldest sage said as he turned to stand by the knights. “Stay behind us. If we cannot overcome this, you must not fight. May the Lord be with you, Scribe.”

With that, the first wave crashed into the knights.

We were cornered in a ravine. I had arrived there in response to a dream, a calling. The others had shared the same dream and now might share the same fate. The knights, standing side by side, pushed the creatures back with their shields and drove their swords into them. The first creatures were small and weak but vast in number. The ravine funneled their numbers toward us.

The water in the ravine had dried up. The sages raised their staves, which glowed bright before releasing bolts of light into the mass of darkness. Shrieks and roars filled the air, and we glimpsed a visage not meant to be looked upon by mortals. An endless wave of darkness, flowing and ebbing, came for us. The knights were strong and valiant; they would not give up. I lost count of how many creatures they had slain before they began to weaken and be pushed back.

The sages released more bolts of light, dispersing many creatures. First came the small humanoid creatures, their limbs thin, their bodies short and frail. Next came the canine forms with eyes as red as blood, revealing the evil sweltering inside them.

With a quick bash of the shields and a fast swipe of the long swords, the knights cut down more creatures. It was all they could do to hold their ground. No, they would not overcome this darkness. They knew it, yet they fought on. Why? Perhaps simply to know that they had fought and stood against evil. They would not give in, even as defeat loomed over them.

One knight was knocked to the ground; the sage behind him drove his staff into the attacking dog and helped the knight to his feet. They worked as a unit, each caring for the others, each covering the others’ weaknesses.

The battle paused unexpectedly.

The creatures before us withdrew, yet a shadow still loomed over us. This was not victory, just the calm before the storm. Something was coming, something massive. Wearily the knights stood, still ready to fight. The aura that surrounded the sages was dim now, their energy spent. Distant whispers carried by the wind crept toward us…toward me.

In that moment, it became very clear: it wanted me. Valiant and brave as they were, my protectors could not defend against this entity—not weakened as they were. A fog rushed in and surrounded me. Whispers came from every direction, echoing pain and sorrow.. Slowly the fog attempted to meld with me.

A knight rushed to my aid, only to be thrown to the ground. The sages cast their remaining energy, which dissipated in the dense fog. There was no saving me. Only one option remained. My skin became as gray as the fog around me, and thoughts of destruction and despair rushed through my mind. I had only one hope left; I had to focus hard to maintain control over my body and carry out the deed. Success! I removed my dagger from its scabbard and plunged it into my heart. I felt no pain. I was already fading. I felt the blade pierce my heart and saw the blood flowing from the wound, yet I was at peace. I would not let myself become an instrument of evil.

I fell to my knees, and my heart stopped. It was so cold, so dark, and with nothing below me to stop my fall, I pitched forward.

A voice called out to me. “You have chosen the light.”

I closed my eyes, smiling. I had chosen the light.

Log 2

This occurred within the same century.

Mankind has long forgotten the desperate struggle fought so hard and so long ago. He is unwilling to gaze upon his zenith. The Fallen had come, and the battle was set. In the midst of the Fallen rose a warrior who would marshal a mighty army and hold back the demons, one man, chosen by God to lead.

THE VILLAGE I had come to defend burned around me as the chaotic symphony of battle enveloped my heart. There would be no retreat, no surrender. If we did not prevail here, mankind would meet its collective end and endure slavery at the hands of the Fallen. My armor was red chain mail. A coif covered my head, and white plated strips hung over my armor, each point painted red. One of the Fallen charged, and I brought my two-handed claymore down upon him. He blocked me with his own sword but was knocked to the ground.

I had power over them, even the power to command some of them. Those I knew would fight to aid humanity, I took to my side; the others I cut down. On my orders, they rescued the few villagers that remained, charging into burning homes, boldly and without hesitation. My army formed a protective barrier around the villagers who were gathered at the center of the town. I cut down each of the fallen that attacked me. Moving with fluid motion, I spun with my sword outstretched, slicing into a Fallen’s throat. Crouching, I dodged another one’s attack and kicked him in the stomach. There were so many.

Soon the last of the Fallen was slain, and those that remained had joined my forces. With this new army now marshaled, I readied my forces to march upon the lands to the north and free the people from the demons that had seized them and their land. The Lord had chosen me for this task. I would be a king, though only for this war.

Gathering my army, both mortal and angel, I gave my orders.

“I will ride to the city alone.” As I spoke, I turned to meet their collective gaze.

“Sire, it will be a trap,” said my general.

“No doubt, my friend,” I said. “However, we will spring a trap of our own. While I approach the city, you will gather in the Forest of Anguish, the place where the demons first entered our world—and the place where we shall dispatch them.”

“What of the Fallen that joined you, sire?” asked one of the angels.

“You will be treated as mortals. Should your faith be true, you will be allowed to return to Heaven, where it will become a matter between you and God,” I said. The angels nodded. They now formed the bulk of my army. Heavily armored, wielding massive swords, they would be my vanguard. The men wore chain mail and wielded bastard swords and kite shields.

The battle drew near. I would initially be separated from my army. They would be in the Lord’s hands…as would I.

Emboldened by that knowledge, I mounted my steed. My horse was armored with chain mail that matched my own. My general handed me the banner, a red flag with a white cross. With a nod, I rode off into uncertainty, knowing only that God’s will would be done, and that would have to be enough for me.

The countryside was barren of life, and most of the towns equally desolate. Scattered survivors picked through what remained. My heart wanted to reach out to them, but I could not delay, knowing that their fate would only worsen if I did. I pressed on. So much pain, so much sorrow, and for what purpose? It seemed devoid of all logic. Perhaps it was unique to my heart; destruction was something I could not abide. I could never stop caring.

After a long ride, I arrived at the demons’ keep. It was a fortress! A massive wall enclosed the city, with a canyon surrounding the wall. Two golems stood at either side of the gate. I placed my banner next to theirs to show my intentions; I was there to negotiate. The gate opened slowly, and the bridge was set. I dismounted and told my horse to return home. A loyal and disciplined beast, it would carry back the message I had placed in the bags on its back.

I crossed the bridge and entered the fortress. There were people everywhere, all of them giving me quick and pained glances. I could see the suffering in their eyes and their strides. What I did not see were any demonic forces present here, save the two guards at the front.

A man quickly approached me. “Sire,” he said. “This is a trap, set for you. You are meant to meet your demise here.”

I replied with a nod.

“Come with me. It is not safe here.”

I followed him through the city, which was crowded with people working fearfully. They were being held there, like slaves.

“The demons’ army has left for the lands you just liberated, and they intend to cut through the Forest of Anguish.”

“My army is waiting for them there,” I said. We approached a tall tower. “Where is the demon lord?”

“He has left to vanquish your army. I fear that without you, they will not hold for long. He will arrive before his army,” the man said.

“Then why have you brought me here?” I asked as I gazed at the tower.

“Assassins are coming to end your life. We cannot exit the city,” he said. “However, we can follow the same path as the demon lord. He uses this tower to travel vast distances. He can move to wherever his shadow is cast.”

We entered the tower and climbed its spiraling stairway, carved out of the black stone of the tower. There were no windows and no light, save for the torch my companion carried. “I have seen him use this method to travel before. You must place yourself in a fluid state, focusing on your spiritual form…not your flesh,” he said.

At the top of the tower, we reached an altar. “Stand there.” He pointed, and I complied. I began to meditate, feeling my physical frame shift…then break briefly into a purely spiritual form. In a flash, I flew across the landscape. The demonic army was marching. A great shadow loomed over the forest. My own army was hidden well; the enemy had not located them. Not yet.

I felt myself hurtling through nothingness, as if in a dream, and then suddenly I was standing before my army. Cheers followed their shocked glances.

The forest’s name was well deserved. It was made up of gnarled, black trees, devoid of all sense of home. Yet some light shone within its dark aura—the light we cast and reflected. Hope shone brightly, and we were its mirrors.

“Sire!” my general said to me as he approached. “The demon lord has entered the Forest of Anguish and dispatched our rear guard. What are your orders?”

“Form a defensive line facing north. That is where the demons march. I will face the demon lord personally, along with the aid of our most powerful angel,” I said, holding out my hand to Ahadiel. He picked up his sword and walked by my side. “Each of you will care for the warrior next to him; we operate as a single unit for a singular purpose. May God’s will be performed today. Go with faith.”

The men roared and took up their formation. Ahadiel and I went in the opposite direction. The demon lord was said to be extremely powerful. Could a mortal and an angel overcome him? I would soon find out.

“Ahadiel, I will battle him first. If he should overcome me, you will be the faithful’s last hope,” I said to him as we entered a clearing. Nodding, Ahadiel stopped at the tree line; I kept walking.

Across from us stood the demon lord, a massive figure. Every part of him inspired terror. His flesh, hidden by heavy black plate armor serrated on the torso and gauntlets, emanated a black aura. He stood eight feet tall, over two feet taller than I, with a broad form and powerful presence. His eyes glowed sinisterly from behind a misty black veil; his breath as cold as I imagined his heart to be. He wielded a massive bastard sword, its black blade etched with symbols. His armor bristled with spikes at the knees, shoulders, and elbows.

I could have sworn I heard his armor whispering to me, but I had not come to be dismayed; I had come to challenge the demon. And challenge it I would! Raising my sword, I prepared to charge. The sword that I wielded seemed at first glance to hold no special attributes. It appeared plain and ordinary, seemingly just as any other. As I gripped it and held it high, however, it began to glow. My sword called out to his sword, challenging it.

“You will not prevail, King,” the demon lord shouted in a voice filled with such hate that it would make most men fall to their knees, its endless echo piercing their courage. But…I…would…not. I…could…not…

“I will stand against you to whatever end!” I cried, my voice filled with defiance. The demon lord laughed. I drew strength from his mocking laughter. My aura strengthened, and I charged him directly. There could be no hesitation, no doubt. Action and reaction. The time for thought was over.

I swung my sword, thrusting toward his chest. He blocked my blow, but to his surprise, he was pushed back slightly.

“Humph. You are more powerful than you appear,” he said, almost with respect. Pushing his sword forward, he knocked me back. I recovered quickly, swinging for his side. Again he blocked and pushed me back. He brought his sword down on me, and I blocked him. He was incredibly powerful. My strength slowly gave in, until I could feel the cold of his blade as it neared me. “You are resilient, yes, but just a mortal nonetheless. I shall consume your people.”

Ahadiel looked on, just as I had ordered him. All around us, we heard the sounds of war—swords clashing, soldiers screaming, and demons roaring. What would happen if I lost this battle? Would Ahadiel be able to defeat the demon lord? Would my army prevail? Behind the demon, I saw the corpses of my men piling up, stripped of all honor, disgraced. Such would be the fate of my people if the demon gained entrance to my world through me.

I could not allow it. Mustering what strength I could, I pushed his blade back, much to his surprise.

“What’s this?” the demon asked in shock. Our eyes met.

“I will allow you to go no farther!” I said, pushing him back yet again. We held our swords high, our eyes still locked. In that moment, I realized that he gained strength from my fighting. Was I fighting for victory or from victory? I sheathed my sword and looked to Ahadiel, nodding at him. “There will be no glory for either of us today, demon,” I said to him, in peace. He lunged, driving his sword into my stomach. With a smile, I grabbed the hilt and drove it deeper into my own flesh. The demon lord was puzzled…until Ahadiel drove his sword into the demon. I had denied myself the glory of taking the victory, though the victory following the struggle would be told.

“Be at peace, my friend,” said Ahadiel. I fell to my knees. The demon released his grip on his sword and fell beside me. It all went black as I lay on the ground.

I did not need to win that battle; God had already done so. A light beckoned to me. I was home.

Log 3

This occurred during the Civil War era.

The war is often waged through dark influences that chip away at one’s will. From these dark influences stems possession. A spiritual war rages as the depth of love is tested.

RIFLE IN HAND, I shadowed their movements. They had my son. I was afraid of what I might find; even before that night, rumors of dark rituals had circulated. I stayed low, moving under the bushes where possible. The captors had finally stopped and had joined a large camp on a flat area before me. As I watched, everything came back to me, memories from earlier in the night when they had taken my son.

He had been sleeping in his room. We had a large home, two stories and six rooms in total. Just recently, we had taken in a young drifter. Having no money, he performed basic farmhand chores in exchange for room and board. My wife and my daughter seemed to be at peace with him, and that was good enough for me.

One night he woke me. “I am so sorry, sir. I should not have stayed here. I have endangered you, not protected you as I had hoped,” he said frantically.

“What is it?” I asked, puzzled. The look in his eyes was terror and resignation.

“They are coming for me,” he replied.

“Who?” I asked. Lightning ripped across the sky, and the wind blew the doors open. A window shattered. In that moment, I felt something, some power beyond my understanding. I doubled over, the hair on my body standing straight out. I could not control my breathing, and I could not move. A black cloud loomed over me, laughing and menacing.

The drifter was nowhere to be seen. Had he been killed? Had he run away at the first sign of the cloud? I had no idea and no time to think about it. “Who…what are you? Stay away from my family!” I cried out. The laughter echoed from everywhere.

“I already have them,” said the sinister voice. Then I saw them—my wife and my daughter, hand in hand with the dark entity! Small, imp-like shadows stood behind them. My wife gave me a strange look, and I saw that she was no longer herself; there was evil inside her. My daughter was similarly possessed. But my son was in the arms of a cloaked figure, and he was still slumbering, seemingly still safe for the moment.

Though I feared what would happen if my son awakened, I could not stop myself from crying out, “Nooooooooooo!” The pain was too great.

The demon vanished. I began to weep, curled in pain on the floor. My family was gone. My wife and daughter were…possessed. My son had been taken by the villainous creature that had appeared and disappeared like smoke. I was alone. Even the drifter had abandoned me.

When I remembered the drifter, I felt hope stirring deep within. Perhaps he was out there, waiting to help me. My son was not yet possessed. But why? What did they have planned for him? Whatever it was, I could not allow it.

I slung my rifle over my shoulder, tied my ammo pouch around my waist, and slid a knife into my boot. Outside I found an unusual trail…ice. The demon’s path was covered in frost, and I ran to follow it before it could disappear. I moved quickly yet silently until I spotted them ahead, a group of ten shadowy figures, and beyond them the encampment that appeared to include hundreds of others. Were they all demons? I could not tell. From a distance, some of them looked human.

I lay flat on my belly, hidden under thick scrub. From my vantage point, I watched as they placed my son on an altar, black and lined with skulls. A living fog began to surround him, seemingly trying to absorb him or be absorbed by him. I left my cover and leaped up, rifle at the ready, and started to run toward the altar, several hundred yards away.

You cannot stop this! I heard the voice distinctly in my mind. Flee!

Yet I knew that there was a way to stop it. I had to kill my own son to prevent the…whatever it was…from possessing him, too. I ran down a small slope toward the camp, making no effort to conceal myself—yet no one seemed to notice me.

As I neared the crowd, a clear path through the dark figures opened up between me and the altar, like a parting of the seas. I ran straight through. The air grew colder as I approached, slowing me. When I was just a few feet away, I halted, drew a bead on the figure looming over my son, and fired, striking the wispy figure in a broad area I assumed to be his chest, and the figure fell to the ground, motionless.

Drawing my bowie knife, I jumped for the altar and drove the blade through my son’s heart. “Daddy!” he said softly. “Thank you.”

I trembled. Oh, God, what have I done? Did I have a choice?

The hooded figures closed in on me. My time had passed.

Reconnaissance

AFTER READING THE third log entry, I sat the book on the table. The events were so intense and so familiar. “The book—I wasn’t just reading it. I was living the events, feeling them,” I said to the priest.

“It was intended that way. You see, feel, and experience the entries as if you were there,” Daniel said.

“How…?” I asked softly.

“The power of God,” Daniel replied. We all looked at each other. Eventually, our gazes settled on the soldier; he would be on the forefront of the physical battle, while Daniel would be on point for the spiritual war. Accepting his role, David raised his rifle and walked to the heavy door that separated the bunker from the tunnel system.

Daniel turned to face me. “Ghost hunter, you’re with David. Frank, with Jason, Rick, with Joel. I’ll take up the rear.”

The door opened like a hatch. David and I each turned the heavy wheel with one hand and pulled the door open. Cold, stale air rushed past, and distant whispers beckoned to us. Shadows darted in the distance, and we felt a presence. David nodded. With my pistol in my right hand and the EMF meter in my left, I followed right behind him as he entered the tunnel.

My head lamp was on, as was the flashlight on David’s rifle. Still, the darkness seemed thicker, almost impenetrably heavy. There were faint EMF readings, but nothing definite. The voices continued, but I could not tell whether they were really faint whispers or just my imagination.

The other five men followed behind us. The tunnel was surprisingly well kept with fresh concrete. Someone had been there recently. But whom?

The tunnel split, branching left and right. As I stood wondering if we should split up, my EMF meter spiked. Something moved through the intersection, something quick. A shadow?

“We’ll split into two teams. We have no radio contact, so meet back here in ten. Move!” David ordered. Frank, Rick, Joel, and I turned right, peering into the dark tunnel ahead. Jason, David and Daniel took the left. The temperature became colder as we went. The meter still registered faint EMF readings. What was lurking in the shadows?

We passed along the winding corridor, ignoring other tunnels that branched off the main tunnel making it seem like a maze. Suddenly, the EMF meter spiked!

“Where is it?” Frank asked, playing his flashlight beam along the walls.

“Just ahead of us,” I said. I moved forward slowly. The readings grew stronger and stronger, and I spotted decayed remains just ahead of us. Something loomed over the remains, something unlike the demons I had seen while reading the book. I could smell sulfur.

“Whoa!” Rick cried. He turned and stumbled backward. Frank and I turned around quickly.

“What was that?” Frank asked.

“A cloaked figure, just a few inches from my face,” said Rick.

The hair on our bodies began to stand up straight. Something scraped against the floor, and we heard rattling, then footsteps. When we turned back to continue on, we saw the decayed body rise and stumble toward us, moaning.

“What’s going on?” I cried out as we stepped backward. The body reached a hand toward us, dripping rotted flesh, and we opened fire. The thing roared and leaped up. Clinging to the ceiling, it crawled toward us. I drew my BAR and opened fire. The creature jumped to the right, then the left, and soon the walls and ceiling were riddled with gunfire. Frank took careful aim and fired a burst into its skull. The creature fell to the ground, motionless.

“That was…interesting,” Joel said, breathing heavily.

“Yeah, you could say that.” I approached the creature. It didn’t move.

Frank crouched near the spot where the remains had been when we first spotted them. He was examining the satchel he’d found. He removed a pistol and a book. The pistol looked different; it had no clip and was white, appearing to give off a faint light. Frank raised the weapon and fired it into the shadows. It released a beam of light, narrow and fast.

“Awesome!” he said, standing up. He tossed me the book.

I turned my head lamp toward the pages and began reading:

Day 1

I have volunteered for a test program. For a thousand dollars, how could I refuse? It will initially be a psychological examination—something about understanding fear. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but with the money I’ll be able to buy what I’ve always wanted.

Day 2

I’ve arrived at the facility. From there I will be transported to another testing area. The initial evaluation went well; apparently I deal OK with fear. The second phase of the program involves facing my greatest fear—the dark. No idea how this will play out, but I can’t back out now. They probably wouldn’t let me anyway.

Later, same day

I’ve been taken, along with five others, to an underground complex, deep within some thick woods. The place gives me the creeps. They gave the six of us a brief weapons demonstration, then handed each of us some sort of laser gun. I was stuck with the pistol. It’s white, wimpy looking. I didn’t admit it, but I’m afraid, and I don’t know what to do.

Later that day we were sent into a maze of tunnels with walls of rock and dirt, like mine shafts. The only lights we have are the small flashlights they gave us. There are whispers all around, and something keeps moving in the shadows. Either that or the shadows themselves are moving. I can’t tell.

One guy from the group has already disappeared. Another guy got maimed by something—I couldn’t see what it was—and I think he’s dead. The four of us left just ran away. We’re hiding in a niche right now as I write this. I was such a fool to come here! Why did I have to be so greedy? I know we will all die down here, at the hands of something dark and sinister. Our weapons seem to affect the creatures, whatever they are, but I don’t know if they damage them at all. God help me…

I read the diary aloud, and we all grew silent. The diary writer and the other five had been completely unprepared for the evil that awaited them. Were we destined to end up the same? We, too, were venturing into the heart of darkness, looking for answers to a question most people didn’t even know enough to ask. Yet we were there by God’s will. The power of Jesus would protect our spirits; I wasn’t sure, though, about our bodies. What if it was God’s will for us to die down there? Somehow, I didn’t think so.

“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not giving up,” I said. “These people were deliberately tossed into danger, and I intend to avenge them.”

“I’m with you,” Frank said as he holstered the dead man’s laser pistol.

“Let’s rip this darkness a new one,” Joel said strongly. Nodding, we ventured farther down the tunnel.

I wondered what was happening to the other team. Were they OK? Had they, too, met up with an animated dead man? A voice in my head answered my question.

I am with your friends. Do not be afraid, the voice said. It was a woman’s voice, soft and soothing.

Who are you? I thought.

Like you, a piece to the puzzle. See now what has been done, she said.

I began to see what appeared to be memories, though I didn’t know whose. They moved fast at first, making them difficult to focus on. Someone received a letter about a program needing test subjects. There followed a brief memory of driving to the facility, being met by a person in a white lab coat, and a briefing—all lies, I knew somehow.

The memories felt like those I’d experienced when I read the diary, except these memories belonged to someone else, someone who was able to read others’ thoughts. This person had known that he was being misled, that they were hiding something, and he had sensed the dark presence in the forest. And they knew he was different, which was perhaps why he had been chosen. But who were “they” in all this?

The man in the memory was given a laser rifle, a weapon much more powerful than the pistol. He and the others were forced into an entrance on the other side of the bunker from the tunnel entrance we had used. Immediately he knew what was lurking in the shadows, and he attempted to convince the others. They wouldn’t listen, didn’t believe in such things.

He persisted, explaining that just because they didn’t believe in something didn’t mean it didn’t exist, but they laughed. They said that shadows were just that: shadows. The danger was all imaginary—just in their minds. This was true, to a point. The initial battle was with their minds.

I had learned that much from ghost hunting. Evil entities always attempted to make me fear them, because that would give them power over me. This was different, though. These creatures weren’t just frightening people; they were killing them.

A member of the test group was killed almost right away, torn apart by the shadows. Another went missing. The man whose memories I was living had done his best to keep the group together, but like sheep they had all run to the slaughter. Finally, he was alone, firing his laser rifle into the shadows that encroached. He had an edge over the others; he knew when the creatures were near. He found food and water and lasted in the tunnels for days. He was a survivor.

In the next memory, Daniel and the others found him. He was so relieved to see them. He could feel their auras, their presence, and he knew they had been chosen and sent by God. We all had been. Now that the Survivor was to join us, I wondered if our team was complete or if there were still pieces missing from the puzzle.

“—and I’ve been looking at this laser pistol, and…” Joel was saying. Apparently, he had been talking the entire…five minutes?

“What…?” I said apologetically.

“Ah, you were spaced out,” Joel said with a chuckle.

“I was just shown memories of a survivor. He’s linked up with Daniel and the others,” I said.

“You were shown memories?” Frank said, looking puzzled.

“Yeah. I don’t understand it either,” I said, shrugging. “I just…well, I have faith in them somehow.”

Frank stared at me for a moment, then smiled grimly. “Yeah, nothing’s normal about today, so if you say you saw someone else’s memories, that’s good enough for me,” he said. “Now, how do we get back to Daniel’s group?”

We heard footsteps behind us, and we all spun around, weapons drawn, ready to shoot. Those approaching shone their flashlights on each other. It was the other team.

“Daniel! You almost got shot!” Joel yelled out.

“What were you thinking, running up on us like that?” Frank asked.

“Well, how would you react if you heard one of us scream?” David said as they approached.

“Point taken,” said Frank.

I looked at the Survivor. He wore a black dress shirt and dress pants. His laser rifle glowed faintly, making it appear to hover in the darkness.

“God has almost assembled his team,” he said to us. “Now we must enter the facility and find the last piece…”

“The facility? That must be the place the dead guy’s diary mentioned. Where do we find this place?” I asked.

“The entrance to the tunnel system is sealed. We’ll have to exit and access the facility from the surface,” he said.

“Through the woods…?” Rick said softly.

The Survivor nodded. “Yes, the Forest of Anguish, it’s called.”

“No kidding. Have you been up there lately?”

“The organization’s activity has been monitoring a dark entity there, I know,” said the Survivor.

“Yeah, but…have you been out there?” Rick asked again. “There are monsters everywhere!”

Daniel spoke. “What choice do we have? If we stay here, we’ll be stalked by the entities. If we can get to the facility, maybe we can figure out what’s going on and how to stop it.”

“That’s a big if,” Frank said.

“God called us here, and no one else is going to do it,” said David sternly. “Remember this poem.” He began to recite it:

The battle rages within.

A dark influence whispers,

Demanding your separation from the moment.

The memories you recall…are they a dream?

A subtle suggestion ends in a broken life.

The sorrow is not just with you.

Visions of terror awaken at night.

A shadow looms over you.

With logic we discard the battle within.

With fear we cower.

There are too few warriors to fight this battle.

Standing on the Word, they face the enemy.

So many doubt them.

So many ridicule them.

Will you stand for the weak and the wounded?

He stopped reciting. “We are the warriors chosen by God, and we are here to stand against the darkness.” His words instilled hope in us all. We knew that they were God’s words, words from the Holy Spirit. We moved with guns raised, the same way we had come in. The shadows receded, watching, perhaps wondering, perhaps planning.

Soon we arrived at the bunker and slammed the hatch shut behind us.

“Well, then,” Jason said.

Daniel walked to the double door and motioned for us all to follow. “Be ready,” he ordered. David flipped over a table and crouched behind it at the right of the room. I stood beside Daniel. The others took up positions of cover around the room. Joel and Frank crouched behind heavy crates at the left of the room. Rick and Jason crouched in the center, and the Survivor stood behind them.

“On three,” Daniel whispered. He held his hand up, one finger raised. Two fingers. Three. We opened the door quickly, then raised our weapons. All was quiet.

Then, behind us, the hatch opened slowly. None of us had touched it. Were they about to hit us from both sides?

“Rick, Jason, focus on the hatch,” David barked. He pointed to the Survivor. “You! Support them.” He turned to Joel and Frank. “The two of you, lay down suppressing fire as needed. Ghost hunter, you’re with me. Daniel, since you have a melee weapon, you stay in the center and slice anything that gets close.” He raised his own weapon. “We have them at two choke points, front and rear. I want overlapping fields of fire!”

What could we say to his orders? He was a soldier. Combat was his life. We trusted him.

The walls were riddled with bullet holes from our last battle in this room. I had the feeling it was going to get worse. A Spirit of Decay rushed from the ceiling at the center and another from the wall to the left. The Survivor fired a beam into the one in the center, and Joel fired the laser pistol at the other, and the spirits receded into the shadows. Thump, thump, scrape. The sounds were followed by a sickening moaning echoed from the tunnels.

We heard snarling from the woods outside. The shadows in the room danced around us. The dark entities were moving. A corpse lurched forward from the hatch and was immediately put down by Rick. A snarling shadow dog hurtled in from the woods, and another lurching corpse, a Spirit of Decay, reached out from the floor in the center of the room. We opened fire. Daniel raised his sword to block a second Spirit of Decay as it came forth. He drove his sword into it as the Survivor fired a beam, and the entity dissipated. The other swiped at Daniel with its scythe. It lunged into one of the corpses at the doorway and then leaped to the ceiling. Several more shadow dogs rushed in. Joel raised his shotgun, and he and Frank fired into the beasts. Daniel and the Survivor pulled themselves up off the floor and rejoined the battle.

The possessed corpse sent a wave of energy at Joel and Jason, knocking them against the wall. A group of the smaller shadow creatures crawled over the crates and began to attack the two men. Daniel charged, swinging his sword in a wide arc, and the creatures’ heads were severed from their bodies, splattering black blood in a wide radius. The legs twitched as the upper bodies crawled toward Daniel. Joel and Jason sat up, firing into the torsos. A bullet whizzed just past me, ricocheting off the walls. The sound of gunfire was painful, and my eardrums felt bruised and bloody. We were being attacked from every direction, but we stood together.

I fired on full auto on a group of hounds at the doorway. David fired a burst into the possessed corpse on the ceiling, and it sprung away, latching on to the wall beside him. He ducked as it swiped at him. Daniel pulled a small vial of holy water from his robe and tossed it at the corpse, catching it in midair. It shook and shrieked before falling, lifeless. Daniel turned, swinging his sword high and slicing another corpse’s head off. It rolled on the ground as the body fell. By now we were covered with black blood and rotting flesh.

The number of attacking entities began to decrease. Their bodies piled up in the doorways. Finally, it was quiet.

Then a voice whispered over my shoulder. “Do you truly believe you pathetic mortals stand a chance against me?” The voice was cold and distant. It sounded like the creature that had attacked in the beginning. I looked over my shoulder but saw nothing. The voice seemed to loom over each of us, taunting us.

The Survivor’s thoughts entered my mind. Don’t listen to it. His voice was gentle. It wishes to instill fear in you so it can gain power over you.

A force knocked us all to the floor, although the Survivor was able to remain standing. Trembling, I could not move. My breathing became heavy, and my heart beat fast.

“FOOLISH MORTALS!” the entity yelled out as it appeared. The assimilating fog extended outward, covering each of us. It was so cold…

“I don’t fear you!” the Survivor said defiantly, still standing. The entity moved closer.

“Only because you have not seen all of my power,” taunted the entity.

“I know your power, dark one, and it has no effect over me.” The Survivor raised his hand. “I do not fear you.”

The entity laughed menacingly. “You will.” It vanished. The cold fog remained briefly. I stood slowly and walked to the Survivor. The others followed.

“That took some guts,” David said.

“No, it took faith,” Daniel said. “Perhaps you are the one we were looking for.”

“Yes, I think I might be,” the Survivor said. “God sent for me in a dream, just as he sent for each of you in a dream. We are all pieces of the same puzzle. At first, you wanted to deny its meaning, but it nagged at you, that vision of a place shrouded in darkness, sorrow, and pain. You were shown an address, and each of you looked it up, and each of you came here…”

“And how do you know that?” Rick asked.

“You’re all thinking about it right now. Your thoughts are open to me.” The Survivor smiled. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell them.”

Rick shook his head wonderingly, saying nothing. Jason laughed softly.

“Reload your clips,” David ordered. “We’re heading out ASAP.”

What could we say? We did as we were ordered.

The BAR was a heavy rifle. I set it back in the gun rack and took out all of the clips for it. I caught Joel watching me as I picked up a heavy pistol and replaced the rifle clips with pistol clips. I pulled out the EMF meter. “I need two hands so I can use this, too. Maybe he can read minds, but I can’t. Don’t want those bastards sneaking up on us out there,” I said. Joel nodded approvingly.

We were covered in black decay, dirty and rancid, but we weren’t ready to slow down.

Daniel recited a poem to us:

Looking to who I was,

I see no hope.

An existence lacking purpose,

I was fallen, drenched in despair.

Distant I stood.

Vague I remained.

Mocking bellows surrounded me,

Kicked and spat on,

So close to oblivion,

So far from light.

Looking to who I am,

I see my potential.

Clad in the Word,

Wielding its potent power,

I am risen,

Clothed in love.

Anew I stand.

Steadfast I remain.

Cries surround me,

Unheard and unseen,

So close to salvation,

So far from righteousness.

Looking to who I am to be,

I see a warrior,

An existence fulfilled.

I am to rise higher,

Armored with his love.

Shock and awe will surround me,

Persecuted and questioned,

So close to him,

So far from darkness.

Unleash me.

“We are his warriors,” said Daniel. “We will be questioned. We will be doubted. But we will make the difference here, unleashed for his glory. Remember this: our actions will not be recorded; they will not be praised. We will slip into the unknown, but we will have our God. We will have each other.”

Daniel was inspiring, both through his words and his actions. I felt safe with him.

I took point, and Daniel walked close behind me. Frank and Rick took the flanks, with the Survivor and Joel in the center. David and Jason took up the rear.

As we approached the double doors, I saw faint EMF readings, but nothing significant. It was quiet. I slipped through the doors cautiously, waving the EMF meter and the pistol about slowly. Daniel stayed at my side. “Looks all clear,” I said.

The others followed cautiously. The trees seemed to whisper to us, as if they were alive. A shadow danced from tree to tree in the distance but did not draw near. Were they stalking us? As I turned to Daniel, he gave me a nod and moved into the clearing. Our flashlights were our only source of light.

“This way,” the Survivor said quietly, pointing north. I started off in that direction, the others following. Suddenly, the Survivor stopped us and motioned for us to head west. We were all quiet. What could we say? Most wouldn’t believe what we were doing at all, what we faced. We were there at the whim of our Lord, and none of us knew if we would make it out.

The Survivor paused again, and we all stopped in place. “There’s something near,” he said. Instinctively, we turned off our lights.

“Paranormal?” I asked, glancing at the EMF meter. It showed nothing.

“Humans. A group of them, looking for us. Take cover.”

We dispersed, and each took cover behind a tree. Shortly after that, we heard a faint rustling. “They know we’re out here somewhere, and they know where we’re heading,” the Survivor whispered.

I saw nothing in the darkness. The near silence was torn by a roar, followed by shouted orders and gunfire as something big attacked the men ahead of us. One stranger’s body was hurled toward us and landed by me, mangled and bloody, nearly broken in half. I signaled my intentions to David and Daniel, then stood and ran into the clearing. The others followed.

Five sets of gunfire…then four…three. They were dropping fast. Would we be any different? I watched as a creature, twenty feet tall, swept a massive claw toward a soldier. He narrowly dodged it, and so there were two left.

The creature had two arms, two legs—the thing was humanoid. However, its skin looked harder than saddle leather. Its entire form was black and muscular. I couldn’t make out its mouth—did it even have one?—but it had evil, glowing eyes. The creature did not have claws; it merely crushed its enemies. We circled the creature and opened fire. Bullets seemed to have little effect.

David lobbed a grenade at the creature’s chest, causing it to stumble with a roar. A small gap opened up in its chest, and my EMF meter lit up. Energy must have been exposed from within the creature! Reading my thoughts, the Survivor fired a laser beam into the opening. The creature roared and thrashed, and the gash closed. The creature barreled toward David, and Daniel ran behind it, slashing at its legs with his sword. The creature roared and turned. Daniel rolled to his side just as the creature took a swipe at him. Someone lobbed a grenade at the creature’s back, and Joel fired a laser beam into the wound. That blow slowed the creature. David and the other soldier each lobbed a grenade, hitting the creature front and back, and Joel and the Survivor fired laser beams into the wounds, and the creature fell. The creature shriveled and melted into the ground. I walked to the two unknown soldiers. The others followed.

“Thank you,” one of them said.

“Hey, no problem,” said Rick.

Joel looked at me questioningly. “So, how exactly did we kill it?”

“I think the bullets didn’t have enough kinetic energy to rupture its shield,” I said. “But the grenades were able to pierce it electromagnetic carapace.”

“Its what?” Frank asked.

“It’s corporeal shell. The grenades briefly broke through the shell, drawing some of its ethereal form to the surface. The lasers we fired into the openings dissipated that energy, rendering the creature lifeless.”

“Good enough for me,” Jason said. He turned to the soldiers. “Who are you?”

“We’re what remains of a containment squad,” one of the two soldiers replied.

“What were you sent to contain?” David asked.

“All of you,” the other soldier said. “We were ambushed on the way to the tunnel’s auxiliary entrance. You saved us.”

The first soldier spoke. “I have no intention of carrying out my orders. Whatever our employer has unleashed has to be contained. You need to get to the facility. We’ll take you.”

Daniel and I looked at the Survivor. He nodded. They were telling the truth.

“Lead the way,” I said. The soldiers turned and entered the tree line. We followed. We seemed to have little choice. We had come into contact with creatures that defied all understanding, and we needed to stop them.

The forest was still except for tiny movements from tree to tree. More shadows. We were being stalked. However, whatever was stalking us would not come near; it merely observed us. My thoughts wandered. If these demons could appear, would angels appear as well? I looked at my companions and realized I had my answer. They were humans, mortals sent by God, who had come to my rescue just in time. I had been fighting alongside them, and yet I did not know them. I knew their names, and their occupations, but nothing more. Who were they? They were a mystery to me—as I was to them, I supposed.

When we passed by the house where my team had been slaughtered, the Survivor placed his hand on my shoulder. He knew what I was feeling. Daniel knew, too, from the look on my face. He took my hand, gently, and looked into my eyes. His eyes were filled with wisdom and compassion, something few possess.

Don’t worry. There was nothing you could have done. He said nothing aloud, but I read his words in his look. Their souls were not lost. I had been thinking about that as well.

What did he mean? Could they be recovered? I didn’t know, and there was no time to ask. The soldiers had stopped walking. They pointed off in the distance at the facility. It didn’t look like much. I had expected it to be larger. It was surrounded by barbed-wire fencing, with towers at the front corners.

The first soldier spoke. “To gain access, we’ll need a retinal scan from each sentry. The chances of getting close enough to them without being detected are slim.” He looked at me. “Our uniforms are the same—black BDU with no markings. Put on my mask, and they won’t know who you are.”

I looked at the Survivor. “Go ahead,” said the Survivor. “He’s right.” I took the black mask and slid it on.

“The sentries will escort us down the elevator,” said the first soldier. “There will be three of them. The fourth stays on the surface.”

“We can take them out with our combat knives, then send the elevator back up. When the sentry goes to check it out, one of you can take him out quietly,” said the second soldier. The three of us walked to the facility.

I had just met those two men less than an hour earlier, and yet I was trusting them with my life. We approached the first sentry at the front gate. He gave a salute, which we returned.

“Sir, what happened to your squad?” asked the sentry.

“We were ambushed by a massive entity. Only three of us survived,” said the squad leader. The sentry gave a nod and waved to the sentries in the towers. They assembled at a panel alongside the building. The seemingly low-tech brick wall opened up into four screens, each with a retinal scanner. My companions and I lined up in front of a door wide enough for five people to stand shoulder to shoulder and ten feet fall.

The three sentries followed us into the elevator, after the doors opened, and turned. We three were lined up at the back of the car, each with a sentry in front of us. Everyone was silent. The squad leader silently counted to three with his fingers, and on three, we jabbed our combat knives into each sentry’s spine. We held our hands over their mouths to silence them as they bled out. After a moment, they fell lifeless.

One of the soldiers pressed a button on the panel by the door, and the elevator stopped. He pressed another button to return it to the surface.

“Let’s hope they can take out that fourth sentry,” said the squad leader. As the doors opened, Rick grabbed the sentry by the chin and snapped his neck. The rest of the team quickly moved into the elevator.

“Are they going to know something is wrong?” Frank asked. “I mean, now there are no sentries.”

“Yup,” said the squad leader. “Be ready for anything.” The doors closed, and the car headed back down.

“Open fire as soon as the doors open,” the squad leader ordered. Frank, Joel, and I crouched, guns ready. Daniel and the Survivor stood behind us. When the doors opened, we opened fire at the guards filling the hallway and rushing toward us, dispatching them quickly. The two soldiers and I moved out of the elevator and took up firing positions. They positioned themselves in a janitor’s closet next to the elevator, one crouching, one standing, and I went prone behind a trash barrel just outside a restroom door. Daniel, the Survivor, and Jason moved into the bathroom just behind me, while the others moved into the closet. The hallway was tight, and there was not much cover. When one of us had to reload, another would lean out and cover. The surviving guards took cover and returned fire. Despite the gunfire we unleashed on them, the barrage did not slow down. We were pinned down, and we had just entered the facility. Soon we would run out of ammo. What hope was there?

A voice echoed through the corridor. “Cease fire!”

The order came through a speaker system. The gunfire ceased, and the hallway grew quiet. I looked at David, who shrugged.

“The guards are standing down. You may pass,” said the voice on the speaker. I exchanged glances with Daniel and the Survivor then stepped out into the hallway. At the other end, three guards were pulling their dead out of the way. Three dead, four wounded. Ten guards in all.

“This way,” said one of the guards, motioning to us to follow. He led us through the facility, which seemed like a normal office building, although one with several small clinics, as it contained many smaller rooms and cubicles, as well as labs and exam rooms. We stopped at an air lock, where a man in a suit approached us.

“You’ve done quite a lot,” he said.

“Who are you?” David asked.

“My name is unimportant; only my title matters to you. I am the administrator of this facility. I must say, you are a motley crew. However, you have proven to be quite effective.” He looked us over. “We are merely attempting to avert a massive catastrophe.”

“At what cost?” Daniel asked.

“Do you mean the volunteers who died in the tunnels? They didn’t trust their abilities. We need someone who can stand up against the entities.” He looked at the Survivor. “You have much potential.” He shifted his gaze to each of us, pausing for a moment on each face. “All of you may have something to offer. In any case, you’re here now, and there’s much to be done. Come with me.” He turned and opened the air lock. The doors slid open, and we followed him.

“Everyone has something to offer,” said Daniel.

The man shrugged and offered no comment. “We have traced a powerful entity’s origins to an event that occurred thousands of years ago. I believe you met him.”

“The fog entity?” I asked.

“Yes. We tore open a temporal rift and found the precise moment”—he pointed to Daniel’s robe—“that book was inscribed with a piece of that energy. The entity is far too powerful for us to destroy.”

“Then how do we stop it?” Joel asked. By now, we had cleared the air lock and entered a large lab. Strange crystalline statues were hooked up to something out of a sci-fi flick, three cylindrical structures on crystalline pads. If I believed such things were possible, I would have guessed it was a teleportation device of some sort.

“There are three events from the past that must be changed—the three listed in the logbook.”

“You’re nuts! It’s not possible to travel in time…not yet, anyway,” said Joel.

“Actually, it is,” said the man, pointing to the three cylinders. “Once we learned how to detect and open the rifts, the rest was just math. Traveling in time to change the events requires separating the ethereal form from the corporeal form. Then we can throw you through the temporal rift.”

Joel nodded. “Nice theory.”

“So this facility…all this…its purpose has been to find the right people to send back in time to alter these events?” asked Daniel.

“An oversimplification, but…yes.”

“I’ll go,” said Daniel.

The man looked him up and down intently, as if trying to guess his weight. Then he reached out and shook Daniel’s hand. “You do seem well suited,” said the man. “But you have to understand. This is a one-way trip. You can’t come back.”

Daniel stepped forward and stood in the first pad. “I understand. Send me to the Scribe.”

David stepped onto the second pad. “Send me to the Warrior.”

Frank stepped forward, entering the third pad. “Send me to the Grieving Father.”

The administrator looked at Frank. “No, it’s the Drifter you must revive.” When Frank nodded in assent, the administrator looked from one man to another. “It will take several minutes to generate the power required to—” He was interrupted by a panicked voice on the speaker system.

“Code red! Entities closing in on the facility from all directions! So, so…cold…” The voice faded, followed by a sinister laugh then silence. The fog was coming.

The administrator turned to the Survivor. “I’ll need you stationed here in case it gets this far. You’ll be our last-ditch effort to hold it at bay.” He stood a few feet in front of the three pads.

“It seems to have taken a keen interest in me,” I said. I looked at Daniel.

“Maybe it’s tracking the book.” Daniel removed the logbook from his robe and tossed it to me.

“I’ll return to the tunnel system and distract it,” I said.

“Good idea.” The administrator turned to the others. “There will be another entity converging on us. It is very powerful.”

“The big monster that wiped out my team? We took it down,” said the squad leader.

“No, you merely slowed it down. It reforms, drawing its energy from the darkness of the forest. It is the spawn of hatred,” said the administrator.

“I’ll keep it busy,” the squad leader said.

“I’m with you,” said the other soldier.

“No.” The squad leader placed his hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Stay here and aid in the defense.” He headed for the elevator.

Joel and Rick also stayed behind to defend the compound. Time was short. I joined the squad leader in the elevator. We were both silent as the elevator ascended to the surface. What could we say? The two of us were going to play decoy in situations that seemed impossible. We would be up against two entities of vast power and knew we had little chance of overcoming them. We would face them nonetheless.

Daniel’s Sacrifice

THE GLASS CYLINDER closed around me as I awaited what I could only assume was certain death. I would step into the unknown. Perhaps there was a song or a poem that could adequately define the situation, but personally, I found more comfort in the Word. I thought of Ecclesiastes, where Solomon said that both the foolish and the wise would fall into darkness; we all face the same fate. An energy flowed around me, and I began to lose myself. I looked at my hands and saw a transparent image of myself appear. My body grew numb, and I felt as though I was slipping into a dream—one from which I would never awaken. That was me: wise enough to grasp the sacrifice required, yet foolish enough to step forward.

Reality faded before me, and I slipped into a void. A pulsing stream of light stretched through the center of the void, like a tunnel of light, piercing the fabric of space and time. It all seemed so fluid…light piercing dark, me flowing in a stream of light. All tactile feeling left me; I was now separate from the physical reality I had known. Echoes circulated the void, growing ever near. A cry rang out—the cry of battle? Was I already hearing the sound of someone facing down a tide of hatred, a battle I would soon enter?

The scene drew near. I could feel it now. The Scribe had no fear of the fog that pursued him. He found sanctuary in knowing the Lord. He was a man consumed by the cold unseen, yet fulfilled by warmth. There were forces at work other than evil.

I come in his name.

The Scribe had taken his own life, limiting the entity’s power. Still it took his body; still it struck down his protectors. With no strength remaining, the knights leaned upon their swords and staffs, shoved into the ground, to await death with honor. The new entity opened its hidden mouth, and a wave of its cold fog roared toward the knights, enveloping them. It entered their bodies, freezing them from the inside. They shook, and they trembled, but they made no sound. Their very life essences were being frozen, yet they refused to cry out. Nor did they curse the Lord they had served so valiantly. Amazing…

The last knight crumpled to the ground, his skin gray and cold. The sages stood over the fallen knights. The entity inside the Scribe’s body paused, as if sensing my approaching presence. The sages reacted similarly as I entered the Scribe’s possessed corpse.

At first it felt as if I had awakened from a long slumber. Then the cold set in. The entity did not react suddenly but slowly, seemingly not viewing me as a threat.

“What’s this? Another soul for me to devour?” it said in a distant echo.

“No,” I said. It felt so strange to share a single body, yet to possess two different voices and thought patterns. “I have come to fight you.”

The entity laughed. “You? You are no match for my power,” the entity said mockingly. “Wait…have you been sent here from another time? Ah, the future, yes. So you have seen what I am capable of, yet you are not afraid? You are either very vain or very foolish.”

“I am neither. I am faithful and loyal, and that gives me courage. To fear something is to grant it power. You have no power over me,” I said.

The entity scoffed. “Enough!” it shouted. “I will send you back into the void for all eternity!” With that, the entity drew in the energy of all its slain minions. As its power grew, I began to drift, my anchor loosed by its surge of hatred and sorrow, a force beyond any one man. The sages focused the last of their energy, drawing what they could from their fallen knights, and their staffs released a bright light into the waves of darkness. Their energy flowed into the Scribe’s corpse and was channeled into me.

No, one man could not resist the entity. And if one be overcome, the two shall stand against him, and a threefold cord shall not be quickly broken. Ecclesiastes. We were united threefold—the knights, the sages, and the scribes—against this entity. The entity’s hold on the body was slipping, and its rage grew.

The knights were still there. I could feel them—their spirits, their strength. The entity’s rage burned as its power diminished, like fire without oxygen. What would happen to me? The fog surrounding the body began to fade, and my skin—my skin now—returned to normal. The last remnants of the entity’s cold soul faded from me and formed into a whirlwind, spiraling into the sky. The dark shadows that it controlled joined with it, the mass swirling faster and faster, tightening in on itself until…nothing.

The fog and shadow vanished into the night, leaving behind only the full moon. The stars…so numerous! So glorious! The sages looked at me in wonder and then turned their gaze toward the light that surrounded the fallen knights. The knights’ skin regained color, and their chests rose and fell with life. They stood, swords and shields ready, but the enemy was nowhere to be seen.

I looked down at the white toga that clothed my body. The chest of the toga was red, drenched in blood. The knife fell free, and the puncture sealed itself. I was alive, yet so far from the life I had known. I began to sing a song that I had not known before. Had the Scribe written it?

Unravel the mystery of me,

The key embedded in me.

What is it to be?

This call I answer,

This path I venture,

What is it that I see?

Who is it that I hear?

In this nightmare I have known

In the past I run from

Unravel the mystery of me,

The key embedded in me.

What is to come?

The past I explore,

How do I move forward?

Is it I that holds me back?

Who do I wait for?

The Savior I look to

In the battle I run to

Unravel the mystery of me,

The key embedded in me.

Who am I to question the struggles I have known?

Am I to understand this plan you have woven?

The will that I follow by your unseen hand

Unravel the mystery of me,

The key embedded in me.

In the final victory,

Will you be waiting for me?

This Savior

I accept the Lord that I kneel to.

Unravel the mystery of my salvation,

Your Word embedded in me.

There was a mystery about all that had happened, and it stretched well beyond my understanding.

One of the sages spoke. “You are the one we have waited for.” He made a motion to the sky with his staff. “One of wisdom and faith who would come, sent by God from another age, to take this body.”

“How did you know?” I asked. I followed his motion with my gaze.

“Gabriel empowered us with a message. The Holy Spirit empowered us for battle,” the other sage replied.

“Was it a dream? The message, I mean?” I asked. I studied my new body.

The sages nodded.

“I, too, was a part of a team assembled by a singular dream…in another time, another place. The rest is up to them now.” It all seemed to be leading to something. But what?

David’s Sacrifice

I WATCHED AS Daniel’s body fell to a slump in the chamber. Then my chamber closed, and energy crackled around me. I found myself somewhere between reality and a dream; my body became numb, and everything went black. A rift into a black void opened above me, and I was pulled into it. Darkness was everywhere. A light, nigh and fast, formed before me and shot through the void, pulling me deeper. Perhaps I should have felt fear, yet I was at peace. I was a soldier, and it had always been my duty to face danger in the place of others, to fight in their stead to keep them safe. Darkness has always awaited me, and light has always carried me.

The void shaped itself around the light into a tunnel. A scene appeared at the end of the stream of light, and I heard the sounds of battle. A sinister laugh echoed through the void. I was not alone. The entity and I were heading into the same battle.

My instinct was to raise my hands to battle it now, but even as the thought formed, a bolt of energy struck it away.

The entity laughed. “Well done,” it said. It was a black cloud, a mass of shadow. The shadow and I traveled the rift and loomed over the battlefield. In the distance, deep in the forest, an army of mortals and angels fought fiercely against a massive army of demonic creatures. Below, Ahadiel stood over the bodies of the Warrior and the Destroyer. Ahadiel removed the sword from the Warrior’s body and placed it across the sword on the fallen man’s bloodied chest, folding the lifeless arms across the blade.

In an instant, I was thrust into the Warrior’s body. The wound healed as I entered. The shadow entity that had shared the rift entered the Destroyer’s body. The power I felt in my body was beyond my words, yet as powerful as he was, the Warrior was not able to achieve victory on his own. Only Jesus could do that.

“Fighting from victory.” At last I understood what that statement meant. Our victory was assured. All that was required was to sacrifice ourselves. The first warrior had opened the door for me. Standing quickly, I raised my sword. The Destroyer rose, too.

“My friend, we have been given a chance to partake in something grand,” the Destroyer said to me.

I remained steadfast and silent.

“The coming of darkness!” To my amazement, the Destroyer sheathed his sword. “Stand down, Warrior. We will not fight in this time and place. There is another battle coming for us, another time and place where you and I will match swords. But not before.” With that, he turned to enter the dark forest and faded from sight.

Frank’s Sacrifice

THE GLASS CYLINDER closed around me, sealing me in. There would be no escape from this. What have I stepped into? Daniel and David appeared dead in their glass prisons, and I awaited my execution—willingly, though it was frightening nonetheless. Knowing that it would merely be the death of my body gave me the courage I needed to hold back the urge to scream.

Energy had surrounded both Daniel and David, and as their bodies slid to the floor of the chamber, a swirl of energy and light—the rift, I assumed—appeared at the top of their chambers. Now, as I felt myself slipping loose from my body, shedding my old self like shrugging off a coat, I welcomed that same energy sparking around me. I didn’t want to go back. I was not afraid. I could no longer feel my body. As if in a dream, I was pulled into a void, and I saw the body that had been mine sink down against the glass.

The rift sealed behind me, leaving me in complete darkness…for a moment. Then a light came from below and stretched through the void, carrying me as it went, a bubble moving in a tube of liquid light surrounded by blackness.

It should have been much more than anyone could handle, yet I was perfectly at peace, even knowing that a scene of terror awaited me at the end of the tunnel. And suddenly, there it was: an altar…a dark mass surrounding a bloody boy…a father restrained by two cloaked figures.

The Drifter lay sprawled and bloodied in the distance, dead. He had followed the entity to the encampment and, assessing his options, taken his own life, knowing it was necessary. He had always known.

As I was thrust into his body, I heard the weeping of a mother and daughter. The demon had released his hold on them so he could watch them suffer.

In my new body, I stood quickly. My legs felt rubbery but young and strong. I picked up the musket from the ground, feeling a strange power within me waiting to be unlocked. I sprinted toward the altar, where the boy’s body had been claimed by a dark mass, transforming him into the creature we battled in the woods. I paused to take careful aim from the edge of the camp. I fired and hit one of the cloaked figures holding the father, who grabbed the falling figure’s hood and yanked him toward his other captor. Their heads met with a loud crack, and both fell.

“LET HIM PASS!” the creature called out. The cloaked figures trembled at the terrible voice and stepped aside.

The father grabbed his musket and pistol and ran toward the Drifter—toward me, screaming in fury. “You! You abandoned my son and me to this evil fate!” As he reached my side, he stared in confusion at the slick of blood that drenched my nightshirt and trousers. “Now, when it is too late, how dare you show your face?” the father asked in a saddened voice.

“I am a different man now,” I said. He shook his head, not understanding. How could he?

I stared at the creature, wondering how I was meant to stop it. The father was looking at me with equal parts amazement and fear, and I looked down. My hands were glowing. Could that be the strange power I had felt? I raised my right hand and made a fist, and the light fused into a brilliant white ball. Without thinking, I hurled it at the approaching creature. As it struck the encroaching shadow, a shadow mist was released from its form.

The creature stumbled and snarled. I looked at the father. “Your family was under its control. They have been released now and await you to the south. Go to them.”

“And my son?”

“Wait for him. He will be there soon. Run.”

He scrambled away, and I turned to face the creature again. It charged. It was the same as the first encounter: massive. As I sprinted toward it, it swung its crushing arms at me. I jumped several feet into the air, hurling a ball of light at its chest. Again it roared and stumbled, crushing several of the cloaked figures nearby as it staggered. It charged once more, and I rolled between its legs and threw a ball of light at its back. It pitched forward, shrieking in frustration.

Yet despite my efforts, the creature barely slowed down. I needed to hold on until the family escaped. As it lunged for me, I jumped onto its head and sent a quick barrage of light orbs into its skull. It roared and thrashed, knocking me to the ground. I rolled and recovered, firing another volley of shots into its face.

The creature merely laughed. “A commendable effort,” it said. It laughed again.

I gathered up all my strength and hurled a large ball of white energy into its gaping maw as it laughed. As I did so, a black mist spiraled from its back, unnoticed by the creature. The creature was too busy rearing back to crush me.

My best was nearly done. Had it been enough?

Ghost Hunter’s Descent

THE COLD FOG followed me as I headed toward the tunnels. How long could I evade the entity? Its laughter echoed in my mind or in reality—I couldn’t tell which. I felt a shadow following me. Its cold presence entered the recesses of my mind as I moved stealthily through the forest.

I reached the husk of the house where my ghost-hunting team had encountered the walking dead. I found Sarah and Joe—their bodies, that is—still and cold. Their skin was gray, their eyes black.

What would the entity do to them? Would it turn them into zombie types, too? I shuddered at the thought that I might have to battle my old friends. While I tried to put these dark thoughts out of my mind, I saw a scene, like a memory, play through my thoughts—a glimpse of those who had lived in the house long before:

A mother in a tight-waisted cotton dress, which reached nearly to the floor, tucked her daughter into a small, white iron bed and pulled the quilts up to her chin.

“Mommy,” the girl said. “Where’s Daddy?” The girl could not have been older than seven.

“Daddy is doing his best for us,” her mother said quietly.

“But where is he?” the girl asked again.

“In our hearts,” said the mother, kissing her daughter’s cheek gently. “Don’t worry. He won’t abandon us.”

The two took no notice of my presence in the room. I stood outside the glow of the oil lamp, but I was fairly certain that although the scene was taking place in the mid-1800s, I was standing near them in another time entirely. Nevertheless, I could feel their fear as strongly as if it were my own.

The scene vanished, and the present-day setting returned. The room remained in a state of decay and sorrow. Two skeletons lay where I’d seen the mother and daughter just moments before—one child-sized set of bones on a rotted mattress and one adult, collapsed over the moth-eaten quilts as though to protect the child. A cold wind entered the crumbling home, followed by the fog, and immediately the mother’s body rose and grabbed me. My heart raced.

“Please! Find a way to save my daughter!” she pleaded, sobbing. I nodded slowly, trying to back away. How could I bring her back? It seemed well beyond my power.

“I’ll try, but I don’t know—”

“Shh!” The mother looked over my shoulder. “He is coming. You must go!” A distant laughter followed. She released me and waved toward a large wardrobe in the dark corner of the room. She disappeared from view as I hid inside. Distant whispers seeped into the wardrobe. The entity had entered and was searching.

“Where are you?” it asked, sounding petulant. Through a crack in the door I could see it turn toward the wardrobe and approach slowly. “Could you be hiding?”

My heart hammered so loudly in my chest I feared it would hear me, but the entity stopped and turned, looking at the tunnel entrance. “So you have chosen to run,” it said as a shadow darted past the entrance. The entity disappeared into the tunnel, chasing after the shadow.

What was it that helped me? Slowly I opened the door of the wardrobe and stepped out. Both skeletons were gone, as were the bodies of my friends. Which of them had drawn the entity away? I slipped to the entrance of the tunnel and peered in.

A cold hand grabbed my shoulder. “Go quickly, my friend,” Joe said. “You must catch up to the entity. It holds the key.”

I was speechless. Joe was dead, yet there he was, instructing me. Was there another entity, a friendly one, inside Joe’s body? My question was left unanswered as Joe released me and vanished. I didn’t look back. The tunnel was mostly dark, dimly lit only by a light that would not reveal itself.

As silently as possible, I walked quickly into the tunnel. A cold fog billowed from the darkness. The entity was near. I crouched low in the darkness and stayed still. With the fog came those whispers. The entity approached me and stood near.

“What are you doing?” it said, kneeling not far from me. “Do you believe me to be evil?” Its laughter echoed. Did it know I was there? If so, why was it not attacking? I heard quick footsteps deep in the tunnel. The entity rose and followed the sound.

I waited a few moments before following the entity. From the shadows, Sarah spoke to me. All I could see was her outline. “There is a greater force at work here, my friend. You and the entity are opposite sides of the same coin. You are the lock, and it is the key.” She disappeared after she spoke. As I continued through the darkness, I pondered her words. I had no idea what she was trying to tell me.

The tunnel led to a dead end. As I turned, I came face-to-face with the entity. The fog around the entity began to dissipate, and its voice was near. “There is no time,” it said in a tone that sounded almost like concern. “I had hoped that by destroying this place and everything within it, I could prevent his entry.”

“Whose entry?” I asked with confusion.

“Darkness incarnate…” the entity replied. “What I am and what I have done pale in comparison to this entity. Something is changing. I am losing power. However, with the power I have left, I will return the girl to this world. You must get her out of here before the darkness can consume her.”

“I don’t understand.”

“There is no time to explain. You have no choice but to trust me.” The entity raised its hands, and what fog remained to its form massed around it, and the entity vanished. In its place stood the little girl I’d seen in the iron bed.

“Mister?” she asked in a frightened voice. “Have you seen my daddy?”

The entity…who had he been before he became the fog creature? Had he been her father once? Perhaps the father from the Civil War log entry?

“I don’t think so. I don’t know where he is. I’m sorry,” I said gently. “Please, come with me.” I extended my hand to her. She took it, and we walked away. What light remained began to fade. Darkness was coming.

The Soldier’s Descent

WITH MY COMBAT knife drawn, I ran through the dark forest. It was quiet this time. The only movement I noticed was the handful of shadows that shifted to watch me pass. Just outside the clearing, I spotted the entity and stopped to observe it before it became aware of my presence. That turned out to be just moments. The shadows surrounded the clearing, focusing on the creature.

I stood and approached the creature. It turned and watched me as I neared but made no move against me. Instinct instructed me to stand down; emotion told me to attack. I stopped ten feet from it.

“I’m sorry,” the creature said to me. “Acting under the influence of the fog entity, I have killed so many.” The creature’s voice was thick with sorrow. “There is little time. A darkness is coming that seeks to consume everything within this place. The ghost hunter is attempting to recover Hope from this darkness, and you must hold off these creatures for as long as possible. Go!” The creature vanished into a black cloud. The shadows that had massed around the perimeter of the clearing pulled back and swarmed toward the tunnels.

I took off in a sprint, knowing I could not get to the tunnels before the shadows in time to fend them off. Perhaps I could draw them away instead. The creatures had funneled into the shell of a house, leaving me no way to enter from there. But if I could reach the bunker…I moved through the dark trees, whispers of fear and doubt echoing all around me. When I reached the bunker, I found it scarred from battle. Inside, I snatched up the BAR, checked the clip, and stocked up on ammo. There was a third exit from the tunnel, the mine entrance. I entered the tunnel and activated my head lamp.

The creatures had either not yet breached the tunnel system or they were being uncharacteristically coy about it. I dashed through its twisting corridors toward the old section, where I encountered the ghost hunter.

“They’re coming from multiple directions,” he said. “I’ve got to draw them away.”

“Away from what? The…thing…talked to me. It told me you were ‘recovering Hope.’ What did it mean?”

“Hope is a little girl. I’ve got to draw them away from her. I sent her ahead,” he said. “The Spirits of Decay are coming…I can feel them.” He peered into the shadows that danced around us.

I readied my rifle, but he placed his hand on the barrel and pushed it away. “Get out of here!” he said. “They’re attracted to me! Save the kid! Go!”

I knew I had no choice. I couldn’t hold off the dead spirits as well as the shadow creatures. I left the ghost hunter behind. As I ran into the darkness, I heard him scream, and I turned to see the Spirits of Decay surrounding him. Their scythes tore into him, diminishing his spirit with each swipe. I spun around and ran.

The creatures massed behind a wooden door. The corridor had two ways in—or ways out. I was fairly certain that my only way out was death, but I was determined that it wouldn’t come easy or be for nothing. The creatures’ screeches grew louder as more of them arrived, ready to attack.

Well, I wasn’t ready to allow them the pleasure of shredding me. I was all that stood between them and the girl, and I would not allow them to pass without an all-out battle.

I kicked the door open. The creatures froze at my frontal assault. “Come and get it, you bastards!” I opened fire with the BAR, driving them into the narrow tunnel. Slowly they gained ground, crossing over their dead to reach me. With each inch gained, I moved back, pausing my fusillade only to reload. Each time I had to slide a full clip into the rifle, the creatures gained more ground.

It wouldn’t be long. I was on my last clip.

At my back I felt the cold closing in. More Spirits of Decay were coming for me. I drew my pistol and fired into them, but it barely slowed their advance. I dropped the useless rifle and prepared myself. I had to wait until they were almost on top of me. I reloaded and fired my pistol, waiting for the proper moment. Just a few more feet.

“You may get what’s left of my body,” I said, “but you’ll never get my soul!” I held the grenade close to my chest, next to the three others in my pockets that would detonate with it. As a Spirit of Decay thrust his scythe into me, one of the hounds lunged for me. I pulled the pin. There was a bright light, a deafening explosion, and then blackness.

The Last Stand

THE REMAINING SECURITY teams joined the Survivor, Joel and I. as the chambers pulsed with energy. Twelve men stood in the hallway, three lay prone in the center, three crouched behind them, and the last three stood. The three of us stood in the center of the room. Three guards stood at each side of the chambers. The lights began to flicker on and off. I looked at Joel, who had raised his laser pistol. Some of the guards were equipped with laser rifles as well.

“Spirits of Decay are coming,” the Survivor said. “Be ready.” One came out from behind a guard and brought its scythe down upon him before vanishing. The guard fell to his knees.

“Ready your EMF meters, now!” shouted the soldier beside me. His meter spiked, and he pointed at the floor. Joel aimed the laser rifle toward the spot and fired into the darkness emerging there. The spirit shrieked and vanished.

The team to our right fired into a wall, and the team to our left fired into the ceiling. The shadows were moving all around us.

“The elevator is coming down!” one of the guards said over the radio. The Spirits of Decay receded…briefly. The first cylinder became active, and Daniel’s body fell into a slump as a cloud of energy entered. Two more to go…the elevator stopped, and the doors opened. A bloody and badly beaten man limped out.

“Help me!” he cried out. He faltered and fell to his knees and began to crawl toward us. Two black hounds tore into his ankle and pulled him into the black cloud that appeared. With a scream he was pulled back in silence. Life drained from him until only a dried husk remained.

From the dark cloud came two black hounds and two of the small shadow creatures. All three teams opened fire, and the creatures fell instantly. The shadows paused, and the lights flickered some more. A Spirit of Decay rose from the floor by the wall to the right of us. It thrust its scythe into the wall and formed a black hole, from which a black hound lunged out and onto one of the guards. One of the smaller creatures followed, swinging its scythe at the other guard. I fired at the hound. The guard fired at the shadow creature. Both dissolved just as David’s cylinder became active. His body fell, lifeless, as the mass of energy around him vanished.

One more to go…

Creatures poured into the room from the black holes created by the spirits’ scythes. When a new black hole opened up on the ceiling, we focused our fire on it. The Survivor fired rapidly into the Spirits of Decay as they appeared. Another black hole opened to our left. We were being surrounded. The teams in the hall were holding on, but for how long?

Finally, Frank’s chamber became active, and his body fell. The mass of energy entered into the same darkness. The administrator called over the intercom, “All personnel get to the emergency exit now! Self-destruct mode is now active!” A countdown followed.

“Where’s the exit?” Joel asked no one in particular.

“Over here!” shouted a soldier over the gunfire. The exit was behind the chambers. The teams in the hall fell back first, and we provided cover for them while they raced toward the emergency exit. The Survivor followed them, leaving nine of us to defend each other. We fell back as one and moved to a lift opened by a heavy hatch. The door was closed and locked as the lift was activated. The creatures pounded on the door. As it rose, the ceiling opened up, revealing the looming trees. We could not see the sky.

“Evac is coming. Rendezvous with the helicopter at the abandoned mine. You’ll only have a minute on the surface before the facility explodes. Move quickly!” The administrator’s voice was replaced with static.

We arrived at the surface and sprinted into the forest.

“Everyone take cover!” the soldier ordered. Each of us ducked behind a tree and crouched low. Seconds later, the facility’s self-destruct activated with a blinding flash. A powerful shock wave forced the trees to bow. Turning away from the smoking hole, we ran deeper into the forest toward the entrance to the mine. There was a clearing there—the only possible place for helicopter extraction.

The Survivor stared into the darkness as we set up a defensive ring. “They are all dead…” he said softly. He felt the ghost hunter’s life fade. He felt the soldier’s defiant explosion snuff out his life-force. A little girl ran out of the mine amid the smoke. The Survivor knelt down, and she ran to him, crying.

As he picked her up and held her close, he turned to me. “A shadow is pursuing her. It must not take her.” Joel and I ran to the entrance and peered into the darkness. We saw movement. We fired short bursts into the mine as the shrieks continued to echo.

I heard the helicopter approaching along the horizon. The security teams fired into the forest as the shadows circled around us. I knew what must be done. We would be left behind for the future of mankind. The shrieks intensified and grew in number as the helicopter hovered in the clearing. The Survivor ran to it and jumped in, setting the girl into a seat and buckling her in. He looked back at me, and our eyes met. No fear…

The Survivor’s Ascent

THE HELICOPTER LIFTED us into the air, leaving behind just a handful of men to face the darkness. I had read no sense of regret in Rick’s mind and seen no fear in his eyes. He was strong to the end. I could feel the others weakening, though, and I could hear the gunfire and unearthly shrieks even over the loud blades of the chopper as we made for the horizon, until finally we were too far to hear the sounds of battle.

The little girl beside me, dressed in nineteenth-century nightclothes, carried a doll with a glazed porcelain head and a sawdust body dressed in multiple petticoats and a high-neck silk dress. She was thinking about the battle we’d left behind and the amazing fact that we were flying in a large metal whirligig, but she did not seem frightened. A strange power radiated from within her; she was unique. Her name was Hope.

We flew for a few hours. The pilot had informed us that we would be touching down soon. Aside from that, no one spoke. Finally, the helicopter hovered over a helipad and slowly descended atop a three-story building, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Moments after we landed, a man in military uniform opened the helicopter’s door and motioned for us to exit. I unbuckled the girl and carried her off the helicopter, following the soldier inside the building.

There we were met by a young woman in a tan suit. “You’ve done well,” she said to me. She stood in the doorway of what looked like a training area. I said nothing. “You will be employed as our specialist. You have proven yourself to be strong and resilient. You will be trained to unlock your full potential.” I knew what she had in mind and that I was not being given a choice. The girl was taken from me. She, too, would undergo training. Perhaps some good would come out of it somehow…

Part II

The Beckoning

SHE BECKONED ME in a dream, her eyes beautiful, alluring. I watched as she was relentlessly pursued. “Come to me, my Warrior,” she said, pointing to a street sign. It held not only an address, but a date. An arrow pointed to an adjacent building: 11 Plymouth-Sorrento Road, January 1, 2009.

What did it mean? As I pondered, I caught a glimpse of what pursued her. It was a man in frame but a shadow in appearance. He laughed menacingly, pointing at me.

“You cannot save her,” he said, with an evil grin. A strange sensation overcame me. Was this not a dream at all but real? A message? The woman looked at me again, and our eyes met. She was so beautiful—how could she be real?

She vanished behind a door, and I remained frozen. The shadow followed her, still laughing. Everything went dark, and I woke up. The clock said midnight. I had been asleep for only a few hours.

Is that a real address, 11 Plymouth-Sorrento Road? I wondered. I looked at the clock again and saw the date. The first of January in 2009. I sighed. The burning desire to investigate overpowered me. I slid out of bed, and I slipped on my nearest clothes, my uniform shirt and the black dress pants I wore with it. I hung my flashlight and holster on my belt, placed my EMF meter and infrared thermometer into my pockets, and reached for my God’s Army hat. I left the house and started my car.

“She called me her Warrior. What did she mean?” I plugged the address into the GPS, and it was real—and local. I put the car in gear. I didn’t know what was going on, but I intended to find out.

The GPS led me to the address from the dream. It looked exactly as it had appeared then, too—a large, three-story building, like an office building or a hospital. I parked some distance away and approached on foot.

To the right, along the corner of the building, I heard rushing water. Shining my flashlight on the source, I saw a maintenance entrance to a sewer system, a tunnellike opening, like a subway entrance. It didn’t appear to extend down very far.

I left the underground entrance behind and approached the front door of the building. Before I could knock, a light flickered on inside, and a young woman peered through the window. Our eyes met; it was her. Her eyes—I could easily become lost within them.

“Open the door,” I said to her. She smiled, shaking her head no.

“I’m here to help. Let me in!” I called to her. She maintained her smile, turned to the right, and walked away. Behind her, a shadow followed—the same shadow from the dream. Its menacing laughter echoed loudly even through the locked door. I had to get inside. I couldn’t let her face the darkness alone.

I turned to the sewer entrance, adjusting my flashlight to flood.

Pipes ran along the ceiling and the upper half of the walls. Most were covered with a dense coating of rust. I figured it was my only way in, but I approached it with caution, taking the few steps down slowly. Once I was inside the small, square area, I shone my flashlight about. The water entered from the right, sluiced down a slope, and rushed toward the building. I pulled my EMF meter from my pocket and activated it. No readings…that is, until a shadow darted in front of me. Laughter echoed throughout the chamber, following the direction of the water.

The meter bounced wildly, the readings fluctuating. Then they stopped. The voice fell silent, too. I followed the direction from which it had seemed to come, but that led to a dead end. I glanced at the path that ran alongside the water. A valve moved, just behind me, turning slowly. I spun around and watched as it seemed to move on its own. The water drained quickly, and the valve stopped turning. I peered over the edge of the walkway into a newly formed path about eight feet down.

I pulled my head lamp from my pocket and fixed it on my forehead, centered above my eyes. I placed it on the point setting, a single beam of light that illuminated exactly where I was looking. Sliding my flashlight into its holster, I jumped forward and landed in a crouch on my feet in the center of the walkway. I stood quickly, drawing my flashlight and holding it forward as I started down the dark path.

Soon I reached another lever, against the right corner of the end of the path. Odd. Why would a lever be kept underwater? I glanced around then returned my gaze to the lever. I pulled it back cautiously and was rewarded with a click, followed by another click, then silence. I searched the walls, looking for a ladder, but found none. However, there were pipes running at different intervals along the wall. I grabbed on to the pipes, using them for footholds to scale the wall like a monkey, shifting my weight from side to side, using the momentum to extend my reach. When I reached the top pipe, I raised myself up and rolled onto the walkway. Standing quickly, I moved swiftly down the walkway and found myself looking up at an open hatch.

A ladder extended from it, just within reach. I jumped and grasped the lower rung with both hands and pulled myself up far enough to reach the next rung with one hand, then the next, then the next, until I had both hands and feet on the ladder. Rung by rung, I ascended at a steady pace.

Midway I paused. A chill ran down my spine. I pulled the thermometer from my pocket and held it out. The temperature below me was around seventy degrees; oddly enough, the temperature above me was at least twenty degrees colder. Just as I returned the thermometer to my pocket, a cold hand grabbed my right hand.

I looked up quickly. My gaze was met by the cold eyes of a pale figure. “Warrior,” he said to me. “You must save her…but before you may do so, you must revisit the demons of your past. Learn from them… conquer them.” He held my hand firmly. I locked my leg around the ladder and released my grip on the rungs, grasping his other hand. He looked at me, surprised. Tears welled up, or would have, if he had been alive.

“It is too late for me, Warrior,” he said, despair evident in his voice. “But it is not too late for her. Find her. Save her.” He looked behind him then back to me. His hand trembled in mine, his eyes telling his story. The darkness had consumed him, and now it sought to take him back.

“I won’t let go,” I said to him, holding firmly. He groaned as the forces beyond him pulled at him, but when I continued to hold on, he smiled. A sensation of relief crept into his eyes as he stared into my eyes one last time.

“You will triumph, I know. Farewell, Warrior,” he said softly. A white cloud puffed from his mouth, blinding me. The hand that I held so tightly vanished, and he was gone, back into darkness. Or was he now free? I sighed, resting my forehead against the ladder, closing my eyes.

Demons of the past…Warrior…find her…too late for him…What was going on?

I resumed climbing just as a voice broke the silence. “I am following your every step, Warrior,” said a menacing and oddly familiar voice from the shadows. I reached the top of the ladder and opened another hatch.

I was in my room, the room where I started the Separation. Now, it seemed that I would live this story.

The Separation

I SAT ALONE in my room, contemplating what lay in the chest. I knew it was merely a symbol of what lay within. Of what I was not. The night terrors had returned, but they hadn’t taken hold. I would awaken to see a flicker of fire at my window. A dark figure would rush past, extinguishing the fire. Shadows of who I had been surrounded who I was.

I cried out to Jesus, rebuking that which surrounded me. I belong to him, to my Savior! But I had to let go…let go of who I had been and embrace who I was now. I had to face that which I feared most…that which had led to countless nightmares. The darkness of who I was and who I almost became.

“I’m ready,” I said, glancing out the window. Thunder and lightning raged, angrily breaking the silence. The power had been out for some time, and all had vanished. Save for God, I was alone. Attaching my flashlight to my belt, I reached for my Bible and held it tightly to my chest. The Word of God would be near my heart, both figuratively and literally; it was my truest weapon, the one that would not fail me.

I stood up from my chair and turned to the door. A shadow stood just before me, as if to block me from exiting the room.

“You have no power over me,” I said. “I am in Jesus.” I walked through the shadow and opened the door. The lightning briefly illuminated the dark hall as it cracked against the sky. I pulled my flashlight from its holster and turned it on, setting it to a flooded beam. I stepped to the right, entering my bathroom slowly. There I lay my flashlight on the side of the sink, looking down as I turned the faucet. No water came out. I stood for several minutes, contemplating the situation, whatever that might be. The silence was broken by another burst of thunder, and I looked up into the following flash of lightning to see a sword raised behind me, ready to thrust into my back. I grabbed my flashlight and spun around.

There was nothing there. Just as quickly as it appeared, it had vanished, leaving behind only the sulfurous smell of my own terror. The armed figure had matched me in height and build, and the sword resembled the one in the chest in my room, but that was all I knew. Shaken, but far from discouraged, I moved out of the bathroom to my brother’s room, to the left, just before mine. In the far right corner, beside the window, I saw myself, chained to his computer desk. I had once had the chance to break free, but I had not taken it. There were many things I could have done, had I not been chained to a computer.

I said aloud, “Though the past remains unchanged, the future is yet to be molded.” As I finished those words, the chains fell from my other self, and he began to move toward me. I extended my hand, and he took it gently. We became one. It was but one piece of my past that I had to join with my present to mold the future.

I closed the door and went into the living room, where I saw myself frozen before a television, slowly being pulled into it, losing myself to video games. Each day that I spent dedicated to them, I lost more and more of who I was.

I said aloud, “For what may one do when all hope seems lost, when you feel that you are all alone? Open your eyes.” I extended my hand, and my other self looked at me. The hold on my past fell away, and he took my hand. We merged.

I walked to the kitchen, where I saw myself fall into a pit of lust, as pornography had a strong grip on my heart. I watched as my other self struggled fiercely, climbing so close to the top only to fall once more. “What a shame,” I said aloud, “when love has been so fleeting. Open your heart.” I extended my hand, and my other self emerged from the pit and walked to me. Taking my hand gently, he merged with me.

I moved to stand before the edge of the kitchen, next to the utility room. I stared down that dark hallway, my flashlight unable to light it sufficiently. My gaze fixed on my mother’s room. I trembled in fear as screams of pain and hatred bellowed from the darkness, as well as weeping, like that morning that I had found my mother in bed, her breathing erratic, her eyes wild, and I had thought nothing of it. I paused, frozen in pain and terror as the memories surrounded me. I clutched my Bible tightly.

I set my flashlight on the counter. “Let the Lord be my light,” I said as I stepped toward the hall. The darkness faded as I drew near, for I was with the Lord. But it had not always been so. The screams and crying grew louder the nearer I drew. Nevertheless, I pushed on. The Lord was guiding me.

I stood in the doorway, and, just as before, there lay my mother. Her breathing had ceased; her soul had left her body. I saw myself standing to her left and to the right. One version of me wore a black trench coat, a black dress shirt, and black pants. A sword was strapped to his waist. He was Hatred. The other wore a black BDU shirt and pants, and a black tactical vest, with an M4 slung on his shoulder. He was Rage.

Both of my selves stared at me, saying in unison, “She is dead because of you. Your hatred and rage led to this.”

“Your cold heart could not give her the love she deserved,” Hatred said in a cruel voice.

“Your anger lashed out at her,” Rage said in a booming voice.

I watched them both silently. I remembered those feelings, those very thoughts. However, they no longer had any hold on me.

“The death of her body was painless and peaceful,” I said as I approached Hatred. “And the life of her spirit is eternal and joyful.” Hatred vanished at those words.

I placed my hand on my mother’s shoulder and looked over at Rage. “We often lash out at the ones we love the most, but through love, all is forgiven.” Rage vanished.

I knelt down and embraced my mother gently, and she, too, began to vanish. Her voice whispered to me, “I await you.”

I stood slowly then left the room and stood before the entrance to the porch. An angel appeared behind me. “You have faced your past. Now you must face yourself,” he said. “Carry with you only the Word of God, for that is all that you need.” The angel walked away, and I returned to my room. I held the Bible tightly, pausing for a moment. I would face my dark side, with only the Word of God as my sword and armor.

“Your faith will protect you,” a gentle voice said to me as I opened the door. My gaze fixed on the chest, the one in the far corner.

“Come!” a sinister voice beckoned to me. Through faith, I walked to the chest with confidence, kneeling to turn the key and remove the lock. The lock fell to the ground. I awaited…something…but there was only silence. The mood became still. I stood. Suddenly, the lid of the chest flew open, and Hatred and Rage arose from inside to pull me in. They took tight hold of me and began to pull me into the darkness with them.

In defiance, I cried out, “My Lord, remove this evil from me! Separate me from the man I was, for I am your servant now. Love dwells within my heart. Compassion rules my soul. May Hatred and Rage consume me no more!” With that defiant cry, I reached through Hatred and Rage and slammed the lid of the chest shut.

Light returned, and I was no longer alone. Hope stood beside me, encouraging me as she had always done. Even though I could not always see her, she had been beside me the entire time. The chest was locked now. Thank you, my Lord, for guiding me…The room shifted as I revisited the burial…when I buried Hatred and Rage.

The Burial

I STOOD BEFORE the chest that held Hatred and Rage, lost in silent contemplation. The task I had to undertake would be strenuous and long. And the weather was not good. Dark clouds crowded the daylight sky, threatening to wash away all my hope. I knelt down, grasping the chest and pressing it close to my body. My dad opened the door for me as I carried the chest to the doorway and down the ramp. As I loaded the chest into my car, I couldn’t help wondering what role the weather would play in the outcome. Would it rain and thwart my plans? Or would the rain hold off, at least long enough for the hole to be dug? On faith, I would go. On faith, I would succeed.

I started my car, sipping an energy drink as the engine roared to life.

After much contemplation and planning, I would finally bury it all…bury them…Traffic was heavy as I pulled into the main highway. Was it to defer me from this endeavor? Or mere coincidence and nothing at all to do with me? I could only wonder.

Despite the looming storm and heavy traffic, the drive was rather smooth. I arrived at the church seemingly just minutes after leaving my house. There, I found Carlos waiting for me inside. I told him my plan, which had been in the making for quite some time, and he was supportive, though the weather was not.

As I went to pull the shovels from my trunk, I wondered if Carlos happened to have a video camera. He said that he did, and, in fact, it was in his car, but its memory was full.

I shrugged, thinking that a written account would be much more valuable.

I parked next to the van, which was very close to where I planned to bury the chest. It was a bare area, with little grass. I began to dig. I established the perimeter of the hole and slid the shovel down into the dirt to pry it loose. Realizing that I would need to place the chest near the opening to be accurate, I retrieved it from my car and set it down next to where I was digging. I made the proper corrections to the perimeter and dug deeper. Soon my body began to ache, as if to defy my spirit, but I would not give up.

I worked quickly, believing that it would rain soon. However, when I sat on the chest to rest a moment, I gazed up to the sky. The sun was becoming visible, and the rain clouds above me were scattering. “Thank you, Lord,” I said aloud.

I stood once more and estimated how far I had dug; the hole was about a foot deep. I continued to dig, widening the perimeter as needed. The sandy ground proved easy to remove. I jabbed the shovel into the ground, and then I went to the church entrance. Jason met me at the door. I told him of my progress and went for water, which briefly rejuvenated my aching body. My spirit remained strong, so I did not break for long. I returned to the hole and resumed digging.

I hopped into the hole to dig more effectively. The edge of the hole was almost to my waist now. To climb out, I jabbed the shovel just beyond the edge and used it to brace myself. I placed my right foot on the opposite edge and my left foot by the shovel. Using my right leg to boost myself, I jumped up and out, nearly falling back but quickly regaining my balance.

I picked the chest up and placed it in the hole, which turned out to not yet be wide enough. As I sized up the perimeter, I saw a white daddy longlegs spider crawl across the top of the chest. I pulled the chest out, making sure not to injure the spider, and slid the shovel down against the walls of the hole until it was wide enough. I hopped back into the hole and dug deeper. I got out of the hole the same way as before, and again I almost fell back in. I made my final adjustments to the perimeter of the hole and hopped back in. I dug until the edge was above my waist. I hopped out as before, but this time I did not stagger.

Wanting to see how the chest would fit now, I picked it up and tossed it in. I thought I should make the hole still deeper, but when I knelt down to pull out the chest, I found that it was wedged in the hole. I could not remove it. That decided it for me. The hole was deep enough.

I began to cover the chest, filling the hole completely and methodically. I smiled in delight as I packed the last of the sand down with the shovel. I had done it. I had buried Hatred and Rage…for good. The sun seemed to shine brighter now, and the last of the rain clouds had vanished.

The Lord was with me, and he gave me the strength to make it. Thank you, Lord.

• • •

I left work early to remove the chest and choose another location. It did not feel right. I had bought a pair of gloves and some trash bags from Dollar General and was pulling into the church’s parking lot when a better idea came to me. I would excavate the chest, but I would use the same hole, just dig deeper. Then I would fill it back in with dirt to ensure that it could not be removed and to ensure that no danger would come to it.

I quickly dug out the outlines of the chest and removed the dirt on and around it. I straddled the chest as I attempted to lift it out, to no avail. My legs began to sink into the dirt on either side of the chest. With all my might, I pulled once more, and the chest began to loosen. “Give me the strength, Lord,” I said aloud, pulling once more with a mighty heave.

Success. I removed the chest from the hole and dug deeper. My body ached from the efforts of the previous day, but I pressed on. The sun slowly nestled into the horizon as I dug down the last few feet. A feeling of peace and serenity surrounded me.

The hole was approximately five feet deep now, the edge measuring up to my shoulders. I paused for several moments, pondering how I would climb out. The sides of the hole were unstable. I placed the shovel before my feet, in hopes of using them as a step, but they were not high enough. I then placed the shovels against one side of the hole, side by side. I pressed my back against the other side, and, with my right leg against the right shovel and my left leg on the left shovel, I managed to walk my way up against the sturdy shovels until I could push myself up using my arms.

It felt as if my body was about to break. My breathing was heavy, my heart rate rising. I went to my car and ate a protein bar, and I drank bottled water. I loaded the chest before driving home. The last of the sun’s light was beginning to fade. But I would not be deterred.

I attached my flashlight to my belt and put my gloves on once more. I placed the chest in a wheelbarrow and carried it to the hole. I dropped the chest into the hole, only to find that it hadn’t seated itself properly. It was tipped.

Part of me wanted to leave it that way, but I knew it would not do.

I knelt down beside the hole and, with my right hand, grasped for the chest, struggling to reach it and pull it back out. I had little advantage, and no leverage, and risked falling in if I reached in any deeper.

Give me the strength, Lord. I pulled once more. Slowly the chest moved, and I pulled harder and harder until finally I had it above ground again, next to me. I dropped it in a final time. I then proceeded to toss dirt into the chest, until it was full. The sun had set now, and night was falling. I slipped on my head lamp and climbed onto the chest to lock it, only to find that I had no key to do so. I searched my pockets, finding nothing.

Help me out, Lord. I reached for my spotlight and turned it on. I searched the area and found nothing.

I looked down at the edge of the hole and saw something shining under the sand. The keys. I climbed back onto the chest and locked it. By this time, there was no more sunlight. The only light I had came from my head lamp. As I began to cover the chest with dirt, my body ached more and more. But I would not leave until I was finished. I had spent about three hours on the burial today and about two hours the previous day. The Lord was with me both days. All glory is unto him.

With that, the final remnant remained.

My surroundings faded, and what appeared was a bonfire…These emotions would no longer have a hold on my heart.

Smelting and Forging

I STARED INTO the fire as it danced, straying only a fraction from its source. Formless it rose; in waves it swayed. As I stared deep into the fire, I saw its purpose. It was a reminder…a reminder that God may give warmth, but he may also burn.

Just as our flesh could not directly handle fire, so, too, could we not approach God directly. I stared, my gaze piercing the very form of the fire. It met my gaze, and only my eyes truly felt its heat. I would not look away. No, I would not be moved.

Deep in thought I remained, preparing myself for the task at hand. I would cast just a few possessions into the fire, but for me it felt like more. It was an escape, one that I allowed to overtake me. No more. No more. I rose slowly and approached Chuck.

“Are you doing your thing?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, moving back to the fire. My gaze locked with the fire as I reached into the bag. One by one, I threw the video games in, about five in all. Each melted quickly, until nothing remained.

Chuck and Christina approached with their son Levi.

“Is there a prayer or something to read?” Chuck asked.

“I wrote a few things.” I began to read:

My Declaration

I write this as a final statement of who I am and who I have become. I know I have changed much over the years, each year. It is time to be different. It is time to be who I was meant to be. The time for pretending is over. The time for being is now. Faith and honor—these are what I live by. To many, chivalry is a ridiculous idea. For me, it is a code to live by. My friends—I have chosen the path of the knight, a knight in the service of my Lord, though I claim no nobility of my own. My honor…my faith…everything comes from my Lord and Savior, Jesus. His life was given to me, and my life I give to him. The Word of God is as a sword, striking deep the hearts of evil.

Blade with whom I have lived, blade with whom I now die, serve right and justice one last time; seek one last heart of evil; still one last life of pain. Cut well, old friend, and then…farewell. This blade, though, is eternal. It seeks not to strike down the hearts of evil but to save them. I will always be there, and I will not give up. I love all, and I seek to help all, knowing not all will accept. My Lord loves all, with no restrictions. He wishes to aid everyone; how could I not do the same? My vow to him would be empty.

I have not kissed. This I save for the one I will marry. I have saved myself for her, whomever she may be, for I love her already, much more than she will know.

My Lord, I ask only that I live but one more day, if only to serve you. Your servant awaits your command; with eager heart I serve.

My master, send me to those in need. Equip me with only love and wisdom, for all else stems from these roots. Purify your mold, for I am yours. Amen.

God of infinite power, understanding, love, and faith, hallowed be your name; righteous is your banner. Mercy and grace do you extend; your one son you did send. For all that those who sinned did, you sacrificed the one without sin. You have chosen all, knowing not all will choose you. I return to you, my God, my best. With a heart of celebration, I choose you; with fear, I follow. Your messenger waits, for your message is what my soul sings. I love you, my father. Amen.

With that last prayer, I looked at the picture in my hand. It showed me as I had looked years ago, wearing my trench coat, holding my sword firmly. The picture was purely black and white, and the sword and coat stood out above all. Slowly, I cast the image into the fire and watched as it burned.

It is almost done. My friends and I parted ways, and I returned home. With a hammer, I gathered all the remaining games and smashed them. I was free. Just as a sword is forged from the ore that is uncovered from the earth, so, too, was I. Smelted within the purifying fires and hammered into what I was now.

Sic vis pacem, para bellum. (If you want peace, prepare for war.) However, what war should we have been preparing for? My friend, it was not one fought on a distant battlefield. No, the battlefield was in our hearts and in our minds. I was a weapon of war, an instrument of love.

Now, my Lord, take me, all that I am. I stand for you, covered in the blood of your son, casting my sins upon his body. I march under your banner, my king, as a soldier—a soldier, clad in the armor of light. I thank you, my God, for leading me to this, for it is a great honor.

• • •

The past faded, and the present returned. Slowly what had been faded away and what was fell in its place. I stood in the corridor of what appeared to be a hospital. I stood beside a desk covered with office equipment. Six rooms connected to this corridor in a hexagon formation. Each room gave the appearance of a patient’s room, each with a bed and medical equipment.

Below me, I heard the sound of rushing water…the sewer system through which I had gained entry. A large, closed hatch rested just before my feet. Only the emergency lights were on. The equipment was inactive. Unsheathing my flashlight, I fixed my gaze on the room across from me. A form lay hidden beneath a blue sheet. I approached with caution, scanning the adjoining rooms. My focus remained on the form beneath the sheet. Who, or what, was hidden there?

I would soon find out. I reached for the sheet and slowly raised it to reveal a young woman. She looked at me, our eyes meeting. She took my hand gently, great pain evident in her expression. I grasped her hand gently with one of my own and brushed the other lightly along her forehead. A small smile crept to her lips.

“Are you the one she called?” she asked lightly, looking into my eyes. With a nod, I returned her gaze. Her eyes…they looked so familiar. “I watched helplessly as they tormented her, forcing her to see things no one should ever know,” she said, her smile widening. “You have the same look in your eyes.”

“Darkness?” I replied, not knowing exactly what she meant.

“Yes, darkness,” she said gently, stroking my hand. “It goes by many names: night terrors…schizophrenia…it’s all darkness.”

I sighed softly, bowing my head.

“They forced them on her?” I asked, closing my eyes.

“Yes,” she said, sighing. “They managed to tap into the unknown… and brought unseen forces upon us. They funneled them into her mind, and all she has known is nightmares. But you, Warrior, you can set her free. You have seen this darkness…you will face it. Find her…”

I nodded and squeezed her hand gently. “Well, not before I get you out. Hold on to me, Mary,” I said, reaching beneath her to pull her toward me. She wrapped her arms around my neck. Turning, I carried her to the center of the room. The hair on my body began to stand up as I approached the center. Something drew near me. Setting her down gently in the chair beside me, I unsheathed my flashlight and scanned the area. The shadows danced before the light, quickly moving about. They began to meld into a single form.

The form resembled a human, its eyes glowing with a black aura. My light could not pass through it. With a shrieking howl, it lunged for her. She turned, screaming as it drew near. Leaping onto the desk beside her, I jumped toward the creature, thrusting my right foot to its head at an angle. The creature fell to the ground, shrieking louder. Charging it before it could recover, I flipped my flashlight in the air, catching it at the tip and smashing the end of it into the creature’s neck. In retaliation, it swept its arm sideways, knocking me back.

The creature quickly lunged for the girl once more, reaching for her throat. She screamed helplessly as I recovered my stance. I grabbed a nearby wooden chair and threw it at the creature’s legs. The creature fell, landing just before her feet. It rose quickly, reaching again for her throat. Diving forward, I grabbed it by the legs, pulling back hard. Shrieking, the creature struggled to resist, kicking and thrashing.

I pulled once more before diving forward and wrapping my arm around its neck. Locking it in a choke hold with my other arm, I slid to the side, away from its kicking. Soon, it began to dissipate, until nothing remained but its cold aura. I stood quickly, moving to the girl. I picked her up once more.

“Thank you,” she said, resting her head on my shoulder.

“No need to thank me,” I replied softly, carrying her to the next hallway. The exit awaited us just across the hallway. Her body was light and frail, her life fading in my arms. “Hang in there,” I said, moving across the hall quickly and opening the door. I carried her out and moved swiftly to my car, opening the passenger side and laying her into the seat, buckling her in. In the back, I kept bottles of water and protein bars. I opened both and gave some to her. She drank and ate hungrily, as though she hadn’t been fed in days.

“Thank you again,” she said softly, resting her head against the seat.

I smiled in reply. “Rest now,” I said, running my hand along her temple. She gave me a smile, then silence. It would take some time for her to recover, if she lasted at all. I locked the car door and turned back. There had to be more people in the building, more like her. I had to find them.

As I sprinted back to the building, my mind wandered. What was happening to me? Was this all real? Creatures? Ghosts? Me playing hero? As I slipped into thought, what light existed around me began to fade and was replaced by a blanket of darkness. My heart raced, and my breathing became erratic. I heard a piercing howl, followed by the scream of a young woman. A dark figure approached, tall, the dark shadows dancing around him, each with its own voice…calling me, mocking me.

“She may live,” the figure said, “but you will not. I will break you, Warrior, and harvest your soul.” With an echoing laugh, he vanished. I looked around. Glancing back, I saw that the car was still there and the young woman slept soundly.

“I will not be broken, nor will I give up,” I said in defiance to my doubt. With another sprint, I returned to the hallway. To my right was a locked door; to my left was another hall. I turned and walked the left hall. The entire place seemed to be a hospital or research facility of some sort.

The room at the end of the hall caught my eye: a security checkpoint. My flashlight revealed a broken door leading into a large office. Monitors lined the wall to the left. To the right was a wall of heavy glass.

The room was a mess, with chairs overturned, papers scattered. I sifted through some of the papers, looking for clues, and found only old security reports, nothing current. A computer glowed on a desk in front of the wall monitors. Pulling up a chair, I sat down in front of it and started reading the incomplete security log on the screen:

The facility is in chaos. It seems that we can no longer control the dark rift…nor whatever darkness it has wrought on us. There have been reports of personnel having heart attacks, shrieking about an encroaching darkness. Others have reported seeing shadows and then watched as others were severely beaten by invisible hands. The research staff cannot give us answers. And we cannot secure the facility. There is no place to hide. What we thought we could control is now destroying us. God help us…

The log ended.

A sentence appeared on the computer screen. “Watch the monitors,” it said.

Glancing up at them, I saw static at first and then the horrible events that had befallen the facility.

The first monitor showed a break room, where two people sat across from each other at a round table. A shadow passed by the camera and quickly enveloped the two. It entered into their bodies. They clutched their chests, shrieking. A security guard broke into the room. “The darkness…it’s alive!” they screamed before falling lifeless. The guard called repeatedly for medical assistance on his COM link. No one came.

The second monitor showed the main lobby. Employees and a few visitors roamed around; some were seated in a circle of chairs to the left of the door. The receptionist worked ceaselessly across from the door. Several dark figures formed, looking much like the one I had encountered, and charged everyone in the lobby, attacking them viciously and swiftly. Two security guards entered the area and fired into the creatures, which shrieked and receded into darkness. A woman who looked quite familiar caught my attention. She had been beaten severely and was taken into the arms of the security guard. I caught a glimpse of her face. It…was her! The woman I had helped and left in the safety of my car. Three more guards entered, sweeping the area. Many people were in the lobby, and only a few survived.

The next monitor displayed the entrance to the checkpoint room in which I now stood. I watched as shadows moved into the room, and the scene on the display vanished. I scanned the room, watching as all the loose papers and overturned furniture returned to their original places. Personnel faded in, moving about the room. Two security guards stood over me, watching the monitors as if they did not see me. One leaned over, moving through me. Security guards moved swiftly through each room, gathering all the people they could. They skirmished with the shadow creatures but remained intent on evacuating the survivors.

A scream echoed from the connecting corridor, and a man burst into the room. “Something’s coming!” he cried out. A dark tendril pierced his chest. He shrieked, trembling as his skin turned gray. Soon, his body fell lifeless. The guards drew their pistols, firing into the dark mass. It reached for each of them, draining them of their lives…their souls. Throughout the struggle, the room returned to the state in which I had found it, with overturned chairs and scattered files, but now it also included the bodies and the dark mass looming over them. It was there with me.

I stood quickly, my gaze fixed on the dark mass. A thousand whispers emerged from it, followed by an echoing laughter. My EMF meter beeped rapidly in my pocket, and my heart began to beat erratically. My breathing followed the same pattern. The dark mass moved to me, stretching its tendrils to wrap around my body. I felt its cold touch as it encircled me. The tormented memories of its victims flooded my mind as it pulled me into the air. A rush of sorrow, anger, hatred, and rage all swept over me.

What followed was a feeling I had never felt, not even in my worst nightmare. It was a coldness…so cold I felt my spirit begin to slip as it pierced deeper and deeper into me. Closing my eyes, I focused my energy, strengthening my aura. In response, the hair on my body stood straight out and a surge of energy flowed through me.

The darkness weakened its grip on me, and I focused more intently on the love I had had and the love that I knew. Slowly, bit by bit, the dark mass faded, as if erased by the energy I channeled into it.

The screams became whispers, and the whispers became echoes, until there was only the sound of my heart. I fell to the floor, bracing my forward fall with my hands. Though I tried, I could not push myself back up. I could hardly move. The battle had exacted a toll—one I could scarcely afford. Trembling, I tried to push myself up once more, only to fall forward again.

The girl—I had to save her. I had to get up. But my energy was spent. I gave up the fight and passed out on the floor.

Though my eyes closed into darkness, they opened to a bright light. I watched as the victims of the dark mass approached me, forming a circle around me. “Thank you,” they said, leaning over to place their hands upon my shoulders. A sensation of comfort cleansed me as they released their touch. They turned toward the light and walked to it. Soon they all vanished, save for one.

She turned to me, smiling. “Warrior, there is another in need. She awaits you,” she said, pointing to the monitor in the center. As I looked up, the light vanished. The room returned to its former chaotic state, though the bodies still remained. The monitor showed a small office with a woman crying in the corner. The door was barricaded, but it shook and trembled. Something was trying to break in.

I stood quickly to read the label on the monitor. It was the administrative assistant’s office. Using my flashlight, I studied a map posted beside the desk. A quick run and I would be there within minutes. I darted out the door, running to the right and through the lobby. I switched my head lamp on, navigating with ease through the dark rooms. Another right and straight down a hall.

Waiting rooms lined the hallway. There was a maintenance closet to the left. The door opened before I passed it, and a metal pipe fell out, about the size of a staff. A useful weapon. I picked it up and ran forward.

I broke into a large room, with three offices lining the far wall. I stopped, scanning the area. My EMF reader beeped, just after a tingle crawled across my neck, and two shadow creatures lunged from the darkness, circling me slowly. Holding the pipe tightly, I braced myself, awaiting their attack. The closest one lunged forward. Spinning quickly, I swung the pipe toward the creature, focusing the entire force on one end. The creature screeched, knocked to the ground.

The other creature charged. Throwing the pipe into the air with a spin, I rolled past the creature, catching the pipe before it hit the floor. I swung hard at the creature’s knees and sent it forward, shrieking. Both creatures retreated into the darkness. I stood, looking at the office door in the center, approaching it slowly.

I read the nameplate in the door and called out to the woman. “Christina? Are you in there? You’re safe now,” I said reassuringly. A moment later, the door opened a crack.

“Who are you?” the woman asked timidly.

“Someone who cares,” I said, smiling. She opened the door wider, motioning for me to enter as she stepped back. She sat at her desk, and I entered her office.

“She said you would come,” the woman said.

“Do you know where she is?” I asked, standing beside the desk.

“No. She hasn’t been seen since the attack,” said the woman, looking up at me.

“Do you know what’s going on here?” I asked, motioning to the darkness outside.

“We were researching night terrors and schizophrenia. We found that such subjects typically have some telepathic capabilities, though most go untrained,” she said as she turned her attention from her computer to me. “When we ran tests to find subjects with the strongest telepathic abilities, we found her. Our researchers developed a means of channeling dark forces into her mind. This allowed them to project the symptoms linked to both disorders.”

“I’m guessing this was done for its tactical applications?” I said.

“Yes. We thought the chance to debilitate an enemy leader without incurring a single casualty on our side was worth the risk, but we underestimated the cost.” She looked at the door.

“What cost is that?” I asked, following her gaze.

“No one anticipated that the dark mass we tapped into would manifest in a semicorporeal form.”

“And start slaughtering everyone?” I asked quietly.

She nodded. “Now, I’m caught in the middle of this, fighting things I thought existed only in people’s minds.” She sighed heavily. “I’m sorry. So, so sorry.”

“Well, I’m kind of glad. I’ve always wanted to do something like this, at least once,” I said with a soft chuckle.

She smiled shyly.

“I need to get you out of here. I found another survivor, a woman. She’s resting in my car. You two need to get to the nearest hospital. Another hospital, not this place,” I ordered, turning to the door.

“I will.” She followed me to the door.

“Stay close to me,” I said as I opened the door slowly. Shining my flashlight around the dark room, I stepped beyond the doorway. She reached for my hand, and I took it gently and held it for a moment. We ran down the winding halls and corridors. The hair on my body stood straight up, though I saw nothing amiss. I knew, though, that we were being watched. Something was near.

I stopped as we neared the side entrance. The woman continued toward the door. Unhooking my keys from my belt, I tossed them to her. “Go! Take my car, and get her and yourself to a hospital,” I said.

A rush of cold air pushed from behind me, and the woman turned. Her eyes widened, and her skin turned pale. I felt a cold presence looming just over my shoulder. Without a shudder or hint of fear, I looked into her eyes, my eyes pleading. “Now!” I yelled as I spun backward, driving my elbow into whatever loomed behind me.

The blow struck a cold mass. With a shriek, the creature responded, charging forward. It lashed out for Christina as she opened the door, but she slipped through. The creature grabbed the handle and began to pull back on the door. Screaming, she resisted, and she got away.

I charged the creature, ramming my shoulder into its back. It fell forward against the door. The creature itself was a bit taller than I, a little over six feet tall. It was massive, but not as strong as it appeared. Placing my hand on the back of its head, I pushed forward with all my might and repeatedly drove its head into the door, harder and harder with each blow, denting the metal door.

The creature dissipated, but the sensation of something looming nearby did not. Turning quickly, I locked stares with several more creatures. At first I counted five of them, but the numbers grew so quickly that I soon lost count…it seemed endless. I heard my car engine crank and the sound of gravel kicking up as the women drove off quickly.

They were safe. All I had to worry about now was the battle at hand.

I turned to face the creatures at an angle, folding the tips of my fingers. I placed my right hand level with my waist and my left hand close to my left breast. This was my natural battle stance.

Flow. Flow as a poem, each move preparing for the next, leading to victory. The first creature charged. The second followed. They did not all move at once but came at me singly or in pairs, toying with me. I remained expressionless, without conscious intent. Reflexes are not voluntarily activated. They cannot be controlled. They bring action without thought, without concentration. When the first creature drew within a few inches of me, I spun quickly, grabbing its wrist and turning its arm hard. The creature shrieked as I pulled it to the floor snapping its arm back and stomping its neck. The second creature lashed out at my back. Crouching, pushing back against the creature, I grabbed its wrist and pulled it forward. It landed on top of the other creature, and I kicked its neck.

Standing, I turned to the other creatures. They remained still, watching me.

I was still heavily outnumbered. I bowed my head. May the Lord be my strength. I raised my head once more. Focusing all of my energy throughout my body, I roared and charged them. In a blur, I plowed into the creatures. One was knocked to the floor, bringing down those behind it.

Those on the side turned to me as I spun bringing the side of my hand into one creature’s neck. Ducking as the creature on my left reached for me, I slammed an open palm into its gut, rising quickly to wrap my arm around its neck, pulling up and snapping its neck. The creatures in front of me recovered, and I spun around again, raising my leg in a side kick and striking its chest. Pausing, I studied the creatures that now surrounded me.

Now I wasn’t merely outnumbered, but I had no ground in which to maneuver. As one, the creatures lashed out at me, sinking their cold claws into my flesh…tearing into my soul. I felt myself collapsing, my sight beginning to fade. I began to fade. It felt as if I’d slipped into a dream, a dream that grew dimmer and dimmer.

I heard a voice cry out in the distance, followed by gunfire. “Move in!”

The creatures shrieked as they were struck with heavy gunfire. But it was all happening so far away from me, so distant…or was it I who was distant? Where was I?

I was on the floor, and a man in Kevlar armor and a white uniform knelt over me. “Can you hear me?” he said, placing two fingers against my neck.

I answered with a blank stare, my gaze falling to his side, where three other men in the same uniform approached. They picked me up, and I blacked out.

I slipped into a nightmare in which I stood in a decimated field. Shadows crept all around me, and the cold air took on a life of its own. Cries echoed from every direction. In the center of the field was a hole filled with darkness. Shadows emerged from it, spanning in every direction. The hole grew…slowly, but it grew. Laughter emerged from the hole, sinister and filled with a cold timbre.

Then the scene before me went black.

I awakened on a small table in an operating room. A man, perhaps the one I had seen before, stood beyond a heavy glass door. I sat up, sliding off the bed and onto my feet. My flashlight still hung from my hip.

Approaching the door, I called out to the guard. Turning, he opened the door. “That was close,” he said, standing to the side to allow me passage.

“Thank you,” I said as I walked past him.

“I’d ask how you’re feeling, but we have no time to chat. I’ll take you to the chief,” he said, stepping in front of me. We proceeded to the next room. The doors were barricaded, and four guards sat in the center. It seemed to be a prep room for the OR. We moved through the room and down the hallway. Four rooms lined the hallway, with an injured guard lying in each one on rows of chairs lined up into makeshift beds.

Down the hall and into the next room, we entered an armory. A stern middle-aged man immediately met my gaze. Motioning me to approach, he began to speak. “So you’re the one she called,” he said in a voice that demanded respect.

“I don’t even know who she is,” I said, looking at the folders scattered on the table before me.

“You will. I’ve collected all the information I could about her. You’ll find everything about her, down to her shoe size, in these folders.”

I pulled a picture from the first folder. It was her

“We need to get down to business,” he said sharply, placing his hands on the table and leaning forward.

“Of course,” I said, setting the picture down and looking into his eyes.

“I’m sure you know what we were doing here, so, I’ll skip the unnecessary details. We had a massive containment breach shortly after the dark energy was channeled into her. Soon after that, we lost control over the main lab. We managed to evacuate the lab personnel, but the guard assigned to extract her was killed when he touched her. After that, dark creatures began to appear all over the place. Behind this room is an emergency bunker where we placed nonsecurity personnel.” He motioned behind him. Then he looked at a door to my left.

“Why do I get the feeling there’s something bad about that room?” I asked, following his gaze.

“That’s where the dark mass was kept,” he said, bowing his head. “I’ve held up here with a containment team to ensure that it doesn’t get out.”

“And the girl?” I asked. Our eyes met, and I saw the grief he held.

He motioned to a nearby monitor to his right. I walked to it and watched it closely. The room was dark, but I could make out a young woman in a bed, surrounded by bizarre machines. Near her lay the body of the security guard that had tried to rescue her.

“I wanted to disconnect her immediately. But here’s the tricky part,” he said, pointing to another monitor. It showed a map monitoring the location of every being within the facility. “The black dots represent those creatures of darkness you’ve been slugging it out with. The white ones are living humans. The gray ones are trapped spirits. See this one?” he said, pointing to a white dot, not moving, on the other side of the building. “That’s her,” he said as he pressed the screen and brought up her vital signs. “She’s in a coma, but that’s not the kicker. See this gray dot?” He pointed to a gray dot moving randomly around the facility. It had the exact same vital signs, the same biosignature. A black dot followed it closely.

“It has her spirit trapped…” I said, watching the tandem dots.

“Exactly. And that sucker is impervious to our attacks. I have lost a lot of men to it,” he said, looking to me. “I don’t know who you are, but you’re the only chance we have against this thing. She cried out, and you answered. You are her Warrior…her love.”

To this, I closed my eyes, raising my head.

“If you’re ready, I’ll tell you what you have to do,” he said, placing his hand on my shoulder.

“I’m ready.”

“Follow me,” he said, walking through the hall I’d followed previously. I followed closely, glancing at the guards I passed. Those whose eyes met mine seemed to offer me confidence and faith.

We approached the room in which I had awakened then continued into a smaller room with a bed. “You’ll be hooked up to the same machines. You’ll be in the same state she is. But you can fight. You will be on the side of light. The form you take will represent your true nature. Lay down when you’re ready.”

He rolled out the machines. There were two of them, and they did not appear very high tech. They were more like i-movie props, with five crystals, one at the top and the rest arcing down on both sides. The pedestals that held them were silver and ornate. Unlike those that surrounded her, these had a cross in the center, above the solid base. Silver branches wrapped around each piece.

He positioned one machine to my right and one to my left. Pulling out a syringe, he injected a fluid into my wrist. Soon after, my eyes grew heavy. As I went under, he left the room and watched through the window. Darkness fell, and for a moment it all went blank.

• • •

I sat up. Then I stood, turned, and saw myself still on the bed, asleep. The chief stood by the window. His eyes widened in awe. I approached the door, and he opened it. I felt so unusual…so powerful!

“There’s a full mirror in this room,” he said, pointing to the room next to the lab. I entered it and stood before the mirror. Reflecting back was a figure somewhat taller than my usual height. Clad in white crystalline armor, he radiated an aura that sparked with energy. The armor resembled that of a Knight Templar. A helm covered most of his head, save for the face, where the long stem of a cross began at the tip of his nose and the short arms ended at a thick rim just above his eyes. The top of the helm was round, the face hidden by a white mist. A cross was etched into the gauntlets, chest piece, and knee plates. I turned to the side. A white cape hung over his—that is, over my—shoulders. I carried a kite shield and long sword strapped to my back.

Reaching over my shoulders, I unsheathed the sword and pulled the shield loose. I held the shield out before the mirror as I slid my arm through and held the sword in my natural stance. The sword was crystalline, with a white aura of its own. The shield was white, with a large cross in the center.

Turning to the chief, I asked, “Where is she?” My voice was different—booming but filled with love.

“Heading this way. And there are many creatures behind her,” the chief said. He slipped into Kevlar body armor and loaded an M4. We entered the break room, where security guards in full armor, bearing riot shields and M4s, knelt behind flipped tables. Four of the guards were stationed in the room where I had first met the chief, to guard the entrance to the dark matter. I stood front and center, just beyond the door to the break room. It was not barricaded, in hopes that the creatures would be funneled through that door.

“Stay back. Don’t shoot unless they get past me,” I said, approaching the door, shield raised. The hall beyond me shook with shadows as the creatures congested there. Some crawled along the walls and the ceiling; most ran through the center.

Holding my sword behind me, I began to focus my energy toward its crystalline blade. It sparked with light, and the energy radiated beyond the blade. Thrusting it forward, I released the energy in a single beam. The creatures shrieked as the beam pushed past them, tearing their dark forms apart.

“Help me!” It was a woman’s voice, but she was too far away for me to see her. Charging into the hall, I was met by more creatures. They ran at me, and I held my shield up. The first lunged directly at me; the second lunged underneath it. Swinging my shield, I slammed the first into the wall. The building shook with the mighty blow. The second creature clawed at my armor as I thrust my sword into its back. I spun as I jumped over it, swinging my sword and slashing at the oncoming creatures. Three of them charged me, and I cut all three in half. Swinging my shield like a plow, I charged into the remaining group of creatures, crushing them in my wake.

“Come to me, my Warrior!” the woman cried out from the adjacent corridor. I turned right and ran down the hall.

“Go to her!” the chief yelled as creatures poured down the hall behind me. There was a hail of gunfire and countless shrieks. The woman stood just beyond the next room. I could feel her. The gunfire intensified.

Someone yelled, “Frag out!” and an explosion rocked the building. In its wake came silence. The gunfire stopped. There were no more shrieks. Could the creatures have been defeated? Or were they just pawns, wearing down their adversaries until the real battle began?

I stopped just inside the doorway to the lobby. At the front entrance, she stood. “Warrior,” she said softly, looking at me. “You came for me.”

I walked to her, sheathing my sword and sliding my arm around her waist. I held my shield in front of us as I held her close. Sliding her arms around my neck, she rested her head against my chest.

“I will always be there for you,” I said, stroking her hair gently.

“I know,” she said softly, sighing.

An evil laugh echoed through the room. We turned to its source—a tall figure, almost hidden within the shadows behind us. He bristled with sharp spikes that jutted from his shoulders, elbows, and knees. He seemed to be wearing armor made of onyx. Turning to face him, I drew my sword and raised my shield, placing myself between her and him.

He laughed. He drew a glinting, ornate sword with a dark aura, its blade twisted as if from a nightmare. “Warrior,” he spat. He pointed his sword at me. “You are strong, yes, but those minions you and those filthy humans defeated were nothing but echoes of a greater form.”

“Oh?” I said, my voice booming with confidence. I pointed my sword to him.

“Like the two of you, I am projecting my spiritual essence. But unlike the two of you, my essential self is not a being of flesh. My real self is ethereal, not corporeal.” He approached me slowly, an evil grin visible inside his helm. “Besides, I have her trapped, and the only way to free her is to defeat this form.”

I turned to her, looking deep into her eyes. They were filled with fear, trust, and love.

“I will free you,” I said, bowing to her. Tears welled up in her eyes. Such a vow was unknown to her. After so many years, someone was finally rising up to defend her. Turning back to the Destroyer, I charged, my shield raised.

He slammed his sword, Nightmare, against my shield, Hope.

Pushing Hope forward, I swung my sword, Love, down at his legs. He stepped back quickly, holding Nightmare to the side then swinging at me once more. I met it with Love, bashing him with Hope. This knocked him back, as I followed by swinging Love once more, this time toward his head. Raising Nightmare, he parried my attack, lunging forward with his spiked shoulder. I barely raised Hope to block; the spikes penetrated my shield and pierced my arm, and I lost Hope. I gripped Love with both hands, though my right was slick with blood and weakened by the attack.

A white mist escaped the punctures in my armor. He laughed, watching as I regained my stance. We charged each other, and our swords locked once more. More than that, my white eyes locked with his black soul as we pressed our blades together, each trying to push back or disarm the other.

Neither of us could gain ground, and we were locked in struggle. A lifetime of pain flashed through me…hers and mine. Times of peril and struggle…times of loneliness and loss…I gripped Love tighter. I would not allow her to know this pain. I will not fail her.

“Never.” I spoke softly at first, and his fierce stare became a look of puzzlement. “NEVER!” I shouted, thrusting forward and knocking him against the far wall. I ran at him, jumping into the air and pressing my foot against his elbow, which caused him to drop Nightmare. I thrust Love into the wall and grasped the two spikes on his left shoulder. Ripping them off, I jabbed them through his elbows and into the wall. Quickly I ripped off the other two and thrust them through his knees into the wall. Seizing both Love and Nightmare, I thrust a sword through both of his hands. He hung, crucified, from the wall.

“Warrior,” he said, unable to move. “I underestimated you.”

“That’s an understatement.” I stepped a few feet away from him. I held my hands off to the side, focusing on directing energy into the space between them, forming a white ball that sparked as it grew. Reaching into its center, I threw the ball of energy at the Destroyer. He roared as the ball crashed into him, struggling as his form began to dissipate.

“This is not over, Warrior,” he said threateningly just before he vanished. I turned to her, and we smiled at each other.

“Thank you,” she said. Then she, too, began to vanish.

All went black for a moment. I felt nothing.

Slowly, I opened my eyes. My vision was a blur. The chief stood beside me. “Good work, son,” he said, extending his hand. I took it, and he pulled me up. Two guards stood at the doorway.

“We’ll take you to her,” one of them said. I stood, and we entered the break room, which had been torn to shreds. Though many of the guards had survived, they and the building showed the wounds and scars of an intense battle. Bullets had shredded the walls by the open door, and most of the tables were broken in half. Beyond the door, the hall was black with shrapnel. There were no creatures, alive or dead.

We continued down the hall, past the dent in the wall where I had slammed my shield. Burn marks from the ball of light were further down. Soon we entered into the lobby. It, too, showed battle scars. The wall where the demon had been slain showed six holes and one massive burn mark. We passed through the lobby, the offices, and a maze of corridors and entered into a lab. There she lay, between two machines, now disconnected and deactivated. She did not move.

“We’ll wait here,” the guards said, standing to the right and left of the doorway. I stepped into the lab and approached her slowly, studying her. She was beautiful…the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Taking her hand gently, I leaned over her and kissed her. She squeezed my hand, returning the kiss.

Sliding one arm under her legs and the other under her body, I pulled her toward me and lifted her gently, holding her close to my heart. She wrapped her arms around my neck as we broke the kiss slowly.

I turned, walking to the door, carrying her away. Away from all that had tormented her. Would it follow? I did not know. I did not care. I had found the love of my life. And I would always be her Warrior.

The Ghost Hunter’s Epilogue

THE SPIRITS OF Decay surrounded me with scythes raised. It was the end…or so I hoped. All went black as they swung as one, and a sinister voice entered my thoughts.

You are mine now. You sought to enter the unknown, and so you shall! The voice echoed all around. I was so cold…I could feel nothing but the still darkness. You shall bear witness to what is to come, helpless to intervene. That will be your torture. The pain you will know will not come from my hand but from your own eyes and heart.

A glimpse of the world passed all around me. The men I had fought with were all dead, and their families were mourning them. The Survivor had become the Specialist, and he was growing stronger. The girl had been taken, trained, and was now being used as a conduit. The company—the people in charge of the facility, who called the shots but never showed their faces—who, what, and where were they? Why did no one beyond the facility hear about the dead or the living who had fought so valiantly to spare the world from the dark forces? My own family was informed of my death—from “accidental work-related injuries”—yet they went about living as if nothing had changed. Such was their way in life, so it was with my death.

The entity who had bound me to him forever routinely attacked the girl in her dreams, forcing me to observe her pain helplessly. It would bring her to tears, then leave her sobbing. I could only observe from the shadows of the room.

The girl grew and became stronger. There was another, a man who could pose a threat to the entity.

“She truly believes that this man, this Warrior of hers, will come to her aid and free her. Foolish girl,” the entity told me. “He gives her hope, and she clings to it.”

I prayed she would continue to believe.

“Ghost hunter,” the entity said to me. “They will soon attempt to capture me. The time has come.” It spoke with an evil laugh. The entity entered her mind and was pulled into a vault, leaving me stranded between worlds, observing the chaos that ensued. The entity had established a connection with her mind and could now use her as a conduit through which more dark creatures could enter the world… and slaughter everyone they encountered.

By the time she was twenty, the girl was quite strong, but still she could not repel the entity. The Specialist had been sent away on an assignment. A familiar-looking security chief did all he could to repel the creatures, but it was not until her Warrior arrived that the creatures could be pushed back.

The Warrior was in the sewer system, about to enter into the facility, the demons at his heels. He climbed the ladder, and, using what energy I could draw from him, I shut the hatch behind him. As I reached out for him, he took my hand and held it tightly.

“Warrior,” I said. “You must save her…but before you may do so, you must revisit the demons of your past. Learn from them…conquer them.”

He held my hand firmly. He locked his leg around the ladder and released his grip on the rungs, grasping my other hand. Our eyes met. Tears welled up, or would have, if I had been alive. He was strong, and his eyes reflected purity.

“It is too late for me, Warrior,” I said, and he heard the despair in my voice. “But it is not too late for her. Find her. Save her.” I looked behind me then back at the Warrior. My hand trembled in his firm grip. My eyes told my story. The darkness had consumed me, and now it sought to take me back.

“I won’t let go,” he said to me, holding firmly. I groaned as the forces beyond me pulled at me, but he continued to hold on. I smiled as he held on. A sensation of relief crept into my spirit as I stared into his eyes one last time.

“You will triumph, I know. Farewell, Warrior,” I said softly. A white cloud puffed from my mouth. My hand vanished. The light awaited me.

The Reckoning

SHE CLUNG TO me as I carried her, moving through the dark corridors. The two guards followed, shining their flashlights to illuminate our path. Soon, we met up with the chief. He greeted us with a smile and respected us with a salute.

“What happens now?” I asked as I set her gently onto her feet. She wrapped her arms around me and leaned against my chest.

“Well,” he said, looking toward the quarantined room. “The Company will send operatives to assess the nature of the threat and determine the appropriate course of action.”

“To neutralize it or to study it further?” I asked, peering through the dark glass. What the room contained was unlike anything that had ever been openly encountered, except by those living with night terrors or schizophrenia.

“The threat it represents cannot be denied,” he said. “If they cannot control it, they will have to destroy it. From what I’ve seen, it is beyond us. It should be destroyed.”

His radio erupted with chatter. “This is Science Team Alpha; we have entered the facility and are proceeding to the containment cell,” said the voice.

“Copy that,” the chief replied. Soon, three men in hazmat suits entered. They watched us, me and my love, as they passed and stood before the chief. One studied the dark residue in the room, while another talked to the chief. The third approached the heavy door that sealed the darkness inside.

“Hold here while we check it out,” said the one talking to the chief. He and the other two opened the door and quickly slipped inside, shutting it behind them. Flashlights flickered as a heavy fog swirled about them, black and thick in form. Static overcame the radios, broadcasting only bits and pieces of chatter. Through the glass, we saw handheld meters light up. Waving them around slowly, the trio probed the darkness. All seemed well, until it seemed as though a dark curtain fell over the glass. I pulled out my own EMF meter and infrared thermometer and took some readings. The EMF meter spiked as I held it to the door, well above five milligauss. The temperature outside the door began to drop rapidly, from seventy-two to sixty.

The temperature dropped still lower.

“It’s still active.” The team leader keyed over the radio.

Distorted screams emerged from the radio, and we could see the silhouettes of the team thrashing at the enveloping mass.

“Alpha Leader, come in!” the chief shouted into the radio. There was no response. We heard more screams. “Alpha Team, respond!” the chief shouted once more, but there was only silence. The door to the containment room began to shake, and a bulge appeared at its center. “Prepare for breach!” the chief yelled to his men.

“Evac now!” he shouted, turning to us. His men ran to the emergency bunker, opening the door to allow the other survivors to escape. Dozens poured out and ran down the hallway toward the main entrance.

“It’s coming for me again,” my love said, looking into my eyes.

“I will not leave you.”

She smiled at this, holding me tight. The bulge in the door erupted, and a black tendril thrust through, striking me. I was thrown back. Another emerged, wrapping itself around her. One of the guards moved closer to the door and opened fire.

“No!” I shouted, scrambling to my feet. She met my eyes again, reaching out for me, and I took her hand and held on to her. Another tendril lashed out, slamming down upon me and leaving me dazed on the floor. It swept the guard aside, and she was pulled into the darkness, and I could not reach her.

“Come on!” the chief said as one of his men helped pick me up from the floor.

Then everything went blank.

Inhuman screams filled the darkness I floated in, echoed by a terrible laugh. Figures, shrouded by the darkness, moved in a distance unknown to me. One figure stood before me, her outline matching that of my love.

“It’s OK,” she said, coming closer. “There was nothing you could have done.”

“But…I could not save you,” I said, my thoughts echoing. I did not save her. I had failed.

“You came to me when no others would. Daring a darkness you could not understand, you came to me. You have already saved me by your love alone,” she said, her voice soothing and tranquil. In that moment, I began to realize one truth. It was not a single action that saved the heart. It was our love, and that love fostered actions of goodness. From this, words of love and compassion would be given. To this end, I would go to those in darkness. Yes, I’d go…not to be a hero but to be a servant, just as my Lord did for all of humanity.

“I will wait for you, my Warrior,” she said as she vanished into the blackness. I was left alone with my thoughts, and only my thoughts. They continued to echo across the dark expanse, thoughts of sorrow and thoughts of courage. A hand rested on my shoulder, offering light where darkness once stood.

“Awaken!” a strong voice said to me. Opening my eyes, I saw the chief standing over me. We were in a large office, and I was lying on the couch.

“Rise and shine, son,” the chief said.

“Where am I?” I said groggily as I sat up. In most ways, it was a typical office, with a desk, a bookshelf, a water cooler, several chairs, and a couch. The odd note was the well-stocked gun rack, complete with SMGs and pistols.

“We’re in the Company’s HQ,” the chief answered. He sat in a chair next to me. “Son, we’ve awakened something that defies all understanding.”

“Yeah, I figured that.” I said, shaking my head slightly. “What’s the sitrep?” I asked.

“After you were hit, my men and I pulled you out, and we evacuated to the HQ just a couple hours before dawn. However, dawn never came. No sun—and no stars in the sky.” He scowled. “We have no contact with anyone else. It’s as if everyone else in the world—or the world itself—has just…vanished. Only those people and places linked to the project remain.”

“Any theories?” I asked. In my mind, I continued to play back the visions and all the dark entity had said.

“I think maybe time has been displaced, frozen. It’s like an episode of The Twilight Zone.”

“An alternate dimension would explain a lot. That could be quantified. Exactly how was this dark mass acquired?” I said, looking out the window. There was nothing to see. It was just blackness, devoid of all light or life.

“In fact, they tell me that some eggheads did manage to tap into an alternate dimension and channel it into ours using those crystals. I’m thinking that somehow that process has been reversed, and we’ve been sucked into that dimension.” He stood up and peered out at the darkness.

“That explains everything…and nothing,” I said, raising an eyebrow.

“Agreed,” the chief said with a grim chuckle.

If we were in a dark dimension, that would explain the blackness that hung over us and maybe why we seemed to be the only humans in it. However, the idea that the dark entity could pull us in was well beyond my level of comprehension. How it could do that, and for what purposes, eluded my understanding for the moment. Ordinarily, I could spend a few hours deep in thought and I would find the answer—or it would find me, once I opened my mind to it.

All I knew was that there was still hope, and I had faith that we would ultimately defeat the dark demons. I knew that I had a force of light on my side, though I saw it only in my visions. What role it would play and when it would reveal itself fully remained unknown. Was it just watching me, placing its faith in one man? Or was it waiting for the proper time to come enforce…enforce what? I didn’t know.

Often I became lost in deep thought following a dream—like the one I’d had that started this all. In that dream, a voice told me that the Lord was preparing his Warrior to face the darkness. The dream told me that God would place his faith in this Warrior, whom he knew would prevail. My full faith lay with God, but the idea that God would place his faith in me was puzzling.

“What’s the plan?” I asked.

“I’ve been ordered to quarantine you and to neutralize all witnesses to our research,” he said. “The Specialist is being deployed to terminate the dark mass…and the girl.”

“I take it you’re not thrilled about these orders?” I said, searching his face.

“Not one bit,” he said, grimacing. “The problem for you is that my refusal to comply would change nothing. I’m replaceable, so there’s nothing I can do to stop it. However, there’s plenty you can do.” By his tone, I knew I could trust him. His heart longed to save, not destroy. He cared about the girl, too.

“I understand.”

“I can’t give you any weapons, but there’s a gun shop not far from the hospital where the two witnesses are. At least, I think the shop will still be there,” he said, cupping his hands to the window to peer out into the darkness. “Gear up, and go to them. Do you have any weapons training?”

“Army reserves, infantry,” I said, saluting.

“Good. All right, then. I’ll open the door and point you in the right direction.” He moved to the door. I followed, taking the flashlight that lay beside me. We exited the office and walked down the adjacent hall, stopping at a window. “You understand that I can’t send you out the front door?”

“Meaning I have to go out this window?” I asked.

“I’m afraid so. We’re four stories up. There’s a porte cochere below this window. There’s a narrow stone overhang at each floor, thirteen feet from one to the next, and if you hang from this sill, you’ll be just inches from the next ledge. Hang from that, and it’s an easy drop from there to the porch. It’s maybe twenty feet from there to the ground. You’ll have to find your way down from there.” He opened the window.

“Sounds fun,” I said, looking down at the ledge below.

“Good luck.”

I dangled from the open window and dropped straight down onto the stone ledge. It was just wide enough to allow me to turn around and, facing away from building, lower myself down, back pressed to the wall, until I could sit on the ledge. I leaned sideways and gripped the rough stone then eased myself off into a dead hang. Keeping my knees flexed, I dropped onto the porte cochere below, landing in a crouch, with my arms held down to equalize the shock. I stood and surveyed the area. The sky was dark, and neither moon nor star shone overhead. The surrounding buildings, big and small, showed no lights. There were cars in the street but none moving. No chatter, no voices, no birds, no sirens…nothing, just an endless silence and an unshakable feeling of dread. The only lights anywhere were the HQ’s emergency lights at ground level, which dimly lit the surrounding area enough for me to see how I could get down to the ground.

Below the far edge of the porte cochere, which apparently covered the rear service area, was a dented Dumpster, its angled top fortunately closed. I lowered myself over the edge of the roof and dropped on the Dumpster, landing feet first with a loud, metallic thud and half sliding, half running to the ground. Afraid the noise I’d made would alert someone, I kept running, sprinting in the direction of the hospital to find the gun shop.

When I was about a block away, I could see that the hospital had some dim light showing through several windows. Assuming anyone there would be on alert, I approached using side streets, ducking through alleys and into doorways, though I saw no one. For once, I was glad of the darkness.

I found the group of shops near the hospital, among them the gun store. I peered inside through the front window. The walls were lined with a variety of firearms, SMGs, assault rifles, shotguns, and tactical gear. The store was unlocked but seemingly empty, and I opened the door and entered cautiously, searching behind the counters and in the back rooms to make sure I was alone. I was.

I started with my clothes. Miraculously, the first set of black BDUs I pulled from the center shelf were my size, as was the tactical vest and the light pair of combat boots already set out in a box. I slid my necklace around my neck, ensuring that the cross was visible, and placed my God’s Army hat on my head. Now I needed to select my load out for close-quarter combat in the buildings and long-range shooting in the streets.

I wondered about the store’s customers. It was an odd place for a gun store, especially one with the feel of an upscale boutique. Its gun racks were lined with both military and civilian weapons.. There were bins of grenades—frag, stun, smoke, incendiary, concussion, you name it—racks of bayonets and combat knives, and glass cabinets filled with accessories like scopes, silencers, and laser targets.

I slid a .45 pistol into my vest’s holster and attached another holster to my left thigh for the Uzi. I slung an M4 on my shoulder and filled the vest with clips—two pistol magazines and four rifle magazines. For the Uzi, I strapped three additional clips to my right thigh.

I grabbed an ALICE pack and filled it with ammo. I attached an LED DOT scope to the M4 and a light and a laser sight to the .45. I put on a pair of night-vision goggles. “Damn cool,” I said as I turned them on. The entire room seemed to be fully illuminated. I followed a sign to the store’s backroom target range, put on a pair of ear protectors, and fired the weapons at the targets, adjusting the sights.

It all seemed too easy. All the clips had been full, the clothes my size and so easy to find, all the right accessories available—as though everything had been prepared for me, but by whom? The chief? I had no time to puzzle it out, for at that moment the wall behind the paper targets came crashing down. Three large creatures burst from the dust, shrieking. They were humanoid in form, all between six and seven feet tall, with long fingers like talons. Where I would have expected to see heads, I saw only a dark fog curling up out of their bodies.

“Bring it on!” I yelled, raising the M4 and firing at them.

Initially, they seemed dazed as the bullets struck them. Then they became enraged. Moving with unnatural speed, the first one lunged. I threw myself forward, rolling onto my back, and fired into the creature’s chest as it passed over me. Landing behind me, it slid into, and partway through, the wall and stopped moving. The second grabbed my vest and hoisted me into the air, knocking the M4 from my hands. I drew my pistol and fired a head shot into the densest part of the fog. The creature roared and threw me the length of the range. To straighten my roll, I braced myself by kicking into the divider.

The third creature rushed toward me. I drew the Uzi and fired it and the pistol. “I like the skinny ones better!” I yelled out. I leaped to my feet, still firing, and watched as the third creature picked up a hunk of the wall, preparing to hurl it toward me. Firing the remaining rounds of the Uzi, I broke up the concrete into smaller pieces before the big chunk could reach me and dove out of the way of most of the smaller debris.

A cloud of dust billowed from the impact, and visibility dropped briefly to zero. Hopping over the divider, I ran down the second firing lane toward the shooter’s booth, where I found an automatic shotgun propped against the wall. Holstering my Uzi and pistol, I grabbed the shotgun and raised it to cock it. It was fully loaded.

I knelt down as the second creature approached. It seemed not to know exactly where I was. As I waited, it approached the divider from row one. I crept out from the booth and turned to stand behind the creature. It froze, sensing that I was nearby, though it still did not know where. I crept a little farther until I was just a few feet away. First, I fired at the backs of its knees, knocking it forward. Then I ran close to it and fired once more into its back. It fell, and I stood over it and fired into what should have been its neck. A black gas seeped out from its fatal wounds. The gas had a strange scent to it, something that suggested night and darkness, though I did not know how.

The third creature gave up trying to throw concrete projectiles. It howled and barreled toward me. I aimed and waited until he was just six feet from me, then fired. The creature screamed in pain as the round struck between its legs. As it fell forward, I fired another round into the head fog.

With all three of the creatures still and seemingly lifeless, I was finally free to examine them more closely. Their claws were massive and deathly sharp. They were colossal creatures, thickly muscled and very powerful. I had not encountered them before. The creatures I had previously engaged relied purely on numbers, not individual strength. Their plenitude gave them an advantage that could easily be exploited, but they seemed incapable of tactical attacks. They simply swarmed their targets.

These new creatures were obviously capable of using different styles of attack, but they did not seem to work together. That was an obvious weakness, although it also suggested that they would be unpredictable foes.

At any rate, I had to reach the hospital quickly. After reloading all my weapons and stocking up with fresh clips, I left the gun shop through the hole in the wall. With my rifle raised, I moved swiftly across the street. The entire place was barren and dark. The adjacent parking garage showed no activity—that is, human activity. The creatures could be lurking in the shadows, waiting for me to come to them.

Why keep them waiting? The garage was five stories tall and filled with cars that offered ample cover. Hugging the center wall of each deck, I moved cautiously, thankful for the night-vision goggles, which picked up a faint luminescence from the sky. On the second level, I paused, hearing what sounded like footsteps behind me. I turned quickly but saw nothing but shadows. I walked another twenty feet or so before pausing once more, sensing something near. On instinct, I rolled to the left, just as a car moved past. Its engine was not running; it was just rolling down the ramp, with no one at the wheel.

Something was following me, either to kill me or trap me. I thought I saw movement just behind a truck about thirty feet from me. I heard sounds I took to be laughter. The laugh was cold and sinister. I knelt and fired a three-round burst toward the shadow. The shadow shrieked and thrashed, and I fired another round through the windows of the truck. The movement and the shrieking ceased.

A loud thud echoed behind me, and I turned to find a raptor-like creature, five feet tall or so, with a thin crest extending at an angle and two curved horns lining the crest. It looked to be built for speed and agility, not strength, though it did have a pair of nasty-looking talons. Taking flight, it thrust its sharp claws at me, soaring close enough that I could see its eyes, filled with a dark light and black flames.

“This just keeps getting better and better!” I yelled as I opened fire on the creature. It circled over me, brewing up a funnel cloud of black flames. I fell to the floor and rolled to the side to avoid it. A three-round burst cutting through it sent the creature shrieking into the shadows. I stood slowly, approaching the dark corner where I had last seen it. The hair on my neck began to stand up.

A thin pipe flew toward me from the shadows. Allowing my reflexes to operate, I focused on nothing and everything. As I leaned to the side, I caught the pipe, twirling it as my rifle fell loose on my shoulder.

The creature lunged, and I swung the pipe, connecting with the side of its head. Dazed, the creature stumbled. I dropped the pipe, raised my rifle, and fired into the dark flame I could see through its chest. The creature thrashed, and the black flame seemed to seep from its body. As it fell to its knees, however, it released a piercing shriek, and the black flame grew larger.

I took off running. The entrance to the hospital was near, and I made a full sprint toward it. Diving through the doorway, I kicked the door shut just as the black flame expanded in all directions. The flare lasted a few seconds, and then it was over. I was beginning to wonder if I should have just ignored the dream that brought me to this place, though it didn’t matter now; I was there, and there was no time to play What if? games. I reminded myself of my mission to serve all, to help all that I could, no matter the cost to myself.

I raised my assault rifle to ready position and moved down the hall. The lights that I had seen were on the third floor, toward the front of the hospital. I was on the second floor, off to the side. On my way toward the stairs, I stopped to peer out a window. Flashlights bobbed in the darkness in front of the main entrance, six of them—probably the Company’s cleanup crew. I had to move fast. I raced up the stairs and opened the fire door to access the third floor.

A light was on, about five doors down the hall.

“Hello?” I called out, keeping the door open just a tiny crack. The light switched off, and I heard muffled voices and footsteps.

“Who’s there?” a male voice yelled back, followed by the cocking of a gun.

“I’m here to help,” I called back, opening the door wider. “I’m coming into the hallway.” As I stepped out, I saw two men in uniforms, with pistols raised, exit the room.

One was a security guard, the other a cop. I slung my rifle and stepped into the hall with my hands raised.

“How’d you get in here?” the security guard asked as he approached me.

“Damned if I know,” I said with a snort. They looked at each other and shrugged.

“Good enough for me,” the cop said, holstering his pistol. The guard followed his lead.

“So, you’re a soldier?” he asked, motioning for me to follow.

“For now I am.” We walked to the room, where I saw two familiar faces. I assumed they were the two witnesses the chief had mentioned.

“You made it!” said Mary as she and Christina walked to me. It was the patient and the office worker I’d saved previously.

“Looks like it,” I said lightly, smiling. My tone quickly returned to serious, as we had little time. “It looks like they’re sending in a cleanup crew. I’ve been warned that the Company intends to ‘neutralize all witnesses,’ and I expect that means you two—and everyone protecting you.” I looked at the cop and the guard to make sure they understood that they were in danger. “Odds are, they’re heading this way. I counted six, though there could be more, and I don’t know for sure who—or what—they are or what they’re armed with. Something big and mean would be my guess.” I looked around the room. “What do you have for weapons?”

“Well, Chuck here has a MP5 and an H&K USP9,” the cop said, pointing to the security guard. “I have a twelve-gauge shotgun and this .22 pistol.” They picked up their weapons and strapped on their ammo. The guard wore a tactical vest lined with magazines. The cop had a sash of shotgun shells.

“All right, let’s set up a welcoming party,” I said. I handed the Uzi to the Christina, the woman I’d saved from the office. “Take this, along with the ammo. Stay in this room, and lock the door.” She took the submachine gun gratefully. The three of us exited the room, and the door shut behind us.

We established a defensive bunker, flipping beds and several file cabinets to form a barrier. To slow the attackers’ approach and give away their positions, we littered the approaching corridors with objects too small to provide cover but large enough to create obstacles. We scattered broken glass on the tiled floor to make it impossible for them to sneak up on us, making it harder to move on us.

“Chuck, watch the halls behind us. Stay hidden until you have a clear shot,” I ordered. I turned to the cop.

“George,” he said, awaiting my instructions.

“George, you’re our Jack-in-the-box. Give ’em a surprise if they get close.”

They crouched behind the barrier. Taking a prone position, I slid the M4 through the gap between a bed and the wall, peered down my scope, and waited.

We didn’t have to wait long. Screams and gunfire echoed from both corridors, and flashlight beams prowled the walls and floors frantically.

“Go-go-go!” a man shouted over the gunfire. We heard loud footsteps, then crunching glass as someone turned the corner. We agreed that unless it was necessary, we wouldn’t shoot to kill, but now we weren’t sure we knew friend from foe. When the first Company mercenary entered the hallway and tripped over a box, a creature immediately jumped on him and raised its claws to tear him apart. Firing a small burst, I knocked the creature down.

“Over here!” I yelled. The man scrambled up and jumped over the beds, crouching beside George.

“We got another one,” Chuck said. He raised his MP5 over the bed. Another mercenary charged down the corridor with several creatures close behind him. Chuck opened fire, ensuring that he didn’t strike the man.

“Don’t shoot!” the mercenary said. He vaulted over the beds to join us, rolling into firing position. He blasted one of the creatures into oblivion.

From around the corner we could hear the sound of a third Company man being attacked by creatures. I leaped over the barrier and ran to where he stood. There the corridors met in a T-shaped intersection. Creatures poured in from both directions.

“Let’s go!” I said as I opened fire down the left hall. He fired down the right hall, and then we fell back toward the others. George popped up and blasted the creatures that pursued us. The first two mercs joined Chuck, one firing an FAL P90 and the other an H&K G36. The third fired an H&K CAWS.

We now had a six-man team with two SMGs, two ARs, and two shotguns, plus two women with an Uzi.

As we fired down the hall, I looked at the third merc. “You seem familiar,” I said while I scanned the hall for movement.

“I should. You saw me just a few hours ago,” he said with a chuckle, pushing up his night-vision goggles to reveal his face.

“Chief? That you?” I asked, chuckling as well.

“Live and in person,” he said, blasting two creatures in half. George and the second merc faced the hall behind us, and the rest of us faced the hall in front. The creatures swarmed in, coming closer and closer, and we blasted them with the shotguns. The obstacles slowed the creatures down, making them easy targets as they climbed over. They tripped and pushed each other, rushing toward us.

“Reloading!” I said aloud as I removed the empty clip and slid in a new one. The first merc covered me and reloaded after me.

The creatures that fell did not dissipate as the others before them had but piled up, hindering the others. Whenever one jumped over or crawled under a barrier, we shot it. Soon they began to crawl along the walls and ceiling to bypass the piled dead and our planted obstacles. They inched closer from both directions.

“Reloading!” Chuck yelled as he emptied his clip. The second mercenary covered him while he slapped in a new one and resumed fire. The hordes of creatures seemed to operate as one, merely splitting into two groups. George blasted each creature that came close, cocking the shotgun and firing again. He paused only to cram shells into it before resuming. The chief had an auto shotgun, which needed to be cocked only once.

The number of creatures began to thin, which was good news, as we were running out of ammo. I set my M4 aside and drew the .45, firing into the incoming creatures. Chuck did the same with his H&K USP9. The first mercenary fired an FN Browning Hi-Power, and the second used a Glock 19. Soon the last creature fell.

Our moment of victory was short-lived. We moved back into the room and heard a rumble. The ceiling began to shake. “Ah, come on!” I yelled, firing into the ceiling. The others did the same, until the ceiling was pocked with bullet holes. A roar followed, and the ceiling continued to shake.

“Move!” the chief yelled. We dispersed just as a large creature came crashing through. It was another massive fog head, like the ones from the shooting range. It smashed at the door, and as we opened fire from the hallway, we could hear the Uzi firing from inside the room. I moved in to try to shoot the creature point-blank in the head, and it backhanded me into the wall. Chuck fired his USP9 into the fog, and finally the creature fell lifeless, the strange gas escaping from its body.

“You OK?” the chief said, helping me to my feet.

“Yup. You?” I said.

“In a fashion,” he replied. “Thanks.” He moved to check on his two men. George and the others walked to me, forming a circle.

“So what now?” Chuck asked, loading his pistol.

“Can we trust them?” George asked, motioning toward the men who had most likely been sent to kill us.

“I think so. The chief helped me out earlier.” I glanced at Christina and Mary, and they seemed to agree. “Besides, I don’t think we have much of a choice here.”

The chief and his group walked toward us. “I still don’t intend to go through with my orders, which—as I told you earlier—were to neutralize all witnesses and aid the Specialist, who is on his way to terminate the dark mass and the girl. I suggest we run parallel to him.”

“First, let’s resupply at the gun shop. If he’s not close enough to sense us, maybe we can catch some rest before we head out,” I said, picking up my M4.

“Lead the way,” George said. The hospital was quiet, and no creatures appeared to be active. Soon we entered the parking garage, which had been charred by the black flame.

“What happened here?” Mary asked, seeing the scorched cars.

“I had a fit,” I said with a smile. She returned the smile. We left the garage and entered into an open area, where we heard whispers, faint and echoing, descending from the sky. A dark mass swirled above.

“Whoa! That is one evil-looking cloud,” said the first mercenary, looking up in awe.

“You got that right,” I said. We pressed on to the gun shop and found it quiet. There was no movement. Aside from the dark mass above us, we were alone…for now.

“So, why are you two helping us?” Chuck asked the two mercs. They turned to him and shrugged.

“Partly because you saved us,” the first one said, laughing. “And partly because we know it’s the right thing to do.”

“And partly because the chief will probably shoot us if we don’t,” said the second one.

“Works for me,” George said.

I shrugged, opening an MRE and devouring it. The others did the same. The store was well stocked and seemed to meet our every need—save for lights. At least it had flashlights, head lamps, and batteries. The darkness, though, was perfect for sleeping. Without a word, I curled up in a back corner and fell asleep.

I soon found myself in a vision. I saw a figure of pure light standing before me. “Warrior,” it said to me. “Know that you are never alone.” Then it vanished.

In the dream, I sat up and saw the others looking at me curiously. They seemed conscious of the dream.

“Who was that?” Mary asked.

“My guardian angel, I think,” I said.

I heard a voice then, gentle and loving, speaking to us all. “Do not leave him,” it said, “for he will not last by himself.”

“Uh…who?” Chuck asked, puzzled.

“The Warrior,” the voice said. Everyone looked at me. I shrugged. “Stay together through this darkness, and light will prevail.” The voice faded.

No one seemed to know what to say. Oddly, I didn’t need to hear them speak, as suddenly their thoughts were open to me; most were thinking that they would never leave me, just as I had not left them. I smiled, knowing that I would ultimately face this alone.

“A lot of pressure has been put on you, son,” the chief said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“He found me, saving me when no one else came.” Mary sat beside me and took my hand.

“And he came to me, offering peace and tranquility when all was lost,” Christina said, smiling.

“Well, I just met the guy, but he’s a good guy to have at your side during a firefight, ya know?” Chuck said, laughing. We laughed with him, and George shrugged.

“Yeah, the chief says he’s a heck of a guy,” the first merc said.

The second nodded, smiling. “You’ve made a difference to me already,” he said. “I ain’t dead.”

As I realized my deeds, I sighed. I had never thought of myself as good or special. However, my actions had spoken for me.

I must accept the course the Lord has prepared for me and be who I am. I live by faith and by honor. I am a knight by honor and by faith, cleansed through the blood of Jesus and cleared of punishment by his broken body. This is who I am, and I now realize this.

We grew silent, enjoying the peace of each other…our fellowship. Though I sensed a dark presence near, it did not enter the dream. It merely observed, perhaps looking for a weakness. Finding none, as we were united, it did not approach. It could not approach. What tomorrow would hold remained a mystery to us.

The role we were playing seemed too grand, for each did not believe in the individual, but each other. I look to you, my Lord, for guidance. May your will be done.

I awoke before the others, standing as I looked at them. They slept peacefully, even in the midst of chaos. I strapped on my ALICE pack and slung my M4 over my shoulder. I looked toward the others once more, and my thoughts raced. I couldn’t allow them to die, not for me. I wouldn’t allow it.

I slipped out of the shop and stood alone in the street. There, I met a warrior clad in white armor. He was tall, and his skin was pale. His hair, long and white, fell upon his shoulders.

“Will you go alone?” he asked in a voice both stern and tranquil.

“I have no choice,” I said, looking into his white eyes.

“Choice is what life is about. You know this well, Warrior. There is always choice,” he said, smiling as he placed his hand upon my shoulder.

“I will allow them to die…not for me,” I said, my voice filled with burden.

“No, you will not. You will do all that you can to protect them, no matter the cost to you. This is the choice of the knight, and this is your path. However, your path is not that of a lone warrior, but of a leader. Lead them, Warrior. You need them, and they need you. I will always be near—our Lord promises you,” he said, offering me his full compassion.

At this, I trembled and bowed my head. “But how?” I said in a shaky voice as I began to weep softly.

“You have experienced much—more than most. You have seen things few can even imagine. This sets you apart, and this allows you to lead. Through your actions, you have guided others,” he said, pressing his forehead against mine gently. “I will watch over you.” He vanished, and my weeping subsided. I returned to the shop, and the others began to stir.

“Good morning…or evening. Whatever it is. I can’t tell in this endless darkness,” I said.

“Yeah, good whatever it is to you, too,” Chuck said, sitting up.

“Hey, while we’re throwing things out there, I’m Bill,” said the first merc. He pointed at the other Company man. “And that’s Josh.”

“Nice to formally meet you,” Josh said, smiling.

“Yeah, same here,” George said. “So, what now?”

“Well, we’re going to need to hit the facility rather quickly,” said the chief. “It’s about twenty miles south of the city. And we’ll be hiking there.”

“Oh, great,” Mary said sarcastically. I couldn’t blame her. She had looked near death when I found her.

“Hey, a little exercise is always a good thing,” I said, smiling.

“But a lot can hurt,” Christina said, laughing lightly.

“Stock up on food and water. We have at least a five-hour walk ahead of us,” I said, tossing some MREs to Chuck.

“Yum, yum,” he said as he stuffed them in his duffel bag. The others stocked up on food, water, and ammo, too.

We set out soon after, proceeding south. The dark mass in the sky grew, and laughter was added to the whispering. The city was quiet, and there was no movement. Maintaining a steady pace, we soon hit the outskirts of the city.

The radio erupted with a message. “Alpha Team to Bravo Team, sitrep immediately,” the voice said. The chief paused, looking at me before responding.

“Targets neutralized, though we lost three men. What’s your status, Specialist?”

“Proceeding to rendezvous point. ETA, ten minutes,” said the voice.

The chief turned off his radio briefly and spoke to me. “Son, he’s alone. And you’re the only one that comes close to matching his power. We can follow, but it will be up to you to confront him,” he said, looking toward the horizon. “We’re about ten minutes away from the rendezvous point ourselves.”

The others looked at me and then at each other and shrugged. We began walking, veering off the main road. The grass was gray and held no life. It felt as if death itself surrounded us. Soon the chief stopped us.

“He’s just ahead, in the field,” he said, pointing.

I walked into the clearing. A man stood in the center, his back to me. He was tall and muscular, with a powerful aura.

“You’re the one…” he said, turning to me. Our eyes locked. “You are more powerful than you realize. I have only felt one other like you.”

“And you will not harm her. I won’t allow it,” I said, staring into his gray eyes. He continued to stare into mine.

“Eyes reveal much about a person’s spirit. Color and radiance lie in the eyes of those with creativity…and power,” he said calmly. “Yours speak of love and compassion. You hold within you a great power and much wisdom. That is, no doubt, why she chose you.”

“And yours speak of cold and darkness. I feel your power, and I feel your intelligence,” I said.

To this he smirked and walked toward me. “Truly, we are opposites,” he said, standing before me.

Holding my M4 to the side, I allowed him to approach unharmed.

“Each standing for something that defies the other.”

“And what do you stand for?” I asked as we stared each other in the eyes. Neither he nor I flinched.

“The weak bow to the strong, and those with power serve no others,” he said, grinning. “And you?”

“The weak lead the strong, and those with power serve everyone,” I said simply and without apology.

He smirked again. “See, we defy each other…just as light and darkness do.” He tilted his head slightly, studying me. “You don’t act like any of the others that I encountered,” he said in a curious voice.

“Others?” I asked, matching his curious voice.

“Yes,” he said. “Others have tried to aid her. You are the only one who has proven yourself. They came to her for selfish reasons, to use her, and then they left her. However, you have simply come to help her. Not for love and not for romance, though both have spawned from it. Merely to save her…to serve her.”

I nodded, then placed the M4 on the ground, followed by the Uzi and the .45.

He smiled. “You have both courage and honor. I respect this. You will prove to be a worthy adversary.” He thrust his hand forward, focusing a wave of energy toward me. I was knocked back; I fell to the ground. He possessed powers I had never encountered.

Jumping to my feet, I focused my own energy outward, channeling it throughout my body. This increased my speed and my strength, which I drew on as I charged him. As he readied to block, I slid to the side, thrusting my shin into the back of his knees. It knocked him forward, but he did not go down.

He laughed. “Not bad,” he said, turning to me. “Allow me to show you…” With that, he focused his own energy, strengthening his aura to an overwhelming level. At a blinding speed, he kicked me, connecting with my side. Before I could react, he thrust his palm into my chest. As I stumbled, he began to circle me. “Come on,” he said, taunting me. “You’re much more powerful than this!”

I allowed my mind to focus only on him and my eyes to focus on nothing. Nothing else mattered, save for stopping him. All else was blank to me. He lunged once more, performing a spin kick as he came. Blocking with one arm, I grabbed his ankle with the other and pulled him toward me. Before he could regain his balance, I thrust my elbow into his jaw and followed that with a quick jab to the nose. Blood flowed from both areas.

“Much better,” he said, laughing, not fazed at all. “Can you levitate yet? Have you even seen it done?” he asked as he held his arms out and focused. Soon he began to float into the air, up and away from me. He was ten feet from me now, about three feet off the ground. “Come,” he said.

I knelt to the ground and grabbed a baseball-sized rock. The Specialist watched to see what I would do. Holding it behind me, I focused all of my energy into that single point before hurling it toward him. In an instant, it struck his shoulder, which he now held.

Smirking, he focused once more and vanished. He reappeared a few feet behind me, laughing, then vanished again.

Closing my eyes, I began to feel his movement…and his energy.

As he played his game, I learned to sense him. Soon, I was able to tell where he would appear next. My ears twitched as he vanished one last time. Pausing, I waited for him to appear just behind me to attack. Before he rematerialized, I positioned myself to counter his attack. He appeared, thrusting his fist toward me, but I was already beside him. I grabbed his arm and pulled it behind him before pushing him to the ground.

“Very impressive,” he said, his smirk gone, his voice no longer filled with laughter. I held his arm tightly, almost to the breaking point. I lay across his back, pulling his arm toward me. Though it was only minutes, it seemed far longer.

Without warning, an evil voice entered my mind, followed by the tortured screams of countless victims and the shrieks of an endless horde. Immediately, I became incapacitated and had to release my hold on him, rolling off him and curling up with my hands over my temples. I grunted and groaned and soon screamed.

He seemed similarly affected, as he fell to the ground screaming and rolling, and I had to assume that he, too, was being tormented by visions of torture and darkness. The field where we cowered darkened as a black mass formed beneath us. Echoes of an evil laughter surrounded us, mixed with the sounds of frightened screams. I reached for the Specialist’s hand and took it. In response, he squeezed mine as we supported each other. We were now fighting a common enemy as we fell into darkness.

We stood together, and the echoes subsided, leaving silence in their wake. A tall figure, clothed in darkness, approached us, laughing menacingly. We stood side by side to face it.

“You cannot win, even together,” it said mockingly. “Why do you fight, even in the face of obliteration?”

“It’s what I do,” the Specialist said, smirking at it.

“It’s who I am,” I said, looking into its eyes, which burned with black fire.

The figure laughed more before speaking again. “I will break you both and harvest your souls,” it said. We remained steadfast in the face of the threat, staring it dead in the eyes. It ran at us, swiping at us with its claws. As I rolled to the side, the Specialist phased out then reappeared behind the figure.

Focusing a wave of energy toward the figure, he knocked it forward. The figure released a menacing laugh as it lashed out at him. As it took hold of him, I rose to my feet and charged it, ramming my shoulder into its back. This loosened its hold on the Specialist, and he tore free. As I moved to kick it in the side, the dark figure readied a block and backhanded me, knocking me a few feet back. Before it could seize me, the Specialist jumped into the air and kicked it in the head. It stumbled again and turned to face him.

“Annoying fleas!” it roared, sending a pulse of dark energy toward the Specialist, knocking him to the ground, hard. When it turned back to me, I focused all of my energy into a single point—my fist—and swung toward its chest. The figure roared and fell to the ground.

Immediately, I dove to the ground and placed my knees on its left arm. The Specialist pinned its right arm. We placed our hands against its chest and held it firmly to the ground.

“Looks like we got you,” the Specialist said.

The figure looked at us in turn and laughed. “What I have shown is not even a shred of my true power,” it said, an evil grin forming. With ease, it knocked each of us aside and held us to the ground with an invisible force. “One of you is almost corrupted. You know which one,” it said, circling us.

We struggled fiercely but remained stationary. We could not move, and we could not fight. “This is not the team to face me,” it added, looking at me. “Though together you are powerful, you are not united. You fight a common enemy, only to fight each other once more—one of warmth and one of cold. You can never stand as one. I leave you, Warrior, to choose your next path. To choose your true ally. Then I will destroy you both.”

A surge of hatred and rage enveloped my mind, causing me to black out. It was too much—the anguish of realizing that the dark figure had been right, that the Specialist and I could never work together as a team, not entirely. We had a common enemy, but we remained enemies as well.

At this moment, I knew it was her. She was my true ally. Only she and I could work together to defeat this entity. Our love for each other brought us close, and we were becoming one. I had to get to her, and soon. The darkness she faced must be immense, a nightmare incarnate. Wanting so much to tell her that I was coming, my mind cried out to her. Soon, I began to see what she saw…and feel what she felt.

The Beginning

THROUGH HER EYES, I saw her past. She was a little girl, sitting on a bed in some sort of laboratory, hooked up to machines that measured her synaptic activity and psionic potential. Oddly, she seemed calm, as if she had always known it would happen. A clean-shaven, middle-aged man in a white lab coat entered. He wore glasses, and his black hair was streaked with gray.

“Do I have a name?” she asked, looking to him.

“No,” he said, brushing her off quickly. As he examined the machines, he looked toward a woman sitting behind a window about three feet above them. She nodded to him, and he exited the room.

“Well?” she asked as he joined her. They both turned to watch the girl through the glass before he replied.

“Her ESP level is off the charts. I wouldn’t be surprised if she knows what we’re thinking at this moment.”

As he said this, the girl smiled and said to the empty room, “Yes, I do.”

“Well, then, she most likely knows what’s going to happen next,” the woman said, turning back to the scientist.

“She knows more than we do. Continually, she refers to someone she calls the Warrior, a man who will arise in her darkest hour…a man of love, compassion, honor, and valor. She even drew a picture of him.”

“Sounds like a typical child’s fantasy of a knight in shining armor,” the woman scoffed. “Yet…intriguing. Where is this picture?”

“She keeps it in her room, above her bed. She says it keeps the monsters away. I have a copy of it, if you wish to see,” he said, pulling a picture from a manila folder.

“Of course,” the woman said, leaning beside him.

It felt so odd…I was seeing things through the mind of a little girl who could see through the minds of others. The picture that the two studied was of me, in uniform. I wore combat fatigues and held an M4.

“Apparently, this is the man he will grow up to become. Currently, the two are the same age. We have his name, and I’ve compiled his records.” He handed the woman the rest of the folder. As the woman leafed through it, I saw that it contained a picture of me as a child stapled to a form that listed a brief description, with my address, age, and the names of relatives. Other papers were records from my schools, doctors, and known associates.

“Watch him,” she ordered, turning back to the girl. “He may be of great value to us.”

That was the past. In an instant, the vision moved to just a few years ago. The girl, now a young woman, sat in her room, looking at her drawing of me. Often, she spoke of the day I would come to her… the day I would rescue her. A new scientist, a younger one, conversed with the same woman outside. Their thoughts and words were clear to the young woman—and, through her, to me—though they were a few rooms away.

“We’ve found more information about this so-called Warrior of hers,” he said, pulling up some charts on the computer.

“What’s this?” she asked, studying them.

“It’s an ESP test, given online. It measures all areas of ESP by giving questions with randomly selected answers. Only someone with ESP can get them correct. He scored 99 percent—higher than everyone else who took the test. He’s very powerful.”

“Almost in league with our specialist,” she said.

“Yes. Save for the combat gear, the drawing matches his current photo exactly,” said the scientist, holding up the two photos.

“I see. So perhaps something will happen very soon,” she said, comparing the images.

“He may be the one she is connecting with. He has a history of night terrors and possibly schizophrenia, which may in fact just be the manifestation of his intermittent connection with her. So far, he has not been very forthcoming about the nature of his…dreams.” He called up another file.

“Keep me informed,” she said, looking away.

The man sighed. When he looked toward the security monitor of the subject’s room, she looked up at the camera and waved. The camera was always on, and she had learned to ignore it, but she always knew when someone was watching her in real time through the camera. Her ability was astonishing.

Night terrors, possible schizophrenia, dreams…and photos and information about me. They were talking about my life and the aberrations I’d experienced in recent years back.

The vision stepped ahead a few years, stopping at a point just a few months prior to the present. The same man and the same woman stood outside the containment room.

“Do you have an update?” she asked as she flipped through the folders he had given her. She came across a picture of me, taken after basic training. Immediately, she became speechless.

“It’s confirmed a perfect match,” the young scientist said, smiling. The photo and the image were identical, right down to the pose. “We’ve also been able to focus the dark mass we tapped into.”

“Can it be applied yet?” she asked.

“Unknown. Currently the research indicates that the dark mass comprises a self-aware, sentient entity constructed of pure dark energy. We will need to better understand it before we unleash it,” he replied, looking into the containment room.

“Very well,” she said, following his gaze. “And the crystals?”

“We’re still trying to determine how to unlock their full potential. They seem to have been built to channel spiritual energy. Built by whom, or for what specific purpose, we still don’t know.”

Time jumped ahead a little more in the vision to a point just a few days before I arrived at this place. The girl was being escorted to another lab by the chief. She felt that he cared for her, and she appreciated his gentle touch and supportive words. Both of them were silent, as she already knew what he was thinking. How can they do this to her? he thought. She knew he felt powerless to stop it. In the lab, she met the young scientist, who strapped her to a bed in the center of the room and rolled those bizarre machines to rest next to her, one on each side of her. A heavy, clear cable was connected to each through a Y connection, and the cable ran to the containment room, where the dark mass awaited.

Though she knew what would happen, she felt anxious. She was troubled by the scientist’s plans, yet she knew that I would soon come to her and she would know a love she had not felt.

The scientist gave her an injection, which placed her into an induced coma. He activated the machines and then left the room. The chief stood with the administrator in the adjacent room, watching through a heavy glass wall. The crystals churned with dark energy, all of which was being channeled into her. Images, evil and cruel, flooded her mind, scenes of torture and betrayal. The laughter of an entity not of this world, echoed by a thousand voices, followed the images. Suddenly, the energy transfer reversed direction. Soon, the lights in the room began to flicker as the dark mass gained control.

“What’s going on?” the administrator asked, looking at the scientist.

“The dark mass…it seems to be using her as a conduit,” he said. He stared at a bank of gauges and monitors, checking various readings, but seemed not to know what to make of the readings. The young woman read terror in his mind, confusion in the administrator, and anguish in the chief.

Suddenly the chief’s radio erupted with screams of terror and panic. “All security personnel, report!” the chief shouted over the radio.

“The shadows are alive! They’re attacking everyone!” someone cried into the radio. There was the sound of gunfire in the background, along with screams and breaking glass. “Reporting multiple incidents, at least two possible heart attacks. More reports coming in of serious injury and at least one fatality.”

Another post reported in. “I’ve got a dozen wounded, and two cases of…I don’t know what to call it…hysteria? Insanity? Possession? They’re screaming and babbling about a coming darkness and cold. Wait, what’s—” The transmission ended abruptly.

Similar reports of chaos and mayhem followed. The power fluctuated throughout the facility, and several sections went completely dark and silent.

The chief drew his pistol and spoke into the radio. “Lock the facility down, and have everyone proceed to the emergency bunker. Evac now! Get everyone out of here.”

The administrator turned to the scientist. “Can we unhook her?” Just as she asked, the glowing, translucent form of the girl’s spirit appeared and stood beside her body, looking down at the comatose form. Beside her stood the dark form I had encountered. The dark form looked into the camera and smiled wickedly.

“What have we done?” the scientist wailed softly. “We’ve separated her ethereal form into two halves! I have no idea what that will do to her…or to us.” He buried his face in his hands.

“Get hold of yourself,” said the administrator. “There’ll be time for analysis later. Right now, we need to contain it.”

“First we need to get everybody out. Move!” the chief said, motioning for them to follow. They left the observation room and encountered a shadow creature, thin and fast. The chief opened fire as it charged them, and it fell to the floor. They raced through the hall and into the break room. Security guards fired down a dark hallway filled with shrieking creatures. A woman screamed and cried as a creature pounced onto her and tore into her. Its touch damaged the soul more than the body. A security guard rushed to her aid, kicking the creature off and firing three rounds into it. He took her hand and pulled her to her feet and ran into the bunker.

“All surviving personnel accounted for,” a guard reported to the chief.

“Casualties?”

“We’ve lost 70 percent of our total personnel,” the guard said.

The chief gathered his squad. “We’re going to hold here until help arrives,” he said.

“Help? From where? All external communications shut down before we could send out so much as a smoke signal. Who the hell is gonna come?” asked one of the guards, clearly petrified.

“Her Warrior.” The chief was looking down at a photo of me. I hope you’re everything that she expects, he thought.

The vision left me, and everything went black.

“Are you OK?” a distant voice asked. I opened my eyes. Everything was blurry, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. It all went black again.

“Come on, kid,” another distant voice called. I opened my eyes and could make out seven blurry figures standing around me. One of them knelt beside me and supported me as I tried to sit up.

“Where…where am I?”

“Still in the field,” the kneeling figure said. Things started to come into focus, and the voices sounded closer.

“You just had one hell of an experience,” said one of the people standing.

“The Specialist…where is he?” I asked, looking around.

“Gone,” the chief said. “Took off before we reached you.”

My vision finally cleared, and I saw that it was Mary who held me. The sounds around me drew near, and I could tell who the figures were. They had all come to me to help me.

“Thank you,” I said as I leaned into Mary’s arm. She smiled and stroked my cheek gently.

“We should get moving,” Josh said. “We’ve got to reach that facility ASAP.”

With the chief’s help, I stood up. I slung on my rifle. “OK, I’m ready.”

“Let’s do it,” Chuck said eagerly. We geared up once more and set off again for the facility. It was a good seven-hour walk—eight including brief breaks. Just outside the facility, we set up camp.

“Rest up,” the chief said, sitting on the ground. We sat in a circle, staying close to each other.

“We’ll sleep for two hours then hit the facility,” I said.

I had been asleep for less than an hour when I awoke to find the others sleeping. As I geared up, the same white warrior approached me.

“Will you enter without them?” he asked.

This feeling, one of valor, was already embedded within my heart…the feeling that I must always charge in. Another feeling, one of love, had become alien to me for years, though now it was my nature. “I will not let them die for me,” I said, looking at them.

“And if it means dying alone…with no one to witness and tell others of your noble deed?” the warrior asked, as if testing me.

“I’m not interested in glory. If I have to die alone, if that is the price that must be paid to save her, then, yes, I will pay it.” I sighed. I didn’t want to go in alone, yet I didn’t want them to have to go at all. I would not lose them.

With a nod, the white warrior stepped aside and allowed me passage. Raising my M4, I moved stealthily toward the facility. It was as dark inside as it was outside, and I detected no movement. Perhaps there were figures shifting through the darkness, but that could very well have been my imagination.

I entered through the doorway where I had first seen her and found darkness awaiting me. The light on my rifle could not penetrate parts of it, which hung in masses along the wall. Hesitantly, I touched one of the masses and found it was cold, much colder than the ambient temperature. Its texture was odd, as if a black fog had solidified into frost or loose snow. Faint whispers echoed through my mind as I touched it. Shaking off the echoes, I proceeded down the hall.

The black sludge was everywheree. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was drawing near, something…cold. I didn’t follow my tracks from before. Following the left hall, I entered a room filled with office cubicles, four in total. From one of the cubicles on the far side, I heard radio chatter. Moving cautiously around the panels, I found the cubicle with the radio. The voice shouting into it sounded increasingly desperate. I found the COM link and attached it to my ear.

“I’m under attack!” shouted the voice. He sounded young. “Can’t hold it off much longer. Unknown entity. Repeat, I cannot hold out much longer!”

“What’s your position?” I asked over the COM link.

“Near a storage room, west side. Hurry!” the voice said. Gunfire rang out.

“On my way!” I sprinted out of the room and down the hall. The sound of gunfire intensified, followed by a scream.

“It’s inside!” he screamed in terror. “It’s wrapped around me, my body…”

I was two rooms away.

“So…cold…” the young man moaned in agony, just as I burst through the door. I found a blob of the black mass consuming him. His skin was turning gray and shriveled. Our eyes met, and he began to cry. Only his face was visible as the mass absorbed him. There was no chance to save him. I raised my rifle, took quick aim, and fired a single round into his forehead.

Blackened blood sprayed the area, including me. The young man lay motionless now, his crying silenced. I fired another burst into the dark mass, but the bullets disrupted its form only briefly. It moved toward me slowly, with a cold determination. I darted down the corridor and ducked around a corner into the storage room.

The dark mass slowly crept out of the room, searching for me. I locked the door. Inside the room, I found chemicals and supplies—a metal pesticide sprayer, a jug of gasoline, and a grill lighter with a flexible tip. Twisting the top off the sprayer, I filled it with the gasoline and replaced the top. I held the lighter with the sprayer, positioning the lighter’s tip in front of the sprayer. In theory, the gasoline would pass by the lighter and a wave of fire would shoot forward, like a flamethrower. As I pumped the sprayer, I felt tense. Trapped, and not knowing if I could kill it, I wondered about my team members, my friends. Could I kill one of them if this thing got them? Could they do the same for me, to end my suffering? I didn’t know.

The door began to splinter and crack.

Slowly but steadily the crack grew. The black mass began to seep into the room. I waited for the right moment, for more of the creature to enter. When about half of it had seeped through, I activated the lighter and squeezed the trigger on the sprayer. A wide wave of flame swept through the creature. A gurgled shriek pierced my ears, but I did not stop until the dark mass melted, emitting the strange gas that many of the other creatures had released in death.

Kicking open what was left of the door, I pursued the rest of the dark mass as it oozed away down the hallway. The flames consumed it quickly, and all was quiet…for a moment. I carried the sprayer and the lighter back the other way, retracing my steps in search of the dark mass I had previously encountered hanging on the walls. Though I believed I was alone, I could not shake the notion that I was being stalked. I looked right, then left, and saw nothing. I knew the office area was clear, but then…a tingle…and the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up.

Instinctively, I dropped to the ground quickly and sent a wave of flame into the air vent above me, just as it broke open and another dark mass poured out of it, directly into my flame. In only a few moments, it was dissolved. I stood, and I scanned the area. It was clear, so I moved down the hall to my left.

I heard a faint cough, then a moan, from a room on the right. A thin trail of blood led me to the source. Before I entered, I nestled the sprayer into my pack and shoved the lighter into my pocket and raised my M4. It was a bathroom. I found a man, bloodied and near death, leaning against the far wall.

“You…you must be the Warrior he talked about,” the man said with great effort.

“Don’t talk. Conserve your strength,” I said to him, kneeling in front of him.

“No need. I’m not going to make it. So…listen to me,” the soldier demanded, grabbing my vest. I leaned closer. “The Specialist has been taken over…by the dark entity,” he said. He had to pause to cough up blood. “He…he attacked us, slaughtered most of my team. Didn’t think I could hold on this long, but there was another… a warrior in white armor, holding me, telling me you’d come.” The soldier had to struggle to speak and was obviously in agony, but he would not give up. “He said only those close to death or born with power can see him…and he had a message for you. He said, ‘Tell him I will join him when the time is right.’ End this. Avenge us, Warrior. Don’t let this evil spread, even though we brought it on ourselves with our own evil…”

“I’ll do my best.”

He took my hand and smiled. “She loves you, you know. And she’s the key…”

With this, he gave up the fight and fell limp. I gently closed his eyelids.

He had been carrying an M4 and a .45 pistol. All of his clips were full; I added the weapons to my own stock.

I left the room, rifle at the ready, to continue my hunt. Instead of the dark mass, I found George standing in the hallway, his shotgun pointing at my gut.

“Damn! I almost shot you!” he said, lowering his weapon. He clapped me on the back. “Good to see ya, man.”

“Likewise,” I said with a chuckle, lowering my own M4.

“Looks like you’ve been partying without us,” Chuck said.

“You shouldn’t have come. It’s not safe here,” I said quickly. Christina and Mary stood between Josh and Bill.

“The only safe place is together,” the chief said. “No more solo missions. We’re stronger united.”

“I’m starting to agree with you,” I said.

“You better. Come on. We have to get to the containment room. That’s where it all began—and that’s where it’s damn well gonna end!” the chief said sharply.

We moved down the hall. The facility was unceasingly quiet. Aside from the blobs I had fried, we saw no creatures. Parts of the facility had been taken over by the dark entity, as the walls became completely black. As we neared the containment room, we found scars in the walls and floor where the tendrils had lashed out, but the tendrils themselves were gone.

“Josh, Chuck, with me,” I said. We entered the containment room and found the three bodies of the team that had gone in, their hazmat suits torn to shreds and their bodies shriveled.

Save for ghosts, the room was empty. We exited and rejoined the others.

“Is it gone?” Christina asked, staying close to Chuck. The chief and I looked at each other and agreed without a single word.

“No.” I was recalling what we’d seen that morning.

The chief apparently had the same thought. “The dark mass rising into the sky—that was the entity. And it wasn’t there when we woke up this afternoon,” he said.

“I found one of your company’s black-ops guys. Before he died, he said that the dark entity had taken over the Specialist,” I said. “He was already strong when I met him; now his powers will be far beyond my own.”

“Well, we can’t just punch out and go home. We came here to fight, didn’t we?” Bill said with a chuckle. “I say we charge.”

Josh remained silent for a moment, then said, “Damn right. This thing’s going down.”

“There is a force of light at work here. Some sort of guardian or knight. I’ve seen him, and he told the dying soldier to give me a message,” I said. “He said, ‘I will join you when the time is right.’ That means I’m charging and you guys are covering.”

“So while you wrestle with the big bubba, we handle the small fries?” the chief asked.

“Yup.” I grinned.

“Works for me,” George said, cocking his shotgun.

The ceiling above us ripped apart.

“I will never get used to this stuff,” Josh said, raising his rifle and firing at the rupture. Soon, the room’s ceiling crashed down around us and the dark energy descended.

“Fan out!” I ordered. The others began to move. “Stay within ten feet of each other and twenty feet away from me.” They took their positions.

The vaguely familiar form of the Specialist appeared before me. His face bore some resemblance to the man I’d seen, but his body was completely changed. His eyes glowed with dark power, and he was shrouded in darkness, just as the dark entity we had encountered before had been.

“I will toy with all of you…for a time,” he said, his clear voice fused with that of the echoing entity. I opened fire with the M4. The others followed suit. He laughed as the bullets pierced him. We kept it up, though the bullets seemed to do very little damage. He roared, throwing his arms out to the side and sending a dark energy wave all around him. It knocked us to the ground.

I recovered quickly and charged him, firing on full auto at his face. He laughed as I slammed the butt of the rifle into his chest; then he grabbed me by my vest and hurled me ten feet away. Before he could follow and attack again, the chief and his men fired, moving closer. Phasing, the Specialist vanished from their line of fire and appeared behind them and then struck them to the ground with another wave of dark energy.

Chuck moved at an angle while George rushed the Specialist, both firing at the same time. The Specialist seemed to stumble slightly when we pressed our attacks from multiple positions but not enough to halt him. With a blinding speed, he charged them, slamming into each. He focused dark energy into both of his hands, ready to hurl balls of black flame at them. I fired at his hands; he roared as he lost focus. He sent what energy he had left toward me; I jumped out of the way, firing into him at the same time. Seething with rage, he rose into the air.

“Now you will suffer…” he said from high above us. Dark energy surrounded him, forming a round shield. We fired into it, knowing that it would probably do little good.

“Regroup!” I yelled. We stood and ran to each other. Soon, a column of blackness burst forth from the shielding orb and crashed into the ground; in its wake stood a demon nine feet tall, massive, and clad in black, serrated armor. Spikes rose from its shoulders and wrists. The spikes on its shoulders, two on each side, were long and thick, rising in an arch. The ones on its wrists, smaller, extended from what would be the veins, had it been human. Its face was hidden by a helm, which covered all but its glowing eyes with a layer of plate. The armor itself gave off an illuminated gas, the same as the creatures. It had a long tail, like that of a monitor lizard, and wings like a bat. It was truly frightening to behold as it rose to full height.

“Open fire!” I cried out, firing at the new form. The others followed, but our bullets seemed to merely bounce off his armor. “Disperse!” I yelled, though I remained in the center. George and Chuck ran to the left; the chief and his men went the right. Mary and Christina, armed with pistols, followed Chuck and George. We were spread out far from each other, so that he could not wipe us out in a cluster, and we could attack from all sides. Everyone continued to fire as it charged me.

Rolling to the side, I dodged the massive sword that it wielded—the Hatred sword. Hatred was beyond the power of my flesh. The creature withdrew to stand ten feet from me. We took the chance to reload. It raised Hatred to the dark sky; a column of dark energy struck it. The dark energy dispersed throughout the surrounding area, which echoed with the shrieks of all the creatures we had encountered. The team fired into the surrounding attackers, while I focused on the behemoth before me. The entity scoffed.

Then it stopped. It looked up. The white warrior, my guardian angel, descended to stand beside me. In his arms, he carried my love.

The gunfire around us intensified. The others fell back to form a tighter defense as a group. Other warriors for the light, wielding flaming swords, appeared. They formed a circle around us, totaling a hundred. Immediately they charged into the endless horde of dark creatures, slashing wide and far into their numbers.

“So…you did come,” the entity said to the angels.

“I am Gabriel,” the white warrior angel said, turning to me. “Your love for her has brought you here, and it is for love that I am here now. Take my hand; we shall become one.” He presented an open hand to me. As I took it, a blinding light flashed, eclipsing the darkness. As it subsided, I studied my new form. Clad in white plate armor, glowing with an aura of righteousness, I looked at the demon. A flaming broadsword rested in my hand. I was about seven feet tall now, with long white hair that rested on my shoulders. Extending from my back were the wings of an angel. Wings made not of feathers but of pure energy.

My team joined in the fight, supporting the other angels in repelling the creatures. My gaze settled upon the demon as his gaze settled on me.

With blinding speed, we charged one another, our swords clashing. The sound of their thunder could not be ignored, and the flash of their strikes could be seen for miles. As I knelt down, I spun quickly and struck for its legs. The demon blocked and brought its sword down on me. Quickly, I blocked and pushed it back. The demon formed a bolt of dark energy; I formed a bolt of light. We hurled them at each other. The bolts became one, and a portion of the light broke through and struck the demon. The demon roared and took flight; I followed.

Higher and higher we went, until we were in the clouds. From there, I could see the endless horde that bore down upon the small group that fought them. Flashes of tracers and flaming swords trumpeted their strength. The demon phased and reappeared behind me to swing at me. Turning quickly, I blocked and kicked it in the gut. The demon roared and phased once more. This time it appeared above me but did not swing. It phased again and appeared below me to grab my foot and sling me toward the ground. Landing in the horde, I left a small crater. I was on my feet in an instant and released a wave of light as I flew toward the demon.

As I flew to him, I thrust my sword forward and sent forth a wave of holy flame. The demon formed a shell of dark energy to block. Before it could recover, I brought my sword to its side, knocking it off-balance. Then, I swung downward and hurled it to the ground. Gabriel was much more powerful than the entity, as light always is stronger than darkness. My love augmented my strength, fueled by my heart. Hatred could not match it. In a last effort, the demon stood and focused its entire energy into its sword, Hatred. In response, I focused my energy into my sword, Compassion. We sent the energy on a path of collision, and both sides held strong.

It had begun as a whisper, a sinister voice speaking to me. It told of times of anger, times of sorrow, and times of torment, and, indeed, the demons of my past attempted to haunt me once more. As I struggled and Hatred gained sway and inched closer and closer, another voice came to me—a soothing voice, reminding me of times of love and joy and of all that I had done simply to bring a smile to another person. Tranquility washed over my soul, and I found focus once more. All of my love went into Compassion; Compassion overpowered Hatred. The demon shrieked as it was consumed by the light and then was no more. The horde of creatures had been defeated. I landed to stand before my love.

Gabriel separated from me, and I was once more myself. She wept as she hugged me tightly, resting against my shoulder. I held her close and stroked her hair gently. The others stood around us and smiled.

Placing his hand on my shoulder, Gabriel spoke. “You will awaken now, both of you. Left with the feeling of love, you will wait for each other. And you will find each other,” Gabriel said. “Awaken.”

I woke up to my alarm clock. It was five in the morning on a Sunday. Sighing, I prepared for my walk. I set out the door, feeling love. I knew I would find her. I arrived at the church, six miles later, at seven thirty.

Gabriel’s Watch

I WATCHED THESE events knowing that those fighting with the light would prevail. They had found a strength they had not known. They stood against a darkness only a few came to know, and, at a high cost, they repelled it. My gaze was cast upon the Warrior, my Warrior. He and I would become one; together he and I would battle the darkness. I followed him into darkness and appeared to him to guide him. Never far, never near.

Finally, as all hope seemed to fade, I entered and joined with my Warrior. We would remain one even after he awakened. There was an even greater battle ahead—and more warriors to come. He was the first. He was the beginning.

About the Author

Patrick Howard graduated from Mount Dora High School in Florida in 2002 and went on to meet with many struggles in his life. He has been employed at a local Subway in Sorrento, Florida, for nearly ten years.

He is a single man devoted to the friends and family he has left. His experiences have shown him that hardship exists to strengthen us. Despite all the doubt that he has received from others, he has pushed on. In publishing this book, he is sharing the important life lesson that only you need to believe in yourself.


The Warrior's Beckoning

The Warrior’s Beckoning is a two-part horror thriller with an allegorical storyline. Connected by a dream, a team of ghost hunters is gathered and sent into a mysterious forest. Once a town, it is now inhabited by only darkness and sorrow. After finding himself at the mercy of the shadow creatures, the team leader is rescued by men he does not know, men who were called by the same dream. But as the ghost hunter plays his camera footage, a priest reads the diary that unleashes the Spirits of Decay. These cloaked figures surround them, their scythes sapping the team of their spiritual energy. Told through a series of diary entries, The Warrior’s Beckoning is an evocative story about the epic cosmic battle between light and dark. The first part of this chilling tale chronicles the awakening of the mysterious forces, while the second part tells of the arrival of the Warrior. A thrilling page-turner filled with unexpected twists and turns, author Patrick Howard’s haunting paranormal narrative will keep you enthralled from the first sentence to the last.

  • Author: Patrick Howard
  • Published: 2016-07-29 03:35:15
  • Words: 45211
The Warrior's Beckoning The Warrior's Beckoning