What if the relationship between the 12 Apostles and Christ as detailed in the New Testament wasn’t true? What if it was all fabricated to hide what really happened? What if the beloved disciples, instead of walking the path of righteousness and representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel were in fact the very first vampires to roam the Earth? And it
Chapter Twenty Three
Chapter Twenty Three
Nicole found herself in a mini-conference room, decorated only with a long oak table and twelve executive chairs, with a kitchenette stuffed into the space against the back wall. John stood at a small counter by the sink and glanced up as she entered. He removed a set of clothes from the bag and tossed them on the table. “You can put those on after I’m through.” He pulled a sheet out of a drawer, and laid it on top of the clothes. “Please use that to cover yourself after you undress,” he said, smiling faintly. “I apologize for the crudeness of my examination room. We weren’t expecting you to have already delivered, but that can’t be helped now.”
John stooped and retrieved a vial from the mini-refrigerator beside the sink, pulled out a drawer, and withdrew a hypodermic syringe. While his back was turned, Nicole undressed and wrapped the sheet tightly around her. “I’m done.”
John pointed to the table. “Sit,” he said, and turned again.
Nicole climbed up and sat on the edge, scrutinizing John as he removed a box of alcohol pads and a stethoscope from another drawer. Funny, he doesn’t look like a vampire, she thought, and examined him from top to bottom.
John stepped to the sink and washed his hands. “Lay back, please,” he said as he wiped them with paper towels.
Nicole scooted back and lay flat, resting her head in her hands. “Now, this may be a little uncomfortable,” John said, “but I
won’t do anything unnecessary. I just need to check a few things up here before I move on.” He pulled back the front flap of the sheet and pressed Nicole’s stomach firmly, checking to see if her uterus was post-delivery normal, threw the flap back, and put the earpieces of a stethoscope in place. After listening to her chest for a few seconds, he nodded and fitted the stethoscope around his neck.
“Well, everything’s good so far.” He moved down and drew the sheet up over her legs. “Open, please.”
Nicole drew her legs up and spread them. John looked between them, lowered the sheet, and went back to the counter. “The afterbirth has been expelled. There’s a lot of tearing, and you need stitches. This may take a while.” He picked up the vial and plunged the needle into the top.
Nicole cringed. “What the Hell is that?”
John pulled the needle out and pushed the plunger to expel any air and release the excess. “Novocain. To numb the area while I stitch you up.” He put the vial back in the fridge.
Nicole smirked. “Why don’t you just cast a spell on me?”
John swabbed the needle with an alcohol pad and laughed. “Sorry to disappoint you, my dear, but that’s something I simply cannot do.” He walked to the end of the table and lifted the sheet again. Nicole twitched as burning liquid entered her perineum. “But I will admit that there are a few qualities I possess that mortals lack,” John said as he stepped back. “The drug will take a few minutes to enter your system,” he told her. “Just relax.”
He returned to the counter, and pulled out a ball of suture and a curved needle from an overhead cabinet. Nicole sighed and turned her head toward the ceiling. If John was going to stitch her up down there, the least she could do was engage in small talk.
“So, you’re all vampires?” she asked, not believing she was actually having this conversation.
John clipped a line of string with a small pair of scissors and let out an amused chuckle. “Not a term I’m particularly fond of, but yes, we’re all vampires,” he said. “Except for Connor and Adrian. They’re Protectors. They take care of business for us when we can’t.”
Nicole stared at the light above her head. “So, how did you become a… you know?”
“Long story.” John put the scissors down and sighed. He pulled a chair out from the table and set it beside Nicole’s head, turning it toward her. “I was going to let Kellan explain this to you,” he said as he sat down, “but I think it might be more believable if you heard it from someone you didn’t know.”
Nicole turned back to the light overhead and adjusted her hands to provide a more comfortable position. “Dude, from what I’ve seen tonight, you could tell me Christ was coming back, and I’d believe you.”
John smirked humorlessly. “Funny you should mention Christ,” he said, and settled back in the seat. “Nicole, I realize all this seems strange. There are things happening here that no human can ever understand. But please believe that all of this was planned. Your fate and your child’s were written long ago, almost two thousand years before you were born. For you to understand, I have to go back to the beginning.”
“Always the best place to start,” she agreed.
John dropped his gaze to the hands he’d placed in his lap. “Long ago, I and most of the other men on this plane were part of an extraordinary man’s vision. We traveled with Him, helping Him deliver a simple message of peace and salvation to all who would listen. He had a legion of followers, dedicated servants who came out in droves to listen to His teachings. This man, who started out as the son of a carpenter from Nazareth, later became known as the Son of God. You know Him as Jesus Christ.” He smiled when Nicole’s eyes widened, and continued, “He nurtured and protected us, and we thought we were devoted and loyal servants.”
His face fell. “We followed Him everywhere. Until, one day, He suddenly disappeared as did Judas Iscariot another Apostle. We were panicked. We thought He and Judas had abandoned us. We searched frantically for them, and after forty days and forty nights, Jesus came back. He had been wandering in the desert, reflecting on His future, He said. The New Testament tells that Jesus made the forty-day and forty-night pilgrimage before He called upon us to serve Him. But that’s just not true. We were well established in our faith of Him before He ventured on that fateful journey, and what I’m about to tell you now will explain why the story was changed. When Christ returned from the desert, He told us Judas was gone and soon He would be arrested for teaching His beliefs. After a mock trial, He
would receive the harshest sentence imaginable: Crucifixion.”
John moaned and buried his face in his hands. “Oh, we were so young, so arrogant! We refused to believe Him. Not because He foresaw His own demise, but because of the nature of it. He told us of Judas’ betrayal and stated that when the time came, we would all betray Him. But we were His servants! His chosen ones! Why would He think such a thing? I asked Him how He knew Judas betrayed Him. He did not answer, but instead, invited us to attend a supper, the Last Supper, He called it, and He would explain everything.”
“The Bible tells that Judas left the Supper early to meet with the Jewish authorities, but it’s not true. He was never there. Because of this, Christ commanded we find a replacement. He needed twelve, you see. Twelve men to signify the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Poor Matthias.” John shook his head. “He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Before we dined, Christ told us a second time of our inevitable deceit.”
John sighed and looked up at her, his eyes shiny with tears. “We became angry, outraged that once again He doubted us. I demanded that He put our faith to the test. Just as He knew I would. Little did I know that my demand would seal our fate. To prove our devotion, Jesus offered us the most valuable gift He possessed: His own blood. If we drank it, only then would our loyalty be reaffirmed – or so He said.”
John turned his head and looked away into the past for a long moment. Just as Nicole was going to ask what had happened, John looked at her, his face grim and hard, the unshed tears gone. “He told us that the act of consuming His blood would bind us to Him forever, for we would be taking into our bodies the essence of Christ and become as one with Him. It was the ultimate communion, He said. He produced a cup He called the Holy Grail, to symbolize the sanctity of the offering. In His right hand He took a knife and held out His left arm, slicing just below the wrist. He released His blood into the Grail, then handed it to us. Each one of us drank, not realizing that in doing so, we had doomed ourselves to a fate far worse than death.”
Aghast, Nicole lifted her left arm and looked at the birthmark on her wrist. John smiled sadly.
He went on quietly, “Shortly after the blood entered our bodies, a horrible transformation occurred. Our skin took on the pallor of the dead, the blue veins showing underneath contained no living blood. Our eyes lightened, and our teeth grew sharp. Only then did Christ reveal the ruse. The Holy Grail, the unadorned vessel made of clay from which we drank, was cursed – fabricated by Him to punish us for our unfaithfulness. By drinking the righteous blood from the tainted cup, blood which Christ taught us was the embodiment of life, we were condemned to need it to survive.”
“Terrified, the others scattered. Only I remained to witness His arrest and crucifixion. I went back for the Grail, and hid it in a deep cavern on the outskirts of Damascus. After that, I wandered aimlessly, the realization of what I had become too much for me to bear. I could no longer stomach normal food. The thirst for blood became insatiable, the cravings too intense. I tried to abstain, but it was too powerful. I fed on the blood of livestock, birds, fish – but it wasn’t enough. Never enough.”
“In desperation, I ventured to familiar areas, with the hope that the others would do the same. A few weeks later, I found Simon in the Garden of Gethsemane. He looked different: at ease, content – not like me, in pain and wasting away on the ravenous ache swallowing my soul. I told him that I had taken the Grail, and revealed its location. He ordered me to return there, and he would bring the others. When they arrived, Simon told me he had found the key to easing my misery. The only way to vanquish the fire burning inside was to do the unspeakable: drink human blood. Human blood had changed us, and only human blood could relieve us of our pain.”
The tears were back, streaming down John’s face now. “The notion revolted me, but what could I do? The thirst was relentless, constant. Together we made a pact, and chose to drink only human blood. To commemorate this agreement, we pledged to create a
legion of devoted blood-drinkers, ones who openly chose to convert, by using the Holy Grail’s unholy power. We decided to separate for a while after that, and meet up again later.”
“But that was just the beginning of our ordeal. Lucifer discovered our plan to construct our own immortal army and was furious. He confronted me one night in Bethlehem, demanded we relinquish the Grail, and vow our allegiance to him. He wanted to rule us and told me when God granted him dominance over the Earth, everything evil that dwelled within it, was rightfully his to control. Including us. That is when I found out why Christ had punished us. Lucifer bragged that he had visited Him under the guise of His Earthly father Joseph and told Him of Judas’ deceit.”
“When Christ did not believe, Lucifer took Him to where Judas and the Jewish officials were meeting. Christ witnessed with His own eyes Judas selling his soul to betray Him for thirty pieces of silver. Christ confronted Judas and he ran away. Saddened by this new revelation, Christ retreated to the desert. For forty days and nights, Lucifer, taking full advantage of Christ’s vulnerability, twisted His mind, convincing Him that we would betray Him just as Judas did. He debated if Judas could fall from grace so easily, why couldn’t we? Why should He let this injustice go unpunished? Could He really turn the other cheek on the ultimate betrayal? Tricked by Lucifer’s words, Christ agreed – and set out to make us what we are now.”
“Judas was exempt only because Christ had a different punishment in mind for him. Like Father, like Son, you see, and our God is a jealous God. Racked with guilt for his actions, Judas tried to give the silver back, but it was too late. He went insane and later committed suicide. Just as Christ had planned. Now he burns in Hell for his role in Christ’s gruesome end.”
“Lucifer maintained that had he not planted the seed of doubt in Christ’s mind in the first place, neither we nor the Holy Grail would exist. He proclaimed that he was our true creator and we should serve him in evil, just as we served Christ in righteousness.”
“I refused on behalf of myself and the others, and Lucifer became enraged, vowing to kill us all. Sometimes…often… I wish he had.” John angrily dashed away tears.
“But God intervened. He was angry that Lucifer had tricked Christ into His dark plan of revenge, and allowed us to safeguard the Holy Grail. He could not or would not undo what His Son had done. I don’t know which. But as a kind of reparation, He decreed a prophecy: one of our kind was to bear a son by the line of Adam, and in turn, that son was to father a child with the line of Mary, Mother of Christ. God asked that we choose one of us, and He would grant him and his son the act of procreation. We chose Simon, for he was Christ’s beloved. To identify The Daughter of Mary, God designed a distinguishing characteristic to separate her from other mortal women: a scar on her left wrist, symbolizing Christ’s offering to the Apostles.”
“The Daughter’s womb would reject the seed of mortal men, He told us, allowing only the Chosen One to impregnate her.”
“So is that why I was sterile, before? Because of the prophecy?” Nicole asked.
John nodded. “Yes, Nicole. It was I guess you could say, an insurance policy, to guarantee that you would only bear the child of the prophecy. It doesn’t seem fair I know, but as the saying goes, God works in mysterious ways.” John said and gave a sad smile.
“But there is much more. For reasons we still do not understand, God did not forbid Lucifer from finding The Daughter of Mary and killing her, or from destroying her line. He ordered us to use whatever means necessary to keep her identity hidden. God didn’t reveal when The Daughter would be born, I’m not sure He knew, exactly. His perception of time is different from ours. But He did structure a time frame to fulfill the prophecy. At the end of two thousand years, if the prophecy remained unfulfilled, our souls would be turned over to Lucifer.”
He looked into her eyes. “Kellan’s mother, Catherine, was a direct descendant of Adam’s bloodline after he and Eve were forced
out of the Garden of Eden. But you,” he said, pointing to her, “are The Daughter of Mary, the product of Mary and Joseph’s union after the birth of Christ. The blood flowing in your veins is the same that flowed in Christ’s,” he leaned forward and extended his wrists, “and in mine. I am the son of Mary’s sister, Elizabeth. Christ’s cousin, John. You are His hundred-time great grandniece, and I am your very distant cousin. That’s ultimately how we found you.”
Nicole gasped. “Wait a sec. Are you saying I’m a descendant of Joseph and Mary?” She shook her head in disbelief. “No. Uh-uh. I’ve never heard of Christ having any brothers or sisters. This has to be a mistake.”
John let out an exasperated snort. “Nicole, you were employed by a Catholic school. How can you not know?”
“Hey,” Nicole interjected, “I taught English, not Mass. I’ve read a few excerpts from the Bible out of curiosity, but I’ve never indulged in it full force.” She shrugged. “I just never had an interest.” She dropped her eyes when John gave her a hard look.
John sighed. “Well, in all honesty, not much is mentioned of Christ’s siblings, a few passages in the New Testament, but think about it. Mary and Joseph were married, after all. Do you honestly believe they had no sexual relations after Christ’s birth? That Joseph never wanted his own children? You wouldn’t be lying in front of me right now if that was true. When Mary died, the Apostles and I guarded her tomb in the Kidron Valley until the year 1095, when the Knights of Templar invaded Jerusalem and the Crusades began. We tried our best to protect her, but they discovered her shrine in the foothills of the Mount of Olives and shipped her remains back to England. It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s we learned her resting place, a secret burial chamber in St. Martin’s Church.”
“We were delighted, of course, but we were still in a quandary. Although we knew Mary’s location, we had lost track of Mary’s lineage centuries before, and had no means of tracing it. So we bided our time, relying on what little faith we had and knew the day would come to accomplish our mission. And it did come. When DNA
extraction techniques were perfected for bone in the mid-1980’s, we finally had a way to renew our search, and hired three archaeologists to exhume Mary’s skeletal remains. We gave them just enough information to get started. And when word got out, well, we were quite unprepared for all the media attention.”
“When Mary was unearthed, her remains were shipped to an undisclosed location. In truth, we intercepted them, and another skeleton was put in her place. The test performed later on the fake Mary, disproving she was the mother of Christ, was all part of an illusion.”
“But why?” Nicole asked.
“Nicole, the true origins of humankind are far more complex than you’ve been led to believe.”
“Oh really?” Nicole challenged. “More complex than having an invisible friend up there,” she pointed to the ceiling, “breathe on a pile of dirt and poof, here we are?”
John leaned forward in the chair and looked deep into her eyes. “Yes,” he said firmly. “But that’s another story for another time.” He leaned back. “There really is a God, my dear,” he said, and smiled. “But He is not what people believe Him to be. You were not, in fact, made in His image, or you would be something very, very different, and not in the least human.”
John laughed at Nicole’s baffled expression and patted her arm. “Now, where were we? Ah yes, how we found you. It was your blood, my dear that ultimately led to your discovery. Your blood donation at one of our blood banks as a matter of fact. We’d been searching for over twenty years, comparing thousands of DNA samples. Until at last we succeeded. Your DNA matched the mitochondrial DNA that was extracted from Mary’s skeletal remains. But just to be one hundred percent sure, we also extracted mitochondrial DNA from myself and a sample of Christ’s blood taken from the blade of the Holy Lance and compared all three with yours. The results were conclusive. Four samples. One ultimate match.”
“Whoa, yeah I remember,” Nicole said. “It was so strange. In the days before I donated my blood I felt as if I was being drawn to. Like I just had to do it.”
John laughed. “Yes of course. Even so, I never doubted for a moment we’d find you. Thomas on the other hand…” he waved the comment off. “Anyway. To me, the circumstance in which we found you is irrelevant. Had it not been this way, it would have been another.” He pointed to the scar on her left wrist. “It may have taken longer but we would have found you none the less.”
Instinctively, Nicole turned her wrist over and placed it in her lap. “Really?” she challenged. “What makes you so sure?”
John leaned forward and looked into her eyes. “Because it was our destiny to find you. Just as it was your destiny to be found. Now the prophecy has come full circle.”
John sighed. “But there’s another piece I must tell you. After the conception of the child, Kellan was to leave you behind, ensuring you never learned his true identity. When the child was born, your memory was to be erased. You’d retain no knowledge of the child or of Kellan. But circumstances have changed, and I’m not sure what will happen. I’m sorry – I know this is a lot to take in. If I were in your position, I don’t think I’d believe it either. But it’s true,” he said. “Every word is true.”
Nicole stared at him, her eyes as big as dinner plates. She’d never imagined anything like this was possible.
“So, let me get this straight,” she said. “You and the other men on this jet are the Twelve Apostles of Christ, transformed into vampires by the Holy Grail? The Holy Grail?”
John nodded, slowly. “Yes, with the exception of Kellan, his Protector Connor, and my Protector Adrian.”
“Can’t Christ take it back? Can’t you be released from this curse?”
John’s eyes suddenly grew sad again. “That I cannot answer. Christ doesn’t speak to me anymore,” he said, his voice cracking just a little.
Nicole shook her head in disbelief. “But you said you were Jesus’ cousin, which means… no!” she cried. “You can’t be! You were beheaded! Herod put your head on a platter for Salome! That was one of the few stories I did read. But I thought—”
“No,” John cut her off. “Despite the Biblical accounts, I am in fact the same John as Jesus’ first disciple blessed by God above all others and who baptized Him, proclaiming Him the Lamb of God. At first, it was misconceived that was I was the Messiah and was called upon to undertake the task of bringing salvation to mankind.” He shook his head. “But the incident with King Herod inexplicably changed the course of my destiny.” John grinned.
Nicole grunted. “So if you didn’t die and remained an Apostle, are you the same as John the Divine? The author of the Book of Revelation? The one about the end of the world?”
John sighed. “There never was a John the Divine. I guess whoever wrote Revelation thought if an Apostle’s name was on it, people would believe. The story goes that this John the Divine wrote it when an angel came to him in a vision while he was being held captive by the Romans. But believe me when I tell you that it’s just not true.”
Nicole thought about that for a long moment. “But what about the message itself?”
“As far as I know – and I do know a lot about God and Christ – it’s all made up. A parable, at best. A man wrote that book, just as men wrote all the books in the Bible, for individuals to interpret it in their own ways. There is no handbook that can guarantee salvation, my dear. It must come from here.” John placed his hand on his heart, and smiled. “I admit I thoroughly enjoy the passages in Revelations. The stories are frightening.”
“As for my beheading, it was all a charade. When Jesus discovered I had been arrested by Herod, he went before him and ordered my release. Herod obliged without question. Herod despised Jesus, but he was also afraid of Him.” He laughed. “To this day, I still wonder why he released me. To save face, Herod concealed the
deception and another soul had the bad luck of having his head put on a platter in my place. I retained the name John, however, and created a new identity to help my cousin on His path to righteousness. I shed my camel hair tunic and cleaned up my image, casting aside the wildman fanatic as the Bible perceived me to be, thus the confusion between me and the Apostle John the Divine was understandable. John the Divine was a fictitious character, Nicole. I am the only John who had the honor of serving the Son of God.”
“As for the others, you have to understand: we literally disappeared, and questions were asked as to our whereabouts. So an elaborate scheme maintained order among Christ’s followers. It was recorded that we parted ways and went to different lands, preaching the Word of God.”
Nicole eyed him slyly. “So you’re saying that because you vanished, people just… made up The New Testament?”
John cocked his head and thought a moment. “Well, some of the accounts in New Testament are true. There are exceptions, like our roles in the later books. I prefer to call it an alternative story to explain our unexpected departure.”
He stood up abruptly and walked to the end of the table. “You should be ready now. Please, lie back.” He went to the counter for the suture and needle, and started threading the needle.
Nicole mentally reviewed his story. Surely it wasn’t possible – the Twelve Apostles forced to live forever by drinking blood? Why would the Savior of Mankind, no matter how embittered, ensure the death of what had to amount to millions of people so far? Well, John said that God worked in mysterious ways. She sat up on her elbows and stared at John’s back, thoroughly amazed that one of the most famous people in history was administering her post-delivery examination and repair. “So, in reality, you’re John the Baptist?” she asked, with a hint of uncertainty.
He stopped short. “I haven’t been called that for centuries,” he murmured, almost too low for Nicole to hear. “I haven’t allowed it. I haven’t wanted to be reminded.” Speaking more loudly, his back still
turned, he replied, “Yes. I really am John the Baptist.”
When he turned back to her, needle in hand, his eyes were stony again. “At least, what’s left of him.”
The baby fussed and Kellan wrapped the blanket more tightly around her, rocking her until she settled. “Kellan,” Simon whispered. “The others are not pleased with either one of us, I’m afraid.”
“I thought as much,” Kellan replied quietly.
Simon sighed and ran a hand over his face. “Son, I warned you that going after Nicole would have dire consequences.”
“And I ignored your warnings.” Kellan glared at Simon. “If I hadn’t, she and my daughter might dead now, and all hope for us with them!”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” Simon said, looking at the baby in Kellan’s arms. He smiled and leaned in for a closer look.
Kellan said proudly, “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”
Simon nodded, then: “Kellan, there’s something else,” he blurted.
“Good God, what now?”
Simon patted his arm. “I know that revealing ourselves to Nicole couldn’t be helped under the circumstances, but now that the child is born, well, things have changed.”
Kellan shifted in the seat. “How so?”
Simon sighed. “Nicole isn’t the only one in danger from the Blood Dagger. Now that the child is here, they’re both targets. “
Kellan swallowed hard. “The others know about the Blood Dagger? About my visions of it?”
“They do now.”
Kellan glanced at the closed door at the other end of the plane. “What will they do with Nicole?” he asked. “Now that she knows about us, erasing her knowledge may not satisfy them. They may want to kill her to ensure that she retains not even the slightest memory.”
Simon shrugged helplessly. “Honestly, Son, I don’t know.”
Kellan hung his head and sighed.
Simon nudged his arm. “May I hold her?”
“Of course.” Kellan passed the sleeping infant over.
Simon took the child and stroked her cheek lightly with his thumb. “I never had the chance to hold you when you were a baby.” He looked at Kellan sadly. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there when you were a child. I know it was very difficult growing up without a father, but I thought about you every day. I’d make up different scenarios in my mind, like seeing your first steps or hearing your first word. Sometimes I even pretended to scold you for doing something naughty.” He paused for a moment, squeezing his eyes shut as tears brimmed at the corners. “It’s silly, I know,” wiping a tear from his cheek, “But it kept me sane. And I knew that one day, you and I would be together.”
Kellan leaned over. “I’ll always be with you, Dad. A part of you lies within me. And do you know what makes it even better?
“It can never be taken away,” Kellan said, and hugged him. Adrian came over and cleared his throat politely. “I’m sorry,
gentlemen, but this can’t wait. I’ve just hung up with a Watcher in Africa. Lucifer’s army is flying toward Damascus. They’ll most likely arrive just as we do, especially since we’ll have to stop and refuel along the way.”
Simon’s face fell. “Damascus? Oh my Lord, Lucifer must have discovered the location of the Grail. But how?” He handed the baby back to Kellan and pointed to the seat beside him. “Sit, Adrian.”
Adrian sat. “I’m afraid I have more bad news,” he said, wincing. “The Blood Dagger’s whereabouts remain a mystery. I spoke with John earlier, and he believes Lucifer has entrusted it to someone close to Nicole, someone who won’t arouse suspicion.”
Kellan nodded. “When I confronted the Hell scout, I mentioned the Dagger. It had no idea what I was talking about.”
Simon sighed deeply, lifted his hands, palms up, and shrugged. “But who? It can’t be one of us. We all need the child to survive. I
can’t see one of the Apostles ever joining Lucifer. The prophecy clearly states we’ll burn in Hell if it’s not fulfilled – none of us can stop it.”
Thaddeus came over and cut in, “Simon, you’d better take a look at this.” He motioned toward the nearest window. Simon stood up and peered out the window, gasped, and backed away.
Kellan laid the baby down on the seat beside him. “What is it?” He went to the window, cupped a hand over his eyes, and peered out into the darkness.
The blue Hell scout, Arius, flew alongside the jet at the tip of the wing. As they watched, he reached out with his near hand and dug his claws into the aileron hinge. After dangling for a moment, he clambered onto the wing and began slinking toward the window. He seemed impervious to the slipstream.
Kellan jumped back, picked up the baby, and handed her to Simon. “Get on your stomach and cover her!” He ran toward to the cockpit.
Simon laid the baby down gently on the floor between his seat and the one in front of it, and covered her, creating a dome over her with his body. Meanwhile, Kellan flung the cockpit door open and screamed at Connor, “A demon’s on the wing! Pull up, now!”
Without a word, Connor yanked the steering yoke abruptly backward. Kellan grabbed the sides of the doorway as the plane pulled up. Fighting the g-force that wanted to pull him into the tail of the jet, he turned around, making sure the baby was protected. Simon still had her safely tucked beneath him. Kellan could hear her muffled cry. The back office door opened, and John fought his way out. “What’s happened?”
“Demon! Protect Nicole!” Kellan ordered. The Apostle immediately withdrew into the back room. Kellan turned back to Connor. “Hold this course until I tell you to stop. Understood?”
Connor nodded vigorously, eyes glued to the control panel as the plane ascended. Kellan went back to the window, straining against the incline, and peeked out. Arius trailed along behind the wing, the
claws of one hand jammed into the aileron hinge, screaming curses whenever his legs brushed the engine’s exhaust. Apparently the expression “hotter than Hell” held some truth in this case.
Kellan struggled back to the aisle and yelled, “Dive, Connor, dive!”
Connor nodded again and pushed the yoke forward. The plane evened out for a half-second before reversing course, tilting them all towards the cockpit. The sudden lurch made Bartholomew lose his grip on the seat he was holding onto amidships. He tumbled straight for Kellan. Simon reached out in the nick of time and grabbed his brother Apostle’s shirttail, preventing a collision, the baby still screaming as he arched his back higher to keep from crushing her.
Kellan breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks, Dad!” Simon gave him a distracted smile and a nod.
Kellan staggered back to the window and peeked out. Arius still clung one-handed to the aileron, but the claws of his free hand were scrabbling across the metal in search of a better grip. The demon had a determined look on his face.
“Shit, this isn’t working. Let go, you fucker,” Kellan muttered.
Arius shrieked at Kellan, as if he’d heard him, and fought harder to find a grip on the slick metal. Struck by an epiphany, Kellan called, “Connor! Level out!”
Just as he’d expected, Arius pulled himself to his feet as soon as the plane went horizontal. Before he could advance more than a step toward the window, Kellan pressed his face against the glass, grinning as he brought his hand up beside it and flipped Arius the bird. He screamed over his shoulder, “Connor, hit the brakes!”
The Protector deployed the spoilers on the trailing edge of the jets wings and powered down slightly, abruptly stopping the jet by a hundred miles an hour or so. Arius howled as he ripped loose and, suddenly moving faster than the jet, his body yanked forward and sucked into the engine turbine. Clots of ichor and chunks of blue- black flesh splattered the window as Kellan thought, Shit, the eng—
A loud explosion rocked the jet, knocking Kellan off balance.
The screams of the baby were louder now. He regained his footing and pulled himself back up to the window, struggling to see through the gory sludge covering the glass. A long, billowing fireball engulfed the engine and most of the wing. Kellan gasped and shouted toward the cockpit, “Connor, cut that engine!”
“I’m working on it!” Connor screamed in return. Kellan turned back to the window, eyes wide and petrified as pale blue flames rolled up the wing. The blades whined as Connor finally cut the power. The engine sputtered and the fire slowly faded back, and snuffed out completely.
“Woohoo!” Kellan clapped as the plane leveled out. “Great job, Con-man!”
The Apostles stood up and brushed themselves off. Kellan helped Simon to his feet. “You all right, Dad?” he asked, straightening Simon’s mussed shirt.
Simon nodded and adjusted the screaming baby in the crook of his arm. “Not bad for a two-thousand-year-old grandpa, eh?” He smiled broadly, and then made a face, dropping his shoulder. “Good grief! Bartholomew weighs a ton! I thought my arm would rip off! I’m suggesting he start a diet,” he rocked the baby gently, cooing to her until she settled down. Simon laughed. “How about that?”
Kellan smiled, and cast his eyes toward John as the Apostle left the back room. “Nicole,” he said, giving Simon a worried look.
“Go ahead, Son. I’ll take care of my granddaughter,” Simon replied, and went to sit down. Kellan ran toward the back of the plane, catching Nicole around the waist as she tried to push past him.
“My baby!” Nicole screamed, tugging at Kellan’s arms.
Kellan held tight. “She’s fine now. Dad has her, sweetheart.
She’s a little shaken but not hurt at all.”
Nicole burst into tears and Kellan pulled her close, stroking her hair as she wept into his chest. She pushed back, angrily. “Kellan, why do you want to take the baby from me?”
Kellan looked at John, confused. The look in John’s eyes revealed that he’d told Nicole everything.
“Let’s sit down,” Kellan said, softly, and led Nicole back into the office.
John moved out of the way and closed the door when they went inside. Kellan walked Nicole to a chair, sat her down, and went to the counter for a tissue. She snatched it when he held it out to her and wiped her nose.
“John told me what you all are,” she blurted when he sat down. “Kellan, help me understand this. I thought you were falling in love with me just like I was falling for you. You made me believe it. You played me for a fool to save a breed of bloodsuckers, not caring about what would happen to me.” She set her jaw and wiped a hand across her trembling upper lip. “You knew they’d erase my memory, and I’d forget about you and our daughter! How can you be so cruel? I lost everything! My job, I left my best friend behind, I was trying to find us a home in case you did want to share a life with me, we could do it with our child.” Her voice broke. She swallowed hard and went on. “But now I find out it was all a dream. Once you were done with me, you were going to toss me away, take my child, and live a happy, homicidal life for eternity!” Nicole sobbed, burying her face in her hands.
Kellan looked at her, helpless. He reached up to touch her, but put his hand down and leaned close to her. “Nicole, I do love you.”
Nicole whipped her head up and glared, eyes narrowed in disbelief.
Kellan took her hand in his. “It’s true,” he sighed. “I can’t live without you. That’s why I came back. I did fall in love with you. I couldn’t walk away and never see you again. You’re not the only one who’s lost something here, you know. I disobeyed the Apostles’ direct orders. If we survive, I’ll be punished for going after you and the baby.”
Nicole’s eyes grew wide. “Why? You saved us! Surely they’ll understand.”
Kellan shook his head. “I’m not sure ‘understand’ is in their vocabulary these days.”
Nicole squared her shoulders and jutted out her chin. “I’ll speak to them. There’s no way I’m letting them hurt you!”
Kellan laughed. “Nicole, just a few seconds ago you were yelling at me, calling me a liar. You wanted to rip my head off! And now you want to kick the Apostles’ asses because they want to punish me? Women!”
Nicole punched him in the arm, hard enough to make him wince. “That’s different. I can be mad at you if I want. You didn’t knock them up and plan on taking their baby and leaving! I have the right to be pissed. They don’t.”
Kellan threw his head back and laughed.
Nicole blinked a few times, and joined in. After a long moment, Kellan grabbed the sides of her face and slowly drew it toward his.
Their lips met – and instantly, he felt the last vestiges of Nicole’s anger melt away. Kellan kissed her deeper and she flinched, drawing back when his labret stud grazed her chin.
Kellan grinned, embarrassed. “Oops. Sorry.”
Nicole smiled. “That’s okay.” She went to the counter and opened a few drawers, rummaging around until she found a box of alcohol packs. She plopped the box on the counter and ripped the top open. “So, how old are you, really?” She turned to the mirror and patted her chin with the pad.
Kellan sighed. “You really want to know?” He closed one eye and cocked his head. “I’m… one thousand and eleven? Plus or minus a year or two.”
Nicole dropped her arm and turned around. “Seriously?”
Kellan blinked innocently. “Well, once your age hits four digits, it’s hard to keep track.”
She threw the alcohol swab at him. “No! I mean, are you really that old? You were born just after, uh, Y1K?”
Kellan nodded, grinning. “A.D. 1003. Ireland.”
“Well, huh.” She turned back to the mirror to examine her chin. “Wow! I like older men, but not that old.”
Kellan laughed and tossed her alcohol wipe back at her. Nicole
ducked, smiling when he missed. “So, may I ask you something else?” she said, her expression turning solemn.
“Of course,” Kellan said. “Ask me anything.”
Nicole licked her lips. “You referred to Simon as ‘grandpa.’ So you have a father and brother named Simon?”
Kellan shook his head. “No, Nicole, Simon is really my father. I don’t have any siblings. Long story short, because of my father’s youthful appearance, we pass ourselves off as brothers to fool people. Honestly, though, he’s more than just my father. It’s the same with all the Apostles. There’s this deep connection between us, a relationship stronger than anything imaginable. We’re all part of each other, like we’re aspects of the same person, not individual beings. It’s hard to understand. Hell, it’s hard to explain. All I know is that the tie that binds us is eternal. Not because of what we are, but because of our love for each other.”
Nicole gave him a small smile. “I see. May I ask something else?”
“If you’re a vampire, how can you walk in the sunlight? Aren’t you supposed to explode into a fireball or something?”
Kellan laughed. “No, we can function in the daytime. Anything else?”
Nicole nodded. “Yes. I want to know everything. Seeing as our daughter is half-vampire, I have the right to know what not to do in case… you know, just in case.”
“She’s not half-vampire, she’s pure human, but okay. Ask.” “Um, what about crosses?”
“What about them?”
“Well, aren’t they supposed to terrify you? Make you shrink back in horror if one is brandished?”
Kellan sighed. “Not really, but we do find them repugnant due to the fact that they were originally Roman instruments of torture. The Apostles all saw that firsthand, remember? Live crucifixion is apparently pretty awful.”
She opened her mouth again, and he grinned suddenly. “No, Nicole – garlic, holy water, and silver don’t work either. Wooden stakes do hurt us, but then, they hurt everyone. All that’s myth, conjured up by humans for protection. Or by Hollywood, actually. You’d be amazed at how much scriptwriters just invented. The truth is, the only way to kill a vampire is to cut out its heart – and the odds of that happening are slim to none.”
“Okay,” Nicole said, staring at him hard. “Can you turn into a bat?”
Kellan laughed out loud. “Good God, no!”
Nicole scowled fiercely. “Don’t laugh, Kellan! This is new to me! I’ve just learned the father of my child is a mythical monster, so cut me some slack!”
Kellan cleared his throat and grew serious. “I’m sorry. Please,” he said, “ask away.”
Nicole nodded firmly. “Okay, back at the farm, that devil thing.
It put a spell on me before you rescued me.” “Yes,” Kellan nodded.
“Can vampires do that? Cast spells, I mean?”
Kellan leaned forward in the chair, propping his elbows on his knees. “No, I’m afraid not. The objective is to blend into the human world, not stand out. However, because of how a vampire is created, something is passed on – certain heightened abilities, but not the kind that have been glamorized by humans. The Dark Curse was meant to be a punishment, but for some reason, humans have opted to interpret it more as a gift. All that flying-around business is totally fictitious. We ride the bus, the subway, fly in planes, take cabs… you know.”
“But we’re stronger, and we can jump very high and scale buildings like flies if we want. We’re very hard to kill, because we heal almost instantly and we’re insanely durable. We can also project our minds short distances to scan our surroundings while our bodies remain stationary. We can read thoughts and move small objects, but that’s not easy. It takes a lot of concentration, and weakens us. Especially in the daytime. We can briefly manipulate human actions, but it wears off very quickly – just long enough to get us out of a bind if need be. Another ability lets us to look inside humans and detect their physical health. We call it ‘scanning.’ We can tell if someone’s pregnant, drunk, high, or suffering from some illness like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer that might taint their blood.”
“Oh,” Nicole said in a small voice. “Is that all?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. Just a few more.” “Such as?” he said, and leaned back.
“What about your appearance? Aren’t you supposed to be all pale and dead-looking? You look normal. Not like…”
“Not like what?”
Nicole stomped her foot and huffed, “Not like, you know, a
Kellan chuckled. “Most of the time we are normal. We have white skin and wild, feral eyes only when we morph. Oh, and we never sparkle. Ever. Our hearts beat and pump blood; we react to most stimuli just as if we were alive. Over the centuries, we’ve learned to adapt for appearance’s sake and can eat a little solid food, but after a while it sours and we expel it.”
“What do you mean, expel?” Nicole asked, knitting her brows. Kellan stuck his index finger in his mouth and gagged.
“Oh,” Nicole said, understanding. “So, I guess drinking doesn’t hurt you either. When we went to the movies you drank a soda.”
“Yep. Liquid is absorbed and doesn’t do any harm.” He shrugged.
“Hmmm. Okay, what about that albino guy?”
“Adrian,” Kellan said flatly.
“Yes.” Nicole nodded. “He doesn’t look like you. Is he a vampire too?”
Kellan shook his head. “Adrian is a Protector.” “John mentioned that. What’s that?”
“A guardian. Kind of a… half-vampire, I suppose you could say. Although we can walk in daylight, it’s not common practice, so Protectors watch over us and take care of day-to-day activities while we sleep. Not every vampire has a Protector. Only high-ranking ones like the Apostles and me are allowed the luxury. Other vampires – The Vitandi, as they are formally referred to– live together in cells, usually according to Lineage. That’s based on which Apostle Turned them. They look to him as their King. They protect and help each other, with a day-to-day leader called a Watcher to monitor them and keep in contact with the Apostles.”
“Vitandi?” Nicole tapped her finger against her chin. “I’ve heard that word before but for the life me I can’t remember when.”
“Probably from work, Nicole,” Kellan suggested. “Vitandi is a Catholic term. It means ‘one who has been excommunicated by the Church’ and for whatever reason, ‘rebelled against religious authority,’ or ‘give scandal through immoral conduct.’ Ironically, Christ granted The Apostles the authority to excommunicate, and when they Turned the name seemed more befitting for their creation. Sounds more dramatic than ‘vampire.’ Don’t you think? Even though the word ‘vampire’ is mostly used. Even by us.”
She scowled. “Okay. Well, what makes a Protector a Protector, then?”
“Protectors aren’t alive, but they’re not dead either. A single bite from a vampire keeps their bodies suspended in a kind of limbo state for about nine hundred years. Sometimes they want to become vampires eventually, but usually they don’t. When they die, we just make another one, and the cycle continues.”
Nicole gasped. “Good God, how many vampires, er, Vitandi, are there?”
“It’s okay, Nicole. ‘Vampire’ will do. It’s easier to remember. And there are thousands,” Kellan said, tugging at his labret stud. “Scattered on every inhabited continent in the world. Well, except Antarctica. Not enough of a selection to go unnoticed and no one really likes the taste of penguin blood.”
She glared at him.
He held up his hands. “Sorry, sorry. But you have to realize, a vampire isn’t selected or accidentally made, Nicole. A human must choose to become one, and despite all the hoodoo surrounding our creation, I’m afraid the misconception of a vampire biting a follower to create a new vampire just isn’t true. The process is far less dramatic.”
“I know. John mentioned that too.”
“Then you know about the Grail,” Kellan said, more as a statement than a question.
Nicole nodded. “Yes, and that Lucifer wants it. But John didn’t explain how it works. He said something about free will, but I didn’t understand. I was too fascinated by the story and forgot to ask. He did say Christ’s blood changed the Apostles. Did it change you, too?”
“No, I drank my own.” “Huh?”
Kellan chuckled. “To take the Dark Path, a human must freely offer the most sacred part of himself, that which makes him what he is. His essence, his blood. I suppose it’s really the DNA that matters. Once the blood is inside the Grail, the cup transforms it. John thinks it rewrites the DNA somehow, or maybe just adds something to it. Or Hell, maybe it’s just magic.” He shrugged. “Anyway, after it’s ingested by the recipient, well, there you are. One kinda strong, mind-reading, thought-altering, very durable vampire.”
“Ew!” Nicole gagged. “That’s horrid. Why would anyone choose to become a vampire?” She shuddered.
Kellan sighed. “That’s a question that can only be answered by the individual. Some humans who know they’re dying want to live forever or they may find the idea mystical. Maybe their hearts are
evil, and they associate vampirism with the root of evil. I honestly can’t tell you.”
“Why did you decide?” she asked quietly.
Kellan took in a deep breath. “Well,” he said. “My mother was dead and I was alone, rotting in a dungeon and sentenced to hang for gutting the pig who killed her. When my father came to me and asked me to choose, I chose a second chance at life. I knew what it entailed, all the horror and death, but it also included an opportunity to never grow old, to never know true sickness, and to live forever with my father and the Apostles – my family.”
“So you wanted to?”
Kellan nodded. “Yep. Plunged in head first.”
Nicole sighed, exasperated. “But I still don’t get it. From what John told me, he and the other Apostles didn’t have a choice.”
“You’re right,” Kellan agreed. “They were punished. Unfairly, as it turned out, but there’s no easy way to fix that. And it was no ordinary blood that transformed them. It was Christ’s blood. That made all the difference.”
“How?” Nicole asked.
“Christ is divine in nature, literally the son of God, as well as being the son of the mortal, Mary. The power of God flows in His veins. When His hybrid blood mixed with the Holy Grail’s taint, it became a potent supernatural weapon: a phenomenon so great that nothing could withstand it, nothing mortal or immortal, not even God Himself. Drinking Christ’s blood is the only way a human can become a vampire without choice. The power of the Grail is unstoppable. That’s why Lucifer craves it. If it were to ever fall into his hands, the consequences would be disastrous. And he is royally pissed that it was entrusted to The Apostles.”
“I still don’t get it,” Nicole admitted.
Kellan smiled a patient smile. “Aside from the fact that Lucifer Morningstar is a fallen angel – once the greatest, most beloved of them all – the Grail was created as a gateway to an ethereal plane, ruled by the heart of whoever possesses it. Christ used it to punish
the Apostles because that was His wish. It was in His heart to do so. When the Grail passed over to the Apostles, the purpose in their hearts was a little different. They decided that a human must choose to be a vampire. Therefore, that’s the outcome when blood is placed inside the Grail now.”
“But Lucifer’s heart is black and twisted, not only because of the effects of ruling in Hell, but because He was grievously injured in the War in Heaven, and will never heal. The effects of His evil would have a profound impact upon the Grail. He could wipe out the entire human race – the entire planet, if he wanted. And nothing could stop him.”
“Not even God?”
Kellan shook his head. “God is not quite what you think He is, Nicole.”
“Yeah, John told me.” Nicole’s face flushed, and she swallowed hard. “So our daughter is…?” she asked, and slowly brought her eyes up and met Kellan’s.
“Like I said, purely human. Very special, but not Vitandi.” “Really?” Nicole cried out in relief.
“Really,” Kellan said. “The only way our daughter will ever become a vampire is if she chooses to become one.”
Nicole nodded. “Free will,” she whispered.
“Free will. It’s a big deal to God. He really could be omnipotent and omniscient if He wanted, but He deliberately builds free will into His intelligent creations. That limits Him somewhat, but it keeps things from stagnating and falling apart.”
Nicole stared at Kellan for a moment. She opened her mouth, but hesitated.
“What?” Kellan said, arching his eyebrows.
Nicole blushed. “I don’t know what to ask next,” she confessed. “I’m too flustered.”
Kellan smiled. “It’s all right, Nicole. Just ask when you’re ready.”
Nicole turned back to the mirror. “Where are we going,
Kellan?” She looked at him in the glass. “Is it dangerous?”
Kellan sighed. “Yes. We’re headed to the Gathering Place, a cavern on the outskirts of Damascus where the Holy Grail is hidden. But we’re not the only ones – Lucifer and his army of demons are on the way as well. A lot of blood will be shed and many vampires and demons will die.”
Nicole walked to Kellan and moved his arms from his lap to sit down. She smiled and kissed the top of his head. “We’ll think of something,” she promised, and hugged his head in her arms.
“Yes, we will,” Kellan said, and held her close.
A knock sounded at the door. “Enter!” Kellan said, swiveling the chair around.
John opened the door and smiled. “I’ve checked the baby and cleaned her up. She’s fine. But there’s one small problem I can’t handle.” He looked at the floor, embarrassed.
“What is it?” Nicole asked, concerned.
John rubbed the back of his neck, nervously. “The baby, um…”
Kellan lifted Nicole off his lap. “John, what the Hell is it?” he asked.
John blurted, “The baby pooped after I put her diaper back on.” Kellan and Nicole both laughed. “I’ll tend to her,” she said,
brushing past John.
John smiled at Nicole, and turned to Kellan when he got up from the chair and stood beside him. “I assume Simon told you that the others are not happy.”
John threw an arm over his shoulder and pulled him close. “Well, if it’s any consolation, Bartholomew will get a taste of the ass-whipping as well. He’s the one who lost Nicole in the first place. He’s not blameless, and he’ll be sharing your misfortune. Whatever it may be.”
Kellan grimaced. “Adrian told me your theory about the Blood Dagger.”
John nodded. “As much as I hate to admit it, it’s true. Someone
inside our circle is a traitor.”
“Do you think it’s one of the Apostles?” Kellan asked.
John glanced toward where the others sat. “I don’t see how it could be, but then, I never suspected Judas, either. Still… no. They have absolutely nothing to gain by siding with Lucifer.” He looked back at Kellan. “I have a pretty good idea who it is, but I still need to put a few more things together.” He squeezed Kellan’s shoulders and followed Nicole out of the room.
Kellan was roused from an uneasy slumber many hours later when Adrian called out, “Wakey wakey, folks! Almost there!”
He looked around and found Nicole staring at him, sleepy-eyed. “Make sure you and the baby stay buckled up,” he said. “It won’t
be long now.” He wrapped an arm around her, and cradled her against him – just as the plane jerked. Something hard hit the side of the jet, followed by the screech of scraping metal. The baby let out a blood curling shrill. Connor yelled from the cockpit, “We’ve got company!”
The plane rocked again. Nicole flinched, cuddled the baby close to her chest and gripped Kellan’s hand tight. “Kellan, what is it?”
Kellan turned to her and smiled. “It’s okay, sweetheart,” he said calmly.
The plane slammed again, more violently this time, as if pummeled by a meteor shower. Simon unbuckled his seat belt and leaned toward a window. He cursed in Aramaic and shouted, “Demons! They’ve surrounded us. They’re all over the fuselage.” He braced himself on the back of the nearest seat when another thump hit the plane.
John stood and yelled, “Connor! Take the plane down as low as you can!” He flopped back down as the plane suddenly began to descend.
After a few moments, Connor called to John, “Okay, we’re about fifty yards above ground. Lowest we can go.”
John rose and took off his jacket. Kellan jumped from the chair and confronted him, “Just what the Hell are you doing?”
John threw the jacket on the floor and unbuttoned his sleeves. “Kellan, you have to get Nicole and the baby to the cavern.” He rolled up his sleeves. “The prophecy isn’t valid until the Blood Ritual is performed. I’ll go out to distract the demons and meet you all there later.”
Simon clutched his arm. “John! You can’t! There are too many!” John reached out and touched his arm tenderly. “My dear Simon.
I can’t bear to think of a world without my brethren, and I’ll not stand back and watch Hell rain down upon us, not when I can prevent it.” He waved a hand toward the world outside. “There’s an army of vampires waiting for a commander down there. They’ll help me while you take the child to safety and ensure our victory.”
Simon grabbed John’s arm. “I won’t let you. John, you could die,” he said, as tears sprang in his eyes.
John smiled. “Yes. But I’ve blamed myself for running away from death for too many centuries. Now it’s my turn to sacrifice so that others may live.” He gripped Simon’s hand for a moment, giving him a reassuring smile before he pulled it away and turned to Adrian. “Shut that door quickly when I jump through,” he ordered.
Adrian nodded blankly. John morphed and prepared to leap.
The white-haired Protector extended a hand to John, his own eyes glistening with tears. “Good luck, John,” he said, his voice quivering.
John smiled and shook it. “Thank you, Adrian, my dear friend,” he said, and pulled him close.
Adrian broke away with an anguished cry and opened the latch, pulling the door open. A rush of wind blew through the cabin. Kellan covered Nicole and the baby, and turned his eyes back to John. The Baptist winked at him. “See you in a bit!” he yelled, and jumped out the door.
Adrian struggled against the force of the wind, closed the door, and latched it securely. He signaled Connor, and the plane rose
again. Kellan and several of the Apostles raced to the window and spotted John. He had landed safely and was charging down a hill, calling upon the vampire army gathered in the distance. The vampires immediately assembled, and raced toward the base of the hill to meet him. As Connor spiraled in for a landing, the demon army circling overhead paused, and regrouped, descending from the sky towards John and the vampires as they moved toward their meeting.
Kellan morphed enough to dial up his vision, and saw John look up just in time to grab a demon that had swooped down on him. Their bodies locked in battle as they twisted and turned on the ground. John pushed the creature hard, knocking it back, and pounced before it recovered. He raised a fist and another demon came up behind, grabbing John’s wrist and tugging him backward. The first demon rushed John, arms raised and ready to attack.
John was helpless. He kicked and clawed, twisting his body as other demons approached from all sides. “No!” Kellan screamed.
The demons surrounded John, each one pummeling him as they flew by. The vampires grew closer and Kellan cheered them on, “Go! Go!”
The demons spread out in a circle and continued their attack. John’s face was badly beaten. Blood spurted from his nose, and it looked to Kellan like one eye was swollen shut. A sickening fear arose in him as he watched his beloved friend struck repeatedly by the powerful Hell beasts.
John struggled against a demon’s grasp. Another one flew by and struck his jaw, knocking him out cold. It circled around and raised its splayed, dagger-tipped fingers, aiming at John’s chest. Kellan clutched the back of the chair, white-knuckled. Oh, goddammit, no! Kellan thought. It’s going to rip out his heart. The demon flew forward, its arm extended and ready to spear.
The Apostles gasped in horror, and Simon turned away. Kellan banged against the window with a fist. “Wake up, John! Wake up!”
The demon’s clawed-hand drew closer, centering on John’s chest and gaining fast. But another hand grabbed the demon’s arm and
yanked it away. The cavalry – the vampire army– had finally arrived, and they ripped apart the demons holding John. One cradled John’s limp body securely and ran toward the cavern. The others turned their attention back to the demons.
Kellan turned from the window to Simon. “John’s okay. The vampires saved him.” Simon breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Now that he knew John was safe, Kellan checked on Nicole. She sat frozen in the seat, white with terror, clutching the screeching baby tightly. Kellan bent in front of her and touched her cheek. She was unresponsive; eyes glazed and locked in horror. And no wonder: even over the throttled-down roar of the engines as they came in for a landing, the howls of the demons and vampires clashing outside shook the interior of the plane. Kellan had tuned it out, but Nicole could not.
“Nicole.” Kellan tapped her cheek. She blinked, focused on his face, and looked down at her crying infant. Kellan stroked the baby’s hair, comforting her while Nicole rocked gently.
Simon sidled over and outlined the situation, “Kellan, we’re about to land. It looks like Lucifer’s army is straining our defenses. The vampires are holding for now, but they’re clearly losing strength, and there’s little they can do about the flying demons. When we land, immediately take Nicole and the child to the cavern. The rest of us will distract the demons as best we can.” He touched his son’s shoulder. “I know you want to help, but you must take them to safety
– no matter what you see or hear.”
Kellan swallowed hard, seeing the well-concealed fear in Simon’s eyes. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They might all die because of him and his actions. The Apostles had put themselves in grave danger to find him.
He felt someone else touch him, and he looked down. Nicole was holding his hand. Looking into her eyes, he realized for the first time the difficult choice he had to make. It was crystal clear now: He had to choose between fulfilling his destiny – a destiny prophesied and ordained by the Creator, Lord of All – or saving the woman he
loved. He saw no way to do both. And as he stared deeper into her smoky gaze, he saw beyond the uncertainty and fear, discovering something else harbored within. Love. Unconditional love.
She believed in him. Whatever happened, he had to prove worthy of her belief. He had to keep her and their baby safe, no matter what else happened, even if he had to buck destiny to do so.
Kellan knew what he had to do. They’d make it through this, and when it was over, he’d take whatever punishment the Apostles meted out. He had served his destined purpose. Any second of life beyond this was a gift, even if his final hours were the endless, blood-hungry agony of the Tabernacle Torture. He might, after all, survive it.
For the first time in his unlife, Kellan Donnolly would face his responsibilities, save his people, and save Nicole and his child. He swore this silently to himself and to all that was Holy in the universe, and knew that he was heard.
“All right,” Kellan said abruptly, taking command. “When we land, the vampires will hold Lucifer’s army as long as they can, but rest assured, some will break through.” He turned to Simon. “Dad, you and the Apostles surround us when we leave the plane.” He grabbed a cushion from one of the seats and bent down in front of Nicole. “I need the baby’s blanket, sweetheart,” he said.
Silently, she unwrapped the child and handed him her blanket. Kellan took it and wrapped the cushion inside, bunched it up, and cradled it against his chest. He raced to the back of the plane and entered the conference room, returning with a folded sheet.
Simon looked at Kellan, confused. “Kellan? What the Hell?” “They want The Daughter? We’ll give them The Daughter.”
Simon blinked for a moment, and smiled. “A distraction!” He turned to the others. “Kellan wants them to think he and Nicole are leaving the plane together!”
The Apostles smiled and nodded.
Simon turned back to Kellan. “Who’s playing Nicole?”
“Adrian, if he dares. He’s the only one who can. The demons are expecting eleven Apostles to exit this plane now that John’s been
taken to safety. If one’s missing, they may be wise to our plan.” Kellan turned to him and tossed the sheet to the white-haired Protector. “Wrap this sheet around you, and keep your head covered.”
Adrian caught it, eyes wide. Without a word, he snapped the sheet open and whirled it around him like a cape.
Kellan grinned. “Stylin’. Here,” Kellan said as he threw the bundle at Adrian. “Pretend it’s the baby. Make it look as real as possible.”
Adrian plumped up the cushion and cradled it tenderly. “I always wanted a kid,” he said, winking. “How do I look?”
Kellan stifled a laugh. “Perfect!”
Simon touched Nicole’s shoulder. “What about Nicole?”
Kellan crouched in front of her and grabbed her hands. “Hon, do you trust me?” She just looked at him, confused and shocked. Kellan pulled her hands toward him. “Nicole, do you trust me?”
She hesitated, but nodded.
Kellan smiled and kissed her. “Nicole, you’re staying on the plane.”
Nicole’s eyes grew wide. “What? Kellan, no.”
Kellan rubbed her hands with his thumbs. “I know you’re scared. We all are. But if the demons think you and I have left the plane together, they’ll go after us. We’ll lead them away, and then you and the baby can run for it. Connor will stay and guide you to the entrance of the cavern. It’s the only way. All right?”
Nicole looked at the baby, who was quiet now and nodded. “All right, Kellan, we’ll stay.”
Kellan smiled and turned to Simon. “When we land, six of you will go out first, then Adrian and I in the middle, followed by the other five. Then you can surround us.” Kellan turned to Adrian. “You keep your head down. I’ll hold onto you, so don’t worry.” At Adrian’s grave nod, Kellan said, “Dad, tell Connor the plan and find out how soon we land.”
Simon turned and went to the cockpit.
Kellan watched Simon for a moment, and turned back to the others. “All right, brothers, the demon army will come at us full force. Act as if Nicole is with us. Do whatever you have to – just keep them away from the plane. We’ll head for the opposite end of the valley. Hopefully they’ll think we’re heading for another way into the cavern and that’ll draw their attention.” He sighed and shrugged. “I can’t think of anything better, not on the spur of the moment.”
The Apostles nodded and murmured consent.
Simon rejoined them. “I told Connor the plan. He says it’ll be just a few more minutes before we land. The vampire army has cleared an area just south of the cavern and he has to circle around again for a better shot at the landing.”
Kellan nodded. “Okay, everyone.” He clapped his hands together. “This is it.” He eased down beside Nicole and wrapped his arms around her, squeezing tight as she leaned against him. This might be the last time they would ever see each other. He kissed her, and reached out to wipe a tear from her cheek. “I love you,” he whispered as he looked into Nicole’s tearful eyes, “and I love the child we’ve made. Whatever happens, remember that.”
“I love you too,” she breathed, and laid her head on his shoulder. Simon walked up and cleared his throat. “We’re ready to land,
Kellan grasped Nicole’s hand in his. “Everything will be all right, I promise,” he said, more to assure himself than her.
Nicole gripped his hand tightly before letting go.
Calmly, Kellan latched her seat-belt, and turned when he felt a hand on his back. He turned and smiled at Simon, who sat beside him. “I love you, Son,” Simon said, pursing trembling lips.
Kellan gripped Simon’s hand. “Love you too, Dad,” he whispered, and faced forward to meet his fate.