Prologue

He stumbled, his breath coming in ragged gasps.  Somewhere in the dimly illuminated halls behind him, the killer moved silently forward, relentless in its pursuit.  Grasping the charred wound in his side, the man barely managed to keep his footing, lurching to his right into an even darker, narrow hall.  The stun bolt had done its job well.  Even at full strength, he knew he couldn’t have outrun the thing behind him.  Now, as the painful, paralyzing effects of the shot radiated throughout his body, every agonizing step he took became slower.

Only one thought spurred him on.  If he could just keep moving, if he could somehow lure it further away, he might buy the others enough time to hide, or even escape.  He had to keep trying to run, to continue moving forward for her sake, for the children, for all of them.

The passage before him came to an abrupt halt, a solid security door barring his way.  Trembling, he punched a code into the console.  No response.  He tried again.  His tormentor had been thorough.  There was nowhere to run.

Turning around, his back to the door, he saw it approaching, purposefully and silently.  It moved without urgency—it had effectively stalked and cornered its prey.  Knowing that the side arm he carried would be useless, he still drew the weapon and fired.  The bolt bounced off harmlessly—the monster’s progress unimpeded.  It stopped before him and stood fully erect—its rigid posture almost human.  Lungs screaming, nearly blinded by pain, he fought to control his panic.  There was no escape.  He raised his pistol for one more desperate shot.

The predator produced a thin, pointed rod of shining metal from its upper, left appendage, thrusting it forward with lightning speed.  Piercing his right shoulder beneath the collar bone, the rod continued outward, shattering his shoulder blade.  Once through, four small hooks shot out of the rod and dug into the back of his shoulder, making it impossible to wriggle off the implement.  Screaming in agony, he dropped the pistol as the hellish fiend lifted him by the shoulder, his feet dangling inches from the ground.  Writhing and struggling for breath, fighting the red-hot haze exploding in his brain, he heard the thing speak.

You are a Christian.  It was not a question.

Somewhere, beneath his terror, beyond the pain, he found a resolve that he knew was not his own.  “Y…yes,” he answered.

You cling to an imaginary god and a dead religion. The voice had an ethereal, horrifying timbre, as if a thousand evil beings were speaking at once.

“I…I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” he gasped, in his fading consciousness calling upon the ancient creed to find the words.  “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only begotten—”

Will you renounce your faith in exchange for your life?

It was a question he had been expecting his entire life, a question he had always hoped and prayed that he would have the strength to answer.

The strength came.  “No,” he groaned. “Go to hell.”

Wordlessly, the creature raised another arm.  Struggling against the impaling rod, wild eyed, he saw that the monster held a pulsating blade, moving close, so close to his neck.  He closed his eyes.

Lowering its arm, the assassin retracted the hooks, letting the decapitated body of its victim slide to the ground.  It turned and moved silently away.

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