Authors: Michael James Ploof
Copyright © 2014 Michael James Ploof
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: 9781500862336
Special thanks to Paul Fiacco, for the tireless hours spent helping to perfect this story and the magic system herein.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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walked past Trinity Church and marveled for the hundredth time at its beauty. My eyes were drawn to every curve and crest of its brilliant stonework, and for a moment, I forgot the darkness I was about to face.
Father Killroy paced my long strides with his quick short ones. He clutched his Bible against his robe as if it were a secret. As he squinted against the rain, I wondered why he didn’t have his hood up. Maybe he thought the cleansing rain would help against the evil that awaited us. His portly belly led the way, and if not for the red puff of hair atop his head, he could have been mistaken for the Buddha. He reminded me of one of the Tweedle brothers from
Alice in Wonderland.
I tried to quiet my restless mind and divert it from cracking jokes in my head, but it wasn’t working.
I was nervous as hell, and for good reason—I was about to take part in an exorcism. Father Killroy had performed dozens of the rituals, and that alleviated some of my anxiety, but not all. Don’t get me wrong; I’m no coward. I’ve faced my share of baddies in my day, but I detest dealing with demons. Many of the hunters of man are victims themselves. They are possessed of a hunger that drives them to act—to feed, to kill—like vampires and werewolves. Demons, on the other hand, are pure evil. They live for darkness, destruction, and death…and they give me the creeps.
Last summer I encountered one for the first time, a lower demon who had possessed a farmer and killed everyone near to him. On a mission with a priest and two other wizards, I found the man in the barn, bathing in blood. Above him, dripping blood into a horse trough, we found nine of his victims. They exorcised the demon quickly, but I missed it—the scene had made me sick. While the wizards and priest valiantly defeated a homicidal demon, I puked my guts out. I admit it wasn’t my most shining moment. Since then I have seen worse, and I have gotten used to the blood and bodies and brutal violence.
These days, ever since the great culling of 2033—on Halloween, the day of reckoning—we humans are an endangered species. Humanity’s clock was reset to zero, and so was the date. New Year’s Day is now Halloween, and this year will mark the seventh anniversary since the Culling—7 AW.
Some say it was the true Armageddon. Others disagree. The religious believe we survivors are actually in hell or some sort of purgatory. All I know is, if the people of Boston saw what was waiting for them beyond the walls, they would believe in hell.
Though the Culling lasted only a day, it changed the world forever. The end came in the night, riding on the wind, a whisper of death—a virus that killed 99.9 percent of all humans it came in contact with. Those who survived had either been given the vaccine, were naturally immune, or were the Cain. I was one of the immune—the Witnesses, as we are called by the Elite.
The morning of the Culling, every broadcast in the world was hijacked. Every TV, radio, computer, and cell phone played the same message in all languages. On the screens came a face made of a thousand faces, flashing one after another in a strange meld that left you in awe of its dark beauty. It has become known as the Faces of God. It spoke in a thousand voices as well. The words have become like scripture to the Cain:
Tomorrow most of you will be dead. Already you feel different. Already you feel sick, and you know it to be true. As we speak, sirens are going off in every miserable shanty in the world. You are dying—but you can be saved. You all know this world is overpopulated; you know that you are a virus, a plague of sinners. The world needs to be cleansed. There must be a culling—call it survival of the fittest. We are taking on only the strongest, only the fittest. Therefore, to save yourselves, to prove that you deserve to live on into the brave new world, you must drink the blood of another. If you do this, if you drink the blood of other infected humans, you will be cured of your sickness. You have one hour to act, or you die.
All that I saw that day, I cannot share. But what I will say is that I would give my life to undo it. Once people started getting sicker, the panic rose. The world’s cities turned to death and mayhem. The last thing to be seen on American news was a never-ending slideshow of the world tearing itself apart. Some people, men and women alike, took the advice of the Voices of God. Every city in the world became an orgy of vampiric murder. Some of the last reports said North Korea had fired nukes, which they supposedly didn’t have, at neighboring South Korea. Another chain reaction occurred in the Middle East. Humanity’s true nature was tested that day, and the outcome was nightmarish. Those who fed off the dying lived, and almost everyone else died. By the next day the world of man had been reduced to smoldering cities filled with dead. It was estimated that ten percent of people on the planet cannibalized to live, and maybe one percent got lucky and were immune.
Due to some nature of the virus, the killers’ faces were permanently stained by the blood of their victims. There are many names for them: the Marked, the Lost Ones, the Final Sinners, and—most notably—the Cain.
Perhaps the greatest sin of all committed that day was, ironically, the saving of the children. Many parents and caregivers, themselves having turned to vampirism to survive, also fed their children the blood of their victims.
I can still see their faces, their mouths stained with the blood of their parents’ victims—parents who committed the most heinous of crimes to keep them alive. And while it was done with loving intentions, they in truth condemned their offspring to a life of hell. Most children had since been taken either by the larger groups of Cain as slaves, or by the Elite for reasons unknown.
I, like so many others on the East Coast, followed the only radio signal on the air after the Culling. It came from Boston. Though I hadn’t actually heard it, I joined up with a group of survivors who did. They were immune as well, of course. Anyone with bloody lips was shunned—an outcast.
Since the Culling, the surviving mortals have learned that many of the things which had been taken for myths and fairy tales in the old world were indeed real—vampires and werewolves, ghosts and demons, witches and warlocks, and most other varieties of childhood nightmares, for instance. In the days before the Culling it was easy for these mythical creatures to stay hidden, hunting with ease, as they picked here and there from the flock of billions at their leisure. But now they are hungry, and humans are few.
Wizards, of course, are real as well, and now that nightmares walk the earth openly, we do what we can to even the odds. For a long time we kept out of the affairs of humans—were even shunned and hunted by them. Now we are their protectors and guardians once again. Boston is the home of the Order of Franklin, the East Coast chapter of the American Wizard Council of Light, of which I am now a member.
Long ago it was determined that the wizards would no longer meddle in human events, as the power we possessed would lead inevitably to dictatorial rule. Instead, the ruling council at the time ordered, on pain of death, that magic never be used against humans, neither to kill nor to control. This law was broken many times, of course, and in the early days, most of the time was taken up with battles against renegade wizards. But now we have come out of the shadows again, to keep the people safe from the forces of darkness. Be it at the hands of the murderous Cain, the creatures of legend, or the Elite and their war machines, the survivors of the Culling are in danger of extinction, and it is our duty to help. It is our penance for not intervening when we could have.
Those who had the antidote on the day of culling, the Elite, are said to live in great palaces above and below the earth. It is said they watch from the sky through satellites they still control. We are entertainment to them and nothing more. They too hunt the children of the Cain, and us as well, as they choose. Their machines of war can be seen from time to time, hovering over the partially ruined city of Boston. We are not yet strong enough to dare all-out assault, but so far the spells of the strongest of us have shielded the city from any attacks.
Technology had advanced to the point at which the Elite could meld with machine, becoming immortal cyborgs. They had created robots to do what humans once did. The megalomaniacal group had been steadily gaining power for hundreds of years, hiding behind secret societies and shadow governments. They are worshipped like gods by the Cain, who strive to prove themselves and earn a place in their brave new world.
And like gods, the Elite give the Cain commands. They are used as cannon fodder when it pleases them. Reanimation as a cybernetic clone is the prize for a successful suicide mission, though it is not known if the promise is actually kept.
Many think that there is no hope to be had—that the age of free humanity is over, and that we can never again know what was once taken for granted. I happen to disagree. I have, my entire life, been a student of history, and though Old Ben would
at my apparent vanity, I can confidently say that humans have never been free. I have studied the many cultures of man—from Babylon to Rome, from Greece to Persia—even the modern industrial nations. They all tell the same tale. While some were freer than others, one and all were destroyed by the rot of corruption. One and all were destroyed by lust, money, greed, and power.
It is why I fight. I cannot stand by and watch bullies at play. I have been given the power I possess for a reason. And I will use that power in defense of the weak.
The rain came down with renewed vigor. We came to the stoop of the house the demon had chosen, and Father Killroy gave a prayer. His voice boomed out Latin as fluently as if it were his native language. I understood most of it, even at the vigorous speed with which he spoke. To my great relief, I then noticed my mentor standing atop the landing, waiting silently. His usually cheery face was troubled. I could tell he didn’t want to be here any more than I did. I nodded him a thanks for coming, and he winked in return.
The father and I climbed the short stair to the door and went inside. Behind us followed my mentor, the ghost of Benjamin Franklin.