"Listen, can you hear them? There they are whispering about her again."
I turned towards the vent in the wall, ears open, but my mind still closed. This man had saved me, saved a lot of us over the years. He had always been one of the few approachable ones here, despite being Adam's left hand. Adam's right hand was a soldier, he fought and commanded those in the field for the cause, but his left, the crazed-eyed gentleman before me, had always been the backbone, the voice of reason and fortitude. If the right was the physical aspect, this was our true spiritual side.
But today, I worried. Never had I seen him so out of sorts. He talked softly, always the calm one, never once raising his voice, unlike Daveed, who only spoke in elevated decibels. No, Karlson here, he knew how to put you at ease. You would know his disappointment and walk away guilt-ridden without more than a pointed glance.
"You are more worried about my state than paying attention to the proof I am showing you right in front of you, James. Listen, and you will understand why you see me like never before. You have noticed more than the others my recent episodes as much as I tried to hide them. They have been memory bursts. I finally remember who I really am. I finally know why I am here. And I want to scream at the years lost and the fool I have been. As much as coming here very likely saved my life, remembering what I had and the life I left, the pain is almost unbearable. I would rather lose my leg all over again."
His words made me glance down at the aforementioned missing limb. Whenever a brave soul approached the subject, he would give some fantastical story about its demise and then walk away with a conspiratorial wink.
As one of the few to attempt to find out, I waited until one late night, the rain against the window lulling us into complacency and the whiskey before us loosening our spirits. I had hoped the dimmed lights and shuttered doors would give me a chance at the truth, but instead, I heard of the savage unicorn he bribed with his appendage to free him and his long-lost daughter from its tyrannical wrath. The unicorn had barely survived being excluded from Noah's Ark and had lived eons on pure hate and bitterness to exact his revenge on mankind and God.
Coincidentally, a strange silver horn did reside on a dusty shelf in his office, but of course, Unicorns weren't real. Demons and witches were, but unicorns? My peers had had a good laugh at that one.
Now, he was non-stop about a conspiracy to kill some woman who claimed was indeed that long-lost daughter. Killing women was not unusual. In fact, most of the targets were women, as it seemed witchcraft seemed more prevalent in females. These abominations against God were sought out and eliminated as per Adam's will and decree. Not the Adam that Karlson worked under, but ADAM. Our original ancestor created in God's image. He forbade his descendants from twisting God's power. Those that chose to had been hunted since the day he and Eve had exited the Garden, and here we were, in the 21st century, still carrying on his original commandment. So why this witch had excited Karlson so much, I couldn't fathom. His genuine fear echoing in his eyes made me finally give him at least the courtesy to pay attention.
Mumbling only came through at first, muted and jumbled as it carried through the fortress's ancient air ducts. This place had been built for withstanding raids, not ventilation. The modernization of its catacomb-like interior slapped haphazardly throughout made for a very efficient echo chamber in the unlikeliest of places. We were hunkered down in an old storage room next to the cellar. The musty smell of damp mops and leaking chemicals overpowered the cedar barrels of wine stored delicately right outside.
We had to fund our commitment somehow, and in the sprawling hills of Champagne, France, how else but with sparkling wines from the finest vineyards. I missed my home in the states, the open desert and clear blue skies with nary a cloud for weeks, nestled right next to Phoenix, a city of massive heat and no snow. Right now, the drifts piling against the doors and the deep chills felt in every corner made me long for those triple-digit summers.
Again I digressed and found myself avoiding the sounds becoming more apparent as voices raised on the other side. I bent down, my ear inches from the grate, the soft breeze that pushed through, tickling my chin.
She is the key…
But how can you be sure?
She fulfills all the requirements!
But what about Karlson? Do you think he knows about her?
He has always feigned amnesia but against his kin…
He will be dealt with. He is a harmless old man loyal to us.
She must be taken alive…
Alive? We have never done that! Kill her and be done.
The forcefulness of the last made me wince, the shout unmistakably coming from our leader. Adam had never kept any of the targets alive. A dead witch can't harm you, and a dead demon can't harm others. His philosophy always coincided with the first Adam's, as he was more than just in name only. He was incarnate of the first Adam, continuing his original legacy through generations. At least, that is what we were told. I had seen enough of demons and witchcraft to not discredit his claim out of hand, but as just a lackey, it had never been my place to question. Now listening to them admit that this target had a connection to Karlson and they were willing to keep the truth from him gave me pause. Maybe there was merit to what he was saying. Just the fact that he had been excluded from such a meeting began to give credence to his paranoia.
A short scuffle vibrated through the grate, and Adam resumed, with me now listening intently.
Never raise yourself from your chair in my presence again without permission. I am Adam's Will, and I am Adam. This is the reason we even exist. Destroying the pockets of evil in the world is just putting a band-aid on the wound. Closing the conduit to this evil cauterizes it. If they can't become witches, we save their souls. If Hell can't create demons, we save all of humanity. She is the key to closing it, but she can only be killed at the source. So our priority now is to find her and bring her to me. Alive. Dead she is useless, and you doom everyone to the evil that will continue to fester and grow, and one day even our diligent army will fall. This is the end to all of that. Daveed, you must find a way to get as much information out of Karlson. This is his daughter, after all. A fact he has pretended for decades not to know. Please figure out how to jog his memory. You two begin in Austria. There is an old building that houses some clues left by the protector a century ago. Find where he fled, we find him, we find her. Go all of you! NOW!
I heard more scraping and assumed chairs moved, and people scurried away to their respective missions. Unfortunately, one of them would lead right to my companion and me.
Karlson cleared his throat, "I promise you, until a few days ago when I first heard them speak about this, my mind was still blank. Only at the mention of my daughter have I begun to remember. She is not the enemy, and neither am I. God help us. We are the evil ones, not the witches! I hid here from my past, and now my only child will suffer for it. Please, if any shred of decency still remains and they haven't destroyed all of your morality, help me save her."
I shook my head, too much contradictory information too soon, as I attempted to process what I heard with what I knew. Karlson wanted me to go against everything I had been taught, everything I had pledged to uphold these past 5 years. But the pleading and the years of him watching over me, I felt the pendulum swinging in his favor. I trusted him. I never trusted Daveed, who would quickly sacrifice any one of us for the cause. Karlson had always shown us to keep God's true will in our thoughts and actions. Go after the ones that were committing evil, eliminate genuine threats, not just implied.
He turned from me and found a stray stack of candles tucked away in a corner, forgotten in this closet years ago. He held it aloft and bade me look at it. "You have known me and know that I hold the highest standard of God first and foremost. God wouldn't allow anything to exist that went against him. Witchcraft is the same. It is not the power that is evil but the intent. That means there are good witches in the world and good powers." He extended the yellowed stump and, with a soft exhale, a sudden woosh had the virgin wick lit with a white flame. I stared in disbelief at its flickering light, casting coalescing shadows against the walls. He had lit it as a witch does.
He was one of them!
"How could you be one, the very abomination we are sworn to destroy!" I reeled back, cornered between a dilapidated shelf and a stack of broken buckets. This witch stood with his demonic candle between me and the door. Now I knew why there were after his family. The powers resided in the blood, and he had given it to his daughter.
How could I even think to help him?
But I learned actions carried weight, and words were easily said. Karlson's efforts had always been just and dignified. He had shown compassion and genuine warmth to those in his care. The others in power were cold and calculating, any one of us nothing more than fodder for their own means. "Tell me the truth about your leg. How did you lose it?"
He leaned against the wall and blew out the flame. He held it between his hands and studied it intently while wax dripped down his fingers, solidifying in rivulets. With a deep sigh, he looked back at me, haunted shadows overcasting his usually serene features. "It was the first memory to return. It jolted me from my sleep as the pain from my missing leg returned fresh from that moment. My daughter's mother did it. She attempted to kill me when I discovered her true nature. She was a child of Lilith and a demon. She had duped me and hid her true nature from me. If my mom had met her, I know she would have known, as I am sure so would have our protector, Cyn. We were direct descendants of Lilith, who had lain with a direct descendant of Adam and gave birth to my many greats over grandmother.
"The protector they mentioned, he is an immortal man who has been watching over my family since the first and tried to keep us safe from Lilith and her demons. But in my arrogance and pride, I fell the lowest of us all. I fathered a child with a demon willingly. Umnia was to be her name. Until I heard them talking about her, I didn't even know she had been born. Her mother had just revealed the pregnancy, and as I sat in bliss at the possibilities, she revealed her true nature. With her unnatural strength, she mangled my leg, and in my flight, I fell down a cliff. She assumed me dead, and she wasn't too far off. I barely survived, and I had no recollection of anything. Daveed found me half out of my wits after the amputation, with my only coherent thoughts my first name and killing all demons. He recruited me and the rest, you know. "
He looked down at his hands, unconsciously picking off the dried wax. His years descended on him, and the spry salt and pepper-haired gentleman I had known aged before my eyes. "If you wish to kill me, go ahead. I can manipulate the Divine Energy and carry Lilith's blood. I am antithesis to all we stand for here. But if you are willing to do better, to be better than this mindless cultist, find her and warn her and Cyn, who I am sure is by her side. Begin in the states in Miami. I have constructed a special compass to follow. My blood will call to her blood and show you the way."
Expectant and hopeful, he stared at me. I examined his words and deeds.
The truth of his story rang in my heart.
"Why don't you find her yourself? You heard them. They will torture you with any means necessary to find out all of this. You have to leave."
"No, I can feign the amnesia a bit longer and mislead them, but if I run, they will follow and find me. With only one leg, I am too slow to get very far before they catch up. You are the only way. Please. You of all my wards have always been able to see the truth the most clearly. You aren't as easily brainwashed like the others."
I finally nodded. I think that I always knew I would do anything for Karlson, and I had always felt deep in my heart there was something inherently wrong in what we did as far as the extent of our hunts.
I paused, worried that he may be using that witchcraft to manipulate me. It must have shown on my face, or was it more witchcraft reading my mind, but Karlson shook his head.
"I can't make you do it, and there is absolutely nothing stopping you from telling them everything I just told you. You must decide on your own, and it is a huge burden I am putting on you. But believe it or not, you have a bit of it in you, the Divine Energy that you can access. It is why you are so good at reading people. Use it."
I recoiled at the accusation I was one of them, but again, I felt the truth. I felt the consequences of turning him in and of finding his daughter. He was right, something in me helped me see people, and now I could see him for what he was. A battered old man with his last hope pinned on my ability to betray all I had been lead to believe and save that very long-lost daughter he barely recalled days ago.
I found myself nodding once again, this time sure. That inner gut feeling said this is what I needed to do. I didn't want to delve into the idea I was being guided by some Divine Energy but chose to see it as a voice from God to do the right thing. Maybe they were the same thing, but whatever helped me sleep at night. I moved forward to help Karlson up and hugged him. He had been the father figure I needed and the mentor I wanted. My loyalty had never been to the organization. It had always been to him and his sincerity.
He reached in his pocket and pulled out a small box. I grabbed it and slowly opened the hinged lid. Inside sat an enclosed plastic container along with a folded piece of paper. I chose to ignore the red liquid in which sat two small stones, one black one white. Karlson loosened the transparent lid and spit into the container, resealing it. "My spit activates it. The white pebble will lead you to Umnia, the black one to me. Look for information about my mother, written on that paper, or any news articles from when I disappeared 27 years ago. Use that ability of yours to gain access. The closer you get my daughter, the stronger the pebble will react. When it turns red, you know you have found her. Warn her about the organization and the plans you just overheard. Be wary of her mother, Cassandra. I don't know what happened to her.
"Cyn can be completely trusted and is probably not far from her side if he is still true to his nature. Now go. God's speed and strength to save my daughter. I wish I could meet her someday." Anxious now, he took my hand and bade me leave.
I closed the lid to the box carefully, and I placed it in my coat pocket. I gave one last squeeze of his hand and walked out of the cramped closet and out the front door, never looking back.