Flesh & Bone
of evil. And yet, behold the holy weapons you carry. They are sanctified and made pure by the purpose to which they are put. A weapon, my children, is good or evil depending on the intention of whoever holds it.”
    Lilah surprised herself by agreeing—at least in part—with what this woman said.
    The reapers milled around, murmuring and debating this with one another.
    Then Mother Rose raised her hand, and every tongue fell silent. “In the actions of heretics the schemes of evil are revealed. We know—we have been told—by the prophet Saint John that in these End Times the struggle to conquer evil will be hard fought. We know this. You, my warrior reapers, have endured fire and blood to send heretics into the darkness. You know, as I know, as Saint John knows, that at the end of our struggles the darkness waits for us. Once we have accomplished our holy purpose on earth, the darkness will embrace us and grant us everlasting peace. There will be no more hunger, no more sickness, no more fear. The darkness is eternal.”
    “Praise be to the darkness,” they intoned.
    “But we are all sinners. Everyone who remains clothed in flesh and who pollutes the earth by walking upon it is a sinner. God commanded that all human life should end. He made the dead rise and he opened the pathway to darkness for all who accept this truth.”
    They stared at her, totally rapt.
    “Only two kinds of people are left here in this hell of flesh and pain. The heretics who refuse to accept the truth and the will of our god,” said Mother Rose, her voice strident and powerful, “and us—the sanctified soldiers of God. We are the reapers sent among the wayward fields to cut down the infection that is life.”
    “Praise be to the darkness!” they cried.
    “And together we have sent thousands of heretics into the darkness. Thousands.”
    Lilah could see that most of the reapers were openly weeping, nodding in absolute agreement with everything this woman said.
    “And yet we are mortals, we are of the flesh, even if we are filled with the glory of God,” she said. “While we remain steadfast to our purpose, we must never forget that we can only glimpse the will of the lord of darkness. We are not arrogant enough to say that we know all of his will.”
    The reapers said nothing, though Lilah saw some of them frown, as if they were uncertain where this was going.
    “We must also be prepared for our holy war to last as long as our god needs it to last,” continued Mother Rose, “even if that means that some of us must remain in the flesh.”
    “But for how long?” begged Brother Simon. “How long until we are all released from the flesh?”
    Mother Rose turned fully toward him, and even from her place of concealment Lilah could feel the impact of that woman’s stare. It was as hard as a fist and as riveting as a sudden thunderclap.
    “As long as God wills it,” she said very slowly, spacing each word and filing each syllable to a dagger point. “If he calls us home this minute, we should be ready to open red mouths in our own flesh.”
    “Praise be the darkness,” cried the reapers.
    “And if the lord of darkness ordains that we must wither with old age before we are called home, then is that too costly a price for the faithful to pay?”
    There was such powerful challenge in her words that everytongue was stilled, and even Lilah held her breath. Mother Rose stepped close to Brother Simon.
    “Answer me, my brother,” she said in that cold, cold voice. “If God wills that our holy war last a hundred years, would you spit in God’s eye and defy such a request?”
    Brother Simon dropped to his knees, weeping and shaking with terror. He struck his own face and tore at his clothes before finally collapsing facedown in the dirt.
    “I am the humblest of God’s servants,” he wailed. “My life is his unto the end of time.”
    Mother Rose smiled and nodded.
    “Thus speak all who truly love the Lord Thanatos,” she said, and

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