Flesh & Bone
then turned away.
    “Praise be to the darkness!” shrieked the reapers.
    Mother Rose raised her hand, and they all fell silent.
    “Brother Simon,” she murmured, “rise and stand before me.”
    The wretched reaper staggered to his feet. Blood leaked from his nostrils from his self-inflicted blows.
    “The lord of darkness requires much of you,” said Mother Rose, then turned to the others. “He requires much of all of you. Will you, by fire and steel, earn your passage into the darkness?”
    “Yes!” they screamed. Many of them tore at their own clothes or beat their chests.
    Mother Rose raised a hand and pointed a long, slender finger toward the southeast. “Out there, beyond this forest, lies Sanctuary. We cannot let this ‘weapon’ continue to rest in the hands of heretics and blasphemers. If we do not take control of it, then it will be used against us. Against our god.” She paused,and everyone hung on her every word. “Find it. Track down every heretic in these woods. Open red mouths in their flesh, and they will beg to tell you everything about Sanctuary.”
    “What if none of them know anything?” asked Brother Eric.
    “Offer them the choice. Join us or go into the darkness.”
    The reapers all nodded.
    “And if they do know something?” asked a trembling Brother Simon.
    Mother Rose’s eyes were hooded. “Bring them to me. Anyone who knows where it is. Anyone who knows what it is. Bring them to me, and I will let Brother Alexi coax the truth of this great evil from them, all in the name of Thanatos, all praise his darkness.”
    Brother Alexi, the towering giant, smiled a cruel smile.
    Mother Rose raised her arms wide. “We must take Sanctuary. That, more than anything, is the great task of our time. That is the most sacred of missions assigned to us by God. As long as Sanctuary stands, all that we do, all that we have done, is in jeopardy.”
    Suddenly every one of the reapers whipped their blades from belts and sheaths. The wicked silver flashed in the sunlight.
    “Brother Simon, I charge you to find the team leaders and bring them to me at the Shrine of the Fallen in two hours. The rest of you . . . you know what must be done.”
    The reapers leaped to their feet, swearing on their lives, their souls, and their salvation. Only the giant remained silent, watching like a granite statue.
    Mother Rose studied each of the reapers with her cold, dark eyes.
    “To break faith with me is to break faith with God.”
    The reapers begged her to accept the truth of their promises, and they fell on their faces, scrabbling at the lowest streamers tied to her clothes, kissing the colored cloth, touching it to their closed eyes and to the center of their foreheads. Mother Rose allowed the adoration to go on for twenty full seconds before she held up a hand to stop them. The weeping reapers got to their feet and stood stock-still, their eyes locked on her and that raised hand. Then Mother Rose gave a single dismissive flick of her hand and spoke a single word.
    “Go.”
    The reapers whirled and headed into the woods as fast as they could, howling like demons as they went. On foot and on their motorcycles. In moments they were gone from sight.
    Mother Rose waited until even the sound of the motors was gone, and then she exhaled, blowing out her cheeks. The giant set down his sledgehammer and grinned.
    “Jeez, you laid it on pretty thick there, Rosie,” he said.
    “It works every time, Alexi.” Mother Rose shrugged. “Besides, you can’t dial it down with this crowd or they start thinking for themselves.”
    “Heaven forbid,” he said, and they both laughed.
    Brother Alexi came and stood close to Mother Rose. “Are you even sure that Sanctuary exists? We’ve been to this part of Nevada three times now and we haven’t found a trace of it.”
    “It exists,” she said firmly. “I’m positive of it.”
    “Hey, don’t shine me on, sweetie,” Alexi growled. “This is me you’re talking to, not

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