"So I ask you people, have you ever considered the idea that maybe Satan loves you more than God?" Asked Reverend Donald Morgan in a casual tone. The silence that followed the question was deafening. With his amused, mismatched eyes the Reverend scanned the sanctuary, observing his flock, not unlike some scientist watching a group of lab rats, gauging their reactions. Over in the pew on the right-hand side of the pulpit, he saw Jenny Mathis, a stocky woman of 56 years and a veteran of the church's soup kitchen stare back at him, mouth agape with eyes that displayed only bewilderment.

Further back, about two pews down, he saw his old drinking buddy Kyle Jordan glare daggers at him and wondered for a moment if the pulsing vein he saw on his forehead was about to burst, and what that would have looked like. On the left-hand side of the pulpit at the very back of the sanctuary, he locked eyes with his wife Victoria and saw her lips move to form something like "What are you doing?" he dismissed her question with a wave and left the pulpit, taking a seat on the floor next to it before he continued. " Now I want you guys to bear with me for a second, this is a serious question."

He reached into his back pocket and produced a modest set of index cards, which he thumbed through absent-mindedly as he spoke. " What I've got here is the sermon I planned for you guys today, I thought it was really good when I wrote it. I was gonna talk about some verses from Mark, first Corinthians, Luke, with a few others and basically, just try to deliver a message of hope. That God is eternal and always looking out for you, and that no matter how hopeless or lonely life gets you always have Him to rely on, and he'll always do you right." He paused for a moment to clear his throat. " But you know what?

that's all bullshit." Loud gasps echoed through the sanctuary and he let them subside before he continued. " That's right, I said it, bullshit! With a capital B, it's all empty talk. A lot of bark with no bite." he tossed the index cards into the crowd with contempt. " But for the longest time I figured it was bullshit that paid the bills, and you guys gobbled it up like fucking starving North Korean kids anyway so I thought what the fuck, why not? Until.." " Now wait just a minute!" interrupted George Macready, a church regular all his life, with indignant disgust." What do think you're.." " If you would shut your dick sucker for a minute George I'll tell you not only what I think, but what I KNOW!" The Reverend hissed back, standing up, voice full of venom. Macready was stunned into silence. Not only by Morgan's vulgarity but by his wording. "It was just an insult," he told himself. There was no way he could possibly know. " Oh, what does that make you uncomfortable George? Does it hit a little too close to home? Do you honestly still think nobody knows?" barked the reverend, now on the offensive. " Do you really believe none of those innocent little boy scouts noticed your wandering eyes or those extra friendly hands of yours? If you do you're a fool" he shouted before he turned and spit on the carpet.

" There's a reason you never got to be Scout Master George, now shut the fuck up and let me finish." Macready sank back into his seat utterly mortified, and Morgan took a napkin out of his pocket, wiping some sweat from his brow before he picked up from where he left off. " Until I met the real God, and obtained eternal salvation, and I'm not talking about some lofty promise of an eternity in the clouds with a carpenter's boy, no I mean real eternal salvation, youth that never ends and strength that never fails. " he proclaimed. At this point, most of the congregation figured that he had lost his mind or was suffering a nervous breakdown of some kind, and several got up to leave. When he saw this, the reverend gave a disappointed sigh and waved his hand. before anyone could leave, the handles of the doors that led out of the sanctuary began to writhe and twist, until they became snakes. Victoria screamed bloody murder and Jenny Mathis fainted outright.

Indeed the entire sanctuary may have erupted into terrified pandemonium had Reverend Morgan not quieted them with his mad confidence. "Now is not the time to flee from Grace children," he stated with authority. " For though it is true I have come to cast down the false teaching you all hold so dear, I will not make you miserable but powerful." he declared. If anybody hadn't been listening to him before, he now had the complete, undivided attention of everyone in the room." Now, back to what we were talking about earlier." he said with sudden levity. " Satan loving you more than God? what kind of crazy backward idea is that?" he chuckled. " Now before I address the question let me take a moment to challenge this idea of God's love." he looked around the room for a minute then pointed to Jeremy Connors, a middle-aged guy, and ex-marine who despite his combat experience, found himself terrified of the man at the pulpit. "Jeremy," he said. "Yes?" whispered the old soldier. " Do you love God?" asked the reverend flatly. "Yes." he answered. "Have you loved God all your life?" "Yes."

" Did your boy love God?" inquired the reverend. Jeremy seemed confused and perplexed by the question but answered nonetheless." Yes, sir, I think so." " All his life?" "Yes, sir." " So it's fair to say you believe God loved you and your boy in return am I right?" Jeremy nodded. "Did your boy stop loving God when he went to Afghanistan?" he asked. "No sir." " Then why Did God let those Muslims, those non-believers, cut through your boy's windpipe with that rusty blade and toss his head onto that filthy sand like a rotten pumpkin? Where was his unconditional love that day?" asked the reverend. White hot rage pulsed through Jeremy's features but he breathed deep and gave his reply. " I don't know" "Ok." said Morgan with a shrug. "One more question, Jeremy." "What?" "Do you think God loved that prostitute you strangled back in Saigon? She was a Pagan after all." Jeremy went ghostly white and started sweating profusely.

He opened his mouth as if to answer, but no sound came out. The Reverend just smiled and turned away. " Now I know reading isn't really a big thing these days but some of you older folks might be familiar with the works of John Milton." he said, seeming to veer off topic. The room was quiet, so quiet you probably could have heard a pin drop in the parking lot. " Paradise Lost? anybody? nobody? My God the state of public education these days." lamented the reverend. " Well to give you guys a quick overview, Paradise Lost is a pretty long poem with a lot of characters you would probably recognize, the creator of Heaven, his Son, a girl named Eve, a guy named Adam, and a greatly loved and respected military commander by the name of Lucifer, it's a really wonderful piece of writing." he assured his audience. ' It really sticks out to me because it was one of the first instances in English literature that we got to hear Lucifer's side of the story, and what a story it was."

he said with a glimmer in his peculiar eyes. "Betrayed and banished from all he knew by a tyrant that took him for granted after an eternity of loyal service, Lucifer basically decides that he's gonna make the best of a shitty situation, and damn it all if he can't get what's owed to him he'll make something better, for it is better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven." stated the Reverend with passion. " Now getting back to our theme of love, what exactly is love? That's a damn hard question people and I must confess I don't really have a good answer, that's above my pay grade." he said. "But I can tell without even thinking about it what love is not, and love is not hiding from those you call your children, or telling them that they must deny their true selves in order to have a place by your side."

he ranted. " And it certainly, isn't in leaving their prayers unanswered while holding an eternity of unending pain and torment over their heads if they don't believe what you say." he said with finality. "No children God's love is a myth that I have come to replace with reality." He went silent for several moments, letting his words sink in." But you don't need to be unhappy about that children, oh no, for your new God will not hide from you. You will never have to question whether or not He actually exists, and He will not demand that you deny your truest self, but rather that you celebrate it." He said. " But above all, those who prove themselves loyal will never have to suffer an unanswered prayer, for all of His power and glory will be yours to command." he promised. "And that, to me children, is love." Again the room was filled with a vacuum of silence for what seemed like forever until a young voice shattered the quiet with fervor. " You are a slave of the Serpent and you speak nothing but lies!" Yelled Felica Martin, a recent high school graduate who had been leading the musical part of the worship service for the past few summers. The reverend regarded her with a warm smile before he replied. " I'm so glad that you found the courage to challenge my words Felica, I would have been so disappointed if none of you gave me the opportunity to prove my claims." he said gesturing her to step forward. " Come here child, and don't be afraid, such things are beneath you now." he reassured her. With some trepidation, Felica stood up from where she sat on the pew, straightened her dress, and made her way to the pulpit slowly, her amber eyes full of alertness.

When she was within arm's reach of the reverend, he extended his hand to her. " My God adores your bravery child, and he demands that it be rewarded, so rather than simply tell you about Him I will show you His face, a privilege your God never seemed to feel you deserved." He took ahold of her hand and pulled her close as if to embrace her, and then parted his lips to reveal a column of glistening, jagged, fangs. Felica's terrified yelp was cut short by rows of sharp teeth penetrating her jugular as the whole audience looked on in horror. Time seemed to stand still as she tried to push away from her attacker, only to have his teeth sink deeper into her flesh. Crimson blood flowed freely from her wound and stained her dress as she opened her mouth in a soundless scream of agony before she went limp in his arms, all the color gone from her face, replaced with the paleness of death as Morgan pulled away from her throat. It was in this moment that within Felica's corpse something else was born. Something that was her, and at the same time not. This creature was still for but a moment before it sprang to life in Morgan's embrace, thrashing and screaming like a newborn experiencing life for the first time. The Reverend held it still and gazed into the eyes that were once Felica's, kissing its forehead with still bloody lips.

This seemed to have a calming effect on the creature, and he released it from his grip. It wobbled at first and for a moment looked as if it might fall to the floor, then stood and stared back into the reverend's eyes and saw in him a creator, a father, and a teacher. With a smile, the Reverand then gestured to the audience and said. " Go now daughter mine, and bring to the masses the truth I have brought to you." Without needing to be told twice, the vampire that was once Felica leaped off the stage with inhuman speed and ripped into the nearest parishioner, and for the final time that day, and all the days to follow, the sanctuary was filled with the screams of the innocent, while the Reverand stared pensively at the sculpture of Jesus on the cross that adorned the Sanctuary stage. "Quit looking at me like that." He said to it. "Those that watch and do nothing are just as guilty." He then sighed and turned his mind to the battles to come.