China, by Lurp Crawn

We were in the Indian capital, I forget its exact location, when he came.

"Empress." a guard said as he entered and bowed.

The Empress took several moments, enough for a human to notice, before looking up.

"A vampire is here to see you." the guard said, "I told him you were very busy, that you did not often come to this palace. I told him he could make an appointment with one of the Imperial Ambassitors. He said that he already had an appointment, which God made for him."

The Empress did not react. She had spent hours learning not to react. An Empress was never surprised or amused, she told me.

After another long pause, long enough to convince most that she was considering her various options, she said: "Let him in."

I was uninterested in these affairs. I was there to witness them, but I did not look up as he entered, nor did I bother listening intently as he spoke. Being a vampire, however, I did not need to be paying attention to hear and remember.

"I am Kamal."

The Empress waited, as if thinking that he had more to say when he was obviously finished, before replying: "What, Kamal, is so important that you must tell us personally?"

"I have been the protector of China for many centuries now, since before your time, since before the time of the Greeks." he said, "I have known all these years that you would come, and at last I would be allowed to rest."

The Empress consisdered this.

"They are very few vampires in China." The Empress said, "What have you been protecting China from?"

I raised an eyebrow. I was allowed to be surprised, and for the Empress that was a surprisingly astute question.

"You are wrong." Kamal said, to the surprise and anger of the court, "There is only one vampire in China, and it is I."

The Empress was not amused by his backtalk. Her reaction was to turn away from him, which would usually lead to the guards taking him away. But the Emperor said something, quiet enough that I could not hear, and the Empress looked back up before the guards could react.

It was at this moment that I looked at Kamal, for the first time. He was not Chinese, in fact, he looked more Arab than anything. He stood firmly, as if he had no intentions of ever leaving that spot for a thousand years. He stared directly at the Empress, with a fire in his eyes that I had only seen on the deeply religious.

The Empress stared back.

"I protect China" Kamal said, eyes never wavering, "from vampires."

Again the Emperor said something. The Empress' eyes never left Kamal.

"Tell us, Kamal," the Empress said, each syllable dripping with queenly elegance, "how you came to be the protector of China."

Kamal began his story.

Long ago, when vampires were not myths, but real terrors, when I still retained my soul, I devoted my life to the teaching of the Word of God. I was happy in Persia, but I was even happier when I was called of God through his Patriarch Enosh to go to China, where the Word of God was just beginning to florish. The task was hard, the Chinese Emperor had declared the True Church banned. This did not stop me. I knew the stories of the early Saints, who had lived in a time when the Romans rounded up Christians to tortue them and feed them to lions. I did not know if I were to be so blessed as to suffer a similar fate, but I was willing to do all that God asked of me.

I was put in charge of a small church in a small village far from the Chinese Emperor and his profane decrees. I worked and preached for thirty long years before God smote the blasphamous Emperor and all his house. Never again would he or his children rule China. God had judged him unworthy. I was happy, for a time.

For five, ten, fifteen years the battle between the different rulers raged on. Many barbaric kings tried to gain control of all China, and God would smite them down. Yet the worse of these were the legions of Hell.

Hundreds of vampire legions, led by various demons who exalted themselves as gods, destined to rule humans as humans rule the animals. These demonic lords fought over all of China, both against each other and against the human lords. Whereever they went, destruction was left in their wake. I was not going to let that happen to my little village, when the demon called Ling Fu came.

Ling Fi's legion was small, only a few hundred, but enough that one or two going missing was not noticed. As he approached my village, I sent young men in large groups to capture the weaker ones. I kept them in my church, feeding them on animal blood mixed with opium, attempting to find a way to exorcise the demon within them. It was weeks before I determined that the living soul was gone, only a shell with a demon inside was left. It was then that I learned that fire was the only way to destroy them. I worked day and night to ready myself for the coming of Ling Fu.

When Ling Fu entered my village, he was told that everyone would surrender, if he could defeat the monk. He was warned that the monk had the power of God on his side, which would always defeat demons like him. He laughed, but he came. Him and his legion came to the church doors, and removed them with the swipe of his hand. I waited. He came into the church, and God did not smite him, for in his mercy he allows all, even demons, the chance of redemption. I waited. He found me at the altar, burning incense, and he grabbed me, bringing my neck to his mouth, just as God had shown me it would happen. But before he could take a bite, I stabbed a wooden cross deep into his dead heart.

He dropped me. He laughed, and his legion laughed with him. But I was smiling.

As Ling Fu began to burn, I turned again to the altar to pray.

His legion reacted first with shock, and then with outrage at the demise of their leader, their blasphamous god. They began to seize me. I killed many of them with my wooden crosses, coated in an herb which burst into flames at the touch of vampire flesh. Many, struck by God with confusion, lept into the flames of their comrades, and burned also. I soon ran out of crosses, and still they came. As I finally fell to the devil's bite, and began to feel the fire and brimstone of Hell upon me, I tipped over the altar, igniting the tapastries soaked in oil, the wooden church frame heating and lighting. I had decided that if I were to die, I would take as many of the demons with me as I could, and be sure that my body would never be home to one either.

The demons ran in flame-filled fear as I fell to the floor. Through my pains, I saw a man, a man without fear. He placed me in a wheelbarrow, and placed a thick blanket over me. He took me out of that burning building and placed me in a grave. Mercifully, he did not bury me.

For three days and three nights I lay in that grave, experiencing the sufferings of Hell as a demon took over my body.

On the fourth day, I awoke. I awoke to find that through the mercies of God I was yet alive, and though a demon had taken my body, I was also there, and through the strength of God I could fight it.

I climbed out of my grave, into a new life. One where I could fight those demons with their own strength. I determined that I would protect my village from the likes of Ling Fu forever.

But it was not to be. My village was no more. The church had burned, and all the demons in it, but a few had escaped and no one in my village had survived their thirst. I burned every house to the ground.

I hunted down every vampire that had escaped. Each did not live past that first week of my new life. They crumbled like dust in my hands. They burned like tinder, and used each fire to light the next. Once I was done, there was not a vampire for three days journey from my little village.

It was then I realized that Ling Fu was but one problem. There were many vampire lords destroying many Christian villages across the whole of China. And so I searched, and I hunted, and fought and won against every demonic lord there was, and then I burned their legions. But I was too late. There was no more Christians alive. I was the only one. It had been eighty years since I began my new life.

I sent a report back to the Holy Patriarch: "Christianity is extinct in China; the native Christians have perished in one way or another; the church has been destroyed and there is only one Christian left in the land."

Thinking that my work was finished, (who was there left to teach?) I went to the top of the highest mountain in China. Higher, I thought, than any human could ever go, with a torch in my hand. As I was about to stab it into my breast, and old man shouted: "Stop!"

I looked up to find that same man that had rescued me from the flames years before. He had aged eighty years, but I had not.

"Stop, I say, for you have not finished what God requires of you." he said.

"I am the only demon in all of China," I said, "and the only Christian too. I cannot earn my rest unless I remove this demon from me."

"You will find your rest." he said, "But your work is not yet finished."

"What more am I required to do?" I said, "I have rid all China of this demonic plague, am I required to rid of the world of it too?"

"You have rid China of this demonic plague," he said, "but is the the Devil done? Are the legions of Hell destroyed?"

I shook my head no.

"Then your work is not finished." he said, "For the vampires will return, and you will fight them. You are the Protector of China."

"But when," I said, "when will I find rest?"

"You will find your rest." he said, "When an Empress rises who will hold the demons accountable for their sins. Who will teach all to fight the demon and listen to the light of Christ within them telling them not to kill. She will protect China, and then you will find your rest."

I dropped the torch.

"From that day I have fought every vampire that dares enter China." Kamal said, "And I have always won."

At the conclusion of his story, the entire court was stunned to attention. No one had ever heard of this Kamal, it was just common knowledge that there weren't many vampires in China.

The Empress, after decades of silence, spoke first.

"Is he telling the truth?" the Empress said.

It was unclear to me who this question was directed at, but it was the Emperor who spoke, so quiet that I had to strain to hear it. If the room had not been silent, I would not have heard it at all.

"I cannot tell. His mind is hidden from me."

Now that was interesting to me. I had sensed no power from this man, this Kamal, and yet it seemed he did have one. One which, like the Empress', shileded his mind from the Emperor. Yet I had sensed the Empress' power, I was just unable to reach it. This Kamal seemed to have no power, no taste at all.

The Empress fell into quiet contemplation of what this could mean. Quiet contemplation that was broken by Razi.

"Empress!" Razi said. Being always in a hurry, always on edge, Razi was the only one allowed to not wait for the Empress' reply.

"Empress! A vampire in Uganda has taken to eating humans." he said, "Five are dead, one of which was the mother of the child which he hides himself with."

Razi completed his report and made to disappear again. But he didn't. The strain was visible on his face.

The Emperor spoke again, with alarm in his voice, "I cannot find Razi's mind either."

I turned to the Empress.

"Empress." I said.

She looked to me.

"Yes, Imperial Factotum?"

"It appears that Razi is caught in Kamal's influence." I said.

"Explain." she said.

"Though I cannot sense it, Kamal appears to have an ability to cancel out other abilities." I said.

"Well spoken, Imperial Factotum." she said.

The Empress turned to Kamal.

"Is our conclusion correct, Kamal?"

Kamal smiled before responding.

"The powers of the devil do not work on a man of God."

Then Razi disappeared.

All this time I was focusing my senses on Kamal. I began to taste something off of him. It was.... It was the taste of a glass of chocolate milk put high up out of the reach of a small child. It was the taste of water six inches away from a man dying of thirst. It was the most interesting and alluring taste that I had ever experienced, and yet it was still not within my reach.

I had to have it.

Yet when I began to approach Kamal, I could no longer taste it. I could no longer taste anyone.

It was while I was walking towards him that he took his eyes off the Empress for the first time since he had entered the room.

His deep, carmel eyes bored into mine, the fire of God in them, ready to smite me down. But then, they softened, and he whispered.

"I have found my rest."