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Iblis, the Devil in the Shadows

Iblis watched the security guard as he circled around to check the front door again. The man looked bored more than anything else – after all, it wasn’t like he was protecting something of particular value. His job mainly entailed chasing off troublesome teenagers that were interested in exploration and being nosey, not theft.

So far tonight he’d had not so much as a peep. Iblis closed his eyes for a moment and tried to concentrate. He took a deep breath – a habit that had managed to stick around despite the fact that he no longer needed to breathe – and looked again, letting his eyes trace the outlines of the shadows in the office complex’s front lobby.

He had no interest in the items that were inside, but the guard patrolling the building was a valuable asset. He knew the man would be patrolling until near dawn, which gave him a static audience to practice on – a known quantity that would react similarly to the same stimulus, at least for a while.

As the guard’s flashlight slashed through the shadows, Iblis gave a slight mental flex, causing a flicker of darkness to curl away from the light, as if some intruder were trying to avoid detection. The guard’s reaction was immediate – the light swiveled instantly in that direction, trying to find the source of movement. For several long moments, the kine watchman squinted into the darkness, swinging his flashlight back and forth. Finally he gave up, dismissing the movement as nothing more than imagination.

Iblis smiled from his place outside the office building, on the street. The simple trick still required a significant amount of concentration, but he could tell that he was making progress.

“Marcello!” The voice came from his right, and its tone suggested a pleasant surprise. Iblis resisted the temptation to jump in surprise – instead he glanced in the direction of the outburst, mimicking an expression of curiosity.

It would take an idiot to confuse Mahmoud Atef to be anything but middle-eastern, and even if some of his mortal kinsmen could fake Spanish or Italian, he wasn’t one of them. That was why his signal name had been chosen; it would likely never be said in mistake, and it was obscure enough to be uncommon but not entirely alien. So, Iblis thought to himself, they found me. It took them longer than I thought.

The speaker was entirely ordinary-looking, and could have passed for almost any denomination of Mediterranean. He spoke with a faint trace of a Spanish accent, and he held his arms out wide as he approached. “Marcello, it has been so very long. Everyone was wondering what had happened to you. We feared the worst.” His tone remained friendly and conversational.

As the man grew closer, Iblis turned fully toward him and embraced the stranger, just as any long lost friend would when discovering an acquaintance in such a massive city as New York. “Truly? Please, pass my apologies to your father. I had some business that caused me to leave rather suddenly.” Iblis’ smile remained, though now most of the sincerity had been allowed to fade away. His expression was polite, but guarded.

“I shall, I shall. Come, have a cup of coffee with me. It has been so long – much has happened! My sister, Selena, is engaged now!” The phrase meant nothing to Iblis – he judged it simply a statement meant to reinforce the image that these were two long-lost friends reunited by chance. The two both turned to walk off together into the night.

Mahmoud winced and tried to lift one hand to cover his eyes, but he found that his hands were bound behind his back. He resisted the temptation to speak – he knew that anything he said would only aid his captors until he could gain an insight into how much they knew already. Even his native language, or his accented English, could give valuable clues to whoever had abducted him.

“It is bright, isn’t it?” The voice spoke in Arabic, and Mahmoud recognized it. It belonged to Nasir, one of his three handlers. “You were a creature of the shadows before, certainly, but now you are so much more than that.”

Mahmoud abandoned his attempts at stymieing his captors. It was pointless now – they already knew everything about him. “Why did you attack me, Nasir? You know there will be trouble when Omar and Boulos discover what you have done.” Mahmoud closed his eyes and lowered his head to shield his sight from the light. It felt like a floodlight was aimed directly into his pupils.

His comment was met by a chorus of quiet chuckles. “Mahmoud, I believe you misunderstand what is occurring. First and foremost, Boulos and I are both fully aware of the situation.” Mahmoud could sense more than see Omar step forward, making his presence known.

“This is a great honor that we have bestowed upon you, Mahmoud. I do not wish you to think that you have gained it simply from favor, however – you have shown yourself to be capable, and you have earned this gift.” Boulos spoke from where he stood in the shadows, outside of the pool of bright light that surrounded Mahmoud. “As Nasir said, you were always a creature of the darkness. You used it to your advantage, to confuse your enemies, to conceal yourself. Now, the shadows shall do your bidding.”

Through his eyelids, Mahmoud could sense the light click off. He opened his eyes to see Nasir stepping forward, leaning down in front of his face. “Listen closely, Mahmoud. I will tell you of your heritage, and your holy calling. You are of the Khaibit, the holy warriors in the darkness.”

Iblis lifted his coffee cup and pretended to take a sip, then flashed a brief smile over toward the man across the table from him. “It is good to see you again, Anton.” Iblis had no idea what the man’s name was, but given his slight accent the name would serve well enough for this meeting.

Anton nodded. “You as well, my friend. As I said, everyone was very worried. Tell me, what caused your sudden exit from Los Angeles, without so much as a word to your friends and family?” To the casual listener, the tone sounded curious. Iblis knew it was a demand for an explanation.

“There were sudden developments that required my attention elsewhere. Business ventures that, had I delayed, would have slipped from my grasp.” Iblis leaned forward slightly, bringing both elbows to rest against the edge of the table. “Truth to tell, my friend, my business partners in LA were not trustworthy. I suspected that someone was selling information to my competitors.”

Anton’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. It took him a moment to cover the expression. “I see. We hadn’t heard. Do you know who would do such a thing? You inspire such loyalty, Marcello, that I cannot imagine anyone wishing to betray you in such a fashion.”

“I did not have a chance to conduct an internal investigation. The opportunity that was before me was far too lucrative to ignore until it was finished, so I came here to oversee it personally.” Iblis faked another drink of his coffee. “I am considering moving my operation here permanently. I like this city.”

Anton looked surprised again, but recovered more quickly. “I see. Well, if you would like, I can contact your old business associates and begin looking into this matter. I have a friend who specializes in this sort of investigation. If he can uncover your unfaithful workers, perhaps the others in your employ could move here to assist you.”

Iblis resisted the temptation to frown, and instead adopted a thoughtful expression. “That would be acceptable, if their loyalty to the business could be made clear. I do not wish to have to repeat my move across the country, you understand.”

“I do, my friend. Let me make a few calls and see what we can organize.” Anton smiled and reached into a pocket for a cell phone.

Mahmoud dove to the side, narrowly avoiding the blow from Nasir. The room was completely dark, and he was acting on instinct more than anything else. He concentrated on listening for his opponent – the sound of heavy breathing was the easiest give-away, especially when someone was exerting themselves as much as Nasir must have been. Once again, Mahmoud was impressed to note that he couldn’t hear the breaths at all. Nasir was truly a master of stealth.

Then, in surprise, Mahmoud noted that he wasn’t breathing heavily despite nearly an hour of high-stress, high-exertion training. In fact, he wasn’t breathing at all.

The distraction was enough to earn him a punch in the mouth. Mahmoud staggered back and tried to recover, but quickly found that he was being pummeled quite brutally. Each blow was strong enough to stagger him, but the pain was distant and muted.

He managed to turn enough so that the next blow was only a glancing one off his shoulder and launched his counter attack, hurling a wild punch into where Nasir’s center of mass had to be. He was again astonished to discover that it was parried easily, and he was tossed to the floor. Mahmoud scrambled to get back up to his feet, but was pinned on his stomach almost instantly.

“What have you done to me?! What are you?!” He continued to struggle in vain, throwing elbows over his shoulder in attempts to dislodge Nasir on his back.

“I told you – we are Khaibit, and we have brought you into our fold.” Nasir’s tone was now one of amusement. “Are you not hungry, Mahmoud?”

Through the panic, a stab of thirst thrust at the very center of his being.

Anton’s phone made a quiet click as he flipped it closed. “I have contacted my friend, and he says that he will be glad to investigate your business associates as a favor to me.”

Iblis nodded. “I thank you. It is good that you found me, Anton – I had been trying to find your cousin that you told me lived here, but so far I had no luck.” He faked another drink from his cup.

Anton smiled, thinly. “He is not a terribly social individual, you understand.” Anton turned his wrist to check the time on his watch, then dug into a pocket again and dropped a few bills on the table. “The coffee is on me, my friend. I will let you know what the investigation turns up – I do not think it will take very long. Do you have a number where I can reach you?”

Iblis kept his expression neutral as he mentally scrambled. “I do, but… my phone gets terrible reception. I am thinking of getting a new one soon. Perhaps it would be easier if you gave me your number, and I could call you when I get my new one.”

Anton’s suspicion was impossible to miss, but the veiled argument was a decent one. After a moment’s thought, he nodded and handed over a business card. “My personal line. Please, contact me soon Marcello – there is much to be done.” Then the man who Iblis had dubbed Anton turned to walk away.

“What do you know of the great devil Iblis, Mahmoud?” Boulos’ voice drifted out from the shadows once more, sounding like a calm professor quizzing a student.

Mahmoud glanced up into the darkness from his huddled position over his third victim. He had a baseline understanding of what he was now, but his mind still refused to make the final leap that such things could be real. He had argued this with all three of his handlers – his Sires, he corrected himself – but they had uniformly rejected his arguments as irrelevant and had pressed their own agenda. He knew that returning to the same point of argument was a waste of time.

“Iblis is the tempter, the king of the Shaitan. It is his goal to keep humanity from Paradise, through temptation and offers of earthly pleasures and gains.”

“Good. Is Iblis an enemy of Allah?” Boulos gave his student a mental prod. It was obvious to Mahmoud that Boulos was trying to make a specific point.

“No, all creation stems from Allah. If Iblis were the enemy of Allah, Allah would simply destroy him.” Mahmoud pushed up to his feet, then sank into a convenient chair, as if exhausted.

“What purpose do Iblis and his Shaitan serve?” Boulos stepped forward enough to grasp the wrist of Iblis’ victim, dragging the barely-breathing human – kine – into the darkness.

Mahmoud thought for a moment. He had never considered that the great evil of his faith might serve a divine purpose, but now he knew it had to be true. After all, if it did not, then it would not be allowed to exist. After several minutes of silent thought, he had an answer. “The purpose of Iblis is to test the faithful, to make certain their righteousness.” Mahmoud made another immediate mental leap. “He could be considered the first guardian of the gates of Paradise, weeding out the unworthy.”

“Indeed.” Boulos sounded pleased. “The Shaitan guard the gates of paradise and make certain that no devils such as themselves gain admittance. Perhaps their motivations for this are not righteous – in fact, we know they are not – but that is not terribly important. They protect that which is good from that which is evil. Such is now your task, Mahmoud. You are Khaibit. It is your task to defend the righteous from devils, from creatures in the darkness such as yourself.” Boulos stepped into the light. “You shall stand against the fading of the light, even as that light destroys you. Do you understand?”

Mahmoud studied the man before him and, after a moment, he nodded. “I am now of the Shaitan.” He paused briefly. “I am Iblis.”

Boulos seemed pleasantly surprised. He gave a toothy grin. “Iblis. So be it.”

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