30. Face to Face

Running for the relative shelter of the meeting house, Fisher and Sandy were three steps away from the door when they were spotted by several demons nearby. If the door stayed closed, Fisher would have to turn and fight with his back to the wall. Just as he was bringing his shovel up to try and deflect the first blow that was sure to come, he saw the door open a crack. “Sandy! In there! I’m right behind you!”

Before anyone could protest, Fisher turned, raised the iron bar, opened the door and stepped outside. Standing back a few yards, a line of demons watched him. They seemed to be waiting for a single word, anxious to be the first to strike a blow against this frail-looking human. Directly in front of Fisher stood one apart from the rest, every bit as terrifying but in a different, more disturbing way. Here was one, Fisher knew, who had access to the throne of God: called “Beautiful One”, but whose former beauty was now buried in rebellious hatred and defeat. In his eyes was the look of one who knew much, and who would not hesitate to use that knowledge to humiliate, torture and destroy. “Evil Man” was far too simplistic a description for this creature. And the fact that he had called Fisher out personally made him all the more chilling.

“Pilgrim,” he began, “you’ve done well. While others cringed in fear, you rushed to the battle. You’re a brave warrior indeed.” Fisher stood motionless and silent. There was plenty he wanted to say, but something inside told him that to engage in conversation with this evil menace would not be proper, and could even be dangerous. “I see you’ve been counseled to keep your tongue in my presence. So not only is he a brave warrior; he’s a wise one as well.” The Evil Man smiled in a way that had no resemblance whatsoever to anything humorous. “Very well, to business then. You’ve fought against overwhelming odds,  and now you have lots of stories to tell your fellow pilgrims. It’s time to leave. I give my warriors charge over you to see that you are returned safely to the trail. Your female may go with you as well. Good bye, Fisher, until we meet again.”

Fisher was stunned for a moment. “Just like that?” he said at last. “It’s over?”

“Of course,” the Evil Man replied. “You’ve proved your point. You should be proud of all you’ve done here. People will be telling stories of your exploits around fires for years to come. Rejoice.” The Evil Man’s smile turned suddenly into a scowl that made Fisher’s blood run cold. “And be gone.”

That last command almost stirred him to motion, and Fisher was on the verge of turning to go, but then remembered: “What about the rest?”

“They are not your concern. They are mine. I will deal with them as I see fit, and will certainly not need your counsel. Now leave before my patience with you runs out.”

Patience?” Fisher repeated. “Are you telling me now that all this time you’ve been patient?” He knew he shouldn’t let himself be goaded into conversation with this personification of evil, but the words seemed to be coming from deep within himself. “I haven’t seen many examples of your patience lately. Like when you chased down and beat to death a mother and father who wanted nothing more than life for their precious little girl. You weren’t exactly patient when you sent your Neanderthals after us, in spite of the fact that they intended on bringing Lisa back to you; and would have if those idiots of yours hadn’t scared some sense into them. Incidentally, what about that battle, anyway? Not bad for a bunch of farmers.” The Evil Man’s scowl had turned into a mask of absolute rage, but he stood in silence while Fisher continued.

“And I guess this is another example of your patience, Oh High Ruler. Killing and burning. No, I think the only One patient around here in the One who made you. He’s defeated you already, and one day He’s going to come and cast you and all those who follow you into a lake of fire. And the only reason He hasn’t done it already is because He’s being patient with sinners like me, giving us every opportunity to stop listening to your lies and get back on the trail that leads to life.”

“Enough!” the Evil Man screamed. “How dare you speak of things you know nothing about. You think I stand helpless before you, as if you were some kind of privileged child? There are plenty of my followers who would gladly pay me with their last breath for permission to unleash their fury upon you. That permission I now give gladly. Enjoy your last few moments of life, Pilgrim. And know that this kingdom belongs to me!”

Just then the door to the building behind Fisher opened wide. The entire group of townspeople, along with Sandy, filed outside, taking up positions facing the waiting demons. Grandfather took one more step forward and spoke up. “I don’t know what exactly to call you, but Ruler doesn’t seem to fit anymore. We will believe no more of your lies, and we will sacrifice no more of our precious children on your altar. We have much to learn, but not about you. We know enough already to sicken us. What we will learn will be more of the Creator Who made us and you, and of His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s in His Name that we stand here now, and we command you, leave this place.”

For a moment, Fisher thought the Evil Man was going to have a seizure. His eyes turned a deep shade of red, then rolled back so that only the whites could be seen. His head was bent back in an unnatural contortion and his whole body shook. When he spoke, the sound of his voice seemed to come from deep within the bowels of the earth itself.

“Fools! You would defy me? Then feel my vengeance. Feel and die!” He raised both arms as if to utter the command which would unleash his demon army, but paused when a voice spoke up from behind him.

“Remember, Keeper of Bamah, that those who stand before you are not your only threat.”

The Evil Man turned to see a line of men standing at the edge of the trees overlooking the clearing below them. Unlike the ill-trained and practically unarmed farmers who stood with Fisher, those behind bore swords, and from the way they held them it was obvious that they were skilled in their use. Friend stood near the center of the line, and spoke for them. “What’s it going to be? Will you stand and fight a battle you can’t possibly win, or will you let these new pilgrims be on their way? The choice is yours, but I advise you to choose carefully. You’re not coming against ignorant and misled victims anymore; now you must deal with a force who knows you for who you really are. We know who we are as well: children of the Living God, forgiven through the blood of His Son Jesus and citizens of His Kingdom.”

That proved too much for the Evil Man to bear. With a roar of rage, he looked again to the heavens. There was an explosion followed by a sulfuric cloud of smoke … and then he was gone. Fisher looked in every direction, but he had simply vanished. The demons seemed just as puzzled as the men, turning this way and that, uncertain of what to do, until one finally broke ranks and ran toward Sandy, club high overhead. She had time only to raise the sharpened rake handle she had been carrying, and the point found its way into the creature’s right eye. He dropped his club and brought both hands up to his face. Suddenly a wound opened across his chest that took him to his knees, then another cut across his midsection. By the time his body had fallen prone onto the ground, his head had somehow been removed completely. Friend called out to the ranks standing with him. “The armies of the Lord stand with us! Join the battle!”

The line of men along the tree line moved as one down the hill and onto the mass of beasts who had begun to fight. They were soon joined by the men of the village, advancing upward toward where the fray was thickest. Every available weapon was brought to bear, and somehow managed to find their marks. Beasts fell, sometimes by a well-placed sword or sharpened farm implement, and sometimes by hands that remained unseen.

If the men were unable to see, however, it soon became apparent that the demon warriors were not so blinded. Rage quickly turned to terror, and terror to flight. Clubs were dropped and what might have been an orderly withdrawal from the battlefield was now a complete rout. For a long time after the beasts had disappeared into the undergrowth, their anguished howls could be heard, evidence that for them, at least, the battle was far from over.

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