Spirit Breaker
and flirting with girls in the food court. Ever since then, malls had symbolized a slice of Americana that made him feel at home no matter where he was. It made him unaccountably sad to see this one desolate and abandoned. He stepped up to a pair of escalators fronted by overturned, potted artificial trees. Taking two steps at a time, he scaled the escalator, hoping the high-angle view on the second level might offer a better overview of the terrain.  
    He continued his advance, passing more gated boutiques. He also encountered signs that the mall hadn’t been completely uninhabited for the last few years. Graffiti scarred the walls and storefronts, and detritus littered the ground. Discarded fast food wrappings and empty bottles of liquor abounded.
    Guard up, Talon slowed his approach. Shapes were becoming visible in the plaza below him.  
    He wasn’t alone any longer.
    A ring of spooky human silhouettes formed a large circle around a cement island. A lone figure stood at the top of island and overlooked the crowd.  
    Talon slipped off his goggles. There was enough moonlight here to follow the action without any technological assistance. Narrowing his gaze, he counted about twenty-five hooded figures in the circle. The man they faced was decked out all in ghostly white, and they kept a reverent distance from him. He had to be the leader of the group.  
    The Lightwalker .
    He can speak with the dead.
    Talon crept closer to the circle, hoping to gain a better view, his machine pistol ready. He was right above the gathering now and realized that there was another man he hadn’t noticed before. This figure didn’t sport a hoodie but was dressed in slacks and a button shirt. He appeared disoriented and isolated, crouched on his knees, positioned between the crowd of followers and the white-garbed leader on the cement island.
    A prisoner , Talon realized.  
    Now that he hovered directly over the unholy congregation, he saw that the leader wore a spray-painter’s mask. His white attire formed a sharp contrast to the dark clothing of the cultists. The moonlight played over the white hoodie and cargo pants, heightening the spectral effect. The other followers all sported curved blades. Sickles. Was it a way to honor the legacy of the Reaper? Talon gripped his Heckler & Kock a little harder.
    Below him, the Lightwalker spoke.
    “Death is only the beginning.”
    What happened next proved that these weren’t mere empty words.  

C HAPTER E IGHT

    IT TOOK DETECTIVE Benson less than a minute to figure out what was happening after he regained consciousness. One look at his surroundings told him everything he needed to know. He was back inside the Regional Mall. He couldn’t see the eyes of his hooded captors, but he spotted their shiny blades. To his surprise, a strange calm had fallen over him. He knew what would happen next, and at some level, he even welcomed the confrontation with the terror that had haunted him for five years. One way or another, he wouldn’t have to live with the fear any longer.
    A figure appeared on the cement island that once had sprouted trees and plants. For a second the old terror gripped him as he wondered if the Reaper had returned from the grave.  
    He let the moment pass.  
    Schiller was long gone from this world. This had to be the man in charge of the copy-cat cult.
    The leader in the white hoodie loomed before him like some spectral post-apocalyptic warrior-monk. The figure was about six feet tall and athletically built. Definitely not Schiller, then. Benson tried to catch a better look at the face under the hood, but it remained shrouded in mystery. A spray-painter’s mask hid all details of his features, heightening his larger than life persona.  
    The cult leader approached Benson.
    “You know why you’re here,” he said.
    Benson remained silent.
    The cult leader turned his attention away from him and addressed the crowd. “Four years ago, this man took the life of someone who

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