The sky was clear, and blue.
It was Cessily who suggested a lunchtime picnic on the grounds. Sooraya, used to dining apart due to her niqab, readily agreed, thankful for the company. Laura joined their number, and it was she who asked the question once the three young women had settled under a shading maple.
"Do you still believe in Allah?"
She slipped it in between bites of macaroni and cheese, as casually as anyone else would remark upon the weather.
Lunch interrupted, a surprised Sooraya gazed at her friend. "Yes. Of course."
"Oh." Laura wiped a drip of the gooey cheese from her shirt. She reached for a plastic cup of pudding, peeling back the foil cover and licking it clean.
Cessily darted a glance at Sooraya, who appeared as nonplussed as she felt. "Laura? Why would you ask that?" Sooraya could hardly be called casual in her faith.
"I did not know if she still believed, after hell." A smidge of chocolate clung to Laura's lip, and her tongue darted out to remove it. "I saw that hell is real, and demons, but never saw heaven or angels. Except Mr. Worthington, and Jay Guthrie. But I am not sure they count."
"Laura..." Sooraya began, her own lunch forgotten. "That was not- it is-"
"It's not that simple," Cessily chided, interrupting both Sooraya's stuttering and her memories of her lost friend. "Faith isn't about seeing, it's about just believing."
"The Purifiers have faith as well," Laura pointed out.
"'The truth comes from the Lord alone, so be not of those who doubt,'" Sooraya refuted, shaking her head. The verse sounded odd, coming from her lips in english instead of arabic, but she carried on. "The truth does not always come from priests, but from Allah. Revered Stryker was a priest." Here, she glowered fiercely. "I do not believe he knew Allah."
There was fire. A childhood of dessert sun gave her some acclimation to heat, but Stryker was sweating. She watched a bead slide from forehead to neck as he screamed.
"The Muslim... I don't understand... God showed me your death. I made it happen, you abomination! I KILLED YOU!"
She despised him with every word, every bit of Allah's love he perverted to his ends. She found herself screaming back. "Be silent! No god would condone such horror, such hatred! You are the abomination!"
Cessily nodded her agreement. "He was a fanatic, not a man of faith. What's with the sudden interest, anyway?" She set aside her own lunch, stretching her legs out on the lawn.
"You once told me that everything that happens is Allah's will." Laura gazed steadily at Sooraya while folding open the top of her milk carton. "I died. In hell. Was it Allah's will?"
"And I do not believe Allah wishes me to die," she assured her roommate, tucking the niqab into place. "But if anything does happen, it is as it is meant to be."
A few hours and a head injury later, she felt less confident.
"It was a trap, Sooraya," explained Laura, sheathing her claws.
"You... you took my place?"
Laura blew a strand of hair off her face. "I believe Allah did not wish you to die."
Sooraya began to understand where these questions came from. Cessily was quick with denials, her voice rising in protest, but Sooraya's was quiet and even as she took Laura's hand.
"It was Allah's wish that you live again, Laura. Shaytan- Belasco, the devil, he spoke lies. That is what he does. He said we would all die there, Laura. We all came back." Decidedly worse for the wear, in most cases. Many of the students taken wore their scars on the inside, but the grotesque shape of Victor's new arm was an unavoidable reminder of that time. Others, like Megan, had lost things even more precious. But they were alive.
"Belasco said my soul was not worth taking." Laura stared at her roommate, baring a vulnerability rarely seen before. "What if Allah does not want my soul either?"
"Pitiful child," Belasco grated. "Your little claws are nothing against the power of the Elder Gods. Your soul is not even worth taking... it reeks of man's science."
Laura choked as the devil grabbed her by the throat.
"You are not even real!"
"Allah created you. He guides you, and your life and destiny are His." They'd touched on the subject once, months before, when Laura had asked her why she prayed. Sooraya knew, had seen firsthand, some of the terrifying acts of which Laura was capable. She'd also glimpsed the heart of the girl, under the murderous exterior.
"What she's saying is, God still wants you." Cessily scooted over to sit at Laura's side and take her other hand. Lunch had now been forgotten by all.
"And you?" Laura's gaze flickered between her friends.
"What about us?"
"Do you still want me?" It was a moment that could break her, from all she'd become back into what she'd been. But she was the only one questioning.
"Oh, Laura," Cessily cried, and Sooraya broke the taboo by pulling Laura into a hug. "Of course."
And the sky was clear, and blue.