Authors: G.P. Ching
"Master Lee?" Malini asked.
"At your service, Healer."
"Please, call me Malini, and this is Jacob." She extended her hand to the elderly man.
"To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit?"
Malini sighed. "Something’s happened. We need to talk with you and Jesse."
"Your timing is perfect. He’s here practicing now. I’ll introduce you," Master Lee said.
Jacob was confused. The office was small and the only door led out to the dojo. But if he’d learned anything during his time as a Soulkeeper, it was to expect the impossible. Master Lee walked to a tall file cabinet with a keypad lock in the upper left corner. After punching in a series of numbers, the front of the drawers swung open to reveal a narrow passageway.
"After you." Master Lee pointed his hand toward the opening.
Jacob followed Malini through the cabinet, down a hallway lit by bare incandescent bulbs, to a dojo behind the office. Unlike the area up front, this one had no windows. Painted cinderblock walls and fluorescent lights were the extent of the decor. At the center of the room, a boy knelt on the sanded wood floor. He wasn’t wearing a uniform like the students out front. Instead, he was clothed in sweats and a t-shirt with a logo too faded to read. With dark-blond hair, long for a boy, and a scrawny build reminiscent of high school band geeks everywhere, he was unremarkable, like he might blend into the floor and disappear. His eyes were closed.
"Jesse, we have guests," Master Lee said softly.
The boy opened his eyes and instantly went from unremarkable to spooky. His peeps glowed electric violet. Malini gasped.
"Yeah, I get that sometimes. I usually wear special glasses or contacts when I'm with the general population." His soft voice barely carried across the empty room.
Curiosity got the best of Jacob. He stepped toward Jesse. "Excuse me, not to be rude, but what can you, um, do?"
"Geez, Jacob. Forward much? Don’t you think we should introduce ourselves first?" Malini elbowed his side.
"Sorry. I’m Jacob. I’m a Horseman, too, and this is Malini." He stared at Jesse expectantly.
Malini sighed deeply. "Patience isn’t high on Jacob’s list of virtues. We’re sorry to disturb your practice."
"It’s okay," Jesse said. "If Master Lee brought you back here, he must trust you, and I so rarely have an audience when I practice." He rolled onto his back and flipped up onto his feet. "I’m a ghost."
"A ghost." Jacob furrowed his brow. "Like you're dead?"
He chuckled. "No. I’m very much alive, but have perfected the art of making others forget that particular flaw when I want them to."
Jacob rotated his head toward Master Lee and raised his eyebrows. The old man nodded. There was a bottle of water against the wall behind Jesse. Jacob reached out with his power, keeping his hands folded innocently in front of him. He willed the water to pop open and then sent four razor sharp needles of ice hurtling toward Jesse’s back.
Jesse didn’t flinch. For a moment Jacob worried he’d shred the new Soulkeeper. But the ice passed right through the guy, as if he were an illusion. The needles hit the opposite wall and melted down the cinderblocks. Floored, Jacob stepped forward and grabbed Jesse’s forearm, as solid and human as Jacob’s.
"You owe me a new water," Jesse murmured. His arm dissolved from between Jacob’s fingers. In the blink of an eye, he’d completely disappeared and reappeared next to Master Lee.
"Wow," Jacob said.
Master Lee beamed with pride. "When he came to me, he could only shift the molecules in his arms. Now he can disperse his entire body and bring it back together. We’ve had him in the air for as long as five minutes."
Malini cleared her throat. "Your gift is amazing, Jesse. Unfortunately, we need to talk about something serious and I don’t think we should wait. Master Lee, here or in your office?"
"I believe the chairs in my office will be more comfortable." Master Lee led the group through the corridor and keyed the code to open the cabinet. They emerged into the small office. Malini and Jesse slid into the two chairs in front of the desk. Jacob pulled over a stack of boxes with Chinese characters written in permanent marker on the front and got comfortable.
"As you both know, Watcher activity has been increasing steadily over the last several months," Malini began.
Jesse shifted in his chair. "We noticed. We can hardly keep up."
"We have reason to believe that Lucifer is planning an attack. We're not sure of all of the details but we do know that he's obtained a list of active Soulkeepers. Your names are on that list."
Master Lee cleared his throat. "He knows who we are?"
"Not yet. The list is guarded by a spell but it's only a matter of time before he finds a way to read it. You’re not safe here anymore. We believe Lucifer is planning to kill the Soulkeepers. Everyone on that list."
"How do we stop him? What do we need to do?" Lee rubbed his milky eye with his fingers.
"We need to move you to a safe house. We have a place where we can train together and prepare a coordinated defense."
Jesse’s head snapped around. "Malini, is it? I don’t understand. I’m a Horseman. It’s my job to protect people from Watchers. If they come, I’ll kill them. Not the other way around."
Placing her hand on Jesse’s, Malini turned her full attention to the boy’s purple eyes. "If it were one or two, I’d know you could handle it. Lucifer is raising an army and he’s collected hundreds of humans to feed them. If you are able to fight off the ones who come for you, you’ll be distracted from the real attack, the battle for humanity."
Master Lee leaned forward. "Are you saying Lucifer is attempting to reclaim the earthly realm?"
"Exactly. We don’t know how he’s planning to do it but we know translating the list is a major step in his plan. Our only hope to stop him is to convene the remaining Soulkeepers. He’ll expect us to be scattered. We need to unite and have a coordinated defense of our own."
"Remaining?" Jesse pushed forward to the edge of his seat. "You said, ‘Remaining Soulkeepers.’"
"There may be others, in other countries, or who haven’t come into power yet, but we have reason to believe that the names on the list are key to thwarting Lucifer’s plan. The list has thirteen names: nine Horsemen, three Helpers, and me, the Healer."
Jesse’s hand went to his mouth. "You’re the Healer?" he said between his fingers. "I didn’t know."
Malini smiled and shook her head. "It’s okay. I wouldn’t expect you to. I was surprised Master Lee recognized me." She squinted eyes at Lee. "How did you know?"
The old man pointed at his milky blue eye. "My gift. The supernatural have an aura. Horsemen carry a ruby glow, Helpers a cool azure, but you, Malini, sparkle an intense green. I’ve only seen that color once before, the last Healer."
"Can you see Watchers?"
He nodded. "Their aura is black as tar."
"I think that ability will come in very useful. As I was saying, there were thirteen on the list but one of our Horsemen, Mara, died a few weeks ago. Twelve remain. Besides myself and Jacob, we have another, Jacob’s mother, Lillian."
"One of my students! How is Lillian?" Lee asked.
"She’s wonderful. She’s getting our new facility ready. There is a place, a school where we can train safely. I need you both to come with me and stay there while Jacob and I gather the other seven."
Jesse shook his head. "I can’t. I’m a freshman at the University of Hawaii. I’m halfway through the semester. I can’t just leave. I’ll fail all my classes."
"We have someone that helps us with situations like this," Jacob said. "She can alter records, make the school believe you’ve come down with a long-term illness. She’ll make it work. You can go back to majoring in basket weaving when you’re done saving the world."
"Elementary education, thank you very much. The children are our future." Jesse flashed a lopsided grin. "I get your point. I guess if Lucifer is running the planet it might curb the employment opportunities. If my Helper goes, I go."
Master Lee nodded his head and picked up the phone. "I will arrange for my assistant, Michael, to take over the dojo in my absence." A voice buzzed on the other end of the line and Master Lee rambled something in Chinese.
"I’ll need to stop at my dorm and pack a few things," Jesse said.
"No problem." Malini rose and moved toward the door. Master Lee hung up the phone and stepped around the desk.
Jacob nudged Malini’s hand out of the way. "Let me get that for you," he said, wiggling his eyebrows. Opening doors for her had become a kind of joke, a way to play the chivalrous male even though she was ten times more powerful than he was. He kept his eyes on hers as he swung open the pinewood door.
Silver flashed at the edge of Jacob's vision and searing pain ripped through his stomach. He crumpled in the doorframe. Beside him, Malini screamed. The man with a Mohawk, the one who’d been teaching class, tore the blade from Jacob, sending a spray of blood up Malini’s side and across her face. Removing her glove, she thrust her skeletal hand at the man’s chest, but he kept coming.
"He’s possessed!" Lee yelled, dodging the man's slashing blade.
Malini clenched her healing hand, but before she could act, Jesse materialized behind the man. With a pair of nunchucks from the wall, he thwacked Mohawk in the head, sending his body tumbling to the ground. Thrusting his hand into the man's skull, Jesse's molecules broke apart as they entered the flesh, fishing for the Watcher inside. He pulled his fist back, latched onto the black ooze.
"Come on out and play," Jesse said through his teeth. He discarded the nunchucks and caught the knife Lee tossed him from the wall. Extracted from its host, he severed the Watcher's oily head from its body. The rest of the beast bubbled out of Mohawk and fried on the wood like hot tar.
From the place where Jacob watched from the doorway, he reached for Malini. Blood sprayed across the hand he brought to his mouth to cover a cough. His breath came in wet rattles.
Folding to his side, Malini pressed her healing hand to Jacob's stomach wound. The heat of her power poured into him. "It will be all right. I’m here. You’re going to be okay," she said.
Her skin bubbled and blackened to the elbow and the smell of burning flesh filled the room. She grit her teeth and wept but held her hand to him until he was able to push it away.
"You should have stopped sooner," Jacob said, pulling Malini into his arms.
Jacob called the water. From within the walls the pipes groaned and dust and drywall snowed down around them. He focused in on a fountain in the hall. The spout blew off, skipping across the dojo and a wave crashed into the office, washing Malini’s burns away.
"I had to make sure." Malini slid her flesh-colored glove over her skeletal hand.
"Well, that’s convenient," Jesse said, gawking at Malini's healed arm.
Master Lee stepped over the man with the Mohawk and the Watcher that Jesse had extracted from his body. "Antonio has worked for me for years." His wrinkled face sagged, as if he’d aged a decade in the last five minutes. He spread his hands toward the empty dojo, covered in splatters of black blood.
Jesse pulled the blinds on the windows and locked the door.
"He must have been possessed recently. You would have seen it." Malini wiped a drop of Jacob’s blood from under her eye and crawled over to the man. "He's alive, but knocked out. He'll need hospitalization. I think it's better if I don't heal him. Too hard to explain the gaps in his memory."
Lee groaned. "We'll have to drop him at the emergency room. No one can know this happened here."
"How did Lucifer know? How did he know we'd be here?" Jacob asked. "I didn’t even know before today and he can’t translate the list."
Malini’s eyes darted over the body and then toward the slits of light that filtered through the windows. "I don’t know. But one thing's for sure. The war has begun."
Mara and Henry
Who would have thought Death slept? Henry’s body lay like a corpse on the bed next to her. With his arms crossed over his chest, she couldn’t tell if he was breathing and his flawless white skin didn’t twitch. He hadn’t moved at all in, well, she wasn’t sure how long. She couldn’t find a clock in the room and was afraid to leave, mostly because she had no idea where she was.
"Henry?" she said.
His eyelids flipped open and his head turned toward her on the shiny red pillow. "Mara. You’re here. I wasn’t dreaming."
She couldn’t stop a huge cheeser from blooming across her face. "Yeah, you were kind of dreamy though. I haven’t made out like that in, um, I’ve never made out like that."
Henry hinged at the hips, sitting up in a way that defied gravity, slowly and with an abnormally straight back. He turned his torso to face her. "Mara, I died in 1349 when I was seventeen. Believe me, what little experience I had over six hundred years ago was dwarfed by what happened last night. You are absolutely enchanting."
"Thanks." She pushed herself to a seated position. "I ate the pastries. Sorry. I should have saved one for you."
A half smile lifted the corner of Henry’s lips. "Not necessary. I don’t have to eat."
"Right, because you’re Death."
Mara played with the corner of the sheet. Hand stitching decorated the edges and the silky fabric draped heavily in her hand. The material felt expensive but she wouldn’t know for sure. She’d never owned anything like it.
"So, Henry, can you take me home? I mean, back to Dr. Silva’s. That’s where I’m staying."
Henry’s features hardened and he tipped his face away from her. Whether by levitation or propulsion, he rose from the bed and paced toward the window on the far stone wall. She noticed no glass in the frame but also no breeze, no birds, no dust.
He folded his hands, bowing his head slightly toward the sill. "I’m sorry, Mara, but you can never go back."
"What do you mean I can’t go back?" She crawled from the tangle of sheets, tripping over her silver sandals as she closed the space between them. Grabbing his shoulders, she turned his stiff upper body toward her. She searched his face for answers but he was entirely closed off, locked away. If she wanted answers, she’d have to be direct. "Am I dead?"