Authors: G.P. Ching
Straightening on his stool, the clouds in Gideon’s mind parted. He stood up and hugged Mara. "Thank you. You are a brilliant girl. Thank you."
"Uh, no problem. What did I do?"
Gideon didn’t answer her, but concentrated on backing out of the stone. "I’m sorry, Mara, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go, now."
"What’s going on?" she called.
The walls turned red then broke apart. He heard Mara swear as her drink disintegrated, and then he was in the chair in the parlor. He placed the stone back in the dish on the table and headed for Abigail’s bedroom. Maybe the answer to all of this was for him to become like her. If he fell like she had, if he became like her, they could be together. It wasn’t ideal and he’d be giving up the humanity he’d desired for as long as he could remember, but if it kept her from Lucifer, he would do it.
He hurried up the stairs, hoping they could watch the sunrise from the tower and talk about it. It was a beautiful morning for a sunrise.
When he opened the door, the room was empty. Abigail was gone.
Jacob and Malini
"Why can’t we go in now?" Jacob asked. They waited, parked outside a restaurant called the Nowhere Oasis, somewhere in rural Nebraska. Jacob wasn’t exactly sure where it was because he’d slept the last two hours of the journey while Malini drove. They’d made the long trip in her mother's Honda, and Jacob was anxious to get out and stretch his legs.
Malini leaned back against the seat and sighed. "It’s not time. A little while longer."
"How could you be hungry? You ate all the snacks."
"I don’t know. I just am."
"It won’t be much longer."
Jacob sighed and repositioned his knees against the glove compartment. "Okay. If you say so, but if we’re going to keep doing this, we need to borrow a bigger car."
"Just wait until we put three more in the back."
Malini grinned. "Yep. You know that expression ‘hit two birds with one stone?’ Well, today we’re going to hit three Soulkeepers with one trip."
"How did you manage that?"
"I didn’t. Fate did. They’re a family, like you and your mom."
Jacob raised an eyebrow. "Makes sense, since Soulkeeping is genetic. Who are they?"
She popped open the car door just as a couple with two small children exited the restaurant. "Come on. See for yourself."
Relieved, Jacob unfolded himself from the passenger seat, stretching his arms above his head. "After nine hours of driving, this better be good."
Rolling her eyes, Malini led the way into the restaurant. There was a tiny foyer with a dusty and outdated braided rug, brick walls decorated with the occasional hanging plant, and Formica tables set with paper placemats. The restaurant was completely deserted.
Malini took a seat at a booth by the windows and Jacob slid in across from her. He grabbed a menu from the stack wedged behind the napkins. A girl, maybe sixteen, sauntered from the kitchen, still chewing whatever she’d been eating, and pulled a pad of paper from the apron pocket of her tailored blue uniform.
"Hi, I’m Sam. I’ll be your server. Can I get you something to drink while you’re deciding?" She flipped her long, red hair behind her shoulder.
Jacob piped up. "I’ll take a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke. Do you have Coke?"
Malini gave him a sharp look, obviously annoyed that he interjected his order into their mission.
"Sure," Sam said, taking the menu from his hands and replacing it in the stack. "Do you know what you want?" Sam raised her eyes to Malini’s.
With her left hand, her healing hand, Malini touched Sam’s wrist. The girl’s eyes widened. Jacob was familiar with the feeling, like waves of light from the inside out.
"I need to talk to your mom and your sister," Malini said.
Sam nodded and backed away.
"And I want a cheeseburger, too," she called after her.
Jacob chuckled. "Pot who calls the kettle black."
She shrugged. "I’m hungry. It was a long trip, and you hogged all the snacks."
Only seconds later, a heavy set woman with dark red curls fringed in gray, ran from the kitchen. "Hello! I’m Grace, Grace Guillian." She eyed Malini suspiciously. "Can I have your name?"
Malini extended her left hand. "Malini Gupta, it’s a pleasure to meet you."
The woman accepted her offered fingers. A moment's connection and she lit up like a Christmas tree. "Welcome, Healer." She bowed slightly at the waist.
"And this is Jacob Lau, a Horseman," Malini said. Jacob extended his hand and she accepted it eagerly.
"Girls! Come out here."
Samantha returned and so did another Samantha. Jacob tried not to stare but the two girls, obviously twins, looked exactly alike, down to their baby pink nail polish. He’d known twins before but these two were exceptionally the same. Every hair seemed to be trained to lie identically, like they were dolls manufactured in a factory.
"You’ve met Samantha. This is Bonnie." Grace flapped her fingers, calling the girls to come closer. They walked at the same pace with one arm tucked behind their backs in exactly the same way.
"Weird. You guys look EXACTLY alike," Jacob said.
"Don’t be rude," Malini whispered.
Jacob’s head snapped toward Malini and then back toward the twins. "I’m not being rude. Look at them, they are the most identical, identical twins I’ve ever seen."
Grace chuckled. "It’s true! Except that they are even more rare. Samantha and Bonnie are mirror image twins. Look here." She pointed to a large freckle on the left side of Samantha’s nose. The same freckle was on the right side of Bonnie’s. "And believe me, that is only the beginning of what makes these two special."
"Will you show us?" Malini asked softly.
Grace nodded. "Of course, Healer."
"Please call me Malini, Mrs. Guillian."
"Only if you call me Grace. Besides, my husband, Burt, passed away five years ago, so I’m not exactly a Mrs. anymore."
"I’m sorry," Jacob said.
Malini nodded in agreement.
Grace smoothed her apron. "Water under the bridge." She turned toward Samantha and Bonnie. "Since we’re on the subject, why don’t you show Malini and Jacob what your father looked like when he was alive?"
"Sure, Mom." Samantha smiled and reached for Bonnie’s hand. There was a silent exchange between them and then one twin melded into the other. Like two mounds of clay that were forced together, they blended and blurred, until one was a six foot tall man with brown hair in a police uniform, and the other was a four foot tall version of herself.
"This is what my father looked like," Bonnie said, in a man’s voice. Samantha, whose new form made her look around nine, pointed her hands spokes-model like at her sister.
"The voice is off, but they’ve done a winning impression," Grace said.
Jacob could not speak. His mind tried to wrap around what he’d just seen.
The girls seemed to revel in his amazement. They nodded at each other, grabbed hands again and transformed into Jacob and a very small version of Malini.
"So, they can share mass and look like anyone?" Malini asked.
The girls transformed into themselves. "Anyone, yes. But we can’t weigh more than three hundred pounds," they said in unison.
Grace smiled proudly.
"Are you their Helper?" Jacob asked.
"Yes. My mother was a Soulkeeper before she died. I’m a black-belt in Shotokan." The woman squinted her eyes and made a karate chop in front of her round belly. The twins rolled their eyes.
"My mom’s more of a behind the desk kind of Helper," Sam said.
"Sam! I have many underutilized talents."
"We’ve trained but we’ve never actually faced a Watcher," Bonnie said. "We took down a shoplifter at the IGA last fall though."
Malini frowned. "I’m sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news but we’ve come to tell you, you’re not safe here anymore. Your identities have been compromised."
"Compromised to whom?" Grace asked.
"Lucifer," Malini said, lowering her chin and closing her eyes as if it hurt to utter the word.
"Lucifer! My heavens! The girls aren’t ready for that. Who could be ready for that?"
"We want you to come with us. There’s a safe place. A place made for us by God where we can train until the attack. We want to take you to Eden," Malini said.
Grace scowled. "Eden? As in
"Yes. We want to organize the Soulkeepers so that we can face Lucifer with a united front. Will you come with us?"
Sam and Bonnie nodded their heads but their mother didn’t seem as enthusiastic. Rubbing her mouth, Grace shook her head. "The girls have school, and I have the restaurant. It’s just us running the place. We’d have to close the whole thing down. This is our livelihood."
"I understand it’s a difficult decision, but we’re starting a school for Soulkeepers in Eden. The girls could continue their education there." Malini folded her hands. "To be honest, I’m not sure about your restaurant. I can’t promise you any money or extra help if you need to close it down. But I can promise that you and the girls will be safer with us."
The corners of Grace’s thin lips pulled ever downward. She thrust her hands into the pockets of her apron. "I need to think about this."
Bonnie rushed to her side and whispered something in her ear.
Grace nodded. "How about I make the two burgers you ordered? I always think better when I’m cooking."
"That sounds like an amazing plan," Jacob said enthusiastically.
"I agree." Malini slid out of the booth as Grace returned to the kitchen with Bonnie. "Jacob, I’m going to make use of the facilities. Be right back."
"Okay. I think I can handle things out here." He chuckled and glanced over the empty tables.
"So, you’re a Horseman, like us?" Samantha asked, sliding into Malini’s seat.
"What’s your gift?"
Jacob steadied the empty water glass on the table and reached out with his power. He sensed the faucet in the kitchen, the pipes that led to the bathroom, a pot of water boiling on the stove, and a pitcher behind the counter. He chose the pitcher.
The water arced into the air, circled over their heads and filled the glass in his hand. Every drop of the remainder returned to the pitcher.
"Cool," Samantha said. "Can you do it with any liquid?"
"No. Just water. If it were, say, lemonade, I could move the water out of the lemon and the sugar. But I can’t move that other stuff and the more mixed into the water it is, the harder it is for me to use it. Take a person, for example. Malini and I thought maybe I could control people’s movements since the human body is mostly water, but it didn’t work. I tried it on Malini’s arm and she said it felt like needles were piercing her flesh, but she could still move her arm away. Plus, the skill would be useless on Watchers anyway, since they’re made out of, um, evil, I guess."
"You don’t know for sure what Watchers are made of?"
The front door opened and an attractive couple walked in.
"Go ahead and seat yourself, I’ll be right there," Samantha called toward the door. She lowered her voice. "It’s early for the dinner rush to start, and when I say rush, I mean the six people who come here on any given week night." Samantha stood and pulled her pad from her apron. She strolled toward the couple’s table.
Jacob wasn’t sure why, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the couple. They looked like they belonged in Hollywood. The woman had flawless skin, sleek black hair, and wore a tailored black dress. The man was equally handsome, muscular but sophisticated. Jacob couldn’t fathom what a couple like that was doing in rural Nebraska.
Samantha asked if she could get them something to drink. As before, her eyes were focused on her pad of paper, which is why she didn’t see the man reach inside his jacket and wrap his fingers around the hilt of an obsidian blade.
"SAMANTHA, MOVE!" Jacob launched himself from his seat, pulling the water from the pitcher and dropping a sheet of ice in front of Samantha. Watchers! The man’s blade bounced off the ice shield and barely missed Samantha's hip.
Samantha screamed and bolted backward, scrambling for the kitchen. The woman leaped out of the booth after her, talons ripping through the tips of her perfectly manicured fingers.
Jacob reached the booth. An ice blade formed in his hand and he thrust it at the male. The Watcher dodged left, but not fast enough. He connected, a shallow cut blooming with black blood. The magic of his blade meant the wound would burn like acid.
Leaping straight into the air, Jacob dodged swiping talons, landing on top of a table with a precarious wobble. He brought his blade around and severed the Watcher’s arm. The limb melted into a sizzling puddle of black ooze.
Wounded, the Watcher burst from its illusion. It tackled Jacob in a flurry of leathery wings, talons and snapping fangs. Jacob slid his blade under the thing’s ribs into the cavity where the heart might have been if it had one. In a final burst of energy, the Watcher shredded Jacob’s side with the talons of its remaining hand. Luckily, it exploded before it could completely rip Jacob apart. Black chunks of Watcher flesh skimmed across the tabletops and into the walls. Jacob rolled over and forced himself up, gripping his side.
Bursting from the bathroom, Malini gasped. "Oh, Jacob!"
Bonnie's scream cut through the restaurant.
"Go!" Jacob demanded.
Malini bolted for the kitchen door. Jacob hobbled after her. An ogre held off the female Watcher with a swinging cleaver, while Grace cowered behind its beefy legs. Both were covered in ripped flesh from the Watcher’s talons. Malini reached with her healing hand to burn the Watcher, but the creature was too quick.
Jacob didn’t waste any time. He threw his blade into the Watcher’s back. His aim was true. It sliced through the chest and the creature melted into a steaming black puddle that oozed down the kitchen drain.
The ogre separated into Bonnie and Samantha. "Bonnie’s really hurt," Samantha said, catching her twin as she collapsed in a bloody heap. Malini rushed to their side and placed her left hand on the wounds. Bonnie healed, but at the same time, the skin on Malini’s arm blistered to the elbow.