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Burn it All Down
As Finn Wager sat across from Hope on the bus to Revelations, he felt like a hero. He cradled Theodor’s pocket watch in the web of his fingers, Mike and Wendy’s souls contained inside. He’d saved them from Hell, and soon his friends would be safely back inside their bodies. Once that happened, Hope and Ms. D would have no choice but to welcome him home to Revelations with open arms. Everything he’d done, all the sacrifices and risks he’d taken, would make sense to them considering his ultimate goal.
But when the bus passed between the twin dragons that guarded the gate to Veil Island and Revelations Institute, everything took a turn for the unexpected. Although the familiar sifting of his soul had produced a small amount of discomfort in the past, this time it caused him heart-stopping pain. He gripped his chest and sent a pleading glance in Hope’s direction. But what could she do? A million pins impaled him, accompanied by the fading of his flesh. His cells came apart, swept backward through the dark electric tunnel of the bus’s magic portal.
He’d been rejected. The dragons that guarded the gate to Veil Island allowed only Soulkeepers inside. But Finn was a Soulkeeper. He had passed inspection before. Both the angel Gabriel and Hope had confirmed his status as a Horseman. What had changed? And where was he going?
A voice in his head, the kind that kept a person awake at night mulling over the things they should or shouldn’t have done, called to mind the ruined tree in the cemetery and the spells he’d used to turn it into a portal to Nod, spells he’d bound like enchanted tattoos to every square inch of his flesh. When he re-formed in the heart of the cemetery in New Orleans, the one he’d pictured in his mind, those tattoos were still pulsing and burning in the wake of his travels. He wasn’t sure exactly why he’d been rejected, but one thing was clear:
He wasn’t a Soulkeeper anymore.
“Ignite!” Theodor’s tone, high-pitched and frantic, reverberated off the surrounding tombs. Finn reoriented himself to face the tree. At a run, he wove between the graves, reaching his mentor in a few quick strides.
Theodor had vowed to destroy the tree hours ago and the bridge between worlds it represented. In Lucifer’s hands, it could reconnect the Devil with the source of his power. But the twisting branches of the ancient oak remained stubbornly intact. Despite the magician’s spells, the bark resisted any damage.
“What’s wrong? Why isn’t it burning?” Finn asked.
Theodor whirled, his shiny dress shoes kicking up loose gravel. The magician always wore the same black tuxedo. Usually, this formal attire, along with his waxy complexion and stoic personality, served to camouflage his reaction to whatever trouble he encountered. Not today. The magician had broken a sweat, and his usually impassive expression looked strained by exhaustion and frustration.
“Finn! I thought you were taking the pocket watch back to Revelations.” He glanced at his wrist. “You’re almost out of time.”
“The watch is still on its way.” Finn hesitated, but there was no hiding from the truth. “The guardians at the gate to Veil Island rejected me. I guess I’m not a Soulkeeper anymore.”
Theodor stilled, assessing him. One of his cards flipped over his knuckles and between his fingers. “No. I don’t think so. From what I’ve learned, being a Soulkeeper is genetic. It cannot be taken from you. I suspect it is your skin that was rejected by the guardians, and since you cannot harmlessly be separated from it, your entire body was transported here.”
“So, Ms. D was telling the truth. The symbols are an affront to God and nature.” Finn’s heart pounded, his anger rising like a red tide. “Great. That’s just great.”
“Some of the symbols. Not all.” Theodor took a deep breath. He gestured toward the tree. “I suspect the portal has something to do with it as well. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I’d intended my spell to transport me once, open and shut. Not to build a bridge between worlds.”
“You don’t say,” Finn snapped. “It seems as if a magician with your level of experience would realize this was a bad idea. Or that placing a binding spell in my skin might corrupt more than my flesh.” He held out his arms. “When exactly were you going to warn me about the consequences of what we did, Theodor?”
Theodor lowered his chin. “I did warn you, Finn. And by what you’ve told me, Hope and Victoria warned you as well. Your choices were your own. Don’t deny it.”
Finn pointed at Theodor’s chest. “I had no choice. I had to save Mike and Wendy, not to mention your sorry ass.”
“Mike and Wendy may be the reason for your choice,” Theodor said. “But a choice you did have. You made it. I made it. And now we are paying the price.” He tugged at the sleeve of his tuxedo. The thing looked new again, although it had been scorched at the collar and cuffs only a few hours ago. Nothing but magic explained its freshly laundered state. “Now, help me destroy this tree before the consequences become much, much worse.”
With more grumbling than was necessary, Finn approached his side. “What have you tried so far?”
Theodor held up half his deck.
“Let’s try again. We’ll be stronger together,” Finn said. Side by side they tried to ignite the tree, then eviscerate it, then reduce it to dust. Methodically, they worked their way through Theodor’s deck, trying every spell with any hope of ending the bridge. Nothing worked.
“It must be resistant to magic,” Theodor said. “All magic.”
Finn arched an eyebrow at his mentor. “You’re a genius.” With a snap of his fingers, he conjured a chainsaw and pulled the cord, firing it up. “Nothing magic about this.” Finn lowered the blade to the base of the tree, but no matter how hard he pressed, he couldn’t even nick the trunk.
“It’s not working,” he said, sending the chainsaw back to where it came from.
“Only a blessing can break a curse,” a smooth voice said.
Finn and Theodor pivoted to find Damian Bordeaux glowing behind them like some kind of white-winged lighthouse. “How would you know?” Finn asked. “You’ve had your nose up the Devil’s ass for centuries. Excuse me if I don’t trust that the goose feathers and incandescence you’re putting off isn’t a highly tuned illusion.”
“Can’t you feel it, Finn? This tree is cursed. It’s surrounded by dark energy. Even the roots under our feet are cursed. Only divine intervention can undo the damage. I can show you.” He pointed at the tree. “I can do it.”
Finn groaned. “We don’t need your—”
“Please!” Theodor said, cupping his hand over Finn’s mouth. “We would appreciate your help.”
Damien stepped forward and raised his hands toward the heavens. Finn pushed Theodor’s hand away and curled his lip in disgust as the angel mumbled a prayer that made him glow more brightly. Where did this guy get off playing the angel after what he’d done to Hope? When he was still a fallen angel, he’d deceived her, played with her emotions. And now, he acted like those actions occurred in the distant past rather than days ago. Redeemed or not, he should have to pay for his crimes. Finn’s only recompense was that the guy was barred from Revelations too. No angels allowed. Only Soulkeepers.
Glowing like a star, Damien lowered his hands toward the bark but stopped short when the tree began to change. A human-shaped knot formed like a cancer on the trunk. Damien hesitated, as confused as Finn about what was happening.
“Theodor, what is that?” Finn asked.
“I-I don’t know. There was no one else where I was,” Theodor said. “Damien, finish this! Nothing good can come from the other side of that bark.”
But he was too late. Like a pimple popping, the bark split and a blur of hot pink hair whooshed past the angel. In a flash, Kirsa’s fist connected with Finn’s jaw. Theodor cast a card toward her, and she froze, her hand reaching for Finn’s throat. Finn ran to Theodor’s side.
“That won’t hold.” Theodor shook his head. He turned Damien back toward the tree. “Continue. Don’t stop, no matter what.”
The angel made no comment as he began again, raising his hands toward the sky.
Finn regarded Kirsa in her temporary catatonic state. “What was she doing in the tree?” Finn asked, his skin prickling.
“I don’t know.” Theodor smoothed his mustache.
“But… this means something,” Finn pressed. “Kirsa has been helping Lucifer for weeks. If she’s here, it means Lucifer has been here too! He must have sent her through. That’s why she wasn’t with him and Ravenguard at the warehouse.”
“Lucifer can’t set foot on hallowed ground,” Theodor said. But the words seemed to tempt fate. A dark fog rolled into the cemetery and coalesced on the pebbled pathway a few feet in front of them: Lucifer and Ravenguard.
“Correction, this was hallowed ground. Now it’s mine.” Lucifer raised his hands and released a pulse of dark energy toward the tree. Damien swiveled but couldn’t dodge the blast in time. Pummeled by Lucifer’s power, he broke apart into a spray of shimmering light that rained down at the base of the tree.
“No!” Finn yelled. He’d never been a fan of Damien’s, but he didn’t want him dead. How would he explain this to Hope? How else would they fix the tree?
Reflexively, Finn shielded himself while Theodor’s hand gripped his arm. He had a heartbeat to digest that Lucifer had raised his hands again and the look on his face was pure death. And then they were gone, incorporeal and traveling through space at Theodor’s direction. Finn didn’t know where the magician was taking him, but he knew this: they’d failed. Lucifer now had access to the bridge to Nod.
Wherever they were going, he needed to find a way to contact Hope. Finn and Theodor had made a mistake, and the greatest consequences were still to come.
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Thursday, March 8, 2018
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