Authors: G.P. Ching
Tags: #General Fiction
Lost Eden: The Soulkeepers Series, Book 5
Copyright © G.P. Ching 2013
Published by Carpe Luna, Ltd., P.O. Box 5932, Bloomington, IL 61701
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
First Edition: November 2013
Cover art by Steven Novak.
alance. All life, the world’s very existence, hinged on perfect balance. Rain and drought, work and play, love and hate, good and evil, each in measured quantities, rising and falling in a constant struggle for equilibrium. Balance bolstered the natural order of things, and Fatima’s job was to record it all. Record but not change.
As Fatima, or Fate to those who would call her by her title, stood barefoot on packed dirt, her eight arms weaving the fabric of human destiny, she carried a heavy weight within her bosom. She bent her knees to counteract the encumbrance of the yards of shimmering cloth made by her hand, but the heavy burden of a secret bothered her most. Fatima had broken the rules—rules put in place to maintain balance. She’d taken an action, saved a boy named Dane from certain death by giving him a sip of water. A simple, compassionate gesture meant only to counteract the devil’s unjust deeds.
But small deeds could have big consequences.
In the process of saving Dane, she’d made him a Soulkeeper. Fate understood the implications all too well. You did not drop a pebble into a sacred pool without causing ripples. All she had to do was read this particular stretch of fabric emerging from her hands—red, pink, and yellow threads, bright and hot colors—that spoke of increased metaphysical activity on Earth. It stung her fingers. Things were heating up down below. How much had her crime cost humanity? She crumpled her forehead and wove faster to alleviate the burn.
Movement caught her eye near the bolts behind her. Without pausing her work, she twisted her neck, and shuffled her feet to see who it was. Perhaps Malini was back from Nod with news of the Soulkeepers’ latest mission. For a moment, she was blinded by the sparkle from the fabric, the woven destinies of billions of souls, their light seeming to collect at the center of the room. Like a mirror, it reflected her image back at her, sleek black hair, smooth russet skin, graceful limbs and eyes …
Fate halted her weaving. Her lips parted. Her reflection did not share her black eyes or the dancing lights of souls within them. The reflection’s eyes were hazel, as Fatima’s had been when she was human. Other differences prevailed. The image did not bear the burden of her weaving or the frown that Fatima was sure she wore now. This reflection was a perfect Fate.
Light. Warmth. Joy. Fatima’s doppelganger exuded peace and love. When she realized who had come to see her, she put aside her work and dropped to her knees, both honored and terrified by the presence before her. As a kindness, God always took the form of the person present, a concession meant to keep the soul from going mad.
“M-my Lord, to what do I owe the honor of your visit?” Fatima stuttered.
“Rise. We have only moments. I’ve come to warn you.”
Fatima scrambled to her feet, unable to take her eyes off the beauty of the being in her own image who floated to her side.
“There is sin between us, Fatima. I feel a blockage, an invisible wall, keeping me from connecting with you. Tell me so we can move beyond it.” God moved closer and met her eyes.
“When Lucifer freed Dane from Hell, he left him for dead. Abigail delivered his body to the gate of Eden. She didn’t know any better. In her fallen condition, she’d never been allowed close enough to learn he’d be cast out. The injustice of it all would have tipped the balance in Lucifer’s favor. I had to do something. I visited the boat and gave the boy the living water to drink.”
“You took his destiny into your own hands.” God widened her eyes.
“And your actions produced greater consequences than his admission to Eden.”
“He became a Soulkeeper.”
God turned away then, clasping her hands behind her back. Fatima shuddered at the elimination of the light and warmth of her attention. “Not just a Soulkeeper, Fatima. Dane’s power, along with his personal characteristics, allowed him to slay over a thousand Watchers in Nod. He broke the terms of my compact with Lucifer.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Nod is off-limits to Soulkeepers as the In Between is off-limits to Watchers. He will demand a consequence for the infraction.”
“But…but…he broke the compact first! Watchers live among men even now, permanently! They taint the water. He’d planned to use Cheveyo to destroy Eden. Not to mention, Auriel took Malini and Dane to Nod in the first place. The two Soulkeepers simply fought their way out.”
God’s still, small voice was in direct contrast to Fate’s panicked one. “All valid points, Fatima, but you must see how your actions have forced my hand.”
Fatima did see. The rules existed for a reason. Even though other immortals had taken similar actions to keep Lucifer at bay, it didn’t excuse her. She’d given the devil an opening, and surely it was just a matter of time before he took full advantage. She fell on her knees again, tears forming in her black eyes. “Please forgive me. Tell me what I can do to make this right.”
With a smile that spread a tangible joy across the villa, God turned back to Fate, and motioned for her to rise. “All is forgiven, Dear One, but now we must manage the consequences, and unfortunately the cure for the world’s ills will be more than either you or any of the immortals can achieve.”
As Fatima rose from the dirt, she noticed a patch of black mold where the ceiling met the front wall in the upper corner of her stucco manse. Her home was a product of her consciousness, constructed of her thoughts and will, but this was not hers. She did not invite the darkness. This was something other, something dangerous. The black mold spread down the corner of the wall to the floor, and then mushroomed, reproducing to the size of a grapefruit, a bowling ball, a bush. Fatima backed away, taking her place behind God who held Her ground faithfully.
With a final sprout of growth, the black fuzz paled and hardened, and a man in a shiny gray business suit stepped from the darkness. His blond curls set off his lapis eyes, and the perfect smile he flashed took Fatima’s breath away. But his expression was icy and his posture arrogant.
“I see you are expecting me,” he rasped. His voice held the sizzle of Hell and his breath the hint of brimstone. Fatima covered her mouth and nose with her hand.
“Say what you came to say,” God said. Her glow increased, pressing his darkness back toward the wall.
He blinked rapidly, and then shifted his eyes downward, smoothing his perfectly tailored suit. “I demand a consequence.”
“State your reasoning.”
“Your immortal has broken the law. She has created a Soulkeeper of her own will, and disrupted the balance by sending that soul to attack me in my own dominion.”
“Were you not also to blame, Lucifer? Did you not break our agreement first? Even now, I sense your minions on Earth, in clear violation.”
He gave a half smile and slid his hands into his pockets, pacing toward the archway to the veranda. “No. I did nothing of the sort.”
“Yes, I do. It is my nature, and as such, it should be expected. I am entitled to a consequence, and I will not back down until I have my just due.”
God approached him, the air crackling with her presence. The back of Lucifer’s head glowed brassy in her light. “Very well. What is your suggested price?”
“My price is Fate. She has been in her position far too long. I will choose her replacement, and she will step down.”
“No!” Fatima yelled, her hands flying to cover her foolhardy mouth. Why had she allowed her true feelings to show? Now he’d be even more likely to use those feelings against her.
He turned the force of his stare on her, laughing through a toothy half smile. “Oh yes, Fatima. Perhaps, I will not only choose your replacement but take your soul as my own.” In a blink, he was in her face, his hand on the small of her back. Her skin squirmed beneath his touch. “You are a beautiful sinner. Hell could use an ornament such as you.”
“Let her go.” A wash of cool light poured through the room, and Lucifer retreated, joints folding unnaturally in his haste for the shadows. “The Watchers who reside on Earth negate your ability to make such a demand. You are in breach of the law, Lucifer. You must return your minions to Nod or Hell.”
“Or what?” Lucifer carefully slithered into the shadow of a bolt of fabric where his eyes could open fully.
“Or the compact is rendered null and void.”
“War.” The word rolled off his tongue, smooth as melted butter.
God rubbed her chin. “As ever, you are cunning, Lucifer, and perhaps it is time that your superior intelligence is rewarded.” She circled right, eyeing him from head to toe as she passed the upright bolts of woven human history. “Instead of exacting your revenge on a peasant girl turned Fate, would you consider a wager for something more?”
“More?” Lucifer narrowed his eyes and licked his lips. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed again and again, salivating at the thought of
“Our covenant is ancient and worthless, but human hearts must be ruled. Do you agree it is time for a new covenant?”
Lucifer rubbed his hands together. “How will the terms be decided?”
“By human hearts.” God snapped her fingers. “If you will follow me outside, I will propose a change.”
Fatima and Lucifer trailed the supreme deity out onto the veranda and then into Fate’s yard. Above the swell of a grassy green knoll at the back of her territory, an angel descended from the heavens. A blinding aura surrounded the winged woman, her dark hair rippling against her white toga-like dress. When her toes touched down, her flesh hardened from the feet up, white marble swallowing her to the tips of her outstretched wings. The angel looked familiar to Fate, like Themis, a human depiction of justice embodied, only this living statue had wings. Blindfolded, the angel held scales in one hand and a crystal model of Earth in the other.
“We need witnesses.” Another snap of God’s fingers and Henry and Mara appeared beside Fate, flustered and confused. When they saw the second Fatima, realization dawned slowly, confusion followed by terror. They fell to their knees in the grass.
“Rise, Mara. Rise, Henry. We need your help.”
Henry nodded, staggering to his feet. Mara reached for his hand, and he helped her stand.
“Lucifer,” God said, turning her full attention on the walking stain on the countryside that was the devil. “This scorekeeper holds in her hand a model of the world. Stare into the depths of this crystal, and tell me what you see.”
Lucifer approached cautiously and stared into the translucent orb. “Pinpoints of light and darkness.”
“You see human hearts. Some are aligned with me, appearing as points of light, and some are aligned with you, appearing as points of darkness. As you can see, at the moment, the scales are slightly tipped in your favor.” God flourished her hand in front of the dark plate of the left side of the scale.
“They appear to be. Get to the point, Oppressor. What is your wager?”
“First, we abolish the compact.”
Fate, Time, and Death gasped at the thought. Fatima reached for Mara’s free hand, her other firmly in Henry’s grip. All three immortals stood connected in their horror. Fatima trusted God, but this was terrifying. None of them had lived in a world without an agreement between good and evil. Her stomach twisted. Lucifer already had the advantage. The scales tipped in his favor. Without the compact, what would keep him at bay?