Evil was mesmerizing to look at. Andre knew what to expect but always stood amazed. As bright as a glowing star in a deep blue morning, Abaddon radiated light and drew the eye like a magnet. He was lean and stood tall like the Panoplia, his ancient brothers and sisters. Reaching the towering height of twelve feet, he was more than twice the size of Andre and more agile and quick. He possessed a graceful step and could move soundlessly on any terrain. He was a chameleon, changing the color of his skin and the features of his narrow face to fit his needs of deception.
At his simplest he wore a long cloak of white, his blackened wings stretched out on either side. When the mood took him, he would dress for the occasion, charcoal trousers and fitted cloak in black, trim at the waist and flowing to the hem trailing in the dust at his feet. Long, sleek sleeves elongated his arms with silver cufflinks at the wrists. A glimpse of starched white at the collar secured the precise knot of an amethyst necktie held in place beneath a row of black buttons, gleaming like raven’s eyes down the front of the cloak. This was his costume for business, the business of negotiating souls.
“So you think you have a right to take ten at once.” He took two fluid strides before kneeling down and hovering over Andre with serpentine movement, his wings expanding to intimidate and cast a hungry shadow. His crystal eyes grabbed hold of Andre’s gaze and refused to let go, lulling him in with a false sense of security. “I have been generous in the past, but this is plain greedy. I never took you for a thief.”
“They aren’t your souls.” Andre attempted to sound confident. He had trouble catching his breath; the air was full of toxic fumes. Abaddon was a rotting corpse dressed in silk with a painted smile; glorious to look at, but deadly to inhale. It took a great deal of energy for Andre to pull his eyes free from the chains Evil cast with his luring gaze. Backing away, he stumbled into the side of the stone altar. Closing his eyes and steadying his reserve, he made his first request. “I come for the Mamani family. First for Beltran, the father.”
“Your claim?” Abaddon hit his cue with rehearsed precision.
“None.” Andre also knew his lines. “I ask under the name and power of Theos, the Creator of souls.”
“I care nothing for this name,” Abaddon replied with offhand contempt.
Andre felt prepared to look Evil in the eye this time, “No, but you must honor it.”
“Theos does. You are the one with no claim over Beltran Mamani.”
“Theos?” Abaddon turned his head to the side with a thoughtful expression almost pleasant to look at. Andre had to avert his eyes, focusing on the cunning debater’s impressive hands pressed claw-like into the stone floor, a collection of protruding roots to his tree-sized limbs climbing into a pair of angular shoulders. He looked like a runner about to take his mark, lazily sizing up his competition while waiting for the starting pistol to begin the race. “Theos created me,” he pointed out. “What does that say about him?”
“Your choices are your own,” Andre countered.
“Agreed, Agabus.” His wings appeared to shiver while folding into the hallow space between his shoulder blades. “And I choose not to release the soul of Beltran Mamani.” Abaddon was continuously in motion, swaying and then weaving slightly with the eerie methods of an eel. The unceasing movement made Andre nauseated.
“Why do you care?” he asked, sliding around the edge of the altar and putting the stone structure between him and Evil. “The Mamani family has followed Theos their whole lives. Beltran farms sheep. He writes poetry and plays a tabor pipe. How is he worth anything to you?” Andre surprised himself. He had known nothing of Mamani or his hobbies before that moment. These details didn’t come from him. He didn’t even know what a tabor pipe was. “He is a citizen of Koinonia now. Let him go.”
Abaddon showed all his teeth in a confident grin, both alluring and sickening to look at. “You mistake your blessed island as Paradise set apart. This is still earth you stand on, and I am the master of this soil, all of it.”
“You’re only able to crawl out of your little hole when Theos allows you to,” Andre pointed out. “You can roam the world and stain it with your poison, but that’s because you aren’t stopped. There are places where you can’t inhabit. Koinonia is one, and it’s the strongest. That’s why Mamani brought his family here. He knows you have no power over him.”
“The man is a fool. He believes the grass is greener on a different mountain, but the climate is the same. He is a stupid, socially inept mortal who covets the abilities of more self-possessed men. He is half a man, and his own detriment.”
“Then why bother?” Andre insisted, leaning over the altar with a feeling that he was gaining some ground.
Abaddon ignored the question. “He is a man of many shadows.”
“We know how to get rid of those here,” Andre assured him steadily.
“Your expectations will never be met.” Evil hovered, poised to strike with his illuminated face inches from the prophet’s. Andre could feel the radiating heat and taste the putrid vapors. “He will always fail your beloved Theos.”
“Not as much as you did.”
Andre’s insult brought forth an exclamation of rage as Abaddon struck. Swiping with a heavy hand and cutthroat nails springing from elongated fingers at will, Evil knocked the prophet to the ground. Andre yelped in pain as his left shoulder collided with stone. The side of his face stung from an open gash flowing with warm blood. Blinking it out of his eyes, he rolled onto his back and fought for breath, cradling his throbbing shoulder and gritting his teeth. “You lose,” he spoke to the sky, lying flat on his back under the shadow of Evil. “Beltran Mamami, he belongs to Theos.”
“Take the worthless imbecile,” Abaddon snarled, his wings crushing in upon themselves in loathing.
“And his wife and children.” Andre closed his eyes, waiting for the second eruption. “I want them all.”
The roar of Evil echoed off the mountain top, and the prophet rolled out from under the crushing blow of Abaddon’s heavy foot. Stumbling onto his own unsteady feet, Andre readied himself for more. Back and forth for every soul, arguing point-for-point over traits of light and shadow. The morning sun turned to noon and disappeared completely behind an overcast sky. Andre welcomed the release from the heat, drawing on an ocean breeze and scattered rain to revive his parched and weary body. At one point late in the afternoon, he reached for his bowl of water and found it dry. His saliva tasted of dust and blood and he had nothing with which to rinse it clean.
“You are wasting energy,” Abaddon sat nearby, perched as before with self-indulgent pride dripping from his haughty chin. “Your greed will break you, prophet. I have been generous enough.”
Andre spat blood from his teeth before leaning gingerly against the altar and drawing his damaged body close with his knees against his chest. His jaw was bruised, the initial gash an angry welt crusted with rust-colored blood. His right ear had also suffered a cut and one side of his forehead was swollen from countless blows. It was difficult to draw breath under the weight of numerous cracked ribs compressing his lungs. He was exhausted. “You’ve lost eight souls,” he said with labored breath. “I came for ten, and I won’t leave without them all.”
“Why must you do this?” Abaddon was the sympathizer now, the caring confidant who only wished to be amicable. “All this pain, for what? A few insignificant souls? Let’s be fair. Eight is greater than two. I am giving you the advantage.”
“I was sent for ten, not eight.”
“Who sent you?” Evil’s voice was oily like a soothing salve.
“Theos,” Andre answered automatically, barely even conscious anymore.
“Why does he put you through this? Why you, when there are so many stronger and wiser?”
“Because,” Andre choked on his pain, moving uncomfortably against his stone backrest, “I can see you.”
“But what’s the point?” Abaddon insisted.
“The point is you.” The boy opened his eyes again and looked at the beautiful monster crouched before him. “I must fight you for souls to make your claim invalid. It is the difference—”
“The difference of what?”
“Between us and the rest of the world,” Andre answered.
“You are better than them?” Evil began luring him into a trap, but it wasn’t a new snare.
Andre had seen it before, and he shook his head, wincing against the sharp shards of agony erupting behind his eyes. “Just more prepared. And protected,” he added, glancing at the lines of stationary color standing in wait in the background. “We’re well protected.”
Abaddon grinned with eerie contempt at this pronouncement. “By them?” He jerked his head in the direction of the line of silent Panoplia. “They are more worthless than you. You put your trust in flimsy puppets, prophet.”
“And you avoid the subject,” Andre redirected the argument. “Release the last two souls.” They had been fighting for the Carlsons for over an hour. The elderly couple from America with the dream of serving Koinonia for the last of their days on earth in whatever capacity they could. They had lived a hard life and needed a rest. Abaddon had plenty of ammunition on both of them, but especially the male. Carlson had acquired a great deal of worldly wealth throughout his years and all the temptations which came with it.
“He is greedy,” Abaddon said. “Money was never enough, possessions…his wife was never enough. How can you consider polluting your shores with his filth? He has walked away from me before, but he always comes back. Hiding out on this island won’t change that. I have more plans for him.”
“Theos has bigger plans,” Andre argued weakly. So tired… Where was the meaning in the Message? Progress requires reversal…there was no progress, not for hours. They were going round and round and getting nowhere. The others meant little to Abaddon, but Carlson was his pet, his toy he wasn’t willing to give up. And Andre was sick of the tug-of-war.
Reversal, reversal… He struggled to find meaning in the word which would progress him forward out of the argument and off of that mountain. Reversal of what, time? To reverse, to go back…back to the beginning…
“You are failing, little prophet,” Abaddon could sense the advantage, edging closer for a final blow. “Enough of this pretending. You are not your grandfather.” He slid a burning hand around Andre’s throat and tightened his grip. Forcing the boy to raise his head, he looked him in the eye. “But I pity you. I will show you just how generous I can be. More generous than your King who forces you to fight for the creation He cannot control. Take the wife. She is of no use to me. There, nine souls out of ten. You should be thanking me on bended knee. Get out of this now before I break you completely and steal back what you have already claimed in your greed. You will not get the man. You cannot win.”
Andre coughed, choking with strained cords from Evil’s grip and endless hours of arguing. The fingers around his neck scorched his flesh like hot coals. Grappling the dusty stone floor, he looked beyond the Oppression bearing down on him and found a strip of glittering diamonds against a backdrop of midnight blue. Fighting for air, Andre gave a slight nod and raised his hand before reaching out and catching Lavi’s spear. Turning it in his palm, he jammed the arrowhead deep into Abaddon’s skeletal side. “I already have,” he informed him and thrust the spear in deep.
Abaddon’s crystal eyes darkened into a separated black abyss. The light in his face faded, and the grip on Andre’s throat slackened. Looking down at the sharp weapon sticking from his side, a deep, guttural growl rose to his clenched teeth.
Andre held fast to the spear shaft, refusing to let go until he had what he came for. “The day you rebelled against your Creator was the day you lost,” he informed the Evil One. Progress in reversal, turning the tables and reminding Evil of his past, using Abaddon’s own strategy against him… “You are done with Carlson, because he is done with you. Release his soul,” he used what little strength he had left to twist the spear in deeper. “You don’t get to keep what was never yours.”
Taking hold of the spear, Abaddon ripped it from his side, out of Andre’s hand, and tossed it furiously aside. “Take him,” he spat. “Take what you can while you can get it. The time will come when not even the precious Panoplia will save you from my destruction.”
Andre shrugged, like this declaration didn’t matter. “In the meantime,” he said, “go back to your hole.”
The rain fell like a steady shower, washing away the ache and cleansing the battered skin. Andre lay stretched out on the rock floor, staring at the leaking sky and blinking away the rain. His record against Abaddon was perfect; he had protected his people with the help of Theos and the Panoplia, and he was exhausted. He knew it didn’t matter, but Andre couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had not been able to win the last soul. He had been so close to defeat. Had he passed out from pain and weariness, Abaddon would have taken his win and possibly stolen back more. It had never happened to him. It had never happened to Grandpapa Alex; but it had happened to Andre’s father.
Andre had not been told the details of that battle, but he knew it had nearly destroyed his dad. Aleixo Dietrich had lost a soul to Abaddon and barely survived. The Panoplia had interceded and managed to escape with the prophet, leading him to safety. Evil did not go easily back into his hole, and a storm raged on the mountain. Andre recalled the fear that struck the citizens. He could not forget; it was the beginning of his mother’s deterioration. The lost female soul was quickly removed to Kaluma in case she was used by Abaddon to infiltrate the island with his Dark Army. The elders held council to decide what would be done. Prayer was increased ten-fold, entire households fasted for three days while thunder reverberated to the roots of the island beneath the sea.
In the end, the Panoplia prevailed and tossed Evil back into his lair. Andre’s father regained his health and fear diminished in the hearts of the Koinonians. The lost soul was given the option to remain on Kaluma until her soul could be fought for again, but she turned the council down. Indeed, Abaddon had planted a black seed in her heart and she no longer desired citizenship; she left to return to her native country and was never heard from again. Aleixo grieved and refused his responsibilities as Agabus. He did not feel he deserved the right to defend more souls. The next morning, Andre saw the Panoplia for the first time.
And if he had failed? If he had given up on Carlson’s soul? What would he have done? How would he have handled the guilt? Andre didn’t know, and he lay under the healing rain and thanked Theos that all ten souls had been won.
Chesed the Merciful stood over him with a therapeutic smile and an understanding of his dread. “Think not of what could have been. Close your eyes and sleep. This battle is done.” She knelt and pressed a cool hand over his eyes, transferring a deep unconsciousness into his being. “Be gentle,” she instructed Lavi as she straightened to her full height. “He is broken.”
Lavi reached down and grabbed Andre under the arms. Spreading his wings, he pushed off the ground and carried the unconscious prophet down the side of the mountain. Landing lightly on the muddy gravel beside Andre’s car, he opened the driver’s door and sat the boy in the seat. Touching his eyes in the same way Chesed had, Lavi released Andre from his deep sleep, closing the door and rising into the air before Andre fully opened his eyes.
The Agabus sat there a long time watching rivulets of rain chase one another down the windshield and thinking of nothing. The brief sleep had given him an escape from the pain, but sitting there with his head resting against his seat, hands limp in his lap, it began to settle in again. His ribs hurt to the amount that he wondered if he had broken something. The thought crossed his mind to drive to the healing center for treatment, but when he finally started the car and began his decent off the mountain, Andre turned for home.
Dusk fell as he pulled into the drive leading up to his uncle’s farmhouse. Warm light lit the welcoming front stoop, peeking like lantern eyes through open windows. A car was parked out front. Komer Costa was there.
Andre eased to a stop in his usual spot and turned off the ignition. Slowly extracting himself from the vehicle, he limped to the side door leading into the kitchen. The glare of the overhead light made him wince as fresh sparks of pain caused his vision to swim. The komer, his uncle and aunt, his brother Davi, and his cousins were circled around the table finishing the evening meal. They glanced up when he entered. Demi was immediately alarmed by the sight of him. Her hand flew to her mouth and caught a comment which she managed to keep to herself. Uncle Laken frowned but also withheld his concern.
“Sorry I’m late,” Andre croaked with strained vocal cords, pushing the door closed behind him and leaning against it for support. Demi sprung to life, pushing her chair back in haste and rushing to his aid. A place at the table was made available for him along with a plate of food, which he had no desire to eat. His aunt fussed for several moments before finally receding into the background to prepare an icepack for his swollen and bruised face.
“It looks as though you have succeeded,” Komer Costa observed lightly from behind his mug of coffee.
Andre attempted to smile in response, cradling his ribs with very little color in his face. Demi froze halfway to the table while holding a plastic bag of ice. Her husband caught her eye and shook his head slightly with an instruction for her to keep her peace.
“Perhaps you would like to lie down?” he suggested.
“I’m fine,” Andre assured him, looking pointedly at Davi who seemed the most distraught over his brother’s appearance. The children knew better than to talk at the table unless the adults permitted conversation, but they listened with full attentiveness. It was like watching folklore come to life in their very own kitchen. A wounded warrior returning from spiritual battle; they would whisper and speculate about it for days.
“I would have been back sooner,” Andre explained to Costa, “but there—”
“There were ten,” he cut him off with a shake of his head. “You do not have to explain. I am surprised you took only as long as you did. I am proud.”
“Yes,” Laken mirrored the komer’s sentiment. Andre’s uncle was an intimidating figure with a strong, full face and deep set eyes. He was thick-chested, with bulging biceps from a life of hard labor. He had once been a mine worker, but in recent years farmed the Flaco acreage raising sheep and chickens. He had many expectations as a father but knew how to smile. He paid attention to each of his daughters and nephews, and he was deeply in love with his wife.
Reaching for Demi’s hand, he pulled her into her seat beside him after she had gently applied the icepack to Andre’s face. Andre grimaced under the frigid pressure, but held it in place with a word of thanks.
“The earth shook today.” Costa grinned with pleasure at the thought. “You must have provided quite the argument.”
“He wasn’t thrilled with me,” Andre admitted, staring at his plate of food without picking up his fork where it sat on the table.
“Time for bed, los pequeños,” Demi turned to her girls and included Davi in her command. They did not argue, but Davi looked disappointed and glanced at Andre for help. He did not appreciate being shuffled along with the little kids; he believed he was old enough to hear about Evil.
Andre did not agree, passing him a look which sympathized but shut Davi down at the same time. There were rules about such things. Gesturing with a nod, he told his brother to go. Davi swallowed his frustration and sulked out of the kitchen behind the girls.
“What did it?” Komer asked once they were gone. The battles always fascinated him since they were the souls of his people which were being fought for. Costa was a warrior in his own right. If he was able, he would carry a sword and charge into battle alongside Andre despite physical blindness toward the spirits. It thrilled him that Evil could be brought down with mere words sent from Theos. “What was your Message?”
“Progress requires reversal,” Andre told him behind his icepack.
Costa repeated the phrase in a murmur and considered its meaning. “Going back before you can move forward.”
“The past is a reminder,” Andre clarified.
“Yes, of course,” Costa was delighted, “that’s perfect. Evil despises his past, it is full of failure.”
“His future will not be any less disappointing,” Laken pointed out astutely.
“Indeed!” The komer’s eyebrows rose, excited about the prospect. Focusing on the point of the matter, he set down his coffee cup. “How might we pray, Agabus?”
Andre took his time replying. He went over each of the ten souls in his mind and recalled every argument Abaddon made against them. “For strength,” he said finally. “They have desire, but are weak. They need to exercise their faith.”
Komer Costa nodded, “It will be my highest priority.” Glancing across the table at the Flacos, he saluted them both with his empty cup. “Thank you for the fine meal, Demi. Laken,” he reached and shook the farmer’s hand. “I must get home.”
“Thank you for coming,” Demi smiled.
“You’re welcome anytime,” Laken added and moved to stand.
“Please, sit.” Costa waved him off. “No need to walk me out. Although, if the Agabus is up for it?” he inquired, and Andre nodded, pushing back his chair and rising stiffly. Leaving the icepack on the table, he followed the komer out the door back into the night. The temperature was cooler than Andre remembered it, and it felt good on his throbbing wounds.
“I apologize for taking you away from your meal,” Costa said once the door was closed behind them and they were walking to his waiting vehicle.
“I just wondered if Abaddon used your mistake at the pier this morning against you.”
Andre had to think about it, already forgetting half of what weapons Evil had used. “Sort of,” he admitted. “He said I would never be like my grandfather.”
“True.” Costa nodded, finding it mildly amusing. “Alexander would have most likely agreed with that. And you will never be like your father either.”
Andre swallowed tightly with a short nod but no reply.
“That is interesting,” the komer considered it deeply. “I thought Abaddon would highlight your failure more.”
Andre did not feel like responding to that either. Failure seemed like such a strong word from someone who had made light of the issue before. Andre got the importance of meeting the new arrivals, but he had made it, hadn’t he? No harm was done; he had not seen any unwanted shadows clinging to any of the new citizens. Was it necessary to keep bringing it up?
Costa seemed to think not. “Perhaps he didn’t think much of it either.” Grabbing for the driver’s door handle, he pulled it open and stepped inside. “Go,” he commanded Andre kindly. “Rest up and heal. I will see you at the feast tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir.” Andre helped guide the door shut behind the komer, stepping back with a small wave as Costa eased out of park and drove away. Nearly asleep on his feet, he turned and walked back to the house. Aunt Demi was waiting with a fresh towel to direct him to the bathroom where she had filled the tub with steaming water. Giving her his gratitude, he shut the door and removed his damp clothing with some difficulty. Easing into the water, he leaned back and instantly fell asleep.