The ground shook with a great
rumble and windows shattered when the buildings swayed. Street lights lay strewn over the cracked
roads and severed power-lines sparked uncontrollably. A few miles to the east of the heart of Los
Angeles a small earthquake brought a halt to people’s routines and had caused
some serious problems for many neighbourhoods.
In one building pipes cracked and gas leaked before igniting, putting the
entire apartment block on fire. The
flames lapped out of the windows while black smoke bellowed into the sky.
On the street, fire fighters were struggling with the blaze. They aimed their hoses and blasted water in through any opening they could see, but there was little effect. The fire was eating its way through the building and with people trapped inside the fire fighters had no choice but to continue.
A fireball burst out of several windows, the pressure wave knocked almost everybody to the ground. Only a handful of the fire fighters were still standing but they lost control of their hoses. With that explosion, no one was getting out again.
In the crowd of on-lookers, kept behind a police line, Christine Shepherd watched everything. In her thoughts, she could feel the cries of the people inside and the searing heat of the fire against her skin. Christine clutched onto her backpack’s shoulder strap, she closed her eyes and tried to push those feelings away. After watching yet another floor burst into flames, Christine clenched her hand into a fist.
Police, fire fighters and the locals watched, oblivious to Christine tightening her fist until her knuckles turned white, and were surprised to see the flames shrink. With a sudden and forceful clench of Christine’s fist, the ends of the broken pipes that carried the gas crushed. Christine sealed the leak, at least for now.
Without the fuel, in moments, the fire was out. Water dripped down from the rafters onto burnt debris. The people trapped inside left their hiding places and soon they were running from the building. No one there could explain it but everyone knew that it wasn’t the effort put in by the fire fighters that extinguished the blaze.
Christine didn’t want to hang around, when she saw people leave the building she calmly walked away from the area. When no one was around, she ran. Christine didn’t stop until she started gasping for air.
Wandering through the streets of L.A., Christine came to an old, condemned building. She knew no one was inside and hoped it stayed that way. The sun was setting and she couldn’t stop yawning. Only twenty years old and the last four of them she spent on the run to protect her family, Christine kept herself to herself. Her life was strange enough as it was, she didn’t need to have anymore guilt than she already had should anyone else get caught in the middle.
Christine slipped in to an alley, found a boarded-up window and forced it open. Once inside, she pulled the window shut again and dropped her backpack at the wall. The cold air chilled her as she sat down against one of the many crates in the room. Her knees were up at her chest and she rested her forehead on them. As Christine looked up, she saw she was no longer alone. A man appeared in front of her, he was old, bald but with a scraggly white goatee hanging down to his chest and dressed in grey robes.
“God, Jacob. You scared me half to death. I thought I was rid of you,” Christine said.
Jacob smiled, “You should know by now, that is impossible. I am a part of you just as all those before us. You are the next in the Deva line, the Avatar of this universe, its living spirit made flesh. The divine...” he said.
“The divine medium descended unto the mortal world to make it better. I know. I’ve been hearing that stuff from you since I turned sixteen,” Christine said.
“It’s is your destiny, Christine. To spread the word,” Jacob said.
“My father’s dead because of that. My mother, my sisters, they don’t even know that I’m still alive,” Christine said.
“Your father sacrificed himself to save your life from those who want you dead. Those people are prepared to do anything to keep you from power and the Reckoning is coming,” Jacob said.
“Jacob, go away. I don’t want to have anything to do with this, I never did,” Christine said.
“There is no choice. Tomorrow is the solstice of your twentieth year and you can’t escape fate,” Jacob said.
Christine shook her head and saw a broken brick next to her. She grabbed it and threw it at Jacob, straight and true. The lump passed through Jacob and he vanished before it hit the ground with a thud. Christine leaned back and sighed.
“I really hate ghosts. And ghosts of past lives are the worst!” Christine said.
“It is your destiny,” Jacob said. His disembodied voice echoed throughout the room.
Christine stood; she paced the room, taking slow, deep breaths to calm herself. She’d been running so long and not just from those who were chasing her. The responsibilities, the duties she had to take up often caused her to shake. Eventually, Christine lay down on top of some crates and slowly fell asleep.
Back at the site of the fire, two men in suits walked along the path with a black limousine creeping along behind them. The area was alive with investigators, studying the debris and hoping to find out what happened but they didn’t have a clue as to how the fire was extinguished. Suddenly, Peter, the younger of the men stopped. He held out his hand and watched as goose bumps formed on his skin while the fine hairs on his hand and arm all stood up. His companion, Thaddeus, looked at him.
“Here?” Thaddeus asked.
“Yes, she was here. Maybe an hour or two ago but she’s still near,” Peter said.
“Are you ready? This will end before sundown tomorrow. Either she ascends and accepts the path or you do,” Thaddeus asked.
“It will be me,” Peter said.
“Good, then I recommend sleep in a fairly decent bed and a good meal,” Thaddeus said.
“Let me guess, there’s a hotel nearby that belongs to one of your special friendly supporters?” Peter asked.
“Several actually but the Bel Air has this steak...no I won’t ruin the experience for you. Come on,” Thaddeus said.
Both walked to the kerb and stepped into their waiting car. Their hunt was soon ending and Thaddeus wanted to ensure that Peter was well rested for the event.
The next morning, Christine woke up with the sunrise. The second the light was over the horizon her eyes snapped open, it was that way every morning. She liked being as far away from her hiding places long before anyone else was awake. Still, despite being on the run Christine kept up with the niceties.
A beaten up old bucket was sitting in the corner. Christine held her hands over it; she drew hydrogen and oxygen from the air around her, focusing the gases into the bucket where they mixed into water. Soon the bucket filled to the brim and steam rose from it as Christine channelled heat into the water.
Christine washed herself and her clothes, carefully looking for any worn patches so that she could knit the threads together. She’d worn the same outfit for years, they were all she had in the world. Soon she had readied herself for another day of travelling.
Stepping outside she looked for a crack in the cement and tapped it with her finger. A small green plant sprouted out, growing far more quickly than was natural. Christine plucked off each leaf; slowly eating them as she went she walked away from the area.
She kept to the back alleys but mostly the quietest and quickest route out of the city was the sewer-tunnels. The smell wasn’t great but she kept a bubble of fresh air around her that made it tolerable. When she felt Jacob’s presence beside her, she kept on walking.
“Leave me alone old ghost,” Christine said.
“You keep protesting your abilities yet you use them to help and protect others. You consume plants and not animal flesh. You are following the ways of the Deva that have come before you,” Jacob said.
“Don’t get me wrong. I would kill for a burger but since I have no money, growing my own food is far easier,” Christine said.
By the time she reached the end of the tunnel, she had finished her breakfast. Christine climbed the ladder and pushed open the manhole cover above her before getting out. She found herself in a park overlooking the ocean. The waves crashed in and lapped in over the shore. Christine closed her eyes and listened to the sounds, she felt the rhythm of waves and subtly her body rocked in time with the flow.
Jacob moved to her side and smiled. “I too found peace in the sea,” he said.
“That supposed to be another indication of our connection?” Christine asked.
“Do you need another one?” Jacob asked.
“Why did it have to be me, Jacob?” Christine asked.
“Why not? You are who you were born to be, Christine,” Jacob said.
Christine chuckled to herself and shook her head. “You sound like fortune cookie. That’s the best line you can come up with?” she asked.
“Actually, that’s what my predecessor told me when she guided me as I am trying to guide you,” Jacob said.
“I don’t want to end up like you and the others,” Christine said.
“Only a few of us were murdered,” Jacob said.
“Oh really? How did you die again?” Christine asked.
Jacob rubbed this throat. “I was hanged. Okay, admittedly, it wasn’t the best way to go by a long shot. That doesn’t mean you’ll die of anything other than old age,” he said.
“People don’t want to hear the message, Jacob. They say they do, they may even believe in it for a while but all they will do as scream at the top of their voices what they think is right not what is right,” Christine said.
“And how are the people meant to know the difference?” Jacob asked.
“I suppose saying ‘common sense’ is too easy an answer?” Christine asked.
“It is why we...why you exist, to stand tall and guide people into a new and better way of thinking about the world. This age needs you more than ever to hear the message and try to help people understand it. It is all we can do to teach them,” Jacob said.
“Like our predecessors? What happens if people come to listen because of me and what I can do, and not the lessons? It has happened before. Thousands of years ago some were believed to be gods. They were revered and still didn’t have a very pleasant ending,” Christine said.
“It’s always a possibility; it is why each new Deva must work harder than the one before. We may have power but we are still human, we can still make mistakes. It will be challenging, Christine, but I know you can do it,” Jacob said.
“Today’s the day isn’t it? The summer solstice, the day you told me about?” Christine asked.
“The day of reckoning, when you must choose to act,” Jacob said.
“How?” Christine asked.
“To all things there is an equal and an opposite. Yours is out there now. Following you,” Jacob said.
“My equal? You mean he has my powers?” Christine asked.
“Yes. He was even born at the same minute as you,” Jacob said.
Christine had always felt something, a tingle in the back of her mind that was always there. Sometimes it was weak, sometimes strong and today it was very strong and becoming much louder in her mind.
“He’s close,” Christine said.
“He’s not far now and he’ll find you today. Our opposites always do,” Jacob said.
“What happens at that point?” Christine asked.
“That is entirely up to you. I cannot advise you,” Jacob said.
“That’s a first,” Christine said.
Jacob vanished, leaving Christine alone.
“Seriously? You leave now? The one time I actually want you around...” Christine complained.
She glanced over her shoulder and behind her a mound of earth rose from the ground. A longer, thin piece sprouted from the back of the pile of dirt and the whole mass solidified into a crude chair. Christine sat down in it and she looked out over the Pacific, shaking. Someone was hunting her, someone with the capabilities she had, but with a willingness to use those powers in ways she never would and he was close.
Christine could walk away and extend her free time or even avoid what was coming just as she had for the past four years. Even if the opposites always caught up with the Deva in the past, it didn’t mean they always would. Still, it was here she waited for her nemesis to come.
Hours passed and Christine didn’t move from her chair. She snacked on the occasional plant that she grew but then the sun reached its zenith. Despite it being a hot day, a burst of cold air washed over her. The chill wasn’t sea air, it came from behind her. Christine didn’t need to turn around to know it was time. She stood and faced her opponent, her opposite.
“What’s your name?” Christine asked.
Peter didn’t say anything and walked away from Thaddeus; he circled Christine as his eyes glanced over her. All his life he’d been waiting for this moment, Christine wasn’t what he’d been expecting all these years.
“Okay, I get it, not talkative. So, if you win this...what would you do?” Christine asked.
“If? Not if. Hmm, what else would I do? I’ll have fun,” Peter said.
Peter looked back at Thaddeus. Peter’s hand shot up toward Thaddeus, Thaddeus’s eyes went wide before he burst into flames. He cried out, his scream echoed over the nearby beach before he fell to the ground.
“No!” Christine yelled.
Her hand swept up from her side and a gust of air blasted over Thaddeus. It was too late. Her own powers cancelled out the flames created by Peter but Thaddeus’s body was little more than a desiccated, black cinder that collapsed to the floor. Peter kicked the body over and leaned down over it.
“I am no one’s puppet,” Peter said.
He returned his attention to Christine.
“Don’t feel bad for him. He wasn’t my guard, he was my jailor of a sorts. His job was to kill the winner of our little contest. He and the others like him, they really don’t want another ‘Saviour’ running around taking the power they and their associates have built on those like us who came before,” Peter said.
Peter didn’t intend on wasting any more time, after today the power he had would be his alone and he could do as he desired. There was only one thing in his way. Above their heads storm clouds rolled in, Christine looked up but wasn’t impressed. She’d caused a few storms of her own from time to time.
“That’s the best you have?” Christine asked.
Responding, Peter created a hurricane of fire in front of him. It spiralled around, going high into the sky and scorching the ground. For miles around people stopped and watched as the sky became a burnt orange. The entire sky seemed to have caught fire as dozens of lightning strikes hit the ground and everyone started to run from the area.
Peter thrust out his hand and the fire rushed toward Christine. She stood her ground. Christine lifted her hand and the fire forked, sending two raging infernos out to her sides. It lasted for two minutes before Peter exhausted the flames he created and when it was over, Christine did nothing.
“Fight me!” Peter said.
“No. I actually can’t fight you,” Christine said.
“What?” Peter asked.
“You’re a part of me. We were born together, what we are comes from the same place,” Christine said.
“Light and dark, good and evil, the universe was created and our battle was born,” Peter said.
“Okay, well a teeny tiny bit too dramatic but yes. However, they’re the same, two sides of one coin. Just like us,” Christine said.
“Not quite,” Peter said.
With a loud crash, a hundred bolts of lightning streaked through the air. Each one descended down onto Christine. The raw power of nature surged through her body. However, her body remained unharmed. Christine closed her eyes and focused on guiding the energy through her body, avoiding anything vital and letting it flow to the ground.
“You can’t hurt me,” Christine said.
“Fight me!” Peter said.
“If I do then you win. I’m supposed to guide people. I can show them the way, a better way. My powers are a tool I can use to get their attention. Then I can...” Christine said.
“You can do nothing. You may get through to some but never enough. It will be as it has been for all other Devas. And you will die – painfully. Surrender now, it’ll be quick,” Peter said.
Christine walked forward until she was standing right in front of Peter. Peter looked at her, there was no fear in her face, nothing but a smile.
“What?” Peter asked.
“If you kill me, you die. As I said, we’re the same. You can’t exist without me and I can’t exist without you. We feel the balance of the universe, we are the balance and without each other – we are out of balance. You must at least sense I’m telling you the truth,” Christine said.
Peter didn’t say anything. He grabbed hold of Christine’s throat and started to squeeze. Christine’s eyes glowed brightly, electricity sparked between them and arched out to strike the ground as a connection linked them. They could hear each other’s thoughts. She didn’t need to do anything now.
The pair inched closer and despite Peter digging his feet into the ground, he couldn’t stop himself moving. He squeezed tighter but his fingers vanished into her skin as if it was nothing but air. Soon his entire body disappeared into hers leaving nothing but a puff of smoke and Jacob appeared again.
“Well...that was just anti-climatic,” Christine said.
“Usually is. Two sides of the same coin. I liked that,” Jacob said.
“Human nature. I can’t very well inspire the world to better itself if I deny what the bad stuff in me...which Peter was. Now it’s part of me, the way it should be,” Christine said.
“Yes it is. Two halves made whole and through...” Jacob said.
“No more fortune cookie stuff, please. Four years of it – it’s enough,” Christine said.
“Never again,” Jacob said.
Jacob disappeared and Christine knew she wouldn’t see him again.
“Now...where do I start?” Christine asked.
A week later, Christine arrived in Boston. Each street she walked through, her smile became brighter despite the deluge of rain that was soaking her. She came to one street and Christine walked up to a blue door halfway down. Christine knocked and the door opened. The woman on the other side gasped when she saw Christine.
“Hi mom. I...” Christine said.
Her mother didn’t let her finish and wrapped her arms around Christine into a tight hug.
“I thought you were dead. Where have you been?” Christine’s mother asked.
“I have a lot to tell you,” Christine said.
Her mother let her go and ushered Christine inside. Christine stepped in but turned to look up at the dark grey skies. She blinked and instantly the rain stopped, the clouds rolled away and the sun shone just a little more brighter. Christine reconnected with her sisters but chose not to stay in Boston. From that day on she travelled the world but this time she wasn’t running and she changed everything.