“Mommy, get up. We have to stop them.” Cassie pulled at Eve’s hand.
“It’s too late. We’ll never catch them.” A deep weariness made her feel like her bones were filled with lead.
“The machine’s are back working, right?”
Eve followed Cassie’s gaze to five parked SUVs. Instantly, the weariness was gone and Eve was on her feet and racing toward the vehicles. She opened the door of the nearest, and quickly scanned the front seat area, looking for a key. Nothing. She went to the next one, frantically fumbling with the door handle before she manged to get it open.
“Try the next one, honey, look for a key,” Eve told Cassie. This time Eve sat into the front seat and checked the glovebox and back seat before giving up and climbing out.
“This one has a key,” Cassie shouted from the next SUV over. “It’s in the ignition.”
Eve ran over, picked Cassie up and swung her into the passenger seat, then sat into the driver seat. She applied gas and twisted the key. No sound, not even the groaning of an engine making an effort to start. She tried again, twisting the key violently. Nothing. Eve let her forehead fall against the top of the steering wheel.
“Mom,” Cassie said. “Try again.”
Eve looked up to see her daughter putting her two hands on the dashboard. Did she still have some of that power left inside her? Eve took a deep breath, shook the gearstick to make sure it was in neutral, touched her foot to the gas and turned the key.
The SUV roared into life. Eve threw it into reverse, backed out of the parking lot and directed it toward the barn. The grassy field they traveled across was bumpy, jolting Eve back and forth but she didn’t slow.
“Put on your seatbelt,” she shouted to Cassie over the scream of the engine. The sound of the engine also spurred her to change gear to second and then third. It’d been a while since she’d driven stick.
Up ahead, the Dark Worshippers were halfway to the barn. They had slowed to a walk, but turning to find a SUV on their tail,they broke into a run once more, dodging out of Eve’s path. The lead-most Dark Worshipper was the only one not to quickly clear the way. Instead she--for it was the girl, Ali--just turned and stood in front of accelerating SUV.
She’s bluffing, Eve thought, driving straight for the girl. Ali didn’t move, just stood there with a smile on her face as if daring Eve to run her down. Eve swore and jerked the steering wheel to the side at the last moment. The jeep lurched, throwing Eve against the door, but she managed to maintain control, swerving around the crazy-stupid girl. She glanced over at Cassie who was shaken but uninjured. Through the rearview mirror, Eve could see Ali direct several the Dark Worsippers in pursuit, while she others began running back to the main camp. To get another vehicle, Eve guessed.
Eve slowed the SUV as it entered the barn. A giant Faraday cage almost reached the ceiling, and inside that was the twisted and intricate combination of metal and electronics that made up the Friar’s Lantern device. She had once thought it beautiful, the complexity of it, the way every piece fit together just so, but now she saw it for the ugly and unnatural thing it was. Some things should never be invented. The Faraday cage itself was made of reinforced metal and locked, but Eve knew what she needed to find. And there it was, on a table in front of the cage. She stomped on the brake, and threw herself out of the SUV, ran to the table and and picked up the Lantern’s key. It was shaped like an old fashioned mortice key but it wasn’t the shape that was important, but the electronics cased in the metal that allowed it, and only it, to turn on and operate the Friar’s Lantern.
“Mom,” Cassie called out, and Eve turned to see Dark Worshippers closing in. One of them fired a shot which zinged against the side of the Faraday cage, throwing sparks. Eve sprinted back to the SUV and jumped into the drivers seat. She would have liked a chance to damage the Lantern but there wasn’t time. The important thing was keeping the key out of the hands of the Dark Worshippers.
She threw the SUV into reverse and accelerated out of the barn. Two of the Dark Worshippers were in a firing crouch, but Eve couldn’t hear shots over the roar of the engine. As soon as she had space, she did a half turn, braked, grinded the gearstick into first, and stomped the gas pedal to the floor. The wheels spun and the engine screamed, then the SUV jumped forward like a wild animal. Dark Worshippers scattered and Eve accelerated away from them. One must have fired a final shot though because the left rear window blew out. Eve jerked in reflex and reached out a protective hand toward Cassie. Neither of them were hurt. It had been a minor miracle for both of them to get out of that situation unharmed, Eve realized.
Cassie took Eve’s hand and kissed her palm. “That was amazing.”
Eve managed a half-smile. “Bond. Eve Bond.”
Cassie made an effort at a laugh but it came out more like a grunt. “Where are we going?”
Eve glanced down at the Lantern’s key in her lap. She needed to keep that out of the hands of the Worshippers and she knew exactly where to go. “The signal beacon.” She nodded toward the top of the hill. That had been the only thing providing hope while the Dark Worshippers were spreading their evil brand of darkness. “There’s a road just ahead, we just have to drive up that hill and we’ll be safe.”
Eve returned her hand to the steering wheel and bumped the SUV off the grass and onto the road. In the rearview mirror, she spotted another SUV moving but it was far in the distance. There was no way they could catch up. The road wound upward, and Eve pulled back into third gear, then second as the ascent increased. She turned around a corner and saw a gate closed across the road.
“Hold on, honey,” Eve said without hesitation, increasing speed. She wasn’t going to come this far and let a gate stop her. Her grip tightened on the steering wheel and she leaned forward, willing the SUV straight through.
At the last moment, she saw the thick reinforced metal attached to the sides of the gate. She braced herself, then jolted forward.
* * *
Eve groaned. There was a blinding pain behind her eyes. She raised her hand to her forehead. “What happened?”
Eve jerked upright and opened her eyes, suddenly remembering what had just happened. There was blood on the shattered windscreen. “Are you okay?” She reached across to touch Cassie’s cheek. “You’ve blood on you.” Panic welled up inside her. She’d just deliberately crashed with her daughter inside the vehicle. What had she been thinking?
“It’s your blood, silly.” Cassie was close to tears, but trying to be brave.
“My beautiful strong daughter.” Eve hooked her hand around Cassie’s head smearing it with blood but she didn’t care. The headache had faded to a bearable throbbing.
“Isn’t this touching? The daughter of light and her virgin mother.”
Eve turned her head to see Ali pointing a gun at her. Letting out a despairing sigh, she turned to see a second SUV parked behind them. “Ali, please help us. You’ve got to believe me. Rourke and Emerson were evil evil men. They were just using you and your friends.”
“Using me?” Ali’s lips curved up into a sinister smile. A smile that no fifteen year old should have been able to form. “For someone who invented the Lantern, you sure are dumb. You’ve been working side by side with the men for many years, and you’ve never noticed how much they changed in recent years.”
The hazy dimness of twilight was descending, and the air around Ali shimmered, darker than everywhere else. At that moment, Ali barely looked human. Eve reached her hand out and gripped Cassie’s fingers. “It was you?” Eve’s dry mouth could barely form the words.
“You don’t think they got it right first time, did you? Capturing all those souls.” Ali took a step closer. “I was the first successful experiment. But the souls used for me weren’t fresh. Emerson arrived at a plane crash two hours after impact. The souls had already found a heavenly darkness before being pulled back and thrust inside my embryonic self. And those souls still crave darkness. I crave darkness. And interestingly enough, most who spend time with me come to feel as I do.”
Eve opened her mouth, ready to object, to argue, to reason, but closed her mouth again, the words unsaid. It was clear that Ali was not a creature that could be reasoned with. Eve glanced up at the top of the hill, which was now barely visible in the darkness. They had gotten so close to the beacon.
“Looking for some hope?” Ali asked. “Here, let me help you with that.” She removed a device from her hand and pressed a button. The beacon lit up.
“That’s impossible,” Eve gasped. “You said...”
Ali smiled again, that dark horrible smile. “I don’t always tell the truth, you know. We kept the beacon in a Faraday cage and now use it to draw everyone for miles around. Like moths to a flame they come. After a while, they begin to change. When that happens they hate the light as much as me.”
Ali pressed the button again and the beacon shut off. Hope quenched. “Now,” Ali continued, “if you’ll glance to your right, you’ll see a burly man with a gun pointed at the girl who is now oh- so-empty of the horrible light she used to carry.” Eve didn’t look, she didn’t want to see a gun aimed at her daughter; she just squeezed Cassie’s fingers. “So you’ll hand over that key to me without thinking of doing anything silly.” Ali nodded down to where the Lantern’s key lay by Eve’s feet. “And then you’ll come with me. I’ve a mind to let you see your creation suck all that nasty artificial light from the world for the final time.”
A shiver ran through Eve and a drop of blood dripped from her forehead down onto her lap.
Ali reached over and gripped Eve’s shoulder. “Then we’ll spend some time together, you and me, until you start to see things my way.”