Thief: Chapter 15

Sunday, 24 April 2016






Chapter Fifteen




    Lorelei had chased after him like a lost puppy. Mammon didn’t stop her, and didn’t let her lose his trail entirely. She was pursuing him relentlessly as he travelled around the globe, spying on him as his plans began to come together. It was almost…cute, how sneaky she thought she was being.
    If she truly was his child, though--well, that was a matter for another time. Right now, he had bigger fish to fry.
    The thought brought the faintest curve of a smile to his pale lips, and the Selkie queen stopped talking, her liquid black eyes narrowing suspiciously. “Somethin’ amusing to you, Hunter?” she asked, her Irish accent thick and rolling. Her heavy, curvy form was draped in a flowing sealskin robe, the thick white fur contrasting sharply with her mottled grey skin.
    They spoke on neutral ground; the half-submerged wreck of some ancient ship served as a fine meeting-place for a Hunter and a Selkie. The cold mist from the roiling dark waves didn’t seem to bother her, and Mammon did his best to ignore the way it clung to his clothing and dampened his hair. It wouldn’t do to show weakness to anyone now, much less Siofra, leader of the Selkies.
    Mammon shook his head in one sharp, dismissive motion. “No. Nothing worth mentioning, I’m afraid.” He adopted a polite, nearly friendly tone, keeping his body language soft and unthreatening.       He wanted something from her, and his usual methods, his preferred methods, wouldn’t help him here.
    He’d left Fenris and Freja on the mainland to rest, giving them a chance to lick their wounds and giving him a chance to negotiate without his dogs skulking menacingly in the background.
    He gave the Selkie queen a once-over, saw through the thin veneer of calm she presented. He’d try the delicate approach first, then. “I have a proposition for you.”
Siofra’s full lips curled into a sneer. “Yeah, and you’ve said as much. What do you want from me and mine?”
    Mammon’s lips curled into an oily smile. “The question is, what do you want from me? Name it, and it’s yours. All you have to do is help me with one. Little. Thing.” He drew out the last three words, and Siofra raised a round eyebrow curiously. She motioned for him to continue with a blunt-clawed hand.  
    Mammon looked her steadily in the eye, pale grey on solid black. “I need an army. A resistance-- a force willing to help me claim the throne of Hades. In return, I’ll fulfill any request you and your kind have…after I have my throne, that is.”
    Siofra’s sharp bark of laughter echoed across the waves, reverberating back at Mammon from all sides. “Your throne?” she laughed again, a softer chuckle as she shot him an almost pitying look. “I’ve heard of you, boy. Double-dealin’ with the wrong people’s what got you here in the first place. And you want us to fight on a promise? On a damn IOU?!” She barked another laugh, this one in disbelief.
    Mammon leaned forward, lifting his chin as he stared her down. The delicate approach had failed--time for something more his speed. “No. I want you to win on a promise. A war is coming,” he stated bluntly, “ and I intend to wait it out. Let them fight for blood and glory, let Satan and Lucifer destroy themselves with their own pride and vanity. Let them cripple their forces with petty in-fighting and a doomed war against Heaven, and when they’re down for the count…Then,” His grin turned sharp and wicked, voice nearly a snarl. “Then, we will lay claim to the ashes.”
    He leaned in even closer, mere inches from the Selkie’s face. “And you and yours will want to be on my side when it happens.” He straightened up to his full height, looking down at her, every scrap of false friendly warmth gone. “Better to be owed a favour by a king than to be his enemy.”
    Siofra’s black eyes were wide, a thin rim of white ringing them. She scurried backwards, away from Mammon, the cold wind rising and whipping at them both. “You’re--you’re completely mad!” Siofra sputtered, glancing from Mammon to the roiling sea below and back again.
    “So I’ve heard,” Mammon drawled, smirking. “Now are you going to join me, or should I skin you alive? And, just so I’m being abundantly clear, I’m not talking about that robe of yours--white really isn’t my colour.”
    Siofra looked away again, black eyes searching the sea for answers. After a long moment, she nodded. “Yes,” she said, lifting the hood of her robe over her head with hands that only trembled slightly. “You have the Selkies; we’ll come when you call.”
    Mammon’s smile broadened unpleasantly. “Your cooperation is greatly appreciated, your highness. I’ll be in touch. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have so many other places to be.”
Siofra levelled her black-eyed gaze at him and drew her hood over her head, and a soft white glow enveloped her. There was a splash as the waves took her, and Mammon watched her lithe seal form slip away from the shipwreck. 
    His smile faded, and he drew in a big lungful of the wet, salty air. “One down,” he exhaled, “more to go.”
    He looked out over the horizon one last time, eyes passing over Lorelei’s clever hiding spot. And, with a knowing little grin, he was gone. 



Thief: Chapter 14

Thursday, 3 March 2016





Chapter Fourteen



    Aiden was doing his best not to pace back and forth; no matter how distraught he was, pacing just wasn’t appropriate at a funeral. Much less at his almost-son-in-law’s funeral. He was having a hard time standing still, though.
    He couldn’t believe that Abby had left like that, run off with two demons. He didn’t care that they were related to Raph. Nothing good had come of their relationship, so he didn’t see why she would be so quick to trust his judgement again. If they were so trustworthy, why did they have to leave like thieves in the night, bolting off to who-knows-where?
    He shifted from foot to foot, eyes half-lidded against the crackling, snapping brightness of the pyre that was quickly consuming Eli’s lifeless body. They had hurriedly constructed the pyre in the sprawling backyard, shielding the blaze from human eyes with the help of Michael and the collective power of the other angels. It wouldn’t do for some well-meaning neighbour to call the fire department, and no one wanted to have to explain to the police why they were burning a young man’s corpse.
    Keeping the authorities out of Gabe’s incident had required more underhanded bribery. And begging. And mild threatening. He had done it all with absolute grim determination, however, because someone had to keep it together. Someone had to keep everyone else, everything else, from falling apart at the seams.
    It had been Aiden who had called in favours and reinforcements. He’d called down friends who wouldn’t ask questions to guard the girl who had been quickly spiralling out of control thanks to a cracked seal on her powers, the likes of which none of them had ever seen. Aiden, who had watched some of those friends get seriously injured by the girl he had just let escape, wild, untamed, and unchecked, into the world with two creatures of Hades.
    He wasn’t sure who to be angry with; Abby, for letting him down, or himself, for letting Abby down. He should have done something more, talked her out of it, gone after her immediately, but…
His eyes drifted to the column of flame and smoke that turned Elijah’s body to crumbling ash. This. He had to be here for this, to remember the life and the senseless tragedy of a young man’s death. Elijah had died a hero. He should not have died at all, and as he watched the fire and heard his daughter beside him sobbing brokenly in her mother’s arms, Aiden clenched his hands into hard, white-knuckled fists.
    Eli’s sacrifice wouldn’t be meaningless. He would find Abby and protect her, train her to control her power and use it, and somewhere along the way he would find that pale bastard and atomize him. And if he couldn’t manage Serena’s elegant destruction? Well, then he’d take his time, beat Mammon with his bare fists if he had to, until all that was left was a smear of dried blood on the ground somewhere. Him, and his dogs, too.
    The hand landing softly on his shoulder started Aiden out of his thoughts, and he looked over to see Gabriel Sr. giving him a grimly determined look, almost as if he knew what Aiden had been thinking. The archangel’s eyes were red-rimmed, glistening in the light of the burning body. Gabriel gave him a nod and let his arm drop to his side, turning his attention back to Michael as he continued the funeral service.
    He was doing an excellent job of it, too, his flowing, heartfelt speech delivered flawlessly in the most formal dialect of the angelic language. Aiden had been trying his best to block it out; it hurt less than listening to the archangel speak of death and life and the existence of someone he’d only met briefly. But, to his ultimate relief, Michael’s speech was winding down, drawing to a steady conclusion about Elijah now being in a better place.
    Aiden wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that sentiment at the moment, but he let it go after a moment of unease. Though, somewhere at the very back of his mind, a dark, oily spark of anger and hurt flared. Surely, he soothed himself, taking a deep breath through his nose, surely this, too, was part of a greater plan.
    But…he looked over at his daughter, her broken, huddled form clinging desperately to Farrah to remain standing. What purpose could that much hurt have? Was that feeling of emptiness gnawing away at them all supposed to help them on their mission? What good could possibly come of this, Aiden asked silently.
    Michael lapsed into silence and quietly melded into the shadows, standing beside Izrafel and watching the fire consume what little remained of Eli.
    Aiden couldn’t make out Izrafel’s face from where he stood across the pyre and beneath a sprawling cherry tree, its branches naked and twisting heavenwards in the frozen December air. He could see the way the black man’s shoulders shook beneath his suit jacket, though whether from sorrow or cold or pure rage, Aiden didn’t know. He suspected it was some combination of the three, and wished, not for the first time, that he could think of something to say to him that wouldn’t sound completely hollow and pointless.
    He was having absolutely no luck on that front, so he turned back to Gabriel, who still stood next to him, one arm wrapped around Serena as she sniffled quietly into a delicate silk handkerchief.
    “We have to go after her.” Aiden said quietly but firmly. This wasn’t negotiable. Nothing good could come of Abby running wild--he was certain of that.
    Gabriel squeezed his wife’s shoulder comfortingly and looked at Aiden. “I know. It’s just…Gabe is still--“
    “I know.” Aiden hesitated for a moment before continuing. “We need to find her as soon as possible, though. For all our sakes, but especially Gabe’s.” He spoke softly and chose his words carefully, but Serena still shot him a look at the sound of her son’s name. “Serena, I--“
    Serena shook her head, cutting him off. “No,” she breathed in shakily, steadying herself. “No, you’re right. She shouldn’t be wandering out there all alone. That poor girl…she didn’t deserve any of this. None of them deserved this.” Her eyes filled with tears again, glimmering bright in the firelight. “You two go,” she said quickly, trying to speak before her emotions flooded over again. “I’ll stay and watch over Gabe’s body. I’ll keep our boy safe.” She promised, looking at her husband with determination shining through her sadness.
    Gabriel pulled her in for a soft kiss. “Thank you, love.” He said as he reluctantly let go of her.
    “You bring her back safe. Bring her home.” Serena said, forcing a watery smile.
    “We will.” Aiden said, hoping desperately that his words were true.

***

    The pyre had burnt down to glowing coals and tiny licks of flame, and what had been Eli was now ash. Fern had cried herself out and could only manage dry, heaving sobs that escaped her when she thought she was finally finished crying.
    Her heart was broken. Eli was gone, Gabe was gone, Abby was…Abby was a monster. Fern stared into the flames and felt the anger welling up inside. This was Abby’s fault, all of it. She’d get her for it--she would avenge Eli. She’d--
    “I’m sorry, Fern.”
    The deep voice beside her made Fern jump a little. She’d thought she was alone. Everyone else was inside the house now, to let her be alone with her thoughts.
Izrafel stared at the fire, dark eyes reflecting the orange light. “I know you loved him. He loved you too.” His lips curved up in a small smile. “He always talked about you whenever I saw him.”
    Fern shut her eyes tightly and drew in a slow breath. “Thanks,” she said carefully. “I miss him.” Her voice broke a little, right at the end, and she sniffed noisily.
    “I do too.” Izrafel said, glancing at her. “But missing him won’t stop the thing that did this to my son.”
    Fern wanted to be surprised, but she wasn’t. Part of her felt a bit relieved that Izrafel felt the same way she did. “We need to destroy her--she’s too dangerous. If she hadn’t been here, none of this would have happened!”
    “I agree.” Michael stood at her other side, as if he’d appeared out of nowhere. “That is why we are going to neutralize the threat. A creature that powerful and untamed must be dealt with.” He looked at Fern, holding her gaze. “Will you help us?”
    Fern didn’t ask any questions; she only had one answer. She couldn’t help the snarling, feral grin that marred her pretty features. “Yes.” 




Thief: Chapter 13

Sunday, 28 February 2016





Chapter Thirteen




    The sound of the cell door opening forced Gabe awake, and for one groggy second, he felt a sliver of hope. Someone was here to rescue him, his family or a team of Warriors or God Himself there to fix what was obviously a huge mistake.
    And then he heard the click of her heels on the dirty stone floor, saw the glint of her red curls in the flickering torchlight. Hope faded.
    “Slept well?” Satan asked as she stepped into the cell, the creature on the end of the chain dangling from her wrist scurrying in behind her. She wore a tight black dress that stretched to her mid-calf, and she managed to look comfortable despite the freezing temperature in the dungeons.
    Gabe shot her a murderous look, and she laughed musically. “Oh, don’t pout. It’s so unbecoming in such a handsome boy.” She stretched up to pat his cheek, her small delicate hand blazingly hot against his skin.
    Even though Gabe was disconnected from his body on earth, he still felt everything physical, from temperatures to touch. That didn’t surprise him; his kind had never been fully corporeal, and there wasn’t as much of a separation of existences for angels as there was for humans. He was as solid and real here as he would have been in Heaven. He wasn’t a ghost or a wandering soul; he was just Gabriel Junior, Guardian trapped in the bowels of Hades.
    “The girl,” Satan said coyly, and suddenly she had Gabe’s full attention. She smiled at him, plump red lips pulled into a knowing smirk. She laughed again. “You really are in love with that monster, aren’t you? I’d reconsider that if I were you. I mean, look where it’s gotten you so far!” she said, all mock concern.
    “Don’t call her that!” Gabe snarled. “Abby isn’t anything like you, and you’re the only monster here.”
    Satan leaned in closer, her big green eyes widening. “Nothing like me?!” she grinned, baring her perfect teeth. “Are you sure about that?”
    Gabe ignored the bait, ignored those eyes that seemed so familiar aside from the crazed light in them. “She’s nothing like you!” he growled.
    “Go on, then. Tell me all about the little freak of nature. Tell me what she can do with those mutant powers of hers.” She stepped back and snapped her fingers, an ornately carved wooden chair appearing behind her as her eyes flashed red for an instant. She sat gracefully, smoothing her skirt over her legs. “And then you can explain to me why a weakling like you was called on to protect something as powerful as Abby Shepard in the first place.”
    Gabe held his tongue--she was trying to get a rise out of him, hoping that he’d get angry and tell her everything she wanted to hear. That wasn’t going to happen, not if he could help it.
    “Oh, come on, Gabe. Is she even worth protecting? Look around! You’re in Hell, literal Hell because of that little skank. If you ask me--“
    “I didn’t!” Gabe spat.
    Satan continued on like she hadn’t been interrupted, the only indication she’d heard him the grin that flashed across her face. “She’d be better off dead. Why are you angels even keeping her around? That girl is dangerous. Wouldn’t it be better if she just…disappeared?”
    Gabe didn’t say anything. He thought of Abby, replayed her face over and over in his mind’s eye. He remembered the way she looked when she smiled, the way her face would light up when she laughed. He prayed to the God who probably wasn’t listening to him anymore that she was safe. He prayed that she stayed that way.
    He locked eyes with Satan. “I won’t tell you anything. I love her, and I wouldn’t betray her for anything. Besides,” He tried his best to shrug nonchalantly, his shoulders aching with effort, “I’m already in literal Hell, right?”
    Satan stared at him for a moment with an expression he couldn’t quite read. She stood wordlessly, and walked towards him slowly. “Is that what you think?” she asked softly, running her fingers delicately up his bare chest. “That it can’t get any worse?!” She shrieked as she hooked her fingers, driving them into the wounds on his torso.
    Gabe cried out, gasping at the sudden sharp pain. Satan dug in harder, fingernails tearing at flesh and muscle. Gabe could’ve sworn she scraped bone.
    Her eyes flared red and black, tattoos spiralling inky-black down her fingers. “You can’t even begin to fathom what I can do to you!” Satan hissed, her voice doubling and tripling into a many-layered horror.
    Gabe writhed against his bonds, trying desperately to get away from her and the pain and terror he felt. All of that was nothing compared to the absolute dread that filled him when her power entered him. He could feel the darkness pouring in through her hands, its malicious intent as it wormed its way into his very being.
    Satan pulled him closer, fingers still hooked into his chest. Blood trickled down her wrists, mingling with her tattoos as they spun wildly. She smiled a hideous, crazed smile. “Tell me what I want to know, and I will free you.”
    Her words oozed into his mind like syrup, his vision flickering with black lines. Maybe she was right, part of him whispered urgently. Was Abby really worth all this? One meaningless girl in exchange for his freedom. It was her fault he was here in the first place. Why should he go through all this for that thing, that…monster?
    “No!” Gabe shouted, forcing the thoughts away. He breathed hard, feeling his mind returning to him. His vision cleared as he glared at Satan. “I won’t tell you anything. I won’t betray her!”
    Satan raised an eyebrow. “Impressive,” she said, yanking her hands out of his flesh. Gabe cried out again in pain, but she ignored him. “though I’d expect at least that level of strength from Gabriel’s son. Come, Eron!” she snapped her fingers, and her pet hurried to her side.
    Gabe avoided looking at the poor creature; it made his skin crawl to think of how it had once been an angel.
    Satan strode out of the cell, her pet scurrying along behind her. “Now, don’t go anywhere,” Satan smiled cruelly. “I’ll be back soon.” The cell door slammed shut with a resounding clang, and Gabe was alone. 



Thief: Chapter 12

Thursday, 18 February 2016





Chapter Twelve




    The angels had left Abby alone. They’d locked her in her bedroom, its newly pink walls still smelling a little like wet paint. She sat on the edge of the bed, waiting. Well, she wasn’t entirely alone. Two of the angels, the ones she’d never met before, were stationed outside of the door.
    “For your own safety,” Aiden had said gravely.
    Abby rolled her eyes. More like for everybody else’s. If her powers went crazy again, those two angels would probably rush in and try to kill her.
    Let them try, something within her roared softly, the voice tinged with gold. She shook her head, willing the thoughts away. Closing her eyes she lay back, flinging her arms up over her head so that her hands brushed her pillow. “This is crazy. I’m crazy” she murmured.
    She was drifting, her mind finally quieting, when something flashed bright orange light across her closed eyelids. Squeezing her eyes more tightly shut, she tried to ignore whatever it was. The light flashed again, and again, and Abby cracked one eyelid open. The orange flash filled her vision and she groaned in exasperation. What was that? Ugh. So bright, she thought as she groped around on her bedside table.
    Her fingers landed on something she hadn’t expected--the light was coming from her mother’s mirror. Aiden must’ve put it there for her. Something, not quite a memory, tickled at the back of her brain. The mirror, the orange light; it was all familiar somehow. The whatever-it-was slipped through her grasp as the mirror flashed again, and she opened it.
    “Abby?” a voice came through the mirror, distant and broken at first, like a cellphone with bad reception. She recognized the voice as it became clearer. “We need to talk. Please put the mirror on the floor and stand back.” Horace.
    Abby nodded, then thought that maybe they couldn’t see her. “Alright,” she said, rolling onto her side and sitting up. She stood, placing the mirror down in the centre of the room, and backed away. There was a flash of light, huge and orange and bright black, and when Abby had blinked away the spots in her vision, Horace and Judah stood before her.
    “Thank you.” Horace said, giving Abby a polite nod.
    “Nice room,” Judah said, looking around. “it’s really…pink.”
    “Shhh!” Abby hissed, mindful of the Warriors on the other side of the door.
    Horace caught on quickly. “I--ah. Don’t worry about the guards. I’ve cloaked our presence. As far as they’re concerned, you’re alone in here.”
    Abby wasn’t entirely convinced, but no one had come rushing in, weapons drawn and powers blazing. They hadn’t even reacted to the light from the mirror, and that had been pretty unmissable from where Abby stood. “What do you want?” she asked. “It must’ve been important for you to risk coming here.”
    Judah snorted as he rifled through Abby’s dresser, tossing random articles of clothing onto the floor. “I’ll say,” he said, holding up a paint-stained hoodie. “hey, is this the warmest thing you own?”     Abby gave him a weird look, unable to answer as Horace cut in.
    “We’re here to help you in any way we can, Abby.” He said, dark eyes boring into her green ones. "What did you want to ask me?”
    Abby blinked. She hadn’t expected that. “Can I--can I trust you?” she asked quietly.
    “Yes.” Horace answered simply, holding her gaze.
    “I need you to do something for me.”
    “Name it.”
    Abby looked at the ground for a moment, thinking hard. She looked back up at him, certain. “I need you to get me out of here.” She’d hurt enough people around here, people she cared about. She’d only hurt them more by staying.
    “Are you sure about this?” Horace asked.
    Abby nodded. “I can’t be here anymore. I’m a prisoner now, a time-bomb they don’t know how to defuse. I love them, and now I’m tearing them apart. And until Gabe comes back, I’m only going to be the reason that he’s gone. Serena can’t even look at me anymore, and Fern--”
    Her voice broke and she stopped for a moment, swallowing back the lump in her throat. “They’re better off without me.” She sniffed, willing away the emotions that unfurled inside her, hot and bitter and aching like an old wound that had never properly healed.
    Horace didn’t say anything until her breathing returned to some semblance of normal. “If that’s what you want,” he said after a long minute, “we have a place prepared for you. Somewhere far away from here. But I want you to be sure.”
    She thought about Aiden, and all he’d done for her. He wouldn’t want her to leave, certainly not with two demons, but she had to. It was the right thing to do. She didn’t want anyone else getting hurt because of her.
    She remembered what Metatron had projected to her, how she should go with them to master the powers warring inside her. She didn’t have much of a choice. “I have to.” She said.
    Horace inclined his head gracefully. “As you wish. I’ll need your help. Can’t have those Warriors raising the alarm, and they’ll definitely notice when you disappear.”
    “Can’t you just use your power to hide my presence? Or lack of presence, I guess.”
    Judah shook his head as he dumped Abby’s backpack full of art supplies and began shoving warm clothes into it. “Not with the power you’ve got. That’s like getting an infrared camera to miss a raging volcano. It’s just not gonna happen.”
    “Okay, so what do we do?” Abby asked, hoping the answer wasn’t ‘kill them’. She couldn’t go through with that. She thought of the look on Izrafel’s face when he’d seen her. She’d already done enough.
    Horace inhaled deeply, closing his eyes. When they opened, they were pitch black. Glowing black tattoos wound down his arm, stretching and reaching over his hand and swirling down his fingers.           "Your hand,” he said, holding out his own.
    Abby hesitated for a second, glancing from his hand to his black eyes, then reached out and took his hand in hers. His power flooded into her in an instant, merging with her own. Gold and black spun in her veins, and she felt as though she’d be carried away by it. His free hand pointed at the door and he snapped his fingers once, twice. Abby felt her power being controlled by his. There were two identical soft thuds against the floor outside as the angels collapsed. Something in Abby new that they were unharmed; only unconscious.
    Horace dropped Abby’s hand. “Thank you.” He said, his eyes returning to normal and his tattoos receding.
    “Wait, so that’s your power?” Abby asked shakily, the thrum, the rush of that much power flooding her still fading.
    Horace smiled faintly. “I’m a good teacher. Channelling and directing someone else’s raw power is part of helping them learn to control it themselves.”
    “Yeah, it’s a great parlour trick,” Judah grunted as he struggled to zip up the backpack and hefted it onto his back. “Got all your essentials here, but you’d better put something warm on--It’s cold where we’re going.”
    “Okay,” Abby said, “Thanks. Turn around so I can change.”
They did as they were told, and soon Abby was dressed in thick jeans and her warmest baggy sweater. She pulled on the parka Aiden had purchased for her, and the boots she hadn’t had a chance to wear yet.
    “Ready.” She said, and the two demons turned back around.
    Horace stooped to pick up the mirror from the floor, and held it out to Abby. “I don’t think you’ll want to forget this.”
    “Thanks,” Abby said, pocketing it quickly.
    He pulled another mirror out of his own pocket, one similar to hers but made of tarnished, greening copper. He opened it, murmured something in the demon tongue to it, something she didn’t quite catch.
    A flash of orange and a blast of freezing air filled the room, and Abby heard footsteps in the hallway, coming closer and breaking into a run.
    “We’re out of time.” Horace said, nodding to Judah. Judah saluted him sharply but mockingly and disappeared in a flash of orange light.
    “We have to go!” Horace said, grabbing Abby by the arm. The footsteps had reached the door, and know there was muffled shouting. Someone starting banging on the door, the handle rattling hard as someone tried to force it open.
    The door burst open and Aiden ran in just as Abby and Horace were engulfed in orange light. Abby felt her head spin as the world went white.
    She landed on her knees in something cold and soft, and she opened her eyes, blinking a few times. The world was still white.
    “Snow?” she wondered aloud, looking down at her legs. She had landed in a tall snowdrift. Horace stood a few feet away on a beaten-down path through the snow. She looked around. It was night, and they were in a forest of tall, bare-limbed trees. It was snowing fat, puffy flakes that were building up rapidly on Abby.
    “Here,” Horace said, grabbing her by her arms and helping her up out of the snow.
    She dusted herself off on the crude path, and looked at Horace. “Thanks.”
    Horace inclined his head. “Of course. Come on, it’s just down this path.”
    Abby was going to ask what ‘it’ was, but Horace was already walking away. She struggled through the snow to keep up with him. There was a light on the horizon, a soft golden glow that was faint at first, but it grew stronger with each passing minute. Finally the source of the light came into view. A cabin sat in the middle of a grove of pine trees, smoke puffing from the chimney.
    They walked to the door, and Horace stood there, hand hovering over the doorknob. He turned to face her. “Are you sure?” he asked. He was giving her one last chance to go back, she realized.
    Squaring her jaw, she nodded affirmatively. “Yes.”
    He gave her another rare smile and opened the door. “Come inside, then.” He said.

    Abby walked into the cabin, refusing to look back. 
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