Too Late to Turn Back Now

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Thirty minutes later, I'm in the back seat of a white Bronco, heading for Trisha's cave. Father Timothy's behind the wheel, and Trisha's directing him down a dirt road through Poison Canyon.

Off to the west, the wind has blown sand from the Great Sand Dunes National park over the mountains, forming tan mounds that dot a landscape of jagged rocks and dead trees. No one would come here without a purpose and five gallons of water.

Open the box, Boss says.

The case containing the Sword of Sin stretches three feet long and eight inches wide across my lap. It's made of an olive wood that stifles the blade's weakening powers. I trace the dark wavering wood grain with my finger and reflect on the life changing events that started three short hours ago. In another hour or two I'll be wielding a weapon I don't know how to use against a powerful fallen angel. I snort a laugh.

About to crap yourself? Boss says.

I ignore him and look back at the desolate Colorado terrain.

C'mon, open the box. You know you want to. Boss plucks at my lower spine, but the usual pain he inflicts is no more than a tickle.

So far, Trisha and Father Timothy have insisted the box remains closed, but Boss is having none of it. This time I give in to my own temptation and fiddle with the two rusty latches. The hinges squeak as I open the lid a few inches to reveal the dull gray sword with nicks across the full length. It appears useless against a rat, let alone a powerful fallen angel.

Trisha reaches around and forces the lid shut, pinching my index finger. "I told you not to open that." She closes her eyes and rubs her temples. "It's bad enough I've lost my wings. Don't make me useless before we arrive at my cave."

"Sorry." I refasten the latches. "I didn't think it would work that fast."

"Like I told you." She pauses to sigh. "Opening the box is a dead giveaway to any angel that the Sword of Sin is near. The worst thing you can do is open it too soon and give Azael time to escape."

I nod, then return to dreaming of a future in my safehouse, my first incentive to continue this mission.

You should have asked for a place in heaven when you fail. Tee, hee, hee, Boss chuckles.

"Demon pool," I remind him and slump in my seat.

My stomach gurgles. While I've reached the point the two-headed lady said I'd be free from Margery and Satan, they failed to mention the cramping side effects would worsen. If the fluttering bugs and eyeballs don't settle down, it won't matter if Azael knows we're coming. I'll be useless in fighting him.

The engine ceases and the Bronco slows. "What the heck." Father Timothy struggles to steer to the side of the road, then hits the brake and shifts into park. He tries a few times to turn the engine over, but the vehicle's dead.

I lean forward, my gaze fixated on the keys hanging from the ignition. "What happened?"

"Could be Azael senses our presence," Trisha says.

"He knows we're here?" My voice shakes, and so do my legs. "I opened the box for half a second."

"Don't worry about it. We angels, dark or light, have a way of knowing when our kind is near." She kicks open her door. "Whatever it is, we'll deal with it."

Father Timothy leaves the keys in the ignition and exits the Bronco. "I guess we walk."

Maybe they're ready for our next challenge, but no matter how many deep breaths I take or pep talks I give myself, my body continues to tremble. I can do this. I have to do this.

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