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The battle for the torch

Editor’s note: This serial, which explores the days leading up to that fateful night in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” continues through Christmas Day. The story thus far: Marley must use his chains to help regain the torch that opens the realm between the living and the dead, making a visit with Ebenezer possible.

I think of stepping into the crypt for the first time, how my chains glowed stronger with every step I took toward The Council's circle.

I also think of how these dark beings were able to turn that force against me. I tell the girl spirit this, how much it hurt.

She nods: “And they will try again. It’s no more than counter-magic, Jacob. You must focus and fuel your shackles’ appetites in return.”

“How?”

The girl sighs. “You need to get Samuel angry.”

Desperation crosses her face as she looks into my own drawn with horror. She seems afraid I’ll walk away right then.

“It’s the only way,” she says. “The more rage Samuel feels, the more corrupt the torch becomes.”

She gestures to my chains. “They’ll go mad with hunger, Jacob. And heaven help anyone who gets in their way.”

“The time is nigh!” Samuel shouts from the circle.

He holds the torch aloft, and the purple sheen illuminates every dark corner of the churchyard. Snowflakes look like falling grapes. The air churns with energy and vibrato.

Through the maelstrom, I hear a muffled infant’s cry. It comes from a nearby meadow, speckled with winter grass and wilted flowers. The girl and phantom hear it, too. Anger darkens the girl's face, and anxiety seeps from every fold of the phantom's robes.

“It must be now,” the girl says.

She makes for the crest of the hill, behind which we've been hiding from Samuel and his ghostly army.

“Wait,” I hiss.

The girl stops, turns.

“You have no defenses,” I say.

A sly grin crosses her face. “Is that quite so?”

She holds a tiny, glittering hand aloft. A small burst of white light cuts the night. In a matter of seconds, she holds an oversized candle snuff in her hand; large as a basket it is, frosty steam slithering off the sides.

Then she’s gone, flying up and over the crest and toward The Council's circle. I look at the phantom, who only shakes his head. We both drift to the top and look down into the snow-plastered churchyard.

Samuel's voice booms first as the council watches the girl rocket toward them: “It cannot be."

"Break her!" Thomas shrieks. "Burn her 'til she's naught but smoke!"

He fires first. His method is similar to the phantom’s, hands shaped as though they clutch an imaginary giant’s egg, harsh power blooming in their vacant center. It erupts from his hands, and rockets away. The girl dodges it, the two that follow. She weaves through their circle’s center again.

Now the whole council’s firing but for Samuel. Dozens of static orbs burst from their circle. The discharges make screaming sounds as they fly into the night. The girl turns and makes straight for them.

“What’s she doing?!” I say.

I attempt to run for the circle myself, plan be damned. Yes, we’re all dead, but this is suicide.

The phantom stops me short, holds me with his cold, dead hand and points with the other. I watch the volley of missiles headed for her and feel a sudden laughter sprout in my chest as her massive candle snuff swallows them all before making a half turn and expectorating them out the other end.

The council members scatter. Their returned ordnance detonates about them in brilliant flashes that sound no different than the rumble of artillery. They are deafening.

One council member takes the brunt of the ricochet attack. He spins into the air, his garments made of light whirling about him like robes. He disappears through the church walls in a shatter of light.

“GET HER! GET HER!” Samuel screams, clutching the torch, yellow and black teeth gnashing.

I'm certain he knows why she’s come, that he could use the torch as he had before, could bring her down in an instant. I'm confident he won't this time. Too much is at stake. He’s gripping with all his strength, saving the entirety of the torch's power to eliminate the Christmas spirit one final time and tear the two worlds of the dead and the living asunder.

More balls of light fly from the council members’ hands and spin into the night sky after the girl.

The phantom stands abruptly, spins his own missile with hooked fingers. It is swift, faster even than the council's. The globe tumbles into the churchyard and detonates. The very air seems to shimmer and shake.

Then the night-cloaked apparition charges, launches two more bursts as it glides on the night winds into the churchyard like a nightmare from some children’s story, a reaper who’s traded its scythe for the fire of the gods.

I watch my companions do down the council. Samuel stays as put as he can, still clutching his wickedly obtained prize, directing the others. The churchyard shudders with the clamor of battle, angels of light and death dueling with otherworldly forces who’ve been taken completely by surprise.

Then my companions scatter, council members trailing them both, as predicted.

My turn.

Read part 24 here.

The battle for the torch