VALTINA SAT under a tree in Middle World, observing the spirits around her. She’d been scanning the faces of those who passed ever since Ladaya had told her that her soul-mate was also stuck in Middle World. She tried to sense his spirit, but as her mentor had warned, she hadn’t recognized him yet. Valtina contented herself to sitting still and watching as the others moved about. Like her, many had been enlisted to fight in the war against evil. Middle World was frequently filled with visitors from The Afterlife. Generals, like Ladaya, popped in to give instructions and updates to their soldiers. Valtina hadn’t seen anyone she recognized, though several of her friends had already moved on.
As Valtina waited she thought about her mission. The last one had been more difficult than the previous one, as she’d had to break the spell of a succubus. And Ladaya had warned her that all varieties of monsters were fighting for the other side. She wondered what kind of danger she would encounter next. Valtina’s thoughts were interrupted when Ladaya appeared before her. She was frazzled, and seemed to be on the verge of tears.
“Ladaya! What’s happened?” Valtina asked in a panic.
“I’ve just been observing,” Ladaya sobbed, “the mist… the black mist of evil… it’s growing. I watched it spread before my eyes. Oh Valtina, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
“Do you know what’s making it spread so quickly?”
“We do. One of our under-covers reported in yesterday, and confirmed our worst fear. The driving force behind the other army is a creature that was believed to be a thing of legend. No one in my time, or the times of those before me, has ever encountered one. It is a thing so evil it cannot be killed. Part demon, part witch, she’s rumored to be the spawn of a warlock and something very unnatural he conjured in his bedroom. Her powers are innumerable, and, I’m afraid, impossible to defeat. She’s bred a wraith army; their sole purpose is to steal every soul on Earth. As you know, without a soul, one cannot feel love. If we don’t stop them soon, it will all be over.” Ladaya sighed.
“This creature… you don’t mean a Mystic?!” Valtina asked with alarm.
“I’m afraid so.” Ladaya nodded. “They call her Morgonda. We’re quite certain she’s the one who organized the monsters against us. Her goal is to rid the world of living creatures, and reign as Queen of the monsters.
“What can I do?” Valtina asked quickly. “How can we defeat them? Tell me how, Ladaya. Surely we need everyone focused on this right now. I can fix people’s love lives once we’ve defeated them!”
“Valtina, I appreciate your offer. But it’s important that we take advantage of each spirit’s strengths. We have others who are more fitted to destroying evil, and you are too valuable in your area for us to risk you! But be aware, the wraiths can see you. Remember, their sole purpose is to steal souls… As you are nothing but a soul, you’d be an easy job for them. But, as usual, should you encounter one, help will appear.”
“That’s ridiculous, Ladaya,” Valtina argued. “Don’t the ‘qualified’ spirits have more important things to do than rescue me? Tell me how to take them out myself,” she insisted.
Ladaya sighed. “Really, Valtina, I don’t want you anywhere near them. There are rules for a reason, and you are no exception. And I believe that’s one of the things you’re in Middle World to work on? Following DIRECTIONS?” Ladaya reminded her sharply. Valtina sighed. It was true that in all of her lifetimes, she’d had a bit of a problem following the rules. Even really important rules she’d ignore, just for the sake of ignoring them. The Supreme Ruler in The Afterlife felt she needed some more practice in listening to authority before she moved on.
“I’m sorry, Ladaya. You’re right,” Valtina conceded. “What are my instructions? What’s my next mission? The faster I get started, the faster I can move on to the next one, right?” She smiled.
Ladaya softened. “Well, as I told you, humans are spreading the evil almost as quickly as the monsters. Morgonda has sent these humans helpers, in the form of tricksters. They make sure the humans’ plans fall into place, and that the plans of those around them fall apart. I’m afraid they’ve been at work since long before we knew of The Dark Side’s plans. The couple I’m sending you to next has been affected by a trickster for five years. They’re a mismatched couple, you see, put together by their fathers as a part of a master business plan. The fathers sold their souls to a demon years ago, in exchange for success in their law firm. One man pressured his son to follow in his footsteps… the other did the same to his daughter. It seemed only natural to the two men that their children should marry, and keep the fortune within the two families. Claudia, the wife, fell in love with a man she met as an undergrad. Albert was smart and handsome, but seeking a teaching degree, which Claudia’s father thought beneath his daughter. Sebastian, the husband, hasn’t met his soul-mate yet. They were supposed to get together three years ago. So far, she hasn’t encountered evil yet, and is still waiting for him.
“The trickster attached to Claudia and Sebastian’s fathers put many obstacles in Albert’s way, making it seem as if his relationship with Claudia was a lost cause. The trickster also made sure that Sebastian was in the right place at the right time to comfort Claudia after Albert disappeared. Then, the trickster inspired lust between the two. As soon as their fathers realized they were sleeping together, they insisted upon a wedding. The trickster was still doing his job, and inspiring lust between the couple. He’s been dealt with, and now we need you to break up Sebastian and Claudia, and reunite them with their soul-mates,” Ladaya finished.
“Consider it done, Ladaya,” Valtina promised. “I’ll return soon. I pray I come back to good news.”
“That makes two of us.” Ladaya smiled sadly.
The white fog enveloped Valtina and transported her to Claudia and Sebastian’s townhouse. Valtina arrived early on a Saturday afternoon, and found the couple in separate rooms of the house. Claudia sat in the living room, absentmindedly watching a week’s worth of recorded television. Valtina entered her mind for a moment. “What in the world has come over me?” Claudia thought. “He’s my husband. I MARRIED him for Christ sake. Why am I suddenly looking at him like he’s my brother? What am I going to do?”
Valtina felt sorry for Claudia. She didn’t realize that she’d been under the influence of a trickster. All she knew was that suddenly, she wasn’t attracted to her husband anymore. Valtina could read that Claudia still loved Sebastian very much, but not in a sexual way. The woman was fighting anxiety over what she would do the next time Sebastian propositioned her. “I just can’t do it,” she kept thinking to herself over and over again. “But why can’t I just do it?” Valtina wanted to take the anxiety from Claudia, but felt it may be best to let it work to her advantage. She left the woman in the living room and glided through the townhouse to find Sebastian.
Valtina found him sitting in his study, attempting to focus on depositions for his upcoming trial. Like his wife, he was distracted by thoughts and feelings he didn’t understand. Valtina entered his mind. “It’s just a phase,” he was assuring himself. “All married couples go through stuff like this. It will pass. We’ve always had such a hot sex life. We were bound to hit a dry spell at some point.” But Valtina could tell that he didn’t believe his own reassurances. He was now no more attracted to Claudia than she was to him.
Valtina thought this may be her easiest job yet. With the trickster gone, the couple was sure to part on their own. She wondered why Ladaya hadn’t waited until the couple had already split. It seemed all there was for her to do was to sit back and wait until the couple parted. Then she could match them with their soul-mates. Valtina returned to the living room, sat on the couch, and watched television with Claudia for the rest of the day.
Much to Valtina’s surprise, the couple carried on as usual on Saturday night and Sunday. They slept curled together in bed, they got up early and attended morning mass, and they dined at the same restaurant they always visited for Sunday brunch. It wasn’t until later Sunday afternoon, when Claudia received a phone call from her father that things started to change. Valtina entered her mind, hoping to hear both sides of the conversation. But instead of being able to hear Claudia’s father’s words, all Valtina heard was the fear and terror in Claudia’s mind. “I have to get over this… I have to find a way to make it work with Sebastian… Daddy will never understand… I don’t think I could take the lectures from him if I ended things. What would happen to the firm?” Valtina left Claudia’s mind… she’d heard all she needed to know. She entered Sebastian’s mind and heard similar thoughts about both of their fathers. Valtina realized then why she’d been sent so soon… neither member of the couple would risk their fathers’ wrath without some serious inspiration.
Valtina consulted her trusty leather satchel, looking for tools to aid her in her mission. The contents of the satchel changed with every mission. This time she found a college yearbook, a flyer for an art show, and a coupon for free admittance to a local club. Valtina’s powers told her that the yearbook and the coupon should be left for Claudia, while the flyer would inspire Sebastian. She spilled a large box in Claudia’s closet and placed the yearbook on top of the pile. Then, Valtina placed the flyer in Sebastian’s briefcase… the coupon she would hold on to for now.
As Valtina had hoped, Claudia found the yearbook when she went to put away her shoes and lay out clothes for the next day. Valtina felt a sadness wash over Claudia, who quickly hid the book beneath her robe. She poked her head into Sebastian’s study on her way to the couple’s library.