Authors: Whitaker Ringwald
The most powerful weapon on earth is the
human soul on fire.
've always wanted to ride in a limousine. Movie stars get to ride in them all the time. And high school kids rent them for prom. This was a pretty nice one. It had a row of black leather seats that stretched along the windows and wrapped around the back end like the letter
. There was a minibar with crystal glasses and a refrigerator. Last year, our neighbors rented a limo for their daughter and she and her friends drove down our road with their heads sticking out the sunroof. They looked like they were having fun. I wanted to do that. I wanted to stick out my head.
But then I'd crawl right out onto the roof and
make my escape, because this limo ride was the opposite of fun.
I'd been hurrying down the steps of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, running as fast as I could because I was supposed to meet my cousins and this new friend of ours named Pyrrha. I'd just finished deactivating the museum's security system so that my cousins could steal an urn. We were supposed to meet at Tyler's car. It's not like I do that sort of thing every day so I was pretty nervous. I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure no guards were following me. And I didn't hear any police sirens so that was a good sign. As soon as I got to the car, I was going to check the phone to see if anyone had sent any texts. Ethan gave me his phone to borrow, so I'd have a way to communicate during our heist. But when I neared the end of the steps, there was this crazy man standing there. “Hello, Jacqueline,” he said.
I skidded to a stop. If he'd been a total stranger, I would have wondered why, on such a hot day, he was wearing a long black coat. But he wasn't a stranger. His name was Ricardo. And I knew why his hand was in his pocket. He was hiding a weapon. Not a gun. Something way worse.
We stared at each other. His eyes were dark and empty. I don't know how to explain it but it was like looking into a robot's eyes. There was no twinkle, no rageânothing. And he barely blinked. I was trying to decide if I should start running again, when a limousine pulled up to the curb behind him. “Come with me or you know what will happen,” he told me, his expression dead calm.
I looked around for Ethan, Tyler, and Pyrrha. They weren't standing by our car. They weren't hurrying down the steps. That meant they were still inside the museum, still trying to steal the urn. And if this guy found out about the urn, we'd be in huge trouble.
He turned away for a moment, to open the limo's back door. That gave me just enough time to silence Ethan's phone and tuck it beneath my T-shirt, into the waistband of my shorts. I'd borrowed Ethan's phone because I didn't have one of my own, which is a sore spot with me. What twelve-year-old doesn't have a phone? Seriously!
Ricardo motioned for me to get into the limo.
“What if I don't go?” I threatened. “What if I start screaming for help?”
“Why would you do such a useless thing?” He
patted his pocket. “You know what will happen.”
I shot darts at him with my glare. I knew, without a doubt, that another urn was tucked inside his pocket. Even though I'd never seen this particular urn in person, I'd heard all about it. It was called the urn of Faith, and if Ricardo opened it, a magical windstorm would burst out. The wind would be so strong it would break tree branches and knock people over. Cyclists would fly off their bikes, cars would crash, windows would break. Then the magic would reach out like a million cold fingers and yank faith from the souls of anyone who happened to be standing in its path.
Losing faith might not sound like a big deal. There are times when we all give up, because we're disappointed, or because something terrible happened. We might stop believing in ourselves or in a higher power. But that's only a percentage of the faith we carry around with us every single day. Even if we feel that we have nothing left, our faith can be reignited. It can grow. It's like the seasons, or like the tide, coming and going, moving in and out. But the urn takes every single drop. It sucks the soul totally dry. There's nothing to ignite. Nothing to water or fertilize. And once the urn has
done its damage, its victims search desperately for something to believe in. Anything. Anyone.
They turn to Ricardo. And they put their faith in him. They become his followers. His servants.
I wasn't going to let that happen to me, or to Ethan or Tyler. Or our new friend, Pyrrha. Or to anyone who had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So I got into the limo. Never, never, never get into a car with a stranger, Mom always said. But these circumstances were different. I knew this guy, sorta. And besides, what else could I do? We hadn't come up with a backup plan.
Ricardo got in and sat in the seat across from me. He closed the door, then the limo started to move. I took a sharp breath. Had I made the wrong decision?
I couldn't see the driver because of a tinted plate of glass that separated the front seat from the back of the limo. To my surprise, we didn't drive very far. In fact, we drove into the art museum's parking lot and sat, idling. I narrowed my eyes. What was he waiting for? Was he going to try to capture my cousins, too? I had to warn them. I pressed my fingers against the window. Ethan and Tyler still
hadn't come out of the museum. Nor had Pyrrha. I glanced at Ricardo's pocket.
As far as I knew, there were three magical urnsâthe urn of Faith, the urn of Love, and the urn of Hope. I'd only seen the urn of Hope. I'd carried it around. I'd even slept with it in my hotel bed. For a while, I'd been its protector. I remember how warm it had felt in my hands, like a living creature. I'd been able to sense when it was nearby. I could hear it calling me. But as I sat in the limo, I didn't sense the urn of Faith. That didn't surprise me. I'd never acted as its protector so I guess we had no bond. But as Ricardo settled into his seat, his coat pocket suddenly looked flat. Too flat to be holding anything. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Let me see the urn.”
Ricardo took off his fedora and set it on his lap. He tucked his long black hair behind his ears, then looked at me with a blank expression. “How can I show it to you? It is not here.”
“What?” I cried.
“Did you think I carried it with me at all times?” He shook his head with disgust. “A weapon of such magnificence should always be kept in a safe place. And brought out only when needed.”
He'd tricked me. I felt so stupid. I should have
demanded to see it when we were on the museum steps. I punched the door button. The window buttons. Nothing opened. Did this limo have child-protection locks? I always hated those things! I pounded my feet on the floor, yelling at the driver. “Hey! There's a kidnapped girl back here!” I pounded my fists on the windows. “Help! Help!” People walked down the sidewalk but no one turned and looked at the limo. Had it been soundproofed? I thought about the phone, still hidden in my waistband. It was too risky. If Ricardo saw it, he'd take it away. That phone might be my best chance for escape.
Why had I let him trick me? I was furious!
“Calm down,” he told me, his voice as cold as steel. His fingers twitched, as if there was electricity running through them. He pulled a phone from the inner pocket of his coat and made a call. I stopped thrashing and watched, gripping the edge of my seat. “Hello, Tyler Hoche. Are you ready to turn over the urn of Hope?” He'd called my cousin.
“Don't give it to him!” I shouted.
Even though the phone was pressed to Ricardo's ear, I could hear Tyler's muffled voice call my name.
“That is correct,” Ricardo replied. “Jacqueline is with me. I will keep her unless you are willing to make a trade.”
Then a girl's voice shot out of the speaker so loud, Ricardo winced. “Do not hurt her! Do you hear me, Father? Do not injure Jacqueline Malone.”
For a moment, Ricardo's expression softened. It was as if his icy mask had melted away, revealing a real, living person. “Pyrrha? Is that you? What are you doing in this world? You are forbidden to be here. You are breaking Zeus's law. You are in danger.” He actually sounded concerned. This monster who had unleashed the urn of Faith in two different banks and had hurt dozens of people actually
But wait a minute. Ricardo was Pyrrha's father? I was so shocked, I went kinda numb. That meant that he was also from the Realm of the Gods. He was
. My brain flooded with questions, but I forced myself to sit quietly and listen.
On the other end of the call, Pyrrha pleaded with her father to come home. To help her destroy the urns once and for all. “Please, Father, stop this madness. Zeus has Hope andâ”
His eyes turned cold once again. “You returned Hope?” He held the phone closer.
I could no longer hear Pyrrha. But at that moment, Ricardo's eyes flashed as red as a flame. “The gods never forgive,” he hissed. “They cannot be trusted. Why would I go back to a world where I have no power, when this world offers me wealth and glory beyond measure? Come to me, my darling daughter, and together, we will rebuild the world of the gods in our own image. Together, we shall rule this world.”
Rebuild the world of the gods? I felt like I was watching a movie. The guy was nuts!
There was another long pause as he listened to his daughter. Then his gaze rested on my sneakers. “Give up your quest, Pyrrha, and she will not be hurt.” He ended the call.
will not be hurt. He was talking about
. I tried not to flinch. I tried to look brave.
We sat there for what seemed like forever. A few minutes ago I'd believed Ricardo was a maniac, but now I knew he was some kind of
maniac who wanted to
rule this world
. How could we possibly stop him? “You're wasting your time,” I told him. I folded my arms so tightly, they started to
ache. “Pyrrha will
help you. She knows the urns have to be destroyed. She'll
be on your side.”
He said nothing. Then he rapped on the driver's window. The limo pulled out of the parking lot, then slowed again. Ricardo reached for the door. My heart skipped a beat. Was he going to let me out? I got ready to bolt.
But when the door opened, Pyrrha slipped into the backseat next to me.
“I will give up my quest, Father,” she told him. “I will help you.”
I couldn't believe it.
“Traitor,” I said right to her face.