Okay, folks, since I'm back and blogging again, I thought it was time to share a little bit of the work I've done. Below, you'll find the prologue and first chapter to Gatehouse: The Door to Justice, book 2 of the Gatehouse series. It should be fairly familiar, as there have been mostly minor tweaks, but that's the nature of editing and revising... a word here, a phrase there, adding something to make it work with later parts of the book, you know the drill. I may share further passages as I go along... although I'm planning on doing so sparingly, since I want the keep some of the surprises I have in store close to the vest!
Oh, and don't forget, you can get your copy of Gatehouse: The Door to Canellin by clicking the link to the left or at the bottom of this page. Available in paperback, or Kindle ebook. For other versions (Nook, Kobo, iPad, etc) just search the title at http://www.smashwords.com or at the Apple iBookstore!
Oh, and don't forget, you can get your copy of Gatehouse: The Door to Canellin by clicking the link to the left or at the bottom of this page. Available in paperback, or Kindle ebook. For other versions (Nook, Kobo, iPad, etc) just search the title at http://www.smashwords.com or at the Apple iBookstore!
Beamer panted with exertion as she skidded around the corner into the shadowed alcove. Without pausing, she squeezed herself between a pair of drainage pipes and huddled back into the darkness. The sound of booted feet was a cacphony on the street behind her.
She cringed as the squad rounded the corner, and held her breath as the squad leader divided his men into two groups. The man gestured silently, the light from the single streetlamp reflecting from his visored helmet. And then the men were gone, off in search of the so-called "dangerous runaway”. With a gasp of pure relief, Beamer pushed her way back into the alley and started toward the street.
Breaking curfew was stupid, and she knew it. But what choice did she have? The Conclave had her scans; she was on the grid now. She’d hidden her abilities for as long as she could, but the sixteen year examination couldn’t be avoided. Her only choice now was flight, or being sent off to the Conclave satellite for training. And she’d made the only choice she could, skipping her indoctrination meeting and going to ground.
But a ray of hope had finally come. The message had been very explicit. This was her one and only chance to escape. The rebels wanted her, and despite what most people thought, she knew that the only safety to be had lay with them. And the only chance to fight back. The only chance to get a little bit of payback for her family.
They’d taken her sister two years ago. Her abilities had been minor, they said, but it didn’t matter… metas joined the Conclave. Period. And then, just six months later, the letter came explaining that Dierdre had died in a training accident.
No apologies, no condolences. Just a note, and a reminder that Beamer must submit to her sixteen year examination to determine if she had also inherited a meta ability.
Beamer’s mind raced as she made her way through the back alleys of New Utopia. What kind of idiot would join the Conclave willingly? There were some, of course. People who thought it would be some kind of adventure to become a state-sponsored hero. People who were overjoyed to discover some hidden talent that would get them into the Conclave, get them a better life than all the normals in the world. But they were the blind ones, the ones who didn’t really understand what was going on. They were the ones who hadn’t heard the rumors…
Beamer halted and pressed herself against the wall. Had she heard a footstep off to her left? Were they narrowing the search, about to corner her? She waited for what seemed an eternity, but the sound didn’t come again. She glanced left and right, getting her bearings. Unless she was mistaken, she was about two blocks from the rendezvous.
She had to be there, and on time, or else the rebels would disappear. She’d never get a second chance. Moving away from the wall, Beamer trotted toward the end of the alley, planning a circuitous route to her meeting.
said a deep voice from above and behind her, and Beamer whirled in surprise.
“You failed to appear for your indoctrination. Stay where you are, and this will
go much easier for you.” Jessica Bemen
Beamer’s gaze rose slowly to the figure hovering above the grimy alley. Her heart beat a stuttering rhythm in her chest as she realized this was no mere Home Guard thug. It wasn’t even a simple Enforcer, bad as that would have been. As recognition dawned, she found herself unable to think, unable to control herself, as she unconsciously backed away from the hovering form. For his own part, the man calmly began to descend to ground level, a stern look on his face, his arms crossed over his chest.
“I… I won’t go,” squeaked Beamer, and was instantly ashamed of her fear. She squared her shoulders, summoning up all her courage. “I don’t want to go!”
“You have no choice,
Jessica,” said the man. His uniform fit snugly, the
leather padding tight across the chest, the shining silver buttons up one side
of the breast sparkling in the dim light. Unlike most of the Conclave, he wore
no mask. He didn’t need one. Overlord had no need to hide his true identity. Overlord
was his true identity. He kept his voice soft and level, approaching
Beamer slowly. “It’s for the best, you know. You’ll be happier once you have a
chance to think about it. And you’ll be useful, Jessica.
You’ll be important.” He held out his hand to her.
“It’s Beamer,” she replied, suddenly irritated despite her awe. She cleared her throat, straightening to her full height, and started again. “You can call me Beamer.”
As she looked around for a means of escape, she felt a thrill of confidence. She suddenly knew, deep down, that Overlord didn’t really know what she was capable of. A small smile grew as she made her decision.
“I don’t know why you came after me yourself, why you’re here and not some Enforcer. But you people killed my sister. Do you really think I’m just going to go with you?” With that, Beamer turned and leaped for the light of the nearest streetlamp, shouting, “Catch me if you can!” As soon as she crossed the threshold, her body seemed to transform, becoming a part of the light itself, and then a brilliant streak shot off toward the east like a laser.
Her escape had taken only seconds. She came to rest, kneeling, and let the glow fade away around her. She hoped that she’d been fast enough, and that she’d been able to get far enough away. She couldn’t suppress a tingling sense of triumph. She’d escaped from Overlord! He was… he was… well, he was the greatest of the Conclave, the most powerful. He was Overlord!
But even he couldn’t follow her at the speed of light, halfway around the world. There was no way he could! Rising to her feet, she began to run quickly down the street from where she’d landed, trying to judge her surroundings. She wasn’t sure where she was, but she knew it was farther than she’d ever gone before. She had landed between two buildings in a city she didn't recognize. Many of the structures looked very old fashioned and… what was the word her mother used so often? Quaint, that was it. Some of the buildings looked quaint, but there was a strange sense of ultra-modern to others. Her best guess was that she’d left New Utopia and the entire Jersey/York Conglomerate far behind. For all she knew, her panicked flight had taken her to another country, maybe even overseas! She glanced at her watch, and realized that her rendezvous was already past. She’d missed it.
It didn’t matter. She’d have to do without the rebels, at least for now. The important thing was not to be found, not to be taken away. The important thing was simply to escape.
And she’d gotten away from Overlord!
Without warning, a hand shot out of the shadows and grabbed her wrist.
“It’s no use,
said Overlord, his voice soft, almost kind. “You know you’ve got to come with
me. You can’t escape. I’ll always find you. We have to teach you how to use your
powers, and how not to. You’re going to be a hero.”
Overlord pulled her closer to him, forcing her to look into his eyes. “Be calm,” he said, forcing his way into her thoughts. “Be calm. Don’t resist.” Beamer’s struggles weakened as his eyes bored into hers. “
. When you wake, all that came
before this will have been a bad dream, and everything will finally make sense
to you.” Beamer’s struggles finally ceased, and her body went limp. Overlord
gently lifted her into his arms, stepping out into the open. Sleep, Jessica
“Skywatch,” he said, thumbing the communications toggle in his glove. “One for transport, my current coordinates. Immediate stasis upon arrival.” He laid Beamer’s limp form at his feet, and then stepped away as her body began to glow. With a shimmer, she faded from sight. “Get her registered in the system Code name…” He hesitated. “Code name Lightray. Let’s give her a fresh start.”
“Target retrieved,” said a rasping voice in Overlord’s ear. “Want me to beam you up too?”
“Negative,” Overlord replied. “I want to take a patrol lap before I head back. I haven’t put in enough live appearances lately, and I think it’s best if I’m seen every once in a while. Besides," he said, glancing at his surroundings with a smile, "I haven't been to
Europe in ages. I’ll fly up in half an hour or so. For
now, just make sure her stasis is secure, and that she’s not exposed to light.
I really don’t want to have to catch her again.” And with a quick leap,
Overlord sped off through the air, the roar of his passage rattling the windows
of Old London as he flew.
Wes wandered the woods behind his grandparents’ house, a stout limb serving as a walking stick. He felt at peace out here, wandering in the silence. He walked without a care in the world, just enjoying the day. It had surprised him how easily he had slipped back into his life. After what he’d been through, the daily monotony of school had been a welcome break.
Homework still grated on him, but it didn’t seem quite as distasteful as it once had. It had taken him only four days to catch up on his late assignments, once he got down to it. The impossible task of dealing with teachers, tests, homework, and other students had turned out to be a minor inconvenience in comparison to… well, in comparison to fighting a dragon.
He’d managed to keep up with the rest of his homework for the semester, too.
in particular had been surprised by his report on the sextant, especially when
he’d brought his own in for demonstration. What had she called it? ‘An
articulate and well-documented explanation on the art of celestial navigation.’
An A+! He still had barely squeaked by with a C+ for the class, but it was a passing
grade. Passing grades in all his classes, as a matter of fact. That alone had
been a shock to his father’s system! Mrs. Jensen
Not everything was better, of course. Three months without playing the trumpet had taken its toll. He’d been challenged twice, and dropped down all the way to fourth chair. Somehow, though, that didn’t seem like such a devastating thing. He’d practiced a lot, and was already back to his former skill level, maybe even surpassing it. He hadn't bothered challenging for position, though. It just didn't really seem all that important.
Wes looked up to see
Jack walking up the slope opposite him. Wes was amused to see his cousin with a silly
grin on his face, lost in his own thoughts.
Jack was kind of a space cadet
sometimes, but Wes had to chuckle at the look on his face. He must be excited about graduation
was eighteen, but he and Wes still had a lot in common despite their age difference. With Wes spending so much time with his
grandparents, and Jack living just
down the road, it was only natural they'd hang out. They used to get on each
others’ nerves a lot, but that had changed as Wes got older. Especially these last few weeks. Wes waved his arm in the air to get the other
“Hey, Wes,” called
Jack, working his way toward him.
what’s up?” Wes stopped and waited patiently for his cousin to struggle up the
“Grandma said you were down here. She said to tell you to get your butt back up there for dinner, it'll be ready in an hour.”
“That’s cool. What are we having?”
Wes smiled. “Sounds tasty. I’ll be up in a little while.”
“You want to go up and play some video games? I got the new Duty Calls map pack last week.”
Wes thought about it for a moment, but shook his head. “Nahh,” he said. “I think I’ll just walk around for a while. It’s nice out today.”
“Nowhere in particular,” Wes replied.
Jack seemed to have something
on his mind, but Wes figured he’d let the older boy get around to it on his
own. They walked along side by side through the dense woods in silence. It
wasn’t long, though, before Jack
“You know,” he said, “you’ve changed some lately. You used to be kind of a punk.”
Wes laughed out loud. “Yeah, I suppose I was.”
“See, that’s what I mean,” said
Jack. “You’d have thrown a fit if I said something
like that a few weeks ago.”
“I guess I’m growing up.”
“About time,” the older boy said, chuckling. “Heard you picked your grades up. Mom said you passed all your classes, even made it out of a couple of them with B’s. You haven’t gotten in any trouble lately, and I never hear about you and your dad fighting anymore.”
“Dad and I… eh, well, things have changed. We have an understanding.” Wes smiled. “Things are good between us these days.”
“Well, I’m glad,”
Jack looked uncomfortable. “I’m not trying to tick
you off or anything, or get in your business, but Mom was kind of worried about
you guys. I used to hear her and Dad talking about it a lot.”
“I know. It’s okay. Some stuff happened, and Dad and I worked a lot of things out.”
“That’s good. You know, you’re almost tolerable nowadays.”
Jack gave Wes
“Thanks,” Wes replied sarcastically, but with a good natured smile, and they continued on for a while without conversation.
As they trudged up a hill, Wes felt a peculiar sensation and came to a halt. There was a pulling in his mind, as if he were being led somewhere. It was a familiar feeling somehow, and he shivered.
"What's wrong?" asked
And then it was gone, and Wes shrugged. "Nothing. I just felt a..." He glanced around, but the feeling was gone. "I don’t know. Déjà vu, I guess." He began walking again, and
Jack again fell in beside him.
And then they crested the top of the hill, and
Jack stopped dead in his
“Um… where did that come from?” Jack looked around with a confused expression. “That wasn’t here before.”
Wes stood looking down into the hollow below, his expression grim.
“How did a house get out in the middle of the woods without us knowing?” He looked around for a moment. “Wait… where are we? This doesn’t look right.” He turned and looked back the way they’d come. “There should be another hill here. It leads up to the clearing, and then down to the pond.”
Wes let out a long sigh. “I can’t explain it. You won’t believe me. Just go on up and tell everybody I’ll be a little late for dinner.” Wes considered for a moment. “And tell my Dad to come out here. He’ll know what you’re talking about.” He turned and started toward the shack, and
Jack quickly reached out
to grab his arm.
“You know something,” he said accusingly. “What’s going on? Where are we? Where did that house come from?”
Wes jerked his arm away. “You wouldn’t understand,” he said. “Just go get my Dad. Please, just do it.” He quickly trotted into the hollow and up the rickety steps before
Jack could stop him. Jack
started to follow, but stopped in shock when the door to the old house opened
of its own accord.
“No way,” he said. “You’re not going in there! Are you crazy?” Wes ignored him and disappeared inside the house as the door clicked firmly shut.
The house shuddered slightly as it felt the boy enter.
The other boy remained outside, the one that wasn’t supposed to be there, but he didn’t leave. Only a moment after the chosen boy entered, the second rushed to the porch and began pounding on the door.
This could be a problem. The house’s intellect was limited in its understanding of human interactions, but it knew that the second boy shouldn’t be there. It’s thought processes were far different from anything a normal person could conceive, but its overriding motivation was duty and responsibility, and it had a duty to keep its confines secure. That duty could be circumvented by sentiment, of course, such as the house’s decision to return the memory of the father of the chosen boy. But in this case, there was no doubt. The second boy should not be allowed inside.
The house turned its attention to other matters. While its intelligence and sentience were unfathomable in the conventional sense, its mind was incredibly vast and powerful. It maintained the doorways and kept them free of the influence of the Unnamed. It also controlled, at the Gatekeeper’s direction, when and where the house was accessible in the real world. It had failed in these duties before, but those had been isolated incidents, and they had worked out for the best in the end.
A sense of wrongness suddenly intruded on the house’s introspection. It slid its thoughts along the lines of force that controlled the doorways, moving down the endless hallways, trying to find the irregularity. In just moments, it discovered the source of its unease.
The house reached out to the Gatekeeper in order to alert him to the situation, but something blocked it from connecting with the Gatekeeper’s mind. The Gatekeeper was occupied in conversation with the chosen boy, but that would hardly keep the house from getting his attention. It tried again. The Gatekeeper remained frustratingly oblivious.
What to do? This was different than the last incursion by the forces of the Unnamed. There was no sinister presence, no intrusion into the house itself. But the fact that the Gatekeeper was walled off from the house was disturbing.
Something must be done, or it could be disastrous. Even now, the Gatekeeper was leading the chosen boy up the stairs and into the endless hallway. Time was growing short!
Perhaps… perhaps the second boy. The boy outside, who shouldn’t be there. Perhaps…
Wes entered the foyer, and a familiar sense of wonder embraced him. The house welcomed him like a Prodigal son. He smiled in spite of himself and entered the cozy sitting room.
“Ah, you’ve arrived!” said a pleasant voice from the hall, and Wes turned to see Pomander entering. The little man smiled jovially, his cheeks rosy, reminding Wes of nothing more than a tiny Santa Claus.
“Uh… yeah, I’m here,” said Wes. “I wasn’t sure if I should come in or not. I mean, after the last time…” He sighed. “I should wait for my dad. I promised him…”
“Lad, you are the Gatehouse champion, not your father,” said Pomander with a wink. “And this time, I assure you, I am most definitely myself, and things will not be as harrowing as they were in Canellin.” He gestured toward one of the comfortable chairs. “You must begin your training, Wes, and as much as you wish it might be otherwise, that does not include your father.”
Wes sat down, unsure of himself. “He’s still my dad,” he said. “After Canellin, he and I have been doing pretty good. I just… I don’t want to screw that up.” He shrugged. “And besides, I still don’t really know everything that’s going on, or what it is I’m supposed to do.”
“My boy, that’s why you’re here,” said Pomander, taking the seat opposite Wes. “You have responsibilities that are yours alone. And I am simply doing my part to see that you are able to meet them.”
Wes looked away, uncomfortable. “I get it. So what's going on? Why are you here?”
“Because it’s time, my boy,” replied the little man. “Time to begin your education, now that we have the leisure to do so.”
Wes couldn’t help but grin. “That might not be as hard as you think,” he said, and he made a peculiar wrist-flicking gesture. A pale ball of light appeared above his open palm. “I kept the magic,” he said proudly. “I kept what the Gatehouse gave me.”
Pomander frowned, peering at Wes. “Of course you did,” he said, seeming confused. And then realization dawned, and he laughed. “Of course, of course… I still forget that you haven’t been fully instructed in the ways of the Gatehouse, or your role as Champion. The Gatehouse didn’t give you magic, my boy, it chose you because of the magic. At least in part.”
Wes’s face fell. “I… I thought it was my adjustment for Canellin. You know, ‘the Gatehouse adjusts,’ and all that.”
“When normal people go through the house, they get their adjustments, such as your father’s skill with a sword. But you’re no normal person!” Pomander winked at the boy. “You’re the champion. The Gatehouse chooses its champion based on many factors, but one thing is always true. The champion has inborn magical talent and power. The magic is, was, and always will be in you. The only adjustment the Gatehouse makes to its Champion is to give him the language of the new world.”
Wes didn’t speak for a few moments, digesting this information. “I guess I didn’t think about it much,” he said finally. “It makes sense, though. I just… I don’t know, I thought something special had happened.”
“Something special did happen, my boy,” he said. “You saved me, Canellin, and the entire Gatehouse, all in a single adventure. Without training, you managed to save a world that would otherwise have fallen to evil, and to save the House from an incursion by the forces of the Unnamed. A feat which, I must admit, has never occurred in all the history of the Gatehouse.”
Wes’s eyes narrowed. “Which I wouldn’t have been able to do without Dad.”
Pomander sighed, obviously exasperated. “You sell yourself short, lad! You must accept this, and know it fully. You are the Champion! Your father was only with you in Canellin by happenstance! However instrumental he might have been, the protection of the realms is your responsibility. You cannot rely on your father in this!”
“So even after I promised him, I’m just supposed to go off and do what this time? Wrestle trolls? Fight giants?”
“Ah, no, nothing like that at all,” replied Pomander, and he looked Wes in the eye. “It is simply time I began your training, as I intended to the night you first came here. There will be no danger. I simply want to take you to a place and show you the good that the Gatehouse Champion can accomplish. A place that has felt the benefits of such a champion. Tell me, do you like comic books?”
Wes was brought up short by the sudden change in direction.
“Um, yeah, I suppose,” he replied. “I mean, I read some comics, me and my dad both.”
“Wonderful! There’s a world waiting for you, one I think you’ll enjoy visiting. A world where a sizeable number of people have developed phenomenal powers, and use them for the betterment of humanity.”
Wes sat up straight, excited. “You’re talking about superheroes, aren’t you?” he said.
“Indeed,” replied Pomander, and he sat back with a mischievous smile.
Wes stood quickly. “What am I going there to do?”
“Sightsee,” said Pomander with a chuckle. “This is no mission fraught with peril, lad. This is a chance to experience another world without the onus of a difficult quest. This world was rescued from the clutches of Crowley, oh, fifteen years ago, relative to their frame of reference, although for me it was just a few short months before the House called to you. This will be a short, easy journey, something to enjoy!” He winked. “Something even your father couldn’t disapprove of.”
Wes sat back down. “So. Superheroes.” Wes chewed his lip. “And you’re coming with me this time?”
“Of course, lad,” the little man replied. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world! Visiting this world was to have been the beginning of your education. Canellin got in the way, but there is no reason to change that now.”
Wes chewed his lip. If his father knew he was considering going off without him… But super-heroes! This was too good a chance to pass up. “Let’s do it,” he said, grinning. “Just promise me, the next time we meet, my dad comes along. At least until he’s cool with all this.”
Pomander sighed in exasperation and shook his head. “Agreed,” he replied finally. “But whether he becomes ‘cool with it’ or not, it is your fate, and it is vital that you accept it of your own free will! You will not be forced, but you must understand the importance of your new calling!” At Wes’ reluctant nod, Pomander continued. :Come along, we must begin.” He led the way up the stairs and into the endless hallway.
“There is less of a time differential than there is in Canellin, but we should be able to spend a few hours there and be back here in mere moments. It will truly be like you never left.”
“How will we find the super-heroes?” asked Wes.
“When we arrive, we will contact a man known as the Protector. I haven’t spoken to him in years, by his reckoning, but he will remember me.” He brought them to a halt after just a short walk, but when Wes looked back down the hallway, it seemed to go on forever in either direction.
“Here we are,” said the little man. He opened the door to reveal the swirling nothingness behind it. “Are you ready?”
Wes smiled and walked forward without hesitation, entering the distorted entranceway and vanishing. Pomander smiled at the boy’s enthusiasm, and then stepped into the doorway…
And bounced off some unseen barrier, falling backward to sprawl across the floor with a startled yelp.
“Open up!” shouted
Jack. “Wes! Let me in!”
But when Jack had approached the door, it hadn’t repeated its trick of opening on its own. He’d tried the knob, but the door refused to yield. That’s when he started to get nervous. He pounded on the door wildly, but it wouldn’t budge.
Jack stepped back and thought furiously. He turned and ran down the steps and around to the side of the house to peer in a window. He froze, and then blinked and rubbed his eyes. What he was seeing made no sense. For a moment, it had seemed as if there were two rooms inside overlapping each other like a pair of superimposed images. One image was what he would expect, a tiny room filled with debris and cobwebs. The other had looked like a very large den with a fireplace and several comfy chairs. Wes had been seated in one, speaking to a small old man with a beard. But the image had only lasted for a second, and now the room was back to its cluttered and ruined version.
“Wes!” he shouted, banging on the door with a closed fist. “Come on! You’re scaring me! Let me in!”
With a click, the door opened. Jack was caught off guard, but he didn’t hesitate long. He rushed inside, his only thought to find his cousin and get away from this crazy place.
Jack rushed through the foyer and into the large sitting room, and was caught by a strange sensation. There was a sense of relief, and welcome, and then of intense urgency that was almost painful. Jack fell to his knees as information began to flow into his mind. He felt himself losing control of his own thoughts, the sudden intrusion staggering him. There was an undefinable sense of ‘otherness’ to it, as if his thoughts were no longer his own.
“I don’t… I can’t…” he gasped. “Danger?
Jack shook his head, but it refused to clear. “Danger in the hall. Tampering
with the portal. Stop them!” Crowley
Jack stood, all coherent thought driven from his head. He had to stop them! Without thinking, he rushed to the stairs and started upward.
As he reached the landing, Jack looked down the endless hallway. Off in the distance, he could see two small figures standing in front of an open door. He began to run down the hall just as one of the figures entered the doorway.
As he approached, he recognized the second figure as the small man he’d glimpsed through the window. The man stepped forward, but then recoiled from the entrance to sprawl in the floor as Jack reached his side.
“Stop!” shouted the boy. “Don’t go through!”
The little man looked up from where he lay, his eyes widening.
“Who are you? How did you get here?” The man struggled to his feet.
“Don’t go through the door!” said
Jack. “There’s a…” he searched for the words, unable
to understand how he knew what he was saying. “There’s a blockage! It’s been
tampered with!” Once those words were spoken, Jack suddenly felt the intense
urgency fade. His eyes cleared, as did his mind, and he looked down at the
little man at his feet.
“What do you mean, a blockage?” asked the man. “What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know,” said
Jack. “Who are you? Where did Wes go?”
“He…” the little man paused, and then his eyes widened in sudden comprehension. “The House let you in! Oh, no. No, no, no!” He jumped to his feet. “You said the doorway was tampered with!” He closed his eyes and seemed to concentrate for a moment. His eyes snapped open, and his expression grew panicked. “And I can’t communicate with the house!”
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about!” shouted Jack in frustration. “Where did Wes go? What’s going on?”
“He went through the doorway,” said the little man absently. “Oh, dear, this isn’t good. I’ve got to trace down whatever spell they used. I have to get through!”
Jack turned and looked at the swirling nothingness behind the doorway, and then back at the little man. His mind was still foggy, but he grasped that somehow Wes was in trouble. The little man seemed to have forgotten Jack’s presence. Jack backed away from him, too terrified to think clearly. Wes had gone through the doorway. Wes was in trouble.
Without another word, Jack turned and leaped into the swirling nothingness.
Jack stumbled as he felt solid ground beneath him again. An immense crash to his left startled him, and he whirled in that direction before catching his balance. He managed to keep his feet, but only barely. A few yards away, he saw what looked like a man made out of metal picking himself up out of a deep crater.
duck!” came Wes’s desperate shout, and Jack whirled again to see, impossibly, a
wrecked car spiraling through the air toward him. His eyes widened, and he
A weight slammed into him, and he flew off to the side just as the car came smashing down. Still unable to grasp what was happening, he turned his head to see Wes rolling off him into a tense crouch.
“Are you okay?” asked Wes, and Jack stared at him blankly for a moment.
“Y-yeah,” he said finally, slowly rising to his feet. He looked out over the scene of carnage they’d stepped into, awe replacing shock on his face. They were standing on a sidewalk near an intersection, the light poles and traffic signals hanging ruined at odd angles. Throughout the area, people were doing battle, but no kind of battle he’d ever expected to see. Men and women bounded, ran, tunneled, or flew around each other, trading vicious attacks.
“What’s going on?” asked
Jack, his eyes wide. “Who are all these people? Where
“They’re superheroes,” said Wes. “Or at least, I think they’re supposed to be.”
“How did we get here?” Jack was struggling to control his panic, but it wasn’t going very well. “For that matter, where is here?”
“Get to cover,” said Wes suddenly, grabbing his cousin by the arm. He led Jack behind a truck, where they ducked down. Wes raised himself up to peer over the hood of the vehicle at the raging fight.
“I-I-I don’t get it,” stuttered Jack. “What’s happening? Where are we?”
“We went through a doorway,” said Wes unhelpfully giving Jack an accusing glance. “We’re on another world. I told you to go home!”
“Oh, like I’m gonna’ listen to you,” said
Jack irritably. “What do you
mean, we’re on another world?”
“It’s a long story,” replied Wes. “We’re not on Earth any more. We went through a doorway to another universe. I’m supposed to be training to be the Gatehouse champion. This was supposed to be a quiet trip!”
“Oh, really?” said Wes in a harsh voice. “Does this look crazy?” He grabbed Jack by the shoulder and pulled him up to look over the hood of the truck.
Jack watched as a chubby kid, maybe eighteen or nineteen years old, sprang into motion. The boy’s speed was incredible! He ran first to the left, then veered right and around a big man in some kind of dark leather uniform. The big man tried in vain to stop the young speedster, shooting crimson bolts of energy from his outstretched palms, but the boy was too fast. He ran around in a blur, landing punches that staggered the uniformed man and seemed to infuriate him, until finally a blow connected just right, and the big man went down in a heap. The speedster skidded to a halt, looking around for an opponent, then zipped off in another direction.
And that was just one small battle. Everywhere Jack looked, men and women pummeled each other, sometimes trading blows, sometimes blasting at each other with fire or lightning or wind or even water and earth. Flying combatants swooped down on their landlocked opponents, snatching them up to carry them high into the sky and send them crashing to the ground. A huge man, his bare chest and face covered with deep scars wielded a broken light post as a club to fend off a winged flying assailant in the same dark leather as the man the speedster had felled. He swung the post wildly, but the winged man avoided the blows easily.
“This can’t be happening,” said
Jack. He began to repeat those words over and over
like a mantra.
“Snap out of it,
Jack!” said Wes, grabbing his cousin by the
shoulders. “We’ve got to do something!”
“Do something?” cried
Jack, incredulous. “Do something? What are we
supposed to do?”
“I don’t know,” replied Wes. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I don’t know who the good guys are here!”
Jack looked back over the hood of the truck, taking in the unfolding battle. The worst part of the scene was the people. Not the flying people, or the people shooting lasers out of their eyes or hands. It was the normal, everyday people who were scattered all around. Some of them were obviously dead, their bodies crushed or burned and left to lie in the streets. The casualties were horrendous! But there were others who weren’t dead, and what they were doing was hard to wrap his head around. They wandered here and there, usually not even trying to step aside as gouts of flame or hurled cars struck nearby. They just stumbled along, oblivious to the melee that was going on all around them.
And the fighting never lessened. Not a single combatant even seemed to hesitate before blasting at an opponent, even if one of those dazed onlookers was in the way.
Not everyone seemed to be oblivious to what was going on. Every once in a while, Jack would see a man or woman jump up and grab the arm of one of the dazed onlookers. Without words, the zombie-like person would be hurried off around the corner, just out of the battle zone, and then the Good Samaritan would be back, looking for another dazed bystander to steer away from the carnage.
“This isn’t how Pomander said it would be,” said Wes, turning away. “He said this place was supposed to be peaceful.” He looked over the hood of the truck again, and then grabbed Jack by the arm and yanked him upright. “We have to move!” He pulled Jack away just in time, as a blast of green energy struck the truck, which exploded in a shower of flame. Wes and
Jack dived into an alcove, rolling
as they fell.
“I’m guessing he made a mistake,” said Jack, groaning as he struggled to his feet.
“That’s an understatement,” said Wes.
Just then, Jack saw a young woman stumbling forward not far from where he and Wes hid, a crying baby in her arms. He watched in horror as she staggered between the huge, scarred man with the light post and his uniformed opponent. No one else seemed to notice her there, and she was oblivious to the danger. The scarred man raised his makeshift club for a mighty swing.
“Hey! Get out of there, lady!” Jack stepped forward, trying to get the woman’s attention, but it was no use. She stood there, dazed, as death approached. Without thinking, Jack sprang from the alcove and ran toward her. The scarred man swung his light post just as Jack collided with the woman. His weight knocked her to the ground a few feet away, the baby in her arms screaming in terror. Jack’s eyes widened momentarily as he saw the light post swinging toward him. It stuck him with bone-shattering force, and bright lights seemed to burst right behind his eyes.
screamed Wes as he saw his cousin’s body fly through the air. Jack was knocked
clear across the wide street, where he struck the side of a building with a
thundering crash. The bricks crumbled at the impact as Jack fell limply to the
sidewalk. The entire wall collapsed, falling on the boy’s body in a huge mound.
Wes sprinted from the alcove, darting in and out of the raging battle to get to his cousin. He reached the pile of rubble and began clawing at the large stones, trying to move the heavy pile of debris, but it was no use. His eyes stung as tears rolled down his cheeks. With an anguished cry, he stepped back and threw his hands into the air, calling the magic into him and using pure arcane energy to send stones and mortar flying.
He used no spell, no magic words, simply his anguish and raw mystic power. He could think of nothing beyond digging, getting to Jack, saving his cousin.
Suddenly, there was the sound of wind howling, and standing before him was a very chubby young man with choppy hair and wide eyes. The young man began to speak, but his words were so rapid Wes could hardly make them out.
“Hey,whoareyou,wheredidyoucomefrom?” said the young man. “Yougotsomecool-powersthere,youbettercomewithmebeforetheConclavecatchesyou!” He reached for Wes. “Comeon!”
The young man grabbed Wes around the waist and hoisted him over one shoulder. He began to run, and Wes did all he could just to hold on. The boy’s speed was incredible!
Before Wes could blink, the entire battle was far behind them. They moved down the streets, zigging and zagging between cars and buildings, and in moments Wes saw that they were in a deserted part of the city. Wide, low buildings of only three or four stories lined the narrow streets, maybe warehouses or manufacturing plants, but they all seemed empty. Here, the young man slowed, although he was still moving faster than any vehicle Wes had ever been in. They came to a long building, three stories high, and the young man darted inside and slowed yet again.
It was hard to judge, but Wes still thought they were doing seventy or eighty miles per hour. The young man angled them down a flight of stairs, zipping down several levels before finally skidding to a halt before a large metal door. He dropped Wes to the floor and knocked three times on the doorframe.
The door opened with a bang, and Wes was shoved roughly inside, still dazed from a journey that must have been miles yet took only seconds. The stress on his body from the extreme speed was more than he could handle. Once inside, he fell to the floor, his eyes rolling back in his head as he began to lose consciousness. Just before darkness claimed him, he heard a deep voice speak.
“Dammit, Jackrabbit, what have I told you? When you’re carrying people, you have to slow down! They can’t take the…”
And then everything was black.
Everything was black. The air was stifling, and a heavy weight covered his entire body. He tried to take a deep breath, but his nostrils filled with dust, and he went into a fit of coughing. The weight on top of him shifted in several places with his spasm. He stifled his wheezing and tried to remember what had happened.
The scarred man. The woman and the baby. And a light post.
He was still confused, but his muddled thoughts were clear enough that he knew he needed to get out of this mess.
He bunched his shoulders and pushed upward, and the weight began to shift. With a mighty heave, the rubble moved, and he stood up with surprisingly little effort. He looked down at himself, his clothes in tatters and covered with dust.
“Hey!” a raspy voice called. “Don’t move!”
A slender man approached, clad in a leather uniform similar to those worn by the combatants in the recent battle. His bore subtle differences, though; his legs and torso were protected by some kind of body armor, and his mask was some kind of winged headgear that veered down sharply at the nose like a beak and covered his mouth and chin with thin cloth. The man strode up purposefully, his hand going to his belt to withdraw a small device from among the many that hung there.
“Who are you?” he said, his rasping voice almost businesslike.
“I’m…” He was still confused, but he felt a sudden fear. With a deep gulp, he squared his shoulders and continued. “I’m Jack Forrest. Who are you?”
The man consulted the device and pressed a couple of buttons. “You’re not in the registry. Where did you come from?”
Jack opened his mouth to reply, then thought for a moment. How to explain? “Earth,” he said finally.
“Don’t be an idiot,” rasped the slender man. “Of course you’re from Earth. We’d have known if there’d been any alien incursions recently.” The man snapped shut the small device and returned it to his belt. “Never mind,” he said, pulling out what looked like a button from another pouch on his belt. He tossed the button at Jack, who flinched as it struck, but it only clung to his tattered shirt.
looked at it curiously. A small light blinked in the center of a gold disc. The
man spoke into the underside of his gloved wrist.
“Skywatch. Raptor here. Unregistered meta in sector four-twelve. Lock onto signal and transport to holding until further notice.”
“Affirmative,” replied a disembodied voice that sounded like a young girl’s, and Jack looked around, startled. A shimmering light formed around him, and his vision began to fade.
“What’s going on?” cried Jack as he began to panic. He tried to take a step forward, but he was frozen in place.
“Don’t worry about it, kid,” said Raptor in his raspy voice. “You’re gonna’ be fine.” The man turned and walked away as the light around Jack intensified. The boy struggled to move, but it was no use. As the light grew in strength, Jack’s vision blurred until everything was a wash of color, and then the world winked out for a moment. The next thing he knew, he was somewhere else. The light was gone, and his vision was back to normal, but his surroundings were completely changed.
Jack stood in a small metal room, a single heavy door of the type you’d see on a submarine on one side. The walls were smooth and shiny, and the floor was covered in some rubbery substance. There was a small cot along one wall, and a sink on the other. A metal toilet in one corner had a screen that could be pulled up for some small measure of privacy. The little room reminded him of…
It didn’t just remind him of one; there was no doubt, it was a jail. He looked around and was certain he was right.
How had he gotten here? Why was he in a jail? He couldn’t wrap his mind around the thought. He began to tremble, terror biting at him, and a scream built in his throat. Before he could stifle it, the scream escaped through his taut lips, and he found himself yelling wordlessly at the walls. He rushed to the heavy metal door and began pounding on it with his bare fists. His guttural cries echoed from the walls, almost deafening him, but he couldn’t make himself stop. Even the sound of feet approaching rapidly outside the door couldn’t stop his screams.
“Hey!” called a voice from the other side of the door, a high-pitched female voice. “Dude, you gotta’ calm down in there!” Jack jumped backward as an unnoticed slot in the door slid open, a young woman’s face appearing in the opening.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked the girl curiously, and Jack’s screams died away.
“I… I… where am I? Who are you?”
The girl regarded him, confused. “You don’t know?”
shook his head, she merely blinked. “You’ve been taken in by the Conclave,” she
said in a calming tone. “You’re lucky, too. It’s dangerous down there, and you
“Dangerous? Down where?” Jack took a step backward and sat on the metal cot. “Who are you?”
“I’m Lightray,” she replied casually. “I was on Skywatch duty when Raptor called in. Listen, it’s okay. Everything’s fine. They’ll let you out before too long, and you’ll get to start your training.”
was completely bewildered. “Training for what?”
“To use your powers,” she replied matter-of-factly. “To join the Conclave. You’re a meta, and you need us to protect you.”
“A… meta?” Jack repeated the unfamiliar word carefully. “Powers?” He looked toward the girl, and for the first time noticed the dents in the heavy metal door where his fists had pounded. The door itself was even slightly buckled.
“You didn’t know?” the girl asked brightly. “Well, aren’t you in for a surprise!” With a gleeful laugh, the girl slid shut the slot, and Jack heard her walk away.
he said again, shaking his head in disbelief.