Gerda closed her eyes and sobbed. The tears rolled down to her chin and dripped to the floor. Their splatter echoed off the walls of the hall in the deathly silence. There was no doubt in her mind that when the questions began she would answer them all. She could only hope she had an answer worthy of sparing her son.
* * *
The carriage bounced through the mist and Samantha slept soundly through the white dreaming of a doorway in a field of green. The field was ringed with trees and in the shadow of those trees were eyes. Piercing, red, and hungry.
In the dream came a howl. Samantha spun, scanning the woods. The eyes watched but did not move. The howl came again. The second time she jerked awake, heart pumping and eyes searching. The howl ended and silence filled the mist once more. The sound of the horses’ hooves could not be heard, but their nervous whinny could.
Samantha turned the mirror. Its smokiness was gone and it reflected her worried expression. She listened for the sound again. There was no howl, and for a moment she was relieved. Then it came again, slicing through the white. It was the sound of an animal closing on its prey. An animal certain of the kill.
Not daring to stick her head out the window she yelled. “Driver, we need to move faster!”
He did not respond, but instead cracked the whip. The horses did not hesitate. They burst into a run, and Samantha fell against the back of the carriage. Samantha scanned the windows, but could see nothing.
Something slammed into the carriage, knocking Samantha forward. The carriage rocked, hard, threatening to tip. Quickly, Samantha played with the lines of luck to right the speeding transport. There was a bark of rage and a shout from her left. She turned, and screamed in sorrow and rage. Running along side them was a hell beast, a gigantic cat with long fangs and blackened scaled skin. Tufts of brown fur stuck out between some of the scales, and large claws scraped the ground. Riding upon its saddle was an imp bearing the crest of Lord Tyr.
“’Ere’s my pretty! My pretty, my pretty, Morga!” The imp spotted Samantha inside and snarled at her. But, by now Samantha was more concerned with the beast. Its eyes were aware, it knew her. Intelligence in a deadly beast such as this was, well, deadly. Just as she moved to the far side of the carriage she felt her whole body tighten into a knot. She glowed orange and heard faint whispers.
She looked over at the vacant mirror. Her magic did not respond well here, but what of the mirror.
“I can…” she started but then jostled back as the carriage hit something. It was not the hell beast. “What the hell?” She looked outside and saw cracks and fissures racing along the carriage, running to catch up and stop it. From time to time the cracks would erupt in front of the carriage hoping to swallow it into the abyss below, but the carriage sped by with nothing more than a bump. “Nice driving.”
The skeleton driver tipped his hat, but quickly brought his hand back to the reigns to move across another fissure, which swung her to the left as this time he went around one. Samantha peered back at the imp and beast. They were oddly keeping pace but not attacking outright.
This is the hell beast’s doing. It must be afraid of something. What could it be… the mirror…it is the only thing…
Samantha flung herself next to the mirror and sized it up. It was rimmed in gold with sequined figures molded out of it. Precious stones littered the gold for eyes of beasts and bright stars of magic. Her hands caressed the mirror and then tightened on it, for the carriage sunk two feet down only to rise up again. An idea came to her then.
These creatures on the gold, could I… She focused her power on them, and the world’s skies changed from a pearly white to deep orange. From the sky came cries of outrage, long shrieking torrents assaulted the ears. Samantha slapped her hands to her ears but kept feeding the mirror her essence; quickly she replaced her hands on the mirror when she realized the creature was fading. Then the rubies glowed around a creature on the mirror that looked part vulture but was larger. Her fingers burned from grasping the mirror, but she would not let go.
She risked a look outside. The fissures had stopped growing ahead of them, and the skeleton had lost its top hat. The imp and the hell beast had turned their attention to the sky. With a whoosh of noise a large, scaly creature came down and swiped at the hell beast. Fire boomed from the depths of its stomach and singed the hell beast. The beast shrunk itself at the next pass of the winged creature and launched itself in the air; the imp jumped off and landed on his side and the hell beast was now the passenger, but up in the skies.
Samantha only realized then that the imp had been concentrating much too hard on something, and it was on her or the carriage. That is when the wheel to the carriage stripped, followed by the axle breaking.
She could do nothing; to do something would mean breaking her contact with the mirror and the creature she had summoned. The creature would just disappear and leave her in the lurch, literally. She did the only thing she could do, she braced herself for impact as the carriage tipped and skidded along the white flat ground in the direction of a fissure.
I hope there is friction enough in this white hell to stop us! The carriage slowed but tipped near the edge. The driver hopped out, and at first, Samantha wanted to scream at him, but then, she heard him pull on the frame of the carriage. It was attempting to help slow her down, to keep her from going over. Samantha lay in heap in the corner of the carriage, having never let go of the mirror. The carriage came to a stop. When she looked over at the window of the door that was in the ground she could see three inches of the eternal drop created by the fissure. That was close.
She looked back at the mirror to see if the rubies were still glowing, they were. She was equally amazed to see an image of the creature outside the carriage, for that was her carriage in the background of the mirror. With the skeleton gathering the two horses together and calming them down, the creature had folded its wings and was licking its scales clean, smoking blood dripped from them.
She focused on moving the image back, the mirror expanded the image. She could see nothing of the imp nor the hell beast. But, deep in the distance she saw purple clouds zigzagging with angry white streaks approaching.
“I wonder if this land was meant to ever have this much color? I wonder who is sending this…storm?” Samantha pried her hands from the mirror and saw that they were beet red from holding onto it like she had been holding hands under scalding water the entire time.
She blew on them and then decided to make her way out. Climbing from the carriage she did not expect to see the creature anymore. But, there it was cleaning itself still. It looked up at her, spread its wings to full size, and bellowed fire that shook this realm.
11/3/04 11:45am- 12:15pm
She jumped down, flattening herself on the ground. A fireball flew over her and struck the coach. It teetered once more and then tipped over the edge. The mirror glowed brighter and brighter and the ground began to smoke around it. In front of her, the great beast began to beat its wings. Powerful rushes of air blew by her, hitting her face with dirt and grit.
She shielded her eyes and pushed up. The winds grabbed at her clothing, trying to pull her over the edge. She couldn’t see he driver or the horses. The great beast lifted up off the ground letting out a piercing shriek as it climbed higher. It moved up and up, and then began to circle. Samantha looked around; there wasn’t anything that she saw to help protect her from the creature she had summoned. Her eyes happened on the mirror. It was beginning to sink into the charred ground.
In its reflection she saw the creature over her coming around to swoop down. Behind it the purple cloud was almost on top of them. She dove to the ground once more, reaching for the glowing artifact. Her fingers closed around its handle and the pain was immense. The creature’s claws missed her by inches, but the force of its wake rolled her toward the edge.
With her free hand, she scrambled for a hand hold. She found one just as the rest of her body went over the edge. Her fingers locked about a chunk of stone protruding from the ruptured ground. In her right hand the mirror continued to glow, and her fingers screamed in pain. The creature looked like it was going to dive again. Knowing she couldn’t hold on much longer, she smashed the mirror against the edge of the chasm. The mirror shattered and the glow left it. The beast cried out and jagged cuts appeared all over its body. Its wings were torn to shreds and it plummeted to the ground.
Samantha dropped the mirror, but the fingers of her right hand were too burnt to grab hold of anything. Meanwhile the fingers of her left hand were losing their grip.
* * *
“Clyde you’ve got to hurry, something’s wrong!” Billy yelled.
Clyde pressed on the accelerator more, and the car’s motor roared. Traffic increased as they approached a toll-booth. Clyde glanced over at Bill for a second before returning his eyes to the road.
“There’s no time,” Bill said his eyes clamped shut. “It has to be now.”
“What has to be now,” Lucas asked.
“Samantha needs me…us. I’m going to try something. Tanya, hold onto me.”
She reached up from her seat behind him, looking worried, and grabbed his shoulder. Billy splayed the fingers of his left hand and sliced through the air. There was a loud tearing sound and a hole appeared in the air before him. Through the hole was misty white and the sound of great leathery wings.
“Do not stop,” Billy said, “keep moving west. We’ll find you.”
Billy reached out to the hole and leaned forward. He told Tanya to hold tight, and then they were both sucked through. Clyde looked over, amazed. Billy, his seat, and Tanya were gone. Lucas glanced up out of the windshield and saw the toll-booth approaching. Clyde was still looking at where Billy had been.
“Watch out!” Lucas yelled.
Clyde looked up. They were headed for the divider separating the toll lanes. Cars were honking all around them. He jerked the wheel to the right. The car scrapped the toll basket and shattered the lowered arm before bursting through the other side.
* * *
The purple cloud erupted, and Billy and Tanya tumbled out. They plummeted through the air, Tanya still clinging to Billy’s shoulders. The mirror shone like a beacon before them, and then Samantha smashed it. From just above them the creature screamed and its controlled descent turned into a straight fall. Bill grabbed one of the shredded wings as it fell in front of them.
Together he and Tanya landed on the beast when it crashed to the ground. Billy rolled free. The creature’s blood burned holes in his clothes. He took off at a sprint headed for Samantha. He dove and slid the last few feet, cutting his chest on loose rock. With his out-stretched hand he latched on to Samantha’s wrist just as her fingers let go. Samantha’s weight threatened to pull them both over the edge.
“Tanya, help!” He called.
“I can’t!” She screamed. “The wing! The wing, it burns!”
“Hold on Sam! I’ll get you up,” shouted Bill. Somehow that is. He had wedged his feet under a crack in the pearly white ground, but could do little to bring her back over the edge. His arm ached from the strain, but his free one throbbed as he used it to brace himself. He saw his blood bleeding through the shirt sleeve.
“Don’t worry, Bill. I’m trying to go anywh- ahhh!” One of his feet had come loose and he slid closer to the edge.
He could hear her screams, and then a muffling effect occurred.
From behind him he heard the crunch of feet stepping over scattered wing and broken wood bits from the coach. A boney skeletal hand reached past him and grasped Sam by the hair. He lifted her like she weighed the same as a pillow needing to be fluffed before bed. He set her down and Bill collapsed, but only for a second. He stood haphazardly and scrambled over to the downed beast, who still billowed small acid breaths, but they had slowed.
On the far side of the beast lay Tanya. She had been under a wing with dark red blood, it was almost crimson and black, pouring onto her. The skeleton must have pulled her out before coming to Sam’s rescue. She looked scarred all over, her skin was bubbling. He looked over his shoulder, and Sam was holding her head in her hands.
“Did you need to pull the hair?”
“Am I glad to see you Samantha?” Bill had a large goofy grin beaming down at her. “You’re in trouble.” He pointed to the purple clouds that had not dissipated. “But, first I need to go help Tanya.”
He carefully circumvented the beast’s drippings. He crouched down near Tanya and bent to hear her breathing. A smile cracked her blistered lips.
“Talking hurts. Give me time, just a little while and I will be good as new. Healing is…specialty.”
On the other side of her, Samantha kneeled down.
“I finally get to meet her.” Then Tanya closed her eyes and fell asleep.
“It’s a long story and we don’t have much time to explain.” He looked up and saw the skeleton standing a distance back with two horses. Bill then looked up at the purple clouds that were beginning to rumble and darken even more. “We can talk more when we are on our way. It is not safe here. Why did you come here?”
“I…where am I?”
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have found you and Clyde will find us.”
“Clyde…is he okay?”
“Yes.” Bill arched his eyebrows at her then opened his free palm to reveal a green orb. It sparkled and rolled in a circle. “I was saving this. This land does not give up its magic easily, which is why you can not leave. It won’t let you use it; I am not much more help really. But, this is from me and has no connection to the land. This will help her.” The globe leapt from his palm and absorbed into Tanya. She looked more relaxed.
“How do you know this?”
“Part of me is groggy and awakening now. Part me walked lands like this, wandering eternally. I don’t know if it is a past, present, or future self I talk of. But, I know this: We must leave quickly. Get Skelo to bring the horses here. We’re moving out west.”
“Which way is west?” Bill stood, looked around for a second, and pointed in the opposite direction of the purple clouds. “How do you know?” He shrugged. Samantha turned and walked over to the skeleton. “C’mon Skelo we’re heading out again.”
* * *
“Okay, Clyde, what is your location.”
Clyde was still rubbing his eyes when Annie had piped in through his glasses. They were still headed down I-90 trying to figure out which direction to go. West, they knew, but how would they strike it west?
“Location? Um…to tell you the truth this stretch of road looks all the same. I did pass an airport about twenty minutes ago. Why? I thought we were on communication black out unless something bad…what happened?”
11/10/04 10:44pm- 11:12pm
“Benjamin and Sonya are not responding. They were coming your way from the North. Tony and Vanessa were about an hour ahead of them, probably an hour from your position. They’re reporting storm clouds and black cats on the roadside.”
“Damn it! Well, what’re we gonna do?”
“What? What’s wrong,” Lucas asked.
“It’s Annie, we’ve got trouble headed our way,” Clyde said.
“I need to talk to Bill,” Annie said. “Give him your glasses. There should little enough light that it wont effect you too much.”
“Bill’s not here.”
“What do you mean not here? Did he pass out again?”
“No he made a…I don’t know he cut through the air and was sucked into white space. He said he was going after Sam.”
Annie sighed and shook her head. Clyde kept moving, weaving in and out of the sparse early morning traffic. His mind raced in many directions, however, most of his concern lay with where to go to meet with Bill. On the shoulder a police car sat idling. Clyde hoped the officer was sleeping. At the speed he was going there was no doubt he would be given a hefty ticket. He did not want to tweak the strands of luck and fate. He had a feeling he was going to need all the energy he had, and soon.
They zoomed by the cruiser. As luck would have it, or wouldn’t, the officer was awake and alert. He saw Clyde coming and shifted his car to drive before the speeding care passed. After Clyde flew by, he flipped the lights and pulled out after him.
“Well how are you going to find him,” Annie asked.
“He said he’d find us,” Clyde replied. He looked up into the rear view mirror and saw the flashing lights approaching. “Crap.”
“Oh God, what now?”
“Nothing, just a little company. I’ll call you back.”
He switched off the glasses and concentrated on driving. Lucas looked back and saw the cruiser approaching. It was coming up on them fast.
“What are we going to do,” he asked.
“Don’t know yet.”
The sunlight shimmered off the roof tops of cars and highlighted the police car behind them. Lucas was staring out the back. Up ahead, all three lanes had Sunday drivers pacing the pack. Clyde honked his civic horn. Nothing changed, he noticed everybody looking back in their mirror, but they did nothing. He swerved to the shoulder and kicked up loose rocks and broken glass. An average Joe-like car would have punctured a tire going over some of the debris that was littered on the ground, but Clyde was not driving an average Joe-like car. He sped up again when he cleared the slow pokes.
“Ha!” Pounding the steering wheel, Clyde hoped that the police car would not attempt to follow him through that, for their sake. He did not believe they would make it at the high speeds. But, the flashing whipped around and actually increased speed throwing up most of the debris in its wake.
“What the…?” Clyde gassed it. He passed an Ikea one second, an AMC theater the next, and finally was seeing landscape between buildings, but no other police cars joined the other. “Hey, Lucas can you see anything…well… useful.” Clyde swerved to avoid a hubcap that took up the center lane; the cop car tore right through it. “Lucas? Lucas?”
Clyde turned quickly and spied Lucas staring out the back at the police car. He was doing nothing else but staring, like a dumbstruck child. As he pulled his eyes back to his driving, he noticed Lucas’s hand white from gripping the seat cushion.
“Lucas!! Damn it!” Clyde stomped on the brake and squealed slower. The police car tailed to the right to avoid them. Lucas’s sight kept to the police car. When they were even with Clyde, he pushed a button on the Ray Bans. The pulses of influence that were being admitted from the flashing of the light overwhelmed him and nearly made him nauseous. He spied two men sitting in the cop car, with black suits, hats, and gloves on. He knew them. Why am I not feeling the effects of this influence, it is stronger than…than anything I have ever encountered before. He gassed the car and made to his left as if he was going to ram into them. They sped up and hugged the median divider.
Clyde slammed his foot down, the tires whined in pain like a thousand drug starved addicts in the Opium Wars. He aimed at an exit. When he hit the ramp right, he accelerated again; and he did not slow for the toll.
He zoomed down a major highway, till he found his first side street to take. Then, he started taking them at random. The last thing he remembered from seeing of the police car, as they could not change direction or speeds to follow him off the tollway, was a bright flash. Not visible but to those like himself and them. There are more. Great.
“Lucas, are you okay?” Clyde pulled over onto a gravel driveway that wound around some trees. He turned the ignition off and looked to the back seat. Lucas was all sweat and white; his eyes were wide open, Clyde could nearly see the white and then the red of them. He pulled himself into the passenger seat, or what would have been the passenger seat if it had not been pulled into some other place. Placing his hand on Lucas’s forehead, he brought his hands down to close his eyelids. “Just close them. I can’t imagine they feel very well. Those lights…”
“What the hell were they?” Lucas’s voice came out raspy as if he had been screaming into a black hole, only to have no sound find anyone. “I tried to move, I did.”
“I can’t tell you what it was. I have never seen that before. If we see that car…or any others like that one, we’ll have to avoid looking at them.”
“I wanted to…to look away. I yelled at my muscles but everything betrayed me. I almost…” Lucas toppled over the seat so that he laid sideways on it. “Something told me to stop you, to do…anything to you. Kill you even. It was not me, I fought it.”
“You were fighting something I have never seen that is for sure. The entire time you were tensed. You should sleep.”
“Are we safe?”
“For now, but I don’t know for how long. I know one thing for sure now.”
“We won’t be using the tollway or highways anymore. They have those too well scouted. They are waiting like a Venus fly trap, and we nearly stumbled right into it. I am so sick of them always being one step ahead of us.” Clyde beat his fist into the driver’s seat. “Whatever we do, we have to plan it carefully.”
“Okay, you plan and I will sleep for now. My vision should stop feeling like I am on an amusement park ride at some point.” Lucas turned the other way in the seat so that his back faced Clyde.
Clyde got out of the car and walked to the road. He scanned either direction and saw no movement, cars or otherwise. He swiped at the stones that had been displaced from him coming in at the high speed. Then, he walked a ways down and looked back. Nope, can’t see the car from the road. He walked back and sat in the drivers’ seat with his feet hanging out the door.
He buzzed for Annie.
“Hey, what’s been going on? There is a high amount of luck and influence happing out there. Is that you?”
“Not this time.” Annie’s hair was pinkish, but spots of brunette kept creeping into as she talked. Clyde could tell she had been preoccupied. He told her everything that had happened.
“So Bill and Tanya are…”
“Yea, they are somewhere else and there are these traps everywhere waiting for us. Is there anything we can do to steer clear of these?”
“Let me think on it for awhile. They are pretty clever, though, I would like to know who is behind all this. Who took Sam, who infiltrated our area without us knowing? There are too many, too many not to have noticed.”
“If we find Sam, we may have those answers.”
“Right, but you said Bill will find you after he has Sam.” Clyde nodded, and a strange thought occurred to him. He could see her full body image in his glasses; could she only see his eyes?
Stick the task on hand, Clyde, this is really serious. But, it is an interesting thought, I’ll have to file it for later.
“Clyde? Clyde!” He focused back on her. “You mind was wandering and I almost lost your image. Is everything okay?”
He smiled. “For the moment-yes it is.”
“Good. As I see it, we should regroup.”
“What of the others? Have they escaped their traps?”
“I have not heard from anybody in awhile. I was starting to worry about you; you took so long to get back to me.”
“I need you to look for them. I think that we can only get the advantage again if we can get the guardians together. And I can give you the last known position of the other two pairs. Where are you now?”
“Truthfully Annie, I am somewhere west of you right now.” Her left eye narrowed and her right eyebrow arched. “I was not working on fixing our location: I was just trying to take us somewhere safe.”
“Okay, so keep heading west but you must head north as well. Tony and Vanessa were last coming from that area, from a Northern University. There is a small town built up around it.”
“They are guardians, right?”
“Yes, but not like you and Samantha. Definitely not like you since Bill has awakened.”
“What do you mean?”
“Not now, you’ll figure it out later. It has to come on its own.”
“Will you stop being so damn cryptic!”
“How’s this for not being cryptic,” said Annie as her hair turned bright pink and her eyes darkened, “Go forth keeper of the key and find your brethren.”
“What the…Annie I’m getting some shut eye, buying a map, and then going to this northern college.”
“Fine don’t believe me, but I have insights.”
“Bye.” He switched off his glasses and he was left blissfully alone again. Keeper of the Key? That is just a tale, only a gate can…wait. Billy. Damn him, when did he do that. Clyde felt all over his person. He checked his cheeks, his arms, his legs, and even his hair. Nothing seems different. How do I know she is telling me the truth? Clyde rolled his window down a crack, set up a hundred yard ward around the car (if anything came within that then he would know instantly), and got as comfortable as he could. He was asleep within seconds.
11/14/04 7:30pm 8:08pm & 8:25-8:41