ALLEN TOMBES – FIRE FROM WATER (Novella) by Richard F. Yates


Allen Tombes was ten when his older brother, Chris, was taken. Chris was sixteen then, competitive, and kind of macho. He was a superstar athlete—football, wrestling, track—and too smart for his own good. He fought with their Dad, sometimes, mostly about coming home late, drunk, while driving their Dad’s Porsche, that sort of thing, but Allen thought he was a good brother. And one morning Allen woke up and Chris was gone.

The cops said he’d probably run away. His window was open, and it didn’t look, to them, like any “foul play” had taken place, but Chris hadn’t taken any of his things with him. Not even his shoes.

The night he was taken, and Allen knew he had been taken, Allen had heard voices coming through the wall from Chris’s room. Maybe not voices, exactly, more like whispering or hissing, and one sound that was so low and terrifying that it sounded more like the Earth moving than a voice, though Allen was certain that it had been a voice.

When Allen told his Mom and Dad what he had heard, they ignored him, but he wouldn’t let it drop. He pleaded with them to believe him, and eventually they took him to a “grief counselor,” to let him “talk things through.” That “asshole,” as Allen called him when he described him to his friends, told his Mom and Dad that Allen had probably just heard Chris when he was slipping out the window with his friends, although none of Chris’s friends had disappeared the same night that he did, and according to the counselor, Allen had then “incorporated the sounds of Chris’s escape into his ‘dream-state.’” The hissing and the low voice that Allen thought he heard where part of his dream, and Allen had just latched onto the fantasy of Chris being taken because it helped him to deal with his “sense of loss.” Allen, of course, thought all of this was “total bullshit.” He knew what he had heard and he knew that Chris hadn’t run away. He had no reason to go anywhere because their life was pretty good.

Allen’s sister, Rose, took Chris’s disappearance even harder than he did. She was twelve when it happened, and she cried for, it seemed to Allen, an entire year. Now, at seventeen, she’d become all witchy-gothy. She didn’t talk to Allen much anymore, but she had mentioned on a couple of occasions, that she too knew that Chris was still alive. She said that she could sometimes “feel” that he was nearby, and the thought of her having these kinds of “feelings” gave Allen the willies.

Allen would have like to believe her, but he had his doubts. If Chris was still alive, why hadn’t he ever tried to contact them, even once, in five long years? And those voices…


In the last few years, basically since his Mom and Dad had decided that he was old enough to walk home from school by himself, Allen had spent most of his free time, and allowance, at Chaz’s Vintage, a collectibles shop on Broadway, only a few blocks from his school. It was a short walk from Bradbury High to Allen’s house, and the detour to Chaz’s only added about fifteen minutes to the walk, but the looking, that could take until dark. The owner of the shop—whose real name, Allen suspected, was probably Charles—had gotten to know Allen’s taste pretty well over the years, and he now tended to save the really good stuff that he got in behind the counter so that Allen could have first crack at it.

Allen particularly liked old movie posters, old sci-fi and fantasy novels, old horror comics, that kind of thing, but Chaz also sold vintage clothing, records, and assorted antiques. Allen was particularly taken by a display of ancient weapons, which Chaz said he couldn’t sell to him until he turned eighteen. He had three more years to wait, and then the jade handled samurai sword would be his.

Allen pushed open the door to the shop and a big, hollow bell strapped to the inner door handle clanged loudly against the glass. After a few seconds, Chaz’s grey head leaned out of the door to the back office.

“Hey, kid! What’s shakin’?” Chaz said then bopped back into the office. Allen heard him clunking around and digging through boxes over the sound of an old psychedelic tune playing through the speakers hanging from the ceiling in the corners of the main showroom. “I had too much to dream last night,” the voice sang. Allen recognized the song, but couldn’t remember who it was by.

Chaz’s showroom was actually pretty small. T-shirts and posters hung from the walls and any exposed beams near the ceiling, and his storefront window display pushed several feet into the front aisle. This week, Chaz had two mannequins wearing shiny, green pin-striped “pimp” outfits, with huge shoulder pads and big, floppy hats with foot long colored feathers sticking out of the hatbands. One of the mannequins was holding an official Flash Gordon ray gun from the 1950s, and the other was holding a Buck Rogers lunch box out like a shield to ward off the attacker’s blast. Allen always loved Chaz’s window displays.

“Wait ’til you see what I found for you this time, kiddo!” Chaz said as he hustled out of his office, past piles of unopened boxes stacked behind the counter, and around a display of vintage Pez candy dispensers. Chaz was not very tall. Allen, at fifteen, was almost nose to nose with him. He was a bit thick set, but always moving around. Allen wondered why, with that much nervous energy, he wasn’t skinnier. His face was lined with wrinkles, he usually had two or three days worth of stubble, and although Allen had never actually seen him outside, Chaz seemed to have a permanent tan.

Unfortunately, Chaz was also partial to wearing the most hideous Hawaiian shirts that he could find. Dizzying patches of colored flowers or boats or animals always flashed before Allen’s eyes in Chaz’s shop, some of them so ridiculous that they physically hurt to look at. Allen suspected them of having hypnotic powers, but couldn’t prove it. Despite his disastrous fashion sense, Chaz had always been good to him, so Allen had to forgive him.

Allen set the old Doom Patrol comic that he was flipping through back onto the counter as Chaz navigated his way through the clutter toward him. Allen couldn’t imagine how much money Chaz had to give to the Fire Marshal to overlook the obvious safety hazard that this room represented. Eventually, Chaz carved his way up to the front counter and held out a necklace on a thick leather string. He dropped the charm, about the size of a silver dollar, into Allen’s palm, and Allen was surprised at how heavy it was. The charm was a dull, reddish metal, and the back was covered in odd geometric forms that Allen didn’t recognize. Allen flipped the charm over, and on the front was a monstrous gargoyle-like face with red crystals set in the eyes.

“What d’ya think?” Chaz asked, a dark and sinister smirk on his face.

“It’s terrifying!” Allen said, smiling. He turned the charm over and then back again, studying the eyes, the blunt nose, the fangs hanging just below the lips of the mouth. “How much? I’ve got to have it!” Allen shivered, just a bit, with excitement. He was certain that Rose was going to die from jealousy when she saw it.

“For you? Sixty-five. Anybody else, three hundred.”

“Seriously? Awesome—but I didn’t bring that much today. I was only planning on buying the rest of the Lovecraft comics. But now…” Allen rolled the charm in his fingers, completely taken in by the weight, the look, the feel… He could have sworn the thing actually felt warm in his hand.

“Tell you what,” Chaz laughed, “you buy the comics today and pay me for the necklace this weekend. I know you’re good for it.”

“Seriously, dude? Oh, that is sweet!”

Chaz laughed, then said, “Just, please, don’t call me ‘dude!’”

Allen paid for his comics, slid the leather string of the charm around his neck, and waved at Chaz over his shoulder as he clanged out the door and headed toward home.


Rose wasn’t home yet when Allen got there, and his Mom said that his Dad’s law firm had an important meeting with some huge company that evening, so it was just the two of them for dinner. Allen thought about showing his new necklace to his Mom, he’d tucked it into his shirt before coming inside so he could spring it on Rose, but he was afraid his Mom would think it was too gruesome and not let him keep it. She’d become much more sensitive to the horrific since Chris disappeared. She didn’t even like Allen to read horror stories, although she’d never, technically, said he couldn’t read them, but to be safe, he usually kept his hobbies to himself.

After dinner, Allen helped with the dishes, talked with his Mom for a bit about not-much, then told her he was going upstairs to “do some homework.” Hours later, just as he was finishing a comic adaptation of Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model,” Allen heard the front door open then close. He wasn’t sure if it was Rose or his Dad coming home, and frankly he was too tired to bother going downstairs to find out. It was already after midnight, so he decided to try to get some sleep. He turned his bedside radio on just loud enough to pick out the words of the songs playing, a bedtime ritual he’d developed to help keep himself from listening for more whispering and hissing in the middle of the night, and then he fairly quickly drifted off to sleep.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been out when he woke, feeling incredibly cold—and heavy. He heard a rushing wind, and although it was late November, he noticed that his bedroom window was slowly opening—by itself.


The room was very dark, but a reddish glow was beginning to spread up the wall and toward the ceiling above his bed. He sat up and as he did, the shadows in the room shifted. His chest was very warm, and he realized that both the heat and the red light were coming from the charm around his neck. Frightened, he grabbed the leather string and started to pull.

“Don’t take it off,” a low, gruff voice said from the shadows next to the open window.

Allen felt himself go electric, his fingers and hands suddenly frozen. He knew that voice, although he hadn’t heard it for five years.

“Chris?” Allen said with a swallow.

“Shhhhh… They’re coming. Keep still and leave the amulet on. It’ll help shield you from their spells. I won’t let them get close enough to use their claws,” the voice said.

Allen couldn’t breathe. The charm burned his chest, but the voice! It was Chris, here, in his bedroom!

Allen noticed something at the window, like black ink moving through water. A shadowy arm swam through the air, wrapped around the windowsill, then a shoulder followed, and then teeth and eyes flowed into the room. It moved like smoke, a living shadow that maybe had once been a human, but had forgotten how flesh and blood was supposed to act. It swirled and sloshed through the window and into his room.

A small, blue glow appeared in the corner where Chris’s voice had come from. Silently, the glow grew longer, then blurred and slashed through the shadowy mass that had made it through the window and was now creeping towards Allen. He heard a squeal, then hissing like a punctured car tire. Teeth and claws, the only parts of the shadow that appeared to be solid, slid down the smoky body to the floor. The shadow mass dissipated quickly, and after a moment of confusion, Allen realized that his brother had destroyed whatever the thing was. Allen heard wild hissing and squealing from outside, and the figure that Allen was sure was his brother moved to the window and jumped.

“Chris!” Allen yelled. He sat for a few seconds on his bed, staring at the open window, then he heard more hissing and choked shrieks from outside.

The heat from the charm on his chest began to subside. Allen slowly got to his feet. The teeth and claws on the floor were smoking, melting into the carpet, leaving a greasy stain like dripped candle wax. Allen stepped around the remains and slid carefully up to the window, peaking out with one eye. Little wisps of smoke floated up from several spots in the lawn, but he couldn’t see any more shadow creatures—or Chris.


Allen called for Chris but got no answer. He waited, watching out the window until the last bits of tooth and claw had melted into the lawn, then he closed his window and locked it. He walked back to his bed and sat down.

“That was Chris. He’s still alive,” he said.

Allen got up and walked out of his room, down the hall to his parents’ door. He hesitated for a moment, hand on the doorknob, then turned it and went in.

“Mom,” he whispered. He saw his father on the opposite side of the bed twitch and move.

“Mom,” he said, a bit louder.

“Huh? What?” she said, opening one eye. “Allen?”

“I saw Chris,” he said.

His Mom looked at him for a moment then closed her eye again, frowning, and said, “Oh, sweetie. Go back to bed.”

“No, Mom, I really saw him! He was in my room!”

“Allen,” his Dad said in a tired, grouchy voice, “I’ve got to get up in just a few hours to go back to work.”

“But, Dad, it was really him!”

“Please, hon’,” his Mom said. “Can we talk about it in the morning?” She rolled over.

Allen stood there for a few seconds, then said good night, softly. He closed his parents’ door. Allen thought about waking Rose up to tell her, but went back to his own room instead.

He laid back down in bed and held the gargoyle charm tightly in his hands. It was still warm, but he knew now that the warmth meant safety. If it got hot again…

He kept his eyes on the window, terrified of seeing more smoke, trying to get back to sleep, but he knew it was useless. He watched as the sky slowly turned grey, then orange, and then he finally heard the alarm clock start to beep in his parents’ room.


He was tired and distracted at school the next day, sluggish and withdrawn. Several of his friends and even a couple of teachers asked him if he was feeling well. He said he was just tired, which was mostly true, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell anyone about what he’d seen. Not even Wallace, a fellow horror fan.

As soon as school was out, however, Allen practically ran to Chaz’s shop.

“Chaz!” he yelled before the doorbell had even clanged behind him. “Chaz! Where are you?”

Again, Chaz’s grey head peaked out of the doorway to the office. “Oh, hey Allen! You finish those Lovecraft books already?”

“Well, yeah, but that’s not why I’m here,” Allen said as he hopped over a pile of magazines to get behind the counter. He was almost breathless as he sped toward the office door. “Where did you get this necklace?” Allen held the charm out by its leather string, but didn’t take it off. He wouldn’t take it off, now, for anything.

Chaz’s face went pale, the usual smile dissolving into worry, an expression Allen had never seen on his friend’s face before.

“It worked, then?” Chaz asked, in a low voice. “It must have if you’re standing here.”

“Chaz, where?” Allen said as calmly as he could.

“He was right,” Chaz mumbled to himself. “Damn,” Chaz looked at the charm hanging around Allen’s neck for a few seconds, then looked Allen in the eyes.

“It’s a Druidic charm, kid. A protective spell is etched on the back, powerful stuff. Your brother sent it to me.”

Allen stared at Chaz, his mouth open slightly. Chaz looked ashamed of himself.

“Chris sent it to you?” Allen said, nearly a whisper.

“Yeah, his letter said to give it to you right away. I hoped he was just being overly cautious. I should’a known by now to trust his instincts.”

Allen stood there, stunned. He had so many questions that they jammed in his throat and none of them would come out.

Chaz stood up, patted Allen on the shoulder. We’ve got to talk, kid. Just a sec’.” Chaz stepped around Allen and walked to the door of the shop, his short, thick legs moving quickly. Chaz twisted the metal clasp on the door and the lock snapped closed, then he flipped a little sign in the window that said, “Be Back When I’m Damn Well Ready,” and walked back to the office. He pointed at a stool in the corner, with only had a few paperback books on it, and said, “You better sit. I’ve got some heavy shit to lay on you.”


“You’ve got troubles, my man. Big, bad, and nasty. Not your fault though—comes with the genes, your mother’s side, the Brewsters. I have a book on old ‘Rabbit’ Brewster, somewhere around here. He was a legend!” Chaz turned to a huge bookshelf and started scanning spines.

“Chaz! What are you talking about? Do you know where my brother is?” Allen’s eyes were wild. His hands shaking.

“What? Oh, I guess I can find the book later,” Chaz sat down in his office chair. He drummed his fingers on the arms of the chair and chewed on his bottom lip.

“Chaz—where is my brother?” Allen said, trying to sound low and cool. It almost worked.

“Right now? I don’t know. I’ve only ever seen the guy two or three times in person. He’s a bit intense—kinda scary, if you ask me. But he asked me a couple of years ago to keep an eye on you. I said I’d do my best.”

“But why? Why you? If he’s been alive all this time, why didn’t he just come home?”

“Hold kid,” Chaz interrupted. “Hold it. Let’s slow down. ‘Why me?’ Because I know things,” he winked. “I’m a merchant, I got connections. And I’m close by. Why doesn’t he come home? Because he’s busy. He’s seriously freakin’ busy. Doing what, I’m sure you’re gonna ask? That’s where things get sticky. I need you to listen carefully here because this is real important.”

Chaz stopped drumming his fingers, and his cheeks lost color. He breathed in deeply.

“People are not the only intelligent things on this planet, and I’m not talkin’ dolphins or sign-language usin’ monkeys. There’s other things here too. Lots of ‘um. They have the ability to hide themselves from most people, but every once in a while, only the Gods know why, you get some people who’re immune to their mind control shit, and they can tell. They usually know who can see and hear them, and they don’t like it.” Chaz continued to stare at Allen’s eyes, watching as comprehension dawned on his face.

“So that smokey thing in my room last night, that was one of them?”

“You saw… You can…” Chaz stood up and paced his office. “Shit. Shit. He was right.”

“It came in through my window, but Chris was there. He killed it. Then he jumped out of the window and, I think, killed more of them in the lawn.”

“Damn it…” Chaz stopped pacing and looked at Allen again. “You don’t get it, Allen. If you’ve seen one, they know! They’ll ALL know. They… You’re not safe here!”

“But Chris killed it! I’m sure it’s going to be okay. It couldn’t have told anyone that I could see it,” Allen said, but his body had gone cold, and he knew… He knew Chaz wasn’t lying. He knew that things were out there, watching, and hunting. He knew why people had always been afraid of the dark. He knew all of this, but he didn’t want to believe it.

“There was a whole group of them,” Allen said, “but Chris killed them.”

“That’s not the way it works with Shadows, Allen. They’re all linked up, like psychically. What one knows, they all know. Damn it! I gotta think.” Chaz started pacing again, chewing his nails as he walked back and forth. Allen, who had been hoping only to find out the origins of his necklace when he came into the shop, now felt very small and very cold. His heart thumped painfully against his ribs.

From outside the office door, Allen heard a sound like rushing winds. Papers fluttered, and a few small items sounded like they hit the floor, then there was silence. Chaz opened a drawer, quietly, and pulled out what looked like an ancient revolver. The sound of heavy footsteps moved outside the doorway approaching the office. Chaz raised his finger to his lips, then poked his head carefully out the office door just as a large creature stepped into Allen’s line of sight. It was the size and posture of an ape, but hairless, with reddish-brown scaly skin, and a lizard’s face. Allen gasped, covering his mouth with both hands.

“Hey! Haro! Good to see you, my man!” Chaz said, suddenly chipper again. The creature extended a huge clawed hand toward Chaz, palm up, and Chaz slapped him a low five. Chaz flipped his hand and the creature, slapped, rather carefully, back.

“Allen, this is Haro!” Chaz said. “He’s a Simmeron, one of your brother’s buddies,” he said, noting the look of horror still on Allen’s face.

“The child is here,” the creature said in a voice so low and deep that it sounded like a train rumbling far away. It was a voice that Allen remembered from a nightmare, nearly five years earlier. The creature moved out of the doorway, and Chris stepped passed him and into the office.

He was taller than Allen remembered, skinnier too. His blue eyes seemed darker, ringed by bluish circles, almost like bruises, and his usual mischievous smile was missing, replaced by a flat, emotionless expression that gave Allen the creeps. But it was Chris.

Allen stood up, looking at his brother, who seemed to be assessing him. It was obvious that he didn’t like what he was seeing. Chris had a dark blue shirt on, black jeans, and a black denim jacket. His hair was much too long and unkempt, which made the haunted look around his eyes more disturbing.

“Chaz,” Chris said, “he needs a weapon. Something solid to channel into. Send the bill to the company.”

“Chris, where have you been? Why didn’t you come home?” Allen said, anger and sadness in his voice.

“I couldn’t,” Chris said, his voice still flat. “I had to stay away to protect the family. I hoped I’d never see any of you again.”

“How can you say that?! Mom was destroyed when you disappeared! And Rose! The police even thought that Dad might have murdered you!” Years of sorrow welled up in Allen’s eyes.

“Listen, Allen, none of that matters now. Chaz, the weapon.” Allen was shocked into silence.

“Oh, yeah. He’s had his eye on a jade handled samurai blade, 17th century. Maybe part of him knew this was coming,” Chaz said.

“Will it work?” Chris asked.

“Yeah, absolutely. Few blades better.”

“Fine. Let him have it, and gather up any other charms or items that you think will protect him. Do it as quickly as possible. The company will cover anything he needs.”

Chris turned back to Allen. Tears were dropping down the boy’s cheeks, but his face was hard.

“I’m sorry it has to be this way, Allen. I really am, but right now you need to be protected until we can get you somewhere safe. It’s going to be dark in a few hours.” Chris turned to look at Chaz, who quickly fled the office. Chris turned back to Allen. “I want you to follow Haro back to the house. He’s going to look like a big dog to most people, but don’t let anyone try to pet him. He doesn’t like it. Go straight to the house and go inside. We’ve put several strong protection spells on the property that will keep anything non-human out. The spells should hold until I come for you. You are not to leave the house for any reason, do you hear me? I shouldn’t be more than a few days.”

“A few days? I have school tomorrow!”

“No. Absolutely not,” Chris said. “You have to stay inside the protective barrier. If you leave, you risk being killed, and right now we can’t afford to lose you.”

“Killed?” Allen said, quietly.

Chaz came running back to the office carrying a bag used for baseball gear.

“Here you go, kid. Sword’s inside, plus a few goodies!” He passed the bag to Allen, who looked confused, but took it.

Chris nodded at Chaz, then spotted the charm on Allen’s chest. “Good, you’re still wearing the charm,” he said. “It will warn you if anything dangerous comes near you two on the trip home. Tell Haro at once if it starts to get hot.”

“Follow me, child,” the creature rumbled and started toward the front of the shop. There was a rush of wind in the office, and Chris was gone.


The walk home was brisk and, thankfully, uneventful. Haro lurched ahead on all fours, scanning constantly in every direction, then lumbering back to Allen only to fall several paces behind. His huge shoulders looked to Allen like a giant bulldog’s, but his claws were long and knife-like, splayed out like palm fronds. Occasionally, he would lock-step with Allen for a few paces and rumble in his low, low voice, “We must hurry,” or “Quickly now,” and then race ahead again to scan for trouble.

They reached the house without incident, but part way up the walk toward the door, Haro stopped abruptly, wincing in pain, and backed away a few steps. He leaned back into a sitting position, but even sitting he was several feet taller than Allen.

“Go inside. Do not leave the house for any reason,” Haro said.

“Aren’t you coming with me?” Allen asked. The thought of losing such a powerful bodyguard left him feeling very small.

“No, I cannot. The house has been shielded by numerous spells that keep any non-human beings out. Once you are inside you will be safe until your brother comes for you.”

“Oh,” Allen said. “Spells?” he sounded doubtful.

“Just go inside, child. I will stay to guard the home from outside the protected area.”

“As will I,” a second, deep voice hissed. Allen smelled something like sour smoke, and a second lizard creature lumbered up. He was a darker red than Haro, and not as large, but still thick and brutal looking. He had several rough scars on the right side of his face.

“This is my brother, Oro,” Haro said, gesturing with his massive claw. Oro seemed to nod, slightly, and it reminded Allen of a huge tree he’d seen bending in hurricane winds on a news report once.

Allen waved awkwardly, and said, “Hi.” It felt ridiculous after he’d done it.

“Now go inside, brother of Christopher,” Haro said and fell back onto his front claws. He motioned with his head for Oro to move around to the back of the house, then Haro began marching slowly toward the opposite edge of the yard, his head moving and twisting again in all directions. Oro headed off in the other direction scanning with the same tenacity. Allen followed Haro’s movements with his eyes for a few seconds, glanced at Oro, who was already rounding the corner of the house, then let out a quiet, nervous whistle. Allen reached for the charm around his neck, found it with his fingers, and walked into his house.


“What’s with the dogs?” Allen’s sister, Rose, asked as Allen shut the front door and locked it. Her voice startled him and he jumped. “Those things are monsters!” She was leaning against the window, her black dress swaying below her, bright red lipstick shining, and thick black eyeliner surrounding her eyes.

“What!?” Allen said, suddenly feeling his throat go dry.

“They’re gigantic, even for St. Bernards! Where did they come from?” she said.

“Oh, ummm, the one followed me home from Chaz’s store. It didn’t have a collar or anything, so…”

“There’s no way we can keep them, Allen. You know Dad hates dogs.” Rose leaned over to watch Haro move to the side of the house.

“I’m not sure why, but I don’t think those…” she turned to Allen, a very strange look on her face. “Something doesn’t feel right. The whole house seems—wrong. The air’s too thick. And those dogs, they aren’t acting like dogs. Not at all…” She was staring at Allen now, who was frozen in place. His hand gripped the charm around his neck, and the bag that Chaz had given him was hanging off his shoulder.

“Allen, what’s going on here?” Rose asked. Her voice sounded thin and far away.


Allen looked at Rose, her eyes wide and darting from his face to the gargoyle charm in his fingers. Allen wondered what he should say to her, how much she would believe.

“Where’s Mom?” he said after an uncomfortably long silence.

“She’s not home. Wasn’t here when I got here. But seriously, Allen, what’s wrong? You look like you’re about to pass out.” It was the most she’d said to him in years.

Rose eyed the necklace clutched in Allen’s fingers, stepped closer to get a better look, and gently reached out to touch it. Allen jerked back. The bag on his shoulder slid off and clattered to the floor.

“Where did you get that,” Rose asked in a half whisper. Her breathing had become quick and shallow, and her face went even more pale.

“From Chaz. It’s a protection charm,” Allen said. Rose gasped.

“Protection? Protection from what?” she said.

“Chris told him to give it to me,” Allen said. He couldn’t help himself. The words wanted to come out. “He said I needed it.” Rose stumbled backwards a few paces and settled herself onto the couch. Her hands were shaking.

“Listen, Rose, there’s more…” Allen started to tell her everything, but stopped. Rose looked like she was about to cry. Allen sat down by her on the couch and grabbed her hand. Her eyes went directly to the charm and a single, dark tear slipped down her cheek.

“Protection from what?” she said, again.

Allen considered for a second, then said, “I don’t know what they are, some kind of monster or demon, I guess. They move like smoke, but they have claws and teeth. One of them came into my room last night, through the window, but Chris was there. He killed it. And there were others that were waiting outside, and he killed them, too.”

Rose looked lost. “I knew he was still alive,” she said softly, several dark lines now dripping down her cheeks.

“And those dogs outside, Chris sent them to guard the house. They—they aren’t really dogs. They’re these big lizards. Chaz called them Simmerons,” Allen said.

“Are they dangerous?” Rose asked, weakly.

“They’re tough, that’s for sure, but they can’t get any closer to the house than they are now. Someone, I don’t know who, maybe Chris, put a spell around the house to keep everything but us out.”

“God! I knew it! It felt like magic! God! I’ve got to call Krystal!” she got up and rushed to her cell phone sitting on an end-table by the door.

“Krystal?” Allen asked. “Who’s Krystal?”

“She’s the witch I’ve been studying with. The head of my coven.” Rose dialed with quick movements of her thumbs and started pacing back and forth, glancing occasionally at the window.

“You’re a witch?” Allen asked, his own face starting to look as pale as Rose’s.

“Not yet. I’m just an apprentice,” she said.


Rose held her phone to her ear with her left hand and fanned her cheeks with her right.

“Hello? Krystal?” she said, and walked quickly out of the living-room into the kitchen.

Allen could vaguely hear Rose’s voice through the wall, but it was too muffled to understand more than an occasional excited word or two. He noticed the baseball bag that Chaz had given him lying on the floor and went over to it and brought it back to the couch.

Allen unzipped the bag and saw a long, dark, wooden case with a dragon etched onto the side. He knew what that was! It had to be the jade handled samurai sword—the one he’d desired, dreamed of, for two years. Also in the bag were half a dozen large flares, an eight-inch-long knife with a bone handle in a brown leather sheath, and a red wooden box about the size of a softball, ornately decorated with thin swirls of golden metal. Allen picked up the little box and something inside buzzed, clicked, and moved. Startled, Allen dropped the box and it fell back into the bag. Next to the box, Allen noticed a business card with something written on the back in what he instantly recognized as Chaz’s messy handwriting. It was a phone number and brief message: “Call me! A.S.A.P.!!!”

Allen settled everything carefully back into the bag, except the sword case and the business card, and zipped the bag closed. He heard Rose nearly yelling in the kitchen, but still couldn’t make out what she was saying. He laid the sword case reverently on his lap and looked at the dragon etching on the side. It reminded him of a large, shaggy dog, but with wild eyes and huge, curling claws. The box was a hard wood, stained a dark brown, almost black. There were two wooden pegs, each about an inch long, slipped through interlocking rings that worked as a lock. He slid the pegs out and lifted the lid.

Inside was the sword. His sword, with the jade handle, carved in almost the same shape as the dragon on the outer casing. The blade itself was covered by a wooden sheath, painted a deep green, with ornate gold swirls and a scene of a village next to a forest. Allen lifted the sword out of the box. It was heavier than he’d imagined it would be. He eased the sheath open, exposing the blade.

And then he heard keys in the door lock. The nob turned and his mother walked in carrying a grocery bag. She took two steps, set her keys on the tall, skinny end table next to the closet, and then noticed Allen sitting on the couch.

“Oh my God, Allen! Is that a sword!?” she screeched.

“Mom!” Allen yelped and snapped the sheath closed. He jumped up and ran to her, leaving the sword on the couch, and almost knocked the groceries out of her hands.

“Yeah, I’m happy to see you, too,” she said, “but there is no way in hell I’m letting you keep that sword. Chaz must have gone crazy if he thought I was going to be okay with that. He’s going to have to give you your money back. And don’t give me that look!” She hugged Allen, briskly, set the grocery bag on the couch and took off her coat. She opened the closet, kicked her shoes inside, hung her coat up, and clicked the door closed, then went back for the groceries.

Rose walked back through the door to the kitchen. “Okay, Allen, Krystal says she’ll be here in about twenty minutes. Oh, Mom!” Rose stopped, startled by her mother’s unexpected appearance. Her mother hugged her with one arm as she sped by on the way to the kitchen door.

“I wish you’d let me know ahead of time if you’re going to have friends over for dinner. How am I supposed to feed a house full of teenage girls?” their mom said, and continued on into the kitchen.

“Can I borrow your cell phone,” Allen whispered. “I don’t want Mom picking up the other line.” Rose nodded and pulled her phone out of her pocket.

“I need it back as soon as you’re done!” she said. Allen grabbed the phone, the sword, the business card, and the equipment bag and then rushed upstairs. He noticed, as he slipped through his door and set everything on his bed, that the sun was just about to set—and darkness was on its way.


Allen dialed the number on the back of the card. It rang and rang—so many times that Allen almost hung up, but before he did the line connected.

“Who is this?” Chaz said in a quick voice that Allen found terrifying.

“It’s me, Allen! Your note said to call A.S.A.P.!”

“Oh, Allen! Jeeze! I didn’t recognize the number,” Chaz said.

“This is my sister’s phone,” Allen said.

“Okay, okay. Right. So here goes, kid. We got bad business ahead of us. Did you make it to the safe-house okay?”

“Yeah, I’m…” Allen started to say, but Chaz cut him off.

“Don’t say it! Jeeze, kid, who knows who could be listening,” Allen flushed, switched the phone to his other ear.

“Keeping you alive is going to be tougher than I thought. Anyway…” Chaz is caught with a small coughing fit. “Sorry, anyway, did you look through the bag yet? ‘Course you did, that’s how you got this number. Sorry, man. I’m packing stuff while we chat. Kinda scattered.” Chaz shuffled the phone around.

“Where are you going?” Allen asked, not liking the idea of Chaz being out of reach.

“Secrets kid, secrets. You gotta get better at keeping them. Anyway, the goodies. You saw the flares?”

“Yeah,” Allen said. He dug one out of the bag.

“Those are military grade, magnesium flares. They are super bright, but they only burn for about a minute. Use those to scare off the Shadows. It won’t kill them, but the bright light hurts them pretty good and blinds them. Might give you a chance to make a quick gettaway, if you need to. Here, just a sec!”

Allen heard Chaz set the phone down. He waited. A few seconds later, Chaz returned. “Sorry kid,” Chaz said. “I’m gettin’ the Hell outta Dodge. Probably meet up with you in a few days, though.”

“Meet up where? Where are you going?” Allen’s asked.

“Never mind right now. You see the knife in the bag? The one with the bone handle?”

“Yeah,” Allen said.

“Be careful with that. The blade is laced with a neuro-toxin. If you cut somebody with it, even just a scratch, it should paralyze them for twenty, thirty minutes or so, depending on who, or what, you cut. If you stick Haro with it, it’s just gonna piss him off.” Allen didn’t imagine that would be a pleasant sight. “But anything roughly human sized,” Chaz continued, “will be knocked out for a while.”

Allen could hear Chaz breathing hard, like he was moving fast or carrying something heavy.

“Next, the little red box. I’m proud of that one!” Chaz laughed. Allen found the ornate box and lifted it up. Again, he felt something moving inside and heard a scratching sound.

“There’s a Lightning Bug inside, a sprite,” Chaz said. “It’s name is Kitsle. When we get off the phone, set the box down and tap on it a couple of times. Not too hard. When he gets out, be very polite, and mention that you’re a friend of mine. Sprites can be pretty shy at first, and downright vicious if they don’t like you, so be nice to it.”

“How did he get through the shield spells? I thought only humans could come into the house?” Allen said.

“The box. It’s like a portable doorway linking our world to Kitlse’s. Very ancient magic,” Chaz said.

“A doorway? You mean… Could other things come through?” Allen asked. He was uncomfortable with the idea of having a doorway between worlds in his bedroom.

“Not unless Kitsle wants them to. It’s his space. I wouldn’t worry,” Chaz said laughing. “Oh, and it might help to bribe him every once in a while. He loves candy. Wouldn’t hurt to toss him a chocolate bar when you go knocking on his door.

Allen picked up the box, gingerly, and the “bug” inside continued to tick and scratch. Allen carefully set the box back on his bed.

“I can’t believe any of this,” Allen said, shaking his head.

“You mean you don’t want to. Well believe it, kid. Last thing—the sword. It was made for a special class of samurai who fought demons. The sword was designed to help demon hunters focus their mental energy, tap into sources of power that most people can’t access. Keep that sword safe—it’s going to be your lifeline!” Allen heard Chaz grunt like he was lifting something heavy, and then what sounded like a car door slam.

“Okay, kid. That’s the short course. Stay put until Chris comes for you. Don’t try to call me again unless you absolutely have to! It’s too dangerous. I’ll see you pretty soon!”

Allen said goodbye and push the “end call” button on the phone.


Allen looked at the little, ornate red box again. He swallowed and tapped gingerly on the top with his finger. The box jumped and something fluttered inside. Allen took a step back, and for a few seconds nothing else happened. Then Allen heard a soft click and one of the side panels swung open like a door, and a thin insect, about as long as Allen’s finger, peered around the edge of the box. It was silver, and reflected the room like a mirror, but with a bluish tint. The bug twitched and cocked its head looking at Allen, then it spread a pair of wings that had been folded on its back and fluttered them, sending sparks in all directions. The wings began to glow with a yellow-green light. The bug stretched all its limbs wide, like a sleeper just getting out of bed, then folded the wings against its back again, and the glow faded.

“Um, hello,” Allen said, awkwardly. He bowed just a bit, uncertain of how formal he had to be. The bug clicked and ticked a few times. Allen wondered if it was laughing. Then the bug did a little curtsey. Allen laughed, but nervously.

“My friend, Chaz, said your name is Kitsle?” It was a statement, but it sounded like a question. The bug nodded. “He also said I should introduce myself. My name is Allen. Allen Tombes. The bug curtsied again, clicked and ticked. It tilted its head, moving its nose in the air. It walked a few paces on Allen’s bed then its wings flashed out again and, glowing brightly, it sizzled into the air. It looked a bit heavy in the air, bobbing and weaving like a thick bumblebee, its body swaying under the bright wings. Allen moved back a few steps, trying to get out of Kitsle’s way, and the bug flitted over to Allen’s desk. It landing near his schoolwork and a small paper bag. Kitsle reached up toward the edge of the bag, leaped into the air, and pulled the bag over with a thin, delicate claw. The bug stepped inside the bag then backed out dragging a chocolate bar.

“Oh! You’re hungry!” Allen said. Kitsle looked at Allen then tapped the candy bar.

“Of course! Help yourself,” Allen said and laughed.

Suddenly, Kitsle’s head turned toward the window. In a cloud of sparks, the bug launched off the desk and landed on the windowsill. It paced back and forth a few times, then tapped the glass.

“What is it?” Allen asked.

Kitsle put a claw up to the glass and began writing on the window in thin, spidery letters made of pure, silver light. Kitsle spelled out: “Someone coming—Magic” The letters hovered for a second, then faded.

Allen reached for his gargoyle charm and found it. It wasn’t warm.

“Is it the Simmerons? We have friends outside guarding the house.”

Kitsle wrote: “No”

Allen shivered. He didn’t know what to do. He heard the door open and close downstairs.

Kitsle flew back to the desk and scooped up the candy bar in a pair of claws, then fluttered back to Allen’s bed. Kitsle held the candy bar up to his box, but it was clearly too large to fit inside. With one claw, the bug slashed at the candy, slicing it cleanly in half. It tossed half into the box, snatched the other half under a thin, silvery arm, then gave Allen a little wave and dove into the box. The side panel closed with a click, and although the box seemed to be made of nothing but thin wood, Allen had no doubt in his mind that nobody he knew would be able to open that box if Kitsle didn’t want them to.

Allen heard voices outside his door in the hallway, and his doorknob began to twist. Rose walked into the room followed by two girls her age, both dressed in standard goth attire: black pants, black shirts with fishnet mesh on the arms and necklines, and black leather boots with little skull buckles. One girl had dark purple hair, and the other had loose curls of deep, emerald green. Following Rose and her two friends was a tall woman, perhaps in her late twenties, maybe older, wearing a simple but elegant black dress, not too low cut at the top. Her hair was black, very straight, and fell to her shoulders. Unlike Rose and her friends, the woman wore very little makeup.

“Krystal, this is my brother, Allen, and that’s the charm I told you about. There’s something really odd about it,” Rose said. Allen’s hand involuntarily reached up and grasped his necklace.

“Hello, Allen,” the woman said, smiling brightly. “It’s good to finally meet you. Your sister is a good friend of mine. She’s told me all about you and your family.” Her voice was soft and comforting, but it made Allen feel very nervous. The charm in his fingers began to feel very warm.

“Rose tells me you’ve found an interesting necklace. May I see it?” she asked.

“It’s a protection charm,” Allen said. “I’m not supposed to take it off.”

“It’s okay, Allen. I’m not going to take it from you. I just want to look at it. Who told you it was a protection charm? They’re very rare.”

Allen felt himself moving toward the woman, his legs dragging him forward against his will. The charm began to burn against his fingers and he stopped. The woman reached toward the charm and Allen took a step backward away from her.

“You moved away?” Krystal said, looking confused. “How very curious.”

“I can’t let you have the necklace,” Allen said.

“I’m impressed. I’ve never met anyone who could resist my spell,” Krystal said, smiling brightly at Allen. “The charm must be very powerful,” her grin grew very wide and sinister.

“How did you get past the protective barrier outside?” Allen asked, his voice shaking. “It’s supposed to keep anything that isn’t human away.” The woman laughed. Allen backed further away from her. She was now between him and the bed where his bag and all his weapons lay.

“Silly little boy, do I look like some kind of monster to you?” She laughed again. “Witches are human, too, you know. I’m just a sweet lady who’s been promised god-like power if I kill a certain family. Can you guess which one?” Krystal’s evil grin returned as she reached into the sleeve of her dress and pulled out a large black blade, with a curved, jagged, edge.

“Wha—what’s going on,” Rose said sleepily, snapping out of Krystal’s spell.

“Run, Rose! She’s here to kill us!” Allen yelled.

“What are you talking about,” Rose said. She glanced at Allen, then at Krystal—and spotted the black blade in Krystal’s hand. Krystal raised the knife and dashed at Allen. Rose screamed.

And then the room exploded in light and sparks. Rose continued to scream, and Krystal stopped, her smile melting as Kitsle buzzed over to her and landed on her shoulder. Krystal twisted, trying to brush the bug off, but Kitsle held on, then fluttered his wings, wildly, sending showers of sparks into the air. Krystal staggered and dropped her knife. The bug, wings glowing brightly, stabbed a needle-like claw into Krystal’s neck and shot lightning into her body, which jerked violently, then went rigid. Her eyes rolled backward and her mouth opened as if she were about to scream, then she fell to the floor and lay still.

Kitsle fluttered over to Allen and pointed at the sword on his bed then toward the door, then the bug flashed back to his box and the panel clicked shut.

“Oh my God! Is she dead? What was that thing!?” Rose said, waving her hands frantically.

Allen leaned over the body on the floor. The eyes were still open, and swiveled to look at him.

“She’s not dead, just paralyzed,” Allen said. “We have to go.”

“Go?” Rose said. “Go where?”

Allen looked at the girls standing by Rose, then back at the witch on the floor. “I don’t know,” he said. “For right now, we need to get away from her!”


Allen grabbed his sword, Kitsle’s box, and his bag off the floor. “Just go! Out of the room!” he yelled. “We don’t know how long she’s going to be paralyzed.” Rose pushed her friends out the door. Allen followed, closing the door behind him.

“Kitsle?” he said, holding the box up to eye height. The panel clicked open and Kitsle’s sliver head poked out of the opening. “Can you block the door or electrify the doorknob or something so she can’t get out?”

The little head swiveled toward the door, looked it up and down, then nodded. It pointed a claw past Allen down the hall.

“Okay, I’ll go,” Allen said, and the bug hopped over to the doorknob. Allen saw the walls of the hallway glow bright yellow-green, as he raced after Rose and the other girls, who had already dashed down the stairs at the end of the hall.

“Allen, what was that thing?” Rose asked as he jumped down the last few steps at the bottom of the stairs.

“According to Chaz, he’s a sprite. At least I think it’s a ‘he.’ Is Kitsle a boys name?” A glittering flash flew down the stairs and landed on the box. It tapped the side panel and slipped inside.

“Oh, God,” the girl with purple hair wimpered.

“Jesus, Allen. What’s going on?” Rose asked.

“I don’t know, for sure, but I think our family is under attack,” he said. “I guess we know too much.” He put Kitsle’s box into his bag and zipped it most of the way closed, then set the bag carefully on the floor next to the couch.

“I don’t understand any of this. Why did Krystal go berserk?” Rose asked. Allen shrugged, then Rose’s eyes went wide. “Allen, where’s Mom?”

“Mom!?” he called loudly. “The kitchen still?”

Rose shoved her friends out of the way and dashed toward the kitchen. Allen followed. Rose pushed through the door.

Allen saw his Mom standing at the sink, unmoving, her hands resting on the edge of the counter. She appeared to be staring out the window over the sink.

“Mom, are you okay?” Rose said, timidly, and their mother shook, slightly. She turned to Rose and smiled.

“Hey, honey. Dinner’s not going to be ready for a bit, yet,” she said and turned away from the window. She took a timid step toward the fridge, then staggered.

“Mom!” Rose yelled, and reached out to catch her, but her mother caught herself before she fell.

“Huh,” she laughed. “Almost lost my balance. You know, it’s the damnedest thing. I thought I saw a huge dog in our backyard—then I spaced out.” She looked at the clock.

“Oh my God! Is it that late? I must have taken too long with the shopping! I haven’t even started dinner yet, and your father’s going to be home any minute! What happened to my afternoon?” She rushed over to the refrigerator and started putting ingredients on the counter for dinner.

“I think she’s okay,” Allen whispered to Rose.

“I’m going to check on Stacey and Angie,” Rose said.

“Two extra for dinner! Oh, Rose, why didn’t you tell me earlier!” their mother mumbled something to herself and set a pan full of ground beef on the stove.

Rose went out the door to the living room, leaving Allen and his Mom in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” Allen said. He was sorry for a number of things.

“Not your fault, hon’. You didn’t bring anyone extra over for dinner and not tell me. Oh, well. We’ll make do. Do you have any homework you need to get done?” she said.

“Not really,” Allen said, thinking that he didn’t know when he’d even be able to go to school again. He walked over to his mom and hugged her, then went back to the living room.

Stacey, the green haired girl, was sitting on the couch crying silently, dark lines from her mascara were drawn on her cheeks. Rose and Angie were standing by the window, talking. Allen heard a scream from upstairs. Krystal must have woken up and tried the doorknob. Allen’s chest began to burn, and he looked down at the charm around his neck. The eyes were glowing, brightly. He walked over to his bag and pulled the sword out. He felt the urge to unsheathe the blade and rush upstairs to fight, but fear got the better of him. He stared up at the ceiling where he imagined Krystal was trying to find a way out of his bedroom.

From behind the house, Allen heard a deep, savage yell, and nebulous, hissing screams. He shivered—the shadow creatures were back.

“What was that noise?” Stacey asked.

“I don’t know,” Rose said, then looked at Allen. His eyes were wide, but he didn’t answer. Telling them wouldn’t help; it would only terrify them more.

“There’s a car pulling up outside,” Angie said, looking out the front window. Allen’s father had parked in his usual space on the street, directly in front of the house. Allen rushed to the window.

His father stepped out of his car and closed the door. Almost immediately, the air around him began to swim, and Allen saw four Shadow creatures solidify in the street, mere feet from his father. His father, apparently unaware of the danger that hovered so near, took a few casual steps toward the house, whistling to himself and looking through a handful of papers.

“What are those things, Allen” Rose asked.

“What things?” Angie said. “Isn’t that your Dad?”

“Oh, God! DAD!” Allen yelled and dove for the door.

Rose watched out the window as one of the creatures floated up behind her father. It raised a dark, misty claw and thrust it through her father’s back, bloody nails suddenly bursting out of his chest.

Allen threw the door open and stepped out onto the walkway in time to see his father’s eyes go blank and his body begin to tremble all over. He fell to the ground, and a darkness, a rot, appearing first around the hole in his back, began to spread over his whole body. It grew towards his arms, legs, and head, melting his flesh, turning him into a smoky, shadowy mass, until the man who was Arthur Tombes, Allen’s father, became one of them.

There was a deep roar, like a mountain crumbling, as Haro galloped toward the smoky creatures in front of Allen’s house. His claws glowing bright red, Haro slashed in huge arcs, tearing through the Shadows, as they hissed and shrieked, then dissolved.

“You must get back in the house!” Haro bellowed, standing over a smoking pile of teeth and claws.

“My Dad…” Allen said, feeling dazed, lost.

“Now is not the time, child. More are coming. Back into the house,” Haro said this more softly, but
still with a massive rumble in his voice.

Allen backed to the door. Then, as Haro bounded for the side of the house, Allen slipped back inside.


“He’s gone,” Allen said, softly. “Dad’s gone.”

Stacey sat, panting, on the couch. Her face was slack, her eyes huge.

Rose and Angie continued watching out the window. Allen could hear Rose crying, but he was too much in shock himself to go over to her.

Angie turned to Allen, her face was a mask of confusion. She looked almost angry. “What just happened?” Angie said. “It looked like your Dad was having some kind of an attack, a seizure or something, then he fell on the ground and just…” she shook her head, “…and then he just vanished.”

“She didn’t see them,” Rose said, sniffing and wiping her dark tears from her cheeks.

“Most people can’t,” Allen said. “Dad couldn’t. He didn’t even realize he was in surrounded.”

“And what was that other thing, the monster that tore up those ghosts and then yelled at you?” Rose asked.

“That’s Haro. Chris sent him to guard the house,” Allen said. “He and his brother were disguised as dogs earlier, remember?” Allen wiped his own face with his left hand. His right still held his sword.

“Where is Chris? Why isn’t he here?” Rose said.

“I don’t know. I talked to him at Chaz’s shop, and he sent me home with Haro. He said he’d come here to get me in a few days.”

“Come get you? To take you where?” Rose asked.

Before he could answer, Stacey yelled, “What is that sound? What is that sound!?” Rose, Allen, and Angie all jumped. Stacey was staring at the ceiling.

Then Allen heard it, a chanting coming from above, growing louder every moment.

“It’s Krystal,” Rose said. “She’s up to something. I can’t make out the words. Angie, can you tell what she’s doing?”

Angie cocked her head to one side, listening to the sound, but shrugged her shoulders.

Suddenly their Mom pushed her head through the doorway from the kitchen, making everybody jump again. “Dinner’s going to be ready in just a few minutes. Better wash up. Is your father home yet? I thought I heard someone come in the front door.”

“No, he’s not home yet,” Allen said, sharing a look with Rose. He couldn’t tell her.

“Are you messing with that sword again!? I told you, it’s going back. Giving a fifteen year old a sword—what the Hell was Chaz thinking? And Rose, it sounds like you left your stereo on upstairs. Could you go turn it off?” she said, and disappeared back into the kitchen.

“Rose, what do we do about—about your stereo?” Allen asked, pointing at the ceiling.

“I don’t know. I’ve been studying with her for almost a year, and she’s always been so sweet—until she saw you.” Rose glanced at Allen’s necklace, the eyes still glowing red, and then at the sword in his hand. “This all seems so wrong,” she whispered.

There was a rumble all around the house, like a small earthquake, and the chanting from upstairs stopped. Allen walked towards the stairs. He heard a crazed cackle from above, then the sound of glass shattering.

“I think she’s out of the room,” Allen said. His throat felt too tight.

“Allen, I think the protective spell is gone,” Rose said. “I can’t feel it in the air anymore.”

“I can’t take any more of this!” Stacey yelled. She jumped off the couch, bolting for the door.

“Stacey! No!” Rose yelled.

Stacey pulled the door open, and Krystal appeared in the doorway. Her face and neck were dripping blood from several small cuts, but she was smiling a huge, evil grin again. Stacey was frozen, her mouth wide open and her hand still on the door handle. Krystal, her arm moving in a black blur, stabbed Stacey in the neck. She pulled the blade out, cocked her arm back, and then stabbed Stacey again, this time driving the blade into the girl’s chest.

Krystal shrieked with laughter as Stacey, her eyes still open, fell to the floor.

“Your protection spell is gone,” Krystal said, her voice suddenly calm and sweet again. She stepped over Stacey’s body. “They can get in now,” she said, still sweet, then her face contorted and she screamed, “And you’re all going to die!”

“Kitsle!” Allen yelled, panicking. But before the sprite appeared, Haro dove through the open front door and bashed Krystal with his huge claws. The witch was struck at chest height and flew sideways, slamming into the wall with a bone shattering crash. Her body fell to the floor in a shattered heap.

Rose and Angie both screamed.

“The house is surrounded,” Haro said. “Oro is dead. We must hold against the Shadows until your brother arrives with help. Haro whistled a strange, chirping sound, and Kitsle appeared from inside Allen’s bag. Haro clicked and popped in Kitsle’s language. Kitsle nodded and disappeared in a bright flash.

“I’ve sent the sprite to tell Christopher that our situation is urgent,” Haro said.

Allen heard glass breaking in the kitchen and his mother screamed.

“Mom!” he yelled and dashed toward the kitchen door, pulling his sword out of its sheath. The blade pulsed with a blue-green light.

He burst through the doorway and saw a shadow creature hovering over his mother, who was laying on the floor in a quickly growing pool of blood. Her face and chest were torn open, and blood dripped from the creature’s misty claws, but his mother’s body didn’t change into a Shadow as his father’s had.

Allen raised his sword and rushed at the creature as the Shadow’s dark, misty face turned toward him and smiled.

“The boy,” it hissed and seemed to laugh as Allen slashed through its head and chest with his glowing blade. The creature howled and gurgled, and then the Shadow’s flesh began to dissolve. The teeth and claws fell to the floor.


Haro charged through the kitchen door, tearing it from its hinges and tossing the useless wood out of his way. Rose followed immediately after and saw her mother lying on the floor. She knelt down next to her.

“Allen—she’s…” Rose sobbed.

Haro saw the remains of the Shadow melting on the floor and said, “You have destroyed a Shadow. I’m impressed, child.”

“Why didn’t she become one? Like Dad did?” Allen asked. Rose laid across her mother’s chest, weeping.

“Her family line,” Haro said, “cannot be corrupted by the Shadows’ influence. She was not able to see them, not everyone from her bloodline can, but all three of her children are able to, apparently. That is why the Shadows want your family destroyed, fewer eyes to watch them,” Haro said this with a snarl. It was obvious that he had nothing but contempt for the Shadow creatures.

Angie slowly stepped into the kitchen. “Oh my God,” she said, seeing Rose laying on her Mom. Her hands shook as she raised them up to her cheeks.

“More are approaching,” Haro said. His claws began to glow red again. Allen’s charm as well. The backdoor of the kitchen crashed open and the air swam with dark mist. Haro roared and dove into the swirling cloud, slashing with his great claws. Allen saw more shadowy forms pouring through the broken window over the sink and heard hissing from the living room. He raised his sword and stepped between his sister and the Shadows coming through the kitchen window and moving towards them.

“Leave us alone!” Allen yelled, fury in his face, and as he yelled, the blue-green light coming from his sword darkened. His eyes, even the whites, began to burn with a midnight blue flame, and his sword flashed with licks of dark blue fire. Rose looked up from her mother just as the room was filled with a blinding blue flash and a huge, bird-like form, its body smoldering with blue flame, appeared in front of Allen. The bird tore through the air, screaming with a deafening call, engulfing and destroying every Shadow in its path, blowing completely through the kitchen wall, and streaking outside into the backyard. Allen watched it incinerate the creatures massing there, then it flashed back through the kitchen, flew by Angie catching her hair on fire, and off into the living room, consuming the Shadows that had entered from the front as well. It then burst out the front door into the yard.

Rose, seeing Angie’s hair ablaze, leaped up and grabbed a hand towel off the counter to smother the flames. All of this happened so quickly that Allen was still holding his sword up as Rose patted the last of the sizzle from Angie’s hair. Allen, his saucer-sized eyes still burning dark blue, turned to Rose, as the fire bird came flying back around the house and reentered the kitchen through the hole where the wall used to be. Rose was holding Angie, and the two were pressed up against the cupboards, shielding themselves from the bird. Allen lowered his sword, and the blue flames slowly left his eyes. The smoldering bird hovered on wings of fire, staring at Allen.

Haro tore into the kitchen from the back of the house, then stopped abruptly. He saw the fire bird and his mouth opened in shock. He stuttered something to himself, then bowed, deeply, to the bird.

“My Lord,” Haro said, his eyes on the floor, “we thank you for your protection.”

The bird remained fixated on Allen for several seconds, then let out a sharp call, flapped its burning wings and vanished in a blue flash of flame.

The kitchen was silent for a few seconds, then Haro stood back up, although he was still hunched, gorilla-like, and shuffled over to Allen.

“Child, you are full of surprises,” he said, growling in a low way that Allen guessed was probably a laugh.


There was a rush of wind, and Chris appeared just outside the destroyed kitchen with half a dozen men in black uniforms, weapons drawn. Chris surveyed the charred remains of the wall and the final wisps of smoke from the melting teeth and claws left by the fallen Shadows. He stepped cautiously into the kitchen.

“What happened here?” Chris asked. He spotted his mother’s body on the floor, and his face fell. “Dad?” he asked in a low voice. Allen shook his head.

Haro, placing a claw carefully on Allen’s shoulder, said, “The child called a Fire Spirit. It destroyed the Shadows and, I’m afraid, a large portion of the house.”

Chris looked wide eyed for a second, his gaze shifting from Haro to Allen to the remains of the kitchen wall. He shook his head, “That’s impossible. How could he have summoned anything?”

“Impossible or not, the Shadows were devoured by a Fire Spirit. I saw it myself,” Haro said. “It was particularly interested in your brother.” Allen looked blank, and shifted the weight of his sword from his left hand to his right.

“Chris? I can’t… Where have you been?” Rose released Angie, who was still cowering near the cupboards, and took a few steps closer to her older brother.

“We don’t have time for that right now,” Chris said, his head apparently clearing. “We have to get you guys out of here. I need you both to go gather the essentials, clothes, weapons, just the bare minimum. We’ve got to leave before the Shadows regroup and come back. They’ve never attacked in numbers like this before. It’s completely unheard of.”

“The other child must come with us as well,” Haro said, gesturing toward Angie.

“No. It’s going to be hard enough to keep these two alive without dragging another helpless kid along,” Chris said.

“She’ll be dead within the hour if we leave her. The Shadows have seen her,” Haro said.

“Chris, please,” Rose pleaded. “She’s my best friend. We can’t just leave her here.”

He looked at Rose, then at the body of his mother lying on the floor. “Fine,” Chris said. “Where’s Oro?”

“He fell,” Haro said, his rumbling voice even lower than usual.

Chris looked shocked. “I’m sorry, Haro,” he said, looking at his own brother. Allen was wiping tears from his face as he stood over his mother’s body.

“He fought well and died nobly,” Haro said. “But now we must protect those who are still alive.”

“You’re right, we’ve got to get moving. Rose, Allen, get your things, and be quick! Your ride will be here in just a few minutes. We’ve got to be gone before the Shadows return.” Allen watched his brother walk out the of the kitchen to speak to the men standing in the yard. Rose grabbed Angie by the arm and led her through the doorway back into the living room and directed her to the couch. Angie sat down, shaking badly.

Allen followed the girls into the living room and found the sheath for his sword. He slid the blade back into it. The house smelled like burnt wood, mixed with a putrid scent that Allen guessed was the remains of dozens of Shadows all melting at once.

“Shouldn’t we call an ambulance or the police?” Allen asked.

Haro lumbered heavily into the living room and said, “It’s unnecessary. Brashley has a cleaning squad who will come after we’ve made sure you and your sister are safe. They will take care of the house. The neighborhood is currently under a sleeping spell to help keep the civilians safe. The damage, and the—remains,” he said, softly, “will not be discovered until morning. However, I am certain that the Shadows will return to make another assault within the hour. Now that they’ve discovered what you are capable of, they will certainly send more than mere drones with their next attempt.”

“More than… There are other—things?” Allen said, his voice quavering.

“You ask this as you are looking at me?” Haro said. “Yes, they have many other things under their control. Now, please child, gather your belongings.”

Allen nodded and headed for the stairs. As Rose hugged Angie and made to follow Allen, they both heard arguing and shouting from the back yard through the open kitchen. One of the voices was undoubtedly Chris. They looked at each other. Rose’s face was lined with tear stains. Allen’s was grim and exhausted. Rose hugged her brother tightly, then they both walked up the stairs.

As Allen reached for the doorknob to his room he hesitated. He pulled Kitsle’s box from his bag and tapped. The bug flew out and hovered at Allen’s eye line.

“Um, hi,” Allen said, and bowed his head a bit. He wasn’t sure if he had to be formal every time he asked for help. Kitsle clicked a laugh.

Allen smiled, uncomfortably. “Is the, uh, door safe for me to open?” he asked.

Kitsle buzzed near the knob for a second, then looked at Allen and nodded.

“Thanks,” Allen said. “And thanks for saving us earlier.”

Kitsle clicked another laugh. He buzzed up to the door and wrote in letters of light, “Good kid” then flew back into his box.

Allen opened his door and went in as the letters faded away. The window was smashed so the room had become very cold. “Why didn’t she just open it?” Allen said to himself, shaking his head. On the floor, drawn in what Allen guessed was the witch’s own blood, was a circle about three feet across with several strange symbols drawn inside of it. Allen assumed that this was all part of the spell that the witch had used to brake the protective barrier around his house and let the Shadows come in. Because of Krystal, his mother had died.

Seeing the circle filled him with rage, but it also made him nervous. He didn’t know how much magic was still alive inside of that circle, so he skirted around the edge of it as he grabbed some clothes, his journal, a few paperback books, and his emergency cash, which he kept in the bottom drawer of his dresser in an old Creature from the Black Lagoon lunch box. He stuffed all of these things into a backpack and slipped it onto his shoulder, grabbed his weapons bag off his bed, and headed for the door. He looked back. He was leaving this room, possibly for the very last time, but seeing the bloody symbols on the floor and feeling the chill from the broken window disgusted him. The witch’s presence had tainted this space, and it no longer felt like home. He closed the door and felt better, then walked toward Rose’s room to see if she was ready to leave.

When he reached his sister’s room it was already empty. Further down the hall he found Rose and Angie in the bathroom, scrubbing the dark streaks off their faces. Allen noticed a backpack, stuffed completely full at their feet.

“But why can’t I just go home?” Angie said, scrubbing her cheeks with a washcloth.

“Didn’t you hear that lizard guy?” Rose said.

“Haro,” Allen interrupted. “His name’s Haro.”

Both of the girls jumped.

“God! Don’t do that!” Angie said, as she went back to smearing a layer of foundation on her cheeks.

“Anyway,” Rose continued, “Haro said that if you get separated from us, those ghost monsters will try to kill you.” Rose grabbed a tube of eyeliner from a little purple makeup bag on the counter and started redrawing the black lines around her eyes.

“But I didn’t see any monsters—except the giant lizard and that giant bird that caught my hair on fire,” Angie said, mussing the singed hair on her head and making a pouty-face. “I just want to go home, and when I wake up in the morning, this will all have been some terrible dream. Stacey won’t be…” she started to say, but stopped, tearing up again.

Rose dropped the eyeliner back into her makeup bag and hugged her friend. Angie took a deep breath and nodded, then went back to fixing her makeup. Rose grabbed a tube of bright red lipstick, and Allen shook his head.

“We’re about to die, and you’re putting on lipstick?” he said.

“I wanna leave a pretty corpse behind, don’t I?” Rose answered, smacking her lips. She tossed the lipstick into the makeup bag, unzipped her backpack, and stuffed the makeup kit in with the jumble of mostly black clothing.

“We’d better hurry,” Allen said and headed for the stairs.


When Allen reached the bottom of the stairs he saw Chris, Haro, and two very tall, blonde men in black uniforms in the living room, standing near where Haro had bashed the witch into the wall. Her body still lay unmoving beneath the splintered wood paneling, and a rush of anger surged through Allen again. He found it difficult to swallow and knew that his cheeks had flushed red. He tried to calm himself as he walked over to Chris.

“The girls are almost ready,” Allen said as he realized everyone was looking at him.

“Good. Our ride will be here any second,” Chris said.

“A giant dragon, I suppose, to fly us all to a cave in the mountains,” Allen said. Both of the men laughed. Allen smiled at himself, and realized how exhausted he’d become.

“No, not a dragon,” Chris said. “We’ll have to settle for a van. A dragon would be pretty conspicuous flying around in a city.”

“The city?” Allen said, genuinely surprised, “but I thought…”

“I know what you thought. Monsters and magic, like one of your fantasy novels,” Chris said. Allen thought he almost saw a smile on Chris’s lips.

“She’s here,” Haro rumbled.

Allen looked through the still open front door and watched a large black van pull up and park behind his father’s car. A thin woman, not much taller than Allen, with shoulder length red hair, hopped out of the van and trotted to the house. She was wearing the same black uniform as the two blonde men. She walked directly to Chris, said something quietly to him, glanced at Allen, then headed back to the van.

“I’ll get Rose,” Chris said. “Haro, I want you to go to Eddings and tell him everything that’s happened here tonight. See if he’ll be willing to help now that the Shadows have mobilized and begun to move.”

“No,” Haro said, in his lowest, deepest voice. “I will stay with the children until they reach Brashley.”

Chris’s face flushed red. “You were here. You can give numbers, explain how Allen called the Fire Spirit. We’re going to need Eddings’ help now that the Shadows are attacking in the open.”

“I will not leave the children until they are under Shayla’s protection. Send the twins to Eddings. They can relay the story to him,” Haro said.

Chris ground his teeth together, looking at the floor. “Fine,” he said. “Tell the twins everything that you can remember.”

“Who’s Eddings?” Allen asked.

“He’s a Collector, like Chaz,” Chris said, “but more—influential.” Allen looked confused. “Just go get in the van with Haro. I’ll get Rose,” he said and ran up the stairs.


Allen left his house and walked toward the van, followed closely by Haro, who was again walking on all fours and scanning in every direction with his head. The red haired woman was standing by the side of the van speaking, in hushed tones, to someone on her cell phone. She ended her call as Allen approached and slipped the phone into one of the many pockets of her uniform.

“I’m Shea,” she said to Allen, extending her hand for him to shake. Her grip was stronger than he’d imagined it would be.

“I’m Chris’s brother, Allen,” Allen said, then felt himself blush.

“So I’ve heard,” she said, smiling.

Chris came out of the house, looking frustrated, followed by Rose, carrying her overstuffed bag, and Angie, who looked very angry.

“When do I get my phone back,” Angie said, in a testy voice.

“You don’t. You’re going into hiding. If you send someone a text message, the Shadows can trace the call, find you, and kill you. No phones!” Chris shook his head, then opened the sliding door of the van and told everyone to climb in.

Shea drove and Chris sat in the front passenger seat. The dash was aglow with screens and buttons, almost like a cockpit. Allen, Rose, and Angie sat on a second row bench seat. Behind them, Haro was stuffed uncomfortably in a space entirely too narrow for his gorilla sized body. On the walls of the van on either side of Haro were numerous cabinets with metal-mesh covers through which Allen could see guns, swords, battle axes, and other devices, some of which Allen suspected were grenades or bombs of some kind.

Rose was clearly shaken by the items on the walls of the van, and after a few minutes of shocked silence finally said, “Chris, what is this? Are you in some kind of—military group?” She didn’t use the word “terrorist,” but Allen could feel it there, just behind his sister’s eyes. Shea laughed.

“No, not really. We’re a security service. We protect people from—serious threats,” Chris said as he glanced out the side window of the van, then at the screens on the dashboard. Allen noticed that the screens showed images from just about every angle around the van. He assumed Chris was making sure they weren’t being followed.

Rose, who obviously wasn’t happy with Chris’s answer, said, “Okay, you’re a security agency. And…” She rolled her fingers in the air for Chris to continue.

“And right now, you’re both being recruited to work for the company,” he said. He turned then and locked eyes with his sister. For a second his face was cool, almost cold, then a look of sorrow came into his features. “Just like I was,” he said.

“But I’ve got school!” Allen said, close to panicking. “I’m only fifteen. I can’t work yet.”

“Chris, are we being kidnapped?” Rose said, eyes widening.

“You’re not being kidnapped, you’re being rescued,” Chris said, his gaze moving back to the windows and monitors.

“The company employs some of the best private tutors in the country,” Shea said. She tried to sound reassuring, but all three of the kids in the back seat looked terrified. Looking in the rear view mirror and seeing the looks on her passengers’ faces, Shea said, “Haro, can you explain what Brashley is and does? They look like they’re about to flip out.” Allen, Rose, and Angie all turned themselves around so they could see Haro better.

Haro grunted his assent, then said, “Your family line is one of several who, for a hundred generations, have served as warriors and protectors for their people. The Brashley Corporation, which is currently headed by Shayla McCleggan, Shea’s mother, is the public face of an ancient organization that has secretly served humankind since the days of the Egyptians, though then they were considered warrior priests and sorcerers by most who knew of their existence. You two have a special gift, the ability to see through the glamour cast by many non-human creatures, and at least one of you has the ability, as your brother does, to physically interact with and even destroy those creatures that are a threat to your kind. It’s possible, Rose, that you too may have the ability. The trait runs very strongly in your mother’s line.”

“But, Chris, why didn’t you ever come back and tell us any of this? Why did they take you away?” Allen asked.

“Because I saw a Shadow, one night on my way home from a date. I saw it, and it saw me. I ran home, thinking I was going crazy, and then Haro showed up at the house, tracking a group of Shadows that had come there to kill me.”

Haro laughed, low and soft.

“I was terrified,” Chris continued, “of him more than them. But then he spoke, and told me he could protect me. He told me that I had to go with him, that the Shadows would return for me and would kill everyone in the house to get to me. He said the Shadows knew I could see them, and that as long as I remained at the house, the rest of you would be in danger as well.”

“Then it was your voice I heard the night Chris disappeared,” Allen said, looking back at Haro.

“I recognized your scent, as well,” Haro rumbled.

“Most weapons, knives or bullets, won’t hurt the Shadows,” Shea said. “They are only partially in this world. They come here to feed on the life-force of humans and other animals, and when someone is killed by them, they are drawn into the Shadow’s world and become one of them. But people like your family, and mine, are immune. You can’t be made into one of them.”

“And some of us,” Chris said, “when we are trained how to, can channel our life force into an object, a sword or club, and we can use that energy to destroy them.”

“Your brother has already discovered that ability,” Haro said.

Chris turned to look at Haro, his face confused.

“He has already destroyed a Shadow with his sword,” Haro said, laughing again.

Chris cracked a smile, a real, solid smile. “My brother’s a natural? We’ll see about that!” he said, and laughed.

“Plus, the calling,” Shea said. “I still can’t believe it.” Rose shook her head, and Chris’s smile instantly faded.

“I don’t understand,” Rose said. “What’s does ‘calling’ mean?”

“Somehow, your brother was able to summon a Fire Spirit to help him in his time of desperate need. A Fire Spirit is an incredibly powerful creature that exists on a separate plane of existence from this world. They are worshiped as gods by most cultures that have any knowledge of them,” Haro said.

“It’s an ability that very few humans have. Even after decades of study, most magic users find it impossible to do more than speak across different worlds, let alone draw creatures to our world,” Shea said.

“But you were somehow able to call a Fire Spirit. Few humans have ever done that. Even fewer have survived such an encounter,” Haro said, laughing again in a deep, rolling rumble.

“I didn’t mean to,” Allen said. The entire conversation filled him with a deep fear.

“This is all great,” Rose said, angrily. Allen realized she was glaring at Chris,”But it still doesn’t explain why you couldn’t contact us and tell us you were okay.”

“My mother, Shayla,” Shea said, “does not allow people who we recruit to contact their families or loved ones. The company exists today because it has remained a secret. If Chris or any other agent shares information about our company, our whereabouts or plans, that information could be extracted by the forces we’re trying to keep at bay.”

“What does that mean?” Rose said, her face flashing red.

“It means,” Chris said, “that you or anyone you speak to could be captured and tortured, your minds read a hundred different ways, until our enemies learned enough from you to try and take us down. Then they’d dump your body, or feed it to one of their pets, and come after us.” His breathing was becoming shallow and quick. Rose looked ferocious, glaring at him.

“Besides that,” Shea said, trying with her tone to defuse the situation, “my mother had hoped that Chris would be the only member of your family who could see through glamour. Your mother couldn’t, and the likelihood of more than one family member in a generation having the gift…”

“Curse,” Chris interrupted.

“Or curse…” Shea agreed. “The likelihood of more than one in a generation is pretty small. The last member of your line to be able to see, before Chris, was your great uncle, Siegfried, who, according to official records, died in World War II at twenty-one years of age. In actuality, he worked for us until 1990. He was my favorite instructor when I was a teenager,” she said, fondly. “Brilliant, but a real hard-ass!”

“I knew him well,” Haro said. “He was a good man. One of my best finds.”

“You were the one that saved him? When the Nazi’s…” Shea said. Haro laughed and nodded.

“I still don’t get this,” Rose said. “Are you saying that your ‘company’ takes kids and trains them to fight monsters?”

Haro laughed again, “Not all monsters, child.”

“You saw them, didn’t you?” Allen asked.

“Yes, I saw them,” Rose said, “but why the big secret? Why hide it all?”

“Because most humans are at their mercy,” Haro said, his voice soft and low. “Human-kind has been bred to be helpless and simple, and there have always been creatures who have fed off your species, that use glamours and other magic to confuse and control your kind. But there have also always been those beings who chose to protect humans. Your mythologies are full of stories of gods and titans and other creatures who have aided humanity, and many of those stories are based on actual events and real creatures, though they become exaggerated over time. It is believed by some scholars of magic that family lines such as yours are the results of gifts given by these benevolent protectors, or from interbreeding with non-human creatures who are more resistant to glamour. These humans have usually become the warrior-priests or heroes of their times, unless they were discovered and destroyed by humanity’s enemies first.”

Everyone seemed lost in their own thoughts. Angie’s face, in particular, had gone completely white.


As Shea guided the van onto the freeway, heading south, but before the Brashley cleaning crew had arrived, a lone figure appeared inside the doorway of Allen’s home—the Shadow Lord. It had been a century since he last came to Earth, but he was interested in these recent events.
Though he swam in the same dark mist as his drones, the Shadow Lord was more substantial. Hints of an ancient, pale body loomed beneath the swirling darkness. The creature’s red eyes glowed brightly in the quiet darkness of the scorched living room. He floated over to the body of the dark haired witch, who lay shattered on the floor near the dented wall.

“You failed me,” the creature said in a hiss, “but you can still be of use.” It reached out with a hand made of dark mist, which solidified into snow white flesh. It brushed its fingers along the woman’s cheek. Her body shuddered.

She gasped and her eyes popped open, revealing orbs of pure black.

“Oooohhhh, God!” she said, then shrieked in agony.

“Yessssss,” the Shadow Lord hissed. It laughed a sickly, wheezing laugh. “Remember this pain. Remember the torment that these children have caused you! Savor it, and then return it to them.”

The witch continued to scream as her shattered bones melted within her flesh, her blood turned to steam within her veins. The Shadow Lord laughed again, then his misty body surrounded her and they both vanished.


The drive to the city took almost an hour, even with Shea jamming the accelerator to the floor for most of the trip. Eventually, they arrived at a gigantic office building that dominated one corner of a major street right in the heart of downtown, and took up almost half the block. The building was raised above the sidewalk by a dozen stone steps that led to a pair of large wooden doors. Allen thought it looked like the entrance to an ancient castle. Shea passed the front of the building where a sign read “Brashley, Inc.,” and turned down a side street, drove to a loading ramp that dove sharply downward toward a huge, yellow, metal door. She opened the window of the van and slid up to an intercom on a metal post. She flashed her I.D. badge at the machine and a red laser scanned it. A voice crackled, “Go ahead,” from a speaker on the intercom, and the metal door jerked to life and began to lift. The sound reminded Allen of a large roller-coaster he’d ridden on with his Mom on their last summer vacation. A lump formed in his throat, but he looked toward Haro and swallowed his sadness. Haro had lost his brother tonight, but he wasn’t crying about it. Allen wondered if Simmerons could cry.

The garage door was much thicker than Allen thought it would be, and as it opened Shea pulled the van through, passing by a booth from which a pair of guards eyed them suspiciously. Further inside the parking garage, Allen spotted a number of vans similar to the one they were riding in, several expensive looking luxury cars, and a massive assault vehicle with a gun mounted on the top. He noticed a dozen or more guards walking around, all in black uniforms, all apparently human, and most carrying guns. The huge metal garage door clanked closed with a deep thunk.

Shea parked the van in an empty slot in the middle of a row of vans.

“Chris, Cheever wants to see you right away, to get a briefing on the incident. Haro, if you have time, your first-hand account would be invaluable,” Shea said. “I’ll take the kids to get cleaned up and grab a bite to eat.”

“I’m not hungry,” Rose said. Her voice was still full of venom and her face was hard.

“You have to keep your strength up, Rose, even if you’re not hungry,” Chris said as he got out of the van and slammed the door shut.

Rose looked like she was about to argue, but Angie said, “I could eat. I haven’t had anything since coffee this morning.”

Rose scowled at her, but her face softened when she realized how shaken her friend was.

“Eat, don’t eat, that’s up to you guys,” Shea said, smiling. “Either way, you should grab your things while I go check in with Thompson.” She hopped out of the van and headed toward the guard booth.

“I’m not very hungry, either,” Allen said. His stomach felt empty but too upset to accept food.

Chris and Haro headed across the parking garage toward an elevator bay that was flanked by guards. Haro, instead of moving on all fours, shuffled gorilla-like. Allen thought Haro looked uncomfortable, but that he was trying to appear less beastly to the guards. As he watched, one of the guards moved back a few steps at Haro’s approach. Allen laughed to himself; he couldn’t help it. Although he had also been terrified when he first met Haro in Chaz’s office, he found the thought of having him around so comforting now that seeing an adult back away in fear seemed ridiculous.

As Shea spoke with an older, dark haired man near the security booth, Allen, Rose, and Angie waited near the van, holding their belongings. Shea finished talking quickly and walked briskly back toward the van. Her movements, Allen thought, were confident and purposeful. He couldn’t guess the woman’s age, but he thought she was probably younger than his mom. Younger than his mom had been…

“Why don’t I show you to your dorms and let you get settled in, then you can decide if you want to take a shower or eat,” Shea said in a bright, friendly voice.

“Sure,” Allen said. He wasn’t sure why, but he like this woman. He adjusted his backpack and grabbed his weapons bag, then he, Rose, and Angie followed Shea to the elevators.


Allen assumed that the garage would be the lowest level of the building, but saw buttons for at least half a dozen floors below, as well as buttons going up to the 41st floor, on the golden keypad just inside the doors. Shea hit the button for the twelfth floor and the door slid closed. Allen felt his knees and stomach go swirly as the elevator rocketed upward.

“So, what are we going to do, now that we’re here?” Rose said. She looked exhausted.

“You’re going to learn how to protect yourselves, and probably how to use your abilities to protect other people, too. We’ll give you the best chance of being able to survive, now that the Shadows know about you and know that you can see them. And, now that they’ve seen what your brother can do, they’re going to be especially eager to get their hands on him.”

“You mean, claws,” Allen said.

Shea smiled. Allen blushed. The elevator stopped, smoothly but quickly, sending Allen’s stomach into his throat, and the doors opened.

Shea led the trio through a large room with couches, a large unlit fireplace, bookshelves lining the walls, and a few people, mostly young, lounging about and chatting. It reminded Allen of a large hunting lodge or rustic hotel, although he’d never actually been in either of those types of buildings. They walked through this commons area and down a wide corridor, like a hallway at an empty school. They passed perhaps a dozen doors, then Shea found the one she was looking for and opened it.

“Okay, girls, here’s your room,” Shea said. It was slightly larger than Allen’s bedroom, with two beds, a metal cabinet that probably served as a closet, two desks with little lamps on them, and a pair of laptop computers. The walls were a dark grey, the bedspreads and pillows were grey, and the circular light fixture on the ceiling was grey. Allen imagined that most military barracks probably had more personality. There were no windows, no rugs on the floor, and certainly no “comforts of home.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Angie said. “There’s no mirror! How am I supposed to do my makeup?”

Shea laughed, and both the girls glared at her. “We’ll go shopping tomorrow, after you’ve had a chance to settle in. Nobody knew you were coming until a few hours ago. We didn’t really have much time to decorate.”

The girls, somewhat reluctantly, walked into the room. If she hadn’t been so exhausted, Allen was sure that Rose would have refused. Shea left the door open and led Allen down the hall a few more doors.

“Here’s yours,” she said, smiling.

Allen’s room was smaller, only one bed and a desk, but it was painted the same stark grey as the other room. He walked in and looked around, then set his backpack and weapons bag on the bed.

“I’ll be back in a little bit to check on you, see if you’re hungry yet,” Shea said. Allen nodded, and she left. He went to the door and closed it, then he walked back to the bed, collapsed, and started to cry.


Allen woke with a start. At first, he had no idea where he was, but slowly and uncomfortably the horrible memories returned. His parents were gone. His house was partially destroyed and abandoned. He felt seasick, unsettled, as if everything was part of some terrible dream. He pinched his arm to see if it hurt. It did, and he immediately felt silly.

Allen noticed that he was still dressed in the clothes from the night before. His shoes, which were lying beside the bed, were stained red from the blood that had been all over the floor in the kitchen.

There were no windows in the room so he had no idea what time it was. He scanned the grey walls for a clock, but of course found none. On the desk, he saw a bowl of soup, an apple, and an unopened can of soda. Allen decided that he must have been asleep when they brought him food, and they’d decided not to wake him.

Someone, Allen noticed, was laughing in the hallway outside his door. He sat up, grabbed his shoes off the floor and slipped them on. Then he walked over to the door and opened it, quietly. He poked his head into the hall. A few doors down, near where his sister’s room was, Allen saw a pair of girls that he didn’t recognize talking with an old man in a dark sweater, the collar of a white button-down shirt just visible at the neckline. The man had thick, messy, white hair, big eyebrows, and a bushy mustache that covered most of his upper lip.

“Ah, you’re awake! Excuse me, ladies, but I have to speak with our young friend over there,” the man said, smiling widely and waving goodbye to the girls. They headed off down the hall toward the common room. The man turned back to Allen, and his grin was so wide that his eyes were nearly squinked shut.

“You must be Christopher’s brother, yes?” he said, extending a hand. The fingers were covered in rings, and a blue tattoo of a large, open eye looked out from his palm. “My name is Edward Cheever, and I’m very, very pleased to meet you.”

“Allen,” Allen said, shaking the man’s hand. He seemed friendly enough, but a bit strange.

“I had the opportunity to meet your sister and her friend a little while ago, before they headed off for breakfast. Charming, charming. And, if you’re not starving to death, I was hoping we could have a tiny chat before you dive into your waffles and bacon.” Because of his constant smile, the man’s eyes never seemed to open more than a crack, but Allen could tell he was being studied by someone who was probably smarter than anyone he’d ever met, except Chaz, of course. The man had undoubtedly noticed Allen’s bloody shoes, and his gargoyle necklace, but his smile never wavered as he waited patiently for Allen to respond.

“Sure,” Allen said, though his voice was more resigned than inviting. He opened his door all the way and gestured to the chair near the desk. Cheever walked into the room, almost dancing with each step, as if he alone heard some peppy jazz tune that carried him forward as he moved. He sat in Allen’s chair, making an exaggerated show of how difficult it was to sit, then mumbled something to himself about getting old. Allen sat back down on his bed.

“I’m simply dying to ask you a few questions about last night, but—oooooo,” he said, like a ghost, then whistled. “Is that a Kieru box!?” He was looking at Allen’s bag, which was open slightly, the corner of Kitsle’s little red box just visible inside.

“First the Druidic charm,” he said waving a finger at Allen’s necklace, “and now a Kieru box. Oh, my my my…” the man said, shaking his head back and forth slowly. “We definitely have to talk. Does the box have a…” he tilted his head, “resident?”

“Oh, yeah,” Allen said. He still felt detached and lost, but he did find this man amusing. “He’s a lightning bug named Kitsle. He saved me from a witch yesterday,” Allen said, felt a bit silly, then smiled at the box. He’d been saved from a witch by a bug. Two days ago, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“A Lightning Bug!” Cheever said, his eyes opening wide for the first time. “Oh, those are lovely. I haven’t seen one in decades. Perhaps you can introduce me, later?”

Allen shrugged. “Sure,” he said.

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” Cheever clapped his hands, his rings clinking lightly together. He eyed the box one last time then straightened himself in the chair. “Now on to the more serious business. I’ve been asked by our fearless leader to attempt to discover how you were able to call a frighteningly powerful creature, without any training whatsoever. Firebirds have been worshiped as gods, you know. It’s a remarkable feat, my boy, simply remarkable!”

Allen frowned. “I don’t know how I did it,” he said. “My mother had just been…,” Allen said, and paused. He couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud, yet. “Anyway, those monsters were going to attack my sister, next. I couldn’t lose her, too. And that’s when it happened.” Allen looked down at his shoes and swallowed, hard.

“You poor thing,” Cheever said, shaking his head. “I know this must be horrible for you, but I believe I have a theory that may go some way toward explaining what happened. Your charm, was it glowing by any chance?”

Allen looked at his necklace, turned it in his fingers. “Yeah, the eyes were. It gets hot and glows when danger is close by.”

“I thought as much,” Cheever said, his eyes squinting closed again as he smiled. “And your sword, may I see it?”

Allen slipped off the bed and took the sword out of his weapons bag. He put the wooden box on the bed and opened it, lifting the sword out with two hands.

“Oh, ho ho! I see! A Shogo Gumi blade! You are shockingly well equipped, Mr. Tombes. Just look at that handle!” Cheever was practically in hysterics as Allen handed him the sword. He accepted it carefully and turned it slowly, looking at the handle, then sliding the sheath off and studying the blade.

“A remarkable piece, breathtaking,” Cheever said, making a clicking sound with his tongue and slowly shaking his head. “When you unsheathed the blade,” Cheever asked, carefully handing the sword back to Allen, “did it glow as well?”

Allen put the sword back into its box, then nodded. “It was definitely glowing when I killed the first Shadow creature.”

“The first!” Cheever said in a high squealing tone, his eyes popping open again for a few seconds. “Oh, my boy, you are certainly ahead of the game. Do you remember the color of the glow?”

“It was blue, or kinda blue-green, I guess.”

“Oh, my my,” Cheever said, cocking his head to one side and staring off for a moment at the intersection between the wall and the ceiling. “Blue-green, blue-green,” he mumbled. “Very curious.”

“But when that whole group of monsters attacked,” Allen remembered, “just before the bird showed up and burned them all, the sword changed color. It turned dark blue, like dark blue fire.”

Cheever made the clicking sound with his tongue again and shook his head. He raised a hand to his mustache and brushed it, absently, with his fingers. “You’re certain? It changed color?”

Allen nodded. He suddenly felt very cold. Something in the man’s tone had changed.

“Well, not to worry, my boy. As I mentioned, I have a working theory for the strange events of last night, and with your help, I believe I now have sufficient evidence to confirm that my theory is true,” Cheever said, clapping his hands together and rubbing them back and forth to a chorus of little clinks from the rings. “Are you at all familiar with the concept of synergy?” Cheever asked.

Allen, still feeling a chill deep in his chest, shook his head.

“Your collection,” Cheever’s hand swept the room, taking in the sword, the necklace, and Kitsle’s box, “did it come from a single source?”

“From… Do you mean, did I get it all at once?” Allen asked. Cheever nodded, a quick, excited nod. “Oh, no. I got the necklace first. Chris sent it to me, through my friend, Chaz. He owns a store back in my town.”

Aaaahhhh!” Cheever said, shaking a finger at Allen. “And the other two pieces? Also from Chaz?”

“Yeah, he gave them to me when Chris and Haro showed up at his shop.”

“Clever, clever, Charles,” Cheever said, shaking his head again. His smiled had returned, larger than ever, making his eyes disappear completely.

“What? What did he do?” Allen asked. Despite the man’s smile, Allen was worried.

“Synergy, my boy! That’s the key element here. Synergy is when different elements interact and, instead of canceling each other out, they manage instead to magnify each other’s properties. Your sword, as you may already know, was designed by a group of 17th century Demon Hunters in Japan, known as the Shogo Group. Shogo Hakume, the founder of the group, was a very famous exorcist and healer. Legendary, really. The blade was designed by his group to focus a warrior’s will and energy, allowing them to strike and kill ghosts and demons. As I said, it’s a remarkable weapon. And,” Cheever said, raising a finger, “the handle is jade, a stone carved from the living earth. Combined with the dragon etching, which is also a symbol of earth, this sword becomes a physical symbol of the Earth Force.”

Allen looked confused, but Cheever just smiled and continued. “Next, your necklace. The charm is Druidic, the gargoyle and the rubies used for its eyes, both symbols of fire. The charm represents the force of Fire.”

“It gets hot and burns my chest when danger is near,” Allen said.

“Exactly, my boy! Exactly!” Cheever said, smiling again. “And the field that the charm creates around you also fills you with fire, in a matter of speaking.”

Allen lifted the charm and glanced at it down his nose. The ruby eyes twinkled.

“And the next touch—that Charles is terribly clever—is your friend in the Kieru box! The box is actually just a doorway, an entry point for the Lightning Bug to come into our world. Sprites, by nature, are creatures of the sky, living in the upper atmosphere and even out into the deepest reaches of space. They embody lightning, power, energy, and for someone like you, being near them for any length of time would be like super-charging a battery!” Cheever’s voice grew high again, and he raised his hands up to simulate the rising levels of energy.

“Now, I’m not sure if you know this yet, but your family is quite famous in our circles. The Brewsters, your mother’s family, have been documented for centuries, which I’m certain Charles knew.”

“Yeah, he tried to give me a book, once, about someone named—Bunny?” Allen said, trying to remember.

Cheever laughed, “That would be ‘Rabbit,’ not Bunny. Rabbit Brewster was very famous, a skilled warrior, who held his village against an invasion of ogres back in the 1760s, and he lived to be almost 160 years old! But the point of all this is that your family line has always had an affinity toward the water. They were often fishermen or sailors. If you’ve seen your brother with his weapon…”

“It’s blue. I saw it a few nights ago when he killed a bunch of Shadows who were trying to get into my room,” Allen said, excitedly.

“Yes, yes, my boy!” Cheever said, clapping his hands together again. “Like I said, you are water people.” Cheever nodded his head, waiting for Allen to make some response. When it became clear that it wasn’t coming, Cheever continued.

“Earth, fire, air, and water,” Cheever said, and he clicked his tongue again. Allen nodded his head, but still looked blank.

“Charles took a risk,” Cheever said, “by combining all four elementary forces in you. It could have backfired. The elements are not usually compatible, and the forces could have canceled each other out, leaving you helpless, or severely weakened at any rate, but he must have seen something in you that led him to believe it would work. Oh, I wish he’d just join us instead of running off on his own all the time,” Cheever said, clicking his tongue again.

While Cheever shook a fist at the ceiling, Allen’s face became very dark. “I still don’t understand what’s going on. What’s happening to me?”

“Synergy, my boy!” Cheever said, lifting his hands up again. “The items Charles gave you work in combination with your natural abilities to magnify your powers. The blended color of your blade is a visible expression of the Water and Earth forces melding together. We can assume that Kitsle’s influence, being so near to his energy, magnified your own raw abilities to the point that, without any training whatsoever, you were able to destroy a Shadow being, which only actually touches our world at a peripheral level. You extended yourself into multiple dimensions, through force of will, thanks to the Lightning Bug’s amplifying effects. And to call a Fire Spirit, you must have been completely integrated with the Fire force as well, or it wouldn’t have heard you and responded to your summons. Or, if it had come, it would have consumed you, the house, and all the others when it appeared. Each elemental force was combined in you and found expression through your actions. Most of the people who can tap into an elemental force only have an affinity for a single element, but you are able to wield and synthesize all four! It’s a remarkable and extremely rare gift!”

Cheever clapped his hands together and rubbed them again, his rings clinking wildly, and smiled through his squinting eyes.

Allen sat for several seconds, glancing from his sword to Kitsle’s box. He touched the charm around his neck, rubbing the runes etched into the back with his thumb.

“But what about the dark blue glow,” Allen asked, “and the flames, that appeared just before the bird did?”

Cheever’s smile fell a bit and he clicked his tongue. “Well,” he said, breathing in and out with a sigh, “having a weapon that changes color is rare, as is the dark blue color tone. I’ve never seen it, and I can’t even recall ever reading of another human with that hue.” He shook his head. Allen wondered how much information Cheever was keeping from him. If humans didn’t have that color of glow, what did?

“It could be deep water. That would go along with your family heritage, and it may be a remnant of some ancient energy form that predates our record keeping, something caused by the mixing of elemental forces. Another possibility, although it’s a stretch, is that it could be from outside our dimension, some form of cosmic energy,” Cheever said. He brushed his mustache and stared vaguely at the ground.

“Or it could be death,” Allen said, in thick, slow words that didn’t want to leave his mouth.

Cheever opened one eye, wide, and scanned Allen’s face with it. “There’s no known Death force, Mr. Tombes. And, although it is mysterious, we have ways of finding out what kinds of energies are swarming through your body. Until we’ve had a chance to run you through your paces, just remember this—whatever that energy was, whatever caused it to change color, you and your sister are alive today because of it.” He smiled again, but Allen thought he could detect a tiny bit of worry in Cheever’s eyes.

As Cheever stood up and asked Allen if he was ready to eat, Allen heard voices from the hallway and then a knock at his door. Cheever danced over to the door, gave Allen a conspiratorial look, and opened it, just a crack.

“Who goes there!?” he said in a mock-pirate voice.

“Oh! Dr. Cheever! I didn’t know you’d be here,” Rose said, startled. “Is Allen awake?”

“Yeah, I’m up, Sis,” Allen said. He saw a paper bag in one of Rose’s hands and a carton of chocolate milk in the other. Angie stood on tip-toe behind her and waved. They were both wearing black jeans and t-shirts, but they had significantly less makeup on than usual.

“Oh, do I smell donuts?” Cheever said, breathing in deeply. He let out a heavy sigh, “Well, you’re probably starving, aren’t you! I’ll leave you to it,” he said, waved his hand at Allen, and slid past the girls with his dancing, exaggerated movements, then started to whistle to himself as he strutted out the door and down the hall.

“He’s a weirdo,” Angie said as she stepped into the room and sat down on the bed next to Allen. Rose handed him the milk and the bag of donuts and then plopped herself down in the chair that Cheever had just left.

“He seems alright to me,” Allen said. “Smart guy, though. Like scary smart,” he said as the smell of the fresh pastries suddenly overcame him. He dove into the warm donuts like they were the first meal he’d had in weeks.


“I can’t believe they took our cell phones away,” Angie said. She watched Allen stuff half a chocolate bar into his mouth and giggled.

“And it’s not just the phones,” Rose said to Allen. “We can’t contact anyone at all. Nada! No email, no Facebook, nothing.”

“My mom has got to be freaking out,” Angie said, then realized what she’d done and mouthed, “sorry” to Rose.

Meanwhile, Allen ate three donuts in about six bites, washing them down with the entire carton of chocolate milk. For a few seconds he felt like his stomach was about to declare war on the rest of his body, but it passed with a burp.

“I wonder how long we’re going to be stuck here,” Angie said, looking around at the blank, grey walls.

“I don’t know,” Rose said.

“Where else would we go?” Allen asked. Despite his stomach already being stretched to the point of explosion, he peered into the paper bag at the last donut, considering, but decided against it.

Though the door to Allen’s room was still open, there was a light knock that startled all three of the kids. They turned as one and saw Shea standing at the opening, smiling.

“Time to meet the big boss—-my mom,” she said and waved for them to follow.


Shayla McCleggan was the 58 year old C.E.O. of Brashley, Inc., a research and development firm, which had successfully manufactured electronic equipment and weapons since World War I, selling a large percentage of those products to the U.S. military and foreign allies. The company was also the most recent front, however commercially successful it seemed to be, for the Old Guard, an international grouping of warriors, witches, seers, and alchemists who had secretly been protecting humanity for centuries from a number of predatory species that most people couldn’t see or hear, and usually wouldn’t even believe existed.

Mrs. McCleggan, widow of the ten years deceased Douglas McCleggan, and mother to Shea, had taken control of the company and become the defacto Commander-in-Chief of the Old Guard when her husband was assassinated by Milfred Hobbes, a power-hungry second-in-command. The entire affair was completely unexpected, throwing the company into disarray, and Shayla, fearing the disintegration of the organization to which she had devoted decades of her life, gave up her position as Head of Arms, and took on the role of general leader of the company to almost universal approval. Almost…

Shea was twelve when all of this had happened.

Since assuming control, Shayla had streamlined operations, rooting out all those who supported Hobbes over her husband, and lead the company to the most stable and financially successful level it had ever achieved. Shayla was a tactical genius, an analytical mind almost unmatched in the history of the Old Guard, but she could also be coldly, and some might say ‘cruelly,’ efficient and blunt. Shea explained all of this to Allen, Rose, and Angie as the group rode the elevator to the 38th floor. The elevator required a special key-code to be entered before it would accept that floor as a destination.

The office door buzzed, clicked, and opened by itself as they approached. The room was large, the wall opposite the door comprised of a floor to ceiling window. Chris and Cheever were already in the room when Allen and the girls walked in. Chris was pacing near the window. Cheever sat in one of the two large, leather chairs in front of Shayla’s huge desk, which was covered in piles of papers, electronic equipment, and half empty coffee cups. Sitting in a large chair behind the desk was a woman who looked surprisingly like Shea, but with thin rimmed glasses, grey streaks in her hair, thicker shoulders, and a sterner expression, particularly around the eyes. She was typing furiously at a computer and only looked up from her work when she had finished.

“Eddings is still refusing our request to mobilize. The idiot thinks we’re overreacting to the assault on your parents’ home. Probably thinks we’re just trying to steal his prototypes, or some nonsense,” she said. Allen assumed she was talking to Chris, though her gaze had fallen almost instantly back to the computer screen as she began to speak, so he couldn’t be certain.

“I can go talk to him, if you like,” Cheever said, “but I don’t know if it will help.” He drummed his fingers on the arms of the chair, making a series of rhythmical thud-thud-thuds.

Shayla considered for a few minutes in silence, then said, “No. Let’s wait until we have something concrete to show him.” She suddenly seemed to notice that Allen and the others had entered the room.

“Shea, bring some extra chairs. Dr. Cheever, I have your report. I’ll contact you if I have any questions.”

Cheever hopped out of his chair and bowed with an exaggerated flourish, winking at Allen as he rose. Shayla shook her head, but Allen thought he saw a hint of a smile on her lips. Cheever patted Allen on the shoulder as he strutted out of the room. Shea went into a storage closet through a door at one end of the office and returned with two chairs. Chris had stopped pacing, but was now staring out the window.

“Please,” Shayla said, waving at the chairs in front of her desk. Angie and Rose sat in the leather chairs, and Allen took a chair from Shea and sat on it between his sister and her friend. Shea unfolded the other chair, but remained standing.

“According to the morning news, a gas furnace malfunctioned and exploded in your home at about 4:00 A.M. Both of your parents, as well as you three, were pronounced dead at the scene,” she said, reading a off her computer screen. She looked at the three kids sitting in the chairs in front of her and took off her glasses. “I am truly sorry about your parents, and I realize how difficult this must be, for all of you, but in order for us to keep you alive, and to protect the lives of any friends or family members that your presence might endanger, we must let the world believe that you died in that fire.”

“But my parents…” Angie started to protest, but Shayla held up a hand to silence her.

“I’m sorry, Miss…” she looked at a paper on her desk, “Miss Fuller. This is particularly unfair to you, having only been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but you must understand that you have now been marked by the Shadows. If you are allowed to leave here you will be pursued and destroyed, along with any friends or family members who happen to be with you when the Shadows come for you.” She looked Angie straight in the face. “Not if they come, Miss Fuller, but when. Here, we can protect you, and by staying with us, you will also be protecting your loved ones.” She stared directly at Angie until Angie nodded. Shayla put her glasses back on. She looked at Allen, then Rose, nodded, then went back to studying the papers on her desk.

“One troubling development,” Shayla said after a few seconds, “our agents in charge of covering the destruction of your home reported that the body of the witch was not found on the premises.”

“What does that mean?” Rose asked, shifting in her seat. Allen’s face and hands suddenly felt too cold.

“We don’t know,” Shayla answered. “The two most likely possibilities are that she wasn’t dead, woke up after your group left, and fled the scene, or that the Shadow’s took her body for some reason.”

“You mean she might still be alive?” Allen asked in a shaking voice.

“No way!” Angie said, emphatically. “I checked her myself. She was crushed against a wall. Dead!”

“Witches, as I’m sure you are aware, having study the craft yourself, can have magical means of healing,” Shayla said. “However, we can’t ignore the possibility that the Shadows took her remains. If so, there are a number of possible reasons, none of them very pleasant.” Shayla went back to reading her papers. Everyone waited silently. Allen was genuinely frightened by the idea of meeting Krystal again, and he fidgeted in his seat. Nobody else moved.

Shayla breathed out a heavy sigh, flipped the papers she was reading face down, and looked again at the group in front of her.

“Take today to rest and familiarize yourselves with the operations here,” Shayla said.

“I’ll give them the grand tour,” Shea offered.

“Fine. I’ll have I.T. set up pass-codes for each of you so you’ll be able to use the computer systems. Please remember that you cannot contact anyone by email or through any social networks. It is imperative that you remain undetected. Your friends and families lives depend on this.”

“Can I take them to buy some clothes and a few things to make their rooms more comfortable?” Shea asked.

Shayla considered for a moment, rubbing the bridge of her nose where her glasses sat, then said, “Yes, they can spend five thousand each, but keep the trip to friendly stores only, and make certain that you are in before dark. We can’t assume that the Shadows are ignorant of their whereabouts, so make sure to use every precaution.”

“Of course,” Shea said, nodding solemnly. She flashed a smile at the kids.

“Five thousand dollars?” Rose said.

“You’re going to be here for a while, might as well make yourselves at home,” Shea said, smiling again.

“Tomorrow, you’ll all begin classes. I’ll have Cheever work out schedules. Christopher, I assume you’ll be working with your brother on weapons?” Shayla said. Chris grunted from the window, but didn’t turn around. Shayla sighed again.

“I must apologize,” Shayla said, “and take full responsibility for last night’s tragedy.” She looked from Allen to Rose, who were both confused. “Your brother warned me several days ago that the Shadows had taken an interest in your family, and I failed to recognize the extent of their determination. Normally, a single Simmeron guard can handle a dozen Shadows, but they sent several hundred drones to attack your home. Not only that, but they hired a human agent as an assassin, a possibility that I failed to even consider. Had we moved when Chris first suggested, we may have been able to save your parents. For that mistake, I am truly sorry.”

The room was silent for a moment, leaving Allen feeling both sad and uncomfortable. He didn’t believe that Shayla was to blame for his parents’ deaths, even if Chris did.

“But you saved us, at least,” Allen said.

Shayla smiled, “No, Allen. We didn’t act in time. It was YOU that saved everyone there last night, not us.”


Shea took the kids to a huge department store within walking distance of the Brashley building. Rose and Angie each picked out several outfits, and Allen bought some t-shirts, a hooded sweater, and a few pairs of sweat pants. The girls wanted to buy a hamster to keep in their room, but Shea felt certain that it wouldn’t be allowed, so they settled for a huge stereo system, some posters, a few potted plants, a bookshelf, a vanity table with a lighted mirror, and two pairs of shoes each. Allen found a hand-held video game system, several DVD movies, which Shea assured him would play on the computer in his room, a new journal with a lock, and a stack of magazines. After paying for everything with a company card, the items were taken away by a store employee. Shea told them that the items would be delivered to their rooms.

Allen asked if they could go to a bookstore, but Shea said that there were no ‘friendly’ bookstores in the area.

“What does that even mean?” Allen asked.

“‘Friendly’ stores are owned by people, or creatures in some cases, that we trust. The buildings are secured by spells and other protective measures, so that we can be safe while we’re in them.” Since Allen seemed to be disappointed that he couldn’t buy any new books, Shea suggested that he get an electronic reader, which would work with the Old Guard’s electronic library.

“You’re kidding,” Allen said. “The Old Guard has a digitized library?”

“Sure? Who do you think came up with the idea of an electronic library? The company is a research and development firm, after all!” she said, laughing. “And we’ve got to have quick access to a ton of ancient texts if we’re going to keep our clients alive.” Although Shea laughed as she said this, Allen was less comfortable with the concept.

After finding a top of the line electronic reader for Allen, Shea suggested that they each pick new bedspreads, pillows, and rugs for their rooms to add some much-needed color. With that task accomplished, they asked if they could get something to eat.

Shea checked her watch and, seeing that they still had several hours before sundown, pulled out her cellphone and informed Thompson that they had finished shopping and were going to grab a bite before coming back home. She lead Allen, Rose, and Angie to a cafe about half a block from the department store. The cafe, Waldo’s, was dimly lit, with dark wood furnishings and deep shadows to hide in. After a nod and knowing handshake with the young, clean-cut man sitting behind the wooden podium near the entrance, the group was led to a corner booth at the back of the restaurant. Shea pulled her cell phone out again and told Thompson that they’d reached their destination, then stuffed the phone back into her pocket.

Suddenly, Rose gasped, then quickly covered her mouth.

“What is it?” Shea asked, half standing.

“That waitress,” Rose tilted her head toward a blonde woman in a crisp, dark grey suit. The waitress turned toward their table, smiled, and waved at Shea.

“Oh!” said Shea, relieved and chuckling as she returned to her seat. “That’s Pearl,” she said, smiling at Rose and patting her arm.

Allen was confused. “What did she do?” Allen asked.

“Don’t you see her? Her face, it’s like a cat!” Rose said, leaning over the table toward Allen and whispering.

“I’m impressed, Rose,” Shea said. “It can take months for some students to learn to see through a glamour spell as strong as Pearl’s. She’s not just a Shadow drone!”

Allen looked at the waitress again, really focusing. He started to feel like the room was tilting, but he kept his eyes on her. After a few seconds, her features began to soften, and her eyes grew larger and greener. Her face was suddenly covered with tawny colored fur, her hands, too. Needle-like teeth appeared beneath her puffed upper lip that looked capable of tearing through the flesh of the customers she was helping as easily as if they were cotton candy.

“I see her now,” Allen said, also whispering.

“I don’t see anything weird about her,” Angie said, sounding desperate.

“It’s okay,” Shea said to Angie. “In a lot of cases that’s going to make you the lucky one. I couldn’t sleep for weeks when I saw a Necrosect in Italy.” Everyone looked at her with blank faces. “A Necrosect is a carnage eater. Completely harmless to living creatures, but they look like giant, rotting spiders.” Shea shuddered in her seat.

“I know what you mean,” Rose said, looking out the window. “How am I supposed to eat dinner after seeing that!” She pointed at a woman who appeared to be walking a whippet outside the restaurant. Allen focused on the woman, but nothing happened. Then he noticed that the dog wasn’t quite solid. He focused on it, and it shifted into a five-foot-long centipede, writhing and shaking its way down the street.

“Oh, gross…” Allen said.

“Yeah, with something like that, Angie, you’re the lucky one,” Shea said.

A waiter appeared, who Allen was almost certain was human, and took their orders. They each ate large meals and, despite being too full, Shea suggested they have one of Waldo’s famous desserts to cap off the day. The kids were glad she did. The devil’s food cake topped with mint ice-cream and fudge sauce was to die for!

Shea had them wait at the table while she paid, then phoned Thompson to tell him they were heading back. She led them to the door, after leaving a large tip. When they left the building, Allen saw that the sun hadn’t yet set, but that the shadows were growing long and menacing.

Shea walked in front, and Allen saw Rose looking carefully at every face she passed on the two and a half block walk back to the Brashley building. Angie, moaning that she was so full that she felt sick, brought up the rear. Few people seemed to notice them as they moved briskly down the sidewalk, and Allen wondered if Shea wasn’t somehow using a glamour spell to hide their presence.

When the steps of the Brashley building came into view, Allen finally drew an easy breath. He felt exhausted, and realized how nervous he had been. He saw fingernail marks etched into his palms. His fists had been clenched for the entire walk from Waldo’s.

Shea was just hopping up the first few steps when Allen heard a squeal from behind him. He turned around to see Angie kneeling on the ground. She was laughing, so Allen guessed that she wasn’t hurt too badly. Then he noticed the warm burn from his necklace on his chest. He bent his neck and saw that the gargoyle’s eyes glowing.

“What happened?” Shea said, rushing to help her up.

“I tripped, I guess,” Angie said, taking Shea’s hand. Shea pulled her to her feet. Angie’s face was red, and Allen saw a little trickle of blood on her neck that looked like it had dripped down from behind her ear.

“Oh my God!” Rose yelled. “It’s her!” she was pointing past Shea and Angie.

Standing less than a dozen paces from them, smiling with her mouth slightly open, was Krystal. Her face was white, lined with purple veins, and her black tongue slid across her lower lip. Her black dress blew around her as if there was a strong wind, and her eyes were completely black.

“Run! Get to the door!” Shea screamed. She pulled her phone out and hit a few buttons. Krystal floated up off the sidewalk and flew at them.

“Code three!” Shea yelled into her phone. She pulled a hidden pistol out of her jacket as the kids tore their gazes away from the witch and raced up the stairs toward the large wooden doors. One of the doors opened, and two guards in black uniforms came out, machine guns drawn.

Krystal laughed wildly, and her jagged, obsidian knife appeared suddenly in her hand. She flashed forward, knocking Shea’s pistol away with her left hand, then driving her blade into Shea’s shoulder with her right. Shea screamed as Krystal tore the jagged blade out, and Shea fell to the steps. She didn’t get back up.

Rose and Allen raced passed the guards and reached the doors. The guards aimed their guns and fired at Krystal, their bullets tearing through the billowing black fabric, but apparently passing harmlessly through the witch’s flesh.

Krystal laughed again, a high, horrible sound, and flew at one of the guards. Her black blade slashed through the air, tearing across the guard’s throat. His eyes went wide, and his hands reached for the wound as he fell, rolling down the stairs toward the sidewalk.

Allen, watching all of this over his shoulder, stopped. He stepped away from the doors letting Angie go through.

“Come on, Allen!” Rose yelled from inside the building. Several more guards emerged from an elevator and began running down the hall toward them.

Allen saw the witch flying at the second guard, who continued to shoot, uselessly, through her. Allen took a step toward the witch, his eyes growing dark, beginning to burn with a deep blue flame. He raised an arm in the direction of the witch and said, almost in a whisper, “No.” The air around Allen vibrated and he felt a rush of wind moving through him, then a wave a dark blue flame burst from his hand and arched towards Krystal. The witch’s high-pitched laugh became a shriek of pain, her body convulsing in the air. She shot backward, away from the guard. She looked at Allen, her black eyes full of fury, then vanished in a swirl of fabric and black smoke.

The newly arrived guards piled out of the doors onto the steps, looking confused. They surveyed the scene, guns and swords drawn. A dark haired, female guard tapped Allen, lightly, on the shoulder.

“Please, go inside now. We can handle it from here,” she said. The dark blue fire receded from Allen’s eyes, but he didn’t move.

Two guards moved down the steps to check on Shea, who was lying face-down, a stream of blood winding from beneath her toward the sidewalk below. The guard who had been sliced by Krystal was lying on his back. Blood poured from the huge red gash in his throat. Allen was certain that he was dead.

“Please, go inside now,” the female guard said again. Allen nodded and walked back to the doors.

Rose was standing in the open doorway, looking wide eyed at Allen, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Is Shea dead?” she asked, her voice shaky.

“I don’t think so,” Allen said. He felt very cold. Everything that had just happened seemed far away, like he’d watched it happening, but hadn’t been there himself.

“That was Krystal, wasn’t it?” Rose asked. “But she’s been changed, somehow?” Allen nodded. “Did you… Did you kill her?” she asked.

“No. She ran away. We hurt her, but we didn’t kill her,” Allen said, his voice barely loud enough for Rose to hear.

“What do you mean? Allen, what’s going on?” she asked, grabbing his arm.

Allen seemed to shake himself from a dream. He looked at Rose, tears just starting to form in his eyes. “I don’t know, Rose. I don’t know.”


Chris came rushing down the corridor towards the doors. His eyes were wide and his sword drawn. He slowed down when he saw Allen and Rose standing inside, apparently unharmed. Two guards walked through the doors carrying Shea on a stretcher. She was barely conscious, her face scrunched up in pain, but she was clearly still alive. The next stretcher that came through the doors was completely covered by a green blanket, which was rapidly turning a dirty brown.

“Who?” Chris asked one of the men carrying the stretcher.

“Crosley,” the man said, his voice low and choked.

“Are you guys okay?” Chris asked. They all nodded.

Chris’s eyes narrowed at Angie. He said, “Your ear is bleeding.” Angie raised her hand a wiped her fingers on the little trickle of blood.

“I’m bleeding?” she said, looking at the smear on her fingers, then wiping it off on her black jeans. “I must have scratched myself when I fell.” She looked uncertain.

“I better take you to the infirmary,” Chris said. “Come on.”

“Seriously, it’s nothing. It doesn’t even hurt,” Angie said, laughing.

Chris shook his head and waved for Angie to follow him as the elevator doors at the end of the corridor opened and Shayla strode out, followed closely by Cheever.

“…in broad daylight! And directly in front of our own doors!” She was fuming, and Cheever, who looked strange without his big grin in place, was nodding in agreement at every word Shayla said.

As Shayla walked nearer, the elevator doors opened again and six guards stepped out, two wearing red insignia and helmets with mirrored visors.

“Right!” Shayla said in a loud voice to the guards as they jogged down the hallway, “I want the steps cleared, a memory spell around the whole block, and then I want these doors sealed with every spell and charm we have access to. Solid, Ashley! Not a microbe gets in or out! Got it?” The taller of the two guards in helmets nodded, and the group rushed out the doors.

“Room for one more before you go into total lock-down?” said a head that had poked through the doors.

“Chaz!” Allen yelled.

“Hey kid,” Chaz smiled and stepped inside.

“Charles, yes, you can join us, but we’re going to need to talk as soon as we get this place secured,” Shayla said. “First, Chris, I need you to take these three up to the training room,” she waved at Allen, Rose, and Angie. “Cheever, go with them. We need to assess how well they can protect themselves and see if they will be of any use when the Shadows move.” She looked, primarily, at Allen as she said this.

“Why so urgent? They haven’t even started their classes yet,” Chris asked. He looked Shayla directly in the eyes, although Allen wasn’t certain what Chris had picked up on that he himself had missed.

“The seers have noticed a swell of magical energy just outside the building. We’ve analyzed it with the computers, and it appears to be an ionization field that’s going to reach critical mass in the next forty-eight hours,” Cheever said. He brushed his mustache and looked from Shayla to Chris.

“You mean…” Chris started to say, then shook his head. “They can’t be trying to open a rift. They’re planning a…”

“A full scale invasion,” Shayla said.

“It looks like you folks are busy,” Chaz said. “Maybe I’ll come back some other time!” He waved at Allen and turned toward the doors.

Shayla shot him a look and he froze, smiling. “I’m kidding! I just need to get some things out of my van!” He put his hands up, as if expecting Shayla to throw something at him.

Instead, she pulled a phone out of her pocket and hit a few buttons. “Which one is yours?” she said to Chaz.

“Yellow VW Bus. The keys are under the floor mat,” Chaz said, looking at Allen and shrugging.

“Ashley! Have Ostrander pull the yellow van into the garage… Yes, on the floor… Okay,” she said and disconnected.

“From the size of the field they’re generating,” Shayla said to Chris, “the rift is going to be huge, several stories, at the least.”

“But why? What could they need a door that big for?” Chris asked.

“Cheever thinks they may be trying to bring a Devourer through into our world,” Shayla said.

“That’s insane,” Chris said, his eyes wide and the corner of his mouth twitching.

“There is something about your brother that they really don’t like, and apparently they’re willing to destroy an entire city to make certain he is taken out,” Shayla said, looking Allen in the eyes. Allen couldn’t take her gaze, which made him feel guilty for causing so much trouble, so he looked down at the floor.

“We don’t know for certain what they’re planning,” Cheever said, clicking his tongue a few times. “All we know for sure is that they are preparing to open a rift and that something big is coming through.”

“And we now have less than 48 hours to prepare for an invasion,” Shayla said. “So, Chris, I need you to take these three to the training room with Cheever and see what we can learn. Chaz, I’d like you to come with me while I check on my daughter, then we need to talk.” She turned to the elevators and started walking. Chaz followed.

Chris saw the startled looks on his brother’s and sister’s faces, patted Allen on the shoulder, and tried to smile. “Another day on the job at the good, old Brashley Corporation! Well, let’s go get your things and get started,” he said, then waved for them to follow him. Their faces were still worried, but they went with him, anyway.


The training room was comprised of a massive, open area, high ceilings, with one wall taken up by windows that looked out over the city. By now, Allen assumed the windows were made of bullet-proof glass. Chris had told Allen to change into a sweat-suit when they stopped by his room to collect his sword and the bag that Chaz had given him.

As they walked into the training room, Cheever bopped off through a side door, and Chris had Allen drop the weapons bag by a pair of wooden chairs near the wall opposite the windows. Cheever came back into the room pushing a large cart covered in computer equipment and wires. He snatched a handful of little, circular chips out of a drawer in the cart and, whistling to himself, walked over to Allen.

“We’re going to wire you up a bit to test some of your energy levels. Don’t worry, it’s not going to hurt,” he said. He placed the chips, which were very light and flexible, on the backs of Allen’s hands, on his temples, and one of the back of his neck. They stuck like glue and didn’t fall off when Allen shook his hands to test them.

“These will send a signal to my computer while you’re moving and, hopefully, show us what kind of field you’re generating. Let me make sure I’m getting a signal,” he said, then dashed back to the cart. “Okay, Chris! Ready on this end!”

“And what are we supposed to do?” Rose asked, waving her hand back and forth between herself and Angie. Angie nodded beside her.

“We’re going to test everyone,” Cheever said, cheerfully. “Shayla wants us to start with Mr. Allen so that we can get a baseline for some of the interesting things he’s done in the last few days.” Rose and Angie sat in the wooden chairs, Rose none too cheerily.

Chris walked to the center of a large circle painted on the floor and waved for Allen to follow. As Allen walked over, Chris unsheathed his sword and stood in a fighting stance, his legs apart and sword held at chest level. Chris narrowed his eyes at Allen, and as he did, his sword began to glow with a bright blue light.

“What do I do?” Allen asked, suddenly nervous.

“Draw your sword, Mr. Natural, and get ready to fight me,” Chris said.

Allen drew his sword and stood in front of Chris, trying to imitate his stance, which felt very awkward. His sword gleamed, but didn’t glow.

“Concentrate!” Chris yelled, fiercely. Allen jumped, surprised at the ferocity in his brother’s voice.

Allen closed his eyes and tried to connect with the sword in his hands. He remembered what it had felt like in the kitchen—then he remembered his mother, laying lifeless on the floor. The eyes of the locket around his neck began to sparkle, and a dim blue-green light began to radiate from his blade.

“Hmmm, not bad! Not bad!” Cheever said from his computer panel. “It’s a class two field, about 16, 17 intensity,” he said to Chris.

“That’s not a bad power level for a beginner,” Chris said, “but I think we can do better.” He growled, a low guttural sound, drew his blade back, then lunged at Allen, slashing toward his chest. Allen, shocked at the sudden attack, swung his sword up in a defensive position, blocking his brother’s blow, then jumped backward a few feet.

“Whoa! You could have killed me!” Allen said, his voice shaking with fright. Something in his brother’s eye bothered him. Allen felt like he was being stalked by a ferocious animal.

“Spiked at 45!” Cheever yelled from the computer cart.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Chris said, smiling wickedly.

Suddenly, everyone heard a buzzing sound, and Kitsle came flitting out of Allen’s bag, shooting sparks.

“Oh, my goodness!” Cheever said in a high, surprised voice. “I was hoping we’d get to meet you soon,” he said to Kitsle. The bug flew over to Allen and buzzed around his head.

“Hello, Kitsle,” Allen said. “Let me introduce you to everyone. This is my brother, Chris. That’s my sister, Rose, and her friend, Angie.” Angie waved from the wooden chair where she was sitting. “And that’s Dr. Cheever!” Allen said. Cheever bowed, low, sweeping his arm out to his side as he folded over. Allen laughed. Cheever’s gesture was certainly melodramatic, but Kitsle, clicking his bug laugh, floated over to Cheever and, hovering near the doctor, bowed in a similar fashion. Cheever laughed, himself, and clapped his hands together, his rings clinking their usual tune.

Kitsle floated back to Allen. He fluttered near Allen’s sword, his wings kicking out a miniature fireworks display, then tinked one of his claws against the blade a couple of times.

“Chris is training me, trying to show me how to fight. We’re about to be attacked by a horde of those Shadow creatures,” Allen said.

Kitsle flew around the room, very quickly, for few seconds, then flew back to Allen and hovered near his head. Kitsle fluttered his wings, began to glow brightly, then zapped Allen in the ear, knocking him to the ground.

“Ouch! Why did you do that!?” Allen yelled. Kitsle clicked another bug laugh, then flew toward Cheever, hovering near the computers, apparently looking at the screens.

Chris helped Allen to his feet, then resumed his battle stance.

“You ready?” Chris asked. “I’m going to come at you pretty hard this time. You’ll need to pay attention to where I’m swinging.” Allen nodded. His sword was blazing blue-green.

Chris yelled a deep and frightening, “Raaaah!” then dove at Allen, slashing from the left, then the right. Allen blocked expertly, the sword almost seeming to move on its own. Chris swung hard, and Allen stepped to the side, slashing down at Chris’s sword and knocked it from Chris’s hand.

They all stood in silence for a few seconds, then Cheever whistled and brushed his mustache. “Peaked at 370—that’s unbelievable.”

“Three-seventy!” Chris said, picking up his sword. “That’s almost as high as Haro!” He looked at Allen, a hungry look in his eye.

“I think we should try for 400. No human in the last 20 years has broken 390. Hell, Allen could be the first to hit 450!” Chris took his stance again. Allen, however, stood were he was.

“Chris,” Rose said, looking worried, “I think you should stop. Allen looks really tired.”

“The Shadows aren’t going to stop just because Allen gets tired,” Chris said, then he rushed at Allen, swinging so fast and viciously that Rose stood up. Allen, without even looking at his brother, raised his sword with one arm to deflect the blow, but the force of the strike staggered him. His face was a complete blank, like he was drifting off into a daydream. His hands gripped the jade handle of his sword, and his legs moved, positioning him in a strange defensive stance, legs far apart, knees bent low.

“Chris! That’s enough!” Rose yelled.

Allen’s eyes went dark blue.

“Oh, my goodness!” Cheever said, softly, staring at his computer screen. “The boy is at 780 and climbing… 850… 900…”

Chris moved in for another attack, slashing wildly. Though Allen’s eyes stared blankly ahead, his arms moved to block each swing and his sword blazed. Chris swung down with his blade, aiming for Allen’s head, and Allen’s arms moved to block the blow, but Chris used his momentum to push his brother off balance. Chris swung his leg around, catching the back of Allen’s left ankle and tripping him.

As Allen hit the ground, everyone felt a wave of energy rush through the room, like a surge of hot wind pushing against them, then the lights above Allen flashed brightly and exploded. The other lights, further away from Allen, began to pop as well, and then Cheever’s computer screens crackled, shot sparks, and shattered.

Allen’s body, his hair and arms, shimmered then erupted in dark blue flames.

Rose screamed.

Allen’s body floated up from the floor and into a standing position, hovering inches off the ground. He waved a hand and the sword that Chris was holding jerked out of his grasp, rocketed across the room, and buried itself in the wall. Allen raised his other hand and a swirling wave of dark blue flame rushed toward Chris.

Kitsle, streaking like lightning, raced between the brothers and flashed brightly. A wall of energy appeared, blocking the flame.

“Allen! Stop!” Rose yelled and ran toward Chris. Kitsle flew closer to Allen, flashing, and dancing in the air, clicking wildly. Allen’s eyes, swimming orbs of blue-black, followed Kitsle’s movements for a few seconds, then his head tilted backward and his body dropped to the floor with a thud.

Cheever rushed over to the boy on the floor. After a quick look, he said, “He’s alive.”

Chris and Rose stared at their brother’s face. Angie, who had been too shocked to move, finally stood. The room, now that the lights were mostly blown out, was illuminated primarily by Kitsle, who hovered and buzzed near Allen.

“What was that? What happened to him?” Angie asked, still standing by the chairs she and Rose had been sitting in.

“I’m not sure,” Cheever said. “I’ll have to talk with Shayla and Chaz, and probably Eddings. I think…,” Cheever said, brushing his mustache, “…I think he was channeling something, but I can’t be certain,” he shook his head. “But Chris—before the computers blew, his energy signature changed. He was emitting a class six energy field, and…and the power level was over a hundred and twenty thousand.”

Chris opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. He shook his head. “It had to have been a mistake—a glitch as the computer was exploding,” Chris said. “That’s more force than a nuclear bomb.”

Cheever shrugged, putting his fingers on Allen’s forehead, which was blazing hot.

“Wait a minute—channeling something?” Rose said. “You mean he was possessed?”

“I really can’t say for certain,” Cheever said. “The numbers…,” he shook his head. “Right now, we have to get this boy to the infirmary. He’s burning up.”

“I’ll carry him,” Chris said. He bent over his brother, scooped him up, and they rushed off toward the medical wing.


Allen woke in what looked like a room at a hospital. Rose and Angie were sitting on one side of his bed, talking quietly. At the foot of his bed, Shea was looking down at him and smiling. She was wearing a tank top, and Allen could see heavy bandages where Krystal had sunk her gigantic, black blade into her shoulder. Shea looked very tired, but happy.

Allen suddenly realized that he was almost entirely naked, and pulled his blankets tightly up to his chin. He tried to say, “Where are my clothes?” but, his throat was so dry, all that came out was a hoarse whisper.

Rose sniggered and held up a plastic cup with a bent straw poking out of the top of it. “Water,” Rose said. Allen nodded and Rose put the straw close to Allen’s lips.

Allen drained the cup in a few deep swallows then sighed.

“Why am I naked?” he asked.

“You had a temperature of 198 degrees when they brought you in here yesterday evening. They had to soak you in a tub of ice water for over an hour just to get you back to a normal temp,” Shea said. “Cheever and the other doctors can’t understand exactly how you survived.”

“What do you mean, ‘survived?’ The last thing I remember was Chris tripping me while we were training. I must have hit my head when I fell,” Allen said.

“That’s not exactly where that story ends, Allen,” Rose said. Angie shook her head, vigorously.

“I’ll go tell Cheever that he’s awake,” Shea said. “Angie, why don’t you give his clothes back to him so that he can get dressed, but, Allen, don’t leave here until they can check you out again and officially say you’re okay.” She waved and headed out the door.

Angie grabbed Allen’s clothes and threw them onto the bed, then sat back down in her chair, staring at him and smiling.

“Well?” Allen said, motioning toward the door with his head, the covers still pulled up to his chin.

“Fine, if you don’t want me to watch!” Angie said and made a pouty face. Rose slapped her on the arm, and they both laughed, then got up and went out into the hall.

After Allen dressed, Rose and Angie came back into the room. Allen asked them to tell him what had happened after he blacked out. He sat, listening, his mouth hanging open, while they recalled the scene, blow by blow.

“I was on fire?” Allen said, looking at his hands and arms.

“Blue fire, ” Angie said, emphasizing the blue. Allen could only shake his head.

“Once they’d made sure you weren’t going to die,” Rose said, shuddering slightly, “Chris and Cheever took me and Angie to a smaller training room…”

“You pretty much destroyed the main one,” Angie interrupted.

“…and tested us,” Rose said. “They gave me this long, straight sword…”

“A katana,” Angie said.

“And I was able to get the meter up to about 80!” Rose chirped, excited. “Cheever said that was really good for a first try.”

“But not good enough that they want her out fighting in the streets when that rift thing opens,” Angie said. She sounded a little snippy.

“But Chris says that I generated enough force to actually hurt them, and with training, he thinks I’ll be good enough to be a hunter, too.”

“If we survive,” Angie said, folding her arms and blowing her purple bangs away from her nose. Allen looked at Angie, who was staring at the floor, then at Rose. Rose was shaking her head.

“Angie’s just a little upset about the whole super powers thing,” Rose said, patting her friend on the shoulder.

“They tested me, too,” Angie said, huffing, “but I couldn’t do it at all.” She lowered her head, again.

“Cheever said that most people can’t generate a measurable energy field,” Rose explained. “Most of the guards here aren’t able to hurt, or even see, the Shadows, but the Shadows aren’t the only threats that Brashley Corp. has to deal with. Shea says that the Shadows are some of the most dangerous creatures, though, because of their hive mind—when one of them sees something, they all see it. That, and they can turn almost anyone they kill into another Shadow.”

“Wait,” Allen said, “are you saying that most of the guards here can’t kill the Shadows?”

“Nope!” Rose said. “Only the strongest can, the members of the Elite Guard. Chris and Shea are part of that division.”

“And those two guys in the weird helmets who showed up after Krystal tried to kill us again,” Angie said.

“I’m going to train until I can be on the Elite Guard, too,” Rose said, her eyes looking at something beyond the ceiling, probably far off in the future.

“They have witches here, too,” Angie said. “Cheever says I can work with them, since I already have some training…”

“Will I get to be on the Elite Guard,” Allen asked.

“I’m sure,” Rose said. “After seeing how strong your energy field is, and the way you got rid of Krystal, they’ll probably ask you to sign up tonight!”

Cheever, at that moment, came through the door, followed by Shea and a tiny, dark skinned woman no taller than Allen, in a doctor’s smock, her long, dark hair pulled back into a pony tail. Cheever smiled and waved when he saw Allen sitting up on the bed.

The little doctor came over to Allen and, without saying anything, gave him a serious look over. She checked his pulse, flashed a light into his eyes, listened to his heart and breathing, and took his temperature, which was a little high still but well within normal human range.

“Thanks, Dr. Pande,” Shea said, as the doctor typed some notes into a small computer.

Dr. Pande smiled a quick, business-like smile at Allen, then said, “You’ll be fine,” and left the room.

“Well, you seem to be back in fine shape, ” Cheever said, clapping his hands together, his rings clinking.

“Have you figured out what actually happened to him?” Rose asked.

Cheever’s smile slid, briefly, off his face, and he brushed at his mustache. “We’re still not one hundred percent certain,” Cheever said, pulling a chair over to the side of the bed and sitting down. “Shayla, Chaz, and even Eddings, who we had on video chat, are pretty sure Allen was channeling some unknown entity. We were able to salvage the hard-drive from the burnt computer and reconstructed most of the data from the training session. Those boys in I.T. are magicians! The machine looked like it had been cooked over a campfire then thrown off a cliff, but after they extracted what information there was to be had, we were able to identify the exact moment when the energy frequency that Allen was generating shifted and his power levels exploded. Literally!” Cheever chuckled at his own joke, his eyes disappearing for a few moments, until he realized that no one else in the room was laughing. Then he coughed into his hand and sat up straighter in his chair again.

“If it hadn’t been for your Lightning Bug,” Cheever continued, “I hate to imagine what might have happened, but the bug seems to have either convinced the entity to leave your body or somehow forced it out.” He clicked his tongue and shook his head.

“So was it some kind of demon, something like the Shadows?” Rose asked. Her face had
gone very white.

“We don’t know. I’m sorry—but we just didn’t get enough data off the computer to be sure. However, if we look at the behavior of the entity,” Cheever said, raising a finger into the air, like he was making a proclamation, “it doesn’t seem to be the actions of what we would typically call a demonic entity. What did it do? It tried to protect its host body from what it believed was a serious threat, a reasonable assumption, considering how energetic Chris’s training had become. And, when it realized Allen was no longer in immediate danger, it left his body without much of a fight. Most cases of full demonic possession can take months, even years, to resolve, and the host can even be killed as the invading entity leaves. This creature left without causing any permanent damage to Allen’s body.”

“But it attacked Chris!” Rose said.

“Who was attacking Allen at the time,” Shea added.

They all sat in silence for a few seconds, Allen staring, vaguely, at a spot on the floor near his sister’s feet.

“Still and all,” Cheever said, “Shayla and I both agree that we should keep you out of the fighting, which is about to commence, until we know more about what’s getting inside your skin.”

“But I can help!” Allen said, his cheeks flushing red. “You said my power levels were really high, even before I blacked out!”

“That’s what your brother said, too,” Shea commented.

“As long as Shayla is in charge,” Cheever said, “her word is law. And don’t you worry, my boy. We’ve done fine protecting ourselves for a few thousand years. I’m sure we’ll make it another day without having to put you and your sister in anymore danger. And besides that, it’s better if we know what we’re dealing with before we unleash it on the streets.”

“But don’t think for a second that you’re not helping, Allen,” Shea said. “Your exploits have peaked Eddings’s interest, at the very least. Thanks to you, he’s agreed to help us.”

“Yes, he’s contacted the City Counsel, where he has considerable influence, and they’ve declared a state of emergency in the city,” Cheever said. “Eddings has made the claim that there is a dangerous gas leak and the City is forcing the citizens to evacuate the area around where the rift is going to manifest.”

Shea continued, “He’s also bringing a squad of his own men over to assist our guards. Between Eddings’s group and our own forces, we should be able to handle anything the Shadows can throw at us.” Shea smiled at Allen, and he thought he could see excitement in her eyes. He was terrified, be she seemed to be looking forward to the fight.


After being released from the infirmary, Allen, Rose, and Angie were led back to their dorm rooms by Shea. They stopped outside Rose and Angie’s room. Shea put a hand on Allen’s shoulder and said, “I’ll come get you guys when Eddings gets here. I know he’s going to want to meet you.” She patted Allen’s shoulder and smiled. “In the meantime, Mom says she wants you guys to stay here. I can send for some food. You must be starving.”

“Absolutely!” Angie said, rubbing her stomach.

“So what are we supposed to do while we’re waiting for the invasion to start?” Rose said, almost angrily.

“Relax, I guess. Try to rest. It’s probably going to be a long night,” Shea said.

“Shea, what’s going to happen once the fighting starts? Where will we be?” Allen asked.

“I’m not sure,” Shea answered. “You’ll probably be in the control room with me and my mom.”

Allen hated the idea of hiding during the battle when he knew his brother would be out there in the thick of it. He could help; he was sure of it!

Shea, who read the expression on his face, said, “Don’t worry, kiddo! With just a little more training, I’m sure you’re going to be an ace fighter—maybe even better than your brother, someday. And I never thought I’d live to see the day that Christopher Tombes played second fiddle to anyone.” She winked at Allen, and for some reason, it made him feel a little better.

Shea walked a few steps down the hall then yelled over her bandaged shoulder, “I’ll have some food sent up right away. Pizza?”

“Make it a large!” Angie yelled back as the three of them went into the girls’ dorm room.

Angie flopped down on her bed and started flipping through a magazine. Allen sat in a chair. Rose began to pace back and forth across the room.

“What’s wrong, Sis?” Allen asked after her third trip.

“What’s wrong? Allen, our parents are gone, we’ve basically been kidnapped, you’re being possessed by some kind of cosmic force, and in the next few hours our planet is going to be invaded by murderous creatures that want, specifically, to kill you!”

Allen’s face fell, and Rose, immediately, felt sorry for what she’d said.

“That’s all true,” Allen shrugged, “but at least we’re still alive.”

Rose’s eyes filled with tears and she walked over to her brother and hugged him.


In a dark domain, a thin creature of swirling shadows sat on a throne made of strange bones. Red light pulsed from its eyes and a glowing mist floated before it, which showed glimpses of the human realm, a boy, a building, bodies dissolving into steam and shadow, then more eyes adding their images to the glowing sphere. The Shadow Lord waved his hand and the misty ball faded away.

There was a flash of white light and the phantom that was once Krystal appeared. Her black eyes flickered with fear, and she knelt in front of the thrown, her head bent toward the floor.

“I failed to kill the boy, Lord,” she said without lifting her face.

“I saw, through your eyes, witch. He has become too strong for you to harm him, now. However, you did as you were instructed. You contaminated the friend,” the Shadow Lord smiled, and moved a misty finger under Krystal’s chin, lifting her face so that it looked into his red, glowing eyes.

“Yes,” Krystal said, smiling. She raised her left hand, showing the Shadow Lord the missing nail from her pinky.

“Well done,” the creature smiled, his red eyes pulsing in waves.

“I can control her now, even inside their little cocoon of spells,” Krystal said and floated into a standing position.

“As my army attacks from without, your puppet will be able to destroy the mages within who will be generating the protective spells that they believe will keep them safe. Once their protective barrier is down, we’ll be able find the boy and destroy him before he completely integrates with the fire spirit and destroys their world.”

“But why don’t we just let the demon consume that miserable planet and all the worthless humans,” Krystal asked. “Why are you trying to save them?”

“Your blood-lust is commendable, but you’re a fool,” he laughed, an icy, sick laugh that would have paralyzed any human who heard it. “The humans are weak, lazy, and simple—the perfect food. If the fire spirit enters their world, it will consume all life on the planet, and we will be forced to look elsewhere for life essences to steal. Humans are too perfect to lose. We cannot let that happen.”

The Shadow Lord waved his fingers dismissing Krystal, who vanished in a swirl of mist. He then swirled a finger in the air and the sphere reappeared in front of the throne. The Shadow Lord leaned back in his throne and gazed into the minds of his slaves.


When Shea returned to the dorm room a few hours later, Angie was sleeping on her bunk, an empty pizza box laying at the end of her bed. Rose and Allen were sitting on Rose’s bed watching a DVD on Rose’s computer.

“Eddings is going to be here in a few minutes. Mom wants us on the roof to meet him,” Shea said.

“The roof?” Allen asked.

“He’s flying over in his chopper. It’s a beaut!” Shea said, her eye twinkling with techno-lust.

“Should we wake Angie up?” Rose asked.

“Nah, let her rest,” Shea said and waved for them to follow.

On the roof, Allen found Cheever, Shayla, Chaz, and Chris, plus about a dozen guards, waiting outside a booth that looked almost exactly like the guard station Allen had seen when they’d pulled into the basement parking garage. Apparently, landing aircraft at Brashley was a common occurrence.

The landing area was brightly lit, red lights flashing in a pattern that looked like a huge bulls-eye on the roof, making the night sky seem almost black. Chaz waved when he spotted Allen, but his usual smile was only half formed, and his eyes looked very tired.

“Just in time,” Shayla said, pointing at a pair of flashing lights approaching their building. As the helicopter drew nearer, it grew in size until Allen realized that it was almost as long as a city bus. The twin blades keeping it aloft caused a mini-hurricane as the vehicle maneuvered to land, and Allen covered his ears and turned his face away.

As the machine landed heavily and the blades began to slow, a large panel unfolded out of the side and lowered itself to the rooftop forming a set of stairs, and a parade of men climbed out.

“Eddings! Good of you to come!” Cheever said, smiling and stepping forward to shake the hand of a tall, thin man with immaculately combed black hair. Eddings was wearing a shining, dark green suit, a black button up shirt, and a green tie, with what looked like emerald chips affixed to it. His black eyebrows and mustache were pencil thin, and so straight that Allen wondered if they’d been drawn on with a ruler.

The man extended his hand to Cheever and smiled back, his eyes crinkling, while the thin eyebrows, mysteriously, remained rigid.

“Eddings,” Chris said in a polite, but not exactly friendly voice.

“Christopher, good to see you again,” Eddings said. They didn’t shake hands.

“Well, well, well—my old rival,” Chaz said, stepping toward Eddings, whose face immediately went sour.

“Shayla, I can’t believe you would associate with scum like this man,” Eddings said, bitterly. “Everyone back in the ‘copter. We’re leaving!” His men stopped, most of them looking shocked. Only one man smiled, a huge African American in heavy body armor and carrying what looked like a cannon.

Eddings stood eying Chaz, coldly, for a few seconds while everyone waited, uncomfortably, then Eddings smiled widely and pulled Chaz into as close to a bear-hug as he could manage with his thin arms. They patted each other on the back, then separated.

“It’s been too long, my friend,” Eddings said.

“You know, I’ve meant to drop by,” Chaz said, “but, you know. Been a bit busy,” he shrugged.

“So, Shayla,” Eddings said, shaking her hand, “where is this wonder-kin you’ve been going on and on about?”

“This is my brother, Allen,” Chris said, before Shayla could answer. Eddings looked Allen up and down, as if searching for some visible sign of the power hidden inside his body. His eye lingered on the gargoyle charm around Allen’s neck for just a moment, then Eddings smiled and stretched out his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Allen. I’m Philip Eddings. I can’t wait to see you in action!” He shook Allen’s hand, and Allen was surprised at how soft Edding’s grip was.

“Eddings, Allen isn’t going to be involved in the fighting,” Shayla said, firmly. “He’s only been here for a few days, and he hasn’t had the proper training, yet, for us to expose him to serious danger.”

“He’s a natural. He held me off like a trained soldier without even breaking a sweat,” Chris said, in a gruff tone.

“We’ve discussed this,” Shayla said, her voice like steel. “He and his sister will be with us in the control room. If we are unable to hold off the Shadows’ attack until dawn, Cheever is to take them both and escape.”

“Pity,” Eddings said, scanning Allen again. “So how much time do we have?”

Cheever stepped forward,” It looks like the rift is going to open within the hour.”

“Have the citizens been evacuated yet?” Eddings asked.

“All but a few stragglers,” Shayla said. “I have a handful of men out picking up the strays and ‘convincing’ them to leave the area. Once the last few are out, we’re going to have four mages set up at strategic points around the city creating a containment spell. It should keep the citizens out and all but the most powerful creatures in.” Eddings nodded slowly.

“And what about this building?” Eddings asked.

“Stacey, Wei, and Biggs will be concentrating on a barrier. They should be able to hold it until dawn, as long as we can keep the Shadows from attacking the shield directly.”

“Why do we only need to hold it until dawn?” Rose asked.

“The Shadows die in direct sunlight,” Cheever said. “If they can’t get to us before dawn, they’ll have to flee back to the Shadow Realm.”

Cheever received a call on his phone. “Okay, understood!” he said, then tapped his phone off. “Shayla, the energy levels around the rift are spiking. It’s getting ready to open.”


“Angie’s still in the dorm room,” Rose said, her face suddenly dark with worry.

“I’ll take you to get her,” Shea said. “I’m out of the big fight, anyway.” She pointed at the bandages on her shoulder.

“I need to get my bag, too. I left it in Rose’s dorm room when I got out of the infirmary,” Allen said.

Shea nodded. She turned to Cheever and said, “Cheever! I’ve got to take these two back to the dorms to collect their friend. We’ll meet you in the control room!” Cheever waved, and Shea, Allen, and Rose headed back into the building.

Eddings was giving orders to his men, “…So Horace, I want you to take your cues from Christopher, but hang back. Don’t go blowing any holes in the street if we don’t have to. It’s too expensive!”

The large African American man laughed, loudly.

“You three,” Eddings continued, pointing at three men in riot gear, “keep Tazzi covered while he’s using the summoning stone. Now, Taz,” a short, exceedingly thin man, with skin so pale it almost looked blue, nodded, “start the summoning spell the second that the barrier is up. Once the wolf arrives, get back to Horace and keep your head down.”

Meanwhile, Chris and Shayla were solidifying their strategies and heading for the doorway back inside the building.

“As soon as you and Haro have the guards outside the protected area, I’ll tell Stacey to set the barrier spell,” Shayla said.

“And you’re certain about Allen?” Chris asked again.

Shayla glanced at Cheever, who was walking directly behind them, then turned back to Chris. “Until we know for certain what he’s channeling, we can’t risk setting him loose on the city.”

Chris shook his head, “Fine,” he said coldly. “I’ll signal when we’re in place,” he growled, and ran down the hallway toward the elevators.

When Shea, Rose, and Allen reached the dorm room, they opened the door expecting to see Angie still asleep on her bunk, but the bed was empty.

“She’s not here,” Rose said. They all stood in silence for a few seconds.

“Maybe she went to get something else to eat,” Shea suggested, pointing at the empty pizza box on the floor.

“Maybe,” Rose said, skeptically.

Allen noticed that his bag, laying on the floor near the wall, was open. He knelt down by it and dug through. His sword was still there, as was Kitsle’s box, and the flares. Then he noticed, “My knife’s gone.”

“What knife?” Shea asked.

“Chaz gave it to me. It has a poisoned blade. I know it was in here when we were in the training room. I saw it when I took out my sword.”

“It could have fallen out when they were rushing to take you to the infirmary,” Shea said.

“I wouldn’t know,” Allen said. “I was out of it.”

“Why would Angie take a knife?” Rose asked.

“Maybe she was scared?” Shea suggested.

“I don’t think so,” Rose said. “I’ve never seen her touch a knife.” Rose shook her head and chewed on her bottom lip.

“You guys probably just dropped it in the training room, but we don’t have time to look right now. We’ve got to get back to Cheever,” Shea said. Allen grabbed his bag and they left.

The control room, heart of the security system for the Brashley Building, was on the fourth floor and comprised of a huge wall of screens showing scenes of virtually every inch of the property, inside and out. One gigantic screen showed dozens of guards set up in semi-circles around an area of the road that was shimmering and emitting flashes and sparks.

Half a dozen men and women sat in chairs, chattering into headsets and flicking through various screens, focusing different cameras on a variety of sights. Allen noticed that Cheever, Shayla, and Eddings were all wearing communications headsets as well. Cheever and Shayla paced back and forth, peering at screens and giving orders. Eddings sat in one of the chairs that lined the wall opposite the screens, talking with Chaz. Allen and Rose found seats near Chaz and sat down. Shea joined her mother.

Outside the building, Chris, in full body armor, but no helmet, was setting up the guards in tiers between the area where the rift was about to open and the Brashley Building. Chris heard a rush of wind and suddenly Haro and ten other Simmerons appeared. Several of Eddings’s men raised their guns, but both Chris and Horace gestured for them to hold fire.

“I’m glad to see you, my friend,” Chris said, smiling. “And you brought helpers!”

“Few in my clan have had the opportunity to prove their strength against a Devourer. Had I allowed it, these streets would now be teeming with my kind, aching to sink their claws into an Old God,” Haro said, rumbling his low laugh.

Chris laughed as well and gestured for the lizard men to join the formations setting up in front of the building.

“Okay, Horace,” Chris said. “You can tell Eddings that we’re ready to summon his beastie.”

Horace waved and said something into his headset. Chris gave a final look around at the troops, then pushed a button on his headset, “Shayla, we’re ready for the barrier.”

“Good,” Shayla answered in his ear. “Cheever says the rift is going to open in about three minutes. I’ll tell Stacey to start the spell.”

Within seconds, Chris felt the hair on the back of his neck rise as the barrier spell fell into place. “The barrier is up!” Chris yelled to Horace. “Your guy can start the summoning.”

Horace gave a thumbs-up and growled instructions to a handful of men in Eddings’ uniforms. Four men and Tazzi walked quickly to the front tier of Brashley guards. Tazzi knelt on the ground and took a metallic box with a keypad on it out of his pack. He pressed a number sequence with lightning quick fingers. The box hissed, and the top split in half, each section folding away to reveal a dark green stone, slightly larger than a hen’s egg.

A screeching sound interrupted Tazzi, as sparks and flashes, followed by a strong, freezing wind, came rushing out of the rift. Guards from both groups, Brashley and Eddings, moved between Tazzi and the rift.

“No! Get back, everyone!” Tazzi yelled.

He placed his hands over the stone and began to chant, his eyes closed. The stone started to glow, and Tazzi chanted louder. The air around him began to shimmer, and a thunderous crack and a blinding flash made everyone in the streets cover their eyes and turn away.

When they turned back toward the rift, a gigantic, dark green wolf, longer than a city bus, with eyes glowing emerald green, was standing in the road.

“Thank you for coming, Great Wolf,” Tazzi said, bowing to the creature. “Our world is about to be invaded by Shadow Creatures,” he said gesturing toward the rift that was now showering sparks into the street and humming like power-lines in great pain.

The wolf looked at Tazzi then at the rift. “Why do they come?” the wolf said in a growling voice that echoed through the streets.

“They wish to kill a boy. He is in the building, there,” Tazzi pointed.

“I sense him,” said the wolf, closing its eyes.

“You do?” Tazzi asked in a shaking voice.

The wolf nodded, opening its eyes and looking back at the building, then at the rift. “I will help,” said the wolf, “but know this. The boy poses a serious threat to this world.” The wolf looked back at the building again, his eyes glowing green. “There is a being within him that could destroy this entire planet in an instant. Even after the Shadows have been driven away, the boy cannot be allowed to remain on this plane.”

“Thank you, Great Wolf. We will, of course, heed your advice,” Tazzi said, bowing again.

Suddenly, another boom shook the air, staggering many of the guards. The rift flashed and crackled, and then thousands of legs began scuttling through the abyss. Dark blue beetles with red slashes on their backs, the color of wet blood, came pouring through the opening, flooding the streets, some taking to the air with heavy wings that buzzed like helicopter blades.

The Great Wolf dove into the mass of bugs, slashing and biting.

Chris put his hand to his headset, “Cheever! What are they?”

“Chaz says they’re Tah-Chen Beetles. They’re going to try to attack the barrier,” Cheever replied.

“Okay, how do we kill them!?” Chris yelled into his headset. A few of the guards had begun shooting at the beetles, which flooded the streets and sidewalks, most running past the guards, heading straight for the shield barrier.

“They’re physical,” Cheever said. “Shoot them, chop them, anything should work.”

“Open fire!” Chris screamed, and dozens of guns began shooting in earnest.

Many of the beetles had already reached the magical barrier and attached themselves to it. The air shimmered and vibrated as the creatures siphoned off the magical energy, the red slashes on their backs glowing brighter as they sucked. Flying beetles landed against the barrier several stories up as well.

“Don’t let them attack the barrier!” Chris shouted, and the soldiers began picking off beetles attached to the shield spell. Meanwhile, Haro and his clan were shredding beetles with their huge claws, and the Great Wolf continued to slash at the swarming creatures with his paws.

There was another loud crackle from the rift and a shower of sparks as two gigantic, blood red centipedes, as tall as Haro and as long the Great Wolf, came writhing through the rift into the street. The wolf roared and pounced on the centipede nearest to it, sinking his teeth into its back. It shrieked and coiled around him, slashing at the wolf with its twitching, needle-sharp legs.

The second centipede slithered up to the first line of guards, who fired desperately at the beast with little effect. It stabbed a Brashley guard through the chest with a spear-like leg, piercing his body armor like it was paper. It lifted him, screaming, off the ground, and tossed him twenty feet across the street. His lifeless body landed in a heap. The other guards continued to fire, but moved backwards toward the second line of defense. The centipede stabbed at one of Eddings’s men, catching him in the stomach. It drew him toward its mouth and bit into the man’s chest with foot long pincers. The man screamed in pain, then went limp.

“Everyone get back!” Horace yelled, and the men around the centipede lowered their guns and ran. Horace aimed his cannon and smiled. A thud shook the air and a ball of fire and shrapnel flashed toward the centipede, striking it directly in the chest as it reared back on it hindquarters. The centipede shrieked and writhed as the flaming mass made contact. As the smoke drifted away, the lower half of the centipede continued to twitch and writhe for a few seconds, oozing yellow-brown liquid. The upper half was completely vaporized. Horace laughed, loudly.

The rift again crackled and howled, and a dark mist welled up and began streaming through the opening, forming into the pseudo-bodies of the Shadows, which were only visible to about half the guards. Chris, slashing at beetles with his right hand and holding his headset in place with his left, called loudly, “Shadows!” Haro’s clan immediately abandoned the beetles and galloped toward the Shadow hordes, as did about a dozen Brashley guards, all wearing the Elite Guard colors. Swords, clubs, hammers, and claws began to burn and glow with various colors of energy, and a wailing sound arose from the Shadows, which continued to flood into the streets through the rift.

In the control room, Allen’s necklace, which had been glowing dully for several minutes, began to burn his chest, as he saw the guards on the screens swinging glowing weapons at nothing. The Shadows, it appeared, didn’t show up on video.

Shayla paced back and forth looking at various screens. She tapped her headset and said, “Chambers, how is Stacey’s group holding up?”

“Not well,” a voice answered. “Those bugs are doing a number on them. It’s taking too much energy to maintain the shield.”

“Right, I’ll see what we can do,” Shayla said. She tapped her headset again. “Chris, what’s the damage?”

“Having a ball down here!” he said, grunting in her ear as he slashed through a Shadow Creature.

“Any chance we can focus on the beetles a bit more? The shield spell is draining Stacey’s men dry.”

“Well, since we’re not doing much down here anyway, I’ll have a couple guys look into it. Ooooo… That was gross!” Chris said.

“What!? What happened?” Shayla said, worried.

“The Great Wolf just ripped the centipede that it was fighting in half,” Chris answered. “There’s giant bug guts everywhere!”

“Shea!” yelled a girl at one of the screens, “I think you should see this.”

Shea went quickly to the station where the girl was backing up the images from the video feed. “This camera is up near the roof. I saw something moving just outside the barrier and zoomed in just before it flew out of the camera’s range.” The girl hit play.

“Oh, shit!” Shea moaned, unconsciously reaching up and grabbing her bandaged shoulder.

“Rewind that, Emmy, please,” Shea said to the girl. “Rose, is this who I think it is?”

Rose and Allen ran to Shea and stared at the screen.

“Oh, no,” Rose gasped. “It’s Krystal!” The image paused on the screen was of Krystal, smiling, her black eyes looking dead and hollow.

“Mother, the witch is heading for the roof!” Shea yelled.

“That’s where Stacey’s group is projecting the barrier from. The barrier is going to be strongest closest to the source. She’d know that. What could she be planning?” Shayla said. She tapped her headset, “Chambers! The witch is headed your way. Watch out for trouble.”

“Copy that!” Chambers said.

Shayla tapped her headset again, “Ronson! I want another twenty guards sent up to the roof, right now!”

Allen walked back to where he had been sitting and plopped back in his chair. He wanted to do something to help. He picked his sword up, sliding it halfway out of the sheath. The blade shined brightly, a shimmering blue-green.

Allen scanned the monitor screens until he found one with Chris on it. Chris was leaping and slashing his sword, dodging some invisible blow, then countering with a lightning fast swipe. Chris looked left, then right, then dashed out of the view of that camera.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” Cheever said, “but the energy levels around the rift are spiking again—three hundred percent higher than last time.”

There was another crashing thunderclap, and this time Allen felt the building shake, like an earthquake had hit it. All the screens pointed near the rift went white, momentarily. When they cleared, Allen saw a massive thing that looked like it was several stories high, with flailing tentacles, covered in dozens of huge eyes the size of car tires. The creature crawled through the rift, dragging itself by four massive tentacles at its base, while an uncountable number of smaller, thrashing tentacles whipped wildly around the central, putrid mass of grey flesh and giant eyes. Allen realized instantly that something beyond foul had been born into his world, something that absolutely should not exist.

Down on the street, Chris, had just ordered a group of guards to move around the building looking for beetles that were attacking the barrier, when the rift burst into life and the gigantic creature began oozing through. As he watched the horror appear before his eyes, Chris heard a scream, and saw a Brashley guard drop to the ground, a shadowy claw dripping blood over his body. The man melted, sliding like smoke out of his body armor, only to rise again as another Shadow creature, ready to attack. Chris sliced through the pair of Shadows with a flash of his blue blade.

“Chris, the Devourer just came out of the rift,” Cheever said in his ear. Chris saw the monstrous beast, a sea of eyes and tentacles, but couldn’t quite grasp it as a whole.

“I see it,” he said into his headset. “But, how do I kill that?”

There was a pause on the other end of the line. Finally, Cheever said, in an uncharacteristically dark voice, “We don’t know yet.”

The Great Wolf, as Chris watched, charged the Devourer, which was easily four times his size, grabbing a tentacle and tearing it loose from the central mass. A hollow, terrifying roar filled the streets, and a second tentacle tore through the air striking the wolf in the ribs and sending it flying halfway down the block.

The Devourer swept another huge tentacle at a row of guards who were shooting at it. It grabbed three men, its tentacle coiling around them like a giant snake, and it drug the men toward its central mass. It tilted its horrible, eye covered body backwards as the men screamed, revealing a circular opening lined with thousands of stalactite-like teeth. The men yelled in terror as they were stuffed into the creature’s mouth. Blood sloshed onto the street, and the Devourer lowered itself back to the ground and began dragging itself toward more men.

“Horace! Do you have a shot?” Chris screamed, but before Horace could answer, the Great Wolf flung itself back at the nightmarish creature, which moaned and howled in a deep, hollow scream, like twisting metal. The wolf grabbed on to a tentacle with its teeth and tore at the creature’s eyes with his slashing claws. Again, another tentacle flew at the wolf, this time grabbing it around the chest and hurling it into the air. The wolf crashed against the building across the street from Brashley, destroying half the structure, then fell to the ground. It lay on the sidewalk, dark green blood drizzling from its mouth.

Horace raised his cannon and fired, catching the Devourer in the center of the mass of eyes and swinging tentacles. The creature bellowed again, so loudly that windows began to shatter, and huge chunks of flesh and eyes fell to the street. Chris watched, in shock, as new eyes seemed to rise up from the wound, like bubbles floating to the surface of a bog, wide eyeballs swiveling wildly as they filled in the missing flesh, until the wound itself seemed to vanish.

And the eye covered the meat that had been blown off of the monster continued to twist and move in the street, eyeballs looking in all directions, as the flesh around them withered. With lurching effort, the eyes began to pull themselves free of the quickly rotting flesh, supporting themselves on dozens of thin, spider-like legs. Once free of their fleshy moorings, they scattered, scuttling towards the nearest guards and attacking, stabbing with their thin legs.

“This is not good,” Chris said. Tapping his headset, he yelled, “Are you seeing this!?”

“Unfortunately—yes,” Cheever said, all of his usual mirth gone, replaced by a cold, fearful drawl.

Back in the control room, Chaz said, “Force isn’t going to work on The Devourer.”

Shayla looked at him, carefully, and said, “How do we stop it?”

“I had hoped the Great Wolf would be strong enough,” Eddings said, almost apologetically.

“The Devourer is a creature of Old Magic, a cosmic power,” Chaz said.

“It’s eating my men, Charles. How do we stop it?” Shayla said, sternly.

“You need to fight a cosmic force with another cosmic force,” Chaz said, glancing for just an instant at Allen.

Shayla’s face went red with rage. “You want me to send a boy who has had no training, a boy who can’t even control the forces inside him, against that monster? You’re mad. We don’t even know what he’s channeling, Charles. If we set it loose, it’s possible that it could side with the beast, and then we’d have two cosmic forces trying to kill us.”

“What other choice do we have?” Chaz said, standing up to face her.

“I’ll do it!” Allen yelled, standing up as well. “I want to help. I know I can.” His hands were closed tightly around the sheath of his sword, the necklace on his chest glaring a halo of red that seemed to infuse his entire body.

“I know you want to help, and I know you’re brave enough to face that creature,” Shayla said, her voice softening, “but I can’t let you.”

Allen shook with anger. “Why? My brother is out there…”

“And your sister is in here,” Shayla said. “If we cancel the shield spell, even for a few moments to let you go outside, this building will be flooded with Shadows in seconds. We have almost a hundred students in this building who are counting on me to protect them. Most of them would be easy prey for any of these terrors. We’ve got to give them the best chance for survival that we can, and that means keeping the shield up for as long as possible.”

Allen lowered his head. He understood, but hated feeling helpless.

“Chris is one of the cleverest and most talented fighters I’ve ever worked with,” Shayla continued. “If there’s a way to kill that monster, he’ll find it.”

Allen looked at the monitors, searching for an image of his brother. He found it in time to see Chris slice through three beetles in a single stroke then kick away an eyeball that was trying to stab him with a saber-like leg.

“Okay,” Chaz said, “if Allen’s out, we’ll need some kind of spell to contain the creature, try to hold it off until dawn. Does Tazzi know any containment spells?”

Eddings tapped his finger against his chin. “Could a freezing spell work?”

Chaz thought for a moment, “It probably wouldn’t hold it for long, but anything that buys some time will help,” he said. “Shayla?”

“Do it,” she answered.

Eddings tapped his headset and told Horace to have Tazzi begin the spell. Cheever contacted Chris and told him to help keep Tazzi covered while he worked.

“Shayla, we’ve got an intruder in the corridor leading to roof access,” Chambers’s voice said into Shayla’s headset, “but it’s not the witch.”

“Who is it?” came Shayla’s reply into Chambers’s headset. He looked at the monitor in the guard house, carefully, and said, “It looks like one of the kids that came in with Shea a few days ago.”

Chambers heard Shayla asking someone in the control booth where their friend was.

“She’s almost at the door,” Chambers said into his headset. “Orders?” He raised his hand, signaling for the extra guards to be on the ready. He pointed at the door, and a dozen guns shifted, pointing in that direction.

“Don’t shoot her,” Shayla said. “She may just be looking for her friends. We’ll send someone up to get her and bring her back here.”

As Chambers acknowledged the order, the door to the roof blew off its hinges. Angie stepped onto the roof, her eyes completely black. She raised her left hand, palm up, over her head, and a globe of white light floated up several feet into the air then exploded in a blinding flash. The guards, including Chambers, shielded their eyes.

As soon as the guards were blinded, Angie rushed at the nearest man, stabbing him in the neck above his body armor. She swung past him, slicing the next guard on the wrist, and the next across his cheek. Each man, poisoned by the knife blade, went rigid and fell, the man with the neck wound bleeding profusely.

When Chambers’s vision cleared, he realized his console was dead, as was his headset. He looked out the window of the booth and saw more than a dozen guards on the ground, most gushing blood from slashes on their faces or necks, and Angie’s thin body moving like lightning towards the next batch of mystified men.

Chambers leaped out of the booth and drew his gun. “Freeze!” he screamed, then noticed a dark specter hovering in the air just outside the shield barrier. Chambers raised his weapon, pointing it at Angie. “I said freeze!” he yelled.

Angie turned toward him and laughed. She flicked her arm, and Chambers fell to the rooftop, dead, the handle of the poisoned knife sticking out of his exploded left eye. Angie grabbed a gun off of one of the guards at her feet, diving out of the way as the three remaining guards, who had finally realized what was happening, opened fire. Angie rolled across the roof, and from a crouching position, fired three shots; a single bullet pierced the forehead of each guard.

Angie stood, waved her fingers, and the knife embedded in Chambers’s eye pulled free with a sick pop, then floated into the air, landing in Angie’s hand. As Krystal began to shriek with laughter outside the shield spell, Angie walked toward the trio of mages sitting in a circle on the landing pad. In their trances, singing their song which created the shield spell, they couldn’t even sense Angie’s approach. She walked up behind Stacey, raised her knife, and drove it into his back.


Shea rushed through the now door-less opening to the roof, followed by Rose and Allen, as Stacey crumpled forward. Wei and Biggs, forced to uphold the barrier without their third, a barrier which was still under attack by dozens of beetles and Shadow creatures, screamed in shock and pain then both collapsed.

Allen felt the hairs on his body twitch as the shimmering barrier dissolved. He heard a high, cackling laugh that filled his chest with ice, and saw Krystal float down to the roof next to Angie. Krystal raised her arm and waved, and Angie mimicked her movements, exactly. Krystal moved her other arm, stretching it out to her side, and Angie swung her arm, which still held the knife in it, out as well. Krystal smiled a wild, wicked grin.

“No…” Rose said, quietly, her hands springing up to cover her cheeks.

The smiles on both Krystal and Angie’s faces grew sickeningly huge, then Krystal jerked her outstretched arm quickly to her heart, and Angie, in return, drove the knife in her hand into her chest. She fell, face down, onto the rooftop.

Both Rose and Allen screamed in anguish. Shea drew her pistol and fired into the witch, the bullets tearing at her ragged, black dress but seeming to pass straight through Krystal’s body.

Krystal floated up, off the rooftop, her black knife appearing in her hand, when she suddenly froze in mid-air. A dry whisper of a voice said, softly, “Stop.”

Krystal’s face looked pained. Her grin evaporated, and a look of fear took its place. The air on the roof grew colder, and a dark mist formed between Krystal and the others. The mist swirled like black ink in the air, and a single Shadow appeared, with red light pouring from its eyes. It swam forward a step, a liquid shadow, then solidified into an ancient looking man, standing on the rooftop, completely bald, in a shining black suit.

“Come down,” he said, his voice dry and soft, barely a whisper. Krystal landed on the roof then froze like a statue.

“You are Allen Tombes,” the man said, not asking, just stating a fact. His eyes were red, with black irises that stared directly at Allen. Allen shivered. He looked at Rose, who seemed to be as immobile as Krystal, then at Shea, who was also frozen.

“Who are you?” Allen said, looking back at the man. Though Allen tried to sound brave, even defiant, his voice shook.

“Such a waste,” the man said, nudging the body of one of the guards lying on the rooftop with the toe of a shining black shoe. “All of this senseless death. It’s tragic, isn’t it?” The man’s red eyes swiveled back toward Allen. The man’s head shook slowly back and forth, apparently deeply moved by the crumpled bodies at his feet. “But we can stop all of this, of course,” the man said, his voice consoling, almost pleading with Allen to understand him.

“What do you mean?” Allen said. The man took another step toward him.

“Your parents didn’t have to die. You know that to be true, don’t you? Your friends, none of these poor, simple humans,” the man waved at the bodies lying around, wisps of black smoke trailing his hand as it moved through the air. He took another step.

“It’s you that I want, child,” the man said in a calm, almost sweet, voice. Allen shivered again.

“Why? Why me?” Allen said. He moved back a step.

“Because I know what is inside of you. I’m trying to save your world. The creature that’s trying to take you over, to possess you, I know what it’s capable of doing. It’s already tried to murder your brother, one of the only family members you have left.” The man stepped closer. “If you allow it to come into your world completely, it will consume every living creature on this planet. Everything will be destroyed,” the man said, in a pity-filled, sad voice. The man stopped, only a few paces from Allen, and stared at him, his red eyes unblinking.

Allen’s lip trembled.

“You can save your sister—your brother—all of your friends,” the man said.

“How?” Allen asked, his voice a whisper that echoed the Shadow Lord’s soft voice.

“If you surrender, if you will come with me, now, so that I can sever the connection between you and the fire demon, I will call off the attack on this building. I’ll withdraw my forces and leave everyone else unharmed,” his voice was so calm, so soft and compelling. Allen glanced again at his sister, her face frozen in a scream of terror.

Allen shook all over. He felt tired, almost relieved that this would all be over, very soon. He looked back into the chalk white face of the man in front of him, who was smiling, reassuringly, and nodding.

“Just so you know, Kiddo,” said a voice from behind Allen, “he’s lying.” Allen turned and saw Chaz walking through the doorway and step out onto the roof. Chaz was carrying something in his hand.

“There’s no chance in Hell he’s going to call off the attack. He just wants you dead so he can slaughter everyone here more easily. But now, kid, you better duck,” Chaz said.

Allen turned back toward the white-faced man in time to see his features contort into a mask of rage, the red eyes blazing, then the face melted into mist, and the creature lunged at Allen, its arms spread wide.

Allen dove toward Rose, who was still frozen, and pulled her out of the way. Chaz threw a magnesium flare into the Shadow Lord’s face. It screamed, a high, echoing howl, and flew backwards.

The creature yelled something in a language that Allen couldn’t understand, and Krystal snapped back to life.

Chaz, who was bent over Allen’s bag, yelled to him, “Hey! You’ll want this!” He tossed Allen’s sword to him, and Allen, who was still laying on the rooftop next to his sister, caught it with one hand.

“What’s going on?” Rose said. She sat up, looking confused.

“You’re about to die!” shrieked Krystal, brandishing her huge, black blade.

Allen jumped to his feet and pulled the sheath off his sword, which burned a bright blue-green. He moved, quickly, between Rose and Krystal, and set his feet in a fighting stance like the one he’d seen Chris take in the training room. Allen heard a crackle of energy, and Kitsle, buzzing loudly, flew out of his bag, hovering near Allen’s shoulder.

The Shadow Lord growled a few words in his strange language, and Allen recognized enough to know it was some kind of curse. Then the Shadow Lord vanished with a thunder-crack and a swirl of black mist.

The evil smile that had been on Krystal’s face fell, replaced by a look of savage anger. She glanced around the rooftop, and the wicked smile returned. She switched her knife from her right hand to her left, then drew the blade across her empty palm. A thick, black blood oozed out of the wound. The knife floated out of her hand and hovered above her head as she dipped a finger into the blood and drew a spell in the air in this sick, black ink.

“This ain’t good…” Chaz said, moving closer to Allen and Rose.

Allen was confused, then noticed the bodies on the roof starting to twitch, then move, then stand.

“Kitsle, some of them have guns,” Chaz said.

Kitsle’s wings flashed and he zipped off toward the nearest group of armed guards. Their eyes were black and faces blank. They moved slowly at first, but picked up speed as the spell worked its way into their joints. Allen saw Kitsle exploded in a shower of sparks, and a few of the guards dropped back to the rooftop.

“Oh no…” moaned Rose, as she spotted Angie, the knife handle still sticking out of her chest, lumbering toward them.

“Come on!” Chaz said, heading back toward the doorway. He kicked at a guard, whose uniform was covered in blood from a horrible neck wound.

Kitsle flashed, again and again, dropping guards then buzzing on the next group, but it was obvious to Allen that there were too many for Kitsle to stop them all. They had to escape. Then he remembered the real threat.

“Where did Krystal go?” Allen yelled. Rose, almost at the doorway, screamed as Krystal flew out of the sky above Allen, slashing him across the chest with her knife. He fell to his knees, touching his fingers to the gash in his chest and looking at the blood on his fingers.

“No!” Rose screamed. She tried to run back to Allen, but Chaz grabbed her by the shoulders. “Let go of me!” she yelled, smacking at his hands.

“You don’t want to be out there right now,” Chaz said and pointed at Allen, whose hair had gone dark blue and begun to burn.

Allen, moving like a puppet pulled by invisible strings, floated up from the rooftop and into a standing position, hovering inches above the roof’s surface. He moved his head, slowly, scanning the reanimated guards rushing toward him. In his right hand he still held his sword, but it was now engulfed in dark blue flame. He raised his empty hand and a swath of fire, moving like a churning wave, flew out at the approaching hordes. Their bodies ignited instantly on contact with the flame, flesh and clothing and bone melting like wax. The guards, liquified by the flame, all fell. Rose, seeing the flames reach the lumbering form of her friend, covered her eyes as Angie’s body melted away, the charred metal of the knife clanking on the roof amidst anemic ashes.

Krystal cursed at Allen as she floated high above the roof. Allen raised his empty hand to her and she, again, froze in mid-air. Allen’s fingers twisted and Krystal was dragged through the air toward him, screaming in pain the entire way.

“You tried to kill us,” Allen said in a dreamlike, hollow tone. He rubbed his fingers across the place on his chest where the gash had been, though it was completely healed now, with only the slashed shirt, swimming in flames, as evidence of what should have been a mortal wound.

“You don’t belong here!” Krystal spat, her face twisting in fury.

“And you do?” Allen asked, his flaming, blue-black eyes looking into her dark, dead ones.

“Humans are soft and weak. You’ll destroy them all,” she growled.

“Maybe,” Allen said, softly, a smile suddenly curling his lips, “but first, we’re going to destroy you. You’ve been killed once already. We can smell the stench of death all over you. It’s disgusting.” Allen closed his eyes and sniffed the air. “And more importantly,” he said, opening his eyes and smiling, “we hate you.” Allen smiled wickedly, then stabbed his sword into the witch’s chest. She screamed. The flames around Allen grew brighter and more intense, and the sword in Krystal’s chest boiled with dark blue flame. Her mouth fell open and her head rolled to one side, then she burst into flames and, in seconds, melted into ashes.

Allen looked at the remains of Krystal on the rooftop. He was still smiling.

“Allen?” Rose called, her voice shaking with fear. Allen turned his head toward her and Chaz, still half in the doorway. Allen’s smile slid away, leaving his expression blank.

Kitsle buzzed up to Allen at that moment, fluttering and clicking, then flew to the edge of the building. Allen, still hovering just above the surface of the roof, followed Kitsle with his eyes. Kitsle clicked and flashed again, then flew over the side of the building and down toward the street. Allen, looking back at his sister, rose higher into the air, floated toward the edge of the building, and followed Kitsle over the side.


On the streets below, Chris was still waging what he was beginning to consider a losing war against the Shadows, now that the shield spell had fallen. When the shield fell, the remaining beetles and dozens of Shadows and crawling eyeballs had entered the building, smashing or chewing through windows or demolishing sections of the building’s walls. Haro ordered his clan to remain with Chris and continue the fight against the Devourer, but Haro himself had rushed off to the dorm rooms to make certain that all the children living within were protected.

Meanwhile, sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of the steps to the Brashley building’s doors, Tazzi had succeeded in casting his freezing spell on the Devourer, which had slowed the great nightmare down, but hadn’t stopped it completely. Its tentacles still moved and thrashed, but now at half speed, like a film played in slow motion. Maintaining the spell required all of his focus and mental energy, and he was surrounded by a circle of Eddings’s men, who fought back Shadows and scuttling eyeballs. Horace, swinging a gigantic, curved scimitar, which glowed red, tore through Shadows and knocked screeching eyeballs away.

“Shit! There goes the power,” Chris said to Horace, as the beetles apparently found and chewed through the main power conduits for the building. As he tore off his now useless headset, the majority of the lights in the building behind him went out. Chris smiled wearily as one of Haro’s clan slashed through a swarm of eyeballs, which seemed to exist at a strange energy frequency that made it impossible for most of the human guards to kill them, even the elites. The Simmerons, however, had no trouble destroying the spidery creatures. But Chris also realized that his forces where getting tired, while the enemy onslaught continued to press forward, Shadows were still slipping out of the rift into the streets, and new eyeballs were being let loose whenever a Simmeron tore a thrashing tentacle out of the Devourer. It was still at least an hour before dawn, and Chris was uncertain how much more the guards could take. He also feared for Allen and Rose, who the control room had lost contact with before the shield spell went down.

Chris felt the ache in his arms as he slashed through a Shadow that had appeared near Tazzi’s group. He looked at Horace, who was sweating and moving more slowly than before, but still smiling as he punted an eyeball and it screeched in pain.

Chris heard a buzzing sound over the din of the battle, and the street began to glow with a bluish light. He looked up and saw a dark blue fireball falling slowly down the side of the building, tracked by a flashing globe of electrical sparks, which he recognized, after a few seconds, as his brother’s lightning bug. As the ball of flame drew nearer, Chris realized that it was Allen. Despite the warm wind that flashed out of his brother’s body, Chris felt a cold chill.

As he watched the figure of his brother, consumed by a layer of dark blue flame, land on the street, Chris was suddenly knocked off his feet by a huge, blue beetle, which pinned him to the ground.

The beetle snapped at his face with its giant mandibles, and stabbed him in the side with one of its pointed claws. The claw tore through the body armor and into his flesh, and Chris screamed. He saw the shadow of a figure approaching, then a huge boot kicked the beetle, crunching into its shell and sending it flying down the street. Horace leaped over Chris, following his limping prey. His red scimitar flashed through the air, slicing the beetle in two.

Horace’s huge hand pulled Chris back onto his feet, and Chris heard Horace’s deep, warm laugh.

“Now we’re even for Madrid!” Horace said and smacked Chris on the back.

“You still owe me one for Hong Kong,” Chris grunted, holding his hand to his bleeding side.

Horace laughed again and dashed back towards the group of men guarding Tazzi. Chris looked around for Allen and saw him hovering slightly above the pavement staring at the Devourer. A swarm of eyeballs rushed toward Allen, swiping at him with their spidery legs, but as they touched him, they squealed in pain and melted like ice under a blow torch.

Kitsle buzzed over to Chris, flew down near his bleeding side, clicked and chirped a few things that Chris didn’t understand, then flew back to Allen, clicking and sparking. Allen turned to look at Chris for a second, his eyes flaring with dark blue flame, then scanned the entire battle scene. In a voice that vibrated with power, Allen said to Chris, “You should take your men back into the building. I don’t want you getting in the way of my fun.” Not waiting for a reply, Allen faced the Devourer again, and began walking toward it in slow, measured steps, each footfall a few inches off the ground but still scorching the pavement.

Chris’s mouth felt too dry to talk, but he tried to swallow, then he yelled out, “Everyone, back to the building. It’s about to get serious out here.” Horace nodded, slowly, as the flames around Allen intensified. He waved for his men to follow Chris inside.

As Allen approached, the Devourer moaned, a hollow, terrible sound that shook the windows of nearby buildings. The great beast shuddered, and another swarm of eyeballs pulled themselves from its nightmarish body and raced toward Allen. He raised his empty left hand and a tidal-wave of dark blue flame rushed at the approaching swarm, melting them instantly. The tar in the pavement began to bubble under Allen’s form, and the heat flashed off his body in licks of dark blue flame. He continued to walk toward the giant creature, casually tossing the sword away.

Chris, who had retreated to the top of the steps, watched Allen move casually toward the Devourer.

Horace turned to glance back at the scene before going through the doors of the building, and said, “Sure am glad he’s on our side!”

“Is he?” Chris asked.


The Devourer bellowed another low, moaning howl, like the sound of a train wreck or a slow motion explosion. The creature, released from Tazzi’s spell, swiped one of its giant tentacles at Allen and grabbed him, pinning his arms to his side. The tentacle pulled Allen toward the huge head, and the body began to tilt backward, ready to consume him.

Chris felt the hairs on his body go stiff, then a huge gust of hot wind pushed into him, stinging his eyes and drying his lips, instantly.

“I think we’d better get inside,” Chris said.

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Horace said.

The Simmerons, fire creatures themselves, all stopped their hunting and gathered at the bottom of the steps to the Brashley building to watch the clash between Allen and the Devourer. Chris waved the last few humans inside the building and closed the doors. Tazzi cast a protective charm on the doors, then shrugged his shoulders, indicating that it was the best he could do, but under the circumstances, he didn’t know if it would be strong enough to hold against Hellfire. Chris and Horace ordered their men to take the stairs and start hunting, floor by floor, for any creatures that had gotten inside the building.

Outside, Allen was held tight in the Devourer’s tentacle, but was still smiling. The flame around him grew darker, as if the midnight sky were pouring out of him in thick waves. The Devourer began to shriek, and the tentacle wrapped around Allen began to bubble and boil, then shrivel away, melting as the eyeballs had.

The Devourer shifted its massive body and started to pull itself on its remaining tentacles back toward the rift. Allen, spotting this, grew a sick, devilish grin, and waved his hand toward the glimmering opening. The rift wavered, then collapsed in a crash of sparks and sound. The Devourer, cut off from escape, roared, shattering thousands of windows and rocking Allen backward. It raised dozens of thrashing tentacles, and pushed itself into the air with the four thickest at its base. It pounced on top of Allen, then folded itself around him, sucking him in and constricting itself around his form.

The Great Wolf, woken by sounds of the Devourer’s attack, staggered to its feet.

“We are lost,” it said solemnly. A few of the Simmerons laughed.

There was a strange, sucking sound, and a wind, which pulled cars, debris, and bodies toward the Devourer, and even staggered a few of Haro’s clan, who began to grumble in their language, some laughing loudly.

The Great Wolf strained against the pull of the wind, crouching low to the ground.

The Devourer began to moan again, stretched a tentacle, weakly, toward the Great Wolf, then was lost to sight as dark blue flame began to flare up from inside the monster’s body. Dark waves of fire suddenly exploded from the Devourer, melting the streets and vaporizing the debris that had been sucked too near. The blue flame crackled, reaching outward to consume everything around it, then stopped, frozen for an instant, then flooding back into itself, revealing Allen, floating in the center of a crater.

He hovered back to a portion of the street that hadn’t been completely destroyed, stepped onto the pavement, and laughed, a sick, inhuman, insane sound. Haro’s clan moved in front of Allen and bowed. Allen looked at them and chuckled.

The Great Wolf approached, slowly. “I know you,” the wolf said.

“Do you?” Allen asked, his blue flame eyes staring into the wolf’s brilliant green.

“You are Agni, the Fire God,” the Great Wolf said, bowing his head.

Allen smiled. “And you are a forest spirit, young pup. There, now we’ve introduced ourselves.”

The wolf stared, fearfully, at Allen, whose attention had been captured by Kitsle, buzzing near Allen’s head.

“Why have you returned?” the Great Wolf asked, once Allen’s gaze had finally returned to him.

“It’s been nearly eleven thousand years since I’ve visited. I was sleeping in a comfortable abyss, when this child,” he tapped himself on the chest,” called for flame. I heard him. It’s been so long since I’ve had true followers here, I’d nearly forgotten the place.”

“Few true gods remain on this world. Humans have lost their taste for them, and sadly, have invented their own gods to take the place of the natural spirits,” the wolf said.

“Perhaps they need to be reminded of why they worshiped and feared the gods,” Allen said, the devilish smile returning to his face. Kitsle clicked and buzzed in his ear, and the smile faded.

“Allen!” yelled Rose as she, Chris, and Haro came through the doors of the building. Shayla, Cheever, and a number of others followed. The sun, a thin, orange crack in the sky, appeared between the buildings blocking the horizon.

Allen scanned the multitude of faces appearing from inside the building. He looked at Kitsle, the Great Wolf, and the bowing Simmerons, who were quickly joined by Haro. Allen watched as Rose walked toward him, but was stopped by Chris, his hand grabbing her arm. She shook loose of her brother’s grip and continued forward, her eyes wide with fear.

“You cannot stay on this planet, Fire God. Surely, you know this,” the wolf said.

“No ‘thank you’ for getting rid of your little pest problem?” Allen said, inclining his head toward the smoldering crater behind him.

“This world, these creatures, they are all far too delicate to worship you. They could not survive your presence. Not for very long,” the wolf said.

Allen raised a hand and looked at it. “This boy seems pretty sturdy to me,” he said, and Kitsle landed on one of his fingers, clicking and popping wildly.

“The boy is an exception, a throw-back to the time of heroes,” the wolf said. “Were it not for his strength of spirit, that body would have been destroyed the moment you entered it.”

Kitsle clicked and buzzed, glowing and shooting sparks.

Allen frowned and his shoulders slumped.

“Fine,” he said, in a sulking voice. “I can see that I’m not wanted here.” His expression brightened, “Maybe I’ll go hunting for more of these old beasts to kill. That was fun!” he said, then his face went blank and his body fell to the ground.


Three months later—-

Chris slashed at Allen with his blue, glowing blade. Allen blocked the swing, his own blade flashing blue-green as he spun and counter attacked with a thrust. The sensor chip on the back of his hand glinted under the lights of the training room’s high ceiling, which still bore the scorch marks from Allen’s first training session. Most of the remodeling and repairs were already complete, but the room still needed to be repainted.

Cheever and Rose stood behind the computer cart, Cheever nodding and brushing absently at his mustache.

Chris thrust his sword at Allen’s chest, and Allen parried the thrust, but the maneuver left him off balance. Chris swept his foot out, tripping Allen, who fell to the floor with a thud.

Rose gasped, then shook her head. Chris bent over Allen and said, “Are you always going to fall for that?” He reached out his hand and pulled Allen to his feet.

“Peaked at 280 that time!” Cheever said, clapping his hands. “Temperature’s normal, but his heart rate is pretty high. We’d better call it a day.”

“So, how are you feeling?” Rose asked Allen, looking a bit apprehensive.

“You ask me that every time we practice,” Allen said. “I’m fine. It’s been three months, Sis! I’m not possessed anymore!”

“That’s for sure,” Chris said, chiding him.

“Don’t listen to him, my boy. You’re already generating one of the strongest energy fields at Brashley, and you’re still only fifteen!” Cheever said, patting Allen on the shoulder.

“Yeah, but his technique sucks,” Chris laughed.

“Well, look who my teacher is! What do you expect?” Allen said, laughing.

“Ooooo… Good one,” Chris said, punching his brother in the shoulder.

“You boys play nice,” Shea said as she stepped into the training room. Allen went red in the face. “Rose, my mom wants to see you. There’s a job that needs a witch, and Esmeralda says you can ride along as part of your training, if you’re not too busy.”

“Hot damn! See you guys later! I’ve got a job to do,” Rose said, grabbing her jacket from a chair and following Shea out of the room.

“When do I get to go on a job?” Allen asked as he helped Cheever push the computer cart back into the storage room.

“I’m sure it won’t be long,” Cheever said, smiling the huge grin that made his eyes disappear.

“Yeah, we destroyed a huge chunk of the Shadow population, but they’ll build back up,” Chris said. “I’m sure you didn’t put us out of a job, yet.”

“Do you think the Shadow Lord is going to keep trying to kill me?” Allen asked, his face suddenly dark.

“I wouldn’t worry,” Chris said. “Just keep up with your training, and if he does ever come after you, we’ll be ready to kick his ass, again.” Chris mussed Allen’s hair, then turned off the lights and they walked out the door.


[There are thoughts in my head for a second Allen Tombes story, but nothing even in the outlining stages as of yet. If anyone is interested in hearing what happens next, let me know. Thanks again for hanging with me and the monsters for a bit! There will, hopefully, be paperback book and digital download versions of this story coming very soon! Until then, KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES!!!]

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)