Home > False Skies (Challenger's Call #5)

False Skies (Challenger's Call #5)
Author: Nathan Thompson


CHAPTER 1: PROLOGUE

 

Destroyer…

The bronze clouds called out from beneath me as they broke apart and burned. Destroyer…

Stop him, the distant voices of frightened old men wailed as they too began to dissolve, their pleas echoing as their bodies vanished into whatever memory deigned to pity and take them in.

Good riddance, I wished them, hoping they would finally be gone for good.

Destroyer, the stars above me whispered, as they twinkled with an eerie menace, one I had no idea distant lights could produce.

Those are not lights, the Unconquered One declared in my heart. Pay them no heed.

Destroyer, the false lights called to me. Go no higher. Break no more. Ruin no more.

Pay them no heed, the mad and desperate king in my heart commanded. Rise. Push.

Stay low, the false lights commanded. Destroyer. You have broken enough. Cease your recklessness, and ruin no more worlds.

I will do no such thing, I said back to the million twinkling lies around me. I will wage war on your desires, tear down your kingdoms, slay your idols and gods.

No, the false lights whispered back. Destroyer. Do not do this. You have no right.

They twinkled again, and a familiar pressure pushed down on me.

But they were wrong.

I did have a right.

Voices beneath me began to whisper as well.

Figures crawled out of the rubble of their former hells, weeping as they all felt light and warmth for the first time. The false lights hissed at the sight of them, whispering to each other in fear as more ex-prisoners and ex-orphans began to emerge from dark depths.

Crown them, the unrelenting king in my heart said, I rage. Crown them, and write love on their arms.

The madness in my own heart agreed and submitted, and I hurled my voice out at the distant false lights.

I will not do as you say, I told the twinkling horde. I will protect. I will prevail. And I will be king.

As the new false sky pressed down upon me, and the cries of the rescued and redeemed rose up beneath me, I thrust my fist against the twinkling dark…

And pushed.

Davelon’s Perspective

Focus, I told myself again, trying to make sense of everything all around me. Stop, I heard my dad’s voice say in my mind, even though he was alive and a few feet away from me, and just as confused as I was, barely holding on to my mother. I was recalling one of his lessons then, in being a cop. Take in one thing at a time, as often as you need. Then switch to something else you need to focus on.

It was for my goal of being an investigator someday, but it worked surprisingly well for playing defense on football, and was the real reason I had played well enough to get so many scholarship offers, despite my quitting the team at the end.

I had already fallen into that mindset when I followed a bunch of texts claiming to be from Wes Malcolm to that strange factory just outside of town, gathering everyone at school that knew Wes and taking them with me. I didn’t know how we all got the texts at the same time, but that had been the least of all the confusing things that had just happened.

Focus, I said in my mind again, and this time it worked.

We were in a grassy meadow. Large, coniferous trees loomed in the distance. They were partially concealed by thick white mist. Said thick white mist had just talked. I had no idea why it just talked. Moving on. Every one of Wes’ friends—Himari, Andre, and Christina—had made it behind me. So had Wes’ mother and sister. So had my own family. So had that scientist we’d met right at that weird portal. The guy had taken one look around, said “Oh my God, it really is all true,” and promptly fell forward and passed out.

So had Wes’ biggest enemy.

Chris Rhodes knelt, still panting, as he looked up at the woman who had just greeted us—and, if I heard right, had just insulted his manhood. I tried to push past my confusion—and the fact that her dress was a bit more revealing than was appropriate—and figure out her reasoning for doing that to a man she supposedly just met. Judging by the harsh glare she gave him, and the mention of Wes’ name, I guessed that meant she was a friend of Wes’.

Okay, that was a good sign.

“Hi,” Chris panted, lacking the usual charm that had kept everyone from realizing how much of a snake he had been over the years—even me, to my anger and shame. “I’m here to help Wes Malcolm kill my dad.”

“One moment,” she said, no longer looking at him. Instead, she was turning her attention to the comatose technician on the floor. Streams of mist were encircling the labcoat-clad man, and the woman nodded in satisfaction.

“No threat, then,” she said out loud. “Good. We can restrain him for now, as long he does not project part of himself back to Earth and alert our dear Wes’ enemies.”

“He won’t do that,” Chris said quickly. “If he goes back to Earth, he’s a dead man. He was conducting unauthorized experiments on our portals. They’ll kill him for that, even if he tries to make up for it by spilling everything he knows about Avalon.”

“That was quite obvious from his mind,” the tall, beautiful woman replied. “But as to your own intentions, I do hope you are being honest with me.”

“You have to believe me,” Chris begged shamelessly. “I helped Wes get free. I brought his friends here. I put myself on the line.”

“No,” the woman said, cold anger hardening her attractive face, “I do not have to believe you. I do not have to accept that this is not part of an elaborate trick, that you have suddenly turned over a new leaf after all you have done. I have obligations to Wes Malcolm. I do not have obligations to you.”

“I can help you,” Chris said quickly. “Wes would want you to help me.”

“Wes Malcolm wants me to protect Avalon in his absence, and to assist him with his overwhelming burden of responsibilities,” the unnamed woman countered as she stepped forward, her long white dress swaying with the movement. She’s not unnamed, I reminded myself. Guineve. She called herself Guineve, Guardian of the Mists.

The name sounded like something out of one of King Arthur’s tales, but I forced myself to focus once again. Everything about this place was so weird, it could have been out of one of Rachel’s Pathwalker games, but it wasn’t hard to read the expression on the beautiful woman’s face. She was weighing consequences, probably the consequences of killing my ex-teammate right here, right now.

I wasn’t sure how she planned to do it, given that she was barehanded and the ex-quarterback probably outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds. But I didn’t know what would happen to the rest of us afterwards, and since everyone else was either looking around or giving blank stares, I spoke up.

“Excuse me,” I said, clearing my throat. “Can you tell me where we are, and why we are here, and how you know Wes Malcolm?”

“Wes,” Rachel and Mrs. Malcolm said at once.

“My son,” my best friend’s mother said, stepping forward. “You said my son’s name. Where is my son?”

I turned to look at her. Two or three years ago, Mrs. Malcolm had been a vibrant, beautiful, blonde woman who was known for her rich laugh, her friendliness, and her devotion to her husband and children. Then her husband was murdered and framed as a pedophile and her son was disabled in a freak accident that all but crippled the family with medical expenses. Those events had nearly broken her, driving her to an alcohol addiction that only her love for her children had enabled her to beat. And just when Wes had finally begun to get better, he suddenly went missing after his last visit to his counselor, who immediately told the world that he had tried to assault her, despite being barely able to walk.

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