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by Kyle Timmermeyer
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Legend of the Elementals
Book 1: Reintroduction
Copyright Kyle Timmermeyer 2012
Thank you for your interest in this e-book; its copyright is the property of its author. This book may not be reproduced, copied, or distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes without the author’s official permission. See the author’s website for more information. Your support is greatly appreciated.
There was a young man, and I was that young man.
There was a mistake that I made on purpose.
There was a power, and I took that power.
I became the god of my own world.
There was a great struggle, and I wanted that struggle.
I made my own adversary, my own heroes.
There was a universe and I was that universe.
And so I knew everyone, but mostly that man.
I learned my lesson and left my legacy.
I lived my fiction in between.
I am the legend of the Elementals
These words that survive here are mere incidentals.
Here I forget myself again…
A long screech ended with a loud crash.
My head rocked back stiffly. I had come to a stop. I opened my eyes and peered anxiously through the evening haze into the vehicle ahead. I made out long hair, a face in profile, a shadow framed against the black car’s interior light. I was suddenly aware of the tightness in my neck and forced the muscles to relax. Looking lower, I noticed the black car’s quarter panel newly decorated with a scar, a deep dent. Oh, no.
“You!” The shout from the driver ahead was muffled through the glass.
The stringy white hair and emaciated nose framed two intense, dark eyes. I winced and drew back. The eyes were predatory, vicious. I felt like prey, like it was only a matter of time.
“You! Roll down your window!” he commanded.
I swallowed hard. The insurance card in the glove box crossed my mind. What would I say?
Reluctantly, I cranked down the glass, and realized that my music was still blaring when it began to compete with rushing cars and furious honks. The electric guitar vanished with a click, and left behind the breath of traffic. The flow of vehicles was still able to make a wide pass using the lanes on the left. I tentatively stuck my head out into the cool night air.
The man was still looking back at me. His black eyes were hungry. I looked away. Breathing hard, I found myself hoping against reason that the wild-eyed driver ahead would leave me, and find some other animal to stalk. I mustered my courage and looked back up, trying my best to meet those dark eyes. A few seconds passed with nothing said.
Finally, my mouth slacked open, and I asked, dumbly, “Should we pull over to the side? If we can?”
The man gave a careful nod, along with an insidious not-quite-smile that highlighted the wrinkles in his face. “Yes… you should follow me.”
His face vanished into his car, and his emergency lights began to flash, yellow on black and chrome. I grimaced; it was a very expensive car, with a very creepy driver. While no one was passing on the shoulder, the old man pulled the car to the far right.
My own cruddy car was still in gear, still drivable. And the shoulder was comfortably wide, since we were at the peak of an on-ramp. Small favors.
As I carefully pulled in behind the old man, I reminded myself that I couldn’t let him leave without getting his car insurance information and giving him mine. My dad had that well-drilled into me.
Dad! He was still on duty. I grabbed my phone from the central console and forced my shaking hands to dial 9-1-1.
“9-1-1 emergency?” a calm woman’s voice answered.
“This is Jason Trudeau, son of Officer Trudeau. I’ve been involved in an accident near…” I looked behind me for the nearest exit sign and took note of the long ramp winding down from the overpass into the streets of Los Angeles.
I gave our location and information, said no to the ambulance, and ended the call with a stutter and a beep.
I dropped my phone to the dirty seat cushion and popped open the glove box. My chest heaved slowly as I sorted through the trash, searching for the insurance papers and a pen. I had to substitute two largely unused napkins, one to offer the old man, and the other to record his information. With the paperwork, pen, and napkins in hand, I clunked open my door and stepped from my car onto the rough pavement.
A swift, cold gust ruffled my hair, and I turned away, toward the old man’s dark car. I picked the vehicle out from among the night’s shadows ahead of me. The driver side window displayed a light gray, leather-bound interior, but no driver.
The old man was leaning over the edge of the guard rail, arms folded, clutching a long tan coat against his body. With his pale-whiskered chin thrust into the open air, he seemed to be scanning the intermittent life in streets and buildings beyond. I grew more uneasy the closer I got to him. Perched on the edge of the overpass, eyes downcast, he seemed every inch a predator, a hawk about to fly.
The lights of the city burned warmly below. I wished that I were anywhere else out there, but thoughts of a jacked-up insurance premium and a grounding from my dad smashed those daydreams with heavy reality. I rolled my shoulders, resolved to put this phase of the problem behind me, and focused on the tan coat. Stay cool, Jason, I told myself. After all, he was just an old man… a weird, black-eyed, old man with a really nice car who stopped in the middle of highways.
My brow furrowed. No attitude, not this time. It was my dad’s voice in my mind. This guy deserves the same respect as any senior citizen… any rich, weird senior citizen… who stopped in the middle of the highway for no good reason. The voice had become my own again. I shook my head again and sealed my lips, letting my feet do their work.
The paperwork, the pen, and a napkin appeared at the driver’s elbow, but he didn’t look down.
“…Sir?” I bent slightly over the guard rail to catch his eyes, which were still focused with great interest on the city.
“You can put those things away,” the old man said, not moving his gaze. “We won’t be needing them.” His voice was smooth and firm, shaken neither by age nor by the wreck.
Oh, great. A certifiable old eccentric. I coughed to interrupt the unhelpful thought.
“Well, actually…” I started to say, leaning against the guard fence, trying to sort through the old man’s cryptic words.
“You don’t feel it, do you?” He swiveled toward me, and pierced me with the full intensity of his dark-eyed stare.
The sudden motion, and the strange way he emphasized “feel” surprised me. My hands snapped to my sides. I found my feet scuttling backward two full steps.
“Feel what?” I shot the question back at him, more nervous than I should have been.
“I remember what it was like to be so ignorant. It’s almost a shame…” His sentence drifted, as did his eyes, back toward the city.
“Uh…” I checked myself, wary of any blunt rudeness, though the man seemed intent on hearing some.
“Since I have little time to spare, then, I will make things very simple for you. I am not worried about the accident for many reasons. First off, I intended for that minor crash to happen, and its results are worth far more than some sports car.” He dismissed his expensive vehicle with a disgusted flick of the wrist as his face turned back toward me.
“Results…?” I repeated. My shoulders suddenly relaxed. The thought of a hidden-camera game show crossed my mind. It was strange enough to be true.
He crossed his arms, high and proud against his chest. His dark eyes burned as he slowly selected his words.
“I have been looking for… people… like you, for a long time.” An insidious smirk twitched at the corner of his mouth.
Cars flew by beside me. No one else was stopped. There were no cameras, no camera people. I spread my feet and planted them against the asphalt. Where were the police? I began to regret leaving my phone in the car. Strange was something I could deal with, but this type of crazy made me more than anxious.
I tore my eyes away from his dark gaze and rehashed his words in my mind.
“Wait…” I said. “You intended for the accident to happen?”
He gave a slight nod, his dark eyes wide. “You will never know me to make a mistake.”
“And you intended for me, Jason Trudeau, to crash into you?” I spread my hands in confusion. This guy was off his rocker.
“Jason Trudeau…” He seemed to consider my name. His black eyes turned upward in thought. He was committing it to memory. I immediately regretted giving him my last name.
“Yes,” he finally said. “I told you that I do not make mistakes.”
“Well, hey, tell that to the cops, that this whole thing was your idea, and you won’t hear any more complaints from me.” I threw up my hands, then leaned back against the guard rail, wondering how I had been unfortunate enough to have crashed into a crazy man.
The old man’s heavy boot hammered against the pavement, the crack of the impact jerking me back to attention.
“I have no patience for police, and no interest in the enforcement of fools’ laws.” The old man’s angry words blasted forth. “This is what will happen: I will tell you what I want you to hear, and then I will get back in my nearly undamaged car and carry out the rest of my plans for the evening.”
I took a calming breath, avoiding the burning black eyes. Paranoid, moody… This guy was on some kind of drug… or three.
“Alright,” I said, taking another step back. “that’s fine with me; just sign me a note saying that you won’t hold me liable for the accident, give me your insurance information, and you can tell me whatever you want.” I looked down at my insurance papers, glad that copying my information onto the napkin was a great excuse to avoid the old man’s gaze.
“I see that I do not have your full attention, Jason Trudeau,” his rough hand suddenly grabbed me by my jacket collar and twisted me toward his deep black eyes.
Fear crept upon me. Those dark eyes… There was something else about them… It was as if they were sucking in the light. My fingers slipped. The napkins were whisked over the guard rail into the night sky.
I shoved his hand away and scraped several steps backward. My fist tightened protectively around my insurance papers.
“My father is a cop, a veteran on the force,” I warned the old man. “He’ll be here any time soon.”
“That’s very interesting…” The old man rolled his hollow eyes upward in thought. His smirk broke into a smile across his thin-lipped mouth.
The senior citizen’s deceptively strong hand suddenly disappeared into the deep pocket of his tan coat.
“Well, I’m sure that I will be able to get your full attention then,” he said, ominously.
“What are you tal—?” I said. My eyes lowered. The hidden hands made me more nervous than the reaching one. I took another step away from the old man with the black eyes.
“I’m talking about recruitment. I’m always looking for people with talent.” He smiled with some creepy secret knowledge.
I backed away, but he pressed on, dark eyes burning as he asked, “Do you believe in the supernatural, reality beyond logic?”
My pen clacked to the concrete, and my insurance papers followed with a flutter. A car’s horn blared into silence.
“That’s it. It’s not funny anymore.” I raised my voice, trying force away the shock.
He continued his advance. Backing away wasn’t working…
“Supernatural, huh?” I said. The adrenaline seemed to flow from my heart to my knuckles; I rolled back my long sleeves. “Well, if you’re going to try to predict my future, or guess my card, I’ll show you what’s up my sleeve, and have you read my palm while I’m at it. I don’t care how antique you are.”
The old man stood there, stock straight, locking his knees. A strange breeze sent a chill across my back. Despite myself, I turned almost completely around.
“You grossly underestimate me, but that is no surprise.” Black eyes widening, he made me well and truly nervous.
“It will be quite unfortunate for you,” he continued, “but the officer who comes to your assistance will also come to mine. Whoever it is, it will do. It’s been a long drive, and I’ve been hoping for an excuse for some exercise.”
I watched silently, waiting for the slightest move of aggression, struggling to grasp, and then trying to dismiss his threats. He was just begging for an excuse. I would have to be careful.
The wind pulled the man’s long coat toward the traffic, but he didn’t budge. There was nothing to do but wait and hope to keep a lid on my rising anger.
Finally, there came a shrill whistle from the distance behind me, growing louder. Sure enough, it was a police siren. Thank God.
“You’re going down, psycho,” I growled at the old man, glad that someone was about to settle the situation. “The cops aren’t slow on picking up crazies, especially the maaagic ones.” I fluttered my fingers, imagining the pixie dust that the man with the absurdly wide pupils must have inhaled.
“It’s talent, not magic,” his voice was calm as he raised a finger, like some creepy teacher. “And don’t forget it. We have much in common, Jason Trudeau, but there are lifetimes of experience separating us.”
“Experience? Oh, you’ve done time in the crazy house…” I snapped at him.
“No,” his voice rose. His dark eyes bulged as he stepped toward me. “This world is crazy, and the wise find themselves prisoners here… because they know the universe beyond. Beyond, there is wisdom… far from insanity, clear of foolishness, outside natural reason.”
His black eyes then suddenly shut away. His head dropped crookedly toward the ground.
The siren had cut out, and the sound of a door slam drew my gaze behind me, toward the calm aura of my father’s partner, James, and the reassuring gleam of his badge. Good. My dad, though still in the car, wouldn’t be so hard on me after he met this lunatic.
“Huh… I’ll bite… what wisdom is that?” I decided to demonstrate for Uncle James’ sake, pointing with an open hand, to let the old man’s insanity speak for itself.
There was a pause. I glanced from the officer back toward the madman.
“Beyond reason, there is endless possibility,” the old man’s voice rose higher, his black eyes huge. “And ultimate power!”
My reaction was interrupted by a surge of wind that threw me to the side with a roar. I banged against the old man’s black car and fell to the ground. The air had become thick, heavy enough to taste, almost thick enough to see where it weaved in and out of itself. When my focus returned to the old man, I measured a full foot between him and the asphalt!
His coat ruffled over faded brown leather boots. Then he swung through the air—I guessed he was on a cable… one I was unable to find. He moved above and past me, slowly advancing on my father’s partner.
“Uncle James, watch out! He’s insane!” I shouted. Insanity: it was the only thing that made sense about the situation.
A gust forced my head back against the side of the car.
“What the…” my father’s faint voice barely broke above the tempest.
“Stop right there! G-get back on the ground; lay face-down on the asphalt!” James shouted against the storm. His pistol was drawn and raised against the flying old man.
“I think not,” replied the twisted man with the black eyes. He swept his hand across his chest. The sidearm flew from the Uncle James’ fingertips, flipping beyond the edge of the overpass, gunmetal glinting in the moonlight just before dropping out of view.
The gust had followed the old man’s hand…
He must have heard me gasp. His black eyes had turned back to absorb my gaping stare with a malevolent grin. I turned away. I could just barely see the shape of my father, banging against his passenger-side door, struggling to get out of the car that had been shoved up against the guard rail by the wind.
The old man, too, turned back… and settled his gaze on my father’s partner… who had begun to rise into the air, his hand slipping away from his radio, his body rotating clumsily, following his gun’s path toward the edge of the elevated highway.
“Andy! Jason!” Uncle James called for my father and me. His eyes met mine for an instant that I knew—I knew—would be final.
“No, no, no, NO!” I screamed. I tried to get to my feet, but a wall of wind held me back.
The gusts shoved my arms back, against my face, and when the moment was over, James was gone. Despite the raging winds, I thought I heard the sound of brakes squealing, a hundred feet below.
I choked, struggling to keep my emotions down, to figure out what to do. Dad! He… the lunatic… he killed…
A gunshot cracked through the churning air. I saw my father’s shining blue cap hunkered down beside the railing, with the—finally!—open door of the police cruiser set firmly between the officer and the criminal. The old man laughed from his stance in the sky, extending his arms toward my father, my last defense.
A loud squeak sounded behind my car. In spite of my fear, and the force of the wind, I leaned up and away to see what was happening. My father hadn’t moved, but he seemed to be squished between his police car and the guard rail.
The old man raised his hand. There was another bang, and my dad’s smoking pistol clattered to the ground. I lost sight of my father, as he cut around behind his police car, and suddenly the entire vehicle tipped toward the abyss, all its weight resting on the passenger-side tires. It skidded against the guard rail, the sturdy metal groaning.
The vehicle was now angled high enough that I could see my dad getting back to his feet some distance behind the cruiser. When the railing didn’t give, the winds howled even louder, lifting the metal tonnage in a slow second above the hurdle. The old man was still floating, his arms raised, as if he was holding the car up himself.
The undercarriage was flecked with oil and mud. I watched the front tires spin as the vehicle rolled, tipped over the side of the elevated road. My father’s fallen sidearm seemed to jump after the police car. Then the winds faded into silence with a slight whoosh. The thick sky cleared. The sound of twisted metal and crushed glass broke what, for a moment, was a silent night. Some car rushed past, all too quick to leave the matter to the police.
The old man had returned to earth with a thump of his boots, boots that disappeared once more in the shadows of his long tan coat. A key ring jingled from his pocket as he walked around me.
“Repeat! Man down! Man down! Suspect is extremely dangerous…” my father called into his radio.
I stood up and backed away slowly from the old man’s car. The villain seemed to forget completely about my father and I for a moment, as he calmly unlocked the door of the lightly dented sports car. Before I could turn and run, though, the old man’s eyes were on me. I didn’t dare to move.
“If you want answers, meet me in Japan, at the top of Tokyo Tower, within the week.” The old man presented his demands slowly, precisely, black eyes burning into me. “They will send a large police force, and it will make international news, but unless you come yourself, you’ll never see me again.”
The car spit exhaust in my face as he sped away, and then my father, at last, was at my side.
The LAPD had sent its own men, of course, and the police who could be spared in Tokyo were willing to help. The rest of the international presence had been alerted as well. The leaders of the investigation were kind enough—or at least smart enough—not to insist that my father stay at home and recuperate. Whenever we needed him, and for every birthday, holiday, any day, Uncle James had been proof positive that the brotherhood of the police force was a bond of strength unlike any other. There would be justice for James.
Dad hadn’t even tried to make the case for me staying back in LA. He somehow negotiated me into his part of the international investigation. My father wouldn’t let me say it, but I felt it, every day, every sleepless night: Uncle James died more for my sake than he did for his brother in blue. I had made myself a promise as I dropped a shovelful of dirt onto his casket. My dad had a responsibility to his partner, and I had a responsibility to my uncle.
“Strength is whatever remains. The beauty of a mountain is that it holds together, no matter what happens,” my father said. The words had calmed me near the end of the eleven-hour plane ride to Tokyo.
“It’s a little over-the-top,” my dad continued, “but it makes me feel better at times like this. That’s what we’re here to do, Jason… for James’ sake, for the sake of those people the murderer crushed with my car… and a little for our sake, too.”
I nodded, and turned my thoughts toward catching the black-eyed old man. Strangeness upon strangeness. When he had made his demands, Tokyo Tower had already been rusting in a heap of twisted metal for months. In a way, it was easier now to get to the top of it, in the wake of the horrific earthquake. I found it hard to believe that the arcane-powered old man hadn’t been involved, that this might be his idea of making it “easy” for me. I gripped the seat-arm tighter.
We landed in Narita. We slept restlessly. And then finally we came to the twisted remains of Tokyo Tower, backed up by a Japanese SWAT team. And, predictably, there was no sign of the old man.
It was a joke, a trick, I knew. We stayed there for hours, but I knew it after only a few minutes as I walked the length of the wrecked tower. The old man wouldn’t show himself.
“Maybe we should check the Skytree…” one of the officers suggested in a thick accent. “It’s still standing, after all.”
I was the only one who laughed. I cut it short, though, when I caught a glance from my dad.
“You should go home now,” the officer said. “It’s not safe, especially if that killer is around here.”
My father eyed the ruined buildings, cracked and crumbling around us. Many of the structures still were occupied. And yet, how many millions of people had been evacuated?
My dad had nodded to appease the officer, but I knew his plan. He had called in his favors. We stayed in Tokyo. And a few days later, after I had given up, and our guard was down, the old man grabbed me.
“Quiet, Jason Trudeau. You don’t want him hurt, do you?” The unmistakably dark voice whispered into my ear. With the black-eyed man’s heavy hand on my shoulder, I watched my father slow to a stop on the broken street below. I wished that I hadn’t been so quick to pursue the tan coat into the trap the old man had laid for me.
Spitting neon light flicked erratic, angry shadows into the dark streets. The glowing tubes of the store sign would not reach back to illuminate my face against the dividing night. My father squinted, shielding himself from the inconstant light. He threw his eyes across the four directions of the intersection, only a single story and a hundred feet from me.
“Jason!” he risked a panicked call.
The old man in the coat removed his hand, leaving an uneasy lightness on my shoulder. “You should have come alone. If he interferes, I will cut him down more quickly than I killed the other officer.”
“Why are you doing this?” I strained to keep quiet, but betrayed a sob.
“Silence.” The old man’s black eyes bulged.
My father’s feet swished in the dust, following the noise. He waited several moments, growled, and dashed out of the intersection, disappearing behind a building into the teasing catacombs of a collapsed metropolis, Tokyo that had fallen when the earth shook. As my dad’s footsteps faded into the desolate night, I remembered what he had said on the plane, of the strength that remained.
My elbow hurled backward into the old man’s frail stomach.
Turning back to grab his falling shoulder, though, I found the deep black eyes staring at me without a trace of a flinch. The smooth leather of a glove resisted the increased pressure of my elbow, and, as I reached my leg back for his ankle, to trip him, he let me topple myself against a crumbling plaster wall. I brushed the chalky dust from my face and gritted my teeth. My feet were anchored for a fight. But the senior citizen was already three steps down the staircase.
“I’m glad to see you haven’t changed your feelings about me,” he said, disappearing into the inky shadows of the stairwell.
I dashed after him, leaping down the stairs to the ground floor. Running my eyes around the first floor of the looted convenience store, I hopped over an upended magazine rack and dashed into the intersection where I had last seen my dad. Breathing heavily, I turned to search as much as the faint moonlight would allow. He was quick for a geezer…
The black-eyed old man detached himself from the shadows under the sparking neon sign. “Your instincts were right. …The bad thing about not changing your feelings, though,” he stepped toward me, the tips of his ghostly hair twitching in the wind, “is that it suggests that you haven’t changed your mind, either.”
He grinned, exposing a target of unnervingly white teeth. Hoping that they weren’t dentures, my fist exploded toward his mouth, and bounced away with a pulsating crack of pain. When I forced my eyes out of their wince, I saw the cement block settle gently to the ground. The man’s flying tan coat darted around the corner across from the crumbled department store. A trailing chuckle died away. Shaking the pain from my knuckles, I tore after him, adrenaline drowning my questions, my better judgment.
He had paused around the corner, a long block away.
“Remember: it’s not magic. It’s better than magic,” he called, black eyes burning as I rushed after him. “Without wires or mirrors or cards or hats. Without wands or pots or tongues or spells. Just talent, and the will to use it.”
I skidded to a stop just in front of him, the crazy old man. He was a murderer, insane, not to be listened to. The wind whistled harshly between us, and, remembering how he had used it before, it might as well have been a concrete wall. I hardened my fist once more, pretending that more punishment would numb it. But, he wasn’t moving, and I had to remain.
“Why are you doing this?” I said, remembering my question and the knife in my pocket, trying to meet his black eyes in front of my wavering fist. I needed the right moment.
“To keep you from getting lost. You had almost found me, but you left the tower too soon, you gave up too quickly,” he chided, though his dark eyes were looking down another street. When he moved, the tan coat blended into the shadows. “Now we need a new meeting place. Keep going until you’re in the intersection with a blinking stoplight. From that intersection, turn right and continue on until the building blocks your way. …Or, try to find your father, get lost in an unknown, destroyed city, and never see me again, never get any answers… no justice.” The old man smirked.
He wore the same heavy boots as before, and, despite their weight, they made only the lightest click-click-click as he sprinted ahead of me. I leaned forward, but held my ground for another moment. Ahead, over his shoulder, I picked out a blinking red light from among the neon splashes that wrapped the buildings.
This is wrong, worse than I expected, I told myself.
Should I be here?
Someone had to do something, and there was no one else… but, powers aside… he was manipulating me too easily. He was crazy, but he was smart.
The old man seemed to read my mind as he continued on. “A piece of advice for the troubles to come: question your purpose on your own time,” he said over his shoulder. “When action is necessary, doubt is failure.”
I clenched my aching fist, certain that I was playing into his hands, into his fortune-cookie suggestion. My eyes turned to my red knuckles, and I wondered whether they were broken. …Where was my father? No! Distractions must not be allowed; I would take the advice, the lunatic’s advice.
He was a talker, I reasoned. The more I followed him, the more I would learn, and assuming I survived this encounter, any information I gleaned would be useful to the police. And he seemed to want my attention more than my blood. I released my clenched fist and looked ahead. As I should have expected, he was gone.
If the crazy man didn’t have magic, he had something close enough… mad skills. Talent, he had said. I frowned. Was I already prepared to buy that much into his words?
With a growl of resignation, I broke into a run. Fighting my thoughts the entire way, I reached the designated building, blocked by rubble, in the fastest few minutes of my life. As I swept my hands across the smoother parts of the broken stone slabs, the thought that I had run myself into a dead end was revolting. My legs ached, so I fell to my knees. Above my head, the heap of ruined building stretched four stories, and the walls were even higher on the right and left.
My head drooped and I opened my mouth to scream, to cry, but, when I did, I found myself wanting to laugh. It didn’t make any sense, so, of course, I had to try it aloud. “Here I am chasing an old, deranged Japanese man, who would stop in the middle of a highway, throw a police car, and drag a stupid, stupid black teen boy halfway around the world to make him cry for his daddy at a dead end street in a maze of illegible, ruined department stores!”
I spread my hands, glad that nothing, not even the wind, had a reaction to the echo. “At least he has a sense of humor.”
I flinched as one of the surrounding piles of debris crumbled away, revealing a huge, dented drain pipe. “Using your head, Jason Trudeau?” the old man’s haunting voice drifted from the darkness inside. “Indeed, why would anyone go to all this trouble if he didn’t have a point?”
I didn’t allow myself to hesitate. “You promised answers,” I challenged, crouching into the pipe. “What is your point?”
The air inside was dry and hot. I fell to my hands and knees, crawling after the waving light that bounced around the old man’s bent arms and legs. “I promised nothing, but the answers I implied are just ahead.” His voice was low.
The light became bright and clear before me. I scrambled forward, scraping my jeans and T-shirt against the tight metal. The air tasted clear and fresh as I broke into the roomy space outside. The hum of distant conversations reached my ears. Other people! Help!
The old man grabbed my shirt and pulled me to my feet beside a strangely stable steel wall. We were standing just outside the pipe, at the end of an alleyway between a ruined building to the right and the surprisingly clean and stable metal structure to the left. The evil man shoved me around the edge of the wall. He pulled a section of the metal structure away with a slight creak. I remembered my knife again, and wondered how much good it would do.
“What are—” the slap of the old man’s heavy glove over my face crushed my complaint.
“It would behoove you to shut up.” Pressed up against him, the old man’s pupils seemed almost as wide as eyeballs, the dark consuming the light. His voice was not quite a whisper. “There is a man with a gun here, guarding this place. I have plans for secrecy, and I assume you have plans to stay alive. Although… I’m more than happy to give up my plans if you are willing to throw away your life.”
He pulled his hand away and watched me expectantly.
I balled my fist—he would kill me to avoid getting captured here, but maybe this was my best chance to… No, he had already moved inside, into what turned out to be a large, dimly lit room. I followed, and my focus shifted toward taking in my surroundings. The ground went from dust to uneven sidewalk and cracked asphalt. The entire room seemed to be square, maybe half a city block. The walls of the makeshift storage area were lined with boxes and bags, numbered and labeled in mysterious Japanese characters.
I turned to the old man’s gleaming white smile and followed his finger toward the far wall. He was serious about this. My gaze centered on a crystal that shone clear and bright from inside its plastic bag, reflecting the light from the fuzzy electric lamps. Tugging on my arm, the old man approached the crystal slowly, weaving between metal racks and shelves. Stopping in front of the glowing crystal—a cube, I realized—he released my arm, and I pulled away. His brow furrowed into a sinister frown. Black eyes burning, the old man gestured for me to approach.
Stalling for time, I scanned the space around me, stopping briefly to eye a large red switch, an alarm. He growled, and reached for me. Yes! He was trapped, confused. It was time to surprise him. Instead of going for the alarm, I pulled my knife and thrust it toward his throat.
The blade stopped, though, just before biting the skin. The old man certainly did have talent. His reflexes were superhuman. He gave me a pitying look; his grip on my wrist was as inflexible as stone. My hand was paralyzed in his, the knife-edge a hair’s breadth from his throat. He pulled me a step away from the alarm. “You’ve shown strength, Jason. For that, I’ll let you see me bleed.”
He squeezed my aching knuckles and jerked the knife slightly upward. A drop of blood ran down the side of his throat. He squeezed my hand again, and the knife clattered to the concrete floor, accompanied by a tiny whimper… mine. My knuckles were on fire. With my wrist still in his hand, he thrust my fingers toward the glowing crystal cube. The bag was open.
“Take it,” he ordered, emphasizing the words with a vicious squeeze.
I had completely lost control of the situation. As I touched the glassy surface of the gemstone-like cube, the reflections of the fluorescent lights flared and reached out to me, white, red, blue, and green. The colors changed and split apart.
Confused, afraid, and overwhelmed, I fell to my knees. The colors became images, pictures of tortured souls slicing back and forth in my head. I saw wide-eyed children in chains, men pinned to the ground with swords, and women tossed to the side of a desert road. Through it all, the old man was watching, his dark eyes flaring with an evil joy.
Suddenly, the crystal was cool and dark in my fingers, and harsh reality returned to cut through the visions. The old man pulled the supernatural vessel away protectively, but it was no longer a clear cube. It was black, smaller, a pyramid.
“Devidis…” I said. And slowly, I pushed myself up, wondering where the name—and I was certain it was a name—came from.
The murderer dropped to a low crouch to meet my eyes. My fists were clenched helplessly in the dust near his ankles. He leaned in closer and closer, his eyes looming wide, staring into me. It wasn’t just shadows playing tricks: the lunatic had black eyes, broad black circles on white orbs with no irises, no other color. They were hungry black holes, consuming my attention, my thoughts, my mind.
“Well, the cube has split again. Where have the four gone? Have you done something with them? I wonder…” He tapped his chin. “Yes, I will give you the chance to do me a favor, now that you know my name.”
He put his palm to my forehead and grabbed my hair. “You saw it too, didn’t you? …Yes. Those visions are true, or, at least, they will be.” The old man’s breath was hot and harsh on my face. “It’s a cruel world, boy, and getting crueler by the moment.”
He put his mouth up next to my ear, dark eyes wide and wild. “Much, much crueler. Your choices are simple: see how far you get by fighting for me, or…” He chuckled, deep in his throat, and shoved me back, “see how far you get by fighting against me.”
With clarity I had never known until then, I sprang to my feet. This man Devidis had to be stopped, at all costs. I slammed against the shelves, pushing away from the falling boxes to reach the red switch, the alarm. I pulled away the cover and slammed the illuminated switch. The old man had my answer.
Angry, my adversary threw his weight against a nearby desk. The metal bulk hurtled with supernatural speed, tripped with a crunch on the uneven ground, and crashed against my legs. Before I was able to react, I found myself pinned against the doorway.
“Well, well, that’s the first fairly intelligent thing you’ve done all evening,” he offered the twisted compliment, dashing back toward the way we had entered, with the black pyramid clasped tightly in his hand. “You might make yourself an Elemental after all…”
As he vanished behind the metal wall, I threw my weight against the metal desk. Jammed, it held me tight between the shelves, while the alarm filled the room with panicked red light and sound.
One morning, I was sitting at breakfast, staring into my cereal bowl, wishing that there would be a message in there, something to give me a direction. I had a problem, one that reminded me of many I’d had before. Restless. That’s how I felt. I drew in a deep breath for a deep sigh, and coughed, interrupted.
“There’s been a terrible earthquake in Tokyo.”
My dad had flicked on the news. It was just breaking.
“They’re going to send us,” he added.
I didn’t say anything because I felt bad… about how excited I was. It felt like an answer. Could it be? Horror and fascination splashed adrenaline back and forth in my stomach. I wasn’t hungry anymore.
I let the memory go, and opened my eyes, staring across the collapsed metropolis that was almost real enough. I wondered why it was still so surreal to me. I had formed an idea about the greater purpose behind why the Japanese capital had fallen. I had seen the hope and unity shining in the eyes of the survivors. I heard ambitious stories of building bigger, better, and cleaner. But why was it me who was there, really? Anyone else could have smiled when faced with the barrage of foreign syllables, and most people would have taken the sight and stench of dead bodies better. Looking at the broken buildings, I wondered why I had begged to come. Then my thoughts returned to the person beside me.
Turning shyly as we walked through a street that now snaked back and forth at broken angles, I stared at her again. Erin’s long, dark hair had a little brown in it. When the sun hit it right, it looked red at the edges. Her almond eyes had flecks of green in them. She was taller than me, and thin, beautiful in the best sense of words. Her beauty had been at the forefront of my mind ever since I had seen her first wipe away the black asphalt dust from her face, giving nothing but positive signs after living through one of the worst natural disasters in human history. She amazed me, but at the time, I didn’t have words good enough to tell her that.
I asked her, “So, how much further are we going?”
“Just two more blocks. You aren’t tired already, are you?” She chided me with only the smallest trace of her native accent. I had been convinced that she was from the States when she first answered me in English. She could have easily passed as one of my classmates in high school. She quickly explained that her mother was Japanese, and she was a native of Tokyo, but, under her American father’s influence, she knew English just as well as the language of the land of the rising sun.
“Tired? I just finished serving your dinner,” I said, referring to my chow line duty. “I have a right to be a bit tired.”
We quick-stepped, practically sliding down the side of one of the steeper hills of debris, and looked toward the obstacles ahead. It was all downhill from there, not as steeply, but just enough to make walking easier. Though not particularly high, the hill might have afforded a good view of Japan’s capital city before the earthquake. I might have been able to see the emperor’s palace, or the Skytree. Where was that, anyway? But now, in the dust and darkness, it was all the same flattened mess.
“How was the food, by the way?” I asked.
She chuckled. “I’ve had better, but, you know, under these circumstances, it was pretty good.” She tightened her ponytail, adding. “You might be tired, but aren’t you glad to be doing something more with your night than watching the city collect its own dust?”
My smile stretched a little wider. Though I had encouraged her to go on to the evacuation centers with the others who were being rescued, she had begged to join the relief effort herself and serve as a useful English-Japanese interpreter. Fortunately for me, she hadn’t been assigned elsewhere; the site coordinators made arrangements for her to stay near her parents and her Minato Ward neighborhood. She was quick to introduce me to her friends.
“Remind me about this girl,” I said. “She’s a geologist’s daughter? Where’s she from?”
“Yes, don’t worry; we’ll be able to talk easily,” she said. “Kris’s parents are originally from Peru, I think, but she was born in the States. She was anxious to show me, show us, some of the cool things that her mother found. Her mom is, yes, a geologist, one who’s been in the rift a number of times.”
“Which building is hers?” I asked, once I realized that we were close.
“This one on the corner.” She pointed. “Wait here.”
I obediently stopped, leaning on one of the larger chunks of cement as Erin made her way over one of the rubble heaps. Against my hand, the concrete was cold and grainy, not fit for a casual lean. I tilted back to my feet and looked at a cardboard box pinned near to the ground, trying to make sense of the Japanese characters. For a moment, I wondered what it felt like for Erin, climbing over the ruins of so many places that must have been so recently full of life, and so familiar for her, but I did my best not to think about it. This was only one part of a big city.
A loose knot of people passed by with a few courteous nods. I returned one of my own before returning my attention to the slightly downhill view. From where I stood, it was all scrap and darkness, except for where a few stoplights blinked. I scratched my head. Despite the vastness of the destruction, for some reason, some lights still had enough power to flicker. Overhead, the stars were mostly invisible in the dust cloud that never seemed to settle. I grabbed my nose to stifle a sneeze, and listened for the murmur of voices in the nearest building.
Erin returned after a few minutes with the geologist’s daughter in tow. The new girl brushed off her jeans and greeted me with a warm smile that started with her light hazel eyes. I had to make an active effort not to, rudely, check her out from head to toe. Fortunately for me, the pretty girls seemed to gravitate toward each other.
“Ryan, this is Kris. Kris, meet Ryan.” She gestured quickly between us.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Kris said in a soft, sweet voice that put me instantly at ease.
“You too,” I nodded, shaking her hand. “So, which way are we headed?”
“This way,” Kris answered, taking us in the direction of the rift, with the buildings that had fallen sideways pointing out the way.
“Have you gone into the rift yet?” Erin asked as we made our way over the decreasingly bumpy ground. Though going down was easier, paying attention to both girls while keeping my footing was tricky.
“No. My mom wouldn’t let me, anyway,” Kris answered. “None of the geologists trust this quake. And it’s not just that the aftershocks haven’t stopped… I mean, the fact that some things randomly stayed standing, the weird way that most of the buildings fell… and that so much of the city still has electricity, even with a busted power grid. It’s not exactly natural. The strange melty silver rocks that are coming out of the rift are even better proof that traditional geology has no good way to describe this disaster. So many apparently impossible things…”
“Times like these make me really think that anything’s possible, bad or good.” I said, with a glance at Erin as she tucked one of her bangs behind her ear. “So what kind of rocks are you going to show us?”
“Well, there’s one in particular I like. It’s just a really beautiful gemstone. There are others you might like—”
A siren interrupted her.
“What the…” I imagined a crushed bank alarm springing to life.
“No way.” Kris’s voice rose in the direction of the screech. “That sounds like it’s coming from the protected storage area.”
“The what?” Erin asked, looking with annoyance in the direction of the sound.
“The place we were planning to go,” Kris clarified.
“Were?” I hit upon Kris’s use of the past tense as a reflex, but both girls gave me looks. They had picked up my implication just before I did.
The frown on our geological guide told me that going forward was not at the top of her list of options, but Erin’s expression had a little excitement in it. As foreigners trying to help Tokyo’s desperate victims, my team leader had emphasized that a good first impression could be very powerful. I decided to make use of it now.
“Maybe… someone needs help,” I suggested.
The girls gave me a look. Too vague? With a shrug, I cut to the point. Go big or go home. “Maybe we could go see what’s happened,” I said more decisively.
Taking a short step in the alarm’s direction, I turned to see how they would react. The decision of our geological guide pushed me forward: “Well, I suppose I could go. Sometimes the alarm can be a little too sensitive,” Kris said.
In the lead, I broke into a trot. So did the girls.
The question finally flashed across my mind: Do you know what you’re doing? It could be dangerous! But, with the girls quick on my heels, I didn’t want to slow down. I was already committed, so I set my jaw and stepped a little faster, to give them more room behind me to move across the treacherous ground. Traversing around and through the tiny piles of broken cement, the siren grew louder a bit faster than I expected: we were close.
“This is the place.” Kris grabbed my shoulder and pointed to a large, newly constructed building nearby. Slowing my trot, I let our geological expert take the lead, glad that her familiarity would probably work better in the lead than my impulsive gut instinct.
The storage facility was a small, sturdy metal structure, one of many that had been put up to serve as hospital rooms and communications offices and for other essential purposes. I began to wonder how the geologic researchers could justify needing an alarm for a tiny building in a city without reliably running water… Kris has a good sense of what’s interesting, I decided.
Doing my best to filter out the shrill alarm, the faint sound of something heavy grunting inside the storage shed caught my attention.
“Ron? Is that you?” It was Kris’s raised voice. She was looking, not toward the sound of the grunt, but off down the street.
I gave her a confused look, as Erin said, “I might have seen someone go around a corner, that way.” She pointed down the street toward where Kris had called.
Before I had the chance to say anything to either of them, the grunt interrupted, followed by a banging sound.
“Hey, whoever you are, help me! I’m stuck, and—” the speaker’s voice was muffled. With the alarm blaring, I wasn’t able to understand anything else he was trying to say.
Erin and I looked at Kris. She rushed to the nearby door and punched in a code. The lock clicked, the alarm died, and Kris opened the door. Inside were shelves filled with boxes, many marked in English—with long geological-sounding words—but most were in Japanese. Half of the shelves along one wall had collapsed. A black kid, about our age was half-covered by an overturned desk, one that had somehow trapped him between a shelf and the wall behind him. He gave Kris a look of desperation as he shoved against the heavy metal desk.
Our geological guide stepped closer to this new guy—another geologist?
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” Kris finally asked.
“I got tricked into being here, by the same guy who killed my father’s partner,” said the guy, American from the accent. “Let me go; let me catch him! …I don’t know why, but he stole that cube, too.”
“Cube?” Kris came up to the desk, though she wasn’t in a hurry to get too close to this stranger. Instead she seemed to be looking at something above, along the far wall. I came up behind her and examined the desk. It was crooked, as if some gigantic hand had squeezed it, bent it out of shape. So strange. I looked at the guy trapped behind it. I had to hesitate. Too weird. Kris pointed toward one of the high shelves. “You’re talking about the clear cube that was on the top shelf there?”
“Yeah… How did you know that?” the guy asked Kris. His arms, pushing against the desk, seemed to relax for a moment.
“T-this police stuff is just on the other side of the geological stuff,” Kris gestured. “It’s hard not to notice the cube after looking at so many other crystals and rocks. And they asked—”
“That’s the one, though I think he broke it. The inside is black.” The trapped teenager was quick to agree. “He brought me in through there.” The pinned guy nodded toward the far corner of the room where the metal siding was badly bent, an opening to the outside. “He peeled back that wall.”
Kris, Erin and I all looked at each other. What should we do?
“Listen, I guess you haven’t heard, but my name is Jason Trudeau,” he explained, his words rapid-fire. “My father’s a police officer; his partner was the one killed by the flying police car. Your armbands… you’re all aid volunteers, aren’t you? Surely you’ve heard the story…”
I nodded slowly, and Jason continued. “That same guy, the guy who killed my uncle, my father’s partner, is the one who just stole the crystal cube, who pinned me here! Please, you’ve got to help me get out of here now so I, so someone can catch him!”
Erin’s eyes went wide. “Yeah, it’s you! I saw your picture and your father’s… Andy Trudeau! Ryan, help me here.”
We both grabbed the desk and started hauling at it. I took a second look at him; his face did match, and his eyes were honest… afraid but determined. Kris joined in, and with us three pulling and Jason pushing, we managed to move the massive, mangled piece of furniture.
“I can move; I think I can climb over it,” Jason said. The next moment, he was up and over the desk. His feet touched ground, and he winced. His pants were ripped. There looked to be deep cuts on his legs. His hand was bleeding, too.
“You’re really hurt,” Kris said, taking a handkerchief from her pocket.
“Forget it,” Jason said. “Call the cops.”
Erin was between him and the exit. She jogged, just ahead of him, toward the door. “I saw someone go off down the street, that way,” she said, pointing out into the darkened city.
Kris pressed me forward and I followed Erin and Jason.
The geologist’s daughter seemed to be talking mostly to herself. “Where’s Ron? This is too big of a coincidence. They asked my mom about the crystal cube just last week. It was giving off some weird radiation, they said. …If they think my mom or I was involved… Where is that guard?”
Outside, Jason had already put some distance between him and us, headed in the direction Erin had pointed, toward the mystery figure.
“Guard?” I asked, my eyes darting between Kris and Jason.
Kris gave me a quick look and clarified, “The guard on duty, Ron, where is he? He has a radio…” She turned to Erin, “The person you saw might have been him.”
Erin nodded, and Kris took off, shouting “Ron! Help! Ron!” Her voice and footsteps echoed between the buildings; the city seemed even emptier than before under the specks of starlight.
And then Erin was off, running after Kris. She stopped, though, and turned. The pretty girl called me, saying, “What are you waiting for, Ryan? We’re not going to let her go off after them by herself!”
I was responsible for bringing them here. Kris, our guide, had even been reluctant to come. I overtook Erin, and now we all were running after the shadow that she had seen.
Looking ahead, I saw Kris vanish around the corner of a building. I suddenly realized how easy it would be to get lost. I looked back, though, and sure enough, there was Erin, not two steps behind me. Her eyes were focused ahead, and something about that was clearer than any road sign, pointing after Kris and Jason, and Ron.
We turned the corner onto a main street. Movement in the distance: Jason had taken another turn. A blinking blue stoplight illuminated Kris kneeling over something. Erin and I quickly caught up to her. There was a burning smell; the stench was terrible.
“It’s Ron’s radio!” Kris said, showing it to us. There was a big scratch down one side.
“You don’t think he…” Erin’s voice trailed off.
“De-vi-dis!” a strange cry interrupted her as it broke through the night air. It was Jason’s voice in the distance, ripe with rage. What did it mean? …That he needed help. I looked at the two girls, then snatched the radio from Kris’s hands, moving as fast as my legs would carry me toward the sound of Jason’s voice.
“Hello… hello?” I squeezed the talk button between heaving breaths as I ran. There was no sound, no response from the device. Broken? I gave up trying to talk and run at the same time. Something banged along an intersecting street. I took the turn, noticing the girls behind me. There were even fewer buildings ahead: we were getting close to the waterfront.
When we took that next turn, I suddenly was unsure whether we had last taken a right or a left. Was I lost? I looked behind, and there was Erin and Kris. My legs ached, but I decided to keep moving.
“Did you see them….?” I gasped.
“We were following you…” Erin replied.
“That way.” Kris pointed.
We reached the end of the street, and there was Jason, running into a long, flat building, one that looked to have only half-collapsed during the earthquake.
“A warehouse…?” I gasped. It seemed particularly ominous. Erin and Kris dashed ahead of me, though, before I could suggest anything about keeping them, or any of us, safe. Kris made her way inside the concrete shell, and Erin was close behind her. I squeezed the radio’s talk button, let it go, put the receiver to my ear… nothing. It was dead.
Dead… I was out of my depth, but there was nothing to do now but go with it. This warehouse area had been abandoned. I looked around, but, sure enough, there was no one else to help us, to help Jason. The radio went in my back pocket. Erin’s feet crunched in the distance across the gravel-strewn ground. She was inside now, too.
I ran after them, wanting to shout a word of warning, but suddenly afraid we would find the storage shed thief, the man who murdered the cop with a flying car, and that shouting would draw his attention. I almost hesitated again, but I would never have forgiven myself if I had let them go in by themselves. I shut off my fears of the worst and rushed after Jason Trudeau and the girls, into the dark warehouse.
A dozen footsteps inside the cavernous space, though, we heard a pop-pop-pop. The girls and I ducked immediately. Erin bit her lip, and Kris was breathing particularly hard. Wooden crates were blocking the view for me, and I knew it was time for the girls to leave.
“It’s not safe. You should go,” I told them.
“We’re not going to just leave you here,” Erin whispered her reply.
“Well, at least one of you should run back and call or wait for help, point them in this—“
Suddenly lights snapped on, full and constant, no flickering here. A shiver ran through my shoulder blades, left to right. The three of us ducked lower behind the crates. The lights cut faint shadows in a circle around Jason as he took cautious steps toward the middle of a concrete area exposed to the night sky. A bird’s wings beat through the starlight overhead. The entire sky lay bare above us; only a few thick structural girders stretched across the space where the warehouse ceiling should have been. How were the lights on?
Kris let out a horrified gasp, and I looked ahead toward where Jason had picked up a bloody pistol. A meaty arm slumped to the ground, and a red, wet helmet wobbled in the dust. No doubting it was Ron, had been Ron. I took the radio from my pocket and squeezed the buttons, panicking.
“Help, help, help,” I whispered desperately. In Japanese, I added, “Tasukete!”
Though he was a fair distance away, I thought I saw Jason’s face grow pale. He scanned the illuminated room with his gun raised and ready. This was getting more dangerous by the moment. I thought about running, but decided to remain where I was, with the girls, and not attract attention. Still not knowing what I was doing, I positioned myself in front of the two girls, behind the crates, between them and Jason. My breaths came short and fast. Before I had another chance to say, “We really should leave,” there was a shadow, and a deep, predatory voice:
“Who do we have here?”
I looked up into horrifyingly black eyes. There didn’t look to be any irises on the old man, just wide, deep pupils. Jason’s gun swung toward the voice. I grabbed both girls by the shoulder and pulled us down against the ground, still behind the crates that separated us from Jason. Looking back up toward the old man with black eyes, I wasn’t sure I had made the safest choice. We were helpless…
“Jason!” Erin shouted. “Put down the gun!”
There was a pause before Jason called out, “Step away from them, Devidis.”
“Slow down, Jason,” the old man said. “It was you who invited your friends. They’ve come a long way. Don’t just send them back; it’s impolite,” the old man’s voice was softly sinister, like a snake across swamp water. His tan overcoat swished as he crouched down to meet us.
Keeping low to the ground, I looked around the side of a crate toward where Jason stood, gun now lowered slightly.
“Let us go. You don’t need us between you two,” I said.
I nodded to the two girls, and started crawling away.
The slap of knees and elbows behind me told me I was followed.
“It’s equally rude to leave without so much as an introduction,” the old man growled.
On instinct, I started to get to my feet, to run, but the crates, the same ones we had been hiding behind, had now slid in front of us, blocking our way.
I turned, and saw Jason raise his gun toward the old man with the black eyes, now without cover of his own.
“You three, get out of here!” he said, and opened fire at the old man.
THUD THUD THUD
Again, I dropped to the floor. A fat pile of gravel had risen between Jason and the old man, blocking Jason’s bullets. Stumbling to my feet, I pulled Kris by the arm toward where Erin was already running for cover. More crates moved to block our path. Looking for another way out, I glanced behind me to see the gravel pile collapse in a rumbling wave, a spill that knocked Jason to the ground as well.
“Run!” Jason shouted to us, as he scrambled for his weapon.
I searched desperately for a clear exit, but the crates kept sliding in front of us. I had no idea how he was manipulating the big wooden boxes, but the old man seemed to be shifting his attention easily between Jason and the three of us. The girls were close behind me, frightened, but silent. The wave of gravel continued turning against Jason.
“Don’t go for the gun again,” the old man commanded him. “It’s getting boring.”
The policeman’s son was half-buried in the tiny rocks. He seemed to have given up. The crates all around us began to close in, pressing all four of us closer to the old man with the black eyes.
“Interesting, Jason. You didn’t make me wait for more volunteers. There are four talents, and now four of you… Perhaps you are here responding to some kind of c