In the near future, a teenaged boy with teleportation powers battles the forces of evil
After the tragic death of his friend and teacher, Dr. Martin Rheingold, sixteen-year-old Michael Pryce was surprised to learn that he was to inherit all the good doctor's notes and equipment related to his last, unfinished project: an instant transportation device. When far-famed entrepreneur Anthony Fitch, heard of this, he offered to buy the badly damaged equipment from the boy for a generous sum. Michael agreed on one condition-- he was to be the first human test subject. Two months later, the experiment commenced with high hopes-- and disastrous results. A malfunction caused a massive explosion, destroying the lab and all the equipment and pushing Dr. Rheingold's dream forever out of reach. In the resulting chaos, only one figure remained standing in the ruined laboratory. It was Michael, unharmed, but covered with a strange shadowy substance. Just as the shadows consumed him, he vanished in a wisp of sooty smoke.
The last thing I remember about the day of the experiment was watching Fitch, Dr. Neale, and the three assisting technicians make a mad dash for the door. I think Fitch might have made it. After that it's just blank. When I woke up the first thing I noticed was the ground I was laying on was not the dirty, white linoleum of the fortieth floor laboratory, but gritty, rusty, orange dirt. It wasn't man-made, I was pretty sure, but at the same time it seemed... unnatural. It felt alien, greasy, and unpleasant against my skin. I looked up at my surroundings, but there wasn't all that much to see. The air was thick with banks of sooty, grey-black smoke that obscured my vision beyond a few hundred feet. What little of the sky was visible through the haze was only a slightly darker shade of orange than the ground. Within the relatively narrow sphere of my vision, I could see a rocky, forbidding landscape sculpted into craggy precipices like broken teeth and deep, treacherous ravines like old scars. There were a handful of pits dotting the land, pits that might, in the world I knew, have been small ponds. In this freak-o world, they were pits of fire. Seeing this, I thought what any other right-minded lapsed Methodist would think: Well, that's it. I didn't go to church enough and now I'm in Hell. Shit.
All around me, staggering, were horribly twisted things that seemed tragically familiar somehow. Some were almost human, if you didn't take their slack, expressionless faces and hateful, soulless eyes into account. Three of the most human-esque ones grouped together and formed a kind of honor guard. In the center of them, a pool of inky black stuff appeared and shaped into a figure taller than the other three. This fourth figure was clothed in fluttering black robes. Its skin was dusky grey and its hands were long, slender and tipped with hooked claws. Its head was tall and narrow and, as far as I could see, completely hairless. A single, cyclopean eye bulged from the center of its head. The eye was dull yellow in color and the small pupil in the center was red like a single drop of blood in a puddle of urine. A jagged, toothy mouth split the lower half of its face. The inside of this oral orifice seemed to flicker and glow with a sick, orange fire.
"Beasts of the Inner Realms are not welcome here," gurgled the sexless fat thing that looked like a cross between a man and a shar pei. "The debt must be paid to Lord Ku for this affront."
"It will be sacrificed in the fires of the pit and what poisoned meat is left will be fed to the lesser orders and thus the line of Gorma will be furthaer purified, praise the Shining Eye," said the rat-man with five bleeding, ragged ears growing on the base of its skull and down its neck.
"Praise the Eye!" the other two intoned.
"What say you, oh Highest One?" inquired the smooth voice of the last of the honor guard, who wore a great deal of oily, black, leather armor and whose facial imperfections were hidden beneath a full-face, black motorcycle helmet. This last had an air of being a superior officer, perhaps even an advisor to this "Highest One." All three turned to look at the dark central figure for his verdict.
The one-eyed being stared at me for what seemed like years, his pin-point red pupil seeming to pierce my heart and mind. Near the end of this scrutiny, I began to wish he would just sentence me to death so I could escape that terrible gaze. When he finally spoke, the voice came, not from his glowing mouth, but from... everywhere. It seemed as if the very tortured soil and air were speaking to me. It was then that I realized this being was far more than what I could see. The orange of his mouth was the same orange of the earth and sky. The black and grey of his robes and skin were the same as the banks of smoke in the air. The yellow and red of his eye were the same as the pits of flame. In a strange way that I can't fully explain, I understood that whatever this being was in relation to my world, here, it was everything. Here, it was God.
"The Inner Realmsman shall be spared," said One-Eye. Rat-Man and Fat Thing began chattering loudly to each other in an unintelligible language, while the superior guardsman spoke calmly and in perfect English to his leader.
"Lord Ku, is this wise?" he asked, "He is an alien here. He will not last. If the people do not kill him, the air will in a matter of weeks. Even if it is your intent to be merciful, would it not be more so just to put him out of his misery now?"
"This one is special," replied Ku, "His coming is a long awaited signal. The realms are shifting. I feel it in the ground and in the fire. The time of conquest draws near and in that time this one shall be my herald in his realm."
"Do you question my judgment, General Mordierre? After I made you more than you could ever have hoped of being? After I saved you from oblivion and gave your life new purpose."
"No, Lord Ku," said Mordierre humbly, "I... I apologize."
"Accepted. As to his stay here, it will be brief. No more than a few hours. Then he is sent back."
"But my Lord, you cannot breach the barriers of your domain."
"No. But he can," Ku pointed to me, "How do you think he got here?"
"Wait. Wait, I can't do anything," I said, finding my voice.
"Prepare the ceremonial raiment from the armory," Ku said to Mordierre, ignoring me.
"Yes, Lord Ku," said Mordierre. When he was gone, Ku turned to me.
"I am Ku," he said, "I rule here. Everything you see, I have made."
"Are you the Devil?" I asked, terrified. Ku cocked his head quizzically, then laughed.
"Child, I am far greater than any worthless imaginary deity your weak-minded species could concoct. Listen carefully. Do not speak. For many of your millennia I have striven against my sister Astra, who rules your realm. She is the being you know as Fate or occasionally 'Lady Luck'. I want to take that which is hers, break it, and reshape it as I will, but my influence has not, as yet, been able to cross the barriers between the realms. Your people however, have been successful where I have failed. Foolish tampering with the barriers has left them weakened and in very little time I shall break free of this prison and ruin all that my siblings have made and kept from me. I have appointed you my herald. Your duty is to return to your world and wait until you are signaled to prepare for my arrival. You do not need to know how to do this yet. When the time comes, you will understand."
"Hold it," I said, "You're talking about destroying everything I've ever known. You expect me to help you with that? I don't think so."
"Ah, yes, there's that pesky free will again. Well, more power to you, my boy, but you see, I will break free of this place with or without your help. Mordierre is also capable of crossing over and can perform your duties if need be. Your realm and Astra's domination are over. You can either stand with me and be rewarded in the wake of my victory, or deny your destiny and be destroyed with all the rest. Or perhaps you'd like to join the ranks of the Gorma." Ku gestured at the Fat Thing who was now crawling on his belly, using his fingerless flippers to scoop the orange dirt into his mouth.
"Come child," said Ku, "Which will it be?"
This is the part where I'd like to say I stood up, a bastion of will power and self-sacrifice and told Ku that I'd rather suffer for an eternity than betray my world. Something about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few or some other corny shit out of Star Trek. What I said was:
"I will do as you command, Lord Ku."
"You already show considerable wisdom. I know I will not regret choosing you. Here is Mordierre. He will clothe you in the manner of my officers and help you to return to your realm. There you should rest and work on mastering your new abilities. I will call when your time comes. Be ready." With that Ku's corporeal body vanished, although I still felt his presence everywhere.
"Come with me," said Mordierre and he walked away without looking back. I hurried to follow. I barely knew if any of this was real or a dream, but I was so terrified I left such contemplations for later. At the time, the most important thing was to seem as agreeable as possible and pray no one killed me. Mordierre led me to a stone shack surrounded by small cages in which were contained black, fluttering insects slightly larger than my hand.
"What did he mean by my new abilities?" I asked.
"The machine that brought you here did something very strange to your physiology. No one here knows just what, or we wouldn't have to use you, but whatever it was, it has allowed you to pass through the barriers between this realm and yours. I believe the ability is called teleportation in your realm. Also, as a minion of Ku, your natural abilities have been enhanced. As you see, you are already marked." He whipped a small mirror from somewhere and angled it so I could see a yellowed spot of skin right on the junction between my breastbone and collarbones. It was shaped like an eye. Ku's eye. "And you are already reaping the benefits." I could also see that my body had grown suddenly leaner and more muscular.
"Wasn't I supposed to get some armor or something?" I asked.
"You were, but I've brought you here to the sombra moth farms to get something better." A grotesque pig-beetle creature scuttled out of the shack and handed Mordierre a small pack of cloth.
"Done," it grunted.
"Lovely," said Mordierre, "Thank you. Now run as fast as you can if you value your miserable excuse for a life. Tell no one of this." The pig-beetle ran.
"This," Mordierre said, "is your new suit. It is a special cloth called shadow silk that is spun by the larvae of these moths. It is impossible to cut or tear and it will not allow anyone but its owner to keep hold of it. It can blend with the darkness and, with practice, you can even learn to reshape it by mental command into simple tools." Mordierre held the package out to me. "Take it," he said. I looked at the package for a brief moment.
"Ku doesn't know you're giving me this, does he?" I asked. I could tell from the way his body stiffened that this was not a question I was supposed to ask.
"No," Mordierre said at last, "No he doesn't. He believes he is all-knowing, but for you and I, people not of his world, that isn't true."
"Then why are you helping me?"
"I only want what you want," he said, "To be free of this thing's claws forever. I want you to take him down before he can wreck everything good about our world."
"So you lived in my realm, too?"
"Yes, or one very similar to it. And when I was there, I was someone to be feared. Once, I almost caused a war that would have destroyed all of humanity." His voice grew wistful as an old man's when he is talking about good old days spent in some back lot playing stick ball with his childhood friends. "But those days are gone," he sighed, "That's why I want you to stand against him when he relies on you the most, and I want you to have an edge when you do. This is it."
"How can I fight him? He's like a god."
"Yes. He's a god here. But in your realm, on our turf, well..." he shrugged and let the sentence hang. "Don't get me wrong, kid. Back when I lived in the real world I would have killed you for the hell of it, but now that whole lifestyle is being threatened. I don't want to create a world where fear is so commonplace that it becomes mundane, that would be my own personal Hell. You don't want to lose the world you know either, so for the time being, we are on the same side. That doesn't mean I won't find you and kill you when it's all over but, eh, that's life."
I wasn't sure what to make of what Mordierre was telling me. I didn't know if he was serious or not, but it was clear he was trying to help me. So I said, "Thank you, Mordierre." His hand was at my throat in the blink of an eye.
"You never call me that!" he snarled, "Ku calls me that because I can't kill him for it, but I can and will kill you however highly he might value your service!"
"I-I'm sorry," I choked, "What should I call you?"
"Call me what they called me back before I was brought to this shameful place. Back when I was a plague on the First Realm. Back then, they called me the Raze."
I groggily opened my eyes and stared at an anonymous, white ceiling. I could smell citrus-scented antiseptic. I was in a small room, comfortable, but devoid of personality. There was an awkward hush in the air, broken only by the hurried clack of footsteps from somewhere outside my field of vision. After a few minutes of listening to the dead quiet, I picked up the faint buzzing of fluorescent lights. There was an annoying bleep noise next to my ear and I turned to see a heart monitor. Hospital, I thought. I'm in a hospital.
I don't like hospitals. Still groggy, I tried to sit up and slide off the bed, but my progress was interrupted by a yanking pain. An IV was burrowed into the crook of each elbow and secured with what looked like common masking tape. I pulled the tape off. It tore at my arm hair and I winced. I gently eased the needles out of my skin and watched as a tiny sphere of liquid formed on the tip, and dropped down onto my cheap, thin, sheet. I used a plastic clip located near the bag to cinch off the IV tube. Vaguely, I wondered if it was a good idea to just take them out, but I felt fine, just hungry and thirsty and my mouth was horribly dry, so I pulled out and cinched the other one, too.
Climbing out of bed, I found an ID bracelet reading "John Doe?15-17 y/o male" on my wrist. I ripped this off and tossed it in the wastebasket. If I was lucky, I thought, I'd be able to sneak out of here before anyone noticed. The last thing my mom needed was to find out I had been in a horrible accident while participating in a crackpot experiment. I couldn't help marveling at the wild dream of demons and evil plots I had had. Cliché as it may sound, it really did all seem so real. In retrospect, of course, I was glad it hadn't been. I was so engrossed in my vivid dream, I forgot to be careful as I left my room.
"Oh good, you're awake," said the voice of a perky young nurse behind me. "You had us worried there for a while."
"Uh, yeah. I feel much better. Umm... did you take any blood work?"
"No, not yet," she replied, "Your lungs were pretty clogged up from all that smoke and we were hard-pressed just to keep you with us. Now you really ought to get back in bed."
"Yeah. Yeah, that sounds great," I said, sounding tired, "Why don't you lead the way?"
"Sure thing, sir," she chirped and began to walk towards my room. She hadn't taken two steps when I began to run wildly in the opposite direction. She chased after me, calling for me to stop, but that was the last thing on my mind. They had no samples and no way to figure out who I was. If I could get away from this place clean, it would be like I had never been. As I rounded a corner, I came upon two muscular male orderlies who looked all too used to rounding up the crazies. I froze like a raccoon pinned to the spot by a pair of headlights.
"Come on, buddy," said the one on the left, "We're gonna get you back to your bed."
"Don't think so, Scooter," I said, "Got all these errands to run, see?" They lunged at me, and I somehow not only leapt, but backflipped over their heads, my nose almost brushing the ceiling. With no time to waste wondering how I had managed that amazing feat of agility, I began to run again. I took a left, a right, another left. I was completely lost and terrified out of my mind. I ducked through a door to my right and found myself in a broom closet. The distant voices drew closer and I knew I was caught. There was no way out. Maybe it would just be easier to give myself up, tell them what they wanted to know and face the wrath of mother when it came. I squeezed my eyes shut and wished desperately to be somewhere, anywhere out of their reach.
There was a sound like "Phah!" and with no more warning, I felt a gust of cool spring air against my body. I screamed and opened my eyes to find that I was standing on the edge of the roof of the hospital looking down at the parking lot several stories below, which made me scream all over again. I threw myself backward and fell into a shallow puddle, knocking the wind out of my chest. I rolled over, groaning, feeling the paper gown unraveling and sliding down my arms. I got up on my hands and knees. As the surface of the puddle grew still, I looked wide-eyed at a yellowish mark just below my reflection's throat. I traced the shape of an eye with a quivering index finger. It was there, crouching, nearly naked, and staring at my muddy reflection on the roof of Kestrel General Hospital that I began to understand that a bunch of broken equipment had been the least of my inheritance from my friend Marty and that surviving a massive industrial catastrophe would be the tamest of my adventures to come.
to be continued...