And So It Begins
I clawed my way to consciousness and slapped at my alarm. Unfortunately, I misjudged my strength and accidently sent the alarm clock flying into the wall.
“Ugh, . . .” I groaned as I sat up.
I rubbed my eyes and felt the gritty residue of really heavy sleep. ‘That was a crazy dream,’ I thought. It had felt so real, but it couldn’t have been! I mean come on, a Knight of Order? I’m fairly caught up on current events and if there was some kind of Order-Chaos War being fought here in the United States then the Guild would have announced it. At a minimum one of the cable news networks would have been talking about it. I sat still trying to think. I’d never had a dream where I’d actually talked to someone before and it had been unbelievably clear. Then I had an urge to find the bag I’d pulled out of my jeans pocket yesterday. I went to my nightstand and not seeing it I started looking around. I spent several minutes searching for it and at last I spotted it on the floor partially hidden under my well-worn paperback copy of Michael Moorcock’s “Pawn of Chaos: Tales of the Eternal Champion.” I picked up the bag and was surprised to find it empty. I glanced at the clock and realized I needed to get moving I could look for the ring once I got home from school. I looked down at the rumpled clothes I’d slept in and decided a shower was in order. I crossed to the bathroom only to discover that Christina was already inside.
“Damn!” Okay plan “B” breakfast and then a shower. I went down to the kitchen and finding it empty sat down and started eating.
“Joel Ryan Campbell, did you sleep in your clothes?!”
I looked over my shoulder to see my mother standing in the doorway glaring at me. “Uhmmm, . . . yeah, I guess so. I was just so tired that I forgot to take them off last night.”
“Well you’re not going to go to school looking like that. When you finish eating you’re going to go upstairs and change.”
I looked at her for a second and rather than tell her that I had no intention of going to school in these clothes I decided to just nod. “Yes, ma’am.” I finished eating went back upstairs just as Christina was leaving the bathroom.
“All yours, Joel,” she said, with a laugh.
I had no idea what she did in there in the morning since she showered the night before, I just figured it was one of those female mysteries I was better off not knowing.
I closed the bathroom door and looked into the mirror. I was startled to see that my hair was several shades darker than yesterday and much longer. If it kept growing at this rate I’d need a haircut by the weekend. Then I leaned in to look closer and saw that for the second day in a row I didn’t need to shave and my skin was paler. In fact I now had almost the same complexion as Christina.
“Weird.” I got the shower going and while I waited for it to heat up dumped my clothes into the corner and stepped on the scale.
I was down to 130 lbs and I hadn’t been trying to cut weight at all. In fact I’d just eaten two bowls of cereal, toast, and a banana. What the heck is going on with my metabolism, I wondered. The shower was now warm so I stepped in and started lathering up. After a few minutes of scrubbing I looked down and was surprised by all of the hair in the floor of the stall. I glanced down and saw that all of the hair on my arms and been scrubbed clean. I looked at my legs and realized that they were as smooth as a new born babe!
“What the fuck is going on!?”
I again looked at my arms and saw a small spot on my left forearm with a strip of hair. Carefully I ran my hand over the area only to watch, in dismay, as all of the hair fell out as I brushed it. I turned off the water and got out drying off as quickly as possible. The mirror was covered in condensation. I wiped it clean looked over as much of my body as I could. My skin was now very pale and I had hair on my head and around my crotch but I had no hair on my arms, legs, or armpits. In addition my chest felt a little sore and my nipples were sensitive and looked a little puffy, which was strange.
I wrapped a towel around my waist scooped up my dirty clothes and dashed across the hallway to my room. I realized I was running late and hurriedly got dressed and raced down to the kitchen where Christina was waiting impatiently for me.
“Aren’t you ready yet, princess?” She teased, “God, I thought girls were supposed to take their time getting ready.”
“Bite me.” I went to get the keys only to discover that Christina already had them.
“It’s my turn to drive today, remember?”
“Fine.” With that we headed out to school.
If anything I was even more distracted today than yesterday. It wasn’t just hearing things or becoming fascinated by sights and colors. All day I felt like there was someone looking over my shoulder and whenever I turned around it seemed like I should’ve been able to see my mysterious companion. But there was never anyone there. Then at lunch Cindy Markland, easily the hottest girl in the senior class, had all but asked me out and I’d been so distracted I’d missed it. When she left Jeff hit me on my arm.
“Dude, are you just brain dead today or what?”
“Huh, what are you talking about?”
“You’ve wanted to go out with Cindy since 9th grade and she comes over and talks to you and you just grunt either yes or no? What the hell is wrong with you man?”
“I don’t know! I’ve just felt out of it today, besides I’m dating Marci.”
Jeff just shook his head and picked up his tray. “Well I hope you’re ready for practice after school or Coach will have your ass!”
I got to the locker room late. I’d had to find Christina and let her know that she could take the car since Jeff was giving me a ride home, again. Coach had made me do laps for being late which was fine since I felt like I had energy to burn. Once practice really got going I just sort of fell into a zone. Everything once again felt so slow and easy. Like everyone else was moving in slow motion and the exercises where easier than ever. I raced up the peg board setting a new record for getting to the top and down again. Rope climbs had been cake and then during one-on-one drills it felt like I was toying with my partner. At the end of practice coach had weighed us and I was down to 125 lbs.
“Joel, son, you need to stop cutting, you could wrestle down another class. But I need you at 132, understood?”
“Yes, sir.” I replied, feeling confused. I hadn’t been trying to cut weight.
The drive home had been filled with Jeff playing heavy metal in celebration of the weekend and getting ready for tomorrow’s tournament. As we got closer to my house I noticed that we’d been passed by a cop car and then a fire-truck. When Jeff pulled onto my street I could see smoke rising and the street was blocked off.
“Hey, just drop me off here. I’ll walk the rest of the way.”
“Are you sure? It looks like there’s been a fire.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
I grabbed my backpack and as soon as Jeff pulled over I jumped out. I waved good-bye and started walking toward my house. As I did, I once again felt a stirring behind me like someone was looking over my shoulder. I turned around in a full circle looking for whoever it was and didn’t see anyone.
As I got closer to my house I saw more emergency vehicles and then I realized they weren’t just near my house. They were at my house! I broke into a run and only made it two steps before a voice spoke.
“Joel, beware! I sense the power of a Daemon. Slow down and let’s look around.”
I stopped and looked around and again saw no one.
“Cordi is that you?” I whispered, trying to remember the name of the woman from my dream.
“Yes, and whatever is going on up ahead was caused by a Daemon! You need to be very careful. The daemon won’t be able to sense me in you yet because we’re still joining. But we are very vulnerable right now. Don’t rush in and don’t do anything out of the ordinary and if I tell you to do something just do it, okay!?”
“No, it’s not okay. I’m talking to an imaginary friend and my house is on fire! I need to know if my family is okay.”
“Keep your voice down! No one else can hear me. We don’t want people to see you talking to yourself. When I’m joining a new vessel I’m almost totally undetectable. There was no connection between you and Beth so my enemies shouldn’t have been able to find you or your family, but if they have, then, . . . . yes . . . your family is in danger.”
“Okay, I’ll take it slow, but after this we need to talk. I didn’t ask to be your, . . . vessel?! And my family better be okay.”
I moved forward at a brisk walk and in a few seconds, was able to confirm that my house was the source of all the attention. Two fire trucks were spraying water onto the house in an attempt to keep it from spreading to the other houses in the neighborhood.
I stood there, watching the fire, my mind to stunned to understand or to really think about what I should do. Then noticed a fireman, sitting in a sedan with fire department markings, talking on the radio. As I approached him I felt Cordi stir inside of me.
“Joel, be careful, don’t tell him who you are. Say that your name is Jeff and you’re friend Joel lives here.”
I knew the voice was in my head but it was hard not to twitch and turn to look for the woman speaking.
“Excuse me, sir.” I said, trying to get the fireman’s attention.
“What is it son? This is an active fire scene you need to get back.”
“Sir, my friend Joel Campbell lives there,” I said, pointing at my house. “Do you know if he’s okay?”
“It’s too early to know if anyone was in the house. Do you know if Joel or his parents have a cell phone?”
“Sure,” I said, and gave him my mother’s cell phone number.
“Thanks, kid, what did you say your name was?”
“Jeff, . . . Jeff White” I lied.
“Okay, why don’t you head on home Jeff. I appreciate the help.”
After I’d walked up the block I turned on the first side street moving away from my house. “What the hell is going on?” I fought to stay calm.
“I felt the power of a daemon. In fact I know which daemon it was. I just don’t understand how he found us.”
“A daemon? H-How? . . . Where is my family? What’s going on?”
“Look, Joel, I’ll answer all of your questions, but not here on the street. I’ve got a safe house nearby, let’s go there and talk.”
“How will we get there? I don’t have a car, unless you’re saying it’s within walking distance.”
“Give me control of our body for a minute and I’ll see what can be done.”
“Assuming I was good with that, how would I do it?”
“Just relax, easy back, and think of letting someone else steer.”
I felt apprehensive, yet somehow I felt like I could trust Cordi, so I let out a breath and closed my eyes and tried to relax. After a moment my eyes opened even though I hadn’t opened them. I started to panic but Cordi was there.
“It’s okay Joel, I’ve got it, I won’t hurt you just please try to stay calm.”
I fought down my panic and after a moment I felt my head look left then right. Then I started jogging down the street. There was a van parked at the curb that had caught Cordi’s attention. It was an older van with plenty of rust spots and it was also sitting under the branches of a large oak tree. The tree cast a long shadow over the van and Cordi moved us up next to it. She reached out and placed one of my fingers on the driver’s side window and focused on the plainly visible knob locking the door. For a second the light seemed to distort and a shadow inside the van curled around the knob and then there was a clicking sound as the knob moved up and the door unlocked.
“Wow, that was cool!” I thought, at Cordi.
“Thanks, but be still, I’m trying to focus. This is extremely hard right now since we are not properly merged. There’s also a slight risk of discovery when I use my power, so we need to be quick.”
I had the strange sensation of feeling my mouth move without me controlling it and the even stranger sensation of hearing a woman’s voice. With that Cordi slid us into the driver’s seat and shut the door. She then reached down and cupped the ignition with my hand and I again felt a sort of trickle of energy then my hand turned and the van started up. When Cordi pulled my hand away, for a second, there appeared to be a kind of shadow key in the ignition, but now that the van was running it dissolved.
“Joel, you’ll need to drive. I’m not strong enough to stay in control.”
“Where am I driving?”
“I’ll give you directions.”
Suddenly, I was once again in control of my body. I pulled the van out and headed away from my house trying not to think about my parents and my sister. A little over an hour later I was pulling into the driveway of a secluded farm house, about twenty minutes from Richmond, VA.
“This isn’t Norfolk you know.”
“You’re right, I don’t have a safe house in Norfolk, I like my privacy and this is the closest safe house I have.”
“I’m not complaining but I’ve got a thousand questions and you haven’t been real talkative.”
“I’ve been trying to figure out what happened. Come on let’s go inside and get some food and then I’ll answer as many of your questions as I can.”
I parked the van behind the farm house so it couldn’t be seen from the road and then at Cordi’s direction found a spare key hidden in the barn. As I approached the house Cordi made me stop.
“Joel, I need to take control again for a few seconds.”
“Why?” I asked looking around for possible threats.
“Because the house is warded, I paid a guild Magic-User to ward the house so I’ll need to part the ward. I just need control for a few seconds.”
I closed my eyes and tried to relax. This time I felt it as Cordi took control. Once again my eyes opened without me doing it and I watched as my right hand rose and my fingers twisted into a strange looking gesture. Then Cordi spoke;
“Kaló̱s í̱rthate sto spíti filo”
Even though I expected it, it was still weird to feel my mouth moving without me controlling it and the sound of a woman’s voice coming out of my mouth speaking words I didn’t understand. I also noticed a tingling sensation and my limited ability to sense magic told something had happened.
“The wards are down and will stay down for about five minutes. We need to get inside.”
I suddenly realized that I was back in control so I walked up to the back door of the house and used the key to open the door. Once inside I could tell it had been a long time since anyone had been here. Most of the furniture was covered and there was a layer of dust on everything. Cordi directed me to the kitchen and the pantry, which was stocked with canned goods, and I got to work heating up a can of chicken soup.
“Okay, you said you explain all of this too me, now feels like a pretty good time.”
“There’s a war going on between the Courts of Order and the Wastes of Chaos, it’s known as the ‘Eternal War’ and has been going on since the beginning of time. In fact, the Chaos spawn will argue that it was the Court of Order’s imposition of time upon the Multi-Verse that sparked the first battle. Over the last thousand years the two sides of settled into a balance. It’s when the balance is disrupted that life throughout the multiverse is threatened.”
“Uhmmm . . . who or what are you? Why did . . . uh . . . Beth ‘Mark’ me?”
“My name is Caecus Cordi, I’m the Court of Order’s Knight of Shadows. I was sent here to this realm by the Grand Duchess DePotentia Et’Honestas when she learned that the Daemon Lords where going to begin invading. We aren’t yet sure why they chose this realm but I’ve been ordered to stop them and protect the natives.”
“Why are you in my head? And couldn’t you have contacted the Guild they protect mundane humans, like me, from magical predators?”
“I’m more than just in your head Joel. When you accepted my Mark my spirit, mind, and power began to merge with you. I can’t manifest a physical body here and neither can a daemon.” At this Cordi paused for a moment and then continued. “The other knights, assigned to this realm, and I have discussed contacting the Guild but my brothers and sisters believe that at this point it might do more harm than good. For now we are trying to fight our war with the daemons without drawing too much attention.”
I had to pause for a few seconds and think about what she’d just said. I didn’t think that I’d ‘accepted’ her mark. True, I’d answered Beth’s questions and I could have moved away and left her there to die. Instead, I’d stayed where I was and allowed her to touch me.
“Uhm, okay, you can give me more of the big picture later. Where is my family? And are they okay? You said that you know which daemon was at my house.”
“I felt the echo of X’lye’ous power back at your house. He is a powerful Fire Daemon, I’m sure he is responsible for starting the fire.”
“Why!? Why would some daemon set my house on fire?”
“There are a few reasons. He might have been trying to capture your family, thinking that I was in your mother or sister, and accidently set the house on fire. He could have missed your family and set it on fire as a warning or did it to get me to respond, to draw me out before I’m ready to face him . . . or, he might have done it for fun, X’lye’ous likes to burn things.”
“How do I find my family? Can I call my mom or dad’s cell phones?”
“Not just now. For now we need to be patient. If you’re family is okay we’ll find them tomorrow, if they’ve been captured then we’ll have to figure out how to rescue them.”
“So what do we do tonight?”
“Tonight we start exercising. I’ll show you how to use my power. The more of my power you draw, the faster we’ll finish the joining. If your family has been captured then we’ll need to be as fully joined as possible to rescue them.”
“And I thought tonight would be easy since there isn’t any Aikido on Friday.” I said in a lame attempt to make a joke.
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