“And I wonder, will this end in a flicker or a blaze?”
My name is Keira Ryan.
Guardian. High School Graduate. Child of Sun and Moon.
Not necessarily in that order.
Weird on a college application, but that’s what I am. I’m the girl who has a destiny to fulfill. And just what is that destiny? Why am I here?
My destiny involves another world. Hundreds of years ago, the continent of Atlantis was banished from our world for the safety of humankind. You see, Atlantis was home to a gremlin-like species of creatures called mogdocs. Only their hatred of humans surpasses their want for human blood.
And now, they’re trying to claw their way back into our world. My destiny is to stop them. It’s the How that’s been eluding me.
The prophecy says that I will “impart a human gift to bring forth the fall of the house of Gammen.”
The fall, well, that’s more complicated than it seems. Brun Gammen is the last in the line of Gammens, the current emperor of the Mogdoc Empire.
And he’s sorta obsessed with me. He believes that my destiny means that we will marry and the human gift will be our child.
He is not the only one who believes this. A radical group of guardians and mogdocs, called the Unionists, believe the same. They have proven their dedication to their cause, willing to deceive and even kill to make it happen. “Forward to the Fall,”” they always say. I’m totally sick of hearing that phrase.
Me? I don’t believe in the sacred union. Come on, I’m eighteen.
Still, Brun and I have sort of a history. Half human, the only physical trait he inherited from his mogdoc father was his brilliant green eyes. He’s gorgeous. More than gorgeous. Insanely hot. If he didn’t have a black mogdoc heart beating in his chest, I could absolutely picture myself with him without a second of hesitation. It’s not hard. I just have to tug on a memory. After all, I used to be with him. Long before I knew who he really was, I was his girlfriend. He broke my heart to protect me from his secret and his family.
Whether I believe in the union or not, Brun is right about one thing. If I don’t promise myself to him soon, the Unionists will come after those I love. Strike the heart first.
My oldest friend, Colby Hayes, would be at the top of that list. I’m sure of it. Maybe he’d see it coming. Sometimes he can see small bits of the future. Still, I’m not willing to take the chance. If anything ever happened to him, I…I’d…I just couldn’t imagine what I would do.
Maybe I would disappear like Ann.
My time traveling protector and friend, Ann Martin, lost the love of her life, Jumper Johnson. When I refused Brun, mogdoc assassins seized the opportunity. They made a play for the throne and swept in for the kill. Ann wouldn’t leave my side, and of course, Jump wouldn’t leave hers. He should have known it was a fight not meant for humans. But he didn’t, and now he is dead. Ann is gone, grieving somewhere in time.
I stayed behind. I made sure Jump was their last victim. Ever.
We left no witnesses, so Brun was able to go back to the Citadel and continue his rule, keeping the mogdocs in check for now. In time, the Sect of Low’s disappearance might eventually draw suspicion from his subjects.
The fortunate part of it all is that mogdocs are more interested in survival and power than in justice. Anyone who could defeat the entire Sect, the empire’s most talented assassins, is not someone you would want to cross. Quite the opposite. The mogdocs are probably seeing Brun with new, admiring eyes.
No, as insane as it sounds, I’m not worried about retaliation from the mogdocs. My worry is the Unionists. They will not stop until the House of Gammen has fallen.
So, I’m trying to figure out how to move forward. I can take a stand and try to protect my friends and family. That’s the riskiest strategy.
The alternative would be to commit myself to Brun; appease the Unionists, marry him if that’s what it takes. According to him, we would rule together, putting an end to the line of Gammen by fostering real change and starting our own legacy.
Yeah, well, Brun’s a mogdoc. Mogdocs manipulate. Mogdocs lie.
My friends don’t trust him. Colby and Arden downright hate him. Yet, every bone in my body still wants to have faith in Brun, to love him. He isn’t like the mogdocs. He isn’t just human on the outside. There’s humanity inside, maybe darkly tinged from his mogdoc upbringing, but it’s there.
And that brings me to door number three.
Thanks to Arden and my Dad, I now have the human gift. Well, I have the means to the human gift. You see, they learned that the prophecy lost something in translation. “Human gift” was a bad translation for “humanity”.
That’s where the book comes in. My family is in possession of The Book of the Lost. It is said to have the ability to restore balance. We’re thinking that its words can give a sprinkling of humanity to the mogdocs. “Impart humanity” just like the prophecy says.
Of course it would be just enough to pull their malignantly-tilted scale back to zero. After all, no creatures were ever meant to be as evil as the mogdocs. The book is all about balance, and the mogdocs, well, they’re undeniably unbalanced.
I’m guessing that if I read this thing to the mogdocs everything will be rainbows. You know, happily ever after stuff.
I’ve been running around clueless for so long, and now the answer is laying on the desk in my Dad’s study. Laying closed. Oh, did I forget to mention? We can’t read it. Nope. Not a word.
The Book of the Lost can only be read by a mogdoc empress. Empress, as in female, which cancels out Brun. He’s definitely all male. That boy could melt steel.
Sorry, I got lost for a minute there. Anyway, I need an empress. Unfortunately, on the night of the shadows rising my charge panicked and directed the shadows to kill the last one. Yep, Brun’s sister, Broo Gammen, the last empress of the Mogdoc Empire, bought the farm.
So, I’m on a mission to go back in time and get her, make her read this dilapidated book, and you know, save the world because that’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s my destiny.
Thing is, I can’t help but think of the bedtime story I was told as a child. The story told in whispers of the mogdocs, the creatures with a flame of contempt for humankind.
And I wonder, will this end in a flicker or a blaze?
Chapter 1: Worse Than This
The pain in Ann Martin’s chest made it difficult to breathe.
As her eyes cleared, she found herself just off the path between the school and the football field where graduation was to be staged. Her grief had brought her to the spot where her love died. Her devotion brought her to the moments before it happened. Tears threatened to boil up in her again, but she knew she had to suppress them. There was work to do if she was going to save Jumper.
She had always been told, “Never change anything, it will only get worse.” But they were just words. Jumper was dead. There was nothing worse. She had absolutely nothing to lose.
“Get a grip,” she scolded herself. “Do this for him. He’s depending on you.”
Ann looked down at her blood-stained hands. The incriminating crimson also marred her white graduation robe. There was nothing she could do about them now. There wasn’t time. She had only given herself a few moments.
Ann patted down the sides of her robe. Fortunately, her chakram, a circular blade that had proven to be a deadly weapon, was still there. Her fingers wrapped around the grip that stretched its diameter, just as she heard voices approach.
“…We need to talk.”
The deep voice pleaded, but Ann knew he hadn’t seen her yet. This was, she remembered, what Brun asked of Keira shortly before it all went wrong.
Ann used the chakram to slice through the smaller branches of the evergreens that lined the pathway. As soon as her foot touched cement, she stopped and looked around.
The first thing she saw was Jumper’s eyes, wide as dinner plates and planted right on her, his mouth hanging open in shock.
The sight of him hit her hard; harder than she thought possible. Her knees gave way. The chakram let out a metallic ring as it twirled like a dropped coin before flattening on the path as Ann of that time screamed. Keira and Brun both pulled weapons to the ready.
“It’s okay,” Jumper tried to ease his screaming girlfriend, not taking his eyes off the lookalike stranger.
“She’s…she’s covered in blood. She’s wearing my clothes,” the Ann of that time cried out.
Ann of the future climbed back to her feet. She took unsteady steps toward Jumper. Just breathe, just breathe, she thought, pulling up her chakram as she stepped forward.
Keira darted in front of her, taking a protective stance in front of Ann and Jumper. Future Ann stumbled back in disbelief.
“What are you doing here?” Keira demanded. “Ann, what happened to you? Are you hurt? How long do we have before this happens?”
Future Ann couldn’t speak. She wanted to. She needed to. But Jumper was looking at her, straight into her eyes, straight into her soul. His eyes were full of concern and love. The thought came to her that she could freeze this moment. She had grown powerful, so powerful that such a thing was well within her means. They could both live in the moment forever. They could just stop. She could stop the world for him.
Then his eyes broke the connection. They flew to the feet that pounded up the path.
Having heard her sister’s scream, Katie scrambled toward them. “Ann!” the girl yelled.
Future Ann pointed to the trees, to where she knew the Sect to be lurking, but it was too late.
A silent arrow punctured her sister’s chest. Red blossomed from the point making its own gruesome rose on her floral printed dress. Katie’s hands found the concrete path.
“No!” the Anns screamed in unison.
Ann of that time rushed to her sister, while Future Ann flung her chakram through the air. It struck its intended mogdoc target. The creature tumbled from his perch and landed with a lifeless thud on the ground.
The others swooped down from the trees. Keira and Brun moved back-to-back, fighting off those that came after them in what looked like, but couldn’t be, practiced precision, just as they had the first time.
One of the Sect broke free and swung around a light pole to land squarely in front of Future Ann. She backed up a step and wished she hadn’t thrown her only weapon. It was convenience really. She didn’t need it. All she had to do was zap herself behind the mogdoc and take it by surprise. She could dispense with the creature and use its weapon against the others.
She concentrated as the creature lifted its sword to strike.
Her eyes went white. The power vibrated throughout the entire length of her body, tingling every point from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. She let the power build until it was about to explode. She just had to wait until the last possible second.
When the mogdoc’s sword arm started down, she pushed with her mind.
A sonic boom sounded.
Future Ann reappeared behind the mogdoc a second later. Before it could realize what was going on, she grabbed its arm and pulled the sword.
It didn’t come easily.
It was stuck.
Stuck inside the object that blocked its path as soon as she disappeared. Stuck inside the boy that hurled himself in front of it because he thought it was his only chance of saving her.
She pulled the mogdoc’s arm, and the sword came out of Jumper Johnson’s center.
The mogdoc assassin didn’t see it coming when she sharply twisted its head. A clean break of the neck put it down for good. Ann stepped over the creature’s body as Jumper collapsed onto his knees.
It was happening again. All over again. She had failed him.
Ann gulped at the air, not able to take in enough. Her eyes welled with tears as she knelt beside him. Her hand went to the side of his cheek. He took advantage of it, allowing her to support the weight of his head.
“Love you,” Jumper said weakly.
He coughed, the pain of it visible by the tightness of his features.
“You’ll be okay,” she rushed. “I’ll come back as many times as it takes. I swear.”
Jumper smiled a grim smile that lasted well past when his eyes closed. A few moments after his chest stopped moving, she eased him down to the ground. Lastly, she placed a kiss on his still cheek.
Future Ann stood from Jumper’s lifeless body and turned just in time to feel white, hot pain spread against her cheek.
“What were you thinking?” Ann of the present shrieked, her hand an angry red from the slap. “You can’t come back. I don’t care what happened. You only make things worse when you try to change things. We know that! WE KNOW THAT!”
Future Ann set her jaw tight and tried to look beyond her other self.
Present Ann’s hands flailed over her head in frustration. “This is on you. Jumper’s dead. Katie’s dead. There is nothing that was worth their lives. Nothing.”
“I will fix this,” Future Ann said through tight lips as she collected her chakram from the tree and slipped it beneath her robe.
“No. No, you won’t. Do not come back. It will be worse. Worse than this. You hear me? Worse!” Ann screamed as Future Ann disappeared with a sonic boom.