• New Age
    Written by Christopher Lawrence

    Long ago, in days all but forgotten tales of magic and dragons were told over stout brew and melodious song. But now those days now sit in dusty books and quiet libraries. Over time, the magic of this world has waned, taking many of the lands creatures and peoples with it. Those dependent on it to survive were scattered to the winds.
    Near a millennium since the days of dragon slayers and planar wars. Centuries past the exodus of the elves, the fey, and those tied to the flow of magic that once coursed through the very soil. Now all that remains of the epic feats of heroism and the horrors of old rests in myth as well as the imaginations of the young, and the scholarly research of the old.
    But in this world today, magic lives on. It exists in small, hidden pockets, cultivated by those who seek its mystery, and shunned by those who would seek to stamp it out. These are the days of machinery and science, but the beliefs of old still linger on, and the land in many places is still scarred by the great wars long since all but forgotten. Politics, ethics, and morality -the very lines between right and wrong - are being blurred by perception, leaving only pretense and circumstance left to decide the outcome many a time.

    Chapter One:

    The rustic cobblestone of Kyle Young Square glistened from the yellow lamp light that stretched down the street, as the steady rain continued to cover the ground in a cold, wet swathe. To the west the Central District’s tall skyscrapers had long ago blocked the sun from view, leaving the eastern Industrial District blanketed once again in a premature darkness. Evening always came early here.
    Most places had let out their day shift an hour or so ago, around five, but halfway down Manning St., between Rhodney and State Rd., the sound of riveting bolts and a pounding air-compressor sounded the busy work of the owner of Bolts & Bullets Inc. as he methodically worked long past the normal work day. Much to his neighbors anguish, the man know in the business as “Cold Iron”, George Storm, enjoyed blasting a questionably harrowing mixture of late era metal with even later era classical orchestra. It was the music of the Renaissance maestros with the addition of a heavy metal guitar, reminiscent of the days of hair bands and enormous speakers. In today’s society it was racket, but in this neighborhood it was silently considered an acceptable one.
    Regardless of the notions of passersby make take of the mildly rundown place, those that knew George Storm, had known him for even a week or more, would most likely vouch for him without more than a moments hesitation. He was abrasive, and stubborn, without a doubt. But he was also loyal to a fault, and tenacious in the tasks he set himself to. He had always managed to come up with a solution to the problems he, or his neighbors, may come across. Be it minor problems with city officials - glorified hit men and bookies- or street thugs looking to make a few bucks scamming the store keepers for protection money, George would manage something to fix it. Rare was it that people feared drawing the eyes of any higher than that, the kind of people not spoken allowed of in public. But the consensus was that this one man would fix it should it ever happen, that they themselves would not have to loose sleep knowing that he would act in their stead. This man, who never once attended a district meeting, or Union function, or who was rarely ever seen outside his shop or the local bar.

    “What’da yah think your doin’ old man?” came the young voice of the machinist’s adopted daughter, echoing past the sheet and steel that separated them as he worked underneath some odd misshapen contraption. He had been working there for the last three hours straight, and George Storm knew what was to come. The girl’s voice echoed down again. “Your not even going to get that thing to move. What’s the point of adding a double-exhaust in the back when the thing wont even start up?”
    His head canted sideways to see Maria’s face poking in under the wool blanket that he had draped over his unfinished work. Splotches of motor oil and grease made the scowl she wore seem a degree more vicious that it actually was. His own face contorted a bit in aggravation, even though both knew it was little more than a front. He knew all to well the current limitations of what he was working on. “I told you, once I work out the kinks, this thing will not only move, but put us back on the market and we can start making some real money again.”
    Maria’s scowl evaporated as her eyes rolled as she blew a bang or her orange hair out of her view. “Yeah, uh huh. You’ve been saying that this thing will work for the last two years now pops. But here it sits, belly up, still just a pile of scrap welded and bolted together.”
    George let out a long breath, knowing how this argument, the same argument they’d had countless times before, was inevitably going to end. He changed the subject, asking her about her latest project. With a grunt the young girl plopped down on the work bench near where his legs stuck out from underneath the mass of metal and canvas. She rested her hands, which were encased in bulky work gloves stained with black, under her chin as her legs kicked freely underneath her. “Meh. Slow, that’s how its goin’. I still cant get the thing to spin right, and I don’t have enough Callennum to do any sort of testing.”
    Another long sigh escaped George. “I know kid, I know.” He paused his wrenching, staring aimlessly at the maze of circuits and wires. “You know as well as I do business aint what it used to be.” The statement went without saying, evident enough by all scrap materials he was using to construct his veiled machine.
    “Yeah, but the word Ide’ use is dead. Hell, we don’t even get our seasonals anymore since that fatso Mr. Watts opened up that Outdoorsman’s discount store over off of Old Mine Rd.”
    “Watts is a good man. And watch your mouth. Since when does a fourteen year old girl say things like that?” George’s face betrayed his as a slight smile crept onto his face, and though unseen by his female counterpart, was quickly replicated in turn.
    “Anyway,” Maria flopped the subject, “that guy from the Workers Union came by again to see about your dues. This time it was George’s eyes that rolled and he grumbled to himself.
    With a huff of exasperation he pushed the wheeled pad out from underneath the mass of metal and canvas. “That boy. You would think he would give me some credit after I bailed him and his brother out of that scrap with the miners.” George shook his head a bit as he wiped off his blackened hands on an old rag.
    “Pop that was like five months ago. And he DID give you some credit. He cleared your entire balance due up to that point, which was half a years worth, remember?” George’s shoulders sagged, signifying he did. “But he said that this time he needs the money, or our contract with the transport company will close out. And our chances of getting any new stuff from the market will pretty much go to s**t.” George gave her a quick, silent reprimand for her language to which she only shrugged.
    “Like we need supplies.” George’s voice was gruff and aggravated. “We cant even sell the equipment we have here, let alone have the need to make more.”
    “Face it, no one buys this type of stuff anymore.” She gave a kick to a black vest that had been reinforced with thin carbon-steel plating. At the time George had patented it the item had been a very popular sell, to military, police and even the private sectors. It was relatively like and provided a good amount of mobility with its protection. But now, like some many other things sitting on shelves around the place, it was outdated and unwanted. As George walked around the workshop, Maria went on. “Can’t sell the old stuff, cant get money to buy new stuff, and you just keep working on this scrap-heap.” It wasn’t really an argument anymore, but her own sort of plea for reassurance from the only real family that she had ever known. Things had been rough, she knew that she probably only knew so much of it all, and knew that when summer was over she would go back to school and he would be alone in the shop all day.
    But the conversation died off without any sort of resolving. Both of them were all to aware that if something did not happen soon, they could very well be put out of business, and out of a home. They were not the only ones having a rough time though. Ever since technology began taking leaps and bounds it seemed no body could keep up but the big wigs who could afford to. The middle class was being hammered down, and George knew that a depression was all but inevitable.
    Sullen, George Storm made his way upstairs to their apartment to wash up. Looking into the mirror he saw a tired, broad shouldered man who looked to have seen more than a few hard years. With long white hair, now loose and unkempt since removing the small band that kept it tight, and the tattoo of HEAVY METAL on his right shoulder wrapped in barbwire - he was an aged reminded of a generation come and gone. As he washed his face his fingers felt the scar that ran across his left eye from brow to cheekbone. The injury had left him partially blind, but not enough to slow him down, even now at the age of forty-three.
    His hand ran across the rough stubble of his chin with a grating scratchy sound. He decided he’d need to shave… tomorrow. His eyes closes in silent prayer for a moment, though he wasn’t the type of man to turn to heaven for help often. “We need a miracle now. Nothing short.”

    Chapter Two

    Rachel Heart sat at a small round table in a quaint little café aptly named Mornings. It was your standard corner coffee shop owned by Jacob and Caron Belle. Wedged between a deli and a pharmacy, Mornings was a nice place, if a bit cramped at times, and Ms. Heart made a habit about coming here almost every morning before heading into work next door at the pharmacy. She sipped on her a hot cut of her regular - a black tea with honey as sweetener, and a pinch of cinnamon. The young lady, Jenny, who worked at the counter had told Heart that she could not see how the petit pharmacist could stand such a mix. But Rachel A. Heart, age twenty-three, loved it with enjoying a bit of local news as she read the paper each morning.
    This morning wasn’t unlike any other morning as Rachel sat at her usual table, drinking her usual tea, and reading the usual paper. Work didn’t start for her until 9:00am so it always gave her ample time to come here and relax, and enjoy her morning. Outside the thick glass windows cars went by and folks went about their daily business coming and going. But in the little café sat the fair skinned, modestly built, five-foot-four, blonde hair down to her shoulders always kept in a tight bun, and conservatively dressed girl quaintly read her paper and sipped her tea.
    The little bell jingled as the door panned open. The pharmacist paid it no heed. She could hear, by the sound of the voice that it was a man, as he ordered from the girl behind the counter. Absently, Rachel found herself listening in to the conversation, if one could call it that, between the newcomer and Jenny the high-school girl that was on shift. He was a flirt, in no time he had the girl giggling at his simple, suave humor. Rachel found herself peering around the edge of her paper and over the rims of her small oval reading glasses to get a look at the form to which the voice belonged.
    The man was relatively tall, she guessed him around five foot ten inches. He had a thin, handsome face with well-proportioned features. His hair, which was on the long side of being considered short, was spiked back and looked to glitter a bit, likely from some special gel or what not. He wore black jeans, and a loose fitting button-up that matched in hue. She guessed he age around the twenty-five area, near her own. And by his easy smile along with the way he talked with his hands she pegged him for some sort of fashion yahoo, or maybe a salesman. As he turned away from the counter, walking toward the cluster of tables Rachel discretely went back to reading her paper.
    She whispered to herself, with a girlish smile and tone, “Got a good a** on that one at least.” With a sheepish grin she put her mind back to into what she had been reading.
    Not a second later, “Thanks, I think so too.” Came the smooth voice again, this time only a few feet away.
    More than a bit startled, her shoulders tensed as her face reddened. “I am terribly sorry.” She gazed over the top of her paper as she heard the sound of chair legs moving over the wood floor, and saw take the seat across from her, a tall coffee cup in one hand and a sly kind of smile on his face. She found herself looking into his eyes, and after what seemed like a lifetime she knew that they were the most beautifully unique eyes she had ever seen. They were a bright golden-yellow with violet lines rapping around the iris which was more oval than circular.
    “Your staring, miss.” He said with a smile as he took a sip of his piping hot drink. She snapped out of her self-conceived fantasies and felt her face heat with embarrassment. He gave her a wink. “Don’t worry about it. I think I’ve got a pretty nice a** too.”
    Desperately she tried to break eye contact, looking for something to focus her attention on elsewhere. She tried to change the subject. But an unsteady “Uh..” was all she managed. Thinking on her feet wasn’t one of Rachel Heart’s strong points, so she instead went with plan B, composing herself with a business-like face.
    “Can I help you with something, Mr. …?” She drug out the absence of an introduction, in hopes of putting the man on the defensive. But instead he just shifted his weight to one side and pulled a small card out of his pocket, handing it across the table to her without a word.

    Khey Eldon, PHD.
    Rare Goods and Services
    Acquisitions and Recovery

    With skeptic eyes she appraised the silver haired man once more as he looked back at her with an easy smile. This man knew what he had, and wasn’t afraid to flaunt it. Salesman, she concluded. She looked at her watch nonchalantly as she stood, folding her newspaper under her arm. “I am sorry, Mr. Eldon, but it looks as though I need to be getting off to work now.”
    He gave her a half-pout, and did not correct any confliction with her choice of surname. She supposed it was because it was a fake. He gave her an honest, humble smile. “Was it something I said?”
    She was all business now, knowing better than to get caught up in some pretty-boy’s sales pitch. She put he glasses away in her purse, and gave him a friendly look, shaking her head once. “Not at all. I’m running late for work, and really must get going.” She lied, and turned to make for the door. As she swung the glass door open she hesitated a second and glanced back at the man. He sat somewhat slouched, head resting upon a propped fist. It was almost cute, and she could not help but smile a bit at his boyish personifications.
    Outside the sun was creeping over the towering buildings off to the left as the horizon of Central New Crystania was dominated by sky scrapers far off in the distance. Even though it had rained all night she as hoping that things would clear up before work let out. She found herself strangely in the mood to go out tonight.
    As she walked through the double-automatic doors of West-Wing Pharmacy a quick mental image shot through her mind’s eye that made her grin, and she thought to herself, “He did have a nice butt though.”

    Exert from Doctrine of Mankind,
    written by High Executor Patrick Leon III.
    Year of our Lord 1732

    “… and lo, it is evident now, in the wake of the last Great War that has consumed our world with hatred and destruction, that it falls unto us to ensure that the conflicts of the past do not repeat themselves.
    So, like our ancestors before us did with the heroic closing of the Great Divide, and later so with the final culling of Dragon-kind, when must now take the next step in our races destiny. To deep go many wounds, and to long have those of impure blood and of questionable heritage weakened and corrupted our humble line. Our freedom, our very right to exist as humans, will no longer be assaulted by those who would think themselves our betters and cultivate us as slaves and sacrifices.
    Henceforth all human-kind that believe as we the Holy Church do under the Sacred Laws of the Divine Light, that it is our right to live, shall strike out at those who dwell in darkness - those who plot to overtake us - those who would usurp our place in this world and call themselves our masters. With this Doctrine we as a race shall for the first time stand as one against all others and earn our right to live as we see fit.”

    ~Signed by the First Order of Light, 1732~

    Later Historical Observation:
    After the War of the Crusaders, in which Mankind sought to gain sovereignty over the lands of Halmahera, the political parties involved on both sides opted for separation through removal and a massive shift of population took place. Humans from all over the world flocked to Halmahera while millions of non-humans made a great exodus to escape the Holocaust that was to come. There were few actual battles, but thousands of small-scale skirmishes involving, mostly, those who did not want to surrender their lands to the new human nation -known today as the Hera Conclave. After the Conclave gained control of the entire continent of Halmahera it became the first world superpower, and though this government today is the offspring of that, the policies created back then still exists today, if a bit relaxed -due to the Human Civil War of 1851.

    ~Professor Daryl McKinney PHD~

    Chapter Three

    New Crystania was proving to be a much more interesting place than he had though it could be. All things considered this city was a shining example of human development and creativity, both terms he used loosely as he looked from building to building. Nowadays though, it was politics he concerned himself with, and that was why he was here now. The Conclave reeked to high of corruption and mall practice as they began to fall back into old habits, tying the political affiliations and procedures in with old, long standing religious iconography.
    But it wasn’t the politics themselves that interested the man known publicly as Khey Eldon, fine arts dealer and purveyor of exotic goods and services. Looking at one of his business cards he smirked, considering that the façade was entirely to far fetched. It was definitely a lot easier to conduct his business, as well as stay out of jail, with a solid -if a bit vague - cover like that. He had considered going with something more flashy like Tomb Raider but he found it a bit cliché. That, and he figured that the very idea, though cavalier to some, might not go over well with the local police.
    As Khey walked down a street named Sun View, hands in his pockets and the top couple buttons on his shirt undone, he made a point to familiarize himself with the people around him. It was both out of precaution and curiosity, Khey found that he loved just watching how people interacted, how they lived. At times he was as giddy as a child in a candy store when in a new place for the first time. And this was his first time ever in the capital city of the Hera Conclave, New Crystania. The smile he, unlike almost everything else about himself, he could not hide.
    Out of all the people he had met so far few intrigued him as much as the blonde girl from the little corner café the day before, but he suppose he should just chalk it up to the old “forbidden fruit” rule. You tend to want what you cant have. However, aside from making his regular flirtatious nature even easier, his disguise was proving to be working flawlessly so far. He would have to remember to thank the folks back home for it when the time came.
    But, he did have a job to do, that the timeframe was drawing short. Key figured he had another two, maybe three, days beforehand. In that short time he had himself a small laundry list of things to accomplish, else his entire trip would end up a complete waste of his time.
    Two thin, large breasted girls who looked to be in the middle of a shopping day caught his eye. Khey grinned and returned a wave they gave him from across the street. Not a complete waste of time, he thought to himself.

    It took him the better part of the day to make it over to the Industrial District that occupied the eastern part of the city. Compared to the rest of New Crystania this place looked like a big rust spot on an otherwise well maintained blade. Tall factory buildings dotted the area, surrounded by all sorts of places, ranging from shops to apartments. From atop the tram station platform, looking down onto most of the run-down looking district, it reminded Khey of a well disguised slum.
    But business was business, and Khey steadily made his way towards the address his informant had supplied him. Thankfully the one thing this shanty had going for it was a good sense of organization. Te streets were all laid out in a grid-like fashion, the buildings set in between. Finding the right place was just a simple matter of following the numbers.
    He finally arrived at a run-down place with a big hanging sign reading Bolts & Bullets Inc. Khey double checked the number, his shoulders drooped at the affirmation that this was indeed the right place. With a glance to the horizon, and then to his watch, he noted that it was already 6:00pm. Given the time he would have assumed that things would be quieting down for the evening, but it seemed that there was some awful ruckus practically shaking the window frames of the machine shop. Khey took a deep breath to ready himself for the unknown. Inwardly he was praying for an eccentric sort that would go along with anything given the right bribe. As he entered, the music was giving him a headache already.

    “No.” The deep voice a rumbling finality, and crushed Khey’s hopes for any sort of smooth transaction. With both hands planted firmly on the counter, the man called George Storm was beginning to wear on Khey’s limited patience. The conversation had already gone on for half an hour, and the thin man had yet to make any headway whatsoever. Khey once again tried the calm approach, knowing full well that an aggressive strategy would yield more loss than gain. But he tried a more persistent approach to his still business-like proposal.
    “I don’t think your seeing the big picture Mr. Storm. The job I’m offering you will more than just put a few coins in your pocket.” Khey leaned in close, affixing a raptor gaze into the crystal blue eyes of the as yet unyielding mountain. “I’m talking about enough money to let you live good for many, many years to come.”
    Storm stood upright, a look of lofty disregard came over his squared features. With a wave of his hand as if to dismiss the entire notion. “I don’t know who you got your info from, kid, but what your asking of me is out of the damn question.”
    “But-” Khey began to interject, but was stopped.
    “NO!” Storm’s voice came like a booming thunderclap, leaving Khey’s ringing for a second afterwards. In the dead silence a voice came from the back room which he supposed was the workshop. The voice was soon followed by the appearance of a thinly built young girl, early teens by the look of her, Khey guessed.
    “Chill out pops.” And with the simple words from the girl Khey was pleasantly surprised to see the anger flow out of the man before him almost instantly. He looked to the wiry girl, who with three words had disarmed the powerfully-built metal worker. Khey then realized that he must have had a quite surprised look on his face, due to the slight grin that the child was giving him. With a quick blink he regained his composure, but before he could get a word in the girl -wearing big welding gloves and covered in a layer of some mechanical fluid and her orange hair pulled back in a tight ponytail - cut him of. Her eyes looked at him almost as if she didn’t really see him, or didn’t care to. But it was the pale lavender color that caught Khey’s attention, and distracted him long enough for her so speak her part.
    “Look.” She started with a flat tone that did not match her years for a second, “either buy somthin’ or move on pal.” She gave him a skeptical look-over from toe to head, resting a fist on one hip as she’d probably seen the big man do on more than one occasion. Khey almost smiled. Almost, because he knew this little girl could very well bode very badly for him.
    “Like I was telling Mr. Storm here, miss, I’m in the market for something a little past simple armors or rifles.” The whole while he tried to explain himself once again he kept his focus mobile. At such a critical moment he could not afford to be caught unaware by any slight detail or a missed piece of body language. The girl asked him what, exactly, he was looking for. Khey’s eyes settled on George Storm as he gave his answer.
    “I need a man willing to fight, to help me get through a few rough spots should they pop up. And in return I will pay him enough to set the both of you up till your done with college and have a rustic little gear shop of your own.” The girl gave him an expression to match her tall counterpart, waving her hand dismissively. Khey’s tone cut through the momentary silence like a flame creeping to life in a hearth. “Well, given the fact that it looks like things are going so well for you now, “ He spread his arms wide, palms open, to call attention to the shelves stacked with ammo cans and outdated body armor, “that I guess I am indeed mistaken.” As Khey flopped his arms down to his sides he noticed a look of uncertainty on the big man’s face. He decided to throw down his last trump card in this argument.
    “Sergeant William ‘the Storm’ Argonas. You really have come a long way, haven’t you?” With look of surprise and absolute rage the mountain with blue eyes gave him, he knew he had hit pay dirt. But at what cost, he thought to himself momentarily as the big fist closed the distance between them.

    Chapter Four

    The pharmacy was slow around 2:00pm, and that’s when the young blonde with HEART on a small brass plate pinned to her white overcoat decided to do the restocking on the shelves throughout the store. With box in hand she went down one aisle after another putting a few things here and there, just the things that went pretty quick in the after work rush. Headache pills, anti-acids, cold meds, chocolate, canned teas and energy drinks. With the weekend coming up she figured this evening would be a pretty slow one, since they stopped selling ‘marital aids’, aka condoms and the sort. The recent law that said preventing life on any level was a crime made for a lot of less-than-eager young couples having their fun in bed.
    As she finished stocking some NNN’s candy she felt that someone was watching her, and looking to her right, then left. She was almost startled enough that she almost dropped her box of miscellaneous stuff all over the ground. There was a man standing down the aisle, and he was motioning her to him with a hand gesture of authority. He was a somewhat tall man, wearing the long blue overcoat of the Crystal Guard Elite with its embroidered gold trim and expensive looking gold adornments. It was a formal outfit she knew from what she remembered from a show she watched on the television not to long ago. Under the coat, which was fastened with a small loose chain at the chest, was a white shirt covered with the leather cross straps of the firearm harness all agents wore she supposed. The looks as completed with neatly trimmed black slacks and small oval sunglasses that made him look all the more ominous.
    As she appraised him, and set her box down, she saw him taking her in, with a kind of calculating precision. She set down her box, straightened her uniform, and walked calmly over to the government official. He held up a small badge that had been polished to an immaculate shine. “Ms. Heart?” He asked her, his tone cold and direct, though the voice sounded like a fair one for a man of his young age. Her mind began to fill with reasons why an agent of the KGU might be looking for her. She always paid her taxes, and never hung out with any ‘questionable’ folk. Hell, she didn’t even speed. Those thoughts calmed her down a bit, as she realized she had nothing to hide. It must be, she decided, something relatively routine if they were wanting to talk to a nine to five pharmacist.
    “Yes, sir, that’s me. What can I do for you?”
    “We have heard that you may have seen this man.” The agent held up a photo of the man she remembered talking to briefly the other day at the coffee shop. She looked at the picture for an extra moment, referencing it to her memory, noting that the picture looked to have some from a print-out of some kind of security camera or the like by the angle it had been taken at.
    “Yes, I saw him about two days ago at the coffee shop next door, sir.” She was sure to be quick, polite, and to the point. There was no point in idle chit chat with men of his type. Seeing his small earpiece, she remembered how much these federal types gave her the jitters.
    “What did he say to you?” He asked, making Rachel wonder how much he knew. She hadn’t told him they had talked, but he seemed to know that much at least.
    “Nothing really. He just sat down at my table and tried to flirt with me.” She betrayed only a little smile at the attempt the man had made. It had been the first in a while, and had sort of brought her out of a work daze she had gotten into lately.
    “Are you sure that’s it?” His brow bunched as he seemed to be pressed for urgency in his interrogation. She noticed his jaw tightened. This man was on a serious mission.
    “Yes sir, that’s all. I left and came to work right after.” she pointed to the wall, as if to abstractly show the coffee shop next door. “He was still sitting there when I left.”
    Though he did not look satisfied with her answer, but did not press her further. “Thank you ma’am.” He turned to leave, and Rachel took in the golden sun and sword emblem that covered the majority of the upper-back of the agent’s coat. In the back of her mind she wondered what an agent of the KGU would want with a salesman. After he left, she went back to her stocking, and finished her shift.
    It wasn’t until she was changing to leave work that she remembered the card the man from the other day had given her. She rustled through her purse and found it. Her lips silently spoke the name as she read it. “Khey Eldon”. A silent moment passed as she gave the note a more thorough look-over.
    She noticed some small print and squinted her eyes to see that there was a phone number printed on the back at the very bottom along with a line of text that read, “IF YOU CANT FIND IT, I WILL.”
    “Doctor my a**.” She mumbled to herself as she copied the number onto her day planner. For some reason or another this whole thing ha caught her interest, and for the first time in years Rachel Heart was going to act upon impulse and see just how deep this rabbit hole went.

    An hour later she was home, showered, and had put some leftovers into the microwave for dinner. As she finished up her meal, she saw the telephone sitting on the table, the day planner opened to the page with the new entry opened beside it. Both sat lifeless on the opposite end of the small circular table. Her mind was divided between nervous anxiety and childlike curiosity. She soon lost track of time while debating on whether or not to pick up the phone or just let it be. Her fingers danced, wrapping again and again on the wooden table. Several times she picked up the receiver only to put it back down again, unused.
    Finally she couldn’t take it any longer, and in a flurry she picked up the small red phone and dialed the number in a blur. She pinned the listening end to her ear as the silence seemed to ring in her brain. She felt as if the suspense would engulf her.
    Then it began to ring. Once, twice, and then a third time before the sound of the smooth talking man came. “Hey! Thanks for calling.” There was a second pause and she began to respond, but was cut off. “Sorry I’m not available to talk right now. Leave me a message and a number and I’ll get right back to you.” A quick beep then silence. What was she suppose to say? She hadn’t really thought this far ahead come to think of it -machine or no machine.
    The very air itself seemed to stand still as she sat their, mind blank. Suddenly, realizing she was still being recorded, blurted out quickly, “This is the girl from the coffee place just returning your call please call me if you have the time thank you my number is 4588821134.” She hung up swiftly, the metallic clunk and ‘ting’ sound echoed in her room for an eternity as her heart raced.
    She calmed down after a few minutes, and crawled into bed with her book. But no matter how many times her eyes traced the same lines, it was almost as if she had forgotten how to read. She couldn’t keep focus enough to retain anything that she was trying to look at. Frustrated she got up and went to the window of her apartment, dressed only in a thin pink nightgown. Outside, the street lights had come on and the cities night crowd began to take the streets. With a sigh she went back to be and lay there, tossing and turning for the better part of three hours, unable to sleep. Finally around one o’clock in the morning she began to settle.
    Then the loud “Brring-Brring-Brring” came echoing back from the kitchen. In the blink of an eye she was up and to the phone by the third set of rings. Her voice was drowsy, but her heart was pounding. “Hello?” she said into the receiver.
    “This is Khey!” It was hard to hear the man’s voice as it was being diluted by the sound of some glorious raucous in the background. It was a constant clatter, interrupted by loud, short bursts. She was focused on making out the noise and forgot to respond, and his voice came again. “Hello? Are you there?”
    “Yes, yes I’m here. I just called to -” he cut her off, his voice shouting to overcome the noise on his end.
    “Do you have a car?” There was urgency, no doubt.
    “What?” she paused, and he repeated, though she was more confused at the question itself than not being able to hear him. “Yes, I do. Why?”
    “Get to the Industrial District as fast as you can!” His words became broken. “Get…Kyle Square,” another pause. “Hurry…please!” And then the phone went dead, the repeating beeping in her ear the chorus of what had just happened.
    Rachel realized then, as she set the phone back in place, what the sound in the background had been. It was gunfire.
    Chapter Five:

    At the age of six, Benny Cross wanted to be a fireman. At age ten he wanted to be the first man to go into outer space. At age sixteen he joined the Sons of Tomorrow, a federally sponsored youth group for the boys and girls of the Crystanian Empire, and taught from cover to cover the Doctrine of Mankind.
    By the age of twenty-four Benjamin Cross was accepted into the ranks of the elite Krystal Guard Unit, a government special tasks group. At the end of that same year he was promoted to the Investigative Operations branch, and given command of the Foreign Counter-Intelligence section. Now, one year later, Cross was on the trail of what could possibly be one of the greatest threats to his country since the Central District bombings of 81’.
    The man of sculpted features and toned body, with short midnight-black hair that arced backwards, sat in the back of his black SUV, going over all the data he had collected on his suspect. The portfolio was still small, which concerned Cross only minutely. With what they had already gathered he knew that it was only a matter of time before they found him.
    Agent Cross held the 8x10 picture in both of his white gloved hands, taking in every tiny detail he could with his scrutinous gaze. To the two other agents with him, Cross knew he was seen as near obsessive, even zelotous at times. But as long as the right thing was done, Cross was content to going the extra length necessary to see it through.
    “Sir, the Commander Orce of the 103rd Armor Brigade just declined the request you put in, sir.” the voice of the agent in the front passenger side seat, broke Cross’s trance-like focus. Kairns was Cross’ communications expert, and kept him informed of the doings of several other factions within their circle of influence incase Cross should have need to illicit their aid, or contrarily avoid their respective radars.
    The leader of the FIU swore under his breath, replacing the picture back into the manila folder. Kirstenmire, called Kirst for short, was driving and looked back to his superior through the mirror as they came to a stop at a red light. His voice carried a bit of a northern accent, as well as the higher tone that region. “Sir, where to now?” Cross did not have an answer for him.
    Cross looked out of the tinted windows to the people walking down the sidewalks, thinking to himself. All the leads have run dry. Every one of them dead ends. His gaze shifted down to the empty seat beside him with the evidence file sitting on the leather like a yellow beacon in a night sky. The only thing printed on it was the red stamped letters “CLASSIFIED”. Now is seemed those red letters were shouting at him, and the man who had once dreamed of saving people and flying into space now hung his head as he fought the invisible enemies of doubt and hopelessness.
    Kirstenmire’s request came again and when Cross looked up he saw that they had pulled into a supermarket parking lot, and that his two subordinates who where the his closest and most trusted friends now were peering back at him with worried eyes that crested over the rims of their black government issued glasses.
    Benjamin took his glasses off, rubbing the bridge of his nose between his eyes. “I’m sorry guys. I guess we’re just running out of places to look.” The two turned around and both gave a small, quiet sigh. They all had been working hard on this case, and many long nights had not been the only hardships thus far. A quiet minute passed.
    In a blink Kirst wheeled around in his seat with an excited expression on his face, his finger still on his earpiece. “Sir, we’ve got him!” The vehicle was dead silent for only a moment as the feeling grew to smiles all around. Kairns continued, “We got a hit with your lead involving the Heart woman. Sure as s**t you were right. She called a number likened to an account tied to a known alias, and we’ve traced it to his current whereabouts.”
    Cross did his best to put on a straight face, a failing attempt to hide his obvious rapture at the news. He sat up straight in his seat and gave his communications man a look of an eager boy. “And?” Cross asked, with a slight grin.
    “Industrial District, sir. South end. Signal is still active.” Kairns replied with a smirk.
    “Then move out!” Cross road, vigor renewed. Instantly the SUV peeled out of the parking lot and sped down the road. “Get me Orce again. I want to give him the chance of being a part of this once last time.” Kairns nodded as he made the call with their onboard telephone. Cross absently opened the classified documents once again, and his eyes settled on the cover page. In the middle of a blank white page was a printed letter K.

    Recovered scroll excerpt from excavated ruins located in Denhara Basin. Discovered 1705 by Archeologist, Professor Jack Douglas II. Translation completed in 1707 by late Professor’s daughter, Mira -later married- McKinney.

    “And set forth unto us the terrible curse. For we are those damned for our acts against the Gods. Given to us were the beauties of magic and great wonders of mystery - but lo we have cast our sword to the heavens. [the remainder of the section is worn away]
    …doing so we have started a cascade of events, a chain of destruction, they very thing we sought to prevent. It seems we will escape the fate which we have doomed our sons and daughters to. We have ripped the very fabric of [again the text has been worn from time].”

    Later observations,
    This text, found in the ruins of what had appeared to be the remains of an underground city, was found alongside other documents from both pre and post Scar era. Though the very existence of what was known as the Great Scar Divide is still debated in both classroom and court today, evidence such as this may point to a definitive moment in our history in which the Divide is said to have been permanently closed. Though the means by which such a thing could be done still remain an unsolved mystery.
    It is the accepted standard however, that magic did, and does still exist to some extent - as we see traces of it today. There are still individuals born with the potentially magnificent abilities, though many cases are never reported due to a growing fear of the ‘supernatural’ as it is referred to as today. Why this unseen force has been on the decline over the last few hundred years is still the subject of much dissent.

    -Prof. McKinney II