Read Strength Online

Authors: Angela B. Macala-Guajardo

Strength

BOOK: Strength
ads

STRENGTH

 

Book One of the Aigis Trilogy

 

by

 

Angela B. Macala-Guajardo

 

Copyright © 2013 by Angela B. Macala-Guajardo

All rights reserved.

I dedicate this to my family.

 

CONTENTS

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Acknowledgements

About the Author

 

 

PART ONE

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

 

Baku floated a few feet above the lake floor with his eyes closed, head bowed, and limbs hanging limp. He glimpsed at his surroundings as a small water current swirled across his bare torso. An exotic fish floated before him, its colorful body tilted towards him, curious. He spoke telepathic words of gratitude to his visitor and resumed concentrating on recuperating. The fish darted out of his pale, glowing aura and back into darkness.

A large current passed over him. By the feel of the warmer water, one of his surface creatures had come to visit.


Wake up, Baku,

a booming voice said
.
‘We must talk.’

Baku flinched and rubbed his face with sore hands. None of his creatures spoke in words. His pale glow shone on a green snout bigger than his six-foot-tall frame. That snout belonged to Leviathan, an allying god that liked to take on the form of a dragon. The dragon’s reptilian eyes, which were half as big as him, reflected Baku’s glow, making them look nocturnal.
‘Hello, Leviathan,

he said.

‘Are you well enough? Your body looks aged like one of your mortal men.’

‘Do I, now? I’m not surprised.’
Baku held his arms out. Sure enough his muscle mass had shrunk from solid to sparing. He pulled at the tanned skin covering his triceps and it stretched a good inch from what muscle he had. Disheartening, but not a surprise. Being a god, his chosen appearance was at the mercy of how he felt, along with how he acted. Right now he felt old. Old and weary. Baku maneuvered into sitting with his legs crossed and began rising towards the surface.

‘Others have questions as well,

Leviathan said, rising with him.

‘Who else knows what’s going on?’

‘Just you. But everyone knows something is up.’

‘That doesn’t surprise me,

Baku said and their heads broke the surface. He stopped glowing. “I’ve put off enlightening all of you long enough.” He hovered inches above his lake, dripping water as he sat with both elbows on his knees, his goateed chin resting on one fist. He fanned his other arm absently and became dry.

The dragon rose higher and higher into the air, twisting his snakelike form. Baku looked up at his ally and felt the size of a flea. Leviathan was hundreds of feet long. No matter how many times Baku saw Leviathan, his sheer enormity left his mouth ajar. He swallowed humbly.

“Baku?” an energetic voice said from the shore, “is that you?”

Baku twisted around. “Din! What a pleasure to see you. How have you been?” With a thought, he flew towards Din and alighted on a pale sandy beach. A grass field splayed out beyond the small beach.

“Quite well, old friend,” Din said and they pulled each other into a one-armed embrace. Din was a little taller, had bright blue eyes, and orange hair that stuck up like dancing flames. “How many centuries has it been?” They let go.

“More like eons.”

“Close enough,” Din said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “How
are
you and Kara getting along these days?”

Baku frowned, remembering Kara and Nexus leaving his realm after the last exhausting skirmish.

“That bad again?” Din rubbed his chin. “When are you two going to finally decide whether to love or hate each other? This game you’ve got going is getting tire—”

“It’s not a game,” Baku snapped.

“Then what is it?”

He thought a moment, his heart aching. “A complication.”

Din laughed.

“Savor what laughter you can. We’re going to need it to help get through our newest problem.” Din’s smile shrank into a serious line. Leviathan drew his head closer, the rest of his serpentine body coiled over the lake. “Not too long ago we all felt the energy of an incomplete prophecy pulling at the fabric of reality.”

Din nodded somberly. “Reality is still intact, thankfully.”


It pulled hard on some old threads
,’ the dragon said.

Prophecies pulled on the fabric of reality. Gods knew better than to idly pour their will into a prophecy, something that had the power to change or destroy anything imaginable. The entire universe had rippled with the ominous prophecy, but only gods were sensitive to such energy.

“Nexus, my son, has prophesied a war. That’s why it… hurt.”

Leviathan said, ‘
We don’t just declare our will and force it to be so through a prophecy. What plans could your son have that are more vital than the natural flow of life
?’

“None, I believe. Our saving grace is that prophecies can only foretell events, not the desired outcomes. However, they have a tendency to fulfill themselves the way prophets want them to. We need to gather our allies and agree on countermeasures against this prophecy.”


Are you sure it isn’t too late to talk Nexus out of it?

Leviathan hovered motionless, his huge belly feet above the lake. The energy emanating from him made the surface ripple.

Baku bowed his head. “I’ve tried. Goodness knows I’ve tried. He wants what he wants, and that’s that. To risk his own sanity to employ a prophecy is proof enough.”

Din spoke in a voice almost empty of hope. “Do you think this war can be stopped before it starts?” He waved a hand at the sand. It swirled and rippled, then pockets of it rose and formed into miniature replicas of armor-clad mortals facing off in two lines. The lines charged each other but before they could clash, Din let out a frustrated sigh and wiped them away with another wave of his hand. The sand rippled to stillness like a water surface after being hit with raindrops.

“That’s what I’m hoping to accomplish,” Baku said.

“How?”

A menacing voice reverberated throughout the realm. “That’s a good question, isn’t it?”

“Nexus,” Baku breathed between clenched teeth.

The air swirled and billowed high over the lake, then began to take shape. Two great eyes and part of a transparent face appeared. The dark eyes were clearest, and next the vague mouth. The astral projection of Nexus’s face was larger than Baku and Din. “I have plans and you have counter-plans, my dear father. But this time I’ve finally outmaneuvered you. This isn’t a war between gods. What would be the fun in that?”


Why have a war at all?
’ Leviathan said, his gargantuan frame dwarfing the face.

“Simple, my ancient dragon. It’s a war of prophecy and cannot be undone, unless you care to forfeit here and now. I highly doubt you’d want that, but by all means go right ahead. It would save me a
lot
of trouble.”

“What do you want from this war?”

Nexus grinned. “You’ll see. You’ll all see in time, so listen real carefully to what I’m about to say, for I speak with the Voice of Prophecy—which, as you know, makes my prophecy legal and binding. Here it is in full:

 

Unconsciously every god has chosen a side.

Now they shall choose one thousand lives.

The worldless watch with the young at their side.

For with them this war does not abide.

Then time will come when all gods are done

building armies in hopes of this battle won.

Then the battlefield shall be revealed

and with a word, life’s fate is sealed;

the war will begin.

 

Yet, despite two-hundred thousand lives,

the fate of the universe shall reside

only on the shoulders of two warriors unrealized.

Hope is never lost, keep up the fight.

And prophet: beware the sword of light.

 

“And here’s a twist—it wouldn’t be as interesting if there weren’t. If any god’s army on either side gets wiped out to the last warrior, their worlds will become mine. And if you think you can avoid participating, you’re gravely mistaken. Your worlds, by default, will become mine the minute I initiate the war, so don’t take too long to build your forces.

Nexus’s projection began to fade. “The warriors will be assembled on my chosen battlefield after I eliminate two particular mortals first, one I know, and one I do not yet know.” The realm echoed with hollow laughter as he disappeared.

“Uh oh,” Baku said, unable to move.

“Uh oh, what?” Din asked.

Baku saw his fear mirrored in Din’s wide eyes. “He knows.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

 

That’s it. I can’t stand it any longer.
Roxie snuck up the basement stairs and crouched, peering through the gap between the door and wood flooring. The plan had been to wait until at least eleven, but she ran out of pen caps after chewing up a fifth one. She narrowed her eyes against the air flowing through the gap and searched for her grandmother, whom she hoped had gone to bed a little early. Roxie didn’t want to be told yet again, her grandmother’s eyes rolling, “Rox, you’re not an alien.” She knew she wasn’t an alien, but from age six to somewhere around eight or nine, she had been thoroughly convinced she was one. Now seventeen, the “alien” idea had cropped back up as a half-serious, half-joking explanation for her latest odd behavior: a compulsion to travel a specific southeasterly route through her home city of Buffalo, New York.

The nightly news delivered its latest story and the living room was dimly lit, two signs to turn around, go back downstairs, and wait until later. But maybe the TV would mask the sound of an opening and closing door. Roxie shifted to one side and searched for a pair of slippers framed by the coffee table in front of the couch.

No slippers. No Grandma, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t in the bathroom, or had simply tucked her feet onto the couch.

Roxie kneeled on the first carpeted step and touched the doorknob one finger at a time, trying hard to not let her anxious grip jiggle it. Old as her grandmother was, she had all her wits about her, eyes that noticed anything—so long as her glasses were on—and hearing that had only begun to fade now that she’d entered her seventies. A door cracking open, seemingly of its own accord, would garner as much attention as ringing a bell.

For the last few weeks, Roxie had felt like she was standing at the beginning of a path she’d never taken, but had always wanted to know where it led. A gentle pull originating in her stomach urged her on her southeasterly route, as if a literal
gut instinct
was trying to guide her to someplace or someone important. Over the last few days the tug had gotten more insistent, so she tried walking around the neighborhood in hopes of discovering where this pull wanted her to go. She found herself taking the same turns, wandering a little farther and a little farther each day, until she decided she’d travelled far enough from home. Stopping herself took some willpower. Turning back generated a cold panic in her chest. The only reason she never lost control was because she found her panic irrational. Yet each time she made it back home, she felt more restless, more out of place, and she didn’t understand why.

She needed to find the answer tonight.

Breath held, Roxie turned the doorknob and eased the door open. The couch lay empty. She exhaled and pushed the door farther open, then froze before she could let go of the knob. Grandma stared back at her, all the way from the kitchen table.

“What are you up to, Rox? Your eyes are glowing.” Grandma sounded like she wasn’t in the mood for nonsense.

The surprise of getting caught was enough to cause Roxie’s eyes to glow; they glowed whenever she strongly felt sad, angry or frightened, an uncontrollable external indicator of how she felt on the inside. To her knowledge she was the only person on Earth with glowing eyes, which was why she’d never totally dismissed the possibility of being an alien. The problem with that theory was her parents, who were most certainly from Earth themselves, although they both died the day she was born. There were pictures of them all over the house, and she had spent hours with Grandma leafing through photo albums that showed her parents dating, getting married, Roxie’s mother’s belly getting bigger every month, and even copies of the ultrasounds.

Roxie glanced at the back door, which beckoned to her with its dull brass knob.

“Just go back to your room and read one of your old alien books. It’s too late at night for this nonsense.”

Roxie meant to head back to her room, but instead rounded the couch and headed for the back door. “I’m sorry, I know this is a bad time for this, but I have to go. I feel like the answer is really close this time.” She reached for the door.

“And it can’t wait until morning?”

Roxie thought for a moment. “Sorry, no.” Without realizing it, she’d already opened the inner door and had a hand on the screen door.

Frowning, Grandma set her pencil down and stared at Roxie over the rim of her glasses. “You thought the answer was close last night and the night before. Go back to your room.”

“I can’t!” Roxie blurted and cringed. Defying her grandmother was something she lacked the gall to do. She respected her grandmother’s judgment, and right now understood that wandering around cities at night was stupid. But tonight Roxie felt like she had no option but to go out. She was tired of feeling alienated by being the only person with glowing eyes.

Rising, Grandma put her fist on her hips and scrutinized Roxie, who noticed her grip had grown slick on the door handle. She wiped her hand on her capris and braced herself for the incoming berating.

Grandma took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “You’re lucky your eyes glow, or else I’d never believe you.”

Roxie felt the warmth behind her retinas fade, meaning her eyes had stopped glowing.

“Be careful.”

Relief blossomed in Roxie’s chest, but was replaced by an urgency to get moving. “I will.” She slipped out the back door, which screeched as it swung shut, and Roxie headed into the forest, her eyes aglow again. No wind rustled the leaves, and the crickets and tree frogs quieted as she traversed their part of the forest. Roxie shot her glowing-eyed gaze in the direction of any minute rustling and twig scraping nearby but, to her relief, no raccoons, foxes or opossums decided to give her a heart attack.

Roxie reached the other side of the woods and entered a southern section of Buffalo, a part she knew well enough from all her recent trips into the city. She wasn’t a big fan of cities, even though she’d been through those particular streets a zillion times without incident.

The pull guided her past the soup kitchen and its flock of homeless people, a collection of ragged dogs waiting for their next meal.

Minutes later, Roxie found an intersection connected to an alley without working lights. She couldn’t recall walking past a lightless street on previous wanderings. Common sense told her to go find another way, but the pull in her mind implored her in that dark direction.
Okay,
now
my brain decides to lead me a different way!
The pull had normally guided her to take a turn a couple of blocks ago, but not tonight.

Roxie made it to the middle of the intersection, half in darkness and half in light, when she saw the silhouette of a tall, muscular person that seemed to be looking straight at her. Was that a knife in his hand? The sight of blood all over a sidewalk flashed in her mind. She turned around and took off at a brisk walk, even though her legs wanted to stretch into a run.

Roxie made it onto the sidewalk when someone grabbed her arm and forced her to turn around. Something cold and sharp lightly pressed against her throat. Before she could contemplate her own mortality, or even how her attacker had managed to sprint across the intersection so fast, she almost went deaf. A thunderous bang from overhead echoed through the entire block, and a wave of wind swept out in all directions from where they stood. Streetlights flickered and everything returned to normal.
What the heck was that?

She’d reached to cover her ears but dropped her hands. “Let me go!” She felt lightheaded and started to slump, but her captor’s strong grip caught her arm. She heard a shuffling sound from behind and feared an accomplice joining in on the catch.

Without letting go, her captor pulled her behind him and brandished his weapon in the direction of the shuffling. Roxie peered around his shoulder, level with her nose, and saw an aged man fidgeting under a tattered blanket. The hobo raised his blanket to his chin and scrunched lower against the brick building. Roxie regarded her captor with equal fear, who then turned his head to check the intersection behind them. She noticed his eyes. They were glowing red.

His eyes glow too!
She stared at them, unable to believe what she was seeing. After all this time, she wasn’t the only one.

The big man released Roxie’s arm. “I’m not here to kill you,” he said in a deep, soothing voice. He sheathed his dagger. “Is your arm alr—?” Taking a step back, he stood still with his arms at his sides and mouth barely open. He studied Roxie’s face.

Roxie gazed back and watched his eyes lose their glow, just like she’d seen her own do countless times in the mirror. The first time she’d seen her eyes glow was at age five, during a frightening thunderstorm. Her shocked grandmother had carted her to the bathroom to show Roxie her eyes. Young Roxie had blamed the glowing on the storm, despite what Grandma had said. Later on she learned the glow was linked to certain emotions.

“Yeah, my eyes glow, too,” Roxie said. “Yours weren’t a trick of the street light or something, were they?” She sorely hoped not.

“No, mine work just like yours. Is your arm alright?”

Just like yours.
This time Roxie’s mouth fell ajar. “No way!” She looked into the man’s deep blue eyes. “All this time... I’ve never seen... Man, I wish you could show me again. You don’t have any control over it either, do you?”

He shook his head. “It’s caused me problems sometimes,” he said with a rueful grin.

“Boy do I know the feeling.”
I’m really not the only one.
Roxie had resorted to home schooling through eighth grade to spare herself, her peers and teachers, and Grandma a lot of awkward grief.

She studied the stranger with the aid of a dim streetlight. The man was half a head taller than she, bore a clean-shaven face and scalp, and had broad shoulders and lots of muscle. He wore a T-shirt, cargo pants and combat boots, all black, and he had a backpack and canteen slung over one shoulder. His belongings, along with the small sheath strapped to one arm, gave her the impression that he wasn’t from her part of the world. But that didn’t matter. They were two of the same… something. “Are we aliens?”

“Pardon?”

“Aliens. You know: people from another planet.” As soon as Roxie said it, she realized how absurd she sounded. She felt her cheeks flush.

The man let out a soft laugh and shook his head. “No. We’re Aigis.”

“Eye-jiss?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re an alien, right?”

“No; just an Aigis.”

“Are you from Earth?”

“No.”

“Then that makes you an alien. What planet are you from? And why do you speak just like I do?”

The man laughed again. “I’ve learned how to quickly adapt to contemporary dialects. My name’s Aerigo. What’s yours?”Eyes widening as if he’d just remembered something, he set his pack and on the ground, unzipped the side, and started rummaging around.

Interesting name.
“Rox, sir,” she said. “What’s ‘Aigis’ mean?”

“Shield of the gods.”

Roxie scrunched her brows. “What’s that mean?”

“Many things. I’ve been looking for you for the past two weeks. I need your help.”

“My help?”

“I was instructed to find you and train you.”

“Really? By whom?”

“Someone named Baku. He’s our ally. I’ll explain everything I can in a moment.”

“Bah-coo?”

“Correct.” Aerigo stood and faced Roxie, a glass bottle in hand.

Eyeing the bottle, Roxie began to ask about what she needed to train for, but she cut herself off. “Wait! Two weeks?” That’s how long the pull in her mind had been bothering her. How much of a coincidence could it be if Aerigo had been looking for her just as long?

“Yes.”

“From which direction?” If his direction coincided with where she’d been trying to head, she just might pass out.

Aerigo glanced at the night sky. “Judging by your sun, I came from a generally eastern direction. I crossed an ocean people called ‘the Atlantic,’ or ‘el Atlantico.’”

Roxie then realized the mental pull was gone. Instead there was a sense of completion—not to mention relief. However, she took a couple of steps along the sidewalk, turned around, and braced herself as she walked back.

Nothing. She was free to walk wherever she wanted.

Aerigo raised an eyebrow at her.

“For the past two weeks I’ve had this strange need to travel east. No clue why. And now that I’ve met you, it’s gone.”

Aerigo’s face brightened. “You were subconsciously guiding me to your location.”

Roxie gave him an unconvinced stare.

“It’s called magic,” he said. “Although—”

“Magic’s real?” Part of Roxie had often wanted magic to be real so she could magic her eyes into glowing and fading on command. Of course this never worked.

Aerigo gave her a faint smile as he set the glass bottle on the ground and reached for his canteen. He unscrewed the cap and cupped his free hand, ready to catch the water as he upended the canteen. The water fell as Roxie expected, but when it almost touched Aerigo’s palm it began to collect as if falling into an invisible bowl.

Roxie’s eyes widened as Aerigo began to mold the liquid into the likeness of a rose. He held his other hand over the reshaping globe of water, slowly moving it up and down like a musical conductor measuring out beats. The water rose splayed over his cupped hand, and the petals shimmered like pool water in the middle of the afternoon. Roxie raised a finger, but restrained herself from touching it.

ADS
15.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
READ BOOK DOWNLOAD BOOK

Other books

Miss Carmelia Faye Lafayette by Katrina Parker Williams
Untitled by Unknown Author
For Your Love by Beverly Jenkins
A Pride of Lions by Isobel Chace
Fiending for His Love by Angel Williams
Dreamwalkers by Kate Spofford
Good Curses Evil by Stephanie S. Sanders