by H. Morris
Fiercely strong Andie, and her genius brother Dylan, are mysteriously transported into a primitive world. Their Valekin hosts think they were sent by the Gods in order to bring peace, but the Gods are not what they seem and their mission is impossible. It will take all of Andie's fighting skills and Dylan's considerable intelligence for them to stay alive long enough to find their way home. For as the Valekins focus on their Graecore enemies; a tyrannical madman secretly plots to raise a massive army of dead soldiers that will annihilate everyone. The only thing he needs to complete the spell is Dylan's blood.
While Dylan comes of age through terror and tragedy, Andie struggles to protect him and deal with her growing feelings for Prince Hagen; feelings that could cost them both their lives.
BUY THE BOOK
Andie Burke had her attention on the road when she ran over the old man. She wasn't fiddling with the radio or looking at her brother, Dylan, in the passenger seat. Her gaze remained fixed on the winding mountain drive. She never saw the man step out of the dense trees, so she was unprepared when he appeared directly in front of her.
She slammed the brakes of her old Chevy pickup and jerked the steering wheel hard. The right fender plowed into his body, and the thud vibrated through her bones as the seatbelt cut across her midsection. The impact threw the man up over the side of the hood. Andie brought the truck to a screeching stop, shifted it into Park, and turned off the engine. She ripped the key out of the ignition and jerked her hands off the wheel like it burned her.
She gulped for breath as her heart rammed against her ribs. Turning in her seat, she looked through the back window at the heap of beige cloth and gray hair lying on the asphalt. Swallowing hard, she waited for some sign of movement or breathing, but saw nothing. Dark cloudy skies cast a heavy gray light over the motionless body.
Dylan turned and stared at her intensely. His green eyes widened with shock and his normally pale, freckled skin was flushed. His lips pressed into a tight frown that clenched his square jaw. He jumped out of the truck and rushed to the man. When he leaned over, his mop of red curls blocked her view.
Andie extracted herself from the pickup on lead feet. She glanced up and down the deserted road and groaned out loud. Only the abundant fir trees stood present to witness her crime. She saw a short stretch of the road between curves but couldn’t hear any cars in the distance. There were no houses within view, only the thick forest surrounding them on all sides.
“Is he...?” She was unable to finish the question. She'd turned eighteen several months ago. If the man was dead, she could be looking at prison time. Shoving her shaky hands into her pockets, she focused on several deep breaths.
There were no signs of blood, no visible puddle leaking from under the man's head. The body was still and quiet, and she couldn't see the damage.
"I don't know yet, Andie.” Dylan pressed a hand on the stranger’s back, and the body jolted as though hit by an electrical shock.
Her brother jerked back as the man sat up and shook his head. Long gray hair fell back in waves to reveal a face.
"Oh!" Dylan exclaimed.
When Andie saw the familiar eye patch, she gasped. "Mr. Valder?"
The last time she'd seen him was four years ago, before they moved to Montana to live with her aunt. Andie studied her old karate teacher and shook her head, trying to make sense out of his presence here. His hair hung loosely, not in its usual ponytail. His beard had grown and now came down to his chest, but there was no doubt this was her old Sensei. He still wore the same leather eyepatch, that seemed to enhance the blue depth of his good eye. High cheekbones framed a long, straight nose over a wide mouth. The man had practically raised her. He was a friend of her family and she’d known him all her life. She could never forget his face.
Mr. Valder blinked as he shifted around on the pavement. Andie kneeled next to him.
"Mr. Valder, are you all right?" Dylan asked.
Dumb question coming from her genius brother. Of course, the old man wasn't all right. Considering how he’d hit and rolled over the truck, he shouldn't even be moving.
"Yeah." Mr. Valder grunted as he lifted himself.
"Stop!" Andie cried.
"You shouldn't move," Dylan said.
Mr. Valder turned away from their outburst. Once on his feet, he leaned down and brushed the dirt off his linen trousers.
Andie stared at him and shook her head, unable to comprehend his casual demeanor after such a severe accident. He should be dead! "You should go to the hospital."
"I don't need medical attention. I just want you to take me home."
Andie raised her eyebrows at Dylan. Although he wasn't quite sixteen, he was still better educated in medicine than most doctors. Surely, he could convince the man to get checked.
"I'm okay. See..." Mr. Valder moved his neck from side to side and twisted his torso back and forth. He took a step forward and back, showing them that nothing was broken.
How could he not be injured?
"It's been a long time." Mr. Valder looked back and forth between them, nodding in approval. "Andie, you’re looking as fit as ever. And Dylan, I haven't seen you since your high school graduation." Her brother earned his diploma from a private school at twelve. "Now I see more of the man you’ll become than of the boy you were." He rested a friendly hand on Dylan's shoulder.
"Why are you here?" Andie demanded. "I haven't seen you since we left Seattle. What are you doing in Montana?"
"I live just down the road. It’ll only take a few minutes to get there.”
"What do you mean you live here? For how long? Why didn’t we know?” Andie shook her head and flipped her hands. “You know what! Never mind, you can explain it later. Right now, we need to take you to the emergency room."
"Red Dragon!" Mr. Valder's voice was commanding when he used her old nickname.
The name whipped a hot bolt through Andie's nerves, causing her to jerk like he'd slapped her. Her gaze dropped to the ground. Nobody had called her Red Dragon in a long time, not since she left karate after her parents died.
"Just take me home.”
Andie gave a reluctant nod and without further argument, walked back to the truck and climbed in. Dylan got in the back and let Mr. Valder ride shotgun. Taking her teacher home seemed crazy. He couldn't possibly be unharmed. Perhaps he was in shock and didn't register his injuries yet.
"Where’re we going?"
Mr. Valder let out a little chuckle. "We’ll see," he replied before pointing down the road.
Andie met Dylan's eyes in the rearview mirror, and they exchanged a look before she turned the key and the dusty black truck rumbled to life.
"Mr. Valder, I think it would be best if you let us take you to the hospital," Dylan tried again.
"No need, I'm fine, I promise." The older man looked satisfied and happy in the passenger seat. His strong jawline was relaxed, and his exposed eye looked soft and content.
"What were you doing in the middle of the road?"
"Waiting for you."
Andie turned and gaped at him. His presence rattled her deeply. She hadn't seen him since she left the dojo, not since the terrible night of the car accident that took both her parents. Seeing him now, made her feel like the past and present were colliding, and the impact hit her like a sucker-punch.
"Right here." Mr. Valder pointed.
Andie followed his finger and turned onto a long driveway cutting into the trees with a tiny cabin at the end. There were no other parked cars, and she worried about leaving him alone with possible injuries. When she stopped the truck, she turned to him again. "Why were you waiting for me?"
"Both of you, actually. I have something I’d like to show you. Something I think you might be interested in." He looked at Dylan with a smile full of secrets.
"What is it?" Andie asked as she parked the truck.
Mr. Valder opened his door and left without answering. He walked to the cabin and waited at the entrance. An icy feather fluttered down her spine when Dylan jumped out of the backseat and followed him. She took a deep breath and slung her leather, catch-all bag over her shoulder before joining them.
Other than the driveway, the grounds weren’t groomed to accommodate the cabin. There was no grassy lawn around the building, no fences, gardens, or sheds anywhere. There wasn't even a cleared walkway leading to the door. Andie thought this was strange. It gave the place an untouched feel, like an abandoned structure the forest hadn't gotten around to reclaiming yet.
"How long have you lived here?" Her brother scratched his head as he looked around.
"Since I came to Montana." Mr. Valder stopped in front of an electronic keypad next to the door.
Andie didn't know anyone living on the mountain that had an alarm system on their house. In the four years they’d lived here with her Aunt Gillian, they’d never even locked their doors. This cabin certainly didn't look like the kind of place she’d worry about getting burglarized.
He lifted the cover on the pad, and instead of buttons, there was a blank screen. A tiny monitor popped on, and Mr. Valder's face was photographed and reflected. The pad beeped twice, and then the cabin door clicked open.
Andie slipped her hands into her pockets and locked her elbows. What could require this kind of high-tech security out in the middle of the woods? Beside her, Dylan stared at the alarm system in open-mouthed awe. Before she could ask about it, she caught sight of the interior, and her jaw dropped. She heard a little gasp from Dylan as he crowded against her.
Inside, the bright lighting assaulted her eyes. Thick cement walls surrounded a wide staircase, dropping into a larger room below. From where they stood, she saw a small section of the space beneath. It appeared to hold a workstation filled with high-tech equipment, from a corner, she glimpsed the edge of an enormous blue coil.
"Oh my God," Dylan whispered as he looked at the room.
"Please come in." Mr. Valder gestured through the doorway.
“How long is this going to take? Our aunt will be worried if we’re late.”
“You don’t need to worry about that. Gillian knows you’re here. She and I have stayed in contact. She helped me prepare for this surprise.”
Andie gave him a scowl, but he only smiled in response. Before she could say anything else, her brother moved past her and down the stairs.
She released a groan and stomped reluctantly after him. At the bottom, she stood on a mezzanine. The closed side resembled a control center with hundreds of lights emanating from surrounding screens like a solar system. Strange holographic images floated over tables, displaying formulas and symbols. The other side had an open viewing area of the room below over a row of machines that Andie couldn't recognize at all. The wonder-struck expression on Dylan's face suggested he couldn't identify them either.
Andie leaned over the railing for a better look. The blue coil was enormous. The light emanated from it like a living thing. It moved and pulsed as it fed through giant twisted metal tubes. Circling the coil were a dozen more cylinders, each pulsating the same blue light. The floor appeared to be black glass. It reflected the blue light from an inky depth.
"What is this?"
"It's a gate."
"What kind of gate? What does it do?" Dylan shifted back and forth as though he could barely contain his excitement.
"How about I show you?"
"Yeah!" Dylan agreed.
"First tell me what this is." Andie demanded.
Dylan groaned loudly.
"It's a gate that can show you things you've never seen." Mr. Valder leaned in and locked his gaze on her with an intensity that left her unable to look away.
It was unnerving for Mr. Valder to show up. He represented a time in her life she wanted to leave behind. Her days with her father in the dojo were hard to even think about now. But here he was, out of the blue, with his outdated eye patch and long gray hair, just like when she was a kid. He’d been the first one to call her Red Dragon, a nickname her dad quickly picked up, saying it befitted both her coloring and her spirit. A couple years ago, she’d gotten most of her right arm sleeved in a red dragon tattoo. The fire breathing beast started below her elbow and coiled her arm to the top of her shoulder. Mr. Valder, in a roundabout way, was part of how she identified herself and she trusted him.
"You’ll see yourself, and what you really are. Your best or your worst, whichever you choose. Either way, you’ll see your truest form." He paused for a beat. "You’ll see your purpose."
His words struck a chord like a bell vibrating inside her. The whole moment seemed surreal.
"Come on, Andie!" Dylan tugged on her wrist.
She gazed into the depth of the black glass below. A chance to see who or what she really was...
"Okay, let's do this."
What's the worst that could happen?