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Chapter One

Trevor Deriba’s First Death happened at age fifteen. Now he was one of the UnDead, serving as a low-level courier in the Afterworld. He began to wonder if he would experience Second Death soon. The Grim Guards were storming his rebel hideout, no doubt, with orders to kill him and his visitor.

Across the meeting table, the Alliance representative, a mortal who made the dangerous journey to the Afterworld, glared at him in obvious distrust. As a leader among the rebels, Trevor managed to earn their respect despite his appearance, which was that of a kid.

Whatever your age and the way you looked at your First Death was the way you remained in the Afterworld. However, the mortal didn’t seem to understand that point. The twitchy man winced at the sudden shouts and booms of distant fighting.

“We should go now,” Trevor’s mentor said. “The Grim Guards are working their way here.” He was an older rebel, a Spire Guardian from the Central Archives. Rankled at the mortal’s attitude, he made a show of respectfully waiting for Trevor’s orders.

Trevor gave his mentor a curt nod. “Lead the way.”

The Guardian moved in the quick, fluid steps of a trained fighter, gripping the Alliance man by the arm and hustling him to the door.

The Alliance visitor regained some of his earlier arrogance as he yanked his arm free and whirled on Trevor. “How did they know about our meeting?”

“It wasn’t me,” Trevor hissed in annoyance. “Someone on your side sold us out to the Grim Reaper.”

“But… but…” The man’s sputtering was cut short when the Guardian opened the door to reveal a squad of grim-faced rebels. They snapped to attention. Each had their blades activated. Trevor slipped past his visitor and into the corridor. The Guardian and his men formed a protective circle around him.

A sudden shout of pain echoed through the hallways of the rebel base. It was cut short a few seconds later. An eerie silence settled on the base.

“Where are we going?” the Alliance man asked with a shaky and too loud voice.

All the rebels glared at him.

Trevor sighed and said in a hushed tone, “We’re headed to the portal chamber to send you back.” Secretly, however, he began to fear they wouldn’t make it that far.

His doubts were proven out when his group rounded a corner to find two Reapers, a man and a woman, blocking the hallway. They wore the signature, flowing blood-red robes of the Grim Reaper’s inner circle: the Kin.

Both had the same dark features and curly, black hair. Trevor recognized them from the Alliance’s intel. Fabian and Thera Rasmussen. Siblings. And deadly adversaries, if the blood on their blades were any indication. The doorway to the portal chamber was just beyond the Reapers.

Trevor had never seen a real Reaper in person. As an archivist and courier, he didn’t associate with such beings who roamed the mortal realm, reaping souls. And the Reapers, in turn, showed open disdain for the work of the archivists. They shared a mutual distrust that went back eons.

Naturally, there were exceptions, but most rebels from the Grim Reaper’s side chose to fall back to the mortal realm. Only within the human-Fallen Alliance did rebels from both groups work together in true harmony. That made this failed meeting all the sadder for Trevor.

Thera tilted her narrow chin upward. When she spoke, her smug voice vibrated the walls. “Heretics and a mortal.” Her lip twisted in disgust as she added, “Pathetic.”

“Prepare to die,” Fabian announced as he brandished his Reaper’s blades.

Trevor activated his blades. Like all the others’, his were gleaming, double-sided, fifteen-inch weapons with flowing Angel script covering every surface.

When Trevor prepared to defend himself, the Guardian pressed his arm down. “You have to get out.”

“I want to stay and fight.”

The man gave his shaggy, red head one violent shake. “You’re more important than any of us. You heard the Elder.”

Trevor realized, for the first time, his friends expected him to cross to the mortal world to escape. He deactivated his blades and huddled with the Alliance visitor. The Guardian faced the Reapers, holding up his own blades, and shouting a challenge. The others in his group joined in as they rushed forward.

The Reapers were fierce, enhancing the use of their own blades with spells. Thera sliced a rebel across the abdomen. He screamed as the hot flames consumed his body in seconds. Fabian plunged his blade through the heart of a second rebel whose body was also instantly consumed by white-hot flames.

But the remaining rebels fought on with conviction and eventually forced the siblings back, clearing the way for Trevor and the Alliance man to reach the door.

“Go!” Trevor’s mentor shouted.

At that moment, darkness and cold swept through the corridor as three tall figures in black robes rounded the far corner. Everyone, including the Reapers, froze. The Grim Guards approached the melee.

Their bone-white skull masks hid their faces, except for the glowing-red eye slits. They carried seven-foot long, wooden poles with jet-black scythes on the ends. The edges of the weapons glowed a sickly, green color.

One Grim Guard already had his weapon in motion, sending it whirling through the air. The weapon slipped in and out of sight, making it hard to follow. That’s why Trevor and the other rebels were totally unprepared when the scythe reappeared right in front of the startled Alliance man, severing his head with a clean swipe.

Since he was a mortal in the Afterworld, his body didn’t erupt into white-hot flames. Instead, it, and the now free head, dropped onto the polished floor amid an expanding pool of blood collecting at Trevor’s feet. The attack was so swift, he never had a chance to react.

The Grim Guard summoned its scythe back to his hand. The blood that stained the weapon’s blade sizzled, sickening Trevor.

The lead Guardian gripped Trevor’s forearm and pointed at the door. “Go, now. Deliverer’s speed to you, my young friend.”

“May the Deliverer quicken your steps,” Trevor replied. His hands shook, but he managed to type in the code before the door whooshed open. His anger boiled when his mentor shoved him into the portal room. One final glance as the door closed showed something that would stay with Trevor for a long time: his mentor placing protective wards over the opening.

His body ached with the knowledge that his friends would die in their efforts to protect him. It wasn’t fair, he fumed, but he kept quiet. He had to stick to the hasty plan.

The portal dominated the center of the space. A few feet away stood the dialing pedestal. It had a simple stone base that flared at the bottom and a circular, flat surface on top. The Angel script symbols were etched into the surface.

He rushed to the pedestal and pressed the combination for the mortal realm. Several matching symbols on the portal flared, casting an eerie glow. A small hole appeared at the very center and expanded outwards to the edges. The opening reached its full size, revealing a well-lit, cavernous room on the other side.

A horrible screech came from the door, and Trevor spared a fleeting glance. A scythe sliced through the right side of the door, followed by a second one on the left. The metal continued to emit the ear-splitting screeches as both scythes cut, moving toward each other.

Using a small, watch-like device on his wrist, Trevor beamed his courier code through the portal just as the door behind him was ripped away. Corridor light flooded the room. The Grim Guards had to stoop to enter, but they were quick. Both charged Trevor, their lethal scythes already slicing through the air in order to decapitate as well as disembowel him.

Trevor dived through the portal and into the mortal world. He rolled to his feet inside a subterranean chamber. Against the far wall was an observation room and guard station. At the center of the space was the portal. Thick, plexiglass walls were erected around this precious device.

The only way out of the enclosure was the open doorway where the two guards stood. Their mortal guns were raised because of his unorthodox entry.

Before they could question him, Trevor felt the hair rising on the back of his neck.

“Look out!” He shot forward between the guards just as he heard the distinct sound of a scythe choosing through the air.

The guards began firing on the Grim Reaper’s minions instead of heeding his warning. The scythe sliced through the abdomen of one guard, cutting the unfortunate man in half. His fellow guard blanched at the sight as he fumbled before hitting the button that sealed the inner chamber.

As soon as the door swung close, the Grim Guards went into a frenzy, plowing into the glass partition repeatedly. More security rushed into the outer room, weapons drawn and ready, but all were unsure what to do.

When cracks began appearing in the plexiglass, an electrical current was sent through the enclosed chamber. It was a practiced precaution used to dissipate magical and supernatural energy. In response, the Grim Guards released unearthly screeches of anger, freezing everyone in the basement.

Trevor had been warned, but it took him a few horrible moments to force his immobile muscles into action. He inched around the guards and toward the exit. The electrical discharges began to work, forcing the Grim Guards toward the portal’s opening. Eventually, with one last, bone chilling howl, they soared back through to the Afterworld.

Relieved, Trevor slipped out of the nearest door. He ducked into an alcove and shed his Afterworld robes. Underneath, he wore a stolen guard’s uniform.

With his job as courier, he managed to prepare rather well for this worst case scenario. He used a stolen security key card to open a maintenance hatch. The metals rungs were bolted to the inner wall of the narrow passageway. Making sure no one spotted him, Trevor clambered inside and started his long climb.

Several nerve-wracking minutes later, he pushed open the exit grate and thankfully inhaled the rich, hot air of the mortal world. It was night here. Good, he thought. That would help in his escape. In the distance, the alarms still blared from the unremarkable building that hid the portal.

A shudder hit Trevor. Grim Guards. Gods below! Even worse, his alias as a courier was blown. His former master would know he had defected and certainly hunt him down. He calmed his racing thoughts as he summoned all of his courage.

But he couldn’t prevent the pang of regret that overcame him. Was his mentor even alive? Would he ever see the Elder again? He shook his head, striving to push aside the distracting thoughts in order to focus on his current situation. He couldn’t go to the Alliance. They had a mole in their midst.

No, he needed another way back home. Trevor unhooked an amulet from the chain around his neck and broke it open. Inside was a small, slightly curved, rectangular piece of metal. He pressed it to his temple, where it remained. With a tap on the flat surface, he activated it, washing the side of his head in a soft glow while transmitting mission information directly into his mind.

What it revealed shocked Trevor. His way back to the Afterworld was located in a small town in Georgia, several states away. Trevor detached the device and dropped it onto the ground where it sparked and turned to slag within seconds.

Moving away from the facility, he soon reached a lonely stretch of highway. Keeping to the high grass and scrubs, Trevor plodded along on a path parallel to the road. The going was rough, but his mind stayed focused on replaying the final, shocking information downloaded from the device.

It was about a boy, who, at age thirteen, had put on a Protector’s Ring and fought the Grim Reaper. Unbelievable! Of course, every rebel was aware of the Elder’s prophecies, which stoked the fires of rebellion against the evil Rulers of the Afterworld.

But to have a thirteen-year-old… Trevor stopped himself. People often doubted him because of his age. He wouldn’t do the same to someone else. Still, the kid must be something special.

With that thought in mind, Trevor set out to the find this amazing boy.

END SAMPLE

The Seeker’s Compass
Copyright © 2016 John Darr Books
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