“Very fast paced and exciting! The final book in
an outstanding series!”
I was down to hours to save Callan’s life. He’d never see eighteen.
At this rate, I might not either.
Callan was trapped in a place far into the future known as the Sphere, an artificial planet, and I was trapped in a small, cramped room somewhere out in the desert an hour away from a place called Albuquerque. The time-travel portal for returning to the Sphere was in an Albuquerque boarding school, along with two friends I needed to help me open that portal.
Minutes raced past.
My heartbeat picked up speed.
“Come on,” I begged my power. It had yet to show up since I’d been locked in this room. I’d used it to kill a huge croggle monster in the Sphere, but I couldn’t even open a lock right now. Why?
Then I remembered something that I’d figured out over the past two days. Someone had been in immediate danger each time I’d drawn on my power.
The danger to Callan wasn’t right this second, but it was real and deadly. Could I use that? Clenching my fingers tighter around the doorknob, I dredged up an awful image of Callan’s enemy—the TecKnati—swinging a sword and lopping off his beautiful hands. Nausea crowded my throat and I flinched at the gruesome image.
A spark of energy warmed my chest, swirling, then the heat spread to my arms and hands.
The doorknob heated beneath my fingers. A vision of metal parts blurred in my mind. They tumbled and clicked, banging into each other, faster and faster until I couldn’t tell what they were doing.
Parts jangled together in a loud crash.
I snatched my hand away and jumped back, expecting Takoda to burst inside any minute with another stun gun in hand.
I’d learned about stun guns the hard way.
A few days ago, I’d come awake in the desert with no memory. I’d been chased by a sentient beast—a predator sent to hunt me—then I’d been captured by local authorities and dropped off at a school called the Byzantine Institute. Because of my dark hair and skin, they all decided I was something called a Native American.
None of that had made sense to me then.
What I’d learned since then was terrifying.
I still had no memory, except for a few bits that had emerged to form a strange puzzle still missing too many parts to make sense. Takoda was a Navajo on some council who’d found me at the school. When he came to take me away last night, I’d tried to run. The guards had used that stun gun on me.
Silence outside my room taunted me.
What if he had someone guarding this building?
Takoda had said he’d be back in the morning, which might be hours away if midnight was as close as I estimated. But it could already be past. My guess could be way off. Blood pounded in my ears, thudding with each heavy beat.
This was not the time for fear.
I had no idea how long it would take me to walk back to the school. To run back. Everything hinged on my returning before four in the morning.
I had to hurry and hope that Tony and Gabby were still there. My two new friends at the Institute had been with me when I accidentally opened a portal for traveling forward in time. We’d already used it twice for going to the Sphere and returning to the Institute. Activating the portal again required all three of us to be present.
Callan and the other MystiK children who’d been captured and stuck there waited for us to come back.
Returning too late meant Callan would first suffer torture at the hands of the TecKnati, then he’d die a horrible death.
MystiKs and TecKnati were from 166 years in the future. The minute the red moon set in the Sphere and Callan turned eighteen, black wraiths would swarm him. He’d vanish into the ether. But the other MystiKs in the Sphere didn’t know that.
I was the only one besides Callan who was aware of his horrible fate—the same fate of any MystiK turning eighteen in the Sphere.
I couldn’t stop the moon from setting, but I might be able to do something to prevent his death.
I will not lose you, I vowed silently, repeating the words he’d said when he’d fought to protect me from a deadly plant on my last visit to the Sphere.
But I couldn’t change anything if I didn’t get out of this room.
Caution and the memory of being shocked by the stun gun had me waiting to see if anyone had heard the internal lock parts clanging, but I couldn’t stay here any longer.
I listened one last minute at the door.
No footsteps coming this way. Takoda had driven through miles of desert on the way here last night. He said only a few locals lived in this small town, but he hadn’t told me if he was one of them.
How fast could I retrace my route to the school on foot?
I tested the doorknob again and ... it opened. My power had worked. This time.
Outside, the air was dry and cool where it had been hot as an oven during the day. Light from a giant, not-quite-full moon washed over the stacked pueblo rooms built high into the night sky. Takoda had used the term pueblo, but it was unfamiliar to me. To be honest, with few memories returning yet, the majority of things I encountered were unfamiliar to me.
Takoda had talked continually on the drive last night, trying to act friendly and asking if I knew about Acoma Pueblo.
No I didn’t and we weren’t friends. My friends had never electro-shocked me with a weapon.
He’d explained what a stun gun was, then apologized.
Apology not accepted.
I kept picking my way through the town, looking all around. The place was built on a high plateau. In the distance, mountaintops dusted by moonlight rose against the dark skies. I had to get down from this sandstone mesa to the desert floor.
Had this place still been standing in the future when my people—C’raydonians—lived in the Sandia Mountains somewhere around Albuquerque? V’ru would know. I’d gained the only information I had on C’raydonians from V’ru, an all-knowing, eleven-year-old MystiK in the Sphere. Based on his records, it was believed that I had been born over eight decades into the future.
My people would eventually live here.
And they would all die here, leaving no one.
Longing hit with the swift strike of a sharp arrow, for a family I couldn’t remember and a life beyond the reach of my mind. I had nothing. No one.
In the brief, grueling days I’d been here, I’d formed a connection with Gabby and Tony back at the school, plus Callan and the MystiKs trapped on the Sphere.
And now someone wanted to take even that from me.
I continued sneaking through the town. No life stirred.
When I finally found the main road leading away from here, my feet picked up speed with each step toward the desert. Freedom was within my reach.
The road dropped off at a steep angle. I embraced the adrenaline pushing me to go and ran all-out through the moonlit night, using the broken white lines on the center of the road to navigate.
How long could I hold this pace?
I didn’t know, but at least I had a trail to follow and, at this hour of night, no one would hear my sneakers slapping the hard surface.
Would this route lead me all the way to the school?
Breathing hard, I’d been on the desert level only a few minutes when I heard thunder.
I looked up. Not a cloud disturbed the vast sky.
The noise grew louder.
Not a storm, but the thunder of hooves pounding the ground.
I looked over my shoulder. Four men on horses raced toward me.
“No!” I pushed my legs harder and spun my feet, looking all around. Where was a place to hide or a way to lose them? Nowhere. I stared at nothing but a vast ocean of sand interrupted by an occasional juniper tree.
I raced ahead with all the speed I could beg of my legs and feet. My side ached. I clutched it and kept running.
“Rayen, stop!” Takoda shouted as he closed in on me.
I was gasping for air. There was no way I’d outrun horses. Slowing down, I stumbled to a stop and spun to face him.
I raised my hands and begged the power to come forth.
Energy buzzed beneath my skin and hummed in my chest, but nothing reached my hands.
The horses pulled up hard, sending a cloud of dust boiling around me. When it cleared, Takoda climbed down and walked up to me. “You can’t leave.”
Tears would do me no good. I blinked them away and pleaded, “Please let me go back. Cal . . . a person’s life depends on me returning.”
“Your people need you.” His voice gentled. “You are special, Rayen.”
How could I tell him that my people lived eighty years in the future and all of them were doomed to die because of a virus? I’d found out the C’raydonian race had descended from the Navajo and tribes intermarried with the Navajo.
But the people Takoda was talking about were not mine.
When the K’ryan Virus, or K-Virus as it was also called, came along over a hundred years in the future from now, it turn C’raydonians into rabid animals who were hunted to extinction.
My throat was dry from running and the dust didn’t help.
I coughed and croaked, “I can’t ... save anyone here.”
Takoda said something to one of the riders, who tossed him a bottle of water. He handed it to me. “Drink.”
I grabbed it and guzzled down the cool liquid. When I wiped my mouth, I asked, “Why won’t you let me go back? I don’t have any family on your reservation. I’m not from here.”
He studied me for a long moment. “Where are you from?”
If I told him, he’d think I was insane. “You wouldn’t know the place.”
“You were sent by the spirits.”
Just when I thought I had exclusivity on being strange, he one-upped me. “I, uh, don’t know what you mean.”
But I had a bad feeling that I just might know since I’d met a few spirits yesterday while I slept. Callan had held me during the night, consoling me after the spirits had told me they were my ancestors, that I had a destiny, then disappeared before I could get answers.
That seemed so far away now.
Takoda spoke in a calm voice as if he were trying to cajole me into doing as he wished. “Come with me, Rayen. I have someone you must meet.”
I considered the situation I was in and wondered if I could draw on my energy again if I envisioned Callan being hurt. But I knew in my heart that I would not harm this man and his friends. Not if he didn’t threaten me first.
What was I going to do?
I felt a new presence join us and glanced to my left, then closed my eyes for a moment, searching for patience.
The glowing image of an old man, in a seated position with his legs crossed, floated above the ground. My annoying ghost was back.
He was also Acheii, my great-great-grandfather.
Acheii said, “You must listen before you can be heard.”
I curbed the urge to give him a biting retort about how he always showed up at the worst times, with unwanted advice, and never helped me out. Such as during the dream when I met the other spirits. Acheii was the one who’d cut me off and kept me from asking questions.
I wanted to convince Takoda to return me to the school. That might be hard to do if I started talking to the wind since no one else could see the old guy but me, so I ignored Acheii.
I looked at Takoda. “What time is it?”
The ghost answered, “Time for you to learn more of your destiny.”
I refused to even glance in his direction.
Takoda looked at his watch. “The new day began four minutes ago.”
Just past midnight.
Licking my dry lips, I asked, “How far away is this person you want me to meet?”
Takoda pointed to his left where a tiny campfire burned bright as a candle in the sea of darkness. “Not far.”
“If I go with you, will you take me back to the school?”
“I will do what our shaman decides.”
So they wanted me to see a shaman and that person had final say. I couldn’t get away from four men on horses. If I convinced this shaman to let me return to the school, horses or a vehicle would be faster than on foot.
I asked, “How far is the drive to the school? I wasn’t awake for the whole trip.”
That meant I had to be out of here by two-thirty to have enough time to return to the school and still have about thirty minutes to find Tony and Gabby before our four o’clock deadline to leave. Heading to the school sooner would be better.
“You waste precious time,” Acheii said with brusque impatience.
“Don’t you think I realize that?” I snapped at the space where Acheii had floated. The space was now empty.
And Takoda had witnessed the whole thing.
As had the three silent men on horses.
I didn’t want to see the wariness in his eyes, but I rarely got what I wanted these days so I turned to Takoda.
No wariness. No questions about talking to myself. He waved his hand toward his horse. “We should go.”
Once I was seated behind Takoda, he made a clicking sound and the horse flew across the desert.
Wind blew hair loose from my ponytail. A memory swirled in my mind of riding at night through a desert with my hair whipping in the wind. I reached for the memory, dragging it to me with anxious fingers, begging my mind to give me something from my past.
The memory unfolded slowly. My father and I were on horses.
He’d ridden with me to someone he said would protect me.
I could see it all so clearly now.
A beast was after us. Red demonic eyes glowed. The same type of sentient beast that had chased me two days ago when I’d awakened in the desert.
That deadly thing had come from the future, too. It had followed me here, to this time.
The vision wavered like a reflected image disturbed by ripples in a pond. I focused all my attention again, desperate to mine more of this one memory. My father yelled at me to keep going and to do as the elder told me. I would never disobey my father, but when he’d turned off to lead the beast away from me, I’d panicked momentarily.
I pulled around hard to change direction and go help my father fight the sentient killer.
But a second beast appeared, charging toward me.
I ran my horse hard toward the opening between two sheer rock walls where my father had told me the elder waited in a narrow canyon. When I passed through the rock gap, the beast was close behind, but it crashed against an invisible force. It backed up, changing its form to a giant bird with a six-foot wingspan, long talons and a vicious beak, watching me with the glowing eyes of a predator.
I reined in my horse, stopping before I ran down the elder on the other side of a small fire.
He wore faded colors of the sunset woven in geometric patterns on a robe that brushed the ground. For a frail man, his voice was strong. “You are Ashkii Dighin and you have a duty.”
That was the same name the spirits in my dream had called me. It translated to sacred child.
His eyes were two milky orbs incapable of seeing me.
Smoky air teased my nose.
The bird-beast charged, once again slamming up against some invisible field that prevented it from passing through the gap in the stone. The elder’s wrinkled brow furrowed at the bird’s screech. In one hand, he lifted a scuffed and battered gourd with faint black-and-red images of warriors fighting. He told me, “You must hurry. My magic will not hold the protective wall long. Come closer.”
Every detail of that next minute roared to life.
I slid off my horse and walked toward the fire. The elder began chanting and allowed sparkling granules of sand to sift from his hand into the fire. He shook the gourd, and it rattled like the tail of a deadly snake. The fire rose into a cyclone of swirling blue and green flames that moved away from the elder and toward me, engulfing me.
A scream rose in my throat, but the flames didn’t touch my skin. I was mesmerized by the strange sensations flooding me. My body stretched and pulled.
The elder shouted a warning.
I couldn’t grasp what he was saying. I was lifted off the ground inside the cyclone as it picked up speed. I could feel the power pulsing through the whirling funnel, spinning faster and faster.
The elder’s voice boomed, but I couldn’t grasp his words.
I pivoted in slow motion, suspended as the world warped around me. The sound of a thousand voices chanted a melody that blended into a kaleidoscope of colors. As I came around to face the narrow opening for the canyon, I realized what the elder was shouting.
The sentient bird slammed the invisible barrier once more, bursting through this time. It flew at me, beak open to rip me to shreds. Then it dove into the cyclone and—
Takoda stood above me with worry etching his face.
I was lying on the ground, staring up at him and the moon that hung over his left shoulder. “What happened?”
“You passed out the second we stopped and I couldn’t catch you before you fell to the ground. Does anything feel broken?”
I sat up, gave the dizziness a moment to diminish, then shook it off.
Bending my knees, I rocked forward and pushed off the sandy ground to stand, dusting myself. I murmured, “Nothing broken. I don’t know what happened.”
That was a lie.
Fear at being attacked in that fire cyclone had been too much. I’d blacked out. But now I knew how I’d ended up here in the past with that sentient beast chasing me. It had gotten sucked into the same cyclone firestorm.
“Are you all right?” Takoda asked.
I would never be all right.
My life and family lived almost a hundred years in the future. I’d grown attached to Callan, who’d been born fifty years after my entire race had disappeared from this planet. Plus, I was running out of time to save him.
But if I could convince Takoda’s shaman to allow me to return to the school, I still yet might save Callan.
When Takoda nodded, I turned to find his shaman standing on the opposite side of a small fire.
We were in a narrow canyon, like the one in my memory.
That wouldn’t have been so disturbing if the shaman had not been the spitting image of the elder in my dream, right down to the painted gourd in his hand, the milky eyes and his next words.
“You are Ashkii Dighin and you have a duty.”
I started backing away.
No, this couldn’t happen again. Not now.
“He won’t harm you,” Takoda told me, anchoring his hand on my shoulder.
I couldn’t decide if it was to comfort me or keep me from running. No one could reassure me at the moment, and with my level of adrenaline reaching a new high, I doubted anyone could prevent me from running, either.
Looking around, I saw the other three horsemen still mounted and waiting a ways back.
Were they positioned in case I took off again?
Sweat ran down the side of my face and pooled at my neck. My fingers fisted and I was alert to every sound as I turned back to the shaman.
“Do not fear me, Ashkii Dighin,” the shaman said in a voice gruff with age. “I only wish to speak with you.”
I found my voice. “How do you know who I am?”
“I have seen you in a hundred dreams. The last one was yesterday. That is why Takoda came for you.”
Could this man really have answers? Finally.
Could I trust any of this?
The spirits in my dream had also called me by that name, but this shaman couldn’t even see me.
The shaman must have taken my silence as disbelief. He asked, “Do you have the blue-green eyes of the sea?”
Hard to deny that with Takoda standing here. “Yes.”
“Do you have magic that comes from within?”
Takoda didn’t know about my powers, so he couldn’t have told anyone. My palms dampened. Hope coursed through me at just how much this shaman did know, so I said, “Yes.”
“Do you come from another time?”
That caused the skin on my arms to prickle with warning. How should I answer that one? Instead, I asked, “Why would you think that?”
A smile formed on the elder’s lips. “This is the one, Takoda.”
“Wait a minute,” I complained. “I didn’t say I was from another time.”
Takoda said, “But neither did you deny it.”
This was getting stranger than being dropped at the Byzantine Institute and finding a laptop that opened a time portal to another world. My hand had gone into the monitor.
Into. The. Monitor.
I’d survived that, and time travel to the future and back. This shaman couldn’t be any more scary than facing monsters in the Sphere so I admitted, “Yes, I’m not from this ... place.” I chickened out at the last minute when I was going to say, not from this time period.
No one reacted, so I added, “If you know so much about me, maybe you can tell me who exactly my family is, because I have no memory other than pieces that fall together sometimes.”
The elder nodded. He started chanting and opened his hand.
“No!” I shouted and raised my hands even though he couldn’t see me. Or could he? “Stop that.”
He paused his chanting and angled his head as if he could see me. “What is wrong, child?”
What wasn’t wrong?
I ran my palms over my wind-blown hair and dropped my hands. “I will tell you the truth and answer your questions if you promise to return me to the school by three-thirty this morning.” In the ensuing silence, I added, “And don’t use your magic to send me to another place.”
“I can not send you home, Rayen.”
I hadn’t really considered the possibility of going home until he said that, but the reminder that I had no way back to my family tore a piece of my heart open.
Everyone belonged somewhere. Except me.
The only place I’d felt as though I belonged at all had been in the Sphere with the MystiKs.
And with Callan.
But that was temporary. Hoping for more was a fool’s dream.
“You do not have much time, Rayen,” the shaman warned.
“For what?” Everyone kept telling me what I could and could not do, and that time was running out, but none of that made sense to me.
“You have a destiny to fulfill.”
I kept hearing that, too. “To do what?” I asked.
“To save your people.”
My eyes stung. “I can’t.”
Takoda had observed silently with his arms crossed. He asked, “Why do you say that when you have yet to hear what the shaman has to tell you?”
I was too weary to keep pretending that I was anything except what I was—a seventeen-year-old girl sent back in time and stripped of her family and her memories.
Lifting my hands to ask for a moment, I said, “This might be hard for you to believe, but I’m going to tell you the entire truth and hope that you will let me save the people that I can. I came awake in the desert just a few days ago with a beast chasing me that was capable of changing forms. It wasn’t a real living animal. It was a creation built for one purpose—to kill. I escaped it, but then I was arrested with other young people. The law enforcement called us runaways. They couldn’t find any identity for me here, because I haven’t been born yet in this time. I am from the future.”
The shaman had lowered his gourd and kept his cloudy-eyed attention on me, so I continued.
“They dropped me at that private school where I met two students. The three of us accidentally found a portal to the future. We landed in a place called the Sphere where other young people known as MystiKs are imprisoned by SEOH, a man who is the leader of all the TecKnati in their world. I found out that I am a C’raydonian, that—”
Rattling erupted from the gourd, and the shaman stabbed it toward the sky. He stared up and chanted softly.
Words froze in my throat.
Did he see someone up there like I sometimes saw my old ghost man, Acheii?
I was terrified that I’d say the wrong thing and he’d flash me out of here to another time period. He’d said he couldn’t send me home, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t send me further back in time.
After several long seconds of the elder shaking his gourd and singing a chant to the heavens, he calmed down and lowered the gourd to his side, where it quieted.
He said, “You are the one.”
Clearly, what I’d just shared had not influenced his thinking one bit.
Trying again, I said, “I really think you have the wrong person. My people are C’raydonians and while they are descendants of the Navajo, their group broke off to live in solitude. They were killed almost a hundred years from now, wiped out completely by a virus. I’m the only one left.”
The MystiKs believed the TecKnatis had brought the deadly K-Virus back from space explorations. After the virus killed much of the world, pockets of reclusive people from spiritualists to dedicated scientists and researchers who hadn’t been infected came together in ten cities in this place called North America. From what I’d learned, the C’raydonians hadn’t been so fortunate and the virus ran rampant through their population.
Any who didn’t die outright were hunted to extinction.
Both the MystiKs and TecKnati had killed C’raydonians to protect their fragile populations—the ones who had not been infected—but it seemed the TecKnati leader had taken a special interest in wiping out C’raydonians.
“You have a destiny that you cannot avoid,” the shaman repeated. The man was still stuck on one track.
“If I listen to what you have to tell me, will you answer some questions then let me go?” I asked, just as determined to gain what I needed.
The elder’s reply was to raise that blasted gourd again and begin chanting. We were getting nowhere.
I decided to let him move ahead with his ceremony in hopes that once he finished, I could leave. But if a cyclone blew up out of that fire, I wasn’t sticking around.
The shaman sprinkled crystalized grains over the fire that poofed and shot a flame high in the air, then died down. I wasn’t sure he was still with us when he began talking in a strange tongue to no one in particular.
Then he spoke words I understood.
“The future is in the past ... One will seek and all will forfeit.”
My blood turned to ice. I’d heard those phrases in the Sphere.
The shaman continued, “When three become one ... the end has begun. The gateway will open ... a path will close.”
My ghost grandfather, Acheii, had said that to me.
As if I’d called him, Acheii appeared next to the shaman, who smiled and angled his head toward the ghost. Was he acknowledging the specter? The shaman continued speaking. “A friend enters as enemy ... an enemy leaves as friend.”
These were words from the Damian Prophecy the MystiKs spoke of during my last trip to the Sphere.
I’d heard only bits and pieces of the prophecy. This man’s version might differ from the one I’d heard before. I repeated the shaman’s ramblings in my mind, determined to remember every word to share with the MystiKs.
If I ever saw them again.
I started to speak.
Acheii raised his hand, palm out and shook his head at me.
The shaman chanted another few seconds, then lifted his blind gaze to the sky again as he spoke. “Day of birth as Red Moon rises ... Night of end when last moon sets. Three must unite ... for the scales to right. The last will lead when others cede.”
He dropped his chin and those empty eyes stared at me and through me. I couldn’t breathe, waiting for his next words.
“All turn to the outcast. The past speaks to alter the present ... a bond of two will set us free.”
All turn to the outcast echoed in my mind.
I trembled at the push of power that rushed around me. Was I the outcast?
Acheii gave the shaman a nod of approval and vanished.
The night was deathly silent and the flame flickered gently.
Takoda didn’t speak or move an inch. We waited on the shaman’s next words. He frowned and angled his head as if listening to some voice I couldn’t hear. He nodded and seemed to listen again, then his hands trembled and his mouth opened in shock.
When the shaman’s frightened face turned to me, he said, “Go now, Rayen, or you will miss the window you must pass through. If Callan dies, all is lost.”
“How do you know about—” I stopped in mid sentence when what he’d said hit me. He was allowing me to leave.
No, the shaman had ordered me to go and whatever he’d been listening to had frightened him.
My skin chilled at realizing the prophecy was more than a bunch of words in the future. I was tied to it.
And so was Callan ... if he lived.